Tuesday, October 07, 2008

Little Berks: Women and Blogging

Outline of my comments at the Little Berks. I spoke extemporaneously with this outline, and have tried to include in non-bold what I remember saying.

I. Opening:

A. Why I started to blog
1. I was bored and held a $15/hour job in Mystic, where I was replaced by a volunteer.
2. In other words, I needed and intellectual outlet.
3. Admired Bitch PhD and her desire to represent and examine the intersection of her personal, political and professional lives.

B. Why I chose a pseudonym
1. To keep my personal writing separate from my professional identity.
2. Age of Google, control what is front and center and connected to my professional name in a search.

II. Observations on blogging

A. Proscriptive:
1. How to (or not to) blog
a. Nasty and controlling voices (often male)
b. Don't use a pseudonym
c. Don't blog
2. Advice on how to blog better, given a particular intent. These are best because they are intended to help the blogger become more effective, not work out some personal issue through castigation.

B. Descriptive:
1. Why do people blog? The experience and interpretation of bloggers as bloggers and by bloggers. The old proscriptive literature vs. lived experience common to the study of women's history.
2. Observation of bloggers' desire for self-definition, and to describe their lived experiences as a whole, not as compartmentalized roles.
3. Research by Tedra Osell, "Where Are The Women? Pseudonymity and the Public Sphere, Then and Now."

III. Professional vs. Personal blogging

A. Professional: Tenured Radical and Knitting Clio blog from a professional position, as historians, reporting on professional matters.

B. Personal:
1. I blog from a personal position, which includes but is not limited to the professional. I want to describe my lived experience and want the freedom to discuss that intersection of my personal, professional, and political roles. I want the freedom to examine teaching, research, odd interests in history, odd interests such as flying and acting. Where I came from, if you had even a pulse outside of work, you didn't want anyone to know about it because that meant that you weren't "serious about history." You see that same attitude in the proscriptions against blogging or the nastier ones about the appropriate way to blog.
2. Many blogs that I read are similar to mine, and I see this as a wonderful community (see blog roll on right side of screen for examples)

IV. Consequences

A. Firings

B. Verbal (that become physical) assaults
1. Edwards campaign: Melissa McEwan and Amanda Marcotte
2. Technology blogger Kathy Sierra
3. Women of color blogs: Blac(k)ademic and La Chola (no links because they shut down after long periods of attacks and harassment)

C. Attacks reminded me of this book: How to Suppress Women's Writing, by Joanna Russ. Silencing women by excessive rules and dismissals is as old as time.

V. Research (i.e. more data and analysis) that I would like to see:
A. How and why women blog
B. Connections between gender and pseudonymity
C. Attacks: who, how often, by whom, and why

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Comments/Q&A notes:
1. Extension of professional roles as advisers and as community of historians (Knitting Clio and Tenured Radical)
2. Play, rather than work -- fun (Tenured Radical)
3. Distinction between "anonymity" and "pseudonymity" (My contribution: "anonymity" hides the person and the persona. "Pseudonymity" is an identity).
4. Uses of anonymity to protect and enable the powerless to come forward. (Tenured Radical's experience)
4. Publicize work (Knitting Clio)
5. Repeated mentions of community (Especially Knitting Clio's desire to use the Berks blog)
6. Use and frustrations of such a technology in extending the classroom. (Knitting Clio)
7. Create an ethical statement and stick to it. (Tenured Radical)

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Other bloggers' talks: I'll let Tenured Radical and Knitting Clio (outline and report) represent their own contributions.

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Lessons and Duh!-moment-revelations:

1. Other people don't want their dinner conversations reported upon in blogs. I get that, and I will respect it from now on. It's sort of like being a member of the press: people don't want their words taken out of context, especially when they are relaxing and having a good time with old colleagues. (Oddly, this makes my narcissism a more ethical position than a position of observation and description.)

2. There is a power to blogging. When you blog, you must be aware of that power. If you are in the powerless position, such as a student or untenured professor, then you need more protection in the form of anonymity or pseudonymity in order to represent your experience, including to speak truth to power. If you are in the powerful position, such as a tenured professor, they you have a greater responsibility to those who are vulnerable around you. As Tenured Radical put it, you should not mock them.

This last point really has me thinking about blogging about students. Part of me whines that my interactions with them are MY experience, too, and therefore I have a right to discuss them. That is an irresponsible attitude when taken into the public. I am in the powerful position of both having my own forum and over their grades, they are not.

Sometimes, especially if you have had an abusive mentor relationship early in your career, and especially after you have been in an abjectly powerless position for overly long, you miss your transition into a powerful position or become blind to the power that you do possess. In fact, most people exist in both powerful and powerless positions simultaneously. Responsible and ethical people are aware of this complexity, and behave accordingly. I have not, at least in relation to students.

I tend to have have two purposes in blogging about students. First, to blow off steam; and, second, to try to understand what they are thinking and why they are behaving the way that they do. I don't mean the second rhetorically. Ultimately, I see many of my frustrations with students as stemming from our differences in ages, backgrounds, and positions in relation to one another and the institution. I want to understand and minimize or utilize those differences. The focus has to be on the interaction and on my process, not on the individuals on the other end.

The first purpose MUST be abandoned. I have no right to blow off steam on my blog when it comes to people who are less powerful than I, and for whom I should care -- not in the mommy sense, but in the sense of protecting their well-being in order to create a safe environment for learning. Knowing that I might blog about them would shut them down in a heartbeat; and, now, realizing that they don't know that I have a blog and write about them individually seems like an act of betrayal.

3. The more of an audience you have, the more aware you become of your own words.

4. This is an incredible group of generous women. I am sure there are differences, disputes, arguments, and so forth, but the general spirit was that we must, as the National Association of Colored Women said, "lift as we climb." I felt that at the big meeting, too.

1 comment:

dykewife said...

a private blog can serve the ranting/venting purposes. that way you can have only a couple of close people read it and give you feedback/commiseration.

 

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