Friday, April 20, 2007

Interview with Janet Grace Riehl

"Part of what made me think about blogging was how much time I spent in personal email and on listserves...and how I could perhaps maximize my impact through my blog." -Janet Grace Riehl

Janet Grace Riehl of Riehlife.com and I recently exchanged emails about the feminist blogosphere. Enjoy our interview below!

Interview

A Blog Without a Bicycle: Do you identify as a “feminist”? How important, if at all, is being/not being a feminist to your identity?

Janet Grace Riehl: I don’t introduce myself as a feminist. I do my best to dodge most labels, because I’ve noticed they tend to cut connections, rather than create them. Probably if there were a checklist of values held by feminists, I would agree with many of these.

When the Feminist Movement was on the rise in the 1970s, I was in my 20s, and so these ideas were important to my thinking at the time. My great-aunt Amelia was a feminist—wearing bloomers and running the family farm long before these things were thought seemly in a woman. My mother, who died last year at 90, was certainly a feminist, although she would never have called herself that. Mother was a matriarch and the daughter of a matriarch. My father is a feminist in that without giving it a thought he treated his daughters with every equal opportunity to engage in his world of fixing and making things just as he did with his son. My sister, a world-class physicist who died in 2004 in a car accident, was certainly a feminist and focused on bringing more women into science and math professions.

A Blog Without a Bicycle: Whether or not you identify as a feminist, what does “feminism” mean to you?

Janet Grace Riehl: When I worked in Africa for five years in the 1970s, I saw strong women outside my family and culture. I thought, “These are women of power.” That’s what I feel “feminism” means in its best sense—a “woman-ism”—each woman achieving her fullest power in whatever way she defines this. Beyond this, equality of the sexes has to mean that men are included as well, in relieving their burdens as well as in supporting women’s.

In a broader sense, I feel feminism merges with humanism and I feel a strong connection to the feminista spirituality movement that draws on ancient myths around Gaia to fuel Eco-Activism. I see my Eco-Art Work and my participation in Womens Caucus for the Arts as feminist-related.

A Blog Without a Bicycle: Do you or have you ever kept a blog or blogs? When you spend time online, do you read blogs? Are there any blogs you read regularly?

Janet Grace Riehl: I’ve just started my blog “Riehl Life: Village Wisdom for the 21st Century.” I’m just starting to learn about blogs and the (dratted word) blogosphere.

A Blog Without a Bicycle: Tell me about your blog(s). How long have you been keeping a blog?

Janet Grace Riehl: I started my blog this year in January, but only started posting daily recently.

A Blog Without a Bicycle: What made you want to start a blog? What was your inspiration?

Janet Grace Riehl: My website was focused on highlighting my book “Sightlines: A Poet’s Diary.” I wanted to go beyond the book. I’d been hearing about blog/blogging for some time, and finally during a virtual tour for my book, decided to set one up as the face page for my website.

A Blog Without a Bicycle: How would you describe your blog?

Janet Grace Riehl: It’s a mix of down-home and high culture, I guess.

I wanted to set it up so I’d have lots of room. “Riehl Life” lets me write about everything that I love…connections, in whatever form, including family.

The official tagline is “Creating connections through the arts and across cultures.” In addition to writing, I’m also a visual artist, performer, and musician. I’m very interested in how these relate to each other. I’ve also lived and worked with several cultures, particularly in Africa and plan to write about Africa for my next publishing project. Communication and connecting across cultures fascinates me.

The blog also allows me to feature my father, 91, and his publishing projects and stories. That’s precious to both of us.

My blog reflects my thinking and reading life to great extent.

A Blog Without a Bicycle: Does your blog have a theme or does it focus on a particular issue?

Janet Grace Riehl: “Creating connections through the arts and across cultures” is the tag line. Also,Village Wisdom. What is it? What is a village? My village? What is wisdom? How can wisdom from the past be brought forward into the 21st century to make things make a little more sense?

This month, since April is poetry month, I’m focusing on poetry.

A Blog Without a Bicycle: How do you define a “blog”?

Janet Grace Riehl: Web logs (blogs) seem to have a range in terms of their audiences. Some are mainly on-line journals and scrapbooks. Others are marketing tools. And so on. It seems as if blogs provide a more focused and immediate way to get out your message, whatever that message happens to be.

A Blog Without a Bicycle: What qualifies as a “feminist blog”?

Janet Grace Riehl: Using the definition above, it would be any blog that helps a woman become more powerful, however she defines this. And, any blog that helps men move forward in their sense of self and society.

A Blog Without a Bicycle: Have you ever participated in a blog carnival? If so, tell me about that experience. Why did you want to participate in a carnival?

Janet Grace Riehl: I’m currently participating in Eric Maisel’s “Ten Zen Second’s” blogtour. Is this a blogcarnival? I thought it was a good book; it would be fun; educational; and might help my blog visibility.

A Blog Without a Bicycle: How did you find out about the blog carnival you participated in?

Janet Grace Riehl: I was signed up to Eric’s Creativity newsletter and then to his Ten Zen Seconds group.

A Blog Without a Bicycle: Now that you have participated in a carnival, what do you think about them?

Janet Grace Riehl: We’re in the middle of it now, so it’s too early to say.

A Blog Without a Bicycle: What do you think is the best/worst aspect of blog carnivals?

Janet Grace Riehl: The best is meeting a few new people. The funniest part was bumping in to folks in another group I belong to, that would appear quite unrelated. No downsides so far.

A Blog Without a Bicycle: Do you belong to or consider yourself a member of any online community? How do you define these communities?

Janet Grace Riehl: I belong to a number of yahoo groups related to publishing such as Women Writing the West and EPIC—electronic publishing; and my Buddhist group, Rigpa.

Mainly, I participate through daily email digests and posting. Part of what made me think about blogging was how much time I spent in personal email and on listserves...and how I could perhaps maximize my impact through my blog.

A Blog Without a Bicycle: Do you think that activism can be carried out online? What are the possibilities of such activism?

Janet Grace Riehl: Certainly there are examples of that. It seems like an inexpensive way to bring like-minded people together….as Move On! Has done.

A Blog Without a Bicycle: Do you think that feminist activism is being conducted online? If so, can you think of any examples?

Janet Grace Riehl: That’s not my area, so I don’t know. Women are certainly empowering themselves and they are using the Internet to do that.


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Interview with Nathan (Continued)

Nathan of Misanthrope Cyclist and I continued our conversation aboout the feminist blogosphere.

Interview

A Blog Without a Bicycle: You note that how women are treated in society is only one problem created by "the patriarchy." What exactly do you mean by patriarchy? What are some of the other issues that you would highlight in addition to women's treatment?

Nathan: Patriarchy is the cultural pretense that men are superior to women. At the same time, it is the collection of people who desire to maintain this pretense, consciously or unconsciously.

A major assumption under the patriarchy is that it is acceptable for the "strong" to prey upon the "weak" - the "strong" being the societarily [sic] privileged; those whom "the system" backs up; those who are willing to use, or at least threaten to use, this backing to get what they want from someone "weak", someone lower down the patriarchical [sic] totem pole - to get what they're entitled to in the feminist vernacular.

The strong believe everything they see is rightfully theirs (see Adrienne Rich's poem Mother-Right). They protect "their" weak and keep them in line; they take advantage of "other" weak. Queers [sic] are feared, demonized, and persecuted; strong women are feared, shunned, and ridiculed. And, not only is this acceptable, it is expected and rewarded! What's more, *not* behaving this way is punished! Sensitive men are mocked - Showing feelings of an almost human nature! This will not do. And, because many women fall for the lure of the patriarchy, men worry about showing signs of "weakness" to even their partners. Everyone is so distracted just trying to get by they fail to see the problem or, if they do see it, they can't or won't act - The big fish eat the little ones / Not my problem, give me some.

Entitlement, however and for example, is not just a "feminism" problem, though. Not to say that it's minor from that perspective – certainly rape, both violent and not (see the Biting Beaver's Rapist Checklist - http://bitingbeaver.blogspot.com/2006/10/repost-of-old-favorite.html); abusive relationships; sexual harassment and discrimination in the workplace. It's just that it's more than even that! It's big kids picking on little kids; motorists harassing cyclists; white people fearing blacks and controlling their behavior; straights fearing queers [sic] and demonizing and abusing them; hell, it's xenophobia in general; it's rich people making the rules… that only the poor must follow; it's humans mistreating animals. It's a wicked sickness that spreads and spreads.

Anyway, radical feminist (such a loaded phrase!) theory speaks to all of this; provides a language and foundation that should be built upon relating all these issues and more. I fully expect this has been done to some extent but this has so much potential I can't believe it's been exhausted.

A Blog Without a Bicycle: You mention that politics are left out of your blog "at least explicitly." Is there a reason that you have chosen not to write about politics explicitly?

Nathan: I'm generally not comfortable making statements about things I'm uncertain about. Blog entries are statements made before, potentially, the whole world and the political is filled with deceit.

A Blog Without a Bicycle: You list a number of online communities that you belong to. How would you compare online communities to offline communities? Are there specific features that online communities have that offline communities do not, or vice versa?

Nathan: Online communities have freedom from physical bias; for the most part, the only "facts" known about you online are those you willfully reveal.

A Blog Without a Bicycle: You mentioned some great examples of feminist activism that is happening online. Have you ever participated in any activist efforts via the internet? How effective do you find online activism to be?

Nathan: Most online activism online is fairly ineffective, directly. E.g., I suspect online petitions carry very little weight. Typically, online activism can only bring ideas to people and allow discussion on those ideas, both of which could potentially change the opinion of the person on either side of the exchange which could have limitless indirect effects. I like to think I've done some of that. That and I've signed online petitions. :)


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