The F-Word: Contemporary UK Feminism
The F-Word is changing from "young" to "contemporary". Catherine Redfern explains why.
When this webzine was first founded in March 2001 it was for "young" feminists and had the strapline "young UK feminism." As the founder and editor, I (Catherine Redfern, 23 at the time) felt that it was vital to stress that young feminists existed and that feminism was just as fascinating and relevant to our lives today as it had been back the 60s and 70s. I particularly wanted to find out what my peers felt and thought; I wanted to be involved in an exchange of views, ideas and opinions. Spreading the word that feminism is a vital, evolving, living, exciting, fun and empowering thing was an important aim of the site.
I had strong and valid reasons for aiming the site towards younger British women
In December 2001 a reader claimed that by focusing on young women the website was being discriminatory. I did not, and still do not consider that to be the case. I made our resulting discussion public, and encouraged other readers to send in their views, which I also printed. As I explained at the time, I had strong, and I still feel, totally valid and worthwhile reasons for aiming the site towards younger British women. However, I was well aware that there were problems with this label. How is "young" defined? How do I know what age the contributors are, and should there be a cut off point? How would I feel about refusing an article on an interesting topic simply because the contributor was out of the target age range? These were issues I found difficult to reconcile.
Readers had strong views on both sides of the argument. Some felt that the site was missing out on the wisdom and experience of "older" feminists who also had interesting things to share, and who were often ignored and dismissed by a mainstream society which idealised youth. Quite a few people expressed disappointment that after having found the site and initially being very excited about it, they were "excluded" because of their age. Some felt that they were "too old" to contribute in their late 20s or 30s (which was never my intention); some had assumed that "young" meant only girls and teenagers. Others put forward the argument that feminists should be trying to rise above society's division of women by age. Some argued that since the UK wasn't exactly overspilling with feminist publications and websites and so it was only logical that this site cater for everyone.
I asked the contributors to the site what their views were. Their views were also deeply divided, and like me, they often demonstrated conflicting views within one person. Firstly there were those who felt, on consideration, that the site should be opened up for all:
"I do feel it would benefit to open it up especially as you mention this is the only [UK feminist] webzine available. Plus I may be biased, being now the "wrong side" of 30."
"...I can see how [the "young" tag] would perhaps alienate or frustrate people. I suppose you could say that the site was initially created with young feminists in mind, and that you are a young feminist, but that you don't have to be a young feminist to contribute in any way to the site."
"There is a lack of places for feminist women of any age to connect with each other in the UK just now and I think that the feelings of isolation probably apply across the board right now. I think that if this was not the case then the issue of discrimination would never have arisen. It would be lovely to have the luxury of different sites/zines/groups for different groups of feminists, but it just isn't there just now and I think this is why people feel excluded and discriminated against. For me personally, if I'd paid more attention to the "young" aspect of the F-Word, I'd have fought shy of becoming involved as a 32 year old; I'd have assumed that the site was there for teenagers & early 20 somethings. So.......I can see both sides of this debate as being valid, although in my heart I'd have to say that I would enjoy the site more if it was open to all ages."
"I believe that Young women need to be focused on as young femimist does appear to be somewhat of an oxymoron at this time. But I would allow the site to be open to all, we never know how old someone is on email anyway. I would hate the content to change with regards to age. ie: Become less involved with popular culture, or have people expressing themselves differently as they thought they may offend an 'older' generation. There is the fear of imposing an arbitrary age barrier which will never work. Overall I feel that it's more important that the site is for UK feminists than for YOUNG feminists."
"I would be disappointed if the site were less in touch with modern culture and became bogged in second wave theory rather than shaping the third wave. The focus should be on evolving feminism and applying it in the here and now. This is something that women of all ages can do. I guess what I mean is that the thinking should be young not the membership. I think it is important to preserve the feeling of exploration and innovation that the site has. Modern Feminism rather than Young Feminism. Maybe a specific forum for young feminists still finding their feet as part of the overall webzine might be good, several teenagers commenting on the site mention feeling they were the only ones interested in feminism in the country and may feel better able to have a voice in a section aimed at them. This is more of an issue in young women rather than older women who have a clearer sense of self. It is after all the young women today who are needed to carry the torch forward for another generation. However with you remaining as the editor I can't see how the overall nature of the F-Word will change dramatically and as there are no other feminist webzines I would continue to read it regardless."
But on the other hand, readers and contributors made strong and passionate arguments about why a space for younger women was necessary. The amount of emails I got expressing relief and enthusiasm, particularly from young women ("I thought I was alone!") spoke volumes. Although The F-Word has never taken on a particularly "girly" aesthetic or style, young women and girls found the site, loved it, and were relieved that they were not alone. When I asked the contributors for their opinion, they were particulary passionate about the point that young women should continue to be encouraged and nurtured by the site. A particular concern was that if the site was changed, young women and girls could be alienated as they might wrongly assume - due to what they had already been told about feminism - that a "general" feminist site didn't have anything to do with them.
"I think it's great that thefword is a site for young british feminists,... Given how, historically, young women have not been taken seriously as feminists, I think having a site for young feminists is a good idea."
"I think that it's pretty special to have a space for girls new to feminism. I'm big on making feminism available and tangible to everyone but maybe making the site all ages could alienate younger women coming to the sight for the first time."
"I think The F-Word should stay aimed at "young british feminists". there are a few reasons for this - first off, it's what you set out to do in the first place, so it's obviously close to your heart, and it's close to the contributors' and readers' hearts as well. Secondly, it's not your fault that there's no other site for older feminists or wider debate, and you shouldn't feel that you're responsible for providing one! You can't please all of the people all of the time. Thirdly, in my experience sites/magazines/whatever which try to broaden their scope too far lose the special identity and remit which they started out with, which attracted loyal readers to them in the first place. The F Word has a strong sense of community at the moment, and i think diluting its identity too much would lose a lot of that. Fourthly, there's nothing stopping older feminists from reading and commenting on our content; it's not as though they've been banned, ferchrissakes! ;) Maybe some of the older feminists who think that there should be a site similar to the FWord for them should go and set up one, instead of complaining that you're not doing so!"
"I still agree that it's valid for you to specify a demographic for your site and it's true that "young feminism" is seen as a contradiction in terms and that young women seem overwhelmingly not to see feminism as applying to their lives."
"I think you should stick to your guns and keep the site devoted to young women. I especially feel strongly about this in terms of getting younger women (teenagers) involved and interested in the concept of feminism as a real choice for them that they can relate to. In regards to someone setting up an alternative site because they felt unrepresented, isn't that the reason you set up the site in the first place? Young women's views and concerns, especially women of colour and working class women are not represented by mainstream (very loosly used term) feminism and they are continually ignored despite all the work of feminism since the 70's. I wouldn't stop coming to the site and contributing if you did change it but I do think that the chances of younger women coming would be less likely and there would be an influx of contributions from older women which could possibly change the character of the site."
"The bottom line is that it is your website, you do most of the work and you started it all with a very clear purpose in mind. Youth seems to be very disregarded as a category that needs particular attention and this, what is essentially bullying seems to epitomise this popular attitude that devalues young people as having anything important or worthy to discuss and debate without the input of our elders. I don't think that a bunch of white women would be pressurising a black woman to change her website specifically devoted to black feminism. You have to decide what is most important to you in terms of the direction of the site but you have my support all the way."
"I would prefer if it stayed as a website for young feminists. I haven't thought a lot about this so don't have a fully formed argument in support of it, but I agree with you that most feminist groups seem to be dominated by older feminists, etc."
"I still err on keeping it for young feminists. If you change it, young women who encounter it for the first time are likely to assume (because most people assume and the media says) that because feminists are almost by definition NOT young, the F word must be a 'second wave' thing. There are still second wave feminist outlets - e.g. Trouble and Strife and networks. I think young women's need for their own voice and space, and the site's contention that feminism exists among young women, is more important than older women's (lesser) need for a space on the internet. I think you risk losing some of the fantastic 'thing' you've created by opening it up to older women."
As regular readers will probably know, this issue has been a really difficult thing for me to deal with as Editor, and my opinions on this could change from day to day. I feared that whatever I chose to do would disappoint somebody, and yet there was a risk that if I tried to please everybody the site could lose whatever precious identity it had gained. How could I reconcile what I felt was two totally valid but seemingly conflicting points? How could I avoid making anyone feel disappointed and discriminated against, whilst still fulfilling the aims the site was initially set up - to encourage young women to identify as feminists, to keep the site relevant to modern culture, and to encourage new voices. It was particularly important that young women would not be turned off by a general feminist site, that the tone of the site should not change, and that it should remain relevant to younger women.
To try to make a long story at least a little bit shorter, I have decided that from now on instead of "young UK feminism", the website will be: "The F-Word: Contemporary UK Feminism."
Whether analysing mainstream pop culture or reflecting the modern underground feminist movement - The F-Word will still continue to be relevant
The site will still have at its core the aim of reaching out to younger women and girls and young feminists sharing with our peers that feminism is worthwhile and relevant to today. But no-one will be barred from contributing on grounds of age and the site will become more open to allowing "older" feminists to contribute. However, the "contemporary" tag will ensure that contibutors and the site keep focussed on the present. Whether analysing mainstream pop culture or reflecting what's going on in the modern underground feminist movement - The F-Word will still continue to be relevant. (I decided against branding the site "modern feminism" as I felt "modern" might suggest a certain type of feminism which would only be applicable to a few. As a friend of mine put it, the phrase "modern feminism" suggests stereotyped images of Cosmopolitan-style feminism or "girl-power").
Now lets address some fears; and please forgive me if I address my peers for a moment. I for one will stand up and admit that I had a concern that allowing "older" women to write for the site would change the tone - somehow make it less relevant to today's culture. But why do I have the idea that an "older feminist" would want to write dull treatises about pedagogy and praxis instead of witty analyses of Big Brother, Buffy, Pop Idol or Eastenders? Lets allow older women to show us what they think about rather than assuming we know what they think - and vice-versa.
In the U.S., where the term "Third Wave" was coined, younger feminists have occasionally seemed to take on a defensive attitude, and some of the Second Wave have seemed to ignore or dismiss the efforts of younger women. This has led to an unfortunate split between the feminist generations, not to mention the people who don't fit neatly into either of the two "waves". Again, I'll admit to a concern (shared by some contributors) that if older women contributed to The F-Word "they" would end up speaking at "us." I understand this concern - but I think I (we?) need to stop feeling so defensive and open up and allow a dialogue to happen between equals. We've shared our ideas and thoughts between ourselves, let's feel confident enough to let them spread wider. In effect, we are allowing older feminists into a space we have created and nurtured ourselves, rather than having to fit in somewhere which is already dominated by an older generation. We should have no need to feel defensive, we're big enough and strong enough; we can stand up and say "we're here: let's talk."
In case anyone is concerned, let me confirm that getting young women and girls interested in feminism will still be one of the major aims of this site, and young women will still be particularly encouraged to contribute.
I hope that young women and girls who come across the site will be intrigued by the comtemporary aspect of feminism and read on - and realise that feminism is totally relevant to their lives - but I hope that we can begin to showcase some more new (or previously hidden) voices and learn from each others' experiences. I am confident that The F-Word can still encourage and nurture young feminists whilst allowing others to contribute. And finally it's my hope that all the wonderful, amazing, fanatastic and inspiring contributors and readers, many of whom I am now honoured to call my friends, will continue to support and feel part of The F-Word. I couldn't have done any of this without you.
Catherine Redfern, Editor/Founder June 2003
The F-Word: Contemporary UK feminism
The F-Word is an online magazine dedicated to talking about and sharing ideas on contemporary UK feminism.
This webzine exists to help encourage a new sense of community among UK feminists, and to show the doubters that feminism still exists here, today, now - and is as relevant to the lives of the younger generation as it was to those in the 60s and 70s. The webzine was founded by, and is mainly written by younger feminists, those of us born during or after the feminism of the 60s and 70s. Although no-one is barred from contributing on grounds of age, we are particularly keen to encourage and showcase the new voices of younger feminists, our peers. To this end, contributions from new writers and young women and girls are particularly welcomed and encouraged.
What is contemporary UK feminism? It is impossible to define: it can appear in many different people's lives in many different ways. The F-Word does not define what contemporary UK feminism is but instead allows a place for different people to share their different opinions and views. The contributors to the site may have opposing views on certain issues, and that's fine; it simply demonstrates that feminism is a diverse, living and healthy ideology which is confident enough to question itself. There is no "party line" in feminism, there is no "feminist rule-book." Feminism in the UK today is whatever we make it.