As readers are aware, I recently published a letter asking Feministing to address the ableism on their site, and, uh, a whole lot of people cosigned it. One of the things I specifically requested was an opportunity to dialogue with the Feministing staffers. It took two weeks of organizing very busy schedules, but it did happen; I was unable to attend the chat, but others did. Following is the transcript of the chat, along with a copy of the agenda we prepared.
I’m glad that an opportunity for conversation happened with some Feministing staffers, and I hope that it leads to positive changes at Feministing. For the record, I would like to note that this transcript has been edited to remove personal information: last names, emails, and some identifying information, for confidentiality reasons. The reference to “radio silence” in the transcript stems from our desire to remain silent while working out the details of the chat to avoid crossing wires, sending out erroneous information, and so forth; I appreciate that Feministing respected our wishes in this matter.
When I wrote my letter, I asked Feministing to listen to our voices, and to be willing to engage in dialogue, both of which they did. The next steps are up to Feministing, and to the Internet community; eliminating ableism is not as simple as demanding that the editors of one website start cracking down on it. It’s something we all need to commit to, together.
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Sent at 9:00 PM on Friday
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abby jean: Hello!
abby jean: Thanks for joining us.
Miriam: hello everyone
thanks for organizing
Anna: Hello Miriam, Hi Courtney!
Courtney has left.
annaham: Thanks for being here, y’all.
Courtney has joined.
abby jean: we thought introductions might be helpful to start with some introductions.
Miriam: sure sounds good
abby jean: although first we should get agreement that all of this will be public.
is that ok?
abby jean: cool.
Anna: Thank you.
annaham: Great, thanks.
abby jean: i’m abby jean, i’m…[redacted for anonymity]
Anna: I’m Anna. Unfortunately, I think the chat log shows both myself and AnnaHam as “Anna”.
annaham: I’m Annaham, I have fibromyalgia and cerebral palsy, and am a grad student. I focus on disability and the body, and related issues.
Courtney: i see your full names so i can differentiate
amandaw: My name is Amanda… I have several chronic pain conditions and mental illness, and I live and work in sw PA.
Anna: Oh, that’s good.
I’m Anna, and I’m a disability rights activist and a MA student in History in Canada.
Miriam: Hi everyone, I’m Miriam Zoila Perez, I’m a writer and doula, living in DC. I identify as able bodied. I’m an editor at feministing as well as my other paid work in reproductive justice.
abby jean: great! welcome, everyone.
Miriam: i think court has a brief intro too
Courtney: Hi everyone, I’m Courtney Martin. I’m a writer, teacher, and speaker living in Brooklyn. I identify as able bodied as well. I’m an editor at feministing and a columnist at The American Prospect. I wrote a book called Perfect Girls, Starving Daughter and co-wrote a book called The Naked Truth with HIV/AIDS activist Marvelyn Brown.
abby jean: there we go! i think we may be having some lag.
Miriam: thanks for the background from everyone.
abby jean: we very much want to thank you for taking the time to have this chat. our goals for this conversation are to make sure we all understand all sides of the situation – our perception and your perception – and potentially mutually agree to some overall goals and specific plans for implementing them.
Courtney: thank you all for making the time as well
i’m really grateful to have the opportunity to dialogue
Miriam: those goals sound good.
abby jean: great.
annaham: Well, we hope that this will be a productive dialogue.
Anna: Before we go too far, I should warn that I may have to periodically leave the chat window for Boring Personal Reasons.
Courtney: BPR…a new acronym
abby jean: so we thought it’d be helpful to start with our view of what the problem/issue/topic if NOT. and to be very clear, this is not specifically about the specific post or instance of using ableist language by courtney recently.
abby jean: we want to be very clear that this is not about one individual person or instance, and don’t want to attack or focus on any specific individual.
Anna: We do know that you apologized,
That came out poorly.
I mean me, not anyone else.
Courtney: Cool, well I appreciate that you all haven’t made this about me in specific, even though I obviously have a lot to learn etc.
Anna: I know I do appreciate that you apologized and owned up when someone contacted you directly, Courtney, and that is something we all noted as important.
annaham: I concur
Anna: But we obviously do have some concerns.
amandaw: … as far as a single incident goes, that single incident is resolved. Our focus is a much larger picture.
Miriam: ok great. we are definitely interested in a bigger conversation as well
Anna: We do feel that the site excludes women with disabilities, both in terms of “front-page” content, as well as in terms of moderation.
One of our big concerns is about the issue of intersectionality as it is applied on the site.
My colleagues and I have no doubt that the Feministing Staff have a commitment to intersectionality. However, that commitment is not well reflected in the content of the site. My colleagues and I feel that this is one of the reasons why commentors feel safe saying things such as “It’s Feministing, not SocialJusticing” in defense of people calling for more intersectionality in terms of content, and why there is such push back whenever issues of intersectionality come up.
We feel this is also reflected in the bulk of content on the site. Much of it is focused on the concerns of white, able-bodied women that are roughly college-aged. No one thinks these women should be neglected or ignored, but this main focus makes it more difficult for other voices to be heard, and when they are highlighted, many commentors fail to accept that these voices are just as important, and should not be regulated to a sideline, ignored, or ‘verbally abused’ for daring to voice issues that are not directly related to the “main” demographic.
While we understand that the staff of Feministing are not responsible for comments on their site, they are responsible for the view many of their commentors have of the staff’s feminism and what commentors think is acceptable language and usage of the site. We feel that, if Feministing stood strongly against ableism (and other issues of intersectionality) publicly, people would not think that arguments such as the ones we found in the community post were acceptable.
I’m done my typing bit now.
Courtney: We’ll type a response, hold on a sec.
Anna: nodnod I undrestand.
Sent at 9:17 PM on Friday
Courtney: We are really committed to intersectionality, even if we aren’t as educated–individually–on all issues of intesectionality. I, for example, like to write about race and class issues, because they interest me a lot and have been part of my personal journey, but don’t write as much about sexual identity. That doesn’t mean I don’t write about that, but it’s just not my natural inclination or strength. I haven’t known enough about disability to write about it, but I’m excited to learn more (and even think about ways in which I’ve been deeply affected by disability with my mom etc. but didn’t label it as such.)
Courtney: I think framing our target as “white, able-bodied women that are roughly college-aged” is too narrow. I agree that we don’t do a good job of covering disability issues, but I think you’re not acknowledging a lot of the good work we do around other intersections in that characterization.
annaham: On a personal note, I am one of those people who came to feminist activism through college classes that focused a lot on the concerns of liberal feminism; however, having had disabilities my entire life, however, I am concerned that the site’s overall focus leaves out women with disabilities.
Courtney: i’m done Miriam if you want to weigh in
Miriam: I also want to challenge the idea that we’re responsible for how our commenters think
I know comment moderation is a huge challenge at feministing
one that we have not addressed adequately
annaham: Okay, but aren’t y’all responsible for stepping in when things get rough?
Miriam: we should be–and we’re constantly trying to find new strategies for how to do so
its about capacity for us
that’s not to say anyone is wrong for calling it out
amandaw: There is a reason commenters feel comfortable saying certain things.
Also, it does not matter who you intend to target. What matters is how your site is understood.
And your site is demonstrably understood as exactly how it was described.
Miriam: I’m not sure that can be blamed on our content. You could be right, but we also have to recognize it;s not a static community of commenters. We get about 500,000 visitors a month, some of those commenters may never read the majority of posts we right.
Do you think we have control over that?
Anna: No one here thinks you have control over what people actually do.
amandaw: You control comments.
Do not tell us you do not control your comments.
You control comments lightly, but you still control them.
You watch for certain things.
And you take care of them.
We are saying: we are excluded from “certain things.”
Miriam: We need to moderate them better, we’ve never had the capacity to actually monitor them.
amandaw: Rape apologism is quickly taken care of.
Miriam: I hear that
annaham: Okay, here’s an example of a problematic comment thread: http://www.feministing.com/archives/015536.html
amandaw: We know you are a large site.
We KNOW this.
We are not somehow unaware that there is a lot to manage and that it is very complicated.
annaham: Comments were closed down on the post, but a lot of them are extremely ableist
Anna: Miriam, I’m not sure if you recall we had a back and forth about this a few months ago in the comments on Feminsting. It was when we were discussing trans* inclusion on the blog.
you mentioned then that you all were working on a comments policy.
Courtney: Amanda [Last Name], your tone isn’t appreciated FYI. We’re trying to be real about where we’re coming from while really taking in the criticism.
amandaw: Excuse me?
Can we stop for a moment?
amandaw: We are all talking about several things at once.
We need to make sure we stay organized.
Because there are a LOT of things we need to cover.
And if we are going to go all over the place like this, none of them will be done justice.
Miriam: ok i agree
Courtney: ok what would you all like to focus on?
Miriam: thoughts on how to organize this? I’m new to this kind of chat
abby jean: ok.
amandaw: We have an outline.
We got a bit off track – I will allow Abby to get us back.
abby jean: thanks. (i’m the lawyer so they put me in charge of stuff like that.
Courtney: that’s what we have miriam for, even though she’s not a lawyer. we call her the bizness
abby jean: our overall goal is to talk about some specific ideas we have about how the site could be more inclusive and supportive of the voices of people with disabilities and more active in removing and addressing ableism in site posts and comments.
(ooh i need an awesome name like that)
Courtney: we’d like to hear your ideas and then respond if that makes sense
should we take one at a time?
abby jean: we do understand that this isn’t an area where you have a lot of background and experience (and i’m kind of speaking as a general whole for the site’s contributors, not just you two), so we do think that having you guys take on covering disability content and working to share the perspective of PWD would be difficult and perhaps not effective.
so we want to be clear that our request is not that all of you start writing two disability posts a week, or anything like that.
abby jean: so our first concrete request is that there be a statement from the contributors on the importance of including women with disabilities and disability related issues in feminism for it to be meaningful and inclusive. we feel this would assist the community in understanding that this is an issue important to staff.
this might include discussion of past ableism on the site and ableism demonstrated by contributors themselves, and depending on what other agreemenets we can reach, potential changes in how ableism will be handled in comments.
the end of presenting first request.
Sent at 9:31 PM on Friday
Courtney: Good idea. I personally want to write about the intersection as I learn about it. As a staff, we only write group posts about protocol, like how feministing is moving forward structurally or financially, not about issues. Plus, I really hope whatever we do to move forward is authentic, and until we have time to talk about these issues and educate ourselves as a whole collective, it might feel artificial to write some monolithic post. Does that make sense? Miriam and I are interested in continuing education for the whole staff on these issues, but we just don’t want to do something to cover our asses. We want to do something to really engage and learn.
miriam is also typing something
Sent at 9:35 PM on Friday
Miriam: I worry that the impression that writing a post about our commitment to disability rights and feminism will solve the problems in the Feministing community around comments and ableism is unrealistic. Itâ€™s likely that even if we wrote such a post, a large percentage of folks who read/comment would never see it.
Not to say it shouldnâ€™t be done, but I worry about setting up expectations that are unrealistic for what the outcomes might be.
Anna: [I'm not sure if you're done typing, Miriam, I'm sorry.]
Miriam: no thats okay go ahead
Anna: Thank you.
abby jean: we definitely agree that a single post will not solve these problems, and do have other suggestions about how to proceed. however, we do feel that there’s a strong feeling of “how does this relate to feminism, this is general social justice” when intersectionality issues are raised, and we do think that could be addressed by staff, whether specifically in relation to disability or not
Courtney: I agree. I think one of our least favorite comments to find is “What does this have to do with feminism?” It’s so frustrating when we see why it’s obviously part of feminism.
Samhita has, in particular, done a lot of effort to educate commenters about intersectionality.
abby jean: we also feel that the inexperience with these issues that makes it “artificial” for you to write a monolithic post makes it problematic to rely solely on your posting to cover these issues.
annaham: Just so that everyone can follow along, it might be a good idea to have some kind of signal for when we are done speaking
abby jean: (sorry – from now on, why don’t we say “done” when we’re done so we don’t talk over each other)
annaham: Good idea, Abby
Miriam: sounds good
Courtney: sounds good sorry
abby jean: so i’m done – sorry!
Anna: Should we go on to the next point, or keep talking about this one?
abby jean: it might be helpful to see all our suggestions as a whole and then we can talk about whether, say, a group post by staff would be an appropriate implementation to fit in to the overall vision.
annaham: I agree
Courtney: sure we can try that
abby jean: our second request would be to incorporate more guest posts from authors with disabilities. courtney, i believe you mentioned potential collaborations with one of the women from the performance groups.
in addition, we’d request posts covering a wider range of issues.
(done with req 2)
Miriam: yes i had been talking with patty berne (co-founder of sins invalid) before this conversation started
about possibly guestposting, but also coverage of disability rights at feministing
abby jean: that would be very interesting, and definitely a positive step. i’m glad to hear that you guys were moving in that direction.
annaham: That’s good, Miriam
Anna: [I'd like to note that we're not talking about us in terms of guest-posting. We have a list of women bloggers who are writing about disability that we'd be more than happy to share.] [/done]
abby jean: we definitely would want to see a wide range of issues covered, including political and health issues.
Miriam: thanks that would be helpful
Courtney: that woudl be great
Miriam: (sorry done)
abby jean: additionally – we’d like to see an affirmative effort to promote community posts that cover disability issues, because it’d be great to take advantage of all the voices you already have on the site and involved in the community.
Miriam: abby do you mean within disability rights? (in terms of breadth, last post before)
Courtney: i’d love to promote those posts and would on any day that i’m editing (usually thursdays)
abby jean: miriam – yes, within disability rights. i covered in one of my posts, that i believe was forwarded to you guys prior to the chat, the limited scope of disability related coverage on the site in the past few years. we’d hope to see that significantly broadened.
Miriam: right i saw your analysis
abby jean: great – that really laid out some of the issues we saw in coverage. so, broadening and expanding that, as well as getting rid of some of the negative stuff, would be our goal.
Courtney: i think we have the same goals
abby jean: great.
we have a few more specifics, that i’ll run through:
* increased accessibility on the site itself, such as transcripts for video posts (which we’ve noticed recently on some of the author vlogs), but also accessibility for text readers.
(we have a couple of tools we can provide to help identify and suggest fixes)
abby jean: * a clear and reliable mechanism for user flagging abusive comments and getting a response – currently it’s unclear where those go, what criteria is used to determine whether it stays or not, with no feedback on criteria.
abby jean: * current and updated contact info for all authors – we understand that some of our emails with feedback may not have been received due to out of date email addresses
* an agreement to reconvene in 3 and 6 months to discuss ongoing progress and to gauge whether interventions have been meaningful.
abby jean: that’s it.
so – given that w
e’ve got 10 minutes left, i really want us to respect everyone’s time and finish on time. i also want to give you guys sufficient time to look over and consider these proposals.
so – how would you guys like to proceed?
Miriam: we only have a few things to say
overall we agree with your suggestions
they are things i’d like to see for the site as well
some things to note:
we’re working on a site redesign
one of the main focuses will be the comment system
we also want to improve the “report” function–as well as find ways to involve community members in comment moderation
if you know of any systems that work well, we’d love feedback
we’re also in the process of recruiting a community editor/moderator
who would focus on comment moderation
most of the big sites have a dedicated person, and we know we’re not meeting that need so we’ve decided it’s a necessity
Miriam: We agree with all your recommendations
Courtney: i feel like all of your ideas are great and things that we’re in the process of trying to figure out. I would love to get a list of book or film recommendations from you all before we finish our convo. I apprecaited the links but I’m the kind of person who likes to delve deeply in longer form stuff and I want to know what you all think are the best resources for a newbie.
Anna: [Can I go here, or should I wait?]
abby jean: go anna
Anna: About the redesign – i know some of us provided feedback about accessibility on the site during the last redesign, so it would be great if that could be incorporated into this redesign.
Miriam: anna can you remind me where that feedback was? was it in a specific post you all sent?
Anna: I emailed the site when you were last doing redeisgn – I think it was when you were turning into the Community.
I mentioned my concern about ensuring that the site was accessible to Screen Readers.
I know you all were VERY busy at the time.
And I suspect it all goes to a dedicated web-designer at that point.
I have a link I’d just like to share quickly with you.
Miriam: thatd be great
Anna: http://wave.webaim.org/report?url=http% … isting.com
Courtney: cool thanks
Anna: Wave is a free online site that demonstrates where a site isn’t accessible in terms of web design.
Courtney: wow that’s an awesome resource thanks
Anna: Obviously for things like transcripts and descriptions of photos, it won’t really indicate that.
But it does give one an idea. /done
Miriam: thats really great to know–if you wanted to resend the specific recommendations you had, that would be great too
abby jean: you guys – it’s 7pm and i do want to wrap up to respect everyone’s time and energy.
abby jean: so thank you guys for taking the time for this chat, and we’re excited about your agreement with the recommendations.
Courtney: thank you all
abby jean: i’ll plan to follow up to everyone with a full transcript and a short memo on what we discussed and agreed on.
Anna: We’ve all agreed this chat would be “public”, but I’d like to ensure that any publication of this chat would redact Amandaw’s last name.
annaham: Thanks, everyone
Miriam: yes thanks to aeveryone
and the agreed “radio silence” is lifted i assume?
Courtney: would you mind providing a list of a few books and other resources when you send around the memo?
Miriam: we’d like to be transparent with the community about our process
Anna: I have a huge list of books that I can share.
Courtney, do you have access to things like EBOSCO and Project Muse?
Courtney: ummm…i dont’ know?
Anna: I have it in my head that you’re teaching, but I may be wrong.
Courtney: oh yeah i’m not teaching this moment but i adjunct off and on
abby jean: miriam – yes, radio silence is lifted, we appreciate transparency and want this to be as public as possible.
Anna: Oh okay.
I will limit mostly to books then, instead of academic articles.
Courtney: or i can find access through a friend if you think there are great articles
i don’t want to miss stuff for logistical reasons
abby jean: thanks again to both of you – have a great weekend.
amandaw: thank you so much.
Anna: Thank you again, everyone. I’ll send it along to the address I have, but it may not be till Monday.
Miriam: thanks to you all for organizing, and i’m looking forward to reading the new blog some of you are involved in!
annaham: Thanks, y’all
Courtney: Have a great weekend everybody! I appreciate your time, energy, thoughfulness, openness etc. etc.
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Anna: I’m leaving this chat window now. THank you!
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I. Introductory stuff, including introductions for everyone involved in the chat
II. What the problem is/is not
III. What our goals are/are not
IV. Steps we are taking to foster inclusive dialogue beyond Feministing
VI. Closing remarks
I want to thank Courtney and Miriam for attending the chat, as well as amandaw, abbyjean, annaham, and Anna. And I want to thank everyone who raised their voice about this issue, and who hopefully will continue to do so as Feministing works on effecting change.