As promised, the text of my email to a Guardian writer responding to her questions. (I was not able to get to them all.) Like Jess McCabe at the F-Word, I wasn't pleased.
Subject: Questions, Answers
Date: May 15, 2009 7:05:46 AM EDT
Here are some answers for you; I hope they help. I'm sorry that I was not able to get to all of them, but let me know if you need anything else. :)
Is there such a thing as a bad feminist? What is it?
No. I take the literal, dictionary definition of "feminism" seriously because it is powerfully simple for people to comprehend, and therefore embrace. Feminism is the belief in the social, political, and economic equality of the sexes. If someone believes in that idea and works - whether in large or small ways - to make it a reality in her life or others', she/he is a feminist, whether she/he knows it or not.
Why is Jezebel so popular among young women? What sort of feminism is it giving them that they are, perhaps, not finding elsewhere?
I don't know the answer to this question. I don't even know if I would say that "Jezebel is popular among young women." Jezebel is a successful site, to be sure, but we could be much bigger - I HOPE that we get much bigger. But "popular" isn't something I'm comfortable using as a descriptor just yet; we're just shy of 2 years old. And I'm not so sure we are dominated by "young women" (if by that you mean women under 35): we have readers ranging from their late teens to their 50s, and probably (hopefully!) even beyond that.
Answering the second part of your question requires that I explain a little bit of what I wanted Jezebel to be when it first began. When I began creating the site, I wanted it to be a site for women that did not shy away from the serious or the superficial - the dramatic or the comedic. At the time, the strongest, most popular women's media properties online seemed to fall into two categories: consumptive (shopping, fashion, gossip, etc.) or active (politics, gender studies, etc.). What I did not see was a melding of the two; an acknowledgement that there is a large audience of women who women want to talk about ALL of the aforementioned things - often at the same time. So perhaps Jezebel is filling that niche. PERHAPS. As for what "sort" of feminism the site is giving readers, there is no way to answer this because the site's editors/writers - just like its readers - have differing opinions on any and every subject. In fact, I am less interested in chronicling or adhering to a TYPE of feminism than I am in simply making feminism a topic of discussion. The concept of feminism - and literally, the word itself - was something I grew up embracing unquestioningly in the 1970s; it was a no-brainer, so to speak. By the mid to late 80s, however, "feminism" was a word on par with the word "liberal,", i.e., a "dirty" word: Young women I went to high school and college with shied away from describing themselves as feminists. This was something that bothered me (and obviously, others) for years; I wondered if helped create an online property that discussed feminism without being wholly ABOUT feminism - that is, if the concept, discussion, and subtleties of feminism were treated with the same familiarity and ease that young women talk about OTHER subjects, that it might become not only palatable, but embraced by women who had grown up believing that it was something apart from them. Short version: I was not interested in preaching to the choir; that is being done quite movingly and intelligently by other media properties that have been around MUCH longer than we have.
Megan from Jezebel said: "I have seen misogyny and, most of the time, it looks a lot like the ideology Hirshman has the audacity to call "feminism"." Does she mean 20th-century feminism was misogynist? If so, I'd love lots of detail on this opinion!!
I can't speak for Megan on this, except to say that I'm very confident she was not calling 20th century feminism "misogynist".
What are the most important ways in which today's feminism differs from ‘2nd wave' feminism?
Again, I don't believe in assigning categories. I realize that the concepts of "2nd wave" vs. "3rd wave" and even "4th wave" are attempts to bring order to a complex, ongoing social movement - and I understand the need for order - but I reject those categories only in that I reject most attempts at categorization. That is just the way I am. (This may or may not have something to do with the fact that I am biracial and therefore learned to become comfortable with shades and grey. Or in my case, shades of tan.) Suffice it to say that I'm not sure that it's the FEMINISM that has changed, but the people/actors within the movement.
How would you describe the "state of feminism" today? Is there a general political and social standard that defines basic feminist behaviour - and if so, what is it NOT and what is it?
Yes there is a standard: Working to increase the position of women in society and attempting to remain open-minded as to the realities and subtleties of the women around you as you do so.
Are these disagreements between young women about what feminism means in modern-day society healthy or concerning? If they're concerning, please elaborate.
They're not concerning at all. I think they are exciting, vital, compelling and necessary. The only thing that really concerns me is the nasty way in which some decide to present those disagreements. Ad hominem attacks are never attractive, nor particularly productive, and they obscure the larger issues that everyone is trying to address and to change. The other concern: That the SPECIFICS of the disagreements over feminism will be overlooked by outsiders (or insiders!) who are more interested in the "dramas" behind the disagreement. This is why I hate hearing about sensationalist shit like "blog wars" and the like. Usually, it's best to just not engage in that stuff and focus on the merits, not the melodrama.
What do you think are the most troubling problems with feminism today?
The biggest problems with feminism today are: 1) That not enough women choose to call themselves feminists. 2) That some claim to be able to "define" what feminism is on a granular level, or to assert that there is a set of "rules" to feminism. I do not trust nor respect those who claim they have all the answers. They are more interested in comfort than challenge. Feminism is not static.
What about Linda's question about "what does it show that these women who are supposedly acting freely and powerfully, keep turning up tales of vulnerability-repulsive sexual partners, pregnancy, sexually transmitted diseases, even rape?"
Honestly, that was one of the most absurd and incoherent of Linda Hirshman's insinuations because not all women - feminist or not - act completely "freely and powerfully"... but a hell of a lot of them TRY. And they often fall short, ESPECIALLY when they are young. In fact, if the true measure of a feminis is that she has never found herself faced with repulsive sexual partners (whatever that means), STDs, unwanted pregnancies or sexual assaults, then the population of women who consider themselves feminist has just shrunk considerably. And this word "vulnerable"? It feels condescending in this context. For example, I wasn't "vulnerable" when I got pregnant twice in my 20s as the result of bad decisions: I was PREGNANT.
• • • • •
My followup email after the piece ran:
Subject: Your Guardian piece
Date: May 17, 2009 11:10:16 AM EDT
To: [name redacted]@observer.co.uk
Cc: [name redacted]@observer.co.uk, Megan Carpentier
Dear Ms. Hill,
I read with interest your piece on Jezebel/Double X last night. Despite what [you] claimed [your] story was going to be via email - about modern feminism in general - it seemed to be much more about Jezebel than Double X, and, just like Ms. Hirshman's absurd ad hominem article itself, it provided more of a rehash of something that happened almost a year ago than anything particularly fresh, knowledegable or, frankly, even honest.
About that last point:
To describe the site as divided between "raising funds for victims of honor killings' and 'writing salaciously and candidly about [our] choice to live lives of unashamed promiscuity" is at best, ignorant and at worst, nasty. Have you ever read the site? I challenge you to find one post in the past half year that falls into either the former or latter category. In fact, the only people who have written about lives of "unashamed promiscuity" - a very interesting, telling choice of words there on your part - who are still writing for the site make up ONE THIRD of the entire staff. And then do so very infrequently.
Your piece is further weakened when you get things like this wrong: "...referring to an hour-long television appearance by Tracie Egan, a Jezebel blogger who goes by the moniker "Slut Machine", and Maureen "Moe" Tkacik, in which the two young women refused to engage with a serious discussion about sexual politics and culture."
You're kidding, right? The appearance made by Tracie and Moe last JULY was not on television; it was in a small downtown Manhattan theater, and it was videotaped. Television wasn't involved, unless "internet video" is the new word for "the transmission and broadcasting of a moving image via a picture tube." Furthermore, Tracie has not gone by the moniker "Slut Machine" since last September and Moe has not worked for the site since a month before THAT; again, if you had any familiarity with the site - or had made any effort to acquire some during the course of writing your article - you would have not only known that but contacted me for this article DIRECTLY, instead of going to both my deputy (Dodai Stewart) and one of my editors (Tracie Egan). My name is located - clearly and with an accompanying email link - on the site's masthead for all to see.
I'm also curious as to why you chose NOT to name our writer Megan Carpentier, when discussing her reasonable, impassioned, personal response to Ms. Hirshman's Double X article; instead both her and her post are reduced to the following descriptions: the "Jezebel website" and "the article stated", when, in fact the post's author has a name and an identity separate from the rest of the staff. This is a group weblog, not a monarchy.
Lastly, I was disappointed to see that you chose to leave out any of the quotes I provided to you in my email interview. I understand that things get cut for reasons of space and focus, but to write and "report" such an unbalanced article - nearly two thirds of your piece was essentially spent attacking Jezebel via a rehashing of old stories and new quotes, and I can't say the other third was particularly powerful in "defending" it - without actually using any of my responses is strange. Thing is, I'd be more offended if I thought - based on the glaring, embarrassing errors above - you knew what you were talking about. Suffice it to say, we won't be participating in any more stories with the Guardian.
With ALL the best wishes, Amelia,
Managing Editor, Jezebel.com