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Biographical Awareness

As you can probably tell, I'm really enjoying Heilbrun's book. I'll likely post more about it in the coming weeks. I find myself wondering if Nels and Prof. B. have read it, and if so, what they think of it. I also wonder what Heilbrun would have thought about all these women who are writing about their lives every day on their weblogs.

As an aside, I created this comic of sorts before I saw that Collin just put up a much better one. Do read it.

Hodge Podge

Thanks to Pi for the title.

  • Today, on the way to do some catsitting, I heard "She Loves You" on the radio, and I immediately thought of Jamie Bérubé.
  • The blogosphere is talking about dreams lately. Both of these dreams feature a dirty toilet, and others have mentioned having the "unusable toilet" dream too. Apparently it's as common as the naked in public dream and the teeth falling out dream. I'd never heard of it or had it before. The latter dream, flea's feminist anxiety dream, has been eliciting some varied emotional reactions. I'm on the side of those who laughed. Flea points out that the dream has special significance for anyone who has worked for a feminist nonprofit. I found that my past experience participating on feminist bulletin boards helped me to understand it, too. Which leads me to the next matter:
  • I'm really interested in reading some comparisons of the experience of blogging vs. posting on bulletin boards. Not studies, but nonacademic narratives. A lot of the same people who are blogging have posted on BBs and Usenet, and I'm curious about the range of opinions on the similarities and differences between people's perception of blogging and BBs/Usenet. I used to be a BB junkie, and I find them to be different from blogs in that with BBs, more thread-hijacking and trolling went on and there could be a good bit of infighting and drama. You're writing for a more specific audience with BBs, and everyone knows everyone else's hobbyhorses and buttons to push. I found it restrictive sometimes. Huh, I may have more to say about this later, but for now I'm going to leave it.
  • An announcement about a new web project:

    Heather Corinna of Scarleteen.com and I are spearheading a young feminist project, the All Girl Army (http://allgirlarmy.org). Right now, we are looking for feminists between the ages of 10 and 23 to get involved, and we are also seeking older women for web design (desperately needed), outreach, editorial, community management, future planning, and other committees. Please spread the word far and wide about this, and if you're interested in joining a committee, email myself (jenny@allgirlarmy.org) and the group at large (enlist@allgirlarmy.org). We believe this project is going to offer an amazing and unprecedented space for young feminist community and organizing, and we would love to have you all involved.


    All Girl Army/ The Young Feminists Project is looking for a few good women to create, nurture and enjoy a women's community targeted to young women internationally, who identify as feminist, between the ages of 10 and 23.

    We expect to debut the site in May of this year, and it will include:

    * 29 featured blogs by young, feminist women and one overarching blog, collectively edited and compiled.
    * An active, moderated discussion board primarily serving, and intended to benefit, young women with a limited area for those of all genders, as well as a limited area for women over 23.
    * Cooperative ownership and management of the site.
    * Collective, dynamic projects driven by young women.
    * A myriad of current resources for young feminists: books, magazines, film, music, art, events and symposiums, other websites, scholarship funds and organizations.

    What's our goal?

    * To increase visibility and self-representation of young women: of your lives, your ideas, your goals, your achievements and your struggles: to counteract lookism and the media's representation of young women with your real voices, unscripted words and real lives.
    * To help foster a supportive, creative and proactive women's community, and nurture relationships and discussion among women of all ages; to help young women develop their feminism and their autonomy via women's community, and discover that other women are allies, not competition.
    * To create and sustain a collective board of feminist women of all ages to manage the site, with a majority vote in decisions given to women under 23; to provide experience for young women in creating, organizing and managing community, advocacy and support for women.
    * To provide mentorship for young women to learn skills you're interested in.
    * To provide a visible exploration and examination of feminism, of growing up female, by and for young women.
    * To show the world the hearts and minds of a whole lot of seriously awesome young women, and to give others, young and old, the chance to be as inspired by all of you as we are.

    Our board and founders are an evolving and eclectic group of women of all ages, from all walks of life. We are everything from a mother of ten to a sexuality educator; from an IT professional to an advocate for battered women; from a women's studies student to a sculptural jeweler, all of us feminist, all of us dedicated to women.

    One woman said that what we're trying to do is "like the radical Girl Scouts!" That sounds pretty good to us. Namely, we want to pass the torch in the best ways we know how, because we feel that all of you are going to redefine feminism as we know it, and have the capacity to make an incredible mark on the world. We feel the internet is an optimal place to do so because it gives us the ability to work internationally and dynamically.

Ms. and Blogging

A minute ago, I took a look at the blogs that Ms. started up after Christine Cupaiuolo stopped blogging for them. It doesn't look like there's much going on at The Smeal Report or A New Leif, and I think that's too bad. What Ms. should have done, and could still do, is recruit someone who's already been blogging for a long time, someone the blogosphere knows who already has an audience, and get her to blog for Ms. Some obvious choices would be Lauren (I know she retired, but perhaps she could be brought back in if it paid), Tiffany, Echidne, anyone from Feministing, Twisty, etc. etc.

Feminism and New Norms

I'm sitting in on a class this semester, and the professor often uses examples of public rhetoric in recent history to illustrate theoretical points. In one class, we were talking about norms. Specifically, the most far-reaching and important consequence of the eighteenth-century European bourgeois public sphere analyzed by Habermas is that it set forth a new norm: might-is-right differences in status and power didn't matter in political discussion; instead, the best argument prevails. As problematic as it is that this new norm emerged in settings that did not always welcome women or people of color, it nevertheless is a powerful new norm, especially when appropriated by said groups.

The discussion then turned to norms in general. The professor claimed that the women's movement, while an absolutely invaluable and much needed stride forward in the overall path to social justice, failed to provide a new norm to address the problem of division of labor in the home, especially an equitable arrangement for how to raise children.

Okay, I know there's a lot to be said for getting rid of norms altogether. For many people, they're oppressive, they're restrictive, and they institutionalize disapproval of perfectly valid choices (or courses of action taken when there was no choice; i.e., many women have no "choice" whether to work outside the home or not). But this professor helped me to see norms in a different way. They're templates, common forms for how to live, he said. Norms make things less complicated, which can be a good thing. They can be useful, eliminating a great deal of the struggle of having to figure so much out at the individual level and then justify the choices made to the community at large.

Right now, for example, I'm reading Feminism, Breasts, and Breast-feeding by Pam Carter here and there on the stationary bike/stairmaster. This set of questions Carter poses helps to show the confusion that comes with the absence of a solid norm:

[N]o feminist practice has evolved around infant feeding. A number of questions can be raised: is bottle feeding in some way equivalent to medical intervention in childbirth? should it therefore be avoided? does breast-feeding offer greater possibilities of control by women? or is bottle feeding equivalent to contraception in allowing women greater control over their bodies and their lives? should feminist support pro breast-feeding policy in order to strive to recapture the time when infant feeding was within the control of lay women? should they try to recreate the kind of conditions where all women breast-feed? or does a safe and (relatively) healthy alternative offer women more control and autonomy? are middle class women being good girls in breastfeeding their babies realizing that 'doctor knows best' providing a good example to the working class? should feminists campaign for private space for lactating women or should they challenge the dominance of public space by male sexuality and refuse privacy? (p. 19-20)

What do the rest of you think? A new norm seems reasonable, at least to try as a thought experiment. Would a new norm reduce the number of mommy wars, alluded to by Linda Fishman, Laura at 11D, Dooce and over 1000 commenters there, and most recently in the New York Times? Or would it not make any difference, because a new norm may still judge implicitly some people's decision to deviate from the norm? Does feminism already point to new norms for the division of labor at home, but they're just not articulated in a way that's clear to the general population? If so, what are the new norms? As I see them, they are:

  • Destigmatize stay-at-home fathers. I've probably said here before that the SAHDs I know always seem to feel compelled to explain, even apologize for, their work. Their families don't approve of the fact that they aren't bringing money into the household, etc.
  • Destigmatize young mothers (also single mothers). Provide more support for young women who want to have children before starting a career. This would come in the form of social support and free daycare for student parents in high school and college so that they can continue to pursue their studies.
  • Provide on-site daycare at work and school.

Other than that, I guess there are only individual systems in which domestic partners split up the chores in a way that approximates 50/50. But that's not as easy as it looks when there are pervasive older norms lurking in the background. Plus, these new norms I've listed only tell social institutions what to do, not individual people. A solid new feminist norm, assuming we're going to try to think of one here, should (I use a heteronormative model here tactically) tell everyone what to do: the woman, the man, and the corporation, school, society, etc. I'd be interested to know others' thoughts about this; I believe I've written myself into a corner here.

Noted: Femininity, Masculinity, and the Fall Collection

One snap of my fingers and I can raise hemlines so high the world is your gynecologist!

The models on the Gucci runway wore purple print dresses that barely skimmed their tiny derrieres. They teetered atop platform pumps that seemed to be cobbled together out of iridescent plastic. Some of the tawdry dresses were cut so low that they looked as if they were stuck on backward with double-sided tape and must surely be in violation of some E.U. decency laws.

I don't read fashion stories very often, but this morning I was in the mood for taking in the florid writing style often used in descriptions of fashion shows. This story from the Washington Post had just that, but I was surprised also to find this bit of reflective critique:

Designers here have been engaged in their biannual ritual of defining what it means to be a contemporary woman. Strong. Ladylike. Sexual. Intellectual. Miuccia Prada celebrates what is inside the modern woman's head. The Gucci collection, designed by Frida Giannini, aims to address the lusty desires of a far different region of the body. (Definitions of masculinity are essentially static. With each turn of the fashion season, the only questions in menswear seem to be: How much will the peacock be stroked? Will the Everyman's inner Johnny Weir be coaxed into the light? Or will it be a time for caveman instincts to be set loose?) Each season, the definition of femininity is reworked from whole cloth. Instead of seeing a woman as a whole person with many moods, designers prefer to treat her as an assemblage of characters. Fashion demands and allows a woman to reinvent herself.

I'm so behind

I'm just now reading and linking to the February edition of the Radical Women of Color Carnival and the February Big Fat Carnival. It's the first-ever instantiation of both, and I hope to see many more. This is important work.

WATW by the Numbers

As most of you know, I'm writing a dissertation about rhetoric, gender, and blogging using where are the women? as a case study. I should say that I'm not looking at every post on the list I compiled, only the spikes of activity: August 2002, September 2002, March through August of 2004, December 2004, and February 2005. So here are the numbers:

Total number of posts: 102
Total number of comments: 2243 (not counting spam or those accidental duplicate comments)
Total number of trackbacks: 171

Total number of posts by men: 33
Total number of posts by women: 69

Total number of comments by men: 885
Total number of comments by women: 1059
Total number of comments by gender-free: 349

Total number of trackbacks by men: 60
Total number of trackbacks by women: 105
Total number of trackbacks by gender-free: 6

Total number of posts by men that allowed comments: 30
Total number of posts by women that allowed comments: 53

Total number of comments under posts by men: 1374
Total number of comments under posts by women: 869

Average number of comments readers left under a post written by a man: 46
Average number of comments readers left under a post written by a woman: 16

Now here's my problem. I think these numbers are kind of interesting -- they help provide a tie-in to findings in previous research in gender and computer-mediated communication, especially that of Susan Herring, that show that men's online postings get more replies than women's, etc. These numbers certainly corroborate that. I'm interested in the implications of the numbers: The fact, for example, that there are more than twice as many posts by women than by men speaks to how important this question is to this particular group of women. These women took the time and expended the effort to write all these posts; despite the fact that some of the posts are flippant and parodic, obviously they care about the issue. And, taking into account the context and patterns of online interaction, the numbers arguably reveal something about how heated these discussions are.

But: In my experience, when I even think about counting something, everyone giving me feedback on the given project gets a little too excited and wants me to go whole-hog to the empirical and quantitative approach. (Why don't you count the number of words per post?! Devise a coding scheme and code everything!) I'm not necessarily talking about my committee, just scholars in general. Although that's very valuable and interesting research, it's not what I'm interested in doing. I'm taking a naturalistic approach, mostly consisting of interpretive close intertextual reading. So far that's okay with my committee -- they seem fine with whatever approach I choose as long as I can define/articulate/defend it -- but I'm thinking about not even putting these numbers in my dissertation anywhere, lest they be held against me. What do the rest of you think? If you can give me some language to use to introduce and explain the numbers and my choice to include them, that would be especially helpful.

Edited to add: By "men" and "women," I mean people presenting online as men and women. For the purposes of my dissertation research, I'm thinking of gender as a rhetorical position (i.e., positioning oneself as...). This is because someone might strategically present hirself as a man or woman because ze knows that the audience will respond to hir in a certain way. In this sense I'm thinking of gender as performative.

Friedan, Blogging, and Aleatory Research

The Feminine Mystique is one of those (many) books I've never read but intend to someday. After Friedan's passing, I read Rad Geek's tribute and noticed that he had links to Chapter 1 and Chapter 2, so I promptly read them and was, well, impressed is an understatement. It's remarkable how relevant Friedan's work still is. For example, you might remember chapter 4 of my dissertation, in which I discuss themes that are commonly brought up in the where are the women (political bloggers threads. One recurring theme is the claim that "women aren't interested in politics." If you'll allow me a bit of aleatory research, check out what Friedan has to say about this argument in chapter 2 of The Feminine Mystique, my emphasis:

I sat one night at a meeting of magazine writers, mostly men, who work for all kinds of magazines, including women's magazines. The main speaker was a leader of the desegregation battle. Before he spoke, another man outlined the needs of the large women's magazine he edited:

Our readers are housewives, full time. They're not interested in the broad public issues of the day. They are not interested in national or international affairs. They are only interested in the family and the home. They aren't interested in politics, unless it's related to an immediate need in the home, like the price of coffee. Humor? Has to be gentle, they don't get satire. Travel? We have almost completely dropped it. Education? That's a problem. Their own education level is going up. They've generally all had a high school education and many, college. They're tremendously interested in education for their children--fourth-grade arithmetic. You just can't write about ideas or broad issues of the day for women. That's why we're publishing 90 per cent service vice now and 10 per cent general interest.

[. . .]

By the time I started writing for women's magazines, in the fifties, it was simply taken for granted by editors, and accepted as an immutable fact of life by writers, that women were not interested in politics, life outside the United States, national issues, art, science, ideas, adventure, education, or even their own communities, except where they could be sold through their emotions as wives and mothers.

Politics, for women, became Mamie's clothes and the Nixons' home life. Out of conscience, a sense of duty, the Ladies' Home Journal might run a series like "Political Pilgrim's Progress," showing women trying to improve their children's schools and playgrounds. But even approaching politics through mother love did not really interest women, it was thought in the trade. Everyone knew those readership percentages. An editor of Redbook ingeniously tried to bring the bomb down to the feminine level by showing the emotions of a wife whose husband sailed into a contaminated area.

"Women can't take an idea, an issue, pure," men who edited the mass women's magazines agreed. "It had to be translated in terms they can understand as women." This was so well understood by those who wrote for women's magazines that a natural childbirth expert submitted an article to a leading woman's magazine called "How to Have a Baby in a Atom Bomb Shelter." "The article was not well written," an editor told me, "or we might have bought it." According to the mystique, women, in their mysterious femininity, might be interested in the concrete biological details of having a baby in a bomb shelter, but never in the abstract idea of the bomb's power to destroy the human race.

Such a belief, of course, becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy. In 1960, a perceptive social psychologist showed me some sad statistics which seemed to prove unmistakably that American women under thirty-five are not interested in politics. "They may have the vote, but they don't dream about running for office," he told me. "If you write a political piece, they won't read it. You have to translate it into issues they can understand--romance, pregnancy, nursing, home furnishings, clothes. Run an article on the economy, or the race question, civil rights, and you'd think that women had never heard of them."

This quotation'll be going into the revision of chapter 4 somewhere, that's for sure, if only as a footnote. For now, back to chapter 5.

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