What if we, as feminist bloggers, are governing our actions by the ethics of a lifeboat?

When I started this blog last May, I was a blog virgin. I had never blogged let alone read many blogs.

A woman near and dear to me had suggested I start a blog on a whim, noting that as I love to write so much, and academic writing is such a slow, cumbersome, rule-bound process, I should give blogging a try. With visions of pornified MySpace pages in my head, I was wary of the virtual style of communication. I wondered if my convictions that writing can serve as an important form of feminist activism and that theorizing (a la hooks) is a libratory practice could translate to the online universe.

I didn’t realize until diving into the blog waters how rich, vibrant, and diverse the blogosphere is. Being a feminist, I gravitated towards the deep pool of feminist blogs. However, I soon hit some rocks as I swam through the sometimes murky sometimes far too facile waters. I was variously buoyed up and drowned, wondering when and if feminism might serve as a floating device rather than an anchor. Among exhilarating surfs through intellectually critical prose, I was dismayed to find some serious pollution in the waters. White privilege clogged the atmosphere. Cisgender perspectives, transphobia, and heteronormanativty seeped into the discourse. Attacks and vehemence flowed, sometimes in a trickle, sometimes in torrents (and not only from foul trolls, but from feminist bloggers themselves).

As I kept writing and kept reading, I found myself variously exhilarated and depressed. The new ideas, the critical work being done in virtual spaces, the sense of community – all these were akin to a thrilling white water ride. But, the in-fighting, the ‘waves’ attacking one another, the highlighting of some voices and the silencing of others, these were like drowning yet again in all the problems that have plagued feminism for so long.

From the start, I had intended to invite both bloggers and non-bloggers to write at Professor, What if. Motivated both at a practical level and a theoretical one, I hoped to be able to keep my blog chugging along during the heat of the semester and full-time teaching AND to open up my little space to a diversity of voices. However, thanks to my communication with other feminist bloggers, I have come to see that the guest blogging paradigm can be exploitive. Further, it can serve to keep the ‘big fish’ firmly at the top of the food chain as the little minnows struggle not to be swallowed up.

I still have hope that sharing our virtual spaces and voices can be productive and transformative, but I realize now that these waters require very careful navigation if the intention is to keep everyone afloat. This concern brings the infamous essay “Lifeboat Ethics” to mind with its chilling premise there is not enough room in the boat for everyone. As its subtitle, “The Case against Helping the Poor,” indicates, the thesis purports we must govern our actions by the ethics of the lifeboat and realize there is not resources for everyone in the world to thrive.

As feminist bloggers, we must work against such a paradigm and endeavor to keep everyone afloat. Both those that request guest posts and those who agree to be guest bloggers should aim to keep everyone in feminist blog waters alive and well. Unlike that final sinking scene in the Titanic where those in the water are frantically pushing others down into the water to save themselves, I hope we can find a way to swim, rather than sink, together.

The first guest post will speak to some of these concerns, addressing the worrisome ways the feminist blogosphere functions as an empire, or lifeboat, rather than a flotation device. Do we want to be the colonizers, the colonized, or do away with the imperial process altogether? Do we want to launch a select few to safe land while letting others drown? While most feminists would immediately voice disdain for imperialist practices that exploit and oppress, I think we need to think very carefully about how our own actions sometimes further entrench, rather than erode, systems of power and privilege.

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4 thoughts on “What if we, as feminist bloggers, are governing our actions by the ethics of a lifeboat?”

  1. I’ve been following it from a distance and it’s certainly been interesting if not, perhaps, surprising. There’s this grand illusion that “enlightened” western college-educated people are somehow above prejudice, and a converse one that oppressed groups somehow are able to understand each other better and not clamber over each other in the mad scramble that is social hierarchy. (I know I’ve even propagated the last one myself.)

    Having feminist homophobes strikes me as no different than having a sexist black power advocate or a racist union rep. Somehow political movements that have one utopian vision tend to end up rigid in the face of new challenges, unwilling to listen beyond their pet theories. (Communism being the horror example.) I believe feminism for the most part to be flexible enough to accommodate a wide variety of perspectives, and be willing to listen with its focus on identity, representation and power. But even it is not immune, as the last few days if anything have shown.

  2. Wow, it’s starting to seem that I haven’t been alone in my growing discontent with the feminist blogosphere. Aside from particularly intriguing posts on the smaller, “indy” feminist blogs, I can’t remember the last time I actually engaged in the comments of a blog post. Now, this has become more than ambivalence about the feminist blogosphere, and I’ve actually been struggling with the label “feminist”— what it means for what we do, how people perceive us, and how we see ourselves.

    I think there are a few people emerging as leaders as we start to navigate these waters, to continue your analogy. Renee over at Womanist Musings, Ren at Renegade Evolution, and the voices at some of the smaller blogs.

    I really hope we can grow, mature, nurture & encourage each other, and hold everyone to task. We can’t be afraid to raise our voices right now. I think those of us who are feeling this way should band together and create the space(s) we want.

  3. Birdseed,
    Thank you for reading and commenting. You make excellent points. I hope that feminism is flexible enough to get beyond these problems. As you say, most utopian visions inevitably end up falling into the same old rigid heirarchical traps. Let’s hope we can keep moving forward, progressing if not towards a utopia, at least towards something more just than what we have now.

    FSB,
    I read your post and really enjoyed it. There are indeed so many problems with the term feminist yet it is a term so near and dear to my heart.

    I agree that we have some very strong and important voices paddling us to better waters so to speak. I too think we need to keep working to create the space(s) and world we want.

    Tomorrow a guest post will be up that further examines the fem blog-world — hope you will return and share your thoughts.

  4. Prof, I’m so disgusted with femblogland right now that, in some cases, I feel the drownings of which you speak would be mercy killings.

    The intolerance, the vicious attacks on anyone who dissents, they’re hurting women terribly. I’m tired of it. And I’m terribly, terribly discouraged.

    Those who are intolerant, demeaning, oppressive of other women: I say, let them drown.

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