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November 8, 2011 / Anna Louie Sussman

Long Live the Lady-Centered Blogosphere; Please Fund the Lady-Centered Blogosphere

In the same week that New York magazine’s cover story celebrated “the lady-centered blogosphere,” the Nation ran a story about the realities of maintaining the lady-centered blogosphere. Here are excerpts from the two articles, one written largely to describe and celebrate, and one written mostly to explain and gripe. One sounds like ad copy for a new kitchen appliance. The other sounds like the trouble-shooting section in the instruction manual. From the New York magazine article by New York editor-at-large Emily Nussbaum:

Like feminism itself, it would be a mistake to peg the lady-centered blogosphere as just one thing (“lady” being the term of choice for many online writers, an ironized alternative to the earnest “woman” or problematic “girl”). Some posters consider themselves primarily activists, some journalists, some artists. Many sites operate less as magazines and more as collectives, in which like-minded thinkers burn out or are snatched up to high-profile gigs. Among ambitious writers, this game of musical chairs goes on each day: When I meet with Jezebel blogger Irin Carmon, she describes her decision to take a job at Salon, replacing Rebecca Traister, who is now writing for the Times—which means Carmon’s job will be taken by “MorningGloria,” a Jezebel commenter who left her finance job to take the gig and who now writes under her full name, Erin Gloria Ryan.

Sounds awesome, right? A young-girls-club where everyone shares broader goals of social justice and refers each other for great jobs, but there’s plenty of room for feisty debate on intersectionality, what Kim Kardashain’s divorce means for women, or whether “SlutWalk” protests are inherently exclusive to women of color.

From the Nation piece by Courtney Martin, an editor emeritus of Feministing:

Blogs like Feministing, of which I am an editor emeritus, have operated without any formal structure for years. Third-party advertising networks, like Google Adwords, provide the majority of our revenue, but most often there is no money left over—after tech and hosting fees—to pay any of our eleven bloggers. We’ve been caught in a seven-year chicken-or-egg-cycle; at annual retreats, we discuss next steps for formalizing our structure and focusing on becoming financially sustainable, and then our full-time jobs (largely as communications consultants at feminist nonprofits and freelance journalists) crowd out any time to follow up. We’re too busy trying to make ends meet to figure out how to make ends meet.

Nussbaum’s story ends with a list of lady blogs to check out, which includes many of the dead-broke blogs whose participants are also in Martin’s piece, more of which I excerpt below (it’s really worth reading the whole thing, though – please go on ahead).

This leads us to the biggest misperception of all—this one even held by many bloggers and online organizers themselves: that online feminism is free. It’s not. Many feminists innovated remarkably early on in the Internet’s existence, founding blogs and online communities, but we’ve largely stalled in progress over the last few years because we are under-resourced and overwhelmed. Samhita Mukhopadhyay, the executive editor of Feministing.com, explains, “Blogging has become the third shift. You do your activist work, then you have a job to make money and then you blog on top of that. It’s completely unsupported.”

….

Online organizing has infused new energy—not to mention drawn thousands of newly minted feminists—into the feminist movement, and yet the movement’s financial backers haven’t caught up to the new reality. Despite the high-profile rise of women’s-focused philanthropy in the past few years, including initiatives like Women Moving Millions, only a few foundations or individual donors publicly purport to be focused on supporting online movement building. The Media Consortium’s Jo Ellen Kaiser acknowledges that “a handful of foundations and donors–especially the smaller foundations–that may previously have given mainly to advocacy movements, are beginning to understand that they need to give to media as well in order to support online movement building.”

As someone who has been doing my best to write about women’s issues and keep a roof over my head all at the same time, the Nation story struck me as the more important of the two. Yes, New York, online feminist activism is an important cultural phenomenon to document. But the Nation story asks, how can we sustain it? Why are major philanthropists, eager to “empower women,” ignoring it?

That the more wild, lefty, disruptive shades of the lady-blogosphere are underfunded (which, long-term, can come to mean “silenced”) I guess should come at no surprise. But meanwhile, over in the mainstream media, women’s issues are all the rage. I wrote a blog post for the Financial Times’ Women at the Top blog that should appear in the next few days, in which I describe the explosion of women-focused coverage at places ranging from Bloomberg News to the International Herald Tribune to the Huffington Post to Forbes magazine.

It remains to be seen how this demand in the mainstream media for lady-focused content will interact with the voices, talents and financial troubles of the lady-focused blogosphere.  Their respective needs and goals are not exactly aligned, but I’m optimistic that there’s room for productive overlap.

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