Earlier this year, an organization dedicated to promoting women writers released a tally of female bylines from the world's most prestigious English-language literary magazines. The group, a nonprofit named VIDA, focused exclusively on articles published in 2011. Their findings were not pretty: of the nearly dozen publications surveyed, around two-thirds of the bylines belonged to men. Draw from this fact what you will, but one point is plain: the internet rolls different.
"Feminist blogging revived feminism. What we haven't accomplished is to figure out how to make most of our entities financially sustainable."
Chalk it up to youth, a democratic spiritor neitherbut on the Web there is seemingly room enough for everyone (and we mean everyone). And so the creation of traffic-devouring female-centered blogs continues apace. Some are spinoffs of marquee sitesthe XX Factor (from Slate), Jezebel (the most commented-on site in the Gawker network), and the Hairpin (of Awl provenance)but others, such as Feministing.com, came up all by themselves.
Samhita Mukhopadhyay joined Feministing in 2005, becoming its executive editor in 2010. (Though staking out a new topic, she released a book the same year, Outdated: Why Dating Is Ruining Your Love Life.) In the following interview, which was conducted by email and has been edited for clarity, Mukhopadhyay talks to Gelf about the importance of online media, what differentiates feminist blogs from women's blogs, and the pitfalls of letting commenters drive a site.
Gelf Magazine: Your site FAQ says "we all have other jobs." What’s your other job?Samhita Mukhopadhyay: I do a variety of thingscollege speaking, consulting for groups on how best to use technology in their campaign goals, and freelance writing.
Gelf Magazine: Why should someone read Feministing?
Samhita Mukhopadhyay: There are very few places where you get authentic opinions from young women unmarred by advertising dollars. If you want the news with an edge, opinion and some good analysis, it's the place to be.
Gelf Magazine: What does the rise (and success) of female-focused blogs such as Feministing, Jezebel, The Hairpin (and more recently, The Jane Dough) mean?
Samhita Mukhopadhyay: That women are on the internet en masse and interested in content that is not solely focused on beauty and fitness. They want analysis and women's/feminist perspectives on literature, movies, music, etc.
Gelf Magazine: A recent article in Mother Jones called attention to the fact that "roughly 65 to 75 percent of the space in prestigious magazines went to male writers." The poet Erin Belieu, who co-commissioned the study, seemed to reject gender-specific segmentation of publishing, writing that "we all know there's no such thing as separate but equal." What are your thoughts on this?
Samhita Mukhopadhyay: I believe there is heavy bias in what voices are considered legitimate, respected and have something new and important to offer. The study only tells us that we don't look to women for those thingsnot that men do it better. I think Mother Jones was correct in calling out this oversight; it's almost embarrassing on their part since so many amazing women produce effective and brilliant hard hitting, long-form journalism.
Gelf Magazine: Why do you define yourself as a feminist blog and not a woman’s blog?
Samhita Mukhopadhyay: Despite major changes to our generation in how sexism functions, we believe we still need feminism and to create space for young people to talk about how sexism and other types of experience impact the world around them. Feminism still matters and we are here to explain why.
Gelf Magazine: What has the site accomplished? What has it not accomplished?
Samhita Mukhopadhyay: Feministing, along with other feminist blogs, has changed the role of feminism in the mainstream media. You will notice much more concrete (even if not perfect) conversations about feminism, gender, race, class, homophobia and other social issues, and I believe feminist bloggers forced mainstream media producers to consider these positions. Feminist blogging revived feminism.
What we haven't accomplished is to figure out how to make most of our entities financially sustainable.
Gelf Magazine: I read blog comments more than I care to admit, and it often seemsno matter what the content of the sitedissenting views (among commenters) are squelched or eventually purged, with the result that the commentariat becomes self-selecting. How do you ensure Feministing is a safe space for differing viewpoints?
Samhita Mukhopadhyay: We moderate our comments fairly heavilyin fact, comments went from running the tone of our site, to heavily moderated because there was such an overwhelming amount of negative commenting. It is more important to us that our readers who are struggling with the issues we are discussing feel like they can come and are welcome at the site than to create space for dissent, which often takes up too much space and silences many who no longer feel comfortable. The truth is there is no true safe space, no matter how hard you try, but we feel if you really are so strongly against the things we talk about, you should get your own damn blog.