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AAR Series: Feminism, Religion and Social Media: Expanding Borders in the Twenty-First Century

By Gina Messina Dysert with Mary E. Hunt

Posted originally on Feminism in Religion Forum.

In Rebirth of the Goddess: Finding Meaning in Feminist SpiritualityCarol Christ offers a theo/alogy that is grounded in embodied thinking and begins with personal experience.   She explains that experience is “embodied, relational, communal, social, and historical,” (p. 37) and that experiences of the Goddess are shaped and inspired by the experiences of others.  Consequently her theo/alogy, in addition to being personal, is also communal.

According to Christ, the “voices of women are a lifeline,” (p. 41) a sentiment that has been loudly echoed by women in blogging communities.  Although some may claim that a blog is nothing more than an online diary, it is a powerful tool that offers individuals the opportunity to express their thoughts and experiences in a public forum; blogging gives a voice to anyone who wants it.  Recent statistics have shown that women start and maintain blogs at a much higher rate than men.  Women are flocking to blogging communities for the opportunity to share their thoughts and experiences in a public forum.  Through blogs women are engaging in thoughtful discussion and embodied thinking bringing together their personal experiences with philosophical and theological reflection.   Blogs have become a tool for women’s experiences, ideas, and questions to be further shaped and modulated through those of other women.  In addition, women are empowered by the means of self expression blogs provide.

Blogging is an meaningful mode of communication for women on many levels and should be understood as a feminist endeavor.   While not all blogs written by women are feminist and not all feminist blogs are written by women, asJessica Valenti and Gwendolyn Beetham state, “the blogosphere is a useful – and necessary – source for feminists both because it allows us to get our perspectives out in public forums, and also because it’s a medium easily adaptable to feminist causes”   Blogs embody feminist values in numerous ways; they eliminate hierarchies, are based largely on personal experience, and provide women with the ability to connect with other women regardless of geographical and situational boundaries.   Blogs offer a means of self expression and communication where women are able to reflect on the viewpoints that are embedded in their life experiences.

As Beetham and Valenti explain, “In addition to the feminist nature of blogs themselves, contemporary globalization has made the Internet — and blogs in particular – a valuable way for feminists to communicate through and beyond various divides.”  Blogs allow women to connect with other women from different geographical locations and cultures.  Thus, blogs have expanded the scope of feminist dialogue.

Because of the distinct attributes of blogs and their ability to empower women to share personal experience and develop connections with other women while learning from their stories, blogging can be understood as an exercise in the theo/alogy of Carol Christ.  Christ, who seeks to “write a theo/alogy out of the stories of our lives” (1987, p. 11) negotiates the contemporary boundaries of spirituality offering a theo/alogy that is “rooted in experience;” it is a narrative theo/alogy; one that recognizes her own story as a spiritual journey.

According to Christ, “the most meaningful mode of writing feminist theo/alogy is to tell our stories in such a way that we confront the sources of our despair and name anew the great powers that give shape and meaning to our lives… there is no other way for us to express the new visions of the sacred that emerge as we heal the trauma of having been closed in silence for so long” (1980, p. 138).  Women who blog are breaking their silence, naming their own experiences and participating in discourses that have transformative powers.

 As Sue Monk Kid states,

When we start on this journey, we discover a couple of things right away.  First, the way is largely uncharted, and second, we are all we’ve got.  If women don’t tell our stories and utter       our truths, in order to chart ways into sacred feminine experience, who will? (2006, p. 3).

While blogging should not replace women’s communities built through physical gatherings and face to face contact, it provides a liberative way of doing theology for women who choose this particular method.  Blogs have offered a public format where women can claim their voices, share their stories and engage in embodied thinking while connecting with other women and affirming one another’s experiences.  Thus, women bloggers can be understood as practicing the theo/alogy of Carol ChristChrist’s theo/alogy is “rooted in experience” and is communal in that her experiences of the divine are shaped through the experiences of others.  All women blogging communities offer a means for women to share their stories and draw on the experiences of other women which leads to “ah-ha” moments.  It is through this interaction that women’s spirituality and understanding of the divine is further modulated.  Because a woman’s sense of self and world is created through her ability to name her experiences and be affirmed by the experiences of others, women’s stories are sacred.

 

Response by Mary E. Hunt

Gina Messina-Dysert is part of the new leadership cohort emerging as blogs become normative tools for doing our work. I applaud her for her efforts and thank her for this contribution, which offers one way to think about women blogging and religion.

The prominence of Carol Christ and Carol’s work is proof that blogging is a new format that enhances our field. Carol is a pioneer who taught for some years at San Jose State University and then moved to Greece where she continues to do creative and constructive work. She paved the way for many women to work in academia even if she and some of her cohort were never respected or rewarded by the academy in ways commensurate with their contributions.

Carol’s Goddess tours of Greece are a unique and powerful learning experience. Her writing, including a new book that she is collaborating on with Judith Plaskow tentatively entitled Goddess/God After Feminism, continues to be rich and evocative. Carol’s presence on the FIR blog and Gina’s use of Carol’s thealogy demonstrate the fact that a medium, in this case blogging, can highlight a voice. In addition, that Carol is teaching worldwide via a blog is surely a plus for all of us.

I agree that blogging gives women voice and provides a way for personal experiences to be brought to public attention. But I have two fundamental questions about Gina’s analysis that may help us deepen this important conversation about what the relationship between blogging and feminist studies in religion is.

First, I wonder if blogging per se is as experientially based and communally directed as Gina claims. I may be missing something key, but I see blogging in itself as more neutral than all that. Some blogs, and even some posts on our FIR and FSR blogs are rather factual, straightforward, and not all that experiential. I looked back at a few of my posts and did not find much in the way of self-disclosure. I am less persuaded that the mechanics of blogging lead to the conclusion that it is necessarily feminist though I agree totally that it can be used readily for feminist purposes as this exercise proves.

Second, I think claims about what we mean by feminism in the 21st century need to include analysis of race, class, gender, sexual identity, physical ability, and the like or risk being outdated. Essentialist claims about women have long been debunked as theoretically unhelpful. I think any feminist analysis of blogging needs to include a highly nuanced look at just who the bloggers are and what we represent, how we think about feminism, and with whom we are allied.

Granted, there are blogs for many uniquely carved out audiences. But I don’t think that our feminism in religions blogs are exempt from the important critiques of elitism. After all, who has the time to ponder and publish? I encourage this kind of thinking lest we fall into the trap of imagining that just because we cannot see people we are all alike, and just because we read people that everyone has equal access to the platform. There are so many interlocking forms of oppression in kyriarchy that blogs are shaped as much by global circumstances as by personal input. I urge us to have critical conversation on these matters, so that we use our blogs to deconstruct the oppressively stratified world in which they are set and reconstruct a more just world both virtual and real.