Three prominent female editors from various feminist publications spoke on campus Wednesday evening about the challenges they have faced in establishing themselves in the online world.
The women — Akiba Solomon from the news website Colorlines, Sarah Mirk from Bitch Media and Lori Adelman from the online journals Feministing — spoke in William L. Harkness Hall to an audience of roughly 40. Speaking from their personal experiences, they said that women are constantly subjected to sexism from mainstream media and also the financial pressures of working in an unpaid blog position. Having the feminist conversation over the Internet also means that readers can comment anonymously and often harshly, they said, adding that reporting is difficult, but getting people engaged is even more difficult.
“Reporting is hard labor and it’s more profitable to write about pop culture. That’s why you see a lot of pop culture in feminist writing,” said Solomon.
Adelman, the Executive Director of Partnerships and Outreach of Feministing, runs tests for words in headlines to figure out what people want to read. Blogs and online journals are constantly trying to identify the news hook, she said, and pop culture is a touchstone where readers and writers can meet and connect — which is what makes it so appealing to writers to reference icons like Lady Gaga to promote their feminist writing.
Adelman said the subject of an article is less important than the medium. If a page has images or is controversial, she said, it is more likely to get hits. But she added that the convenience of the Internet empowers writers to say what they really want, and journals like Feministing care about elevating the voices of the young and the marginalized more than they care about page views.
“Sometimes more nuanced headlines get the biggest hits because they’re saying something that nobody else is saying,” said Mirk. “We aim for the best quality work we can do. It would be easier just to say what everybody else is saying.”
In a culture where online commenters are anonymous, sexism and bigotry are not unusual, the women said, and can alienate those who want to build a feminist community.
Every Feministing post receives hundreds of comments, many of which contain sexist and racist slurs.
“I have always tried to encourage female and young writers, but the comments can be so nasty that they drive them away,” Mirk said. “You do get nastier comments online if you’re a woman. Sometimes I feel like everyone on the Internet hates me … But my friends tell me I’m still an ok person.”
As a result of this, Feministing decided that comments would be moderated, creating an accountable space that both slows the conversation down and eliminates abject bigotry. Colorlines accepts comments only from readers who are registered on Facebook to help foster a community. Writers sometimes even get ideas for stories by reading comments, Solomon said.
Mirk argues that there is no difference between journalists and activists, because the job of journalists is to write about things that are humane and relevant. There is a lack of respect in mainstream journalism for feminism, and perhaps that’s the reason women, even editors of leading feminist blogs, don’t initially identify with that label, she said.
“I consider myself a journalist. I didn’t know I was a feminist until people told me I was a feminist,” Solomon said.
Students in the audience included writers and editors of Yale’s feminist magazine, Broad Recognition.
A range of majors — from biomedical engineering to women’s, gender and sexuality studies — were represented as well.
“I follow these publications, and this panel made concrete a field I’m already interested in. It is isolating to be involved in online writing and not speaking in person about feminism,” said Grace Steig ’15. “This panel was a huge turnout and it’s incredibly exciting.”
The panel was organized by Craig Canfield and Inderpal Grewal and sponsored by the Poynter Fellowship in Journalism.