Fem 2.0: Feminine Feminism & The Mother of All Conversations

Femmes and friends of all colors are abuzz about whether Erin Aubry Kaplan’s recent Salon article about Michelle Obama’s backside was out of bounds or ‘a joyful celebration’ of blackness…

Some of my blog favorites from Latoya at Racialicious to Gina at What About Our Daughters (and adjunct blog “Michelle Obama Watch”) have landed some pretty harsh rhetoric for diminishing the presence of one of the few female media icons NOT viewed through the lens of a “regime of bullets, booty and bling;” even calling it “gender fratricide.”

Media mavens are incredulous that the future First Lady’s “wardrobe, booty, and mom duties are what is fit to publish and seen as relevant to a mass audience,” and I can’t help but think of some creative opportunist opening an insta-tee store over the flap by tomorrow with visuals and a Madeleine Albright slogan, “There is a special place in hell for women who do not help other women.”

So I ask you, is there any BETTER time in the entire universe to announce a first-ever Fem2.0 conference of thought leaders and conveners slated for Feb 2, 2009 in Washington D.C. to discuss where we’ve been, where we are now, and where we’re going together as a digital movement to unite women’s voices behind the issues that the vast majority of women support, such as education, healthcare, workplace fairness and economic security?

No one can attempt to paint a ‘black’ or ‘pink’ brushstroke to color the canvas for us all on the Michelle Obama coverage, but it really feels like now more than ever, it’s important to build rather than bulldoze, unite rather than ignite…and quickly segue to the larger conversation about fairness, media portrayals, stereotypes and what it means to be a woman in the judgmental buzz mill of Web 2.0.

(Sometimes I feel like we’re carving each other up like those magician’s assistant boxes while Snidely Whiplash in cape-n-top hat twirls his moustache mockingly as if it’s all ‘going according to plan.’)

So let’s talk about this mother of all conversations in Washington D.C. this February!

I’m in. (and if I can’t afford the airfare by then, I’ll donate the ticket to carrying forth the conversation, as I learned from BlogHer 2008 that these things CAN and DO sellout, so I’m not about to snooze/lose this round)

Part celebration and part guided inquiry, the goals and impressive list of ‘Fem2.0’ conveners makes me want to be ‘leavin’ on a jet plane’ right NOW to uncork this discussion on  what Fem2.0 is all about, before media spins this story and others like it into a dismissive snapshot of women being as fragmented and splintered as the various feminist movements themselves.

Yeah, yeah, I know…there’s that ‘F’ word again.

I’ve written about whether or not YOUTH feels “feminist” needs re-branding, and have continually queried girls in my Stereotypes in Media teen workshops to try to get a concrete yay or nay on the whole taxonomy of “femme-fest” thinking…and frankly, I’m still clear as mud.

I think these are important media literacy/social commentary conversations to have on a variety of levels, especially since I feel a personal imperative to appeal to the leadership of girls and teens to write their own rules rather than accept how we’re ‘packaging girlhood’ through pop culture Pussycat Dolls and BomChickawahwah cues.

“Third-wave” feminism may argue preteen girls doing pole dancing gyrations in their playboy tees on the gym dance floor are ‘in control’ of their ‘hotness’ and their boyfriends as well…But is that where the evolution of gender relationships is headed? Control? Using sexuality as the ultimate power tool?

Ahem…I’m not swiggin’ that Kool-Aid. Nope, no sirreeee…

In fact, that’s why I registered for Fem2.0 in a nanosecond, as soon as the conveners pinged me with an invite to pay it forward, because there seems to be a plethora of distortions about “all things girl” and what feminism means, particularly with this current generation of girls who are being told they can “do anything” while simultaneously being sold objectification in every pixilated purchase from gaming to news coverage of our new First Lady. (Girl games developer Mary Flanagan being a notable, refreshing exception in single-handedly trying to reverse the tipping point of toxicity)

Not to make a sweeping generalization, but in my work I’ve seen many girls face off the ‘F’ words against each other, as in “feminine VERSUS feminist,” which is one of the reasons I wrote the piece about ‘rebranding’ the term altogether, as it disturbed me to no end that many girls found a disconnect there wanting to typecast in absolutism.

I’ve done free-association word games and put girls through Malcolm Gladwell ‘Blink’ rapid cognition exercises to glean feedback on the word “feminist” and let me tell you, it’s ALL over the board.

Similarly, I’ve used anonymous surveys and online tools to get insights on girls’ WEB experiences and interactions, and most recently, asked Jessica Gottlieb and the #MotrinMoms for their two cents about whether women on the web are treated with misogynistic slams due to online anonymity, or if we’ve evolved to a level playing field of cerebral discourse.

So naturally, it always depends on who you ask, how you query, and what the situational environs are, demographically and psycho-graphically.

You’ll get different answers among girls at a random middle-school, a co-ed dance, texting at a lunch table, or in after school enrichment co-existing with guys who have provocative visuals on their tennies, tees, screensavers, cells and misogynistic ringtones that make me want to weep from the surround sound of ambient messaging to girls. Then there’s an entirely different context coming from those wearing a “Smarter Than Barbie, Stronger Than Ken” conference tee at Girls Economic Power Day, ya know?

Liza Sabater, one of the organizers of the Fem2.0 conference wrote a great article called, What Does Feminism Look Like on the Web giving us the cultural context of media’s explosive growth, harkening back to 2001 when SHE first started blogging.

Liza noted that back then in 2001:

“…there were fewer than two-million blogs worldwideBlogger was the biggest blogging platform and yet a work-in-progress for the little company that created it, Pyra. MovableType, Typepad’s older sister, was still in beta. WordPress didn’t exist and neither did Flickr, YouTube, MySpace or Facebook. Google was only 3 years old. Wikis were just going into the early adopter mainstream – Wikipedia had just been launched in January of that year!”

Yowza. And it’s head-spinning to think that just last year I was writing about people being atwitter about Twitter as mobile-social media minutiae, and now it’s evolved into insta-pundits, activism, changeblogging, citizen journalism, and brand influencers and micro-messaging research reports with many pondering “to blog or not to blog” in the sound bite era as robust content distills into a ‘Tiny URL,’ forsaking the richness of the expanded blogging platform.

Liza summed, “Feminism2.0 will be the “meta” of more than 10 years of conversations women have been having online after everybody keeps pretending we don’t exist by asking “where are the women bloggers?” It will be a celebration of those who came before the web and those who not just came after it but even built it themselves.”

Wow. We’ve ‘come a long way baby,’ but now I’d like to toss out another thought:

Is it possible that our media culture has set girls backwards a few paces as well?

This is what I’d like to discuss…bring your daughters, I’d love to hear life in their words! I plopped a comment on the Fem2.0 blog:

“I think we truly need to redefine, recast, and reclaim the ‘feminism’ phraseology and ideology in order not to miss the boat with young girls and our future leaders of women on the web.”

For every ‘top 10 women web pioneers cracking the boys club’ reported in the Huffington Post, we’ve also got the Anita Borg Institute research showing the dearth of young girls entering technology fields, and the hyper-sexualization at ever-increasing young ages creating soul-erosion and damage to self-worth by being positioned as boy toys.

So let’s talk about it…The celebration…the backpedaling…the opportunities…the glass ceiling…the girls, teens and women of the web…let’s fling those doors open wide and see how the conversation takes shape.

Will this generation of young girls be “M-Powered” by media, marketing, misogyny, or “empowered” by Michelle Obama’s mind-shifting potential to veer an entire culture away from stereotypes?

Wherever the conversation veers, one of my favorite songs R-E-S-P-E-C-T comes to mind for civil discourse. Sing it Aretha!

And fergawdsakes, whatever we do, let’s follow the rule of thumb in this ‘SassyWomenOnline’ headline. Ahem.

Here’s more about the Feb. 2, 2009 Fem2.0 conference:

“Feminism 2.0 brings together the leadership of major women’s advocacy organizations and online women’s communities to further the connection between today’s issues and women’s voices. Feminism2.0 is intended for all women interested in better policy for women, families and society.”

Fem2.0 Conveners
What Fem2.0 Is About
Conference Organizers

Where: Betts Theater, George Washington University, Washington, DC
Conference fees: $60.00 general; $20.00 student Registration

Conference Goals:

To harness the power of women on the Internet to promote women’s issues.

To create a forum — starting with the Fem2.0 website and continuing through the event — for women to discuss the issues that are of most concern to them today, and to encourage them to use the Internet to learn more, express their opinions about them and advocate for policies that benefit women and families.

To create an opportunity for a “meeting of minds” across generations and media platforms.

To unite women’s voices behind the issues that the vast majority of women support, such as education, healthcare, workplace fairness and economic security.

To position women’s issues and their advocates for the incoming administration.

To draw new audiences to women’s issues, especially those who are Internet-focused and can cross-pollinate to increase activism.

Expand the audience of women engaged in online media activity and activism.

Michelle Obama on 60 Minutes

(Video clip here via MOW)

MediaBistro reports “The Next First Family” interview pulled 25.1 million viewers, drawing the largest audience of the season, and best ratings for 60 Minutes in almost a decade.

The full interview can be found at CBS News/60 Minutes if you missed it Sunday, along with a series of interesting dialog openers on media portrayals and being female AND African American, including Rebecca Traister’s  ‘Mommification of Michelle Obama’ on Salon and Isn’t She Lovely? articles. Add these issues to the Fem2.0 agenda, please?

Hat tip to Kris Cornwall on the Salon story, and to Gloria Pan for the Fem2.0 invitation!



  1. Hi Amy, I’m just getting back to reading more Blogs and my normal strength and energy, the cancer really set me back. (it feels great) Hope all is well with you. The conference sounds wonderful and your right is important to our future as young and old women. I look forward to hearing about it after you return.

    Dorothy from grammology

  2. Dorothy, so glad to hear you’re back at ’em! I have a special video to share with you for a dose of media joy juice…It’s Henry Winkler (aka ‘the Fonz’ remember him from Happy Days?) I’ll bet your kids do!

    It’s called ‘Cancer interrupts your life’…and he does an ongoing series of riffs I think you’ll appreciate:


    Have a joyous Thanksgiving! Sending healing hugs from afar, Amy.

  3. Thank you! Amy, I wanted to thank you for what you wrote. I am not a teen, though I am part of the mid-20s crowd of women, and your question regarding the rebranding of ‘feminist’ is an intriguing one. I’d be interested in knowing in more detail your finds of your free association word game exercises. Thank you, Amy!

  4. Hi Theresa, thanks for taking the time to comment…yes, so far we’re not seeing tons of traction among teens on the word ‘feminist’ as it seems ‘loaded’ to the younger generation but there’s no doubt the spirit of “feminine feminism” via feminista/pasionistas, so I think it’s a ‘word choice issue’ for many.

    That said, I’ve heard equal vehemence among youth who strongly feel there should be ‘credit where credit is due’ in terms of paving paths and history making icons, and so many Gen Y have been offended by the notion that ‘feminist’ would ever be in need of ‘rebranding’ at all!

    All different opinions, all over the board…

    What are you hearing from the twenty-something crowd?

    Again, probably depends on region, socioeconomic exposure, stereotype experiences firsthand, etc. — Just a hunch there (judging from our own gal pals in that age range)

    Weigh in and we’ll swap findings…our word game exercises are quite insightful among teens indeed…(helps with perceptions of reality and understanding the communication gaps when they pop up in our informal conversations)

    Best, Amy

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