Please join us on Monday, April 25 from 12pm-1:30pm for our graduate colloquium featuring Rosemary Clark (Annenberg) on the second floor conference room of 3810 Walnut Street. RSVP below to reserve your lunch and access the pre-circulated reading.
Building a Digital Girl Army: The Cultivation of Feminist Safe Spaces Online
“Safe spaces” emerged as an important activist tactic in the late twentieth century in the United States with the rise of the “new social movements," the feminist, queer, and anti-racist movements whose participants prioritized sociopolitical and cultural concerns, such as identity-based discrimination and violence, over economic inequalities. Within the context of the U.S. women’s movement during the 1960s and 1970s, safe spaces offered freedom from physical violence and harassment, a license to speak and act freely, and a collective meeting place wherein participants might build solidarity and develop strategies for resistance. However, the term’s ambiguity, while denoting its wide applicability across movement groups, has led “safe space” to become overused but undertheorized, with negative consequences for activists and researchers. In both theory and praxis, “safe space” has been treated as a closed concept, erasing the context-specific relational work required to construct and maintain its material and symbolic boundaries in a particular setting. The emergence of online communities promising safety for marginalized groups calls for renewed investigations into the construction of the social imaginaries that maintain these activist spaces. In this paper, I use data collected through ethnographic fieldwork to consider the cultivation of safe space within one online feminist community, Girl Army Philadelphia. Through participant observation and interviews with Girl Army members, I trace members’ technical and discursive enforcement of safety and the role this space plays in members’ activism and everyday lives.