The point of this post is not to enter into the debate raging in Dr. B's comments about her relationships or her choice to communicate certain things on her blog. Basically, I just hope everything's ok for her and the people she cares about however everything plays out, and I don't see the point in throwing any further commentary her way than that. My point, rather, is to take what I've been thinking while silently lurking and watching others' responses and to translate that into something that is perhaps more easily discussable, more neutral.
I'd like to begin by breaking my thoughts down into general premises that I think are in play for those who choose to blog in ways that are both personal and "public"- including political, professional, etc.. (i.e., I'm not talking about purely personal diaristic blogs, nor am I talking about purely professional or issue-oriented or political blogs. I'm talking about blogs that blend the two.)
Premises Related to Writing:
- It is impossible for writing to articulate reality in any exact way. Who a person is in writing will necessarily differ from a person's "real" identity.
- Writing consists of a variety of rhetorical choices (such as my decision to use bullets here, for example, which one might argue indicate that I'm being very logical and point-driven, whether or not that is in fact true of what is included in the bullets) that convey a certain persona to readers, even if readers do not consciously perceive how those choices affect (effect?) their perceptions of the "author" of the writing that they consume.
- We do, in spite of Barthes and Foucault and all of those other dead French guys, respond on a visceral level to the idea of an "author" who speaks to us through the text. I might know in theory that the author is dead or that the author is just a function through with we collect a certain group of texts, but in practice I like to feel as if I'm being told a story by a real person.
Premises Related to Academic Identity:
- Because we "know" that a blogger is an academic, we expect him/her to be thoughtful in his/her posts and for the blog to encourage a certain level of discourse in comments.
- Because we "know" that a blogger is an academic, we expect a certain level of theoretical sophistication from the blogger, thus meaning that we may tend to invest the writing of that blogger with more inherent significance than it, in fact, is worth.
- Because we "know" that a blogger is an academic, we infer that we can "trust" his/her representation of his/her own identity and/or his/her take on the issues he/she discusses.
Premises Related to Gender:
- Because we "know" that a blogger is a woman, we expect a certain level of personal content on her blog, if it is pseudonymous. There seems to be a corelation between pseudonymity for female bloggers and a desire to talk about "personal" issues like difficulty in conceiving a child, being single, going through a divorce, mothering, depression or other psychological problems, etc.
- Because we "know" that a blogger is a woman, and because we think that they are more inclined to this sort of personal writing, we believe that female bloggers will not necessarily make political posts. If they do make political posts, these will be firmly separate from their more personal posts. (I'm not saying this is true, but I do think it's an assumption.)
- Because we "know" that a blogger is a woman, we evaluate that blogger's posts through the gender expectations and norms that we carry around with us in everyday life.
Premises Related to Blogging/Bloggers:
- Bloggers are narcissists, who seek validation and approval from audiences of "fans."
- Blogging is the equivalent of journaling if it includes personal content.
- Bloggers ask for what they get in terms of comments because they post what they do in a public forum.
I suppose my point in outlining these premises here is to try to think about the ways in which these premises dictate the kinds of things that we can/can't write in one blogspace or another (a) or the responses that we will get to what we write (b).
In watching all of the wildly busy commenting over at Bitch Ph.D.'s (200+ comments in some of the threads! and on a good day for me I get like 20!), I've been somewhat ambivalent. On the one hand, I was jealous of her "popularity." That's part of this whole blogging thing, you know? Wanting to be a "popular" blogger, wanting to have a thriving community or audience or whatever of readers. On the other, I felt like she was being villified in ways that were unfair, as if posting on a blog is something more than just writing but rather is a kind of action that she's taking. At the end of the day, isn't writing a blog just writing? But then one has to ask oneself whether public writing doesn't somehow acquire greater meaning, and I think I do believe that it does. If I didn't, I'm not sure I would be as inclined to continue with blogging. It is satisfying to write for an actual audience, and it is satisfying to be able to do so in a forum that has such immediacy.
And I suppose this is the thing, and this is where the title of this post comes in. If blogging is an action that one takes, rather than the mere passive reflection of the world around us, isn't it exactly the space in which to explore the conjunction between the personal and the public? Doesn't the format lend itself to exactly that because it, too, is both personal and public? And isn't to try to explore those connections between personal life and public life exactly in line with many different versions of feminist politics? And, as such, isn't it entirely appropriate for a woman who is a mother and a scholar and a wife and an intellectual to write both about difficulties in her marriage and about the confirmation of a supreme court justice, both about her fantastic kid and about her sometimes less fantastic job? And why should others feel obligated to tell her that to post about "personal" things on the blog that don't fall in line with our world's version of "good wife" (whether in an open marriage or not), "good mother," or "good academic" is inappropriate? Isn't the point that those models for identity are kind of fucked up? Or am I missing something here?
But let's telescope back in and look at my own choices related to my blogging. One of the things that is most interesting about blogging to me is the way in which we can construct an online identity that is at first entirely conscious and then that later becomes less so. One of the reasons that I changed blogspace was because I couldn't comfortably inhabit the identity that I had constructed on my first blog any longer but at the same time I wasn't happy about the ways in which I couldn't consciously control the "Dr. Crazy" identity on that blog. My solution was to move house, thus allowing me to reinvent my blogging voice without abandoning the whole kit and caboodle. I've been experimenting with my voice in this new space, and it is both more and less personal. Strangely, on my old blog things that totally were not personal material, like the books that I was teaching, became the very things that I had to protect as my most personal information. I could write about very, very personal things, but I couldn't write about my everyday life or everyday interests or academic specialties. Now, in this space, I've inverted that paradigm. I tend to write more about the everyday things in much more open ways. In that way, I've made what is personal (in the sense of identifying) very public. On the other hand, things that are traditionally personal (i.e., intimate details of one's private life) don't show up on this blog. The funny thing is, though, that those things are actually totally anonymous, and I risk much more (in a practical sense) by going public with this material that is more suitable for public consumption. At the same time though, I also feel like I've stopped fighting the good fight to make visible the fact that I am both a public and a private person, even though I'm a "career girl" (as my grandmother would have said). It's easy to be seen as having a personal life when one gets to call oneself "wife," "mother," "sister," in our culture. When the signifiers that one has are "cat-owner," "friend," and "only-child-who-lives-hours-from-family," it's a lot harder to be seen as having a personal life that "counts." Why does it matter that it counts? I don't know. I still feel like it does, though. Nevertheless, I've given up trying to make myself visible in that way through the blog. That was the experiment of the old space, and either it succeeded as far as it was going to or it failed - I'm still not sure which.
The thing that I keep coming back to, as I think about all of the different opinions raging over at Bitch PhD's, is something that's unrelated. With all of the readers chastising her for posting about her marriage, I keep coming back to the many boyfriends of my past who've said to me when I was uppity in some way that "there's a time and a place for everything" or, perhaps better, "this is neither the time nor the place" - in other words, you're embarassing, you're not being a good girl, shut your mouth, I'm putting you in your place. I feel like that's what some of the comments over at Dr. B's are doing to her. Maybe that's what happens when you have as big a readership as she does. Maybe that's what happens when you're a woman and you step out of line. Maybe even in the personal-public genre of blogging it's still not ok to go public with the personal.