Grassroots Feminism interview
[This post was originally published in April 2010 on the website for the book Reclaiming The F Word, by myself and Kristin Aune. Since the website no longer exists, I thought I would publish it again here.]
There’s an interview with me (Catherine) up at Grassroots Feminism. I was interviewed by Red Chidgey, who asked me about setting up The F Word, our book, how co-writing works practically, and forms of activism. Read the full thing here.
I also thought that you might be interested in some extra questions from the interview that didn’t make it into the web version (exclusive questions, if you like!). Aren’t you lucky, eh! Anyone else remember soc.feminism?
The F Word started off as just you writing the articles. When did it develop into getting others involved?
I started posting about it on various news groups at the time and other websites, and I joined some yahoo lists connected to the American websites I was reading- there was one called Third Wave that I joined that was really good. People must have picked it up from there. There was one woman who contributed something for the first time and it was so exciting. “Oh god! Someone else is involved!” It was great. It was probably three or four months after [n.b. July 2001, the fifth month of publishing]. Gradually I got more people involved. …at the time there were news groups, there were no blogs or anything. One called soc.feminism. It must have been a UK one. So I posted on it saying, “Does anyone know any feminist magazines, websites, events, anything”. And I got a load of emails back from men going “Don’t you know that feminism is dead. Men are the underclass now.” And just ranting about that. But there was this one person who replied; who I think was the person who contributed the first article. …Then I found out about the riot grrrl scene and zines as well, so I started to make flyers and pass them out to people. That whole community was so welcoming and brilliant and people from there contributed and it just kind of escalated.
How much time were you spending on the F-Word?
It’s really hard to quantify. In my previous job I used to live close to where I work so it would take me about half hour [to commute], which meant I had more time at home. So I would get home… I don’t know. It just felt like I had a lot more to get out. I’d be writing things and I’d be on the bus thinking about things to write about. So it’s really hard to measure because you’re always thinking about what to write throughout the day and that’s part of the time as well. Just a few hours at weekends, and during evenings as well. It is a lot of time. Especially dealing with all the emails, as that’s part of it. I know Jess [McCabe] has lots.
You were editor for 6 years. What made you decide it was time to leave?
I wasn’t updating it as much as I used to because I was quite busy and just felt a bit tired. Also I was thinking, “What am I going to do with this? I can’t do this forever, just by myself. I need to hand it on”. It’s either hand it on to someone else or stop it. And Jess had been contributing for ages and she was really really great and she had the same viewpoint as I did about what the site should be. I thought she would be brilliant to carry it on, and thankfully she said yes. Phew! (laughs). I think she is amazing. I also think it’s good to show that it’s bigger than just one person, so it’s not just all about me, just because I set I up and was running it. It can carry on without me, and that’s really great as well.
Did you ever feel singled out as a visible feminist by the media? How was the response to that?
I think that people were generally positive. But I felt it was really strange because I hadn’t really done anything apart from run a website. I felt like people who actually organize campaigns and work in rape crisis centres and things like that; they should be the ones really who… the most amazing ones. I was more providing a platform for those people to say what they thought. So I always felt a little bit weird, but it was also nice as well, on the other hand, to be recognised. There wasn’t much negative feedback [to being named in the Guardian 50 women to watch out for list]. …There’s reasonable criticism of the F-Word, which is fine. But because people have heard your name in the media, they assume things about you that aren’t true. They assume I must be a lipstick feminist who hates second wave feminists who wants to come up with a high heel style feminism or something. …a lot of people assume that they know what the Editor’s opinion is on certain issues, just because the F-Word has published something, not [written] by the Editor, but by someone else.
How do you understand the term the ‘third wave’?
My understanding… my interpretation of third wave feminism is that there’s a resurgence of feminism today. That’s basically it, how I interpret it. I know there’s different interpretations and politics. I think there is a resurgence of feminist activity and think it’s ok to call that a third wave. It feels like there’s a bit of a dip between the second wave and now, from what I’ve read… Going with my interpretation, rather than someone else’s… because [some] younger people think that they’re a second wave feminist, and that’s fine, whatever they want, it’s a different interpretation.
Were you one of the founders of the London 3rd Wave?
After The F-Word had been around for a while, Kristin [Aune] and I arranged a meeting with a few feminist people we know in London as we weren’t aware of any London feminist groups. Especially ones for younger women as well. So we had a meeting … And we decided to set up a group. We called it ‘Third Wave’ because it was positive, saying feminism is here, we’re embracing it again. And there were no other feminist groups in London, across London wide feminist groups that we were aware of. I’m sure there must have been, which is weird, but…
Things weren’t really promoted so much. I think we’re a lot more networked now.
You didn’t have much internet information at the beginning. The 3rd Wave group was really nice because you had a lot of people who had very different opinions on things, but it was always very open minded, discussing things… radical feminists became best friends with sex work feminists and it was just really nice. We didn’t really get much activism done, which is why other groups were set up probably, who did things like put on marches. But a lot of people met each other who became involved in The F-Word and went on to do other things. One went on to set up $pread Magazine in New York.
What feminist media have inspired you?
The feminist ones: Bust and Bitch magazines. And Ms Magazine as well. This website called Third Wave in America. It hasn’t been active for years, but that was a major one. It was really exciting. And books by feminists like Naomi Wolf. And zines as well.
How important to you is it that The F-Word is uncommercial?
It’s really important actually. We had this consultation about advertising on the website. In the end we have a small thing which links to Amazon which gives us a little bit of money which we can use to partially fund the site and give some money to charity as well. But I would have hated to have had adverts over it, like some websites do. I just don’t like it. I don’t like it. I like the fact that there is no adverts on it. It’s good.
Are the running costs of the website just the hosting itself?
Yeh. And the other thing to do with that is paying people to write. No ones’s ever been paid, it’s all voluntary. And there’s no plans to change that. And that’s really important as well. Yeh, it’s the server costs… the cost of the URL, hosting and then if we wanted to redesign it, which Jess is looking into, then that would cost quite a bit of money as well. We’ve basically just paid for it ourselves. [note: actually there are other costs too like transport costs for the collective to meet with each other which I forgot to mention]
Does that ever bother you?
It did worry me. I thought “What am I going to do? I can’t keep paying for this for the rest of my life”. It doesn’t really bother me that much at the moment because I can afford it, so I’m happy to do it. But I can’t keep paying it for the rest of my life! (laughs). That would be quite a lot of money. I don’t know what we’re going to do about that, but I think people might donate who care about it… But then, you don’t want to make people think they have to give money to it in order to join in. That would be really bad.
What’s your hope for the redesign?
I think Jess is driving that. I haven’t really had time to get involved in that very much. To keep the accessibility and simplicity of it, and not get it all cluttered and stupid images of high heels (laughs). Don’t make it pink. Just to freshen it a bit, make sure it’s accessible. Make some of the commenting a bit easier and to make some of the administration a bit easier, because some of it is quite time consuming at the moment. Maybe making it a bit less static on the front page.
Read the other questions over at Grassroots Feminism.
The new edition of Reclaiming The F Word with an updated Preface will be available in June 2013.