While there was plenty of political intrigue and sex scandal dominating the news this past
week, the most provocative article I read was Courtney Martin’s “’You Are the NOW of Now!’ The Future of (Online) Feminism.”
Courtney, a leading young feminist writer and an editor of Feministing.com, last year authored Do It Anyway. Profiling grassroots social justice activists, she argued in the book that effective social justice work today is small, specific, and grassroots rather than the big vision change-the-world movements of her parents’ generation.
In this latest article, however, she confronts the inconvenient but intractable truth that feminism, having rejuvenated itself online as a movement largely through the initiatives of young women’s sweat equity, can have only limited impact while thinking small. And big impact requires big—or at least adequate–money, infrastructure, and sustainability. Here’s her snapshot of the conundrum:
Think of online feminism as the love child of MoveOn.org and Jezebel; though we do news analysis, we collectively hope to send people away from our sites rather than trapping them there…Here’s the bottom line: with support, feminist blogs and online advocacy organizations can develop the next generation of feminist leaders, rapidly mobilize readers to hold corporations accountable, put pressure on lawmakers and spur local coalition-building—at an unprecedented scale. But without a supported feminist web, we will continue to be primarily reactive, increasingly myopic, and elite (who else can afford to blog unpaid?).
The entrepreneurial way in which feminists have utilized the Internet has completely transformed the nature and reach of social justice organizing. For years, bloggers and online organizers were just testing the waters and seeing what worked. Now, the proof of concept phase has long past. It’s time to mature into the second stage—in which online feminism is funded, forward-thinking and just as fierce. It’s time for all of us—bloggers, organizers, philanthropists and business experts alike—to put our heads together and figure out how to create a robust, sustainable online space that can serve as the “women’s center in the sky” (as Gloria Steinem recently put it to me) for the next generation.
I thought of Courtney’s article when I was talking with one of See Jane Do’s founders, Elisa Parker, today. See Jane Do is one creative example of that “women’s center in the sky” and this one is especially aimed at connecting rural women, who are often isolated geographically, and it enables them to pursue their individual passions for making the world better through social action.
It’s been a multimedia organization from its inception–peruse its website to see myriad ways they are using media to connect and then use their collective power to create positive change. “Everyday women turning passion into action and doing extraordinary things” is the See Jane Do tagline. And I know from interviewing Elisa and her co-founder Jesse Locks when I was writing No Excuses that their passion-induced, sweat equity-created dream has grown to the point that they must find sustainable funding.
To quote hapless presidential candidate Rick Perry, “Oops.” Unfortunately, women’s traditional lack of access to money has in too many instances transformed itself into a reluctance to embrace the power of having money. We have to get over that. Money is not the end goal, but it is the “power to”…to accomplish whatever you think needs to be done in this world.
And it’s crucial that women become increasingly the sources of major funding for these endeavors, following the lead of female philanthropists like Women Moving Millions and and venture funders such as Golden Seeds.
As I said when speaking on a panel at the South Carolina Women Lawyers Association Conference on Women Lawyers and Leadership, in response to the inevitable concerns about lack of funding for leadership development in their firms: the revolution must be funded.
To reach the point where meaningful funds to give or invest in building this new feminist movement exist, women must first think of ourselves as worthy of being paid fairly for our work. Learning how to negotiate fair pay despite a stagnant economy was the subject of my BlogHer Career column this week. Check it out—you’ll find immediately useful tips from experts I interviewed.
And in the event that you find you’re still making excuses for why you don’t ask for that raise or promotion, be sure to read Lisa Gates’ piece for Forbes.com where in amusing fashion she outs all those self-limiting lies we tell ourselves.
But even if they raise all the money they need and then some, I encourage the young feminists building the new vibrant online movement to bear in mind what a wise person told me long ago. It’s a valuable leadership principle: “An idea becomes a movement. A movement becomes an organization. An organization becomes an institution. And therein lies the death of the movement.”
So please, never lose sight of the idea that started the movement in the process of building an institution. Steve Jobs put it, “Stay hungry.” I say, stay revolutionary and keep growing just a little beyond the movement’s capacity.
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