A challenging post by Deborah over at In a Strange Land turned up in my RSS this week, and I wanted to talk about it. In fact, I got out of bed to do so. The good news is that I wasn’t compelled at 3am, which occasionally happens…

I’ll say that I agree with Deborah (via Tze Ming) that PA System is a community, and one dominated by liberal-left-of-centre voices. I agree to this because I’m complicit. Since its inception it has increasingly formed an alternative voice to places like Kiwiblog that pose an explicitly aggressive and right-wing dialogue (and at times, monologue).

I’d also like to say that I’ve also been extremely disappointed by conversations going on in there. The willingness of too many to entirely believe the police line over Te Qaeda was shocking to me. Many, many people jumped directly from “where’s the truth in all the spin?” to “these people are threatening me and my family!!”, and therein lost a lot of their rationality.

On the other hand, some fantastic stuff has happened there. The formation of the PAS Women’s XV, for which I proudly believe I provided the theme music, was an event.

What seems to be the actual issue with PA System is that it’s not become the bastion of “the Left” that many seemed to expect it to. Before System there was nowhere for the centre-left to air and talk about issues. I frequently discussed this online with people, and we agreed that it weakened the blogosphere as a whole.

Then along came System, and expectations were high. Obviously, as the community has settled, a particular voice has emerged. A rather middle of the road voice, but one that does have a strong left-lean. Basically, Russell’s ‘journalist’ voice.

And… I can’t actually see what’s wrong with that.

It’s at this point that I think I’ll say that I whole-heartedly disagree with Deborah and Tze Ming’s assertion that PA System is a place where feminism and difference isn’t welcome. System is a place that actively seeks to highlight and discuss difference.

As I say, my own opinion is that PA System doesn’t reject difference, it just behaves in exactly the same way the ‘real-world’ New Zealand centre-left does. It listens to difference, and gets a bit awkward and uncomfortable when those voices get too loud, too direct, or too challenging. And that different voice can be feminist, activist, anti-racist, socialist, anarchist, whatever. System displays, in effect, “normal” behaviour for New Zealand.

I think what’s lost in the disappointment with System is the reality that the feminist-activist voice is a minority. It is a minority in cyberspace, and it is a minority in real-space. The marginalisation of that voice, and I am not denying that it happens, mirrors the real world.

So the question I ask myself is, why beat up on PA System when all it’s doing is mirroring reality? The issue is the marginalization of women’s voices, not System itself.

I’m also inclined to think that there’s a further crisis of expectation wrapped up in this issue. When the net itself was first coming into the public consciousness there was an expectation that it would allow a “new form of communication”, one freed up from barriers of race, class, gender. It quickly became apparent though that people bring their socio-cultural political agenda with them to cyberspace. There quite simply is no genuinely neutral voice in which to speak (this is a philosophically Liberal argument I could harp on about. There is no such thing as “the individual”. We’re all nothing greater than the sum of our experiences. Experiences which are, inherently, gendered, acculturated, socialised, etc). Again, this means that cyberspace is mirroring real-word politics.

I dread to say this, but perhaps what’s needed is cyberspace in which these alternate voices can be aired. I say ‘dread’, because that sounds like I’m suggesting feminist-activism is further marginalized into “somewhere it belongs”. But what I’m actually saying is that there’s plenty of room in cyberspace for everyone. If PA System isn’t reflecting your values or thoughts, then you needn’t inhabit it. And if you need a place to inhabit, then don’t complain because what exists doesn’t suit you. Just go out and build one, and bring like-minded people into your community.

The number of people who have delurked and posted their first comment to say goodbye to Tze Ming is a strong indication that there where plenty of readers directly interested in feminist and activist writers. If I remember correctly, Russell has pointed out that all Tze Ming’s posts were marked by high numbers of lurkers. This is a fairly strong indication to me that a market exists for these ideas, it just needs to find the right venue.

I, for one, used to go over to Span when I wanted to read a feminist or women’s perspective on issues. And now, I go to In a Strange Land.