Writing, Activism, and an Audience

This post was written for the November Feminist Odyssey Blog Carnival on Feminism and Activism hosted at Diary of an Accident Prone Feminist.

Writing – blogging, tweeting, facebooking, tumbling, or however you do it, is undoubtedly a form of activism. I’ve felt this way for a long time, and it’s why I started this blog in the first place. In fact, I wrote my entire master’s thesis on literacy in the feminist blogging community and I ardently argued that blogging is a form of activism similar to the pamphlets used to disseminate information by early feminists, and that literacy practices form a community of activists that is stronger together than apart.

I think I made a pretty good argument. It was enough to get me accepted to the Contemporary Women’s Writing Network conference in San Diego in 2010. But my question now, though, is does writing still count as activism if you’re not doing it for an audience? If there is no one to read your activist thoughts, do they still count as activism? If a tree falls in the forest and no one is around to hear it, does it still make a sound, if you will?

I’ve been struggling a lot lately with writing in general (as you may have noticed my lack of updates here). I started writing to make a difference and to find a way to be an activist in my community and beyond. I was fortunate enough to land a gig at Gender Across Borders where my audience widened considerably, and after that, I moved on to Care2 and Teaching Tolerance where my audience widened even more. More audience means more influence means I’m a better activist, right?

It would make sense if this were true. Common sense dictates that the more people reading your stuff, the more of a difference you are making. But how do you say to someone who has a blog with a modest following that they aren’t making as much of a difference, or they aren’t being as much of an activist, as someone who has followers upon followers? In the same vein, how do you say to someone who works to raise her son to be conscious of masculinity and women’s rights or her daughter to be a feminist without writing about it that she isn’t making as much of a difference as she could? Aren’t both the blogger and the mother doing their small part to improve their corner of the world? Aren’t they both doing important work? Isn’t that really all we can ask of anyone? I would argue that one is not more of an activist than another in these situations, and that neither are more or less activists than someone who has made activism a career.

The audience for my writing has certainly grown throughout the years, but it is this very audience that has been hindering my activism, and the writing itself. Lately, I haven’t been writing very much because I feel like my whole world is a stage. I have an audience at my teaching job – and a new one each hour of the day, at that. I have an audience when I go home and decide to cook dinner or do some craft project I saw on Pinterest or decorate for some holiday or even when I clean the house – the majority of these things I do for me, but also to prove to others that I can hold down the perfect house and the perfect family. When I get up in the morning, I have an audience in mind when I put together my outfit and do my hair. So when it comes to sitting down to write for an audience, I either get to the end of the day and don’t feel like having an audience for one more second, or I have plenty of things I want to say, but am afraid to say them because I don’t know what my audience might think of me for doing so.

In a world that is so obsessed with blog stats, followers, and friend counts, we need to shift our thinking. It doesn’t matter how many retweets, likes, or shares we get. What matters is what we are saying, and if we are able to make our corner of the world a better place. In my teaching, I always say that if I reach one kid each year, it’s been a good year. Well, with each article I write, if I get one person to think about a new issue or an old one in a different way, I’m an activist. We don’t need an audience to make a real difference in the world.

Image Credit: matryosha

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