Dissertation

Pundit v. Life Bloggers: Two Visual Representations

Yeah, I've been thinking way too much about this. Seriously, I thought it would be good to have an appendix to my dissertation for these little finds, as they might not fit exactly into my analysis. I'd appreciate any comments you have, or any other visual representations of categories of bloggers.

The following are two possible results of a quiz on blogthings.com. I saw the quiz on Frogs and Ravens; Rana had taken it and gotten “Life Blogger” as a result. I didn't think anything about it at the time, but I did take the quiz myself just for fun, and I was a little surprised by my result:


You Are a Pundit Blogger!

Your blog is smart, insightful, and always a quality read.
Truly appreciated by many, surpassed by only a few
.

I still didn't pay attention to the representations in Rana's and my results until the next day, when I really looked at the image and noticed that this was a young, white man, upper-middle class judging from his trendy metrosexual look: He's thin, probably goes to the gym, has a haircut that looks carefully styled with product, hip little glasses, and a turtleneck that might have come from Barney's, Banana Republic, J.Crew, or the like. He has a flat-screen monitor, suggesting that he can afford relatively up-to-date technology, and while, admittedly, we can't see his whole desk, it looks like some I've seen in Pottery Barn and HoldEverything catalogs, whose merchandise is not that cheap. This isn't a guy who has to find an old door at a yard sale or in someone's trash and lay it across two metal filing cabinets, as some graduate students I know have had to do. His apartment is in a large city, as evidenced by the view, and he has a lovely view from a large window up high, suggesting a penthouse. He sits at his desk, supporting his chin with one hand but not really leaning into it. His gesture, as well as his facial expression with lips pursed, is that of a critical, thinking skeptic who is humoring the writer he's reading and who might soon turn that writer's argument upside down. The position and facial expression remind me a lot of Joshua Micah Marshall's blog photograph:

Then I went and looked at the “Life Blogger” image again.


You Are a Life Blogger!

Your blog is the story of your life - a living diary.
If it happens, you blog it. And make it as entertaining as possible.

The scene reminds me a little of Carrie Bradshaw in “Sex and the City,” who sits with her laptop at her desk, or sometimes in bed, often with a cigarette, musing and writing her column while we hear her voiceover saying something like: “I couldn't help but wonder: Can women have sex like men?” Or, “Is old the new young?” This woman, like the pundit, is attractive according to mainstream cultural conventions, young, and white. She's also well-coiffed, suggesting that she either got her hair blown out at a salon to get that perfect little Jennifer Aniston-style flip or that she has plenty of leisure time to style her own hair. Its rich auburn shade could be natural, but could also be the work of a professional colorist. Her eyebrows look deliberately shaped, and she's wearing lipstick to match her hair. Like the pundit, her clothing could have come from Banana Republic or J.Crew. The Life Blogger's laptop has the look of a newish iBook (just like the one I'm typing on now, I must point out), and her leaning-back, arms-behind-head position suggests that she's just written a post, hunched over, and is now stretching out her arms, neck, and back, as I do myself periodically as I work. Replacing Carrie Bradshaw's cigarette are two aromatherapy candles, possibly sage and fig or sandalwood based on the colors, and the scent moves around the woman, touching her nose as it wafts away. Her facial expression is calm, serene, and satisfied. Her blogging is therapy just as her candles are. Her body is willowy and feminine.

In sum, these images are firmly raced/classed, and deeply gendered. The artist seems to be having fun with twenty/thirtysomething middle-class “Friends” stereotypes. I'd love to be able to talk with him or her to see if everything I've pointed out in these images was deliberate. Noteworthy too are the captions underneath the images. The pundit's blog is “smart, insightful, and always a quality read.” The life blogger's is “a living diary,” and is “entertaining.” I also think it's telling that the pundit's blog occupies a position, a rank in an implicit hierarchy much like the Truth Laid Bear Ecosystem or the Technorati Top 100: it is “truly appreciated by many, surpassed by only a few” (emphasis mine).

Yee-Haw! Dissertation Fellowship!

OMG! My advisor just informed me that I received one of my university's Doctoral Dissertation Fellowships! I thought I had Absolutely. No. Chance. of getting one, but I did, and I'm still not convinced it isn't a hallucination. I think it's for real, though; I was even forwarded the email from the Graduate School Fellowship Office, which read in part:

The Graduate Fellowship Committee has completed its review of all nominations for the 2005-06 Doctoral Dissertation Fellowship (DDF) program, and I am pleased to inform you that the following nominee from your program is among those selected for the award:

Clancy Ann Ratliff

I really, really needed this. I've been teaching year-round for three years, and I will be grateful for the break and the opportunity to work on my dissertation full-time. I can't go without acknowledging Jonathan's encouragement here. He's the one who insisted that I apply for the departmental nomination in the first place. He's the one who always said so matter-of-factly, as if it were a foregone conclusion, "I know you're going to get it," the one who was so cocksure of me, even when I was amused by it, and thought he was just saying that.

My Comic Effort

ComicLife is addictive; at least for me it's going to be, I can already tell. I'm actually late for a dinner for Cristina because of this fool thing.

One day my comics might be as good as Collin's. Not today.

Who Knew


You Are a Pundit Blogger!

Your blog is smart, insightful, and always a quality read.
Truly appreciated by many, surpassed by only a few
.

Via Rana. UPDATE: Look at the pundit blogger in my results: a youngish white man. Now click over to Rana's results -- "life blogger" -- and check out that representation.

Silent Femmes

Lest anyone think I hadn't seen it: Amy Sullivan addresses the "gender gap in punditry."

Political magazines—with the notable exceptions of The Nation and Salon—are run, edited, and written by men (indeed, the masthead of our own magazine, which has launched some of the sharpest pens in journalism, includes only four female names in the list of 36 former editors; that's 11 percent.) Even in that brave new democratizing world of blogs, the professional bloggers all have names like Mickey and Eric and Andrew and Josh.

As a female editor at a political opinion magazine, I've bucked this trend, but I've also worried about the absence of women's voices in my field. With a paltry 10 to 20 percent of opinion pieces in major newspapers written by women, surely editorial page editors could improve their percentages without lowering their standards. Is it the case, however—as Estrich's righteous, old-style-feminist “let us in the door!” cry would have it—that the problem is mainly one of gender bias? When I considered whether to take this job, one of the first questions I asked was why there had been so few female editors at the magazine. The response—women just don't apply for the job—was both surprising and unsatisfying. The disturbing truth is that women's voices aren't rare in political discourse because of blatant sex discrimination; they're rare because women don't raise them. But that's because women themselves have been raised to feel ill-at-ease in the rough-and-tumble, male-dominated world of political expression.

Sullivan traces this phenomenon back to elementary school classrooms and notes that several notable female commentators -- "Meg Greenfield, Molly Ivins, Ellen Goodman, Anna Quindlen, and Jodie Allen" -- went to women's colleges. Women have to buck their socialization, their teachers' biases, etc. and speak up, Sullivan argues. I want to say more about this article, as well as Dahlia Lithwick's piece, Michael Kinsley's, and Kevin Drum's latest, but I have more pressing things to do right now, unfortunately.

CCCC Presentation

Ah, I'm happy to be done with my presentation. My session last night was from 7:00 to 8:15, which seems to be not so great a time slot. It was the first night of the conference, for one thing, so some people hadn't arrived yet, plus it was scheduled at the same time as some really interesting-sounding sessions including the Coalition of Women Scholars meeting, which is usually packed out. But we had, by my count, nineteen people in the audience, including some of my online friends: Nels, Mike, Mike, Dennis, Collin, Derek, and Joanna. I went last, so of course during Daisy's talk and Lanette's talk my attention was divided between listening to them and trying to calm my own nerves.

Well, off to today's sessions, which I'll blog about tonight. I've been trying. And. Trying. to upload my PowerPoint slides to this post, and I even downloaded WS_FTP to see if I could transfer it over that way. The file's too big, and the network here is lousy. It might have to wait until I get home...sorry.

UPDATE! I'm home now, and here's the presentation in .ppt format (also in OpenOffice format).

CCCC Presentation: Comments Appreciated

For several days now, I've been working on and practicing my CCCC presentation. I've done presentations of new research -- meaning I wrote the paper just for the conference -- but more often, I've presented on research I'd been doing for months or years. Both situations bring their own challenges. There's a lot I could say about my topic (gender in blogging), but I only have 15 minutes.

There's been some discussion at Collin's about the quality of presentations at CCCC, much, if not all, of which I agree with. I have specific ideas of what I like in a conference presentation, and I'm thinking of these as my personal goals. They include:

  • Speaking extemporaneously. I prefer speaking over reading a paper, but reading a paper is okay if the speaker makes plenty of eye contact and consciously varies his or her pitch so the presentation doesn't have that monotonous reading cadence. During most read-a-paper presentations, the only way I'm able to understand the content presented is if I write down as much of what the person says as I can and then read my notes later.
  • Telling a story. This is what makes presentations by people like Peter Elbow, Laura Gurak, Wayne Booth, Michael Keene, and Cynthia Selfe great. When I go to a presentation by one of those folks, I always leave knowing something I didn't know before. They make arguments and introduce new theories with classroom implications, but they do it by telling an engaging story, often from an historical perspective, drawing upon the trajectory of composition theory, history of the internet, or classroom practice. Point is, they make it interesting and memorable.
  • Going light on the theory. I realize this won't be a popular opinion, but unless the speaker has visual aids showing definitions of theoretical terms or key quotations, I think it's best to rein in the amount of theory presented. You can't always assume that your audience is already familiar with your body of theory, and if they're not, you're not going to be able to teach them much about it in a 15-minute presentation. I think presentations should pique the audience's curiosity and inspire them to go out and read the theory themselves.
  • Showing enthusiasm! It's good to do this even though you know old so'n'so is going to go for the jugular as soon as they open the floor for questions.

Then there are my personal pet peeves, especially apologizing ("I'm sorry this is so disorganized," "I'm sorry I'm reading to you like this," and so on), which makes me want to roll my eyes and boo loudly, and griping about time ("If I had time, I'd tell you about..." "I wish I had more time..." "Looks like I'm over time, but..."). Eeeyaarrrgh.

Well, enough about that. As for my own presentation, I'm going to review some of the previous scholarship in gender and computer-mediated communication by scholars like Susan Herring, Kira Hall, Sherry Turkle, Sandy Stone, and a few others. One of my professors rightly pointed out that a lot of the scholarship on weblogs doesn't appropriately situate blogging in the context of earlier research on computer-mediated communication (see also these notes). I want to show not only what is new about blogging, but what's not new -- the continuity in how gender norms are constituted in blogging practices. Some of the observations one can make in the where are the women case(s) are in keeping with what feminist researchers of CMC have been saying for close to twenty years.

Then I'm going to describe the "where are the women" case and point out some of the recurring themes and arguments. I also intend to use quotations from a couple of posts to show differing approaches to political discourse, both in terms of writing style and choice of issues (authoritative, pundit style versus an expository style drawing upon anecdotes and personal experience, foreign policy and war versus domestic laws and public policy affecting women and children).

I think what we've got here -- and this is part of what makes blogging different from the research on gender and CMC on MOOs, listservs, discussion boards, etc. -- is a self-perpetuating system involving mass media and citizen media (weblogs, podcasts, what have you). A weblog is a personal publishing platform in a way that discussion boards, MOOs, and the like are not, and bloggers gain readership and recognition in a way participants on discussion boards, listservs, and MOOs do not. Bloggers usually link to what's in the news, and the bloggers who don't as often respond to news stories don't get as much attention from the mass media. It's not that mass media attention and traffic are the proper goals for keeping a blog, but these factors can provide powerful encouragement to do better and more frequent writing. The blogger who gets these things knows that he or she has an audience who wants to know what he or she thinks.

But back to this self-perpetuating system thing. That "women's issues" don't get equal coverage in the news is a big reason why people wonder where these supposedly scarce women political bloggers are. Maureen Dowd's latest column corroborates what I've been saying (emphasis mine):

There's an intense debate going on now about why newspapers have so few female columnists. Out of what will soon be eight Times Op-Ed columnists - nine, counting the public editor - I'm the only woman. [Dowd also says that of the op-ed writers for the Washington Post, only one is a woman.]

[. . .]

Gail Collins, the first woman to run The Times's editorial page and the author of a history of American women, told The Post's Howard Kurtz: "There are probably fewer women, in the great cosmic scheme of things, who feel comfortable writing very straight opinion stuff, and they're less comfortable hearing something on the news and batting something out."

There's a lot of evidence of that. Male bloggers predominate, as do male TV shouters. Men I know and men who read The Times write me constantly, asking me to read the opinion pieces they've written. Sometimes they'll e-mail or fax me their thoughts to read right before I have lunch with them. Women hardly ever send their own rants.

There's been a dearth of women writing serious opinion pieces for top news organizations, even as there's been growth in female sex columnists for college newspapers. Going from Tess Harding to Carrie Bradshaw, Dorothy Thompson to Candace Bushnell, is not progress.

I think blogging, more so than other online communication, brings to the fore the underrepresentation of women in mass media and citizen media.

My problem is, there's also a lot of interesting rhetorical theory I bring to this topic in my dissertation. In my dissertation, I use public sphere theory -- not just Habermas, but feminist criticism of public sphere: theorists like Seyla Benhabib and Nancy Fraser.* Especially relevant is the distinction between questions of justice and questions of value (or the good life). The former, in Habermas' view, is associated with generalizable norms, and the latter is associated with values, which are more subjective and tied to particular cultures. Questions of justice should be discussed in the public sphere. Then feminist theorists point out that questions of value can also be considered questions of justice. For example, whereas domestic violence was previously considered a question of value (a woman’s life is better if she does not experience violence in the home), it is now a question of justice (society has a responsibility to protect women and children from violence in the home; failure to do so is unjust). Many women with political weblogs write more often about issues traditionally associated with questions of value, such as child safety regulations, parental leave policies, and reproductive rights, using reflection on personal experience as an inroad to discussing such issues. Am I going to be able to show the connections between this theory and blogging in any meaningful way, or is that another presentation? Must...cut...

* About the use of the term "public sphere theory": I consider Fraser and Benhabib public sphere theorists in their own right, not just secondary sources to Habermas' theory.

Greener Pastures, or: The Dissertation I'd Rather Be Writing

I've been working on my dissertation all day and grading all night. At times like this, I think about other projects that have been on my mind for years and sometimes wish I were doing a different dissertation. From what I gather in conversations with graduate students and professors, it's a fairly common feeling. I don't really want to change topics; I'm still very interested in mine, but I experience moments of staring across the fence wistfully. Specifically: Those who have read this blog a while might know that I'm fascinated with 70s and 80s young adult fiction for girls: the middle-class, white femininity that is pretty shamelessly inculcated, from the images, to the behavior of the characters, to the grossly stereotypical representations of good girl/bad girl. Yet many women my age loved and continue to feel nostalgic for these books. Lots of cover art from a recent used bookstore trip follows under the fold [edited to put one image in the body of the post to get people to look at the others :-)]:

Forever, which was soft porn for sixth-grade slumber parties:

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