Just Like a Woman?

Shaula has a great post up about blogging and gender that gave me a feeling of deja vu when I read it, and I knew I would have to post about it at some point. It’s a terrific no-holds-barred on how the the blogosphere is gendered by politics and writing style. It brought to mind something a reader once said to me in an email.

I know I saw your site linked to on someone’s blogroll, but I don’t remember where. I’m pretty sure it was on a female blogger’s list, though. Out of the blogs I read, your blog is linked to by women more often than (straight) men, perhaps even exclusively linked to by women.

I thought of it when I read what Shaula had to say about writing styles and “relevance” in the blogosphere.

Remember the Pew study this summer that showed over half of all blogs are written by women? In the patriarchy of the political blogosphere, these blogs get ignored for being too small (i.e., not important enough), and having focuses beyond just politics (what women call “multitasking)–in other words, talking about issues outside what Kos recently dubbed the ”important shit“: issues like childcare, women’s health, reproductive rights, politics in public education and homeschooling, divorce, child support, and discrimination (not just sexism and racism, but also sizeism, ageism, and ableism). *And* knitting and recipes and quizzes and books. *And*, outside the mighty gaze lowered down from the heavens of Kos et al, politics.

I am constantly astounded (call me naive) at the extent to which the blogosphere is gendered. I find there are two main writing styles, which broadly break out as belonging to male and female writers (with exceptions, naturally, but the broad camps still exist.) The male style is modelled after the corporate media that the writers claim to hate (hmm…feminism and racism could explain a great deal about internalizing negative stereotypes, if they’d only listen). The male/corporate style is agent-less; there is no ”I“ or self in the writing, and rather than voicing personal, and therefore fallible, opininions, instead the authors hand down universal truths (sic) carved on stone tablets. (I tend to think of this style as Mt. Sinai Blogging.) Likewise, the topics are impersonal–about what ”they“ should do in DC or at the DNC or in state capitols.

The female style, i.e., the style I see used by, and represented by, women–predominantly but not exclusively, is a far more personal style. The writers have the courage to say ”I“ and share their own opinions, instead of posing as unquestionable authorities. And, instead of regurgitating or fisking the latest excrescence of the New York Times or the Washington Post, these writers engage political issues in the context of their own lives. … Unfortunately, since writing about your own personal battles with breast cancer, or working at an abortion clinic, or the racism of your children’s new stepmother, aren’t considered ”important shit“ by the polticial blogosphere gatekeepers, and so this quality writing, first-person reporting, about real people engaging real life issues…doesn’t get the spotlight, or the readership, it deserves.

It also reminded me of something Shaula once said about my own blogging.

I think you are a great writer, Terrance, and a wonderful first-person blogger.

So much of the political blogging is ”agent-less“ The bloggers write in an impersonal voice, as if they are merely transcribing unversal truths down from the spheres. Ha! What a cowardly (and stereotypically male) way to write. Whether one’s name is signed or not, it is a form of anonymous blogging.

I think it takes much more courage to reveal oneself through one’s writings. You don’t jump on the blogging bandwagon to add your 2 cents to the news flavor of the week; instead, you post thoughtful articles framed in your own personal worldview and experiences.

Basically, just as my experience in sports, it all boils down to one reality. I blog just like a girl. Or, in this case, just like a woman. Given the alternative, I’d say that’s a compliment. It may be, tho’, one of the reasons I haven’t gone further ”up the ladder“ when it comes to political blogging. It probably helps, sure, that I’m a guy. But the one thing I know in the core of my being is that the personal is political, and vice versa. I write about politics, for sure, but I can’t write about that without also writing about my life as I live it, how I live it, and the ways it’s affected by the political realities around me. I can’t much write about what I think without also writing about or at least referencing what I feel and what I experience.

Maybe race has something to do with that. Being gay definitely has something to do with it, especially lately, when I’m likely to hear leading progressive bloggers say that we’re going to have to set aside gay issues (probably right next to reproductive choice) in order to win some in the next few years, and get back to it later. Maybe. But they can afford to take that position, indeed have the privilege of taking it, because those issues are personal — at least not in the bone-deep sense — to them. For me, it’s every day life, mixed right in there with getting up, going to work, feeding the kid, doing the laundry, and taking out the trash, because it’s part of the context in which I do all of those things.

Taking all of that that into account, I might also add the element of race as a factor of identity, which takes me back to something else I wrote a while back.

I’ll say it again, when it comes to blogging, identity and everything that goes with it—race, gender, orientation, economics, education, etc.—affects what you look at and filters what you see. …how you identify not only affects how you see other people, but whether you see them at all. Chances are the first people you’ll “see”—those first blips on your radar, the people you’ll automatically pay attention to—will be those with whom you share some element of identity. It’s inevitable. That is, unless you make a conscious effort to do otherwise.

Gender and orientation, as much as race, factor into identity. I just don’t know if it’s an innate human tendency to recognize and reference first and foremost those one is most like, or vice versa. I suspect that may be one reason the tiers of the blogosphere sort out as they do, and why the uppermost are largely self-referencing.

Shaula calls the brand of blogging she describes in her post ”naked blogging,“ as opposed to the ”Mt. Sinai blogging.“ If I extend the metaphor a bit, I think ”naked blogging“ is what takes place in the space between the peaks, better known as the valley.

The valley a crowded place, where the air is thicker and the environment practically has walls you can reach out and touch. From down there you can’t help but see the context of your life and the people sharing it with you.

At the peaks, I suspect the air is thinner, and it’s easy to think your point of view is a better one. It means you can see the next peak over, and whoever’s on it. It also means you can’t see eye to eye with a whole lot of other people who know a great deal about life on the ground.

If you ask me, the ”meta-view“ isn’t up there on the peaks. It’s down here, at eye level with everyone else.

Technorati Tags: blogs, gay rights, politics, race

About Terrance

Black. Gay. Father. Buddhist. Vegetarian. Liberal.
This entry was posted in Blogs, Feminism, Gay Rights, Politics, Race, Weblogs. Bookmark the permalink.

7 Responses to Just Like a Woman?

  1. Rachel S says:

    Very good discussion…I think the issue of writing in first person is very closely related to race and gender (maybe sexuality also, but I’m not yet convinced on that). In my view so many White men don’t use I because they see themselves as neutral people–genderless, raceless, and just plain normal. They don’t often realize the extent to which they are subjective people. The third person has a way of making people feel objective, even when they are stating very opinionated views.
    I am a woman, who skirts these boundaries. Some of my writing is so masculine, and then I’ll have a few chick blogs up in the mix. T, I see you as afence rider too–sometimes you are a very typical guy, and sometimes you are way out in left field (I mean that in a good way.). This art is really a straight, White, male game, so in some ways, to have a good blog you have to use some of the master’s tools, especially if you want to tear down the master’s house.

  2. Shaula Evans says:

    T, thank you so much for running with this! It is a topic I have been meaning to write about for some time, and I am really hoping that we can get a real *conversation* going.

    I think you meant that the air on the peaks is thinner, not thicker, non? Great visual analogy.

    One day I will boil over in written anger about the opinion from bloggers and Democrats that “gay rights aren’t convenient at this time.” It is a big rant and I’ll have to build up to it. Short version: *your* issues don’t affect *me,* therefore they aren’t important. Agh!

    I am convinced that if the current lot (up and down the ticket) had been in office in the 60’s, we would still have segregated schools and lunch counters. We win battles, sometimes, but we aren’t moving forward, we aren’t winning wars. (Sorry for the horrible, stereotypical violence metaphor.) We are fighting battle by battle on individual issues, sometimes even just to get consideration for our issues, with the GOP/evangelical churches are trying to move the whole country backwards. We need a broader focus and a more systematic approach. Again, a rant for another day.

    On conscious effort: for what it is worth, I do make a conscious effort to diversify my blogroll. I found you, I think, reading through someone else’s blog roll, and book marked you because I like the quality of your writing/content. But, I’ve also made an effort to read writing by women, because it is hard to find elsewhere; and, to pick up other viewpoints that I don’t see/hear in my daily life. Coming from Canada, and Western Canada at that, I am really new to a lot of the demographic specifics of US politics–I recognize I need to learn more about African American and Latino issues, for example. And, I try to get some geographic diversity on my blogroll, too–it is great to be able to watch the NJ elections, for example, through local NJ blogs right now. And issue diversity–I have sought out specifically feminist or pro-choice blogs, and religious blogs–I could spend a lifetime, I think, before I really understand the intersection of religion and politics in this country. One challenge in all of this is many people don’t identify as being male or female–I really don’t know the gender of several bloggers I read, although I could guess from their writing styles and content; or identify by race or location. But, still, I think a balanced reading diet is worth some effort.

  3. Shaula Evans says:

    Rachel–I tried to follow the link to look at your blog but can’t get through, FYI. The site doesn’t come up.

    Zing! You are absolutely right about how white men define themselves as the Universal Default (marginalizing and Other-ing the rest of us in the process). I hadn’t thought of it this way before, and you’ve explained their blind spot very clearly. Thank you. 🙂

    “This art is really a straight, White, male game…”

    Is it really? I mean, if you think about it, somehow it is the early entrants/White males (mega overlap in those two groups) who define success…and somehow, success seems to be consistently defined as what what males (or the relevant privileged group) have/can/are-predisposed-to achieve.

    I admit, I get mildly riled when I come across the inevitable “how to succeed in blogging articles” (they don’t read all that differently from “how to pick up chicks” articles, frankly). Apparently, there is *one* model of blog success–and that is traffic, and advertizing dollars. (Ah, all the scrambling to the top in the King of the Hill game. Do men truly reduce everything to a vertical model?)

    How very bourgeous, mes petis garcons. How very merchant class. How very Madison Avenue. How very crass.

    What if, instead of acceeding to received wisom, and aiming at the blogging goals that are handed down from on high, one chose one’s own goal in blogging? And what if one defined success in terms of…quality? Of becoming a better writer? Of learning about new issues? Of building a network of fellow activists? What if we ever, ever, ever defined success in terms of anything other than standing on top of a pile of dead bodies? My oh my, how subversive that would be.

    I do hear what you’re saying, Rachel. Sometimes, I want to tear down the master’s house, too. Sometimes, I just want to leave master alone to think he is almighty important, while I go somewhere else, and do something else, with master out of my hair. You know?

  4. Terrance says:

    Thanks for the comments. Yeah, I probably am something of a “fence rider,” with a foot in each world. Againg, it’s probably just an unavoidable part of being who I am. That’s why I kind of see this blog as being “at the base of the long tai” or, to use my own analogy, halfway between the peak and the valley.

    The question is: how far do I want to climb?

    As to whether “successful blogging” in terms of numbers and traffic is a “straight, white males” game… I dont know. But you look at the folks who entered the stream early (very likely enabled by social realities directly tied to race and gender, that gave them access to the technology early, etc.), and you look at the people at the “top,” and you can’t help but wonder.

    What I do know is that it’s a game I can’t fully play, at least not without being dishonest to myself and my readers. So maybe it’s a game I’m not entirely willing to play, at least not unless I can play on my own terms.

  5. Rachel S says:

    My site was down for a few hours, I find this debate very interesting–the gender aspect in particular. I am shocked at the findings of the Pew study because I rarely find women’s blogs when I search, which could be a function of my subject matter. However, I think it’s more…..a big problem with that study is the methods. They only surveyed blogging services; what about independent sites? The other problem is with the concept “good blog,” which I did use rather uncritically. I’m not sure how we should measure that. For example, if women bloggers really do make up half of all blogs, does it matter if our blogs are the ones that get 3 hits a day or if we appear in the news media and get 10,000 unique visitors.

    On another note, I also wonder just how they determined the gender of the bloggers? What about their races, sexualilties, ages, etc? Not everybody is like T–we know his race, gender, parental status, sexual orientation, marital status and so on right out there for everybody to see.

  6. DuWayne says:

    What, does this mean I’m not supposed to post about anything but politics – because I have a penis? OHMYGOD!?! Does this mean I have some deep seated gender issues I just can’t bring to the surface? Am I gay? I blog about my son and my life in general on ocasion – does this mean I’m not serious? Gasp!?! I am a friggin mess here. . .

  7. Brad says:

    I’m reminded of my own cognitive dissonance from back when I was posting about Katrina Relief efforts that were important to me but otherwise off-topic in my blog. I found myself apologizing for something that I had every right to do, and that my readers ended up appreciating. I think I’ve come out of it more likely to post an off-topic rant here and there, but definately not yet up to the level of folks like Niobium and the ladies at Alas, a blog. Indeed, I may never be.

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