Tuesday, August 12, 2008

Some More Navel-Gazing, This Time in Response to Comments

First, thanks to those of you who commented to the last post. I do suspect that what I'm feeling right now in relation to writing here and blogging generally does have to do with summer doldrums + post-book funk, but I wanted to pick up on what people posted in the comments in an actual post, because thinking about how you all responded is allowing me to think through my own state with more focus.

First, I'm going to extract from some of my excellent readers' comments. Profgrrrrl wrote:

This post really resonates with me -- and I'm one of those people who has all of those crazy life transition things going on right now. [...] Or ... well ... I feel oddly self-conscious about turning my blog into all wedding and baby all the time. I mean, that's what's going on with my life right now, and while it's interesting to me it's not interesting to anyone else. Or at least the parts that are interesting me right now wouldn't necessarily be interesting to others, so I've tried to restrict myself to things like going on leave, which don't seem to be discussed often and try to make the situation more about academics and less just about what's going on in my life. I'm annoyed because I feel like I've lost my voice and it's my own fault.

Sorry, don't mean to hijack comments here. This post just gave me the moment of release about this stuff.

Along similar lines, Earnest English wrote:

I read your post and the above comments and then went away from it for a while (partly because I was hungry and made something to eat, partly because I feel a bit on the spot about blogs turning from academic blogs to more personal blogs, specifically about relationships and babies -- which of course has been my dominant theme since I haven't been IN the academy in that official way). While I was away, I was thinking about this post and what I like about the blogs I read. I like not that they are academic blogs, but they are blogs by and about people in the academy.

Both of these comments made me want to reinforce what perhaps didn't come through so clearly in my last post: my problem isn't with people who are blogging about their big life changes, whatever those changes might be. Like EE, I like to read blogs that are about people's lives, whatever shape those lives are taking. And my intent here is not at all to judge people for what they choose to write or not to write on their blogs. I don't necessarily enjoy blogs that are all academic all the time, nor do I want this one to become that or think that it should become that. And god, if one can't write about major things in one's life like having a kid or getting married, then that sort of defeats the purpose of blogging, if blogging is supposed to be a medium that allows for such flexibility of content, which I think it is or at least should be. And it should be possible to write about that stuff without it meaning losing our voices. And dude, Profgrrrrl, you so weren't hijacking with your comment!

I think that the resistance I'm feeling (which feels a bit like trying to get a car out of a muddy ditch by rocking back and forth) has to do with a feeling that what I'm "supposed" to write about (as a woman) doesn't match up with what I do write about or want to write about, if that makes sense. In other words, I think I'm imposing certain kinds of gender norms on myself while at the same time I'm resisting that impulse to impose such norms. And this feeling of being pulled in two directions isn't really imposed from outside, though outside forces exacerbate my tendency to do this to myself. And by outside forces, I don't really mean that individual folks in the blogosphere are making me feel this stuff. It's more a combination of factors - like people in Lebanon asking why I'm not married, like M. attempting to articulate what kind of "man" I "deserve," the fact that the only "personal" blogging endorsed by IHE is the Mama Ph.D. blog, and the fact that tons of people around me are pregnant or moving in with significant others or getting married or whatever. It's like I've hit some sort of threshold where I'm "supposed" to be focusing on things other than my career or myself or whatever, and that if I'm not focusing on those things, and continuing to be a careerist self-absorbed freak, that there's something wrong with me. And again, that's me who's putting all of that shit on myself, really.

(This paragraph will go poof in the service of the pseudonym.) Poof!

I think that I'm feeling like the only things that I'm supposed to be thinking about are "girl" things, and since I'm not, that in some way makes me lame, or a loser. But the problem is, in terms of my options in blogworld that are readily apparent, I can't just retreat into a masculine (masculinist?) version of gender and sexuality and call it a day, later to return to the "girl" things, which is what I did once I felt more secure, in my academic life. I could make the choice, in that version of myself as a writer, to "see how the other half lived" and to return to the "girl" things with fresh insights. But what is the alternative, if one wants to write personally, which I do, to mommy blogging or single-girl-looking-for-love blogging? I think that's the bigger question that I'm thinking about, and I'm not sure that I know the answer to it. Sure, I could have a purely "professional" blog, but since I'd have no interest in reading that, I'm certainly not going to write it. And the "personal" writing that some male bloggers do is typically centered on fatherhood, so that's not really an option for me either. What is the model for writing personally in one's mid-30s if one isn't going to write about relationships or kids? Because I'm not going to complain about the politics of my department or my students or my colleagues. That would just be tacky, and it wouldn't solve this particular tension that I'm feeling.

What was also interesting to me about the comments was that Rokeya and Gwinne both noted that this blog is not, to them, a HeteroBlog (grin) and that this is something they appreciate about it. You know, I'm not sure what to write in response other than that I'm so flattered that this is something that they don't think that I do here! It's funny, a friend of mine just got into a relationship with a woman, after previously only having relationships with men, and at the very start she noted that I was a better "cultural lesbian" than she was, which made me laugh, and yet, which I also agreed with. You know, that's the thing, and this is another place where what I do in my blogging life conjoins with my work: As much as I'm straight as the day is long, I really do consciously try actively to resist falling into certain kinds of heteronormative traps. And as much as I feel this tension about how to write here at the moment, one of the reasons I don't want to stop this blog and why I don't want to change the voice or venue is because I think I've found a way to perform that resistance here. (I know this sounds all theory-speaky, but it's the only way I know how to put it. And also, that's not to say that I've done this perfectly, because I haven't. But it's been a consistent aim.) The point isn't that I wouldn't write about it if I got engaged, or pregnant, or fell in love, or whatever, but I don't want to write about it in the way that I'm supposed to write about that stuff. Because ultimately, if I did, that would really be counter to the way that I've really tried, not only on the blog but also in my academic writing, to write as a woman, a straight woman, in a way that is gendered but yet that isn't sort of heteronormatively gendered, if that makes sense. (Yes, these are the convoluted thoughts that I have when I think about my writing voice. And yes, this probably has something to do with the fact that some of my most significant mentors have been gay men.)

(Another paragraph that will go poof!) Poof!

But another great thing about the comments (Mel's, Helenesch's, Powerprof's) is that they reminded me of the way that we can judge ourselves as "boring" or insignificant or whining while others still get something out of what we write. This is one of the greatest things about this community of bloggers that we've got here, people. We're all universally interested in one another. Not because we "should" be or because it relates to those academic hoops that we jump through, but because we have grown to care about each other. And yeah, that's cheesy, but I still read Mel and Powerprof, and they still read me, even though all of us feel like we're annoying and boring. That's awesome - don't you think? I mean, how many of us can say that we're this committed to reading anything scholarly that anybody we know writes? (Though maybe all of you are that committed, and I'm just a crappy scholar. Anyway.) My point here is that even though I know this navel-gazing that I'm doing these past two posts is tedious, I also know from how people respond that you are actually interested in that I'm thinking about it. And that matters so, so much. Because that is something that just doesn't happen with one's scholarly writing, you know? I mean, sure, you can bully some people who are your friends into reading it, and sometimes people read it by happenstance because it's related to their own work, but there isn't the immediate feedback or the support or the real caring that my readers, pretty much without fail, exhibit. So you know what? Thanks. Because I do feel like I needed that support today.

And of course I'll write about the "what's next" stuff as I get to it. Not sure when that will happen, but it certainly won't be top secret :)


Inside the Philosophy Factory said...

You, Profgrrrl, Timna and Dean Dad were the first few academic blogs I found and read deep into the archives.

You, PG and Timna I consider blog-pals and DD is my dream dean. Whatever y'all chose to write about, I would find interesting because I like to see how you think and what you are thinking about.

Take care, take a walk, a bubble bath and a glass of wine -- you'll sort it all out soon enough. If you don't, the school year will start and your teaching load will give you other stuff to think about .... kind of like when your mom told you to stop crying or she'd give you something to cry about :).

Sisyphus said...

Just jumping in to say that I love the idea of unwriting femininity! That is, of writing about gender but in new ways rather than the same old bullshit. Keep trying --- imagining a new path is always harder and crazier than following the scripts society has already written out for you.

Just don't get rid of the cat pics and to-do lists. I need the lists as a reminder that even fascinating bloggers can stop to deal with the laundry and the bills.

Artemis said...

I've long enjoyed reading your blog in this voice whatever the gender :)

Your point about the difference btwn our own responses and reader's responses to our writing is v. interesting. I am often shocked at how people respond to my writing. They rarely hear it in the same register as I do--but maybe that means I'm a bad writer!

vague said...

I sympathize with your navelgazing here -- I've been thinking about the same kinds of things myself. For me, what it came down to was this: I wanted to write about anything and everything that was on my mind. Some of it was more thoughtful and academic, some was tacky (complain much? yes, I do!), and a lot was just daily Cheese Sandwich stuff (as in, "Had a cheese sandwich for lunch today").

I like to read other academics' blogs mainly because I love having a window into other academics' lives. I like seeing people's schedules and to-do lists, pictures of pets, and thoughts about relationships just as much as I like reading about time in the classroom, research projects, and what it's like to go up for tenure.

It's nice to see that other people have the same kinds of concerns, even if they aren't so much related to academic life. And, as a singleton myself, I also appreciate other professional single women writing about their daily lives. Not that I'm uninterested in family and relationship stories, but it's nice to know I'm not the only one of my peers who hasn't yet boarded that train.

So it's selfish, see? Reading blogs like yours makes me feel connected.

Whatever decisions you come to regarding how you want to present or construct your voice in this medium, just write what feels right and timely and true for yourself. People will want to read it.

Hilaire said...

I love the move you're making here - I love your thinking through of the gendered voice. You're awesome, and I so value your blog.

life_of_a_fool said...

I just hated feeling like the only things that a girl was supposed to think about were "girl" things.


I don't want to write about it in the way that I'm supposed to write about that stuff.

hear, hear. Umm, so I've got nothing really to add, other than agreeing with others that I appreciate these posts. . .

Anastasia said...

with my blog, I feel really strongly that the only place I'm allowed any authority is when I'm writing about motherhood. I'm just the stupid grad student who doesn't really understand what goes on behind the scenes. I clearly can't get my dissertation together. And when I write about purely academic subjects (or leave comments on other blogs) I suddenly attract male readers/commenters who turn up to put me in my place, usually in as few words as possible.

I wrote a post not long ago about men's blogs (sorry to paint with such a broad brush, it isn't all men, just a certain kind of masculine blog) that had to do with a blog where I regularly commented and had finally been smacked down in a snarky tone enough times to call it a day. Really, this is why I don't even read most men's blogs. I don't feel like I can safely comment.

I've even considered trying on a gender neutral or masculine pseudonym for commenting purposes, just to see if there's any change in the response.

When I write about mothering or work life balance, I feel like I get credit for knowing what I'm talking about...although I can overdo it, if I sound too sure of myself, someone (usually another woman) will come along and tell me I'm some kind of judgmental bitch or I don't understand how hard it is to be rich/poor/black/single whatever I'm not.

I've been thinking about this issue in my academic writing as well because I think my adviser and I do have conflict over motherhood. I don't at all feel like she understands or appreciates my situation--for a start that the summer is not less busy for me because my kid isn't in school in the summer--and I'm know thinks that I've made a choice to have kids and I need to suck it up or drop out. We've talked about it, so I'm not the uninformed grad student making an inference.

Anyway. The point I actually wanted to make about advisers is that all of my advisers and professors have responded more positively to my work when I've written about gender or women. I don't think that's quite dawned on me before. I'm aware that I don't really focus on those issues in my academic work but if I think back, yeah. I notice a difference. And the fact that I had been pursuing what I was pursuing--the cult of a pair of goddesses--without talking about gender? I think that contributes to my work seeming odd or out of place.

This has led to a great, grand academic writing funk that I can't pull myself out of. I have been trying to think about what I'm really like, intellectually, so that I can embrace my own style of scholarship and my own voice. I can't help feeling I'd be better off if I put a gendered spin on things.

This is rambling, I think...really what I'm talking about are my own recent musings on academic writing and blog writing, where in both cases I feel like my choices are limited as far as where I'm allowed to claim authority and when I claim authority in those areas, I'm marginalized under the heading "women's issues."

Clio Bluestocking said...

Yes. To it all. Yes.

Also, this statement: "...to write as a woman, a straight woman, in a way that is gendered but yet that isn't sort of heteronormatively gendered, if that makes sense" makes perfect sense. The blog, especially the psuedonymous blog, is the place where we can honestly express the totality of ourselves -- not everything necessarily, but all of the things that interest and concern us. There is so much more to being a woman -- any woman-- than just romance and reproduction and job.

Also, thank you for this post and all of the comments. I'm trying to write a presentation on women blogging and this has helped immensely.

New Kid on the Hallway said...

The stuff about hetero-blogging is interesting. I kind of know what you mean about being supposed to write about girly stuff in a certain way, because I feel like when I was in a LDR I had a certain niche in blogging that I don't have any more - not so much I niche I was trying to occupy, but a niche in which people could put me. Now, although I'm hetero and married, I do sometimes feel like my perspective on gender-y stuff is weird? flawed? not necessary? because I'm not doing the mom/kids thing. (I know no one would say that to me; it's a kind of unconscious thing.)

Sort of non sequitur, but: I feel like the narrative of the non-trad female student (which I'm about to start occupying) tends to include raising kids (my law school "mentor" is an older student, mom of two), and it's a little odd to be a non-trad woman who's just changing careers, not coming back to school after having kids. Again, I'm not sure where this feeling is coming from, but it's there, and I think it's kind of related.

(I hope none of this sounds remotely like a criticism or complaint about women who are raising kids - and I do have a fascination with reading about the lives of moms, even though I have no desire to be one myself.)

Earnest English said...

First off, I just want to say that I didn't feel that your previous blogpost was attacking me or people like me, whose concerns have shifted recently from the more academic to the more traditionally female issues of pregnancy, relationships, etc. But I did feel like I saw that in the comments a bit and thought that this issues your post was raising for me deserved a comment. It was productively irritating for me. On the other hand, I'm not pissed.

I actually was thinking of it more as the academic/personal divide than a gendered one. But thinking about gender and blogging, I did choose a deliberately gender-neutral pseudonym and remember that coming out as definitely female on my blog was a watershed moment where I was making a choice in how I'd be read.

About being a woman in her thirties who is not married and doesn't have kids: I SO know what you're talking about and how the cultural scripts don't even seem to include that option -- because I was there not so long ago. I found it very helpful to read some books focused on single women -- like Trimberger's The New Single Woman and Clements's The Improvised Woman, especially when all my married friends were having babies and suddenly I was the odd woman out, not even getting invited to certain events which seemed to be saying pretty clearly "couples only," then "couples with babies only." Going from defensive divorced woman without children in her thirties to coupled pregnant woman in her thirties is a transition I should probably write about. I definitely feel like I'm on the other side of some electric fence -- and I'm not always sure I like it.

Finally, I want to say that writing against the cultural script IS exactly what you should write about! I wish it were as easy as saying "you don't need a model, girlfriend! you are a model! just write!" but I know that it's not that easy. Especially when you're freshly back from the Middle East, where you're some kind of a leper if you don't have a ring on your finger. I put one on when I was there, because the idea that a woman could get to her thirties and not be married with kids is just inconceivable there. I think there are some models though. You might look at those books on single women -- and so many of the great female writers in history did NOT have kids. I've been looking for models of women writers who DID have kids! It's not easy, unless one looks at contemporary ones. Of course that's not blogging either. No answers, just more questions. As usual. Good luck. I'll be reading as you figure it out! =)

Susan said...

Coming late to this discussion as I'm just back from travels, but I think another thing your discussion points to is that we have few ways to talk about "normal" life that is satisfying. You're in a job you like (even if you think about moving), you like your work, etc. It's not grand drama most of the time. I was reminded of a moment in my late 20s when I realized I was happy, and now what did I talk about with my friends? So much had focused on moaning. . .

Anyway, finding ways of avoiding heteronormative traps is a huge and very valuable effort. I think it's one of the things I enjoy about your blog. If there is ever to be change around gender, we have to have more models of how women live their lives. A(And even the to do lists help -- they show what goes into life.)

So I hope you keep writing your blog, and find ways of making it serve you.