“A kind of neurotic oversharing”

Wow, KF’s got a really thought-provoking post about how one presents oneself on a blog and how such presentation might affect one’s professional presentation.  Those of you who think about blogs in a scholarly way for fun should go check it out.

Here’s been the little burr in my brain all day about it.  I was thinking about how, when I worked at the writing center, it used to bug the shit out of me that we were supposed to teach these kids the "right" way to write.  

 I hate that attitude–that the method of communication you use with your family and peers is inferior to proper English, which is, of course, not how anyone actually talks or writes or thinks or whatever.

I wanted to say to kids, "Listen, we’re a hugely diverse group of people in this country, let alone the whole English speaking world and these rules are made up so that the most people can understand each other with the least amount of confusion.  That doesn’t mean that how you talk or write or whatever is wrong; it just doesn’t have those goals.  And part of being educated is to learn this fake way of talking and writing that will allow the most people to understand you with the least amount of confusion."

I think that we forget that, though, how much of our lives are devoted to presenting ourselves (in language, appearance, job performance) in ways that most people can understand with the least amount of confusion.

Ha, no, I take that back.  I think a lot of our self presentation is devoted to reassuring the people in power that we understand how people with power present themselves and thus it is safe to give power to us.

But you know, that wears on a person, the dissonance between faking proper behavior and being who you are.

I’m all for resolving that dissonance through refusing to fake proper behavior.

I don’t blog about work.  I’m not unprofessional in that regard.

But I write unprofessionally here.

Some of you know me through work first and I’ll admit that, sometimes, I cringe when I think of you reading what I write here and worry about what opinions you must be forming of me.

But then, I’m not anyone here that I’m not at work.  I’m funny and charming and wildly insecure that I secretly suck and no one is telling me.

I think that, sometimes, the "professional behavior" we’re supposed to exhibit is not just to prove that we can handle a little power and responsibility, but also to reassure everyone else that we’re just like them (which is the same thing as the first part of that sentence, but from a different direction).

There’s this word–hegemony–which I normally hate because I think people throw it out there to mean a lot of different, though related, things and so it’s not very precise.  But when you use it to mean the way that the dominant group dictates how things go to the extent that how things go doesn’t seem contrived any more, but natural, god damn, it can be useful.

I think the hegemonic order* demands that everyone pretend to live similar lives.  Part of how that’s done is to disallow real talk of how people live, to draw a firm line between what is appropriate and what is not.

Don’t get me wrong.  I do think some topics, even here at Tiny Cat Pants, are inappropriate.  But they’re inappropriate because they might come back to bite me, not because "that’s no one’s business."

I think, when people respond with concern to the fact that academics are blogging, that there’s a hint in there of "Do you think it’s wise to remind people that you’re not just like them?"

That’s a legitimate question, but it’s also the biggest bullshit question.

If universities really want to promote ‘diversity,’ they should not be so afraid of the diversity of experience that blogging makes apparent. 


*Sorry folks, in for a dime, in for a dollar.  Jargon, jargon, jargon. 

2 thoughts on ““A kind of neurotic oversharing”

  1. The longer I’m in academia, the more I realize how much of what we do is a performance. And I’m sure it’s like that in all jobs. I still feel like I know very little, even after finishing up seven years of a PhD program. But if I just perform like I know what I’m talking about, people seem to believe me. I just did it in front of 25 English majors this morning, will do it for 55 more later today, and do it at academic conferences and whatnot. After a while, I sort of start to believe my performance too. Judith Butler is certainly one of the jargoniest and most impenetrable theorists out there. But she’s onto something with the whole "performance" thing. Dr. J

  2. I sort of think a lot of this is about a refusal to acknowledge that employees have their own interests and lives outside of work, as well. You show up to work, and you have to dress a certain way and act a certain way and be a certain way. You blog, and you reveal that you’re not obsessed with that grant project and this year’s goals 100% of the time, and you’re a whole person outside of a paycheck and buzzwords. Some people are not entirely comfortable with that knowledge, in my opinion.

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