Friday, March 6, 2009

Sexist Beatdown: Blogging About Blogging About Blogging Edition

Good morning! Are you ready for a Sexist Beatdown... that requires extensive background information and additional reading into a history of intense debate in, around, and about the feminist blogosphere? If your answer is, "Jesus, it is too early for this, no," then you are in the same position as the lovely and preternaturally patient Amanda Hess of The Sexist, who respectfully indulged my mad whim when I told her that I had been reading and looking into many of the discussions about blogging, race, class, and privilege that had taken place within the last year (like, here and here, and also here and here, are two really important things to grow on) and had become kind of obsessed with them, and specifically with this one article about "digital colonialism" which kind of seems to (a) rephrase many correct and good points raised in those discussions, and (b) do so in a way that distorted those points and pissed people off. And then I asked to talk about them with her!

So, anyway, Mandy Van Deven and Brittany Shoot wrote this thing, and in the midst of some not insubstantial points about blogworld-as-meritocracy (hint: it's not), said that women of color who guest posted at Big White Feminist Elite Blogs were being tokenized, and that "many radical bloggers, both women of color and white women, have not been naive enough to buy into these symbolic co-optation efforts, but some have." Then "some" - in my own Google Reader, I saw Shark-Fu's and Renee's responses first, but there have been lots - pointed out how effed-up that was, then I read a whole lot of old blog entries and talked to Amanda about it on the GChat.

In this edition of Sexist Beatdown: dare I express an opinion which differs from that of my all-powerful Guest Blogging Overlord? Turns out, yep, and it is enlightening for all involved.

Illustration: I made my boyfriend listen to me talk about this and then he sent me this cartoon. I am just saying.

SADY: it is time for the discussion of why GUEST BLOGGING WILL DESTROY THE WORLD, apparently! did you even get through all the billions of words in the links i sent you? i have been re-reading them myself this very evening.

AMANDA: i got through many of them. i got very tired. let me start off by saying, i apologize for featuring your words in a weekly token guest blog. i did not mean to offend

SADY: you know, i will have to think that over. as a LARGER ELITE BLOG, i am aware that my decision to work with you is based on my own misguided naivete, so really, i have only myself to blame!

AMANDA: you're white though, so i think it's better? or maybe worse, i can't keep it straight.

SADY: i am a white lady, yes. therefore this argument is not nearly so insulting to me as to many!* but what frustrates me in the "what if the feminist blogosphere is a form of digital colonialism" post is that its one central point---women of color who guest post at Big Feminist Elite Blogs are being exploited and don't know it somehow---is so very NOT REALLY THE POINT AT ALL, if you read it closely. it mainly seems to be about Big Feminist Blogs and how they are keeping people---like maybe the authors of this very post!---out of the spotlight, and guest blogging is... causing this? i do not know. what i do know, from reading feministe, is that one of the authors once had a fight with jessica valenti

AMANDA: i see. i read a lot of the stuff, but i got bored around the middle of the feministe series.

SADY: awww

AMANDA: yeah, i'm sorry. i did get a little frustrated at how vilified the two women who wrote the post were by these other blogs that they had implicated in the post, to the point where they felt the need to write a long and excessively delicate, i thought, apology on it

SADY: yeah, i sort of read through that apology but i kind of was not able to keep my attention on it. i should say that i originally found the post through Shark-Fu's response.

AMANDA: Shark-Fu's response was great, and actually this whole exercise has brought up a criticism that I've had about some of the larger group blogs for some time, which is that they can be very, very boring sometimes. regardless of the identity politics of the writers, most of which i'm not really familiar with---this being on the internet and all---i think that the smaller individual blogs are where great voices are really cultivated and stranger issues are addressed, and when they're filtered into these larger monoliths i think a lot of that gets lost. (except for Shark-Fu, whose voice can never be silenced). take jezebel, for example, which i like---after reading that blog for a couple years, it just begins to feel very safe. though there are points of daring writing by some of the women who blog there, i wish there was a little more branching out in terms of content and voice.

SADY: yeah, i definitely agree with you about jezebel. although i think some of jezebel brings up the issue of maybe Blogging While Corporate, in that a lot of the writers I definitely sought out on that site were lost or started posting a lot less after they were moved to "part-time.” but i agree that single-person blogs, where you really get to watch one voice grow and develop and chart out the areas of its obsession, are usually more fascinating to me.

AMANDA: definitely. also, the very sad loss of Pot Psychology. i think one of the problems with blogs is that they are for people to just talk and talk and talk (see: this very blog post), and so these areas of opinion are worked over and over again, which draws a lot of conversation, but which doesn't always advance the scope of the topics we're actually talking about. which is the sad fallout of the fall of dead tree journalistic outfits i suppose.

SADY: ha, yeah. i also think that this one post we're talking about now has some interesting stuff to say, but that stuff is (ironic!) drawn from critiques, largely framed by ladies of color, that they didn't link to directly except through WEIRDLY ACADEMIC FOOTNOTES BECAUSE THEY ARE BORING, sorry. but the questions of who gets "authority," who gets to be "representative," and how that lines up with the class or racial privilege you have, i definitely think are worth investigating. i mean, blogs are for talking and talking and talking, but are we also listening and listening and listening? and to whom? and what are we doing with what we learn there?

AMANDA: i thought their original post was very interesting, and often right, and also wrong, and that the bigger blogs (i suppose i am only talking about feministe here) did a sort of cop-out move to focus only on the criticisms that were easy to shoot down. (not only . . . largely). i think one of the very interesting aspects of the original post was that it made the point that, hey, the Internet is great because everybody has a voice, but actually, there are so many voices on the Internet that the little blog representative of one aspect of feminism is not heard if it's not picked up by the larger sites. so really, no, not everyone has a voice.

SADY: true enough, and there may be a lot of factors (like, if someone is writing from a marginalized perspective within feminism---if they are a trans feminist, or a feminist sex worker, or a lady of color) that may cause people to view those as... i don't want to impute ill will to anybody, but let's say those are viewed as "specialized" whereas if you are writing from a more privileged place you get to present your concerns (and have them accepted) as "universal"

AMANDA: definitely

SADY: am i saying any of this right? i am pretty sure i am not!

AMANDA: yeah, and i wish that jezebel and some of the other blogs would touch on more glbtq stuff sometimes, but they're allowed to define their content area as they please. on the other hand, they're in this position to do so much interesting stuff that i think a lot of times they don't take the opportunity to. and part of that is because they're getting cut, they're overworked, underpaid, etc.

SADY: yeah, right, and here's where i think the questions about money and audience and status and whatever get very interesting. because if you're getting paid, let alone paid WELL, to be a feminist blogger (and are dependent for your paycheck on the goodwill of a dude who is not precisely known for being warm and cuddly, in jezebel's case) then... well, you have to write in a way that will capture your audience's attention and justofy those ad purchases on your site, and that might lead to the kind of "safe" stuff you were talking about, where you go back to things that you know will work and don't get to have the same sense of adventure as a blog without those concerns. which is not to say that i don't get a lot of news from jezebel! or even that i think jezebel is what they were talking about rather than feministing, feministe, shakesville, which i'm told make far less money, and which i also read.

AMANDA: yeah. i think it's just like any other capitalist industry, really, it's a meritocracy but it's not, and it's important to remember that. at the same time ... hell, it offers a lot of opportunity for a lot of discussion, and that's great! though very very extended discussions about Why We Are Not Racist i'm pretty much over with for now. thankfully, once the pageviews subside the blogs will move on to something else.

SADY: yes, thank god for the Internet: proving once and for all that if you just stop paying attention to some people, they will go away. and then maybe you can actually pay attention to people for doing something good! like being talented! it's sad how much easier it is to talk and talk forever about someone you don't like.

AMANDA: it is sad, but that is the internet in a nutshell. it's also easy to come up with reasons you don't like something that you might even have good things to say about.

SADY: it's also easy to say purposefully inflammatory things to get attention. I DON'T LIKE NUNS OR BABIES. Next baby I see: I'm punching it, HARD. see how easy that is?

AMANDA: piece of cake.

*Actually it is not directly insulting to me at all, because of the me-being-a-white-lady thing, so I'm not trying to, like, take over or minimize anyone else's sense of being insulted by it! Just to make this clear! IN A FOOTNOTE BECAUSE IT IS HARD TO EXPRESS NUANCED POINTS OF VIEW IN THE GCHATTER SOMETIMES. The End.

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