Daily Archives: Tuesday 27 May 2008

Places to be

I was fascinated by this post on Helen’s blog, Show your workings. Helen writes a craft blog, but along the way she talks about mothering and politics and feminism, and all that. As a new mother, she found her way to The Nappy Network, and there she found:

Hidden in this apparently domestic women’s forum is a hot bed of political debate, some of the liveliest threads were about climate change, peak oil, sustainability, religion, reproductive rights and women’s health.

As for herself, she sees craft as a political statement.

It places value on “women’s work”, it promotes sustainability, it’s used to help women and children in need and to raise awareness of important issues. It’s often dismissed as a time waster for white middle-class women and, at it’s worst, I guess it can be. At its best it’s much more than that.

And her daily life is political. It’s a round of cooking, cleaning, sewing, gardening, childcare, running a cottage business, all sustainably, both for the environment, and for her and her family.

In other words I’m trying to live my politics on a daily basis and it seems to me that there are many more women like me doing the same thing. It’s not that we aren’t thinking about politics or interested, we are just busy living it!

And then Lyn of Notes from the Grery Lynn Singles Club fame wrote a series of posts about women’s experience on-line. She started with What’s in a name, remarking that she felt that people dealt with her more politely, in direct exchanges, when she used a female name. (I was surprised by that; it’s not been my experience, but well, read on to see what happened next.) Lyn went on to say that when she used a male name, people were more inclined to deal with her arguments.

I felt as though what I had to say was the most important part of any comment or interaction I had online, and no quarter was given for the fact of my being female. It was like I’d sneaked into the secret boys’ club where arguing is allowed. I loved it. It gave me a taste of a world where I was finally part of the male in-crowd. However temporarily.

But a few days later, she wrote about being female in on-line gaming contexts. The default assumption is that you are male, if you use a male or a non-gender specific on-line name, and that can bring some quite extraordinary benefits.

As a woman with a male handle or character you can shout and burp and fight and not care about people’s feelings and not be looked at. It’s an oddly comfortable place to be. The way that women get treated may always going to be a motivation for us to assume male identities if we can pull it off. Does the net actually offer us a way to get beyond the vicissitudes of gender? Could it be possible to escape misogyny forever by becoming metaphorically male in droves?

Sadly I think not. It’s discovery that causes the problems. One slip about how attractive Johnny Depp is, or that you’re appalled by the sexism in a blog post and it’s all over.

So she urges women to stake a claim in the on-line environment, making it women’s space as well as men’s space, just as women have made it into legislatures, business, universities, all sort of spaces that used to be reserved for men.

A few days later again, she wrote an ‘Update on What’s in a Name?’.

After posting my musings on the gendered ways people (probably men) treat (probably) women in comments threads on political blogs I’ve had the happy experience of getting into a couple of (minor) stoushes with (probably) blokes over at the standard. I guess I spoke too soon.

She had some stories to tell of her experiences at what is supposedly a progressive blog in New Zealand. Go read them on her post. She concluded:

I do continue to think however, that there are online spaces in which women don’t always feel comfortable to contribute. Recent second-hand reportage from bloggers I know off-line has suggested that there are women who’ve been forced out of their OWN internet spaces or silenced in others through intimidation from people who, if they aren’t men, certainly purport to be and also seem to act that way (if anyone can be said to “act” when all they’re able to do is write text).

Then in response to a comment made at The Hand Mirror by one of the more prolific writers on the supposedly progressive blog, Lyn wrote about the importance of exemplars.

Getting back to my opening point, if the standard wants more women to comment then they should probably have more women writing. At the moment Steve is posting about 60% or more of all the pieces being run, and there are no writers who can be obviously identified as female. I assumed that all the posters were male, which is apparently not the case, but I bet I’m not the only one. Choice of topic might be an issue, and the stoushing style of interaction, coupled with some really brain-dead and/or sexist comments are not usually something that women indulge in when in more female dominated spaces. However – I’d be interested to see what would happen at the standard if there were more writers identifying themselves as women. Given all available evidence I’d be inclined to expect that the number of comments by women would increase and that this would quickly snowball, and that the change to commenting style would make it a space women would be more interested in occupying.

I been thinking about all this, about Helen’s identification of places where women are free to be women and to be political, and Lyn’s experience of being female in on-line political forums.

Lyn’s experience gels with mine, both seeing and experiencing what goes on in some progressive blogs when feminism is raised. It’s as though claiming that something is sexist or misogynist is disallowed, no matter what. Whoever you are arguing with sees it as a foul play, something that’s going to derail the argument, or not something to be taken seriously at all. Introducing a gender analysis, or claiming to be feminist, invites derision. To be fair, it’s not the blog writers who are seemingly deaf to feminist arguments and analysis. But the commentariat seems to forget that being feminist is not a optional extra when it comes to being socially progressive; feminism is an integral part of progressivism. (Check the Feminism 101 blog on Feminism and Humanism / Equalism for more on this and other basic feminist ideas, and Melissa’s list of Feminism 101 points at Shakesville.)

It’s no wonder that women aren’t always vocal in on-line environments, or that they are vocal in places that are gender demarcated as women’s spaces, like mothering blogs and sites, and craft blogs. And it leaves me wondering about where I want to be. I get tired of being shouted at for daring to raise a claim of misogyny, and I’m sure other women do too. I’m loving blogging at The Hand Mirror, being part of a community of women blogging together on topics that really matter to us, as women. But it’s a shame if the only places where I feel I can be me are demarcated as women’s space, and that if I enter another part of the blogosphere, I must leave being female, and feminist, behind.