Media/PublicsO.O.P.S.Sex & Gender

Blogging at The Establishment

Centering the Subjective is Reclaiming Power

The Establishment joined the feminist blogosphere in October 2015 with one notion: “the conversation is much more interesting when everyone has a voice.” It asked: “What kind of media do you get when you prioritize the underrepresented, the marginalized, and when you focus on the right kind of ‘writing what you know’… when you let people speak for themselves, instead of being represented by others claiming to write “objectively”?

The Establishment has an editorial staff that is entirely made up of women; most of the articles are written by woman and non-binary femmes as well. I was drawn into reading The Establishment because I’m a fan of the work that has been done by its Editor-at-Large, Ijeoma Oluo, a Seattle-based writer, activist, and speaker, Oluo’s work has also been featured in The Guardian, The Stranger, New York Magazine, and other top publications. Some of her editorials on The Establishment include “When You Brag That The Women’s Marches Were Nonviolent,” “A Handy Guide To What The Hell Happened To The Affordable Care Act,” and “When I Said All Trump Supporters Are White Supremacists, I Meant It.” Though it’s obvious that her politics are skewed to the left, I believe that her honesty about her place in the world and the lens through which she sees it makes her work invaluable and necessary in the current media sphere. Oluo is the embodiment of unabashed editorial journalism, and is a leading force in using social media as a tool to expand our world-views and our activism. It’s no surprise that she is a leading force at The Establishment as well.

Broken up into six sections ranging from “Society + Politics” to “Lust + Liaisons,” The Establishment covers the gamut of relevant topics and doesn’t shy away from what may be considered unpopular or outlandish. Empathy is at the center of every piece, though I should make it clear that none of the writers tiptoe around calling out white supremacy, misogyny, ableism, and other forms of systematic bias, inequity, and prejudice. Examples of pieces published in February 2017 include “Nothing Will Really Change Until America Reckons With Race,” “I’m A Refugee From A Banned Country — This Is My American Story,” “Why You Need To Start Including Disabled People In Your Health Care Activism,” and “How To Help The Cause When You Need Help Yourself.” The centering of marginalized voices is something that mainstream media sources have been putting off for a long time, as evidenced by the small percentage of op-eds written by women (studies estimate men make up somewhere from 67 to 90 percent of contributions to key opinion forums); The Establishment proves that it is possible for us to progress towards equity on all fronts in editorial journalism. And in fact, if I were to purport an agenda for the publishing platform, this intervention in mainstream practices would be it.

The site prioritizes opinions that come straight from the source, as the mission statement suggests. Instead of having someone outside of the kink community write about the unverified but incredibly publicly relevant Trump/Russia dossier, The Establishment published an essay called “Why Do We Care Whether Trump Is Into Pee? A Sex Workers Roundtable,” written by a retired dominatrix who has experience with “piss play” and who can ask questions and give answers in a complete, honest, and empathetic way. Instead of attempting “objectivity” like other publications would, The Establishment values subjectivity, showing that the possibilities for citizen-journalists are endless and altogether avoiding the inevitable disdain that some show for taboo or uncomfortable topics (even when feigning objectivity.)

The Establishment has resolutely gone without comments since its inception. In a piece by Oluo that features commentary by a few of the other members of the staff, the explanation for this becomes absolutely clear. In their opinion, the comments section breeds vitriol, abusive language, and violence, and they simply did not want to create another space on the Internet for trolls to do their business. As Oluo puts it, “Assholes already have plenty of platforms from which to abuse women, people of color, disabled people, sex workers, the poor, and the LGBTQI community. We won’t provide one here.” However, that doesn’t mean that there is no feedback from the blog’s audience. I follow Oluo closely on social media and she is very responsive to commentary on Facebook and Twitter: she is incredibly intelligent and not afraid to say what she means, so if you aim to throw vitriol towards or at her in those places, prepare for a swift rebuttal. I don’t follow other editors and writers as closely, but from what I can tell it’s easy to find the contact information for each of them on the site.

I personally believe that The Establishment is reliable, though that comes with a caveat. As a publication that doesn’t have any pretenses to objectivity, it is hard to say what it would mean for it to be “reliable” in a conventional sense. Some may argue that the site is too skewed to the left to be a truly good source, but I would argue that its willingness to divulge its bias is precisely why it is. (For a more in-depth exploration on objectivity in the media, look no further than this article titled “The Dangerous Myth of Media Objectivity”; another great option is this post on Medium by Lewis Wallace titled “Objectivity is Dead, and I’m Okay With It.)

Obviously, every article you read on the web should be read skeptically; that is, if you wish to be truly informed, you should always look beyond your initial reading and do your own research. Reading opinion pieces isn’t necessarily ever going to show you the full picture of a situation, so looking beyond any given essay is important.

Lived experience is an important aspect of writing that is often overlooked in journalism because being too close to a subject to be objectively truthful can be a real weakness. But as we move more closely to a respectful and knowledgeable world, lived experience is where we need to look first to address questions of social justice. Those that fall into marginalized and underrepresented groups deserve to speak and write for themselves, and rarely does a platform offer that space in a respectful and non-tokenizing way. The Establishment is, in many ways, a reclamation of narrative and thusly a reclamation of power, from a current media climate which tends to silence emotional honesty and dissent. For anyone who wants to work against the oppressive systems in which we live in and needs to learn more, The Establishment is a great place to start.

Haylee Millikan

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