The Carnival of Feminists


Georgia Gaden


On 19 October 2005 Natalie Bennett wrote on her blog, Philobiblon, “Welcome! to the first Carnival of Feminists. In this show there are no captive animals or ‘freak’ displays, but plenty of passion, lots of fun, and more than the odd bit of juggling of life.” Since then, there have been close to fifty editions of the Carnival of Feminists, usually running on the first and third Wednesday of each month and hosted at a different blog each time. Although Bennett initiated the first Carnival of Feminists, blog carnivals had been popping up in various communities in the blogosphere since 2002, when the Silflay Hraka blog announced its first Carnival of the Vanities (Bigwig, 20 Sept 2002). Indeed, when I asked Bennett in an e-mail interview on 19 August 2007 what inspired her to start the Carnival of Feminists, she said: “I saw male bloggers promoting themselves with vigour all over the blogosphere and saw very few women doing likewise – this was my attempt to get women promoting themselves and each other, and to hopefully bring together women who could help and support each other, share ideas and experiences, learn from each other.”

Bennett also explained that the Carnival of Feminists works much like other blog carnivals: the host blogger (who is a volunteer) makes a collection of outstanding blog writing from across the feminist blogosphere. In addition to the host trawling the Web and using her contacts to find material, bloggers may submit their own pieces or nominate the work of others for consideration. Like many blog carnivals, the Carnival of Feminists is sometimes organized around a specific theme: for instance, the thirteenth carnival explored a book theme (Terry, 18 Apr 2006) and the fortieth carnival addressed the theme “feminisms and challenges” (Dewey, 4 July 2007). Even when the content is more general, posts are often grouped thematically, with the host blogger introducing and linking to each post. The introduction may include a comment from the host blogger, a brief quote from the piece, or simply a title and a link.

Bennett feels that the carnival has done much to help new female voices online:

I think the carnival helps to encourage and support new female voices – some have gone on to mainstream media writing, others have grown to be major parts of the blogosphere. It also helps the general visibility of women bloggers – it is not infrequently cited, or its participants cited, in the mainstream media as representing in some way ‘young’, ‘new’ feminist voices (although the age range of participants is, I think, quite evenly spread from late teens to say 50s).

While the blogosphere has provided an invaluable space for feminist voices, online events such as carnivals also contribute to the creation of important dialogues. Indeed, when Bennett founded the Carnival of Feminists, one of her aims was to create and support dialogue among the different strands of feminist thought, to expose feminists to approaches that were perhaps unfamiliar to them. In my own study of feminist blogging, I have thought a great deal about how blogging technology allows bloggers to connect with one another, to engage in conversations as well as monologues, and to do so in a way that does not demand extensive outlay or technical skill. The hyperlink,[1] a mainstay of many online texts, allows bloggers to connect their texts to other blogs, incorporating the linked text into the blog in a more tangible way than a citation, for instance, and comments[2] allow readers to add their voices to the text of the blog entry, often making blogs collaborative texts, even when they are maintained by a single blogger. Additional functions, such as trackback, traffic trackers, or site meters, allow bloggers to connect to other sites that have referenced a particular post and (in the case of a traffic tracker like Google Analytics) provide a snapshot of the visitor’s location and time spent on the site. Also, open-access and user-friendly blogging platforms, such as Blogger, offer anyone with an Internet connection and a basic knowledge of word-processing and Internet navigation a low-cost and (theoretically at least) low-hassle publishing option. Bearing all of this in mind, and focusing on the positive, blogging technology has the potential to facilitate dialogue among feminists; it allows us to speak to and listen to each other, learn from each other, challenge each other, support each other, and form intellectual and activist networks with each other.

Although blogging has the potential to eliminate (or at least challenge) many barriers when it comes to publishing and connecting with an audience, barriers that continue to exclude many women from the relatively privileged circle of the blogosphere must not be ignored. Writer and blogger Audacia Ray describes the inequality of global Internet access: “Seventy-five percent of Americans have Internet access, while in many developing countries, less than 5 percent of the population has access” (Ray 211). The effect of this imbalance is something Bennett has felt in her own attempts to extend the reach of the Carnival of Feminists: “I started out hoping to get a real dialogue going between bloggers in the developed and developing world, and that really hasn't worked out.” To date, the Carnival covers four continents, and Bennett is keen to involve bloggers in Africa and South America.

Difficulties do not end, however, with access to the Internet, blogging skills, and the luxury of free time. Many feminist bloggers face yet more challenges that can be frustrating and even frightening. Earlier this year, Jessica Valenti, editor of the widely read feminist blog Feministing.com, described in The Guardian (UK) how many women bloggers have been the targets of sustained and frightening hate attacks. She wrote, “While no one could deny that men experience abuse online, the sheer vitriol directed at women has become impossible to ignore” (Valenti 2). Valenti referred specifically to the experience of Kathy Sierra, a blogger who was afraid to leave her property and cancelled events because threats of physical violence had been made against her online. In our correspondence, Bennett also commented on the attacks many feminist bloggers experience, “From what I've seen it tends to be women bloggers from ethnic minority communities who have the toughest time online, suffering from a high level of abuse and troll attacks. Not everyone can face this, however, and not everyone is ready for it.”

As I see it, it is equally important to value the opportunities the blogosphere affords feminists online (to applaud the achievements of feminist bloggers) and to recognize the hostility and challenges those bloggers and would-be bloggers face. Indeed, those challenges more often than not mirror the inequalities and dangers faced by women offline. Events such as the Carnival of Feminists, in their capacity to contribute to a sense of community, may not eliminate the potential for abusive comments or harassment, but they at least connect feminist bloggers with each other, which generates a feeling of safety in numbers. Bennett feels that the Internet provides a screen that also contributes to a sense of confidence in some: “I think many women find the blogosphere a powerful space to speak out, where in a public meeting or other face-to-face environment they might find it more difficult.” In Naked on the Internet: Hookups, Downloads and Cashing in on Internet Sexploration, Audacia Ray explains how this screen works for women exploring their sexuality online: “Though many women have the potential and the drive to be freer, they still feel the sharpness of societal constraints when they’re moving around in the world outside the blogosphere. Something about sharing face-to-face and making eye contact opens us up to witnessing the judgements we expect to receive from others. Which is why for so many women the Internet is a safe place to explore, allowing them to make incremental steps toward feeling out their comfort in the world beyond the computer screens” (Ray 97). As a frequent blog reader, I am certainly glad that so many feminist writers have taken the plunge and have thrown their hats into the ring of the Carnival of Feminists. I have found the posts gathered in these carnivals for the most part very interesting, informative, and well written, and I have located many feminist blogs that I otherwise might never have happened upon. Furthermore, the posts themselves seem to generate the kind of thoughtful, insightful discussion I have come to associate with feminist blogging.

To read more about the Carnival of Feminists – where and when the next carnival will be, links to past carnivals, and details regarding hosting and participating – visit The Carnival of Feminists blog (URL in sidebar). The most recent carnival will indicate the venue of the next, and it will provide an e-mail address for submissions or nominations.


Notes

1 A hyperlink is a piece of text or an image that, when clicked, transports the reader to another location online (to another blog or blog post, for example). back

2 Comments allow readers to provide feedback and the blogger to read and respond to this feedback. Comments may be added (or read) via hyperlink, which is often at the end of each blog post. Most blogs allow comments, but some blogs do not allow readers to respond to them and quite a few moderate the comments they receive (i.e., comments are screened before they are published). back


Works Cited

Bigwig. ”Carnival of the Vanities.” Silflay Hraka. 20 Sept 2002. [http://www.silflayhraka.com/archives/2002/09/carnival_of_the_vanities.html]. (19 Sept 2007).

Dewey. “Carnival of Feminists: 40th Edition.” the hidden side of a leaf (a books blog). [http://deweymonster.com/?p=220]. (19 Sept 2007).

Ray, Audacia. Naked on the Internet: Hookups, Downloads and Cashing in on Internet Sexploration. Emeryville, CA: Seal Press, 2007.

Terry. “Carnival of Feminists XIII.” I See Invisible People. [http://dailytroll.com/?p=765]. (19 Sept 2007).

Valenti, J. “How the web became a sexists’ paradise.” Guardian Unlimited. 6 Apr 2007. [http://technology.guardian.co.uk/news/story/0,,2051580,00.html]. (19 Sept 2007).


Carnivals of note
 
The Carnival of Feminists: http://feministcarnival.blogspot.com/
 
Philobiblon: http://www.philobiblon.co.uk/
 
Carnival of Radical Feminists: http://carnivalofradicalfeminists.wordpress.com/
 
Radical Women of Color Carnival: http://radicalwoc.blogspot.com/
 
Carnival of Bent Attractions: http://blogcarnival.com/bc/cprof_132.html
 
Carnival Against Sexual Violence: http://carnivalagainstsexualviolence.blogspot.com/
 
Feminist SF: http://carnival.feministsf.net/?p=5
 
Scientiae: Stories of and from women in science, engineering, technology and math: http://scientiae-carnival.blogspot.com/
 
Search for carnivals at the Blog Carnival meta-site: http://blogcarnival.com/bc/

Sample Feminist Blogs
 
Feministing: http://www.feministing.com
 
Feministe: http://feministe.powweb.com/blog/
 
Bitch PhD: http://bitchphd.blogspot.com/
 
The F Word: http://www.thefword.org.uk/blog/
 
Redemption Blues: http://www.redemptionblues.com/
 
Angry Black Bitch: http://angryblackbitch.blogspot.com/
 
A Feminist Blog: http://afeministblog.blogspot.com/





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