An Open Letter to the Feminist Blogging Community

Or: “Why I am Taking a Break.”

Dear Feminist Bloggers 1,

I think it’s time I take a break.  I don’t know if this will end in a complete “break up,” if you will, but it will be a definite break.  I am not going to blog or post on Tumblr for 30 days, starting right after I post this, I am not going to be reading any blogs,  (In fact, I am going to seriously clean up my feeds) and I am not going to post or read anything on Twitter or Facebook for at least 10 days.   I’ve really enjoyed our time together, and you all have been invaluable to me as I’ve stumbled through a thesis using your brilliant ideas and writings, and as I’ve grown into my own definition of feminism.

But, that’s just it.  My definition of feminism seems to be growing away a bit from the community’s as a whole, or maybe it just was never the same.  I think there is a disconnect between me and my beliefs and many of yours, and I think that disconnect lies in the fact that I am a high school teacher, and I am not steeped in academia or living in the middle of a liberal city.  I think it’s easy to have lots of highbrow discussions back and forth when you’re in the midst of many other people who have read the same articles as you or who have been to the same lectures as you (say, on a university campus, for example.  Or in the middle of a big city.),  or, perhaps, when you’re the one giving the lectures.  But, sometimes, it’s very difficult to reconcile these academic ideas with the world in which I live and work.  And I think me being out of grad school for a while has only helped to deepen this divide.

Don’t get me wrong; the work of the academics and lecturers is vital to the feminist movement.  However, for every academic discussion about feminism (or any -ism, really), there isn’t necessarily a clear, practical application for those of us who are not on a university campus or in a big city, and who aren’t constantly surrounded with people who share our beliefs and opinions.  And it is this disconnect that, in turn, causes a disconnect between belief sets.

Let me give you a concrete example of what I’m talking about.  Anyone who’s spent any time in undergrad or graduate level classes knows the frustration (or perhaps this does not frustrate you) of reading scholarly articles after scholarly articles that do nothing but talk in circles around each other and add nothing to “real life” but more theory.  This theory is vitally important, and change could not be made without it.  But it is sometimes difficult – maybe impossible – to practice what is preached, so to speak.

Theory is often a one size fits all type of thing.  You’re either going to buy it or you’re not.  But there is very rarely any in-between.  Take, for example, the idea floating around out there that feminists should not get married.  Or that, if they do get married, it should be a simple affair because importance should be placed on the marriage, not the wedding, and “these bridezillas who care about nothing but their white dresses and perfect, expensive receptions, never stop to think about their marriages, and shouldn’t that be the important part?”  (Yes.  I saw that sentiment on a feminist blog a little while ago.)  In my opinion, this just isn’t practical, nor is it correct.  It seems based on various bridal shows one might see on TLC, but not based so much on real life. (And this surprises me a bit coming from a group of people who continually critique pop culture; why would such a group willingly buy into the idea that most brides are actually anything like what we see on reality TV and romantic comedies without critique or second thought?)  OK, I’ll be the first to admit it: I may be hyper sensitive because I am having a rather large wedding, and we decided to do that because this is the biggest decision we’ve made in our lives so far, and it is the happiest we have ever been, and we wanted to share it with as many friends and family as possible.  But we are also very focused on our marriage and getting our lives together right.  We have conversations almost daily about our future.  The wedding is a day.  The marriage is a lifetime.  And I think most brides really do know that.

But this is just one example.  I have had feminist bloggers who don’t know the first thing about teaching try to tell me how to implement feminism in my own classroom, or tell me that I’m “doing it wrong” when it comes to teaching and feminism.  I’m not trying to be elitist here, but I am saying that I do know my craft.  And maybe feminist blogging isn’t my craft, but teaching most certainly is.  And, as a teacher, I know that I cannot make radical changes or radical theoretical statements in my classroom.  They just won’t go over well, and might even get me fired.  Theory must be radical, but teaching cannot practically be so.  Perhaps that’s where my philosophy of Small Strokes comes in: I am not trying to be radical in any way, but just trying to make small differences.  Maybe one student this year might remember the discussions we had about feminism who wouldn’t have otherwise known about feminism at all.  Maybe two students might see a boy treating his girlfriend badly and say something about it because of my influence.  These things might seem small to you, but they are my ultimate success stories.

I think it is this that makes people look down on teachers quite a bit.  (Do you know how many times I’ve been told I could do better than teaching?  Or how many surprised and disdained looks I got when I told people in undergrad that, no, I wasn’t going on to grad school right away and, yes, I always wanted to teach?)  We’re in a different sphere, making different changes in different ways than, say, the feminist blogosphere.  But when I’m teaching, I feel I’m doing the most important thing I can do with my life.  Sure, other people might be traveling the world, giving lectures or volunteering or studying (all extremely important activities), but I’m in the trenches.  And I’m not leaving.  And I won’t ever stop being an activist in my classroom.  There has been a lot of talk circulating about the privilege embedded in blogging-as-activism, and that bloggers can just walk away from their writing and their activism – put it on hold for a bit while they take care of other things.  I’m telling you right now, I cannot walk away from my activism, for, as soon as I do, I cease to be helpful to my students or to myself. I live and breathe activism in my classroom, and I see things that many feminist theorists may not.  But when I blog from my perspective, often, I’m told that I’m wrong or didn’t say it right.  (I didn’t know thoughtful opinions steeped in research or personal experience could be wrong.)  Frankly, I just can’t handle it right now.  Not to get too personal, but I’ve lost a lot of the confidence I felt I had previously, and the incessant criticism that is coming at me because of this blog is too much.  And it’s hard not to see blog posts that probably have nothing to do with you, but indict something that you’re currently immersed in and not take it personally.

So, I’m going to take a break.  I’ve seen how valuable this can be with Equality 101, and I now want to do it for myself.  I want to relax a bit, let this all sink in, focus on the end of school and grad school, and – hopefully – refocus on this blog and Equality 101. I don’t know what this blog will look like afterwards, or what time commitment I will be promising to it, but I know that this is best for me.

So.  Hopefully I’ll see you all on the flipside.

Sincerely,

Ashley Lauren

  1. There was some disagreement earlier about me using “feminists” as a general term to begin a previous letter about how upset I am becoming with the feminist blogging community (I shouldn’t add to the stereotype that all feminists feel this way, etc.).  However, I am becoming more and more upset with the feminist blogging community as a whole as the days pass, so I am addressing this to you in general.  This post will probably make some people very unhappy, but so be it.  I need to get it out.  If it doesn’t apply to you, then take it for what it is.  If it does apply to you… read on.  Or don’t.

13 thoughts on “An Open Letter to the Feminist Blogging Community

  1. I’m sad, because this is exactly the reason you SHOULD be a part of the feminist blogosphere (and why I left academia).

    But, I understand and agree that your greater more important work is in the classroom. Good luck and thank you for all of your work.

  2. I’ll miss you, though I’m glad you’re doing what you need to do for your own growth. I don’t always comment on your posts, but I enjoy reading them.

    You’re right that a lot of the theory in the feminist blogging community tends toward the prescriptive (ie telling people not to get married), but theory doesn’t have to: in fact, good theory shouldn’t imo, but maybe I think that way because I spent a good few years out there teaching EFL before coming back to academia to do my PhD.

    Anyway, however long this break ends up being, I wish you all the best.

  3. Sophia on

    Good for you .. As a teacher your work
    is one of the most important … Ever. It was a teache who first introduced me to little known female authors and poets , who first showed me what is feminism. I think the “small” victories such as those you listed aren’t small.. But monumental.

    Thanks for everything you do

    Sophia

  4. I’m really proud of you.

    I wish you wouldn’t take the break — I think your voice needs to be heard. Feminism is a multitude of different ideas and beliefs, but all about empowering women. Your message is important to what feminism fights for — at least, for what I fight for.

    I’m sad I won’t see your thoughts on here anymore, but you know you can talk to me about feminism, or anything else, at any time.

    I understand this is what you need to do, and I greatly respect you for putting your needs first. If we can’t care for ourselves first, how can we as feminists teach others to care for themselves?

    I’ll miss you, and big hugs to you.

  5. Great post. As a woman who does not work outside of the home I have taken some heat, myself, from well meaning feminist peers. (Hey, I’m an artist! I’m a writer! I just… don’t make any money… ever) This is what I want to do right now and I shouldn’t do something ELSE just because I’m a woman… Right? Ladies, let’s just follow our own paths, mkay? Also, THANK you for being a teacher. :)

  6. Ashley on

    Hello all, and thank you all from the bottom of my heart for all of the kind words. I had no idea how many people actually read this blog and enjoy it. Knowing this has helped me immensely.

    I’m breaking my break rule to clarify: I’m probably coming back. It sounded from a lot of your comments like you all are thinking that I’m done for good. I’m not. I’ll for sure come back wih Equality 101 at the end of May, and I will probably be back here shortly thereafter. So look out for that. :)

    Thank you again. Your comments mean so much to me.

  7. I often have big disconnects with the “feminist blogging community” that make me pause and think “umm, what? Am I wrong? Or are you?” and then I ultimately decide to carry on my own way, because we’re all right and wrong. Which is to say, I think I get where you’re coming from here, and I’m really sorry it got to this point for you. (I’d guess a lot of us feel this way about, oh, once a week?) It sucks anytime you feel like your life decisions are under attack, but I think its especially painful when those attacking are part of the feminist community.

    So, I could ramble on and on here, but I’ll just say that I hope your break serves you well and I look forward to your return, whenever that may be. :)

  8. Wow. I was lured in by your tweet regarding this oust and I’m so glad I cane by to read it. I can relate to your feelings here on so many levels. But I think the thing that most resonated for me in this post was that idea that theory doesn’t always translate to practical application. Working with high school students is a very microcosmic experience. Spinning wheels in academia is very, well, Ivory Tower. As you said, we are in the trenches. We are the boots on the ground, as they say. We are molding young minds (I mean that in all seriousness) and we know how to engage students to make them think. Life is too short to take yourself so seriously you’d toss nasty judgements on a high school teacher who is working her butt of to make a difference. I am a feminist. I believe in women. And I believe in educating kids through a feminist lens. That doesn’t mean they’ll be reading Kate Millet in 11th grade. But they will understand gender constructs. And glass ceilings. And the ERA. And, well, I think that’s a great start. You are awesome, Ashley. Don’t let the mean girls keep you down.

  9. Umm, yeah, that’s supposed to be post and came not oust and cane…damned autocorrect…

  10. Of course I read this while I’m away, but I understand. I love the feminist community, but also disdain many times because of judgments people pass.

    And I also know your sentiment about the reactions people get when I tell them I’m going to grad school for teaching. People have continually said that I should go into academia for women’s studies and just don’t understand my love for teaching.

  11. The judgment within the feminist community is intense. Take your break and come back kicking our asses. We need it.

  12. Feminism can be defined in so many different ways and there’s a simple definition that I use: equality in all realms of society. I want to get married. I have let men pay for things that I couldn’t afford. Unfortunately: 1. men still make more than women; 2. I want to write books which is not exactly a stable career; 3. I’ve never wanted to work that much, just enough to make a little money. I’d like to focus on what I feel is important such as volunteer work.

    I know you felt insulted about what I said about your wedding a while back. I want to get married to someone I’m dating now. He wants to take care of me. He knows I want to publish some children’s books and other books. He jokes that I shouldn’t LABEL myself a feminist because I want HIM to paint my garage or open a bottle for me [yes, cliche but I don’t care].

    Knowing who you are is most important. If anyone gives me a hard time, I just avoid engaging. I KNOW I’m a feminist even if I keep my nails painted, wear skirts 90% percent of the time etc.

    Feminism is NOT one thing. How dull would that be if all feminists felt the same way?

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  15. Thanks for posting this.

    As a sexual assault survivor I am sad that modern feminism is not a movement I can get behind in any way. When I turned to feminism because they are supposed to care about sexual assault, I was instead insulted, called “anti-sex” and told that supporting BDSM/prostitution/pornography was more important than helping me cope with being raped. I feel that modern feminism is a very hodgepodge of sexual kink and infighting between fringe causes, NOT a woman’s movement.

    So long as feminism tells me what I must support, think and feel it is not a movement for women but just another oppressive, pushy political group and that is sad. There is no room for conservative women in feminism (I am not conservative BTW) and that is one reason why it is a political movement rather than a place where women can find support. To an outsider, feminist bloggers just seem like mean girls on crack, helping no one and hating/insulting/condescendingly lecturing everyone that disagrees with them.

    So anyhow, thanks for posting this and please continue to support your students. You sound like a really great teacher who cares.

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