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.