Gender and Blogging Redux

As you may already know, there are a couple of discussions going on about gender and poetry following my original post, one at Mark Wallace’s blog and one at Harriet.  There are a couple of things I want to say, or observe, that are not going to be terribly organized in their presentation.*

1. The comment streams at these places seem very male-dominated.  On the Harriet blog, there are a few astute comments by women that have been overlooked by the train of conversation.  This makes me wonder** the following things: a. Are women sick of talking about gender and poetry? b. Do men feel they have a particular stake in the discussion (more than women feel that they do)? c.Do these male commentators even see/read the comments by women? What do they think about them? … I know comment streams are often male-dominated.  I haven’t really participated in an extended blog discussion for about three years; I guess I thought the dynamic would have changed by now.  Speaking of…

1.1.  Anonymous comments? Really? Aren’t we past that?

1.2. … One such astute and un-replied to comment from Michelle Detorie (not sure this even needs a response– it’s as “true” as anything can be):

The men who have established the professional standards that govern the world of poetry are by and large men who have benefited from many different kinds of unearned privilege, including the uncompensated labor of many women (domestic, secretarial, and creative). Therefore, the question should not be “how can women learn the skills that men seem naturally to possess (self-promotion)?” Those skills, upon closer inspection, reveal themselves to be not much more than plain, old-fashioned bourgeois entrepreneurialism that is rooted in inequality. I think it is good that men are asking what they should do vis-à-vis feminism, but I think the best way to begin is through careful scrutiny of their own practices. If one finds oneself with a creative project that does not include women, one should not conclude that it is the fault of women. Rather, one should ask “what’s wrong with this creative project in that it excludes women?” (cite)

2. The idea that anyone ever says anything “objectively” is kind of insulting.  The idea of godly or scientific objectivity is a male construct (or, to take gender out of it for a minute, it’s a power construct– it’s just that men have had the power, or the Phallus, for as long as anyone can remember).  It’s an idea meant to keep people without power in line.  If you’re not in power, your experiences of the world aren’t “true.”  Liberal-minded thinkers are happy to agree with this claim when it’s applied to history and race– the idea that the victor writes history is one we’re all pretty comfortable with.  But in no universe would any oppressed people claim to be objective, because they know from experience that everyone’s experience of the so-called objective (or truth) is different.  So I’m not sure (Mark) why the attack on the claim that women are writing better poetry these days focuses on “objectivity” and “truth” when those ideas are antiquated and false and non one in their right mind would claim to know the “objective” “truth” (such knowledge is probably in the DSM IV by now as a god complex– not that men don’t often have such a complex).

3. In rereading Martin Earl’s older Harriet post, I came across this gem by Reb Livingston which sums up,  or rather complements, my own experience and position (as a reader, editor, female poet) (sorry to drag you into this again, Reb):

Well I feel all kinds of superiority and not just because of my gender, but that’s a start. Heh.

I concur with much of what Martin Earl has written, of course he can get away with writing it and not being labeled as bitter or a ball snipper.

What I mean is that as an editor, I too have noticed a trend in the submission pile. On *average* I find the work of contemporary female poets to be more daring, original and interesting. My magazine receives more submissions from men (about 10-15% more), but it publishes more women. Years ago when I first noticed this, I was surprised. All along I thought I preferred male poets. I owned more books by them, was definitely more familiar with their work from major literary magazines and from my education. Turns out I was incredibly ignorant.

So when certain editors talk about the “number troubles” I don’t understand why this is even an issue. Are these editors living in a cave?

One can chalk up my observations to my taste and bias, which I most certainly have, like every other editor and poet.

Reb (cite)

4. ‘Why Don’t More Women Do Blog-Oriented Writing?’ or why they do it differently than men: it appears to me that the following may be posited as answers: a. Women’s blogging is largely overlooked unless it includes or threatens male readers b. In comment streams, comments from men abound (just as their sperm-like poetry spatters against every editor’s desk) while women’s less abrasive, more astute, carefully considered comments are overlooked c. Women (for whatever nature or nurture reason***) don’t like to get into heated arguments, would rather spend their time working on more productive and useful things (perhaps because women do have less leisure time).  If you say something that someone thinks is controversial, you’re likely to get dragged into a heated argument with lots of men who don’t read your post or comments anyway, so you might as well just stay out of the whole thing, or keep to your own little knitting — I mean blog.

It’s not that women aren’t blogging.  It’s that they do it differently than men, and thus men just don’t see it.

Maybe this is the case with self-promotion, too.  It’s not that women aren’t self-promoting, it’s that men say things like “oh, I guess there aren’t any female visual poets” because they’re blind to the delivery systems women use.

5. Based on this evidence, it seems to me that FOURSQUARE is still a crucial project.

* Some people seem to think I am using my blog to write dissertation chapters.  This is not the case.

** When I “wonder” things or have ideas, it doesn’t mean that the ideas are right or that I stick by them 100%.  I’m just thinking aloud– I don’t have to be right all the time.  People seem to assume that if it’s on a blog, you’re willing to go to your grave defending it.  This is not the case. (However, I do still think most of the best/greatest/most talented poets writing today are women.)

*** Note, none of these are essentialist arguments.  It would be perfectly easy to blame everything on sperm and eggs, but it really seems to me to  have to do with cultural background as well, if not exclusively. For example, women pay attention to what men say because men are loud and aggressive, and men don’t pay attention to what women say because women aren’t, generally, loud or aggressive.


About Jessica Smith
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9 Responses to Gender and Blogging Redux

  1. Matt says:

    hi jessica,

    i know this is a total side-issue to what you’re talking about, but isn’t science the one area of life where objectivity really is possible? like, you can determine that the boiling point of maple syrup is precisely 38.44217 degrees celcius (i made that up!), right? sorry if this is too off-topic.

  2. I don’t know, Matt– science is not just about measurements, but what gets measured and for what purpose. The choices of what to look at and the politics behind what is studied aren’t “objective” (I’m just gonna go ahead and put scare quotes around that every time). Even things that are measured in consistent ways (temperature, time, space) are based on an arbitrary system (it’s not *actually* 3:02 p.m…. that’s just what we call it). And why do we know the measurements of some thing and not others? We can recall the formula for converting temperatures from F to C, but most of us don’t know the specific CMYK value of peacock blue (something that has only recently been recorded consistently, but is another instance of an arbitrary value assigned to something and used consistently enough to make it seem true).

  3. mlle says:

    I really like what you say here–a lot of it really resonates with me.

    Thank you for writing this, Jessica.

  4. Judy says:

    I’m struck that several times you use locutions like “men don’t see” or “do men see” and that resonates. I think that too often even when their eyes are looking straight at it (whatever it is), no, they don’t. And I am thinking (this is in relation to a recent book review by a man of a woman’s book) that when they think they’ve noticed something women have done/said men actually tyrn it into a mirror. What they’re reporting on isn’t what the woman did/said, but what the men saw in the mirror. But they don’t realize this.

    I know that to some extent we all do this, but it seems more pronounced when men are talking about or not noticing what women have done.

  5. cathye says:

    hi Jessica,

    I’ve found that the way feminist epistemologist Linda Martin Alcoff talks about reason and identity it useful. Here’s her writing about Sotomayor’s Reasoning–it’s just her argument in broad strokes: She does make this much more complex in other places.


  6. Thanks for that, Cathy. I liked this part particularly (as it applies to the Harriet discussion):

    “Critics from the right continue to spout slogans about neutrality and objectivity in reasoning, as if anyone could set aside all they know and have lived through in their assessments of a case. They are now raising the old canards about a mutually exclusive option between objective judgment versus biased reasoning. They cannot countenance the idea that identity can play any legitimate or productive role in reasoning; after all, allowing such an idea would make the pallor and body types that generally run Congress more of an evident problem.”

    I often think that poets are liberal as a species– that the experimental/academic poetry circles I run in must be full of liberal-minded people who appreciate that at some level, they are extremely privileged (to have time/space/$ to write). So I’m often shocked when poets turn out not to be liberal. And the kind of defenses put up on Harriet run much more parallel to this assessment (above) than to the following (also from the article):

    “Critics from the left are often just as confused. They think that if identity affects judgment, it looks like politics will replace reason, and reason is generally the best arm of defense the left has against the increasingly hysterical and emotional appeals of the right. They also worry that the gender and ethnic identities Sotomayor refers to will be taken up in the public airwaves in stereotyped ways, as flat, monochromatic categories without any internal diversity or fluidity.”

    I think the underlying problem on both sides is the assumption that there is such a thing as “reason” beyond experience.

  7. Pingback: Women in Poetry (Again) « looktouchblog

  8. hysperia says:

    I don’t think women listen to men just ’cause they’re loud and aggressive so much as because many of them have the power and the money.

    Very happy to find this blog.

  9. Timothy Yu says:

    Hi Jessica. I’m way late to this discussion, but I thought Craig’s question about “why don’t women do blog-oriented writing” was an odd one. (I recognize that he was riffing on the Rae Armantrout essay, but still.) Particularly in the early days of blogging, I always thought that women bloggers (e.g. Stephanie Young, Eileen Tabios) were the ones using the form most creatively, to its maximum potential, while a lot of male bloggers were still seeing the blog post as an extension of the book review or listserv.

    Craig’s post seemed to allude to an older version of this debate, i.e. “why don’t women do ‘experimental’ writing.” What I found interesting about your post was that that particular question didn’t seem active anymore, and that you were willing to assert more simply that women were doing the *best* current writing, period.

    And overall, yeah, it is depressing that comment streams look pretty much like they did in the bad old days of 2003. Ugh.

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