Meet Digital Sisterhood Leader Ebony Utley


Photo Credit: Ebony Utley

Meet Digital Sisterhood Leader Ebony Utley, Ph.D., is an associate professor of Communication Studies at California State University at Long Beach.  Ebony is an expert in popular culture, race, and romantic relationships. She is also a blogger, speaker, and author.  Check out her new book, Rap and Religion: Understanding The Gangsta’s God.

Rap and Religion by Ebony Utley

FUN FACTS: Digital Sisterhood Network founder Ananda Leeke loves reading Ebony’s blog posts on Ms. Magazine’s blog (especially the post about feminism and soap operas …. they both watch Young and the Restless). Ananda interviewed Ebony about feminism, social media, and her work as an author and professor during Digital Sisterhood Radio’s Feminism Online Project Series in 2011.

1) How can people find you online?

2) Why did you start using social media?

I started using social media seriously in 2008 as a way of amplifying my personal voice and a very raucous public space.

3) What has social media allowed you to do in your life (personal, professional, business, nonprofit, community)?

Personally, socially media allows me to easily update and stay updated on family and friends. Professionally, it helps me network and disseminate my ideas. In the community, I hope my use of social media helps inspire critical media literacy.

4) In her 2011 Digital Women: from geeks to mainstream presentation that was given at the WIFT International Women Conference for Digital Women, Dr. Taly Weiss, a social psychologist and CEO/Founder of Trendspotting, concluded that “women are dominant digital users – they breathe and live digital.”  Dr. Weiss’ conclusion echoes BlogHer’s 2011 Social Media Matters Study findings.  They include 87 million women (18 to 76 years old) are now online, 69 million women use social media weekly, 80 million women use social media monthly, and 55 million women read blogs monthly. These facts illustrate the power and presence women have in the digital space. Now that’s Digital Sisterhood!

How has social media helped you carve out leadership roles as you interact online and offline?

Social media helps me connect with women I would otherwise have never met. I love being networked with smart, savvy women around the globe whom I may never meet in any other way.

5) Social media has helped women become Digital Sisterhood Leaders, ambassadors of social expression who share what they are passionate about online.  In her upcoming book, Digital Sisterhood: Fierce Living Online for 25 Years (Fall 2012), Ananda Leeke, founder of the Digital Sisterhood Network, writes, “Without even knowing it, women have become Digital Sisterhood Leaders as they use their social media platforms to advocate causes; to build communities; to create apps, art, books, businesses, products, publications, services, tools, and webisodes; to curate content; to educate and inform; to give voice to their thoughts as subject matter experts, thought leaders, and brand ambassadors; to share information and experiences; to explore and experiment with new technologies as early adopters and trendsetters; to engage in social good; to influence others with their lifestyles and personal interests; to inspire and motivate; to mentor; to network; to tell their personal stories; and to promote and celebrate the expertise, gifts, and talents of others.  Based on my online and offline interactions, I have identified 12 key leadership roles they play: advocate, community builder, creator, curator, educator, influencer, mentor, motivator, promoter, social do gooder, storyteller, and thought leader.”

What other types of leadership roles do women play in social media?

I think you covered all the bases in that list!

6) What types of leadership roles do you play in social media?

I am primarily a critic. I use social media to encourage people to think and rethink the mediated messages they receive.

7) What lessons have you learned as a leader in the digital space?

Being a leader in a digital space is akin to losing your virginity. Once you put your goods out there, there’s no getting them back. It’s important to be wise and safe when entering a digital space that has an eternal memory. See my virgin blogger talk for more on this idea: http://youtu.be/SW-PGwYzoUI.

8) Do you have plans to expand your leadership roles in the digital space? If so, what are they?

Indeed, I am starting my own blog as part of my new interactive website at www.rapandreligion.com. It will be the go to space for all news and updates involving the combination of rap and religion. The site will also have a cypher that specifically encourages online conversations about rap and religion (site went live on June 1).

9) Who are your favorite social media women leaders and why?

Well, Ananda Leeke is one. She is relentless in her pursuit to understand how women use social media. I dig that. Dr. Marcia Dawkins (www.marciadawkins.com) is always on the cutting edge of social media. Whether she’s writing about online identity or hactivism, she always has her pulse on what’s next. Krystal Jackson (@artscurator) is a programmer and she’s dedicated to young black girls learning to code. I learn so much about new technologies for both of these women. They deserve their props.

10) Share three ways women can use social media to define and express their personal leadership brand.

  • Create an online identity that is distinct from your personal identity.
  • Use social media to make meaningful connections with strangers.
  • Be fearless in your pursuit of digital sisterhood; the unborn will need to walk in your digital footprint.

Digital Sisterhood Month’s Guest Blogger Series – Ebony Utley


Ebony Utley

Meet Ebony Utley

1) Write a six-word memoir to describe yourself.

Ebony is the woman with ideas.

2) Tell us about your blog.

I started blogging in spring 2010 for Ms. Magazine. Since then I’ve also blogged for Religion Dispatches and Truthdig. I blog about popular culture, race, and romantic relationships. My all time favorite is a guest blog that I wrote for a friend’s site: Dear Nicki Minaj: An Open Letter – http://mghardie.wordpress.com/2010/11/22/dear-nicki-minaj-an-open-letter.

3) What is your definition of digital sisterhood?

I define digital sisterhood as the use of technology to create safer spaces for women to discuss and disseminate their ideas.

4) What is your favorite 2011 digital sisterhood moment or experience?

This really isn’t shameless self-promotion (although I have been known to do so), but my favorite digital sisterhood moment of 2011 was the Digital Sisterhood Radio interview with Ananda Leeke about (wait for it) digital sisterhood: http://recordings.talkshoe.com/TC-42015/TS-493916.mp3.  Although blogging is public, it’s essentially done alone. I write by myself at my computer, but having a chance to talk to another woman about my writing on women in front of an audience that I imagine was primarily women was super cool. Reading comments has its merits, but there’s nothing like a real time conversation to make the ideas come alive. I hope we will have more roundtables with more women on the air in 2012.

5) The 2011 theme of Digital Sisterhood Month is ‘Celebrate the 4 Fs of Women’s Health: Feelings, Food, Fitness & Fierce Living.” How have you lived fiercely in 2011?

I lived fiercely in 2011 by focusing on completing two of my major life goals. When I was 20, I decided that I wanted to write books and become a tenured professor. In 2011, I submitted the final manuscript for my book Rap and Religion: Understanding the Gangsta’s God [http://www.amazon.com/Rap-Religion-Understanding-Gangstas-God/dp/0313376689e] as well as my completed file for tenure. I did my part in making those dreams come true. Now I wait for the powers that be to take care of the rest. During this part of my life fierce living=focus.

6) How do you stay positive and maintain peace of mind?

I watch the Young and the Restless. I know. But I’ve been watching for 15 years, and I like being able to call my 88-year-old grandmother and talk about what Victor is doing now. I look forward to the running commentary on our Indiana University Gals Who Love Y&R Facebook page. The stories [soap operas] represent continuity, family, and community for me. I teach about them; I blog about them and try to help others see beyond the stereotypes into a woman centered world where the matriarch is celebrated. Popular culture rarely represents the diversity of femininity in the ways that the stories do. When my work is finished, for five hours a week, Y&R is my consistent escape. I’m enjoying it while I can before the last soap operas are no longer on the air.

7) What are your favorite healthy foods?

My favorite healthy food would have to be blueberries. I am obsessive about my super fruit. I freeze them when they’re about to be out of season so I can enjoy them all year. I also dig arugula and spinach salads.

8) How do you stay fit?

Staying fit is vital to my mental well-being. I can’t think without letting those endorphins escape, but I hate working out at a gym so I swear by pilates. I played tennis for years and I love biking by the ocean, but in 2011 I started practicing kundalini yoga and tai chi—both of which are excellent for centering and strengthening my core.

9) How are you planning to live fiercely in 2012?

I plan to live fiercely in 2012 by tackling new tasks that I think I will fail at accomplishing. It’s time for me to try things I’ve never done before and that I feel ill-prepared to execute. If failing is the worst that can happen, I am guaranteed to learn important life lessons, and living fiercely means embracing those lessons. I am musing on several promotional plans for Rap and Religion—all of which involve technology. And the woman with ideas also plans to blog about the role of religion not just in popular culture but also in politics just in time for the election year. Stay tuned. The best is yet to come.

10) Where can we find you online?

Web Site: www.theutleyexperience.com.

Twitter: http://twitter.com/u_experience

Facebook: www.facebook.com/theutleyexperience