by Claire Sedgwick
I was privileged to be given the opportunity to blog the FWSA conference in Nottingham. I heard a range of papers about many aspects of feminism including subject areas that I didn’t know a lot about. I was especially glad to have had the opportunity to see papers that discussed feminism, race, and intersectionality as this is something that I know I could be better informed about, especially as my thesis challenges the often Anglo- American focus in feminist magazines. Overall, it was a brilliant experience and one that left me energised and enthused about my own research, something that was sorely needed as the old cliche that a PhD can be lonely business certainly rings true at times. I also thought it would be interesting to look at blogging in relation to the way in which news, opinions, and feminist debate have been disseminated in the past.
My research focuses on the way that feminists have used magazines, zines and blogs to write about feminism, and will look especially at the kind of issues that were represented within these texts as well as the kind of feminism that tended to be discussed, for example whether magazines promote radical feminism, liberal feminism or whether they speak to a certain kind of feminist. Ms, the American feminist magazine founded by Gloria Steinem and others in the early seventies, is a good example of how magazines can be seen to encompass certain feminist ideals. The magazine has often been accused of assuming a white middle class audience able to afford the consumer products advertised within the magazine (see McCracken, 1993; Erdman Farrell, 1998). Similarly, looking through the letters pages of Spare Rib, one can see vocal disagreements within British feminism about what issues should be the focus of the movement. Furthermore, the research looks at what kinds of feminism may be left out due to editorial focus or audiences, especially non- Western feminism as well as the concerns of working class women and women of colour and issues that affect younger women. Crucial to this is a recognition that feminism is not monolithic and that the feminisms that may be framed in texts represent one set of ideas amongst many, and that by representing one kind of feminism, another kind of feminism may be under-represented.
However, whilst no magazine is ever going to perfectly encapsulate a movement as diverse as feminism, what has struck me so far in my research is the way that feminist magazines pre-internet provided a forum for feminists to share experiences, promote their activism as well as providing reports from conferences, meetings, and events. I think that in many ways, the tasks of the bloggers at the conference was similar. Conferences can be an expensive business, especially for those of us not connected to an academic institution, or those who also need to think about childcare and transport on top of the costs of attending. Blogging the conference meant that those who couldn’t make it to Nottingham could still keep informed about the papers, whilst the use of Twitter to keep followers updated meant that theoretically everyone with access to the internet could feel part of the conference, even if only virtually.
My next focus in my research will be on the use of the internet and blogs in particular by contemporary feminists. Whilst mainstream news outlets will periodically ask: Is Feminism Dead? The blogosphere unequivocally answers that question for them, by suggesting that feminism is in fact alive and kicking through vociferous discussion, whilst initiatives such as the Everyday Sexism project have utilised Twitter to forge a community and sense of solidarity often across the world. This aspect of my research is in its infancy, and I am not sure how I am going to manage to encapsulate how feminism and feminist activism is done online within the context of a thesis which must also discuss the broad history of feminist magazines. One thing I know I am interested in, is the way that feminist’s use of the internet is often linked within critical discourse to the idea that we are now in the third wave (See Baumgardner and Richards, 2000). However, whilst I feel that the term is useful for distinguishing contemporary feminism from post-feminist ideas that see feminism as redundant, I think it’s also important to stress that although the practices and technologies used to connect each other, it seems that even in the age of the internet, communication and sharing of knowledge is still key.
Baumgardner, Jennifer and Richards, Amy Manifesta: Young Women, Feminism and the Future (New York: Farrar, Strauss and Giroux, 2000).
Farrell, Amy Erdman, Yours in Sisterhood: Ms. Magazine and the Promise of Popular Feminism (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1998)
McCracken: Ellen, Decoding Women’s Magazines from Mademoiselle to Ms. (Basingstoke: Macmillan, 1993)
Claire Sedgwick is a PhD student at De Montfort University Leicester. Here research focuses on the way that feminist magazines represent second wave feminism, looking at the kind of feminisms that are represented. She is also interested in the use of blogs by contemporary feminists as a way to discuss feminism and foster communities. She tweets @claire_sedgwick and here academia profile can be found here: http://dmu.academia.edu/ClaireSedgwick