Naomi talked with Samhita Mukhopadhyay, executive editor of the blog Feministing, and Gwendolyn Beetham, the blog’s academic feminist, about translating feminism for multiple audiences, sustaining a blog without substantial funding, and seeing Judith Butler’s work on PowerPoint slides at the United Nations. Feministing is “an online community for feminists and their allies” founded in 2004.
What does the labor of “bridging the blogging/academic divide,” as Gwendolyn puts it in the description of her series, involve? In what other ways, besides through the “Academic Feminist” series, does Feministing seek to do that kind of bridging?
For a long time before the series was put into action, Samhita and I (and some of the other editors at Feministing) discussed bringing more academic work to the site. This is not only because both of us have an academic background and like to drop words like intersectional and performativity into everyday conversation, but because, like many feminists of our generation and younger, we cut our feminist teeth in a women’s and gender studies classroom. As a result, even if a lot of the editors don’t say so explicitly (and some of them do), much of Feministing’s content is heavily shaped by feminist thought.
On the other side of things, while working in academia (I finished my PhD last year), I noticed the common problem that a lot of “junior” academics face—that is, a lot of the work that they were doing wasn’t making it out into the world at large, whether it was because of the notorious hierarchies in the academic publishing world or the difficulties in translating into language accessible to a larger audience. And of course, there is the problem that, even when feminist academics do want to contribute to public conversations, the lag time in the academic publishing world can be one to three years (and sometimes more!), even for journals that publish online. We hoped that the [End Page 837] Academic Feminist could be a bridge where two things could happen: one, we could make explicit the ties to feminist theory that were already on the site, and two, we could help academics make their work available to a larger audience in a timely manner.
Yes, Gwen is correct, we are all gender nerds at heart and started blogging in part due to our academic training in feminism. But many of us felt constrained by the academic setup, which works for some types of discourse and not others. We wanted to create something more fun and accessible—a new type of grassroots theory that young women of a variety of backgrounds could latch onto to inform their lives.
Do you have any specific stories about times when activist analysis transformed academic work, or vice versa?
I’ve been saying for years that I want to write a piece on the different ways that Butler’s theories about gender have been adapted around the world. I’ve been in discussions at the United Nations and seen Butler’s name pop up on a PowerPoint! Seriously, it’s crazy.
I’ve also seen a push back on the deconstruction of gender, especially from certain parts of the trans activist community, with some people saying “wait a minute, I think that ‘gender fluid’ does not represent who I am; I want to identify within the male/female binary.” Although I think that some of the critique is based on a misreading of Butler’s (and others’) work from both sides, I nevertheless believe it’s a good thing that the lived experiences of trans folks are leading to debates about how theory affects people’s lives. In my opinion, that’s what feminist research—and theory—is supposed to be about.
The rigor and thoughtfulness that organizers often put to their work is generally rooted in some theory they may have interacted with in the past—whether that be feminist theory or ethnic studies or others. It’s hard to separate, since the inception of many of these liberal fields was rooted in the activism of the 70s and 80s. As was seen in the 80s...