Damned, Scribbling Woman: Thoughts on being a feminist writer on the Internet



This past summer, I became, in earnest, a girl-writer on the Internet. Though of course in previous years I’d had my work published in school literary magazines (cringe), on my personal poetry Tumblr (kill me), and, of course, in What the F, I was not fully connected to the baffling world of digital media until I wrote my first piece for Slant. Slant was, at that point, looking for staff writers to contribute content while it was still in its beta mode. I decided I would give it a shot.

Nathaniel Hawthorne, who you’ll know as the author of The Scarlet Letter, famously referred to the “explosion” of women writers in 18th century America as “a damned mob of scribbling women.” It gives me great joy to imagine what Hawthorne might do if he could see us now. Writing is more egalitarian than ever: any stray reflection can find a permanent home on some website, somewhere. This is a powerful and polarizing fact. Some people are nostalgic for the days where journalism amounted to more than “6 Times North West Couldn’t Hold It Together During Milan Fashion Week.” But I see it, as I think most millennials do, as overwhelmingly positive. The first-hand narrative is king now. Social justice gets clicks. (I was actually accepted to Slant initially because I pledged to write articles about my feminism, which was cool, because Slant is not Ms., or Bitch. It’s just a website.)

So, what are the implications of being in a damned mob of typing women? I think, too often, people make the mistake of thinking that being a feminist on the Internet means being a feminist only on the Internet. The relative anonymity of writing online has contributed to the image that the computer is something behind which one can hide. But any young feminist on the Internet knows it is not the “safe” space it’s imagined to be. In my experience, it’s the stupid and the ignorant that take advantage of this supposed “anonymity.” To this day, the only harassing email I’ve ever received was in response to my article about – would you believe it – online harassment of women. I was told to get a thicker skin, or get off the Internet. Chances are, if you care enough to tell your story on a blog, you care enough to fight the good fight IRL, too.

But is the writing itself a political act? This is something I struggle with, and I still don’t know the answer. Is ranting about benevolent sexism, or breaking down the female characters of Shonda Rimes shows, something I do because I’m a feminist, or do I do it for feminism? Creation is a vital part of any social movement. But what does that mean today?

In Nathaniel Hawthorne’s time, to be a woman and a writer was necessarily radical. That there was a sudden rise in the prevalence of women writers (or that enough were publishing to piss Hawthorne off) does not negate the radicalness of it. Perhaps there’s something similar going on today: we are saturating the Internet with our voices, our opinions, our stories. If the Internet is our new public sphere, more of us are able to take up more space than ever. That’s important. That rocks.

There are those (myself included, sometimes) who would say that the bar for writing is now abysmally low. Yet I think in a lot of ways it needed to be lowered – not because journalism was crying out for widespread GIF usage, but so that those who might have been made to believe what they had to say didn’t matter could be convinced otherwise. Or so that those who are too shy to call out the sexist/racist guy in class can do so in a safe and cathartic way and touch others in doing so. Or maybe it’s okay that the bar has been lowered because Buzzfeed does not exist at the expense of true insight or even genius.

So, be it confusing, or frustrating, or anticlimactic, I urge my fellow ladies of the laptop to keep at it! I have discovered that, despite everything, I really am fond of the fray.

Hannah Engler 


B.A. English Language & Literature

LSA/Residential College, Class of 2017


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