Dissertation

Another Gender+Blogging Artifact

Here's a source I used in some earlier work I did on gender and blogging in Fall 2002. It doesn't exactly fit with the Where are the women? question, but it's telling nonetheless: Getting Started with Blogging for the Attractive Female Blogger (from September 3, 2002). I find it quite interesting that back in 2002, discussions of gender in the blogosphere dealt with questions of physical attractiveness and whether a given woman blogged about sex or not -- and the effects of those two factors on readership and linking -- and the late-2004 and 2005 discussions are centered more on assumptions such as: Women don't write about politics, women don't enjoy the sporting-event (a.k.a. "food fight," a.k.a. agonistic) character of debates on weblogs, women don't promote their own weblogs as much as men do, etc. Not that this last set of claims just came up in 2004-2005, but it seems to me that bloggers are more interested in talking about them now than the ideas of attractiveness and sexual content. I intend to talk about this slight shift in my dissertation (the prospectus defense was fine, by the way; my committee helped me out a lot, and I think what I've got now is much more manageable and narrow.). The next hurdles are to fill out an application for exemption with the Institutional Review Board and to write a three-page (3!!) dissertation proposal for a university-wide dissertation fellowship for which I was nominated. I also have to write a one-page personal statement, kind of an intellectual history. Maybe I'll post it here.

UPDATE: Then again, it seems the sex-sells issue remains relevant. I had forgotten about Lauren's astute statement addressing it. Durr.

More on Gender and Blogging

Spurred by a couple of recent posts by Kevin Drum and the swift, prodigious response to said posts, I've updated the link portal on gender in the blogosphere. Lauren's right; I do have my work cut out for me. Must prepare presentation for prospectus defense now...

Unconnected thoughts and gestures outward

I'm trying to get back into the flow of work and shake this out-of-sorts feeling I'm experiencing. Last night I got back from a far-too-short trip, a place and a person it always twists and bends my heart to leave. My prospectus defense is Wednesday afternoon, 1:00-3:00, and I'm anxious about that. I have writing deadlines looming and grading to do this weekend.

But enough about all that. The most important thing in this post is this link to a recent presentation by Samantha Blackmon, David Blakesley, and Charlie Lowe titled "Teaching Writing, Collaboration, and Engagement in Global Contexts: The Drupal Alternative to Proprietary Courseware." You should all read their slides immediately; they've really done a great roundup of problems with hegemonic course management software like WebCT and Blackboard, and they've done an even better job spelling out most of Drupal's features. When I try to talk to people about Drupal, I find myself not even knowing where to start. I guess what I need to do is rank my two or three favorite things about it, or, rather, two or three salient differences between Drupal and the major course management applications.

I got a brief mention in my college's newsletter (I'm under "People.").

Are Sam and I the only ones who will be knitting at CCCC? It makes no difference to me whether those in attendance knit or not; I just want to have a lively group there. Email Sam or me if you'd like to find out the time and place.

Speaking of knitting, you can get in touch with Betty Burian Kirk if you'd like to have a knitted item made of your dog's fur. (Via Marginal Revolution.)

I hate it when people confuse the words "reign" and "rein." I wish Brendan would devote one of his Writing Pedantry posts to this problem.

Proliferative Pundits

My advisor suggested that, before my prospectus defense, I write a couple of pages about punditry: its etymology, its connotations, its use in mass media, its use in the blogosphere, and what I mean when I use the term "punditry" in my dissertation. It's an apt recommendation, one a colleague had also made several weeks earlier, so I'm taking it to heart. I don't have the complete explication done yet, but this evening, I've been assembling links to weblogs with "pundit" in the title. If you know of others, please let me know.

Are you ready to find out how many blogs have "pundit" somewhere in the title? Even I was surprised...

Response to "Mommy (and Me)"

Via Prof. B., I see that the New York Times story on parents' weblogs has been published. I'm dismayed but not all that surprised with what's in there, and I'll tell you why.

I was interviewed for this story because part of my dissertation research focuses on women's weblogs, many of whom are mothers. When David Hochman was talking to me about the story, he used the words "narcissistic" and "confessional" to describe parents' weblogs, albeit in a questioning way ("Aren't they just kind of narcissistic and confessional?" that kind of thing). As I told him about my dissertation, I tried so hard to explain to and persuade him that "baby blogs" are often -- almost always -- so much more than "the new baby book," that they're a way for parents to express what's on their minds, but children figure in prominently, obviously. By the way, I'm still working on communicating my dissertation topic in a sound bite, but here's my attempt: I'm doing a feminist rhetorical analysis of political discourse on weblogs, particularly an exploration of what gets interpreted as a political weblog and what perhaps doesn't, and how this difference is gendered (a personal-reflective approach to political writing as opposed to punditry). For an illustration, see the difference between this Eschaton post and these posts by Prof. B.* Different in terms of style and topic, but both political, to be sure. I actually emailed Hochman the links to those posts, as well as links to 11D and Laura's excellent Family Politics category of posts. Laura was also interviewed, and her comments -- again, not surprisingly -- aren't mentioned.

It's nothing personal against Hochman. He was friendly and great to talk to, but comparing my initial conversation with him to the finished product I just read, it's clear to me that he'd already made up his mind about "baby blogs," "mommy blogs," "daddy blogs," what have you: "The baby blog in many cases is an online shrine to parental self-absorption." Parents are "insecure," and they crave "attention and validation." And the thing is, I'm sure a lot of people agree with this attitude, as though there's some sense of undue entitlement about wanting to blog about one's experience as a parent. I wonder if those who espouse this view would say the same about political bloggers "proper," who have the apparent decency not to bother us with their personal lives, or if so, very seldom.

* I'm looking at differences, and I realize that what I'm doing may sound very Chodorow/Gilligan/Belenky et al., but I'm not interested in saying "men write this way; women write that way." If you can think of a good way for me to show that I'm distancing myself from theories criticized for essentialism, I'd appreciate hearing it. I'm more interested in the gendering of the discourse itself as well as the Where are all the women political bloggers? question. There's such a pronounced disconnect for so many people in what counts as political writing, from the issues discussed to the writing style/rhetorical approach, and the disconnect is brought up over and over again, to the point that many have likened the debate to a dead horse or poked fun at it, though none as well as flea:

Popular, Liberal Male Blogger: Why don't women blog? I've looked on my blogroll and I don't see any women bloggers. Therefore, they must not exist. Women must not be interested in thinky stuff like politics or computers.

45 Women Bloggers respond in the comments section: WTF? We all have blogs!

Liberal, Male Blogger: I don't mean blogs about tampons**. All women do is talk about feminine hygiene products. I mean, Where are all the women who blog about important stuff; the stuff *I'm* interested in.

45 Women Bloggers: You're right. We only talk about feminine hygiene products. Here's more talk about feminine hygiene products: You are a douche.

Liberal Male Blogger: Wahhhh! You're oppressing me! Censorship! My civil rights are being violated!

One Asshole Woman: I am so embarrassed to be a woman right now! Don't you listen to those hairy bitches, Liberal Male Blogger! *I* understand you!

Liberal Male Blogger: See there? One woman has validated me! That means you all are wrong and I am right!

45 Women Bloggers: douche.

Liberal Male Blogger: Wahhhh!

Repeat in three months with a different blogger. I'll point it out next time it happens.

** Link added to demonstrate the political bent of many women's weblogs.

Hugh Hewitt's _Blog_

HOW did I miss this book until now?! I'm disgusted with myself for being so behind the curve. Today I picked up Blog: Understanding the Information Reformation That's Changing Your World at the bookstore after, as I perused a display table, it jumped out at me amidst such fare as The Neocon Reader and Lakoff's Don't Think of an Elephant! I can already tell I'm probably not going to be that impressed with the book; the blurb on the inner flap of the dust jacket reads strikingly like just another technological conquest narrative:

Since HughHewitt.com was launched in early 2002, more than ten million people have visited his site (seven million just since the beginning of 2004). "Why does this visitor traffic matter?" asks Hewitt. "People's attention is up for grabs. If you depend on the steady trust of others, suddenly you have an audience waiting to hear from you." The race is underway, though, to gain mindspace and to be part of readers' habits. If your organization has not established itself in the blogosphere, now is the time to move ahead, but quickly!

From a business standpoint, your organization can benefit from developing a two-pronged approach to blogging by creating offensive and defensive plans. Not only do you need to blog internally to promote ideas and foster better communication among colleagues, but your company also should take advantage of the advertising and publicity benefits of blogging. Put yourself at the front of people's minds, and make sure you stay there. As for a defensive strategy, create a plan for addressing immediately even one negative blog, because in just a click of a mouse it will spread like wildfire, and you'll soon have one hundred negative blog references out there, and then a thousand or more. Blog shows you how to develop both.

With 4.5 million blogs in existence as of November 2004 -- and with that number expected to double in 2005 -- almost everyone will soon feel this phenomenon impacting their lives or organizations. With Hugh Hewitt's help, you can make sure that you advance in the blogosphere rather than retreat and lose ground in this information movement.

While I see the value of intranet blogging as organizational/business communication, I'll maintain in my dissertation that there are many bloggers who do it out of a genuine desire to engage in discussion with others rather than to "gain mindspace" as though it were a commodity (but hey, I suppose it is, actually. Plus, I'm sure Hewitt isn't trying to say that gaining mindspace is the only motivation.). Ugh, I shouldn't even say that having not yet read the book. At any rate, Hewitt seems willing to make strong claims about blogging's effect on general culture; the sub-subtitle is "Why you must know how the blogosphere is smashing the old media monopoly and giving individuals power in the marketplace of ideas." And Glenn Reynolds gives it high praise: "This is the best book on blogs yet, which isn't surprising since it's by a successful blogger who also knows a lot about communications and the world in general." Definitely a must-read for my dissertation research.

Clarity

From Joan Bolker, Writing Your Dissertation in Fifteen Minutes A Day:

Because I was able to write quick, nearly finished first drafts, I had never found out how good a writer I might be. Revising my writing would mean exploring my limits, perhaps deciding to push them; but I would probably also have to give up my fantasy that by working hard enough, I could write like Virginia Woolf. The other terror, of making myself clear, was even greater. I responded by writing in a private language. When readers said they couldn't understand what I was talking about, I was both distressed and secretly relieved. As I grew older I found I had some things I wanted to say and have heard. At that point it became necessary for me to speak in the common tongue, and to revise.

To make your writing really clear is also to make yourself very vulnerable. If someone can find out from your writing what you believe, or how you feel, or where you stand, then you may be liked or disliked, agreed or disagreed with, congratulated or criticized for what you've written. As long as you stay hidden in opaque or obscure writing, you're safe. Don Graves put this dilemma succinctly: "You have to be willing to be a professional nudist if you're going to write." If you are having some trouble making yourself clear in writing, consider whether you really want to.

For real, though. My writing has been criticized for a number of reasons, but opacity is not one of them. In fact, over the years I've been praised for the clarity of my writing. For example, in my dissertation practicum last semester, one night when we were workshopping a draft of mine a student in the seminar began her remarks by saying, "First of all, I just have to say: Your writing is excruciatingly clear." :-) I still, however, like this passage and agree with it, but I also wonder if some people are afraid that if they do write clearly, they'll be accused of coming across as having a simple mind, not because of the thoughts they're expressing, rather because they're afraid their method of expression will read as unsophisticated dross lacking the appropriate complexity. I know I've had that fear.

Prospectus Defense

I think I might have found a day and time for my dissertation prospectus defense that works for everyone: 28 January at 3:00. Actually, it's not exactly a defense, more like a chance for everyone on my committee to get together and discuss my project. My understanding is that most of the feedback given during these meetings is intended to help narrow the scope of the project to something the student can actually do in ~1.5 years, or two years if you want to count last semester, during which I took a writing practicum in the Women's Studies department and workshopped draft after draft of my prospectus.

Does anyone have any advice for me? Committee members have already told me I'll need to do a ten-minute presentation at the beginning and talk through the prospectus, and my wonderful professor from the writing practicum suggested doing an intellectual genealogy of the project, prefacing the talk by explaining why I'm interested in doing a feminist rhetorical analysis of political discourse on weblogs, my personal interest in the project. I think, too, that right after the meeting I'll run to my office and type up their spoken comments while they're fresh in my mind. And I'm going to bring snacks. And try not to get discouraged by the criticism. Anything else? It would help a lot.

Syndicate content