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Virtual feminist activism: The importance of girls' online blogging communities

by Jenn Chmielewski

*From the SPARK Research! Blog Archive: This blog was originally written for SPARK, a girl-fueled organization working to ignite an anti-racist gender justice movement

Okay, so I’ll admit it. Post-Turkey day and just a couple weeks off from my family’s Christmas dinner (and my awesome candy cane cookies) I’ve started to think a little too much about how this holiday season might be putting a few pounds on me. When it’s just me with a mirror, sometimes I can be a little hard on myself, especially if I’ve had the inescapable pleasure of seeing…oh, any commercial really, or the covers of the magazines I always read while I wait in line to buy my Stephen Colbert Americone Dream ice cream from the little market across the street. Just yesterday it was US Weekly shouting to me that ‘Miranda Lambert has lost 20 pounds and looks better than ever!’ while Miley Cyrus was twerking on the cover of Cosmopolitan with headlines about having the best sex ever and reminders not to gain too much weight over the holidays. As I sat crunching away at my ice cream cone later that night, I grew more and more frustrated that I was left feeling guilty about the fact that I haven’t lost 20 pounds and that I most certainly will be enjoying my holiday meals for the next month without giving a thought to dieting. I was mad at the magazines for making me feel bad about how I looked, but I was also a little annoyed at myself for not figuring out a way to eat less of that delicious ice cream… What’s a girl to do?

Well, what this girl did was talk to her friends for support and read a few feminist blogs online to snap back into reality. I found a feminist guide to surviving the holidays on Feministing and caught up on the latest SPARK blogs, which reminded me that I wasn’t alone in my frustrations with the world, and that enjoying ice cream is totally normal. Our SPARK research blogs have reported on research that shows how the objectification of women in the media is so bad for us, decreasing our self-esteem, ability to think, and making us believe our bodies are worth more than our brains and feelings. But we aren’t helpless against these vicious ideas and can actually fight back and change them, SPARK is a total testament to that. Not only is girl-inspired and created activism creating real change in the world and media, but I also feel good about myself when I am connected to other young women (online and in-person) who are passionate about these issues like I am. When I stop looking at myself in the mirror and start surrounding myself by the positive energy of other feminist activists, I remember all that I have to offer myself and other people.

And it turns out that now there’s some research to show that other girls feel the same way about their activism and feminist blogging. Researcher Jessalynn Marie Keller talked with eight teen girl feminist bloggers to find out about their experiences with feminist blogging and activism.[1] She asked these young writers questions about what feminism meant to them, how feminists support each other online, what kinds of blogging and activism they engaged in, and how they felt their engagement with feminism had influenced their perspectives of media representations of teenage girls.[2]

I’m sure you savvy SPARK readers won’t be surprised by what she found: participating in feminist blogging was really important for girls to build a sense of feminist community, identity, and empowerment. When we are young, it can be kind of difficult to connect to other feminists. So much seems to be geared towards adult women, and it feels like teens are being talked about but aren’t doing the talking. Keller found that online feminist blogging is a great way to create spaces where young feminists can write and connect to other teens and young women – it’s a new way to think about activism and what a feminist community can be. And the girls she interviewed talked about the importance of this community for a ton of reasons: forming friendships (very important!), getting and sharing information and education about politics and feminist issues, and feeling empowered by ‘talking back,’ expressing their ideas and having their voices heard.

So not only are the girls in the study working on massively cool feminist projects (just like the SPARK team and SPARK Action Squad) in a media world otherwise saturated with sexism, but they also developed empowered activist identities in the process of connecting with other girls online. Even though we are inundated everywhere we turn with the sexualization of girls and women in really messed up ways, we aren’t passive victims. I know, I know, it might sound really corny, but together, we really do have the power to change things and ourselves. If we can imagine a feminist world, we can create it together.

The moral of this story is that this holiday season, I am thankful to all of you. I am thankful to you for creating this space where we can learn, share, be angry at the injustices we see in the media, and come together to do something about it. So while I enjoy delicious food and ring in the New Year, I will have my laptop close by, ready to check in whenever I need some support. And ready to vent when I see those sexy Santa costumes that just won’t go away. *facepalm* Happy holidays!

[1] Keller, J. M. (2012). Virtual feminisms: Girls blogging communities, feminist activism, and participatory politics. Information, Communication & Society, 15, 429-447.

[2] Keller, J. M. (2013). “Still alive and kicking”: Girl bloggers and feminist politics in a postfeminist age. Unpublished dissertation, University of Texas, Austin

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