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(Archives 2001) The All-Girl On-line Revolution  by Krista Scott-Dixon
(Archives 2001) The All-Girl On-line Revolution

The Internet intrigues me, and for my master's research I looked at what young women were producing and putting on line. I discovered that while girls and women outnumber their male counterparts as Internet users, many don't tend to think of themselves as "computer users."

I also discovered that young women are savvy consumers and participants whose relationships with popular culture-though fraught with anxiety and difficulty-is nonetheless a dynamic one. We are not talking about passive ingesters of popular culture, but people who actively respond to it, both positively and negatively.

I discovered a thriving culture of young women's media production in the form of ezines (ee-ZEENS). Ezines trace their lineage to print zines, self-produced publications that many female creators used as a forum to respond to, critique and envision alternatives to the often sexist and misogynist mainstream media. This is part of the phenomenon known as DIY (do-it-yourself) feminism.

When the Web first emerged in the mid-1990s, ezine creators immediately recognized the potential of the medium. Initially, because of the constraints of early HTML, their efforts were limited to posting basic text zines online, such as the first issues of Dead Jackie Susann Quarterly. As online publication developed with the expansion of the Web, ezine creators began to explore new ways of presenting their ideas, incorporating elements like hypertext, images, and animations. Ezines like Fabula and Wench represent the ongoing exploration of both design and communication possibilities.

Ezines produced by women are more different than they are alike, but in general they are produced by women who have a desire to make their presence felt online-they may or may not have a feminist viewpoint, but manifest an awareness that they are providing an important resource and point of connection for women.

For example, Amelia Wilson of the now-defunct NrrdGrrl! and Grrowl! writes, "There really isn't anything out there in the mass media that is making women feel good about themselves-nothing to make them happy to be smart and independent and free to speak and feel in peace instead of being squelched by fear of not being popular."

Audra Estrones, creator of Marigold, one of the only Canadian feminist ezines, says, "My end goal is to build this totally amazing, totally supportive feminist/girl community that stretches across the whole damn country. From the north pole, to the US border. East to West."

Many ezine creators provide an opening for debate on feminist issues in a unique way. If a reader disagrees with the creator, she can email her directly and engage in discussion, and often ezine creators use forums such as real-time chat to facilitate On-line discourse. Rachel Mariko Pillitteri of Girlrights stated: "A while back I tried to host weekly meetings at Girlrights... I found a site called Free2Talk; their server supported chat rooms and I created one for the meetings and linked my page to it."

The ezine Bitch views itself as "a constantly evolving webzine and community space where feminists, Internet gluttons, media addicts and thoughtful folks in general can talk about women, pop culture, advertising and just about anything else." Estrones pitches Marigold as "60 percent slumber party, 40 percent political rally, " which seems to neatly sum up the entire modus operandi of third-wave feminism. She says, "My goal in life is to bring together-more than is currently happening- second and third-wave feminists. This happens on Marigold a lot, in cool ways. And when we have events, there are women in their teens, right up to their 40's, so that's superfantastic."

Many creators expressed a feeling that ezines exist as a kind of outlet for their frustrations and political debate. Wilson says, "The whole point of NrrdGrrl! is exploring frustrations... I wanted to create a place where women could vent their spleens-either by writing to me or by publishing creative work in Grrowl!" Sometimes ezine pieces involve sheer personal purging, and sometimes "rants" lead to more complex political actions or community-building, as Pilliteri points out: "In order to increase the strength, unity and effectiveness of [women's] networks and movements, everyone involved must contribute and participate."

For example, Brillo features a Hit List with every issue, which involves a listing of offensive web sites (anti-choice, white supremacists, et al) and a call to bombard them electronically (Brillo helpfully includes a handy guide on how to create electronic anonymity should users wish their mail to be untraceable).

The ezine Girl Talk grew out of a project for inner city girls in Chicago, to help them deal with issues of race and poverty as personally experienced by the young writers. Second, ezines often engage in some kind of reclamation of space. Angela Richardson says that "'Ezines provide a space in which we can create our own meanings, for our own pleasure and amusement."

Wilson echoes these thoughts: "I hope that I provide a clubhouse atmosphere that makes women and girls feel they can raise their voices with pride-admit to and be proud of their oddness." She encourages women to reclaim their inner (or outer) nrrd: NrrdGrrl!'s opening page reads, in part, "Have you ever been told you're: too smart, too loud, too opinionated, too tall, too short, too fat, too thin... too ANYTHING?, too EVERYTHING?"

Many ezines are informed to some degree by a reclamation of girl culture, which is not a sentimental sort of femininity but rather a recollection and positive appropriation of some of the messier and more devalued parts of girlhood. This young female milieu is in many ways a paradox: reclamation of mass girl culture combined with rage at the restraints of socially imposed femininity. It speaks to every little girl who craved a Barbie at the same time as she buzz-cut Barbie's hair and stuck pins into her head.

This aggressive reclamation now forms part of the underlying culture of ezines. Perhaps the best example of word reclamation is the ezine FaT GiRL, in which many of the pieces deal with appropriating language which was previously hurled as insults.

In an article, "A Fat, Vulgar, Angry Slut," Betty Rose Dudley writes:" I am an angry woman, a very angry woman... A fat, lecherous, rude, crude, and very nice slut... I wallow in vulgarity, consume it with the hunger fat girls are famous for... I am a powerful female." Co-opting these words as part of her identity makes the writer feel in control of her actions, and therefore empowered. Nikol Lohr of Disgruntled Housewife writes about a similar subject in her piece "Slutty". In "Slutty," Lohr examines the idea of the slut, its links to ascribed female sexuality in North American pop culture and her own appropriation of the term.

Mary Chen's now-defunct Girlie Mag drew on Chen's background of Taiwanese-Irish heritage, as well as her razor-sharp and often shocking use of reclaimed racial slurs, to pointedly critique mass culture's use and abuse of Asian culture and people. Ezine creators also enjoy the ease of dissemination which the Internet affords.

Lisa Jervis of Bitch says: "I realized that I really wanted to write feminist essays on pop culture and I also realized that most of them would never see print unless I published them myself." Marigold boasts a fantastic design and layout featuring everything from politics to arts to chat forums.

Estrones explains, "I wanted it to come out often enough to contain news and not have it outdated by the time the readers got it. I realized that a lot of what I needed the zine to be (i.e., cheap!) and what I wanted the zine to be (i.e., interactive) would really lend itself nicely to the web." Rachel Mariko Pillitteri says, "People who would never have heard of your [print] zine may stumble across it on the Net, increasing the diversity of the viewer... [plus] you don't have the same financial limitations you would with a print zine, allowing you to have an unlimited 'print run'."

Rosie X. of the ezine geekgirl, "the world's first cyberfeminist hyperzine," notes proudly that "with an average of 750,000 hits a month geekgirl rox!" Thus, while ezines have restricted accessibility in the sense of requiring education and availability of technology, they also have expanded accessibility in that they can be made and/or seen by anyone who makes it online.

Girl zines and girl culture have become so 'successful' that they now have been 'cloned' by corporate forums. The mantra of female empowerment through consumerism is a profitable one, and now when you search for girl zines online, you are likely to find a corporate site posing as a homemade DIY creation. Girl Stuff Online has the home-made feel of a personal ezine. The font and design are sparse, "girl" is deliberately misspelled "gurl" in the email domain address, and it has the clubby feel of a girls-only space, until one stumbles across the product review page. Probably the use of the word "groovy" twice in one paragraph was a good tip-off. Girlzine, whose tagline is "beauty for every face, fashion for every body" asks its readers to "rate the trust factor of these top spokesmodels."

Girlzone is a slick site that proclaims that "every girl is cool." They should have said, "where every girl gets her power from being a consumer." This brings up the question of whether simply talking, venting, connecting in cyberspace results in real change in the real world. While it is important to indicate that there are very real structures and systems of power organizing access to technology, to frame the issue in an "either/or" way obscures the basic premise of cyberspace, which is inherently contradictory.

The paradox of technology in general, and cyberspace in particular, is that it is both oppressive and liberatory, an organism that contains the seeds of its own subversion. In addition, the transitory nature of many of these ezines is more proof that the tools of liberation are often illusory: in the case of ezines the time it takes to assess their impact is often longer than their

On-line lives. In their wake, more ezines, publishers, writers and activists are born. Ezines require users to reassess the tools of awareness and activism. Feminists have developed politics that engage participants within a rapidly changing context that includes women's multiple identities. Ezines offer a concrete way of thinking through issues-a forum for individual voices, as well as a point of connection for communication, networking and organizing (not unlike the old-fashioned consciousness-raising groups that pre-dated second-wave public actions).

For third-wave feminists in particular, this re-thinking of activism, both in style and structure, is important. Estrones says that running Marigold has given her a chance to meet "amazing women like Judy Rebick, Michele Landsberg, Sheree Fitch, Judy MacDonald, Muriel Duckworth (who-at 92-is practically first-wave!) and Joan Jones-all people I wouldn't be in contact with otherwise." F

or Estrones, one of the main functions of On-line activism is bringing these diverse people together and breaking down barriers between women. "When I talk with these women, I try to stress the importance of mentorship, and mutual respect that really should be more evident between the generations of feminists... I hope that Marigold can be a reference point for people; a good example of third-wave girl culture that second-wavers can appreciate and relate to and become involved with."

Second-wave feminists explored new forms of interpersonal organization and activism, challenging hierarchy, formality and all the old rules about group structure. On-line organization and networking by third-wave feminists and tech-savvy feminist veterans are creating new challenges to the established rules of order, and offering new opportunities for activism in the Twenty-First Century. As Estrones sees it, "The confidence happens when they are armed with information in clear language that demystifies things, like the political process, or how to lobby for change in the media. The resources are often each other, which is beautiful."