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. 🙂