In defense of the sanctimonious women's studies set || First feminist blog on the internet

For someone who doesn’t believe in a self, you sure talk a lot about yours.

As you may have noticed from my guest posts here (or, if you sneaked a peek at it, the work on my home blog), I write a lot about myself. My own experiences.

From a feminist standpoint: fine, okay. Might be better with some more news or articles mixed in, but overall no problem — the personal is political. Pretty much.

But can the personal also be spiritual? Or, in my case, as a dhamma practitioner, why on earth would someone who’s working on dissolving their ego decide to keep an autobiographical blog?

As it turns out, I find that dhammic memoir blogging is a wonderful form of spiritual praxis. It’s also got some pretty interesting gendered implications.

Let’s start with the gender stuff first. What does it mean to keep a “journal-style blog” versus a “filter blog” or a “knowledge log”? Definition-wise, it means you blog about events and thoughts in your daily life, as opposed to news and media or knowledge about a particular field of study. Connotation-wise, frequently, it means the things you blog about are mundane, trivial, personal, probably melodramatic, and generally unworthy of serious consideration. After all, we’re in the midst of a transformation of the public sphere! Obviously more important than photos of what you cooked for dinner last night.

Familiar trope, anyone? The authors of the article “Women and Children Last: The Discursive Construction of Weblogs” (article: useful; gender binary: not useful) break down the sexism related to differential coverage of, and attention to, filter and journal blogs.

A selective focus on filter-style blogs, and to a lesser extent, k-logs, characterizes mass media reports, scholarship about weblogs, definitions and historical accounts of the weblog phenomenon produced by blog authors (including by women), and patterns of linking and referring within the blogosphere itself […] Since men are more likely to create filter blogs than are women or teens, this selective focus effectively privileges adult male bloggers. In each case, this outcome is mediated by other motivations that are arguably not sexist or ageist in and of themselves, but that reproduce societal sexism and ageism around weblogs as a cultural artifact.

. . .

Women and young people are key actors in the history and present use of weblogs, yet that reality is masked by public discourses about blogging that privilege the activities of a subset of adult male bloggers. In engaging in the practices described in this essay, participants in such discourses do not appear to be seeking consciously to marginalize females and youth. Rather, journalists are following “newsworthy” events, scholars are orienting to the practices of the communities under investigation, bloggers are linking to popular sites, and blog historians are recounting what they know from first-hand experience. At the same time, by privileging filter blogs, public discourses about blogs implicitly evaluate the activities of adult males as more interesting, important and/or newsworthy than those of other blog authors.

Many of these participants (including most of the journalists) are themselves female. Nonetheless, it is hardly a coincidence that all of these practices reinscribe a public valuing of behaviors associated with educated adult (white) males, and render less visible behaviors associated with members of other demographic groups. This outcome is consistent with cultural associations between men and technology, on the one hand (Wajcman, 1991), and between what men do and what is valued by society (the “Androcentric Rule”; Coates, 1993). As Wajcman (p.11) notes, “qualities associated with manliness are almost everywhere more highly regarded than those thought of as womanly.” In this case, discourse practices that construct weblogs as externally-focused, substantive, intellectual, authoritative, and potent (in the sense of both “influential” and “socially transformative”) map readily on to Western cultural notions of white collar masculinity (Connell, 1995), in contrast to the personal, trivial, emotional, and ultimately less important communicative activities associated with women (cf. “gossip”). Such practices work to relegate the participation of women and other groups to a lower status in the technologically-mediated communication environment that is the blogosphere, and more generally, to reinforce the societal status quo.

So, in the same way that valuing laundry and lullabies as reproductive labor can shift our definitions of important activities and “work” itself, valuing journal-style blogging (and its younger cousin, microblogging) helps us understand the social and subjective functions that the medium might actually be serving for regular people, even while ‘history’ focuses elsewhere.

Still, just because journal blogging serves some meaningful function, doesn’t mean its a spiritual one. So, again, how can memoir blogging possibly fit into a dhammic practice?

More on that tomorrow. 🙂

Happy Wednesday!

6 thoughts on For someone who doesn’t believe in a self, you sure talk a lot about yours.

  1. To me, finding intersectionality is crucial. If what I say about myself is meaningful only to me, then what I have written is not that important. But if what I say about myself strikes a chord with you, then I have succeeded.

  2. I call my blog a “journal” even though I don’t write journal-style anymore (at least not there). The reason, besides the fact that my blog is known as “Astrid’s Journal” in my particular section of the blogosphere anyway, is to keep the memory of the journal-style blog it used to be. I drfited away from journal-style blogging because of lots of criticism about it being mundane, trivial, or “whining”.

    As for microblogging, you’ve probably noticed that that, too, has become more known for its information sharing than its personal nature, while Twitter for example used to be for “What are you doing?” Now they’ve changed it to “What’s happening?”, which to me signifies the same prejudice against the personal that is present in regular blogging.

  3. Well! I guess anybody who doesn’t have the luxury of knowing what ‘dhammic’ and ‘praxis’ is doesn’t need to bother. So nice to see poor women get represented.

  4. Hey Astrid, that’s a really interesting point about Twitter — I hadn’t noticed the change in the prompt. (My account’s basically defunct at this point since I find mindful tweeting even harder than mindful blogging!)

    Sorry to hear about the criticisms of your original journal. (Though I’m sure you’ve gotten a lot out of switching gears a bit, too.) Hope this “Discursive Construction of Weblogs” article might help put that social discouragement in perspective — I know it kind of switched a light bulb on for me. It’s hard not to internalize criticisms of that kind of subjective work as “trivial.”

    ginmar: you’re right — my bad!

    Dhamma is a Pali word (Sanskrit version: dharma; a little of my own context here) often translated as “teachings”: the teachings of the historical Buddha, Siddhattha Gotama. Even though it’s associated with Buddhism, the way I’ve learned dhamma (in the Theravada tradition) is secular in the sense that you don’t have to convert to Buddhism in order to practice it.

    Praxis: theory plus practice, or according to Wikipedia:

    the process by which a theory, lesson, or skill is enacted or practiced, embodied and/or realized. . .It has meaning in political, educational, and spiritual realms.

    Sorry for the omission — I agree it’s useful to define key words, and I always try to but I guess I’ve been using these two so much in the last couple weeks here that I forgot. Thanks for the heads up.

    One last thing: in my threads we’re trying an experiment where we set aside snark and try to speak our concerns directly. So I’d be grateful if you’d look over those guidelines (in the link) and observe them while commenting. Thanks!

  5. “So, in the same way that valuing laundry and lullabies as reproductive labor can shift our definitions of important activities and “work” itself, valuing journal-style blogging (and its younger cousin, microblogging) helps us understand the social and subjective functions that the medium might actually be serving for regular people, even while ‘history’ focuses elsewhere.”

    -This is great as long as laundry, lullabies, and journal blogging are not mixed up with the issues of gender. There is nothing “inherently” male or female about any of these activities. The piece that you quote references opinions about what is “perceived” as male or female from 15 to 20 years ago. Quoting them uncritically means perpetuating those outdated attitudes.

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