Bringing Feminism Back to the Future

Article @ Anticapitalist Initiative, published 20 November 2012

It is impossible to deny the impact that new media has had on journalism and on the propagation of news. The new tools provided by the internet – from social networks like Facebook, to blogging and Twitter – have created a space where grassroots, often amateur, journalism has thrived. The widespread access to recording devices and image editing software, as well as the increasing worldwide literacy in the English language, have made sure that anyone anywhere can voice their opinions and share their experience of any given event, in the matter of minutes. In our day and age, the restrictions imposed by political agendas and their mainstream media outlets no longer rule. The relationship between news-stories and subjects has become fluid, as the world turns to a wider, more holistic way of sharing information.

Sociologist Manuel Castells argues that acceleration of information-sharing through the medium of the internet has allowed counter-hegemonic movements, like Occupy or the Arab revolutions, to spread their message and their appeal wider and quicker than ever before. He writes in his latest book, Networks of Outrage and Hope (Polity 2012):

“From the safety of cyberspace, people from all ages and conditions moved towards occupying urban space, on a blind date with each other and with the destiny that wanted to forge as they claimed their right to make history”.

But how has this affected ‘older’ political struggles like women’s rights? Are we to, at least partially, thank blogs for the return of the feminist movement? Is there a link between 140 character messages and SlutWalk?

Back in 2007, Jess McCabe, now one of the journalists of the editorial collective behind The F-Word, hailed the sudden upsurge of six British feminist magazines. Most of these were online based, but some had also ventured into the printed sphere – a phenomenon long since unseen in the UK, but still rather popular in the United States, where copies of Bust and Ms, to name but a few, have a combined distribution of over 200.000. Some of these initiatives have closed down since, but with the birth of The Vagenda blog earlier this year and its unprecedentedly swift and notorious success, the trend seems to be far from over.

While it is true that modern features journalism has often put brilliant female writers in the limelight – including all kinds of self-defined feminists, from Germaine Greer to Caitlin Moran – the numbers of blogs written by feminists and/or dealing with women’s liberation, many of which hosted by major mainstream publications (see Laurie Penny’s new space in The Independent), has never been this great or this popular.

Take Zoe Stavri (author of no-bs-say-it-like-it-is blog Another Angry Woman), who has become an unquestionably prolific writer featured in Open Democracy, New Statesman and The Independent. While seeing her infamous blog simply as an outlet of expression, Stavri argues that the digital is the future. “Feminist blogs have been absolutely invaluable to me”, she maintains when asked whether new media has changed the feminist movement, “[they have] given me a language to articulate things I’ve always felt to be true, and it’s comforting to know that others have identified and these same issues. Blogging translates academic ideas into an accessible format”.

Like her, thousands of young women brought up in an age of liberalism are feeling the pinch of the contradictions between the social discourse of gender equality and the realities at hand. Caroline Criado-Perez, founder of Week Woman, tried to target just that. Speaking to, Criado-Perez says she “felt there was a gap in the market for a publication aimed at women that didn’t assume we were either vacuous consumers, or that we were only interested in ‘women’s issues'”, so she set up Week Woman as an channel for “the voice of the people and the collective over the dominant power structures that are currently served by the traditional media”.

The team behind KnockBack, a feminist fan-zine-like print that has as much of fierce as it has of twee, felt the same. Marie Berry, who launched the mag in 2005 “because, fuck, someone had to“, told me about the need for a “rebranding” of the feminist movement. “A lot of the debate around feminism is prescriptive and old fashioned and that alienates people”, she says while emphasizing the role of new media in bringing the movement into the 21st century. For her, things are looking up. KnockBack might not be producing regular issues, but feminist media is “waking up”.

And it certainly feels like a bright future awaits these 20-something feminist writers. The Vagenda team, particularly, has a lot to celebrate. After a mere eleven months online, the girls behind the magazine have had almost as much press coverage as the Olympics (see Rosamund Urwin from the Evening Standard falling in love with them here), and are now permanent features at the New Statesman and regular contributors to The Guardian. As I dropped them a few questions on their rise to fame and the prospects for feminist media, Rhiannon Lucy Cosslett jumps to a simple answer: “Online. The future of all media is online”.  Despite this bold claim The Vagenda has a book in the works with Random House and even the telly can’t escape them. “Who knows, maybe we’ll write a comedy show!”, Cosslett quips, while one can almost hear through her email the giddiness about it all.

On one thing they all seem to agree – the web is where it’s at. Whether as a tool for promoting their ideas or as the main platform for women’s opinions and feminist politics today, they are all too aware of the importance of the new media. And it isn’t just about the speed and numbers that the internet can reach. Stavri points out that the mainstream media is still incredibly powerful, forming opinions and perpetuating stereotypes, many of them sexist ones. And whilst, according to Berry, there still might be an audience for both print and the web, maybe the best thing to do considering the prevalence of sexist tropes is to follow Week Woman‘s Criado-Perez advice: “More people should be forced to read Mary Wollstonecraft!”.

You might as well, the mother of feminism is prolific on Twitter.