You would think the most important blogger of the early feminist internet would be famous. Or that she would at least have a recognizable name. Or even face. But all I had to go on after talking to 14 women who were part of the same blogosphere as her at the same time as her, was a pseudonym: brownfemipower (bfp for short). “She was the queen of everything,” Feministe creator Lauren Bruce told me, “and basically if the internet you see today is just, it’s ’cause of her.” Bruce has been around since 2001 and would know. So I asked everyone about bfp. There was a lot of loaded hesitation in response. Most of them recognized her handle (“Oof,” was one reply). A few of them knew her real name, but wouldn’t tell me. Finally, one of the bloggers she “fucked with,” as one of them put it, gave me her Twitter, but only because it’s pseudonymous. I DM’d her and waited. And waited. And waited. I was nervous about what no one was telling me. I wasn’t sure I wanted to hear from her, to be honest. So when she responded, and she was cordial, it felt like I had won something. I still don’t know her name or what she looks like, though. She would only do the interview by email. She remains invisible.
But so does everyone else around her—the activists who blogged from within the intersections of their identities, whose aim was not just equality for themselves but for everyone. These were the women who also kept telling me they didn’t want to be defined by hate but by love. Of course, that’s not how you get famous. “Some of the most prominent feminists who have survived the blog years and still have careers are a little bit more me-focused than others,” said Latoya Peterson, the editor of Racialicious. “Let’s just put it that way.” I’m not as diplomatic as she is, so I’ll just put it straight: While a group of mostly white, mostly New York-based feminist bloggers were making their names in the aughts, it was the radical selfless activists on the margins of the blogosphere who erected the scaffolding for the feminist internet as we now know it today. As Brittney Cooper, co-founder of the Crunk Feminist Collective, told me, “The wokeness that we see in this generation is indeed a direct result of all of this labor.”
There’s a reason that the lifespan of the feminist blogosphere, 2001 to 2009, coincided with the lifespan of George W. Bush’s presidency. From the bald xenophobia of his post-9/11 War on Terror to his various racist, sexist, and homophobic policies to the tax cuts that exacerbated a middling economy, it was a bad time to be anything but a stupid rich heterosexual white dude riding the coattails of a dynasty. Not to mention the media’s inability to grasp that fact. The famous women writing about women—from Katie Roiphe to Camille Paglia—believed that this was a post-feminist world. Bras had already been burned, glass ceilings broken, teen girls empowered, what was there left to do?
“Back then you really were just like a weird Jesus freak for feminism,” explained Tiger Beatdown’s Sady Doyle. A number of the bloggers I spoke to felt the need to impress on me how marginalized the movement was at the time. “Nobody was fucking with it,” said Beautiful Struggler’s Jamilah Lemieux. She was, though. And so were a whole bunch of incoming bloggers, including Peterson: “I think it’s really hard to capture that sense of, I would say, almost heady rebellion.”
Feministe was the first of the five major feminist blogs to arrive in 2001—Feministing, Shakesville, Pandagon, and Jezebel followed. Bruce lived in Indiana and was putting herself through college while raising a child she had as a teen: “Here I was having suffered some of the consequences of being sexually available in a world that hates women.” She had ideas too big for her milieu but by then you no longer had to code to blog (LiveJournal and Blogger were both introduced in 1999). Bruce called her site Feministe—its tagline: “In defense of the sanctimonious women’s studies set”—because Feminist was already taken. “The internet wasn’t that widespread, it was mainly nerds and weirdos,” she explained, “and so I felt very comfortable really putting it all out there because the likelihood anyone would find me was, like, zero.” But people did find her, the way they always managed to find the feminist blogs run by white women. These sites tended to be accessible, touching on generic women’s issues like being a mom, equal pay, sexual harassment. FWD (Feminists with Disabilities) co-founder s.e. smith summed them up as second-wavey sites where “feminism was about ladies and lady stuff.”
Jenn Fang couldn’t relate. Around the same time as Feministe, she launched Reappropriate, one of the first Asian American feminist blogs, if not the first (“I couldn’t find any others”). There were plenty of Asian American racial justice sites, but feminism was deemed a separate issue. So, Fang, having internalized the DIY approach of the time, reacquainted them. “I couldn’t divorce my being a woman from my experience of what it meant to be an Asian American woman,” she told me. But it was lonely out there among all those white ladies. On feministblogs.org, an RSS feed that aggregated feminist sites, Fang remembers being the only Asian American woman on the list. But just because you couldn’t see them, didn’t mean they weren’t there. Fang was among a growing number of feminist bloggers who were writing from multiple perspectives.
By 2004, the Pew Internet and American Life Project reported that 66 percent of men and 61 percent of women used the internet. Time reported that the majority of bloggers were women. That was probably news to anyone outside the blogosphere since the blogs admitted into the mainstream were overwhelmingly political and almost exclusively run by men. While feminists considered the personal political, apparently no one else did. Monica Roberts at TransGriot, Anna John at Sepia Mutiny, Miriam Zoila Pérez at Radical Doula, they were considered little more than diarists.
Then came Feministing. “Too often, young women’s voices aren’t heard, whether it’s in school, in the media, or at the dinner table,” Jessica Valenti wrote in her first post on April 12, 2004. Co-founded by the gender studies grad, her sister Vanessa, and two other women called Lauryn and Hannah, the group blog ditched the collegiate tone of so many of its individual feminist competitors in order to bring you… fun! “We did want to cultivate a specific irreverent voice so that anyone who came across the site would feel like they could enjoy it,” Valenti said.
Within the blogosphere, Feministing was side-eyed for watering things down, getting things wrong, not being inclusive and even appropriating other bloggers’ work. Outside of it, the blog was known as the feminism 101 site and Valenti the number one feminist blogger. That meant bylines in mainstream publications like The Guardian and The Nation, and book after book. Amanda Marcotte occupied a similar position on the more overtly political side after joining the male-run blog Pandagon in 2005, having worked on her own music and politics blog, Mouse Words. A profane lefty, one of her main projects was claiming her spot among so many men. “The politics of getting on someone’s blogroll was a huge deal,” she explained, referring to the list of links blogs traditionally include, not only to share traffic, but also to acknowledge that this is a community as opposed to a competition (a community of men: men linked primarily to men). Off of her work at Pandagon, Marcotte was hired to blog for John Edwards’s presidential campaign (alongside Shakesville’s Melissa McEwan), and also wrote a number of articles and books. “I’m not saying it was easy,” she said, “but it wasn’t that hard.”
Then came brownfemipower. A self-identified Chicana, she had just graduated from college, with two kids, no car, a small apartment, and no real community. She kept hearing about how democratic blogging was and started Woman of Color in 2005, eventually settling on the handle brownfemipower (“I wanted an intersectional name,” she said). She remained anonymous to protect her job and her safety from what she described as her “radical” views. “I purposefully and deliberately burn all bridges to all people/movements with the purposeful and deliberate awareness that I will build bridges again,” one post read. bfp described herself as an organizer steeped in Michigan’s activist community who prioritized inclusion and equality online, but ultimately considered blogging a tool for offline movement. “Having a great analysis is not the same thing as doing to the tenuous back-breaking work of organizing,” she explained. “The internet that I came up in thought that having the analysis was the point.” Her work resonated at the time because she centered women of color. “I believe you make feminism important by adjusting it to meet the needs of the people who need it most,” bfp said, “as opposed to others that said the answer was making feminism more marketable by making it ‘sexier.’”
More than a decade before intersectionality would pervade the public lexicon, feminist bloggers like bfp were writing intersectionally. Though Kimberlé Williams Crenshaw coined the term in 1989, they didn’t have a name for what they were doing. Lisa Factora-Borchers introduced a placeholder. In 2004, she launched a blog called A Woman’s Ecdysis—“no one ever knows what it means” (it means shedding)—after moving to Ohio for a job in academia which left her feeling isolated. Online she found a feminist community that not only sprawled geographically, but also professionally. “There was a collective sense of building upon one another’s work,” she said, and that included her borrowing the term kyriarchy, which she discovered in university. Elisabeth Schussler Fiorenza coined the word in her 2001 book Wisdom Ways as “a complex pyramidal system of intersecting multiplicative social structures of superordination and subordination, of ruling and oppression.” But it was Factora-Borchers who introduced it to the feminist blogosphere as a way to address what the white bloggers wouldn’t acknowledge. “It was my way of incorporating a word that I felt spoke to my frustration, which was it wasn’t just about gender and or sex,” she explained. “It was clearly so much more than just, you know, real ‘sisterhood.’”
The disparity between white feminist bloggers and bloggers of color was underscored by the first annual BlogHer conference in 2005, which 1000 people attended, almost all of them white, and the first annual Blogalicious conference in 2009 (also sponsored by BlogHer, oddly), which had about 175 attendees, almost none of them white. Reappropriate’s Fang referred to the “balkanization” of the feminist blogosphere from the beginning, where the standard was an upwardly mobile white coastal community that had limited self-awareness. “They were like, let’s have feminism as a race-neutral conversation,” she said. That meant refusing to engage when they were asked to examine their privilege. “So much of the culture of feminism that is forward-facing is driven by New York,” Angry Black Bitch blogger Pamela Merritt said. “But the people who contribute to the movement dialogue are not living in Park Slope.”
Valenti maintains that she did her best. She hired women of color, but found that when she asked the press to interview them instead of her, media requests dropped by 50 percent. “We were trying to do everything that we could on the non-existent budget that we had,” she said. Marcotte, meanwhile, admitted to “a lot of frustration” because she wasn’t an activist. bfp, however, was. She was one of the bloggers, among them Factora-Borchers and Sydette Harry (aka Blackamazon), who held white feminists accountable, which is a polite way of putting it. “It was fucking savage,” Peterson said. As an analog, she recalled the public fights between Zora Neale Hurston and Ralph Ellison during the civil rights movement. Bruce describes the “emotionally violent arguments between feminists around trans rights, police brutality, reproductive rights, and issues of representation.” When I brought up how complicated intersectionality seemed to be for the blogosphere to grasp, Factora-Borchers paused: “I don’t think it was complicated for the writers and activists that I understood and followed. It was just a really clear racial divide over women of color feminists and white feminists.”
Jezebel ratified feminist blogging and I’m not just saying that because I’m writing for them. But first: In December 2002, Nick Denton launched the late media blog Gawker, described by n+1’s Carla Blumenkranz as “a scrappy start-up” with “an attitude of populist resentment toward celebrities and insiders,” and turned the medium into not only a lucrative business, but a New York one. The New York Times christened the “New York School” of bloggers without acknowledging an alternative, so that’s basically what you had to be to succeed. When Emily Gould was hired as a Gawker editor in late 2006, her success was all but guaranteed. She did have to apply for the job, but she had already written a column for editor Alex Balk, whom she had met while working at the publishing house Hyperion. She knew editor Choire Sicha too, and, if you’ve ever spoken to Gould, her affect is so disarmingly lax you get why she’s so popular. And also why she ran into trouble. When I asked her about Gawker’s rules around representation, she laughed: “There weren’t, like, plans, other than, like, get more traffic.”
That could come across as glib, but it sounded more like a retroactive alarm. Gould wrote 12 posts a day, with no time for much thought, which was evidently by design: Get a young woman to write from her gut and watch her get consumed by outrage. “Sometimes the wrongness was even clear at the time,” Gould wrote in her personal essay collection And the Heart Says Whatever (2010), “though not as clear as it is now.” Her popularity coupled with her gender turned her into a punching bag for a mainstream media that resented the online start-ups infiltrating their industry. The constant blows, half-hour deadlines and dysfunctional atmosphere had Gould leaving a year later with a “ruined central nervous system.” “I don’t have a better word for it than abuse,” she said.
Soon, the majority (70 percent) of Gawker’s readers were women, which was no doubt in part because of Gould. So, in May 2007, Denton added Jezebel to his 13 other Gawker media brands, a women’s blog on celebrity, fashion, and sex. “I wasn’t hired to create a site that would go after women’s media,” managing editor Anna Holmes told me, “But it made perfect sense in terms of the DNA of the larger company.” Like Gould, Holmes was hired in part because of her connections. Denton actually asked Eurotrash blogger Geraldine Hayward, who had worked with Holmes at Star magazine, to run Jezebel. Approached by Hayward to help run the site, Holmes was initially skeptical because she didn’t know anyone who worked online but did know it paid poorly. She changed her mind after they talked for hours (and learned she would get a living wage). When Hayward failed to return from a trip to the UK, Holmes was on her own. That’s when she decided to make Jezebel a feminist gateway blog.
Holmes had gotten into media because of the feminist magazine Sassy and she knew there were no similarly mainstream feminist sites. “It was just a really kind of ugly time, I thought, in terms of what women were being exposed to,” she said. Holmes basically set out to make women’s magazines irrelevant (“I think there were times when we all thought we were bigger deals than we were.”) But at one point she used the F word with the editorial director, who cautioned her against it, so she kept the site’s mandate quiet. Twitter and Facebook had already arrived by then, but blog conversations happened in the comments and, by making the readers almost as important as the stories they were reading, Jezebel became a harbinger of the dominance of social media. And while Denton made “some negative cracks” about it, he read Jezebel about as much as he read Deadspin (RIP). Per Holmes, “He didn’t care about sports, he didn’t care about women!” By the time he realized what she was doing, it was too late. In 2008, the blog that turned an airbrushed Redbook cover of Faith Hill into a modern-day bra-burning had surpassed a number of Gawker brands.
Within a year, Jezebel had 10 million page views a month and feminism was infiltrating mainstream women’s media. “I suspect it was in part a reaction to being called out,” Holmes said. I suspect it was more to do with the sudden awareness of feminism as an unmined source of capital. Holmes remembers being pissed that one of her employees took a job at Slate’s feminist blog, XX, which launched in 2007. She considered the site synonymous with the media elite—upper-middle-class, white, Ivy League—that Gawker regularly confronted. “I didn’t feel like we were part of a cohort that was at all privileged,” she said. Maybe not in terms of prestige, but in terms of position in the mainstream media, Gawker was right at the center. “We never thought that we would be legitimate,” said Doyle, who launched Tiger Beatdown in 2008. “Jezebel sort of opened that door.”
A study that year found that at least 36.2 million women in the U.S. participated in the blogosphere. Feminism was suddenly everywhere; Salon’s feminist blog Broadsheet launched in 2005, Racialicious in 2008, queer feminist site Autostraddle opened in 2009, then The Hairpin came along in 2010, XOJane and Rookie in 2011, Everyday Feminism and Feminist Current in 2012, The Toast and the satirical Reductress in 2013. But, still, the sites were overwhelmingly white and so were the bloggers who got the big breaks.
On May 25, 2008, Gould appeared on the cover of The New York Times Magazine, reclining on a disheveled bed under the cover line “Exposed.” She had been approached by an editor at the magazine and knew how it worked: write a splashy article, get a splashy book deal (nothing says legitimate like a $200,000 advance). “I didn’t even know about blogging until I read the Emily Gould New York Times Magazine cover story,” Doyle said. It validated the idea that the personal, if not political, could at least be profitable. Feministe’s Bruce remembers the publishing companies closing deal after deal that year: “They were like, ‘oh shit,’ just rubbing their hands together.” A cute young white mom with a site that had a New York connection (she hired Jill Filipovic in 2005), Bruce made the cut and it made her uncomfortable. She was approached to write a book on financial tips, which would answer the question of how to make a little money go a long way. “The answer is capitalism fucking sucks.” She said no. “I saw my peers going on and making careers out of this stuff, and at the same time, I was like, ‘Man, there are so many ethical questions around this,’” Bruce said. “It was really difficult for me to monetize what is a civil and social rights movement.” Getting rich off feminism does seem somewhat antithetical to the movement’s fundamental object of solving inequity. As Angry Black Bitch’s Merritt told me, “I am very upfront about the fact that I’m trying to put myself out of work.”
The internet can’t hurt you. If it does, that’s your fault. That was the refrain feminist bloggers kept hearing in the early days of fending off “trolls.” “At first we were just like, ‘Oh my God, who are these fucking losers’?” Valenti said. Then came the threats, then came the hacks, then came Kathy Sierra. A game developer in her late 40s, Sierra was the first high-profile instance of doxxing, publishing private information (in this case, her address and Social Security number) with the intent of screwing someone over. Though trolls had been around since the late ’80s, they targeted women the moment they noticed them encroaching on their turf (by which I mean, existing online). After posting a blog about “haters,” Sierra was doxxed by Andrew Auernheimer (handle: weev) in 2007 following weeks of escalating harassment. Auernheimer, branded a hacktivist for his other work, got lavish attention in publications like Esquire and the Times. Sierra did not. “I now believe the most dangerous time for a woman with online visibility is the point at which others are seen to be listening, ‘following,’ ‘liking,’ ‘favoriting,’ retweeting,” she wrote on her blog seven years later. “In other words, the point at which her readers have (in the troll’s mind) ‘drunk the Koolaid.’” The attack led Sierra to withdraw from public life and the tech industry, and feminists to take online threats seriously even if no one else did. As FWD’s smith explains, “I had people showing up at my house, and I live in the middle of nowhere.”
Precursors to the alt-right, trolls hated women, but they hated women of color even more. Peterson confessed that Racialicious did not brand itself as a feminist site because covering race was bad enough—they already had white supremacists monitoring them. “That was more normal than it sounds like it should be,” she said with a laugh. Next year is the site’s 15th anniversary but Peterson has to weigh resurrecting the archives with the risks. While bigger sites like Feministing had enough staff and financial support to handle relentless attacks (Valenti mentioned a meeting with the New York Attorney General’s office where her husband had a friend) individual blogs with little money, few staffers, and no institutional backing aren’t so robust.
Recalling Gamergate, the high-profile harassment case from 2014 in which a number of women in the video game industry were doxxed, Peterson said, “A lot of the times the canaries in the coal mine are these women of color, who have gone through what happens when there are no protections against these mobs.” Funnily enough, Valenti used the same idiom—“We were the canaries in the coal mines”—to describe the overall harassment of feminists online. Referring to blogging as a labor of love and a hobby, she added: “It’s like, you’re not getting paid to take this sort of abuse, why would you want to do it?”
You could call 2008 the year of the feminist blog wars but that would suggest a fair fight and this wasn’t that. The whole thing is a bit of a confusing clusterfuck, but a lot of it unraveled around the WAM! (Women, Action, and the Media) conference, which took place from March 28 to 30. In a post-mortem of the event, Sydette Harry (Blackamazon), wrote “Fuck Seal Press.” She was referring to the small feminist publishing house that had already published books by Valenti and had just launched Marcotte’s first, It’s a Jungle Out There: The Feminist Survival Guide to Politically Inhospitable Environments. For its retro design, Seal Press used the 1950s comic Lorna the Jungle Girl, which involved a number of unfortunate instances in which the buxom blond faced off with dark-skinned savages. The feminist bloggers of color were so vocal that the company removed the images from later printings and apologized: “We acknowledge that the images are racist and not okay under any circumstances.”
But that wasn’t their only misstep. During the conference, Adele Nieves reportedly pitched Seal Press an anthology around marginalized feminists and was basically told it wouldn’t sell without less marginal names. “I just find it curious more than anything that you all are wasting your time hating,” the company wrote in response to Blackamazon, “rather than actively engaging in changing something you find problematic.” It was a perfect microcosmic instance of how mainstream feminism excluded diverse voices and then blamed them for it.
But there was another, related, controversy. After WAM! bfp posted a speech on her blog that she had delivered at the conference about the racism and sexism immigrant women faced under Bush. Within days, Marcotte published an article on RH Reality Check (now Rewire News) that reportedly hit many of the same notes, without attribution. It appeared to be yet another instance of white feminists erasing the work of their less privileged peers. “Give credit where credit is due,” Factora-Borchers wrote in a blog titled, “Feminists, too steal.” Though she didn’t name Marcotte, everyone knew who she was talking about. “These are not minor issues that only BFP is paying attention to,” Marcotte responded. “I went to a conference about just these issues.” To make this even more confusing, a man Factora-Borchers facetiously referred to as “this guy claiming to be the greatest feminist ally of all time,” a college professor named Hugo Schwyzer, publicly lent his support to Marcotte (Schwyzer was formerly a freelancer for Jezebel). This guy remained a favorite among white feminists despite women of color like Harry exposing him for systematically harassing and appropriating from them (Schwyzer later admitted as much). “If it’s stealing, you’d better prove it,” he titled his post. Ultimately, bfp wrote in a final post for the site that if acknowledging the pro-immigration feminists “who have been blogging incessantly about this is too much work for feminism—well, then there’s no fucking feminist movement.”
Both Feministing and Shakesville pledged to do better. But it wasn’t enough. “What was going on then was about making a choice about what ‘feminism’ would be and who would have access to it,” bfp explained. “The choices made during that time by establishment feminism were the wrong choices. It was not a moment of strife, it was a moment where choices were made and those choices were wrong and had lasting repercussions.” Like bfp, the other feminist bloggers of color I spoke to did not want to be defined by the blog wars. Marcotte didn’t think she should talk about it at all. “Of course she didn’t,” Harry said.
“I’m very skeptical of the way that black women can be cast as reactionary figures in this conversation because people are in love with black women’s anger,” Crunk Feminists’ Cooper said. And while Harry was the designated starter pistol, from her perspective it was not about attacking the others but protecting her own. “There is real animosity there. I’m not gonna lie, there is real animosity,” she said. “But ultimately, even for women I do not like, I want us to have a space, and a discourse, and more importantly a world where we are safe and can tell the truth. And I think that blogs were about trying to scratch out those spaces the way our foremothers did.”
The feminist blog wars didn’t kill the feminist blogosphere. No one I spoke to could really figure out why it just kind of petered out in 2009, with the exception of a few stragglers like Feministing and Shakesville and Jezebel, which is currently owned by a private equity maniac. Shakesville was gone by August, followed by an expose by The Outline about its questionable approach (McEwan did not respond to multiple interview requests) and Feministing hasn’t posted in months (the Times recently reported that the site will close soon). Besides social media being the more effective tool for feminism, smith thinks that its amplification of the drama led to burnout. As Peterson said, “The internet runs on beef.” And even that was co-opted.
Michelle Dean framed her 2011 Master’s of Law thesis around the 2008 war to discuss how to improve “speech culture” in the feminist blogosphere. While it is perhaps unfair of Harry to be angry about not being contacted for an academic paper that used her public Blackamazon statements, within the context of the blog wars, it is understandable. At one point, Dean wrote, “I’m reluctant to provide a full armchair adjudication of the issue since, as I mentioned in the introduction, I wasn’t there at the time.” I can’t think of a better summation of trading a marginalized population’s pain for your own gain. Nor was she the only white feminist who rankled the blogosphere in this way. The next year, Feministing’s Vanessa Valenti and Courtney Martin assembled 21 feminist bloggers and activists—nine were women of color—at Barnard College for the #Femfuture conference to discuss how to build institutional support for online feminism. The group was swiftly excoriated the same way they had been since day one: for excluding those outside of New York, for failing to address women at all intersections, for neglecting even those who were offline. “Women of color and other groups are already overlooked for adequate media attention and already struggle disproportionately in this culture of scarcity,” their paper read. Uhm, yeah.
I think about Gould saying her book advance not only bought her a year to write, but to recover from burnout, and I wonder about how many bloggers could’ve used a similar cushion. For the online activists, systemic support was sparse and a number of people just couldn’t afford to do it anymore. As Peterson explained, “There’s a formula to how you can get your clicks and get your payment and we just didn’t want to do that.” Some of the feminists were so exhausted from working so hard and making so little—when Peterson ran Racialicious she had three jobs and made $500 a week—they left the internet entirely. “A lot of people when they were done just kind of completely wanted to move to a different space and not necessarily have the obligation to always be advocating,” she said. bfp continues to do feminist work but no longer identifies as feminist.
She added she has never felt so betrayed as she did by what she calls *F*eminism, “an ideology that is committed to professionalism, electoral politics, branding, and as such, uncritically accepting of how these things center whiteness.” smith, who co-founded FWD in October 2009, also renounced feminism after constant abuse, death, and rape threats. “When I tell people this, they’re like: ‘Oh, so from like haters right?’” smith said. “Yeah, no, most of our harassment came from ‘feminists.’” While the more popular bloggers had told them to start their own site if they wanted disability content so badly, the support they eventually received was, perhaps unsurprisingly, from women of color. “There was a much more conscious effort to build community and hold space,” smith said. “It wasn’t like, ‘Oh, let me set up my blog so I can get a book deal.’” Even if they wanted a book deal, it was unlikely to happen. “Book deals are another matter,” Peterson said, “but one I can’t speak to, I’ve never written a book.”
The furthest many of them could go was writing for mainstream publications. At Jezebel, Holmes, herself a woman of color, amplified smaller blogs by linking to and discussing them. Peterson recalled starting to write for the site “out of beef,” while Beautiful Struggler’s Lemieux also had a satirical piece about Obama shared on Jezebel, the first time she had to deal on a large scale with racist trolls (“Everybody knows how to understand snark until it comes from a black woman.”) Lemieux was one of the few bloggers of color who had a traditionally successful trajectory, even if she was surprised I called (“I feel very forgotten”). She worked at Clutch, an online magazine aimed at young black women that she calls “our Jezebel”—it actually preceded Jezebel in print by five years, launching online the same year as the latter—before going on to be an editor at Ebony. And yet when I spoke to her she was between gigs. “I think the folks who typically opened doors for me have been black women which means there’s a limit to what they can do,” she said. “It’s very hard for me not to say, you know, am I not as good as Lindy West?”
It’s the wrong question. There would be no West without Lemieux. “I see the majority of the radical thought that was being done by bloggers of color, bloggers with disabilities, transgender bloggers,” said Factora-Borchers, “they were the ones that were laying all of this really critical, theoretical, interesting radicalized work that, I think, is now feeding into the mainstream.” It sucks, however, that they haven’t personally benefited from their own work. “I’m still not the person who gets booked on major television,” Merritt said before jokingly adding, “I don’t know why?” While Marcotte can easily say of feminism’s mainstream boom, “For me, it was excellent personally because I became a professional journalist.”
Despite being individually overlooked, the legacy of bloggers like Angry Black Bitch’s Merritt is bolstered by descendants like Mikki Kendall, whose activism is firmly entrenched in Twitter. In 2013, Kendall started the viral hashtag #solidarityisforwhitewomen after Schwyzer admitted to targeting women of color to get ahead, and white feminists who had supported him failed to own their complicity. “It was intended to be Twitter shorthand for how often feminists of color are told that the racism they experience ‘isn’t a feminist issue,’” Kendall explained in The Guardian. “Feminism as a global movement meant to unite all women has global responsibilities, and–as illustrated by hundreds of tweets–has failed at one of the most basic: it has not been welcoming to all women, or even their communities.”
Some feminists have taken responsibility retroactively. Ok, one of them that I know of. The creator of Feministe, which was mentioned by the Guardian, acknowledges that she was mistaken in how she responded to bloggers like bfp. “She was right,” Bruce said, “my lily-white Indiana ass just didn’t get it.” That isn’t entirely true, though. Even in the early aughts, Bruce had a highly tuned moral compass when it came to not profiting off of the work she was doing. “[Feministe] is one of the biggest blogs in internet feminism for the duration,” she said, “and it’s weird to be proud about this, nobody made anything off it.” Which is not to say that she doesn’t think about what could have been had she just written that book. “Today a lot of my peers are out taking really extravagant vacations,” Bruce told me, “and I’m watching on Instagram like: ‘Who’s the fool now?’”
This is when you turn to one of the activist bloggers for their opinion, that perspective that inevitably conjures the visible from the invisible. Like Peterson, who deadpanned this piece of gospel midway through our conversation, like a blog post from the aughts buried within the archives of the internet, never to be found but never to be forgotten either: “White women are just more likely to marry money. That’s a really weird postscript to these things.”
Update: This piece has been updated to note that the #Femfuture conference took place in 2012, not in 2011.
Soraya Roberts is the culture columnist for Longreads. She is on Twitter right now @sorayaroberts.