Feminist Pedagogical Example #4: The Online Community

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I've been a member of an online community (SS) for seven and a half years. The community has about 1,000 members, 95% female, and most members have been active for at least five years. Members reside around the world but are mostly American, Canadian, or British. There are regular posts and conversations about feminism and applying feminist values in a variety of contexts. Recently a member made the following post:

"Let us talk. do you ever feel marginalized or silenced in SS? are there certain issues you avoid talking about or types of comments you avoid making in here? why or why not? do you ever feel like the white majority in SS "doesnt get it"(whatever that might mean to you)? why or why not? also, i'd like to have a greater discussion about the race/ethnicity and dating/attraction question I posted in the above thread. I'm very curious to see how this will go."

573 comments were posted in response (most posts garner 50-200 comments). A lot of interesting conversations sprang up, some of which I'd like to share here to demonstrate how an online community can function in feminist pedagogical ways. I've renamed users for anonymity and compiled some brief exchanges to show the breadth of the topics being engaged:

Defining Silence:
JT: idk how any of us can really be "silenced" here. i haven't seen anyone bullied into submission or banned over having an unpopular opinion except for like, 11centz or people being outright hateful or some kind of fucked up -ist
EF: not literally silenced. people can silence you by refusing to listen to or understand what you're saying.
AK: I think lots of people get shit for having unpopular opinions...
JT: that isn't the same as being "silenced." it means u've been heard and ppl just don't like what u have to say.

"Model minorities":
DCTIO: Why do some of the Asian members feel like they aren't minorities?
AG: because we're like 'the model minority' :( also i've straight up been told in discussions of race/ privilege that i should stfu because i've never been marginalized because 1) i can pass and 2) when people identify me as asian that it doesn't impact their opinion of me negatively and i don't want to tread on anyone's toes.
ADC: i feel like that's so ridiculous that someone told you that, i'm sorry :( part of the "model" minority myth is a "naturally" docile, compliant, timid, easily influenced/subjugated nature. how is that not marginalizing?
AG: thank you. i didn't even know how to respond especially because i tend to get shit from both white people for being insufficiently white, too Asian or offended about racism towards Asians and from Asian people for being too white/ a 'mongrel'. blah.

i think the model minority myth is super damaging both to Asian people and other minority groups, especially because effectively communicates that Asian people shouldn't be offended by our treatment because we're held up as a shining example of people who have assimilated and adapted super well (gold star for us! no gold star for other minority groups.) and because we need to be docile, compliant, timid, easily influenced and easily subjugated to be considered a 'good' minority and thus can feel unable to speak up when we experience racism.

sorry, word vomit. i have a lot of feeeelings haha.

On White Privilege
BTF: you cant keep privilege in check without acknowledging it. and just because youre a majority in one sense doesnt mean you cant be a minority in another.

yes, SS uses the word privilege too much lately, but that anon comment was stupid. saying that my life has been easy in some ways so i shouldnt have any say in any kinds of oppression? what the fuck ever. so am i just supposed to sit back and let people be ignorant because i'm white?

me being against oppression is not because im white and therefore have nothing else to complain about. and me standing up when i see something is wrong is not because I Went To College. its because im a decent human being.
MYH: Yeah, I totally agree with it. My standing up to what I see is wrong comes out of being a decent human being, not because I took anthropology 101. And it also rubbed me the wrong way to assume white privileged girls are just standing up for something because they learned about it in college.
BP: Yeah, seriously. I went to a mostly socially deficient male engineering school, there was no Oppression 101, and if they did offer it, it would have been a fucking joke. The only language course they offered was C++.
MAMYR: i'm reluctant to step in here but i'm going to do it anyway because i've been drinking!

nobody is saying that it's not right to acknowledge privilege if you're white. the problem comes when white allies start to speak for the people they're trying to support, instead of letting them speak for themselves. i'm not trying to get too jargon-y here, but that is just one more form of oppression and one more way that white people (or straight people or w/e) invade "safe spaces" and take them over. and the fact that their opinions are often taken more seriously by the world at large than they would be if a person of color voiced the same opinions is just salt in the wound. and you can even see this here in this exact post, which was aimed at minorities but has plenty of allies in here, trying to speak for them.

and now i'm going to bow out, because i'm pretty sure i just did the exact same thing i'm bitching about in this post.

On the Community's Failures
HS: you're all so well read with your feminist studies and your throwing around terms like "oppressive matrixes" but you do not get it at all if you're willing to deny that you have any privilege and it's wrong for me to remind you of that. and with that being said, that is exactly why we can't have any real discussions in here and i guess how i feel censored as a minority here. this is privileged white girl politics at its finest and no one gives a shit about the minority perspective unless it's coming from a certain place... aka another white girl who says its cool to care about something. i posted about the most devastating murder BY A FUCKING COP in my community and like 10 people commented but y'all can have 100+ comments in a story about a fucking kid getting kicked out of a private pool because he was black? seriously y'all?! your very perspective is coming from a place of privilege and i'm sorry calling you on it hurts your feelings or whatever but boo-fucking-hoo. You may consider yourself an ally and you can read all the books you want but you'll never ever understand some of the hurt that comes with being marginalized

fuck this "don't call me privileged my life is hard tooo" conversation. i'm gonna call it like i see it and if you're on your high horse trying to lecture me or spout our some facts about being a minority that you read in a book at your university, we're gonna call you out.
LB: yeah. like why is this issue so hard to understand?
JP: I want to high five you so hard right now. I really am so incredibly dissatisfied at how this post turned out.

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I suggest this is an example of feminist pedagogy for a few reasons:

1. SS represents a diverse collectivity of people explicitly engaging in complex feminist topics. Dialoguing thoughtfully about such topics is a feminist practice.
2. These conversations are filled with personal experiences, historical examples, academic and theoretical points, and generative question/answer sections. Many forms of knowledge are counted as legitimate in SS.
3. Members make genuine attempts to listen and grow from the conversations (for example this post reflected multifaceted topics that have emerged over years of interaction). Meta-conversations promote reflexivity. Listening and self-reflexivity are important to feminist pedagogy.
4. Members will often discuss attempting to implement their feminist beliefs in their lives and seek support/advice from the community in doing so. Because some members are teachers or graduate students these conversations are very much about pedagogy.
5. Overall, the community offers solidarity to hundreds of different feminists working through their lives. Community is itself an important feminist value.

I also decided to blog about SS because I wanted to offer an example of an online community that has effectively sustained feminist conversations and relationships between hundreds of members across the globe. Nowhere else do I find myself engaging in feminist dialogues on a regular basis with so many different people, especially outside of the classroom.

4 Comments

Woww!!! Thanks for posting this! Sounds like a very high intensity exchange. I'm so curious to know what people take out of these conversations. Obviously a lot of offense and defense and I'm wondering if there has been any sort of solidarity built. Perhaps people have complicated some of their previously held notions, perhaps held strongly to those notions more so. But do they acknowledge changes to the ones who challenged them or are these more personal? What does building solidarity across so many differences (and distrust?) look like and towards what ends? Is it possible? Is having a common space to talk and debate around these issues sufficient for solidarity? What else is needed?

Good questions... In that same post several members had discussions reflecting on what they've learned because of SS (myself included). I think most of the time members appreciate learning but also feel excluded by the more radical feminists... so the notion of solidarity IS complicated!

I don't think having a common space to talk and debate around the issues is sufficient for solidarity, I think solidarity also requires a component of sharing and dialoguing that experience/space with others in legitimizing ways. So as you and I engage in this topic now, if we continued to do so for five years, I would feel a connection to that conversation. That's what SS has been doing for a long time with hundreds of members. I wonder if I'm conflating the idea of "support" or "participation" with "solidarity".

A lot of SS members have met in person too so I wonder if that changes the dynamic or "authenticity" of the dialogues. People didn't start having meet-ups until about four years into the community's existence but they have happened in Austin, Chicago, New York, L.A., Portland, Sydney Australia, London, Boston, and Minneapolis too! So some of those relationships are very "real".

Super interesting post. Somewhat building off of Aditi's comment, I'm curious how the community responded to HS's post on the community's failures. Was there a lot of discussion about this? Were there any changes made in how people interacted?

I think this is an interesting post considering our facebook activity, which we will do today. I am wondering if you felt that the feminist conversations that you are having on SS were more engaging or critical than the responses that you received on facebook? I would suspect that it is not that we "need" a separate online community to have critical dialogues about feminist issues, but like the above member decided to do we must feel comfortable challenging those we engage with the most. In an online community where feminist issues are talked about regularly I am kind of surprised that this topic has not been talked about before. What does it mean that after 7 years even within a feminist online community we are perhaps "afraid" of asking these tough questions?

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