Internet Mailing Lists and Feminist Research, Pedagogy, and Activism

By O'Grady, Kathleen; Poxon, Judith | Resources for Feminist Research, January 1, 1999 | Go to article overview

Internet Mailing Lists and Feminist Research, Pedagogy, and Activism


O'Grady, Kathleen, Poxon, Judith, Resources for Feminist Research


Internet mailing lists are able to provide a means for a disparate community to come together and freely express their diverse views, without threat of censure or rejection from that community. II is not surprising, then, to find so many feminist mailing lists available on the Internet. The authors have been moderating a french-feminism mailing list for the past few years. works as a resource for feminist scholarship and political involvement in many ways. Another list, , was founded by one of the authors to facilitate communication among women in Cambridge university.

Les listes de destinataires electroniques ont la capacite de fournir a une communaute disparate le moyen de se reunir et d'exprimer librement ses diverses opinions, sans la menace de la censure ou de l'expulsion. Il n'est donc pas surprenant d'apprendre qu'un si grand nombre de listes de destinaraires feministes est disponible sur Internet. Les auteures de cet article surveillent une liste de destinaraires intitulee "french-feminism" depuis plusieurs annees. french-feminism@lists.village.virginia.edu joue le role de ressource pour les recherches et l'activisme feministes de plusieurs facons. Une autre liste, ucam-women-request@lists.cam.ac.uk, a ete fondee par une des auteures afin de faciliter la communication parmi les femmes a l'Universite de Cambridge.

While the mailing list (or electronic discussion list) is one of the oldest media available through the internet, it is by no means outdated. A mailing list allows people with shared interests to send mail to a designated group, and in turn, to receive mail from that group. A good mailing list is able to provide a means for a disparate community to come together and freely express their diverse views, without threat of censure or rejection from that community. The association among members of a mailing list is not one necessarily of agreement, or even collective ideology -- in this sense it is not based on a "club" mentality -- but a shared passion for a specific topic, and a devotion to an agenda to discuss all aspects related to this topic. The mailing list should provide a "safe space" where dissension is expected and welcome, where agreement is honoured and respected, but does not necessarily form the substratum of the list discourse.

It is not surprising, then, to find so many feminist mailing lists available on the internet. In both theory and practice, feminism is characterized by its disparate strains, its seemingly contradictory elements, and its joys and struggles with difference. Naomi Schor provides one of the most succinct and helpful definitions of feminism: "I would propose a definition of feminism that makes of it a sum of contradictions, the nodal point where dissatisfactions with contemporary society and the place it assigns women, claims for equality, claims for singular or plural differences, assertions of an essential and transhistorical female nature, and denunciations of a subaltern condition stemming from specifically historical and contingent factors clash and intertwine. ... Feminism is the debate itself.(f.1)

This mixing and mingling of borders and positions, a complex harmony made up of contrasting voices, is itself the practice that takes place on a feminist mailing list. The mailing list is a natural medium for discussion of feminist philosophies -- the "nodal point" for these disparate and discordant voices -- yet at the same time the kind of discussion that takes place on mailing lists is also imperative for feminism itself. Where else can feminist communities from across the world come together daily to foster discussion on feminism's manifold theoretical, pedagogical, and activist strains, and express the urgency of incorporating into any understanding of feminism the always varied lived experiences of women? In this article, then, we will discuss our experiences with two such mailing lists, in order to show how the advantages of such lists for feminist practice emerge in their actual day-to-day operation. …

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