WMST-L's Focus:

An Explanation

This file consists of two sets of messages. Both concern some subscribers' desire to expand WMST-L's focus to include not just Women's Studies teaching, research, and program administration but also the broader range of gender-related political events and social issues, and my explanations for why the list's focus cannot and will not be expanded. I am making these messages available as a file to which I can refer people rather than having to offer the same explanations over and over again as new people join the list.

Part A includes large portions of messages from late 1992/early 1993 occasioned by reports of the rape camps in Bosnia; most were sent to me privately, and I replied privately; part B contains public responses from me to requests that threatened funding cuts in the United States and other American political events be included within WMST-L's focus. Part B messages were written in March 1995.

I hope my messages will prove persuasive. If they do not, and you wish to unsubscribe, you can do so by sending the message UNSUB WMST-L to
LISTSERV @ LISTSERV.UMD.EDU [remove spaces around the @ sign].

Joan Korenman

PART A (1992-93)


> I for one would like to comment on this message as being appropriate for this
> list. I am a volunteer, reading this listing for the Women's Studies Committee
> of our college, and as such have one particular focus. However, whenever items
> cross the screen that would be of interest to my colleagues I send a copy to
> them. We have a recognized international expert on Yugoslavia on our campus
> and this information was sent to him because I know he will use it in updating
> his classes as well as his own individual research at the moment.

I appreciate your position, but I'm afraid it simply imposes too great a burden on WMST-L and its readers. There are literally thousands of crises and problems affecting women all over the world. Where do we draw the line about which ones should be announced on WMST-L? What about famine affecting women in Somalia, or the infanticide of female children in India, or the same problem in China, or the increase in job discrimination against women in Japan, or women's roles in the Intifada in the Middle East, or sexual violence and a host of other ills in the United States?

Your proposal would have everyone who subscribes to WMST-L receiving messages about ALL these and more, whether or not they want to, and whether or not they have limited time and/or e-mail quotas, and whether or not they have to pay for each message they receive (as some do). That seems highly unfair. Far more reasonable would be for you to subscribe to several lists, thus being assured of receiving more of the varied kinds of messages of interest to you. There are entire lists devoted just to the abortion question, and to sexual harassment. There are lists devoted to worldwide human rights. It's unreasonable to expect that WMST-L could or should duplicate their focus in addition to its own. The mail volume that would result from such an undertaking would be staggering for many if not most subscribers.

For the above reasons, I am unwilling to broaden WMST-L's focus. I hope you understand.

[MY RESPONSE TO SUBSCRIBER #2, WHOSE MESSAGE IS QUOTED IN >'s] [updated comments have been added in brackets]

> In truth, I don't have time to belong to other more broadly open-
> to-discussion lists. So, I wouldn't have gotten that news if it
> weren't for wmst-l. And, frankly, the other lists to which I do
> belong (swip-l and gender) are far less active and alive than
> wmst-l (you and I already had that discussion once, remember?).
> MOST of my messages come from wmst-l.

But now you've come to the heart of the problem. You say you don't have time to belong to other, broader lists--but if WMST-L expanded its focus to permit postings of the broad range of gender-related societal issues, none of us would have time to read WMST-L! I hear frequently from people who can barely keep up with the present mail volume; if, instead of 25 messages per day, there were 100 (quite likely with a broader focus) or 200 (easily possible) or more, a huge number of the present subscribers would unsubscribe. I doubt that I could handle that kind of mail volume. I know that I could no longer do a digest version, thereby losing 180 [now more than 600] more subscribers.

GENDER and FEMAIL (this latter is probably where the Bosnia message should have been sent) [this was before the establishing of FEMISA and the apparent demise of FEMAIL] are less active because people fail to take advantage of their existence. What I'm trying to do is encourage people to post their messages about gender-related societal problems there rather than on WMST-L. If they did, then those lists would be more active, and WMST-L would be able to maintain moderate mail volume without my having to spend absurd amounts of time acting as Official Nag.

> HOWEVER... all that being said, I also appreciate that there are
> many many other critical horrors involving women around the
> world. The situation in Bosnia happens to be a high press issue
> right now; but to presume that the rape camps there are a
> singular or unique locus of horrible violence against women AS
> women would be grossly in error, to be sure. If you open the
> door to the posting of such "news" items, there would be a flood.


> But the fact still remains that while you, I and others have
> taken the privilege of pondering the drawing of lines in email
> space, those women are being tortured, mutilated, raped. I
> cringe to think that the former struggle takes precedence over
> the latter in this forum. But I guess that's an instance of an
> ongoing and more general discomfort with my (our) status in
> academe.

God knows, I share your outrage and your discomfort. But I don't see that undermining WMST-L's effectiveness through excessive mail volume is the answer.


> If the Bosnian message had come as a brief
> flag-wave, with indications about how to get more info, then all this
> discussion would not have had to take place, and the subscribers to wmst-l
> would have gotten the info in a feminist forum. You see, one dimension of
> this is that I don't necessarily want to carry on a coversation about this,
> or listen (?) to others (as I might have to on femail). I just want the
> news item.

[Part deleted] Also, there's again the problem of how many brief flag-wavings WMST-L can support. If only 25 of the almost 1500 subscribers [now more than 4800] send flag-wavings on any given day, that doubles the number of mail messages. And it wouldn't end there: I can anticipate that a number of people will send messages to the list NO MATTER HOW MANY TIMES THEY'RE TOLD NOT TO to say that they couldn't get the announced information using the e-mail address provided, or that they just HAD to express their horror at what they'd just read, or just "please send me the info," etc. Then I'd have to step in to send each of them, privately, a message telling them not to do this, and perhaps engage in a private exchange of further messages. WMST-L already takes far too much of my time. I'm not willing or able to give it more, especially when there's a fairly simple alternative solution to the problem you describe, namely, that people send messages about gender-related societal issues to FEMAIL and/or GENDER [FEMISA and ABIGAILS-L are now other possibilities], and people who want such messages subscribe to those lists as well as to WMST-L.


> No long protracted queries or comments. Just a thanks, again, for your
> thoughtful responses. I do appreciate the problem, and am VERY sensitive
> to the amount of time this must take in your life. WMST-L continues
> to provide an excellent service in my life, and I enjoy it DESPITE the
> frustration of having people inappropriately use it. Your responses were
> convincing --- you are surely right that even if you opened it to an
> ostensibly minimal "flag-waving" service for feminist news that, in practice,
> it would never be "minimal".

PART B (March 1995)

Date: Sun, 15 Jan 1995 22:54:58 -0500
From: Joan Korenman [defunct address]
Subject: No political messages on WMST-L

Earlier today, Nancy Goldstein forwarded to WMST-L a message about possible cuts to American governmental funding agencies. As important as this issue is to many of us, I must remind everyone that discussion of political issues and problems lies outside WMST-L's scope. Even without such issues, the often heavy mail volume on WMST-L poses a serious problem for many subscribers who have limited time, limited disk space, or limited funds (some subscribers must pay for each message they receive) . If we were to expand the list's focus to include political issues, many of these subscribers would be forced to unsubscribe. I do not want to see that happen.

Thus, I am writing to ask that people not send political messages or replies to WMST-L. There are other lists--[see the Activism section of Gender-Related Electronic Forums for several possibilities.] The Usenet newsgroup soc.feminism is another forum for discussions of gender-related political and social issues. If you don't know how to access Usenet newsgroups, ask your system's computer support staff for help.

Thanks to the existence of . . . other forums devoted to gender-related societal and political issues, each of us can tailor our e-mail to meet our needs and resources. Those who want to receive messages on a broad spectrum of gender-related societal issues can simply add a subscription to one or more of the lists that focus on such issues, thereby getting the messages they wish without imposing unfairly on others whose needs or resources are different.

If you feel that WMST-L's limited focus on Women's Studies teaching, research, and program administration does not meet your needs, you can unsubscribe by sending the message UNSUB WMST-L to LISTSERV @ LISTSERV.UMD.EDU .

Many thanks for your understanding and cooperation.

Joan Korenman (korenman AT umbc2.umbc.edu)

Date: Sun, 05 Mar 1995 10:08:11 -0500
From: Joan Korenman

I am writing to ask that WMST-L subscribers not send any more messages about political activities--actual or threatened--to WMST-L. I do not question the importance of the situations these messages describe, but every day there are literally thousands of important and compelling situations all over the world that people may wish to publicize. If only a small fraction did so, WMST-L's already heavy mail volume would become intolerable for many subscribers with limited time (some people can read their email only at work), limited disk space, and/or limited funds (some people have to pay for every message they receive), and they would be forced to sign off the list. I do not want that to happen.

Many other lists exist for publicizing and/or discussing political activities and threats--Elaine Leyda mentioned CAN-RW (Campus Activists' Network, Right-Wing alert) as one such list. See the Activism section of Gender-Related Electronic Forums for more information. A related list focusing just on education cuts and student organizing for affordable education is CAN-ER. Another, ACTIV-L, is a broader activist list. [NOTE: ACTIV-L has changed its name to imap (to reflect its linkage to the Usenet group misc.activism.progressive ). To subscribe, send the message SUB IMAP to LISTS @ WEBMAP.MISSOURI.EDU ]

WMST-L is NOT an appropriate place to publicize or discuss political events, not even crises, for the reasons mentioned above. If you feel that WMST-L is no longer a list you wish to subscribe to, you can unsubscribe by sending the message UNSUB WMST-L to LISTSERV @ LISTSERV.UMD.EDU .

Thank you for your understanding and cooperation.

Joan Korenman (korenman AT umbc2.umbc.edu)

Date: Mon, 06 Mar 1995 11:26:30 -0500
From: Joan Korenman
Subject: Politics and WMST-L's focus

I am writing in response to Nancy Goldstein's message about opening up WMST-L to political messages. I do not question the vital connection between political decisions and Women's Studies. Nonetheless, I continue to believe that discussions/announcements about politics do not belong on WMST-L.

Several factors influence my decision, among them:

1) The frequently heavy volume of mail on WMST-L is already a problem for many subscribers. I do not want to see people forced to sign off the list because we expand the list's focus and have even more mail.

2) I have already received expressions of concern from the institution that houses WMST-L about the amount of space WMST-L's logfiles and other resources take. The institution, which is not my home campus, has been extremely supportive, helpful, and generous; I do not wish to strain their limited resources any more than is absolutely necessary. Expanding the list's focus would very likely create such a strain.

3) WMST-L is an international list, with subscribers from 38 [now 47] countries on six continents. Whose politics do we discuss? Surely the more than 300 Canadian subscribers might wish to see discussion of Canadian politics. And what about the 45 subscribers from Great Britain? Or the equal number from Australia? Or the 24 from Finland, etc. etc.? Surely they too might wish to see their nations' politics discussed.

I could continue with yet more reasons for WMST-L not to carry political discussions/announcements, but I think the above three should suffice. I am not claiming that Women's Studies is a-political: far from it! I am simply saying that different subscribers have very different needs and interests, and that this list has been set up to serve SOME of those needs and interests. Numerous other lists exist to serve others. I've tried many times and in many ways to provide information about those lists. If none of them meets your needs, I can only suggest that you start your own. In any event, this topic has been addressed on a number of occasions in the past, and I am asking that people not continue to debate the issue on WMST-L. That debate, too, creates a mail burden for the many subscribers who have limited time for email, limited disk space, and/or limited funds (some people have to pay for every message they receive).

Many thanks once again for your understanding and cooperation.

Joan Korenman

Date: Mon, 06 Mar 1995 15:10:28 -0500
From: Joan Korenman
Subject: Political Messages & WMST-L: Reply

I am now writing in response to both Ethel Tobach and Sharon Vance. Ethel suggests that people post brief announcements about events, activities, etc. related to political or social feminist issues and ask for private responses. Unfortunately, this won't work for two reasons:

1) On any given day, there are literally hundreds if not thousands of compelling issues/events all over the world concerning women that people may wish to call attention to. If only a small fraction are brought to our attention, the mail volume will rise unacceptably.

2) My experience with WMST-L and other lists tells me that some people will just hit "reply" unthinkingly, others will try to reply privately but won't get through and will send an "I'm sorry to send this to everyone" message, and still others will be thwarted by an incorrectly given email address and will reply to the list.

For both reasons, especially the first, I must repeat what I said before: WMST-L is not an appropriate place to send political messages.

As for Sharon Vance's message, I wish to point out that a very large listing of women- and gender-related lists is available. Entitled Gender-Related Electronic Forums, it includes annotated, frequently-updated listings of more than 500 women- and gender-related e-mail lists, with 16 topical sections to help you find lists on a given subject. The URL: http://www.umbc.edu/wmst/forums.html .

Though the above-mentioned compilation includes a number of activist lists, it is not limited to them, nor does it include many activist lists not focused specifically on women's issues. If someone wants to take responsibility for making a file of activist lists, checking its accuracy, and updating it periodically, I will be happy to add it to the WMST-L filelist and let everyone know of its existence. Please contact me privately if you have such a file that you'd like to make available.

I hope we can now move on to other matters.

Joan Korenman

Date: Tue, 07 Mar 1995 13:30:44 -0500
From: Joan Korenman
Subject: Politics & WMST-L: Final Word

I will try once again to respond to some of the concerns Nancy Goldstein has expressed. Nancy writes (in part):

> What I *am* saying is that I would like to hear people discuss the following
> question: How are we defining "political" on this clearly politicized list?
> Is it appropriate to send messages warning WMST subscribers that the FBI, and
> other right-wing organizations, may be keeping files on them with information
> collected through this and other "radical" lists? Is it appropriate to send
> messages about direct attacks against gender and women's studies programs
> and resources (like the one this past winter in New Mexico)?

It is appropriate to send messages about direct, specific attacks against women's studies programs and resources. It is not appropriate to send messages warning WMST-L subscribers that the FBI and other right-wing organizations may be keeping files on them with information collected through this and other lists. It has been made repeatedly clear on this list and elsewhere that WMST-L is a public forum, and that people should not say anything on this or any other email list that they wouldn't want other people to see, whether those "other people" are their colleagues, department chair, dean, thesis advisor, boss, Christina Hoff Sommers, or an FBI agent. If some WMST-L subscribers have a particularly strong interest in knowing what right-wing organizations are up to, there are any number of other lists (like CAN-RW, for example) where such matters are discussed. WMST-L is not the place for such discussion.

If you don't agree, you don't agree. I have set policies that I think will work best for this list. I think of myself as a sensible, open-minded person; I'm willing to consider other points of view, and to make changes when those changes make sense to me. In this case, however, I have given MUCH thought to the issue over the fours years [now more than eight years] of WMST-L's existence, and I continue to believe that WMST-L's current policy is best. I simply don't have time to debate this issue further nor to deal endlessly with challenges to WMST-L's policies.

> I think that the adaptation of the third person singular, as in "I think that
> we can now move on to other matters" suggests a communal colloquium and a
> communal consensus that have not fully taken place as of yet. (Whoops! I mean
> the third person *plural*. Sorry 'bout that!).

WMST-L is not run by communal consensus. If it were, with 3700 [now more than 4800] subscribers of widely differing backgrounds, we'd probably have five times as many messages and reach consensus relatively seldom. As "listowner" (not my phrase, but the commonly used term to refer to the person ultimately responsible for the list), I set policy as I see best. I would encourage those who find this unacceptable to unsubscribe and either join one or more of the other women-related lists or, if they don't meet your needs, start your own. I'm not saying this in a hostile way; I think there's a good case to be made for a WS-POL or WS-ISSUES list that would discuss the issues of the day. All I'm saying is that WMST-L is not and will not be that list.

Those who feel that WMST-L does not meet their needs can unsubscribe by sending the message UNSUB WMST-L to LISTSERV @ LISTSERV.UMD.EDU. Please be sure to send these messages to LISTSERV, not to WMST-L. If all else fails, you can write to me. Here's how..

Please do not send further messages about this matter to WMST-L.

Thank you all once again for your understanding and cooperation.

Joan Korenman

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