A Feminist Home on the Web

An interview with Feministing editor Samhita Mukhopadhyay (28) is like a fast-paced workshop on how to be a tireless wireless feminist. Mukhopadhyay is one of six female staff members that run the blog Feministing. The site editors and founders are motivated by their belief that young women are rarely given the opportunity to speak on their own behalf on issues that affect their lives and futures. Feministing aims to provide a platform for women to comment on and analyze these issues. Roughly 25,000 unique users per day visit the site, which gets more than 50,000 actual hits a day, according to the site's most recent data. A men's group, in response to Feministing's success, has created a mock-feminism blog site at Feministing.org. Mukhopadhyay says: "That shit just makes us more famous."

The site is no sorority house side project. It doesn't "hate" men. It doesn't have male contributors, although men frequently respond to its blogs. It prefers quick, off-the-cuff blogs and rants to fully reported news articles. Mukhopadhyay is the only woman of color among the site staff. They make money off of page ads which is typically spent on new writers or travel.

The San Francisco Chronicle in an article about feminism and First Lady Laura Bush in May 2006 called for a new, all-inclusive "Big Tent" feminism, and chided Feministing as "righteous" in stating that feminism isn't for everybody. AlterNet praised Feministing for its ability to segue flawlessly from rants on Chilean President Michelle Bachelet to reports on a skin-tightening product called "Virgin Cream."

As a feminist blogger, Mukhopadhyay's focus is on productivity and connectivity. During our interview, she huddles up with her laptop and multi-tasks. While firing off responses to my questions, she's also reading an update about an alleged gang rape at Fresno State, recommending other blog sites to me, discussing the pros and cons of polyamory versus hetero-normativity and debating the relevance of mainstream media.

GM: Is the blogosphere the location for a new feminism?

Samhita Mukhopadhyay: If you are an activist and not reading blogs, you're not doing your job. [The blogosphere] is a listening audience and an active audience. It could be anyone out there; an anti-feminist from Ohio, a housewife in Illinois.

GM: Are most of your readers from the Midwest?

SM: We get a lot of response from the Midwest and Austin, Texas, but the Bay Area and New York City are our two mainstays. We hear from a lot of college students.

GM: What do you think draws people to a blog site like Feministing?

SM: Anonymity -- that's the best part about it, for most viewers who want to participate in in-depth discussions. [Anonymous] people say shit they wouldn't normally say. People chime in with very personal stories. "As a woman of color in this town...," you know, like that -- I'm sorry, I just saw an update on this 11-year-old girl who was [allegedly] raped at Fresno City College. Excuse me for a second. I've got to write about this immediately...

GM: It's almost like it's you and your computer against the world. But aren't there drawbacks to leading a feminist movement through blogs? What about face-to-face dialog?

SM: Well, this is our activism; engaging with other bloggers. But yeah, we talk all the time about whether or not we are organizing the people we talk about or if we're just computer nerds. We want to alliance-build. But is it always safe to sit behind your keyboard? No. I still don't always feel confident or safe.

GM: How so?

SM: People come to the site, read my blog and say things like "Don't get out of hand." This is still the dominant view, and there is still such a gendered power imbalance, and it's easy to get caught up in all that and think, "Well, you're right." People have told me I'll never have a journalism career. Some say my writing is unbalanced and anti-white. But it's not, not in this context. I write what I feel and what I see, through the lens of post-colonial theory.

GM: And how, through that lens, are you working to build alliances?

SM: By continuing to read and write. By going to events. I attended "Action in Media" at [the Massachusetts Institute of Technology] this spring. It made me realize how much influence Feministing has. People there knew who we were. In feminism, it's so important to be among colleagues to challenge each other and be surrounded by each other. Plus, a lot of men read my blog. That's how I get laid (laughs).

GM: I think men come to feminism in a lot of different ways. I have a friend whose idea of feminism is to let woman pay the tab at restaurants and bars.

SM: That "what can women do for me" mentality is patriarchy at work. They try to put the joke on us. Statistically, men still make more money than women. But that's not what it's all about. It's about access and power.

GM: Can you elaborate? What are some issues you are focused on right now?

SM: In politics, there is an assault on women and reproductive issues. Look at South Dakota right now and this whole "Plan B-conscience clause-pharmacy ban" thing. I get hundreds of comments daily. I've got 140 comments on drinking and self-esteem alone. I can't read through all that. But also issues like immigration, and how it's a feminist issue. It's not just about the lives of women. It's about how gender and sexism affects our lives. There's Roe vs. Wade, child molestation, rape laws, affirmative action, health care, prostitution, and retirement, like how women have no access to pensions in the UK. I'll even talk about Britney [Spears] once in a while, if it's relevant.

GM: You talk about building alliances, challenging notions of access and power and how gender and sexism play out in society. You don't need to be a feminist to actively struggle against these things. Plus, plenty of folks are quick to dismiss women who stand on a strong feminist platform. Do you consider yourself to be an unmitigated feminist?

SM: Yes. I am a feminist, because I believe that this society is inequitable because of gender, race, class and sexuality. I recognize it and actively seek to change it.

GM: Do you expect people to be on the same page with you?

SM: Feminism can be recognized in many ways. For me, it's more about what our moments of resistance are as women: a mother kicking out her deadbeat husband for not taking care of their child; women with multiple sex partners; women earning power in board rooms. Taking back. Acting back. It's complicated.

GM: Is it possible to have a united feminist movement?

SM: Those chicks who flashed their tits in the 60s largely cater to the white middle class. They often don't do enough to include women of color. I think what you see now is little clusters [of feminists] getting together on issues, like the Duke rape case. It's fragmented, but once something happens, people rally.

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