In Her Place

Jill over at Feministe has put up a great post about the bad dynamics at work in the feminist blogosphere. I have a lot of thoughts, because, if you’ve been around for any period of time, there are a lot of old sore spots.

But I’m not sure it’s really worth rehashing.

The feminist blogosphere has been tremendous for me, changed my life in a lot of awesome ways. But as much as I’ve been a part of it–I’ve guest blogged at Shakesville and Feministe, both–I have also felt outside of it, sometimes, that the things people even people who are supposed to be like me post about often don’t feel like they have anything to do with me and that the gap between my life and theirs is too big for me to feel comfortable trying to traverse it.

But I do think that there is a line between “Hey, you’re being a jerk!” and “Hee, I’m being a jerk” that is pretty clear in practice, even if it’s not clear in theory. And I do think it’s important to say “Hey, you’re being a jerk,” when people are being jerks. But I also think it’s important to recognize that the dynamic of putting a woman in her place, while a pretty damn gendered one, is one women are trained and encouraged to participate in.

It’s a temptation I think we are often all too quick to give in to–to put some women who is above her station back in her place. And that’s a lot of the dynamic I see playing out in the situations Jill’s talking about.

The internet brings us into conversation with people we otherwise would probably never know, people whose lives and situations and outlooks are much different than our own. If you’re commenting some place with any kind of substantial readership and you’re not concerned about miscommunicating or being misunderstood, I suspect you don’t understand the enormity of the situation. And, if you do understand the difficulties and you can’t give people ostensibly on your side the benefit of the doubt?

I don’t know. That troubles me.

I think Jill’s right that this is why so many feminist bloggers work to get book deals or writing gigs where the comments are less important to the form. What we do in the blogosphere, when it goes wrong, really sucks. And it always seems to go wrong.

Edited to add: I think what Amanda Marcotte has to say about this is just brilliant.

8 thoughts on “In Her Place

  1. I already commented at Feminist — which, as far as big feminist blogs go, is the only one I comment on with any regularity these days — but yeah, I know how you feel. I get very little from online feminism these days, though I take some solace in that I’m not really their target audience: I’m a little older, or I didn’t come to feminism from an academic background. I don’t think those or things I really should complain about, but it does put me out of the loop, so to speak. It’s kind of a young woman’s domain, and I’m at a different place in my life. I’d love to participate more, but as much as femblogs say they welcome diverse voices, I don’t really see it.

  2. Yeah, I think the problem–and I say this as someone who has this problem myself–is that we all say we want diversity and then true diversity makes us uncomfortable. So, even the weirdness of having a small group of women who are about 40 commenting when you assume the group is all around 25 can throw you, let alone all the kinds of diversity you can get.

    We all have our prejudices. I think one of the reasons these things turn so ugly so often is that we’re not used to not knowing how to interact with people we can’t classify. And some of that is bone-deep. I don’t give a shit if you’re male or female, say, but I know one of the ways blogging has really challenged me is that I have a lot of assumptions about how men and women interact and, when i can’t tell if someone is male or female, sometimes it feels really weird to me and I feel defensive and hostile, even.

    I know that’s a weirdness I have, so I try to catch myself, but it’s there.

    I sometimes wonder if all the identity display–“I’m a white cis middle age single pagan woman with a boob freckle who lives in the South”–is not always about telling you who I am so much as attempting to provoke a similar display from you so that i know how to categorize you.

    i think this unpleasantness is probably somewhat necessary, but it doesn’t mean it doesn’t suck. And it doesn’t mean people don’t really get hurt.

    So, I don’t want to just throw up my hands and say “it is what it is” but I also feel like maybe it’s honest to say “this is how it can work.” It’s up to us, if it’s important to us, to find some other way for it to work.

  3. I’m in the same spot Kathy is; I’m older, I don’t quite fit, and my academic background is not feminism. Nor do I feel welcome to comment at most blogs.

  4. Great post!

    Your link to Amanda Marcotte is a duplicate of the link to Feministe ^^;;. I’m really interested in what Amanda had to say as well, so would you mind pointing me in the right direction? Thanks!

  5. Alix and Kathy, I can’t say that I’ve never felt unwelcome at feminist blogs. I have been very welcome and for that I am grateful.

    But I have sometimes felt, in the middle of conversations, like I suddenly wasn’t a part of them any more, like people’s ideas of who I am and what that must mean are more important than who I am and what I’m trying to mean.

    I’ve been giving this a lot of thought, probably more than is necessary, and I keep coming back to the feeling that sometimes we abuse each other. And I don’t mean that lightly.

    I mean, having expectations for how someone should behave (especially expectations you don’t share with them) and then setting out to hurt or humiliate them when they don’t meet them, shifting those expectations so that you’re still justified in your behavior even if the previous expectations have been met, setting traps for people so that they’re being tested without knowing it so that, again, you have “justification” for trying to hurt or humiliate them, the provoking of the privilege display (I’m a…) after you’ve attacked, gambling that this, again, will prove your attack justified in some way, and on and on and on.

    If a man were treating his girlfriend that way (or, as is the case on the internet, a woman he doesn’t even know), we feminists would be all over that.

    We’d be asking questions like “Well, how do you even know he is who he says he is?” “So what if his momma beat him? That doesn’t make it okay for him to beat you.” and on and on.

    But when we do it to each other, man, we pour out of the woodwork to justify why it’s okay.

    And the really sick part is that it’s not the same people. The people who were like “woo hoo, I get to unleash on Chally!” aren’t all the same people who are now all “woo hoo, I get to unleash on Jill!”

    And there are plenty of people who are upset about Jill’s treatment who didn’t understand the fuss about what was going on with Chally and vise versa.

    And i think, in part, that’s the discussion Jill is trying to have.

    But I don’t know if it’s possible. That dynamic–of finally being the person free to fucking destroy–is so powerful and so tempting and feels so justified, I don’t know if the person at the other end of the rhetorical fist can ever make the person swinging consider another way.

    Daisy, I do not even know what to say to you. That is some fucked up shit. Wow.

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