An Important Letter From the Editor
My name is Rhiannon Payne, and I am the Editor-in-Chief of this website, Feminspire.com. Although you can see my picture on the “who we are” section of this site and read my thoughts in the articles I’ve contributed here, I’ve never tried to make myself highly visible when it comes to Feminspire. As I wrote in our mission statement, we are “an online publication featuring a global collection of female voices,” and as far as I see it, I am just one of those many voices.
However, there comes a time when the leader of an organization has to become visible and take responsibility for mistakes made and wrongs done, which is what I’m here to do now.
I conceived of the idea for Feminspire earlier this year and launched the site almost five months ago today. I wanted myself and my friends to have a media website for women with a wide community of shared thoughts, experiences and perspectives. I imagined a website that brought together powerful personal stories, intelligent discussion of women’s issues, a female perspective on the news and current events, and beauty and fashion articles that were fun, useful and safe for people who wanted to read about those topics without negative body language or focus on looking good by someone else’s standards.
Although I am a feminist myself, in the early days of the site, I wasn’t sure how the rest of the world would see us. We didn’t try to brand ourselves as a feminist resource, but simply as a place for women to get together and make their own media. It was almost no time before discussions of feminism and gender issues became prevalent in our content and among our staff, and it became clear that we were quickly becoming a feminist media source.
With Feminspire, I wanted to create a safe place for all women. However, in my naivety, I didn’t fully consider all the components involved in achieving that goal. For that, I am here not only to bow my head and apologize, but to lay plans for a new Feminspire moving forward.
It has been brought to our attention by many readers and non-readers alike that we have done an awful job of representing the specific struggles of women of color in our content. Not only that, but we have published some articles where instances of privilege have gone atrociously unchecked, ignoring the realities and the voices of women who don’t fall into the “white, middle class American” checkbox.
An example of this is an article that we heedlessly published on holiday alienation in December, which focused on the frustration of being non-religious or alone at this time of year, completely disregarding women of other cultures who feel the constant pain of being isolated by an institution that they can’t find a place in.
I can’t begin to express how sorry I am to the readers who felt hurt or excluded by this or other instances of unchecked privilege, ignorance, or silencing in our content. At the end of the day, it is my failing for not being scrupulous enough in making sure our articles live up to the mission of Feminspire. No apology from me will ever be enough, and I understand that – I just hope this will be a start to making amends.
In order to be an intersectional website that is truly representative of women as a whole, it is important to have content creators who come from many different cultures, backgrounds and experiences. As women and as feminists, we aim to engage with one another and educate ourselves and those around us, and that isn’t possible if only one perspective is being heard. This is something that myself and the editors at Feminspire have always been aware of. However, we didn’t want to recruit writers for diversity’s sake alone, as if they were tokens only there to give the “women of color perspective” on issues rather than multifaceted and valued members of our team. I felt that advertising on the website and on social media that we were looking for specific kinds of women would be insulting to them, and several women of color on our staff agreed with me. I refused to take any action that would be offensive to our readers or staff, so no action was made. Myself and the other editors had many discussions on this, racking our brains for alternative solutions, but none came to us. We moved blindly forward, continuing to advertise for new writers in a generic way and hoping that the interest we received would be more diverse. We have added many incredible women to our team since Feminspire began, many of whom are white, yes, but several who are not. However, it wasn’t enough. The overwhelming representation of cis white women continued, and it is now an outcry from our audience that has stopped us in our tracks and given us pause to reflect on how we can fix this and make Feminspire a positive space for all women.
The truth is, we haven’t done enough to live up to our goals as a site. I haven’t done enough. I am so disappointed in myself that it has taken an uproar for us to slow down and really do something about this.
Feminspire exists because of an all-volunteer staff of writers and editors. Every piece of content and every effort made on the site has been from people who believe in our mission and want to be part of it. We have an open door policy when it comes to women who want to write for us, and it is unfortunate that we have unintentionally created a space where white women are the dominating force. As a staff, we have been in the process of reflecting on why that is – coincidence or otherwise? Many readers have pointed to the instances of privilege in some of our articles as one of the reasons why women from marginalized groups wouldn’t be interested in joining our staff.
In response, our staff members have been actively discussing how we can better educate ourselves. We’ve been sharing links with each other and reading articles from all over the internet about identifying privilege and understanding the specific issues that women of color and non-cis women face in the media and society. We’ve also been discussing the start of a staff book club for us to read and discuss different texts on these issues. Our first priority as a group is to better educate ourselves so we don’t disappoint you – or ourselves – again.
We are also creating a policy for all of us to check what we write for privilege. One of our team members, Amanda, suggested we ask ourselves these questions before we publish anything on Feminspire:
- How does this article represent people of all classes?
- How does this article represent people from all cultures/ethnicities/etc?
- How does this article represent people with different lifestyles than my own?
- How does this article represent people of all sexual orientations?
- How does this article represent people of all gender identities and presentations?
These are basic questions that we are now going to be using as a starting point to look deeper into our articles and make sure we are not being exclusive or offensive to any of our readers.
The most important thing of all, however, is input and involvement from the women who read Feminspire and want us to improve.
Due to unfortunate circumstances, I made the decision yesterday to temporarily deactivate Feminspire’s Facebook fan page. There were many women speaking up about the white privilege in our articles and our lack of representation of women of color, women who felt understandably frustrated by the lack of progress in these areas since the site began. I addressed these concerns in a way that I thought was professional and appropriate, letting them know that we were taking this seriously and asking them what specifically we should do to make changes. We also edited our article in question to apologize for our glaring oversights. However, I have been told by many that I handled the situation inappropriately. My responses came off as disinterested instead of professional, despite my genuine intentions.
What followed over the next three days can only be described as sad and chaotic. Those unsatisfied with my apologies and promises of change for Feminspire took to an online community that I used to be a member of, encouraging others to get involved in speaking up against us on our Facebook presence. It saddened me that instead of giving us a chance, these women who I used to chat with on a regular basis went from sharing their valid complaints and concerns for the site to openly attacking myself and my staff, commenting on every post we made with insults and taunts. There were hundreds of people involved in this, and the valid concerns that existed became buried by an endless onslaught of hatred for me, my staff and the site. It became impossible to reply to so many people individually, and many of our writers and editors had to simply stop reading the comments because it was triggering issues with their mental health. After attempts to calm the situation, I felt I had no choice but to close down our page for the time being and moderate all comments here on the site. It was the last decision I wanted to make, and I’m still not sure if it was the right one, but it was the only thing I thought I could do at the time. Our social media presence and Feminspire itself is meant to be a place for people to discuss women’s issues and criticisms of the site in a way that is respectful, but it had turned into something unproductive and unsafe.
I made a statement on our Facebook page that I would address our mistakes and our plans to move forward in an official editorial, and here it is. I know that because of our mistakes, we don’t deserve anyone’s continued readership. I know that we’ve been repeatedly made aware of how poorly marginalized groups have been represented here on Feminspire, and I know we haven’t done enough to change that in the past. I can absolutely see where the pain and anger is coming from, and again, from the bottom of my heart, I am so very sorry.
After everything that has happened, we are going to stop posting new content for the next few days while we reorganize and get fully on track to make the changes I’ve laid out here. We are going to start posting content that is carefully checked for privilege, and as a group we are going to make ourselves more aware of the myriad of issues that affect women who are marginalized in society. And of course, we are going to reopen our Facebook page. I think it’s safe to say that all of us have the same end goal in mind, and that is extending women’s voices in the media and in the world. I hope that we can work on this together instead of against each other, but I understand if you want us to prove ourselves first.
And of course, we wouldn’t be anywhere without you, our readers. Thank you so much for following us on this journey so far. The creation and running of Feminspire has been an incredible learning experience for myself and for our staff, and we want to continue to learn from the mistakes we have made and the criticism we have received. I hope you all will give us another chance, because we are still hoping to be the site I envisioned us to be when I started Feminspire, and we won’t let that vision get out of sight again.
If you have any interest in getting involved with Feminspire and helping us make these changes, I would encourage you to please email us at info (at) feminspire (dot) com. We are nothing without you.