Bikini Kill disbanded the year after I was born. In 2013, I went to a screening of a documentary about their lead singer, Kathleen Hanna. For most of the moviegoers that night, the film was clearly part of the riot grrrl retrospective that had become a popular subject around 2010. Universities had begun accepting zine archives. Former punks, like Mimi Thi Nguyen, had become scholars, vocal about both the importance and the problems of the movement. But for me, the film seemed to hint at a kind of feminist utopia. I was a woman of color at a predominately white private school, feeling lonely in the ways uniquely cultivated by institutions designed to stigmatize all forms of unprofitable difference. Riot grrrl seemed like my dream. I longed for a space where my identity would be celebrated, not just tolerated, where I wouldn’t have to make myself smaller for others’ patriarchal standards. So I looked for riot grrrl in 2013, and I found it online.
Blogs like Feministing, Black Girl Dangerous, Everyday Feminism, and Jezebel gave me language to articulate my experiences of sexism, racism, and homophobia. Facebook groups for women and non-binary people of color, like “Intersections” and “Beauty of Color,” cultivated an international community of people, who supported each other around everything from selfies to mental health crises. I am still good friends with some of the people I met through those Facebook groups, although I have not checked the group pages in a few years. When I was a teenager, these online spaces made me feel seen and supported as I tried to navigate growing up as a woman of color in the US.
But, like riot grrrl, these online spaces were fleeting. A 2019 article in the New York Times suggested that feminist blogs were, to some extent, “undone by their own popularity,” becoming subsumed into mainstream media. While this has allowed for a wider audience and increased funding for “women’s media,” what have been lost are the community and the most radical ideas promoted by feminist blogging. I would add that the blogs and Facebook groups alike had trouble navigating questions of intersectionality. Just like in riot grrrl, on feminist blogs, many wealthy, white women and cisgender women could not (or would not) decenter themselves in discussions about classism, racism, and transphobia. In trying to maintain an inclusive space, moderators often had to work overtime to exclude women who insisted on promoting prejudiced beliefs. On Facebook groups like “Beauty of Color,” for example, moderators tried to foster inclusivity by selecting days of the week on which only certain groups could post selfies. This created an exciting space for different people to feel seen and celebrated, but it also became something of a logistical nightmare in practice. Moderators of both blogs and Facebook groups would regularly burn out from the sheer amount of uncompensated labor it took to mediate conflicts and uphold the communal agreements meant to foster inclusivity in these spaces.
With the decline of feminist blogs and Facebook groups, I have found much of their former radical content migrating to Twitter. The combination of little oversight and problematic account suspension policies makes Twitter a less than ideal platform for these kinds of discussions. But in other ways, I have come to embrace the chaos. Sensory overstimulation has always been my go-to approach for quieting anxiety. There is something calming about walking through a Super Target, for example, where in every direction, there is something different—so many people, things, colors, and sounds that there is no room left in my mind to think about anything else. Lately, scrolling through Twitter has played a similar role for me. People’s interesting ideas, horrible prejudices, absurd jokes, and heartwarming videos are all juxtaposed in an endless, somewhat random feed. It brings my mind everywhere and nowhere at the same time.
I still learn a lot from people on Twitter. But as I have gotten older, and have several more academic degrees under my belt, I have found more nuanced and rigorous offline learning spaces that help me to make sense of the world around me. These days, the solace I find on the internet has more to do with silly memes than validation of my identity. Still, sometimes I miss the community feminist sites used to have. Looking back, it is strange to think how unpopular it was to be a high school feminist in 2013, when just 7 years later, it is so uncontroversial. I don’t know what I would have done without these online havens where I could learn and grown into myself. When I was in high school, the things I learned on Feministing, Black Girl Dangerous, and Everyday Feminism kept me sane. I felt they showed me the possibility of a world where racism, sexism, and homophobia were something less than ubiquitous. We might not be there yet, but in very formative years of my life, these sites gave me something to fight for and began to show me how.
1 The Punk Singer, directed by Sini Anderson (2013).
2 For example, the Mimi Thi Nguyen Zine Collection, in Collaboration with the People of Color Zine Project at New York University’s Fales Library and Special Collections.
3 Mimi Thi Nguyen, “Riot Grrrl, Race, and Revival,” Women & Performance 22, no. 2-3 (2012): 173-196.
6 Emma Goldberg, “A Farewell to Feministing and the Heyday of Feminist Blogging,” New York Times, December 8, 2019, https://www.nytimes.com/2019/12/08/business/media/feminist-blogs-feministing.html?fbclid=IwAR2tg8uYSo11YXJles7GFXIiHZ4Cs5WyADmg2xDyCkyhiAsis-0kuAzVhBw.