Friday, January 16, 2009

Feminist Blogger Friday #1: Interview with Frau Sally Benz

Good morning, everyone! I'm very excited to announce the start of a new feature here at Fourth Wave. The second Friday of every month, we'll be posting an interview with a feminist blogger. I anticipate it will be an excellent opportunity for FWF readers to learn a little bit about another blogger and help us all appreciate, one blog at a time, the great diversity that is the feminist blogosphere.

Without further ado, I present you the very first in a series of Feminist Blogger Friday Interviews. For today, I've interviewed Frau Sally Benz, creator of Jump off the Bridge and contributor at The Feminist Underground and CHICKS ROCK!.

1. Sally, your blog was one of the first feminist blogs I came across when I started researching for Fourth Wave. I’m not sure now entirely how this transpired, what search terms I used, etc., but for this and other reasons I’m very happy to have you here as my first Feminist Blogger Friday interviewee! What drew you to start your own blog? Did you initially imagine Jump off the Bridge as a personal or public endeavor (or some combination of the two)? And how do you feel it’s developed since?

I had been reading blogs for several months and had started commenting a few months before I started my own blog. But I found myself feeling shut out by a lot of the comment threads on blogs. I also wanted to expand on my thoughts, but had no outlet for that. So I decided to just start my own blog where I could say whatever I wanted and engage people in conversation that way.

I always imagined my blog as a combination of the public and private. My passions are feminism, activism, politics, citizen engagement/participation, etc., so I knew that was what I mainly wanted to talk about. But I also love turning my brain off every so often and just listening to music, or finding recipes, or reading, and I wanted to be able to do that on my blog, too. And because I need an outlet just to keep myself sane and to seek solidarity, I also do often lean towards the personal. It’s been hard to keep a balance at times between all of these elements, but I think so far it has been ok. I hope that in finding more time to write, it’ll be easier to balance these things, while still staying true to my focus on feminism, activism and politics, with other fun things thrown in from time to time.

2. You’re also a contributor over at The Feminist Underground and, recently, at CHICKS ROCK!, a blog off-shoot of The Women’s Mosaic. How did you get involved in The Feminist Underground and The Women’s Mosaic, respectively?

The Feminist Underground was one of the first blogs I found (I think through a comment Habladora wrote somewhere) while I was starting to come up with ideas for my own blog. I loved the energy on there and Habladora is just such an awesome writer, so I was a groupie for a while. I wrote a guest post in response to her call for submissions on feminist definitions, and she had been keeping up with my own blog and commenting here and there. One day she asked me if I wanted to be a contributor over there, and I ecstatically agreed.

For CHICKS ROCK!, it’s a much shorter story. I’ve been working with The Women’s Mosaic for a couple of years now and when they came up with the idea of starting a blog, I ended up becoming the head of that project. I knew about the blogosphere and had a strong sense of TWM’s vision and back then I also had the most time (I have much less free time now). So I’m a contributor, as well as the editor/blog mistress, if you will.

3. Do you think of blogging as work or play? And speaking of work, what’s your day job? Do you have aspirations to someday take up blogging or some form of writing or journalism full-time?

This question made me LOL! Blogging is work and play, depending on when you ask me. It is certainly A LOT of work to write, edit, maintain, troubleshoot, moderate, etc. for one blog, let alone keeping track of three, even while sharing responsibilities on two of them. Sometimes posts just come very easily to me – either because I have a lot of free time, something has sparked a reaction inside of me, I’ve found something of interest, etc. But sometimes I’m struggling just to put sentences together. Writer’s block hits hard, and it’s even harder to deal with that when my work schedule is so unpredictable sometimes.

I work for a women’s rights organization at the moment, and volunteer part-time for The Women’s Mosaic. My responsibilities are a bit all over the place for both, but I like it most days. :-)

I’ve always loved writing and editing and anything having to do with either, but I’ve never considered doing it full-time or professionally. Who knows, though… it’s a new year!

4. Are there some days that you just have no interest in blogging? What do you do to inspire yourself to write?

There are plenty of days when I have no interest whatsoever in blogging. If it’s been a while since I posted on Jump off the Bridge, then I try to at least throw up a video or something to have something on there. I feel guilty otherwise!

Sometimes when I set out to write a post, but don’t know what to write about, I just start reading through news websites and react to whatever I find on there. My guy also sends me links every so often when he sees something he thinks I’ll want to write about. This is usually a good way for me to at least write something substantial, but it doesn’t always work.

5. As we both know, a lot of the work involved in maintaining a blog is cultivating and sustaining readership. Do you have any advice for people relatively new to feminist blogging about how to gain readers and encourage comments on their blog? Did anyone give you any great advice when you first got started that you’d be willing to share?

My number one advice for gaining readers is to comment, comment, and then comment some more on a variety of other blogs. I think a lot of people would say the same thing. If people like what you have to say and/or if they keep seeing your name on comment threads all over the place, they’ll get curious.

Aside from that, the advice I always read is to keep a regular schedule, but I struggle with that as I already said.

I’d also say take advantage of places that promote link love! These are posts where you can link to a few of your own posts with a short description to get traffic & comments on your blog. Womanist Musings does it on Saturdays, Feministe on Sundays, Shakesville on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays. We do it on The Feminist Underground and CHICKS ROCK! from time to time as well.

Taking advantage of social networking sites is also good, depending on how comfortable you are on those to start with. Facebook has a Networked Blogs app and you can also create a group or fan page for your blog. Twitter is great for promoting your posts. I’m not a big MySpace fan, but I’m sure people do it on there too and other places.

As far as encouraging comments, I still need help with that one. If you know of any tips, please share. :-)

6. I would have to agree with you about the advice to comment prodigiously yourself, but if I ever learn some secret comment-boosting formula, I'll be sure to share! Now, less about blogging, but more about feminism: how do you embody your feminism in your day-to-day life and/or how is feminism part of your daily life? Can you recall any specific event in your past that made you decide to identify yourself as a feminist or do you feel that feminism has always been a part of who you are?

I work for a women’s rights organization, so that helps me feel feminist-y. The blogosphere is a great way to incorporate feminism into your daily life. Whether it’s questioning the status quo, taking action on issues around the world, or just learning about things people write about, it’s a great way to really work out your feminist muscles.

I also just have conversations with people whenever the opportunity presents itself. I make people question why they don’t call themselves feminists even though they believe in pretty much everything we believe in. I try to break down oppression/privilege to them, and teach them about the struggles women have dealt with throughout history. I’m also a big proponent of including men in the conversation, so I make them see how feminism helps them too.

7. What do you feel is the most important issue facing contemporary feminism?

More than any one particular issue that feminists fight for, I think there is a lack of inspiration and effective strategy amongst feminists. There is not enough focus on grassroots efforts, not enough communication and partnership with people who don’t call themselves feminists (but have similar goals), etc. I think it’s a shame, for example, that people are still so intimidated by feminism. If you ask them what they believe in, they often agree with you about a lot of things, but refuse to call themselves feminists or to work towards the very things they believe in. I think in the future, we need to focus on addressing these things in addition to the issues already in the feminist agenda.

8. Along those lines, do you have a favorite feminist anecdote?

I do have one! I have several actually, but I’ll use the one from my feminism definition post at TheFU:

My guy's aunt could barely say the word "feminist" without getting a look on her face like she just swallowed sour milk. I started asking her questions:

"Do you have a job?"
"Do you believe you should keep the money you make instead of giving it to your father or husband or brother?"
"Of course."
"So you consider yourself pretty independent?"
"Then, I hate to break it to you, but you're probably a feminist."
"No I'm not, just because I keep my own money?"
"Well, there was a time way back when, when women weren't allowed to keep any money or property. Women had to fight to earn that right."
"Really? I never knew that."
"Just like they had to fight for the right to get divorced from abusive men, keep their own children, make their way to the top at their jobs."
"Well, I knew that, but not everybody wants that."
"You're right, but feminism gives you a choice. We didn't have that choice before and now we do. That's why I'm a feminist. I want to keep fighting for all the choices we should have that we don't."

Somewhere around here, my guy came into the convo and said he's a feminist too. This seemed to boggle her mind. We explained that feminism is about men AND women. Sure, we're different. Some differences are biological, some social, some a mixture of the two. But that doesn't mean that gender stereotypes don't hurt us all.

At the end of our little chat, she said "Well...I guess I'm a little bit of a feminist."

9. That's a great story! And now for something completely different: is there anything that you feel particularly fan-girlish about that you could discuss (or blog about) for hours on end with the right audience (a particular television show, a certain band, puppies, politics, etc.)?

I could do this about Harry Potter (hard-freaking-core!). A few others, to a lesser degree: the Beatles’ or Alanis’ music and Disney movies.

10. Speaking of movies, I noticed on your profile page that When Harry Met Sally is one of your favorite movies. It’s one of my favorites, too! What’s your favorite scene?

Woohoo! When Harry Met Sally!! I love every minute of that movie so this is by far the hardest question in this thing. While the orgasm scene is pretty classic stuff, I love the scene when Sally finds out Joe is getting married. Starting with the teary phone call to Harry right up until the hilarious look on Harry’s face after they’ve slept together – it’s BRILLIANT! A close second would be the scene at the Sharper Image when they sing “Surrey with a Fringe on Top” and Helen finds them there. I have to go watch the movie now...

That's all for now folks (and, for the record, my favorite WHMS scene is also the teary phone call bit!). Sally, thank you so much for granting me this interview. To everyone reading this, tune in February 13th for the next installment in this new interview series. In the meantime, I hope you'll continue to join us here at Fourth Wave for posts on myriad other topics, and, if you have any suggestions for people you'd like to interview or if you yourself would like to author a guest post wherein YOU conduct the interview, please don't hesitate to drop me a line (fourthwave[dot]feminism[at]gmail[dot]com).


sally said...

Woohoo! Congrats on starting the series (I know it's hard work).

Thanks so much for inviting me to be your first interviewee; it was totally my pleasure to participate. I posted the link on my blog, so hopefully you'll get a few more ideas for feminist bloggers to interview. =)

Renee said...

Great interview and I look forward to reading the rest of the series. said...

@Sally: It was my pleasure as well. Maybe a little work, but you're the one who had to answer all the questions! Thanks again.

@Renee: Thanks. I'm so glad you liked it. I'm looking forward to the rest of the series as well.

Mujeres Construyendo said...

Congratulations for your new section. I have an interview section in my blog, too, and think it is a wonderful way to know other people and share experiences.
I have found a lot of creativity and common grounds with our fellow bloggers and just love it.
I like your blog and your compromise with it.
Thanks for sharing,

habladora said...

Hey, it was really refreshing to read such a thoughtful conversation between two writers I greatly enjoy. Thanks, and I look forward to reading more interviews. said...

@Claudia: I'm so glad you enjoyed it. It's a lot of fun so far, and I also love the chance to share experiences and explore other people's approaches to life and feminism.

@habladora: And thank you for reading! Interviewing Sally was a blast.