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Monday, April 10, 2006

Anonymous Female Academic Blogging: A Parallel Blogosphere?

There has been discussion, here and here about the relative scarcity of blogging by female academics. I accepted this premise until about two months ago when I encountered an anonymous blog written by a female academic. The blog was very different from all academic blogging I have read to that point: It addressed the personal life of an academic. As I scrolled down the blogroll I realized that the blog was not unique. It appeared to belong to a parallel universe of academic blogging. All these blogs were highly personal, extremely frank, brazenly discussing irritations with students, colleagues and dissertation advisers. Many of them regularly posted to-do lists including the mundane tasks of everyday academic life. They were written by tenured professors, most often junior professors on the tenure track and also doctoral students on the job market. Particularly striking were the features shared by all of them: they were all women academics and they all wrote anonymously. For a glimpse at some of these blogs, see here, here, and here.

Whether these blogs are authored by legal female academics is hard to tell. Subject matter descriptions are purposefully vague. The blogs are not subject matter oriented and are rarely political. One of their primary functions appears to be community building. The authors refer to each other's blogs, they describe their blog-reading and catching up as part of their daily routine, and they serve as a support group for each other. The comments on the blogs are extremely supportive regardless of the content of the entry. As many of these women academics find themselves starting academic careers in isolated places, they appear to have found a virtual community to support them.

Are women academics really greatly under-represented in the blogosphere or do many of them elect to operate in a separate blogosphere of their own? Do they use the blogosphere to address different needs resulting in two parallel academic blogsphers: One academic blogosphere being the highly visible, political and subject matter oriented and relatively male dominated sphere and the other academic blogsphere being the personal, anonymous and supportive female dominated one?

Posted by Gaia Bernstein on April 10, 2006 at 12:03 AM in Blogging | Permalink

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Comments

Unfortunately, these blogs just perpetrate the sexist stereotype that women (even female professors) really just want to shop and cry. Luckily, none of them (to my knowledge) are female legal academics.

Posted by: anon | Apr 9, 2006 6:14:20 PM

I don't understand why anon is anon here. If you think it's sexist claptrap these blogs are perpetuating and perpetrating, why hide behind anonymity? Gaia is asking whether these blogs are potentially serving a community of persons who may feel the need for support as they go through the academic motions. Why is that so worthy of dismissal as perpetrating sexist stereotypes as to not even warrant a serious engagement with the questions invariably raised by these blogs or by Gaia's observation?

Posted by: Dan Markel | Apr 9, 2006 9:33:17 PM

Markel,

Anon is anon because that was a controversial comment, presumably. What's wrong with that?

Posted by: Sarah H. | Apr 9, 2006 11:12:52 PM

If you have to ask, then you probably should be reading some other blog.

Posted by: Dan Markel | Apr 10, 2006 8:51:34 AM

Hey Gaia! Nice to see you blogging here. In my experience there are zillons of academic blogs written by women. Some are "fully" pseudonymous, but many are only semi-pseudonymous, by which I mean the person doesn't use her full name on the blog (in part to thwart easy "googling") but it's fairly easy to figure out who she is.

Posted by: Ann Bartow | Apr 10, 2006 9:14:56 AM

You make good observations. My only (niggling) comment is in your potential division of the blogosphere into "the highly visible, political and subject matter oriented and relatively male dominated sphere [academic]the other academic blogsphere being the personal, anonymous and supportive female dominated one."

These differences strike me as differences in the community constituting the blogosphere, rather than entirely separate blogospheres. One might go so far as to separate the blogosphere into different families or categories (indeed, many ezines and print publications do just that), but to posit a separate blogosphere seems to me to attempt a division of an indivisable whole.

--jw

Posted by: Jonathan Watson | Apr 10, 2006 1:21:26 PM

*indivisible

Posted by: Jonathan Watson | Apr 10, 2006 1:32:11 PM

Fascinating post. My sense is that LiveJournal and some other online social networks encourage a version of "privication" (to use Zittrain's neologism), whereby authors can decide just how much of their identity to reveal. Some LiveJournalists don't reveal their gender, age, etc.

The gendered division you've hypothesized is fascinating. Whether or not the gender correlations are in fact there, I think the more subjective blogosphere needs to be given more attention than it currently is, given that dominant discourses encourage the elision of the personal foundations of political concerns in favor of ostensibly more universalistic modes of argument. As Martha Nussbaum and others in the "literature as/and philosophy" movement have shown, many of our most difficult and important ethical choices involve intensely personal decisions about the allocation of resources and time. (For example, Jonathan Swift has a piece coming out in Ethics (2006) on positional goods that explores this idea)

On the other hand, perhaps the frankness of these blogs is only enabled by their relative lack of notoriety. Just as there is often a tension between power and virtue, perhaps there is also a tension between playing to an imagined audience and being completely sincere with no worries about consequences.

Posted by: Frank | Apr 10, 2006 5:13:36 PM

I think Frank mentions the key word - livejournal. Although this actually makes no sense etymologically, I think there's a difference between a blog and a journal. A person can have both, and there's some seepage between the two (for instance, I have both, and I've posted both political observations to the journal on occaision, and the occaisional personal post to the blog), but it it seems to me that there is a big difference between a journal, wherein someone writes about what's happening in their life, and a blog, wherein someone (or a group of someones) holds forth about a particular topic or topics, and their opinions about those topic(s). With that in mind, I could support a separate blogosphere hypothesis, in the sense that there is a growing gap between what is now meant when people talk about blogs, and what was once meant by the term.

Posted by: Simon | Apr 10, 2006 5:27:57 PM

Mr. Markel, I am serious. These blogs perpetuate a sexist stereotype about women: that they are weepy, whiney, and would rather be doing anything but researching or teaching. They spend an awful lot of time describing their psychological weaknesses.

You were unable or unwilling to explain why I was wrong. Instead you dismissed my observations with a “f you have to ask, then you probably should be reading some other blog.”

Therefore, I have to conclude that I am right, and that you are afraid to engage my argument.

As a matter of course, I will not read Livejournals because they are mostly teenage girls demonstrating why the 19th amendment was a bad idea.

I would like to see more women with substantive blogs in “core” legal subjects: e.g. contracts, property, tax, constitutional law, etc. Another blog about womens law, or “law and…” doesn’t help anyone. Another blog about the life of a female academic doesn’t help anyone.

Sarah, Thank you for at least understanding what I am saying.

Posted by: anon | Apr 10, 2006 7:03:25 PM

Markel writes:

If you have to ask, then you probably should be reading some other blog.

I respond:

Huh? I am a tenure-track law professor; I thought this was the blog that "raw law professors" were supposed to be reading. Or are those of us that understand the importance of anonymity and the need to generate safe spaces not welcome here?

Posted by: Sarah H. | Apr 10, 2006 8:34:25 PM

It is sort of ironic that I feel the need to be anonymous to express the view that anonymous female academic blogs are perpetuating sexist stereotypes and I am met with the objection that what I say is wrong because of unstated reasons.

Anyway, I would suggest that young female law professors try to emulate male professors like Larry Solum or Doug Berman. Preferably Berman. They become experts that attain notoriety and know their stuff. Indeed, if anything the battles of the 60s were fought to be more like Doug Berman, and less like some quivering livejournal writing teenager.

Posted by: anon | Apr 10, 2006 9:18:03 PM

anon and Sarah, thanks for your comments. I am an aspiring female law professor (and sometime blogger) who is getting incredibly tired of the "sure women blog, they just blog about fluffy personal stuff" stereotype. And I'm struck by the irony of schoolmarmish attacks on anonymous commenters . . . on a post approvingly discussing anonymous blogs.

Posted by: prawf2b | Apr 11, 2006 12:06:34 AM

I am an anonmyous female blogger, and I'm also an aspiring law prof. For several reasons I post anonymously, but most of my posts are subject-matter oriented, political, and often blawggish. But I benefit greatly from the community building aspect of blogging, as well as the freedom to write posts in which the personal meets the academic. I blog about gender, race and the academy, and some of my scholarship has been on race-conscious pedagogy--so it's hard for me not to talk about my own racial and gender experiences. Do I thus exist in the interstitial space between these parallel universe? Am I still to be taken less seriously than open and notorious bloggers?

http://lawandletters.blogspot.com/2006/04/vietnamese-yentl.html

Posted by: Belle Lettre | Apr 11, 2006 5:03:04 AM

Belle, To answer your questions: I take you less seriously because you discuss your personal life in your blog. If you would stick to posts regarding your field of expertise, I would take you more seriously.

It doesn’t matter whether you are anonymous or not. What matters is the content! If you show that you are thinking about difficult legal issues every day (especially without hours after courts publish their opinions), your blog is worthwhile. While you definitely are a better writer than most teenage girls, your blog doesn’t contain anything of use to the legal community. Why would any court or lawyer want to cite any of your posts?

Americans need to decide. Are they going to be more like Professors Kerr and Berman, or more like typical Xanga or Livejournal users.

Posted by: anon | Apr 11, 2006 7:46:17 AM

Why would any court or lawyer want to cite any of your posts?Are blogs really suitable for citation in the first instance? It seems to me that in the intellectual food chain, blogs are somewhere above coffeehouse chats and below peer-reviewed status. That's not to say that they aren't very useful - they are, as an intellectual building block that provides or develops an idea. As I suggested in comments last week, they're great for providing a sounding board for ideas that aren't quite ready for primetime; a section excised from serious writing. But I'm not sure that it's fair to require (or even suggest) that blogs should measure up to the standards of the Harvard Law Review.

Posted by: Simon | Apr 11, 2006 9:31:06 AM

Sarah H. writes:
"are those of us that understand the importance of anonymity and the need to generate safe spaces not welcome here?"

Let me answer Sarah's question. My co-bloggers and I take seriously, on this blog at least, that opinions (especially denunciations of others' work) should be owned by their authors. Too often, people are quick to be snide or snarky about other projects without using their name to make those comments. Thus, while this blog is for "raw" law professors, it is not for reckless "drive-by" behavior, by which people can feel secure to freely denounce the work of other people in the comments without being willing to a) make an argument about it and b) take responsibility for that position by signing on their name. (See our comments policy.) That's why this blog is not a "safe" space for rants or trolls or griping, particularly when it affects the works of our colleagues in the academy. Insisting on this norm is our way of building community. Perhaps we don't always succeed. I also recognize that other blogs like the ones in Gaia's post may serve to build community in different ways. Fine. Let a thousand flowers bloom. But in short, the reason I made my comment (to Sarah H.) that if you have to ask [why anonymous comments here are bad in this context], read another blog, is because the authors on this blog and the comment policy are committed to ensuring that people don't shirk the requirements of intellectual responsibility.
This should clarify, in response to "Anon", that I was responding to "Sarah H"'s comment, not yours. I questioned your choice of anonymity simply because if something truly is sexist, then you'll have only our plaudits and praise for bringing it to our attention. I wasn't questioning the actual assertion of whether the blogs mentioned are in fact sexist. Hope this clarifies.

Posted by: Dan Markel | Apr 11, 2006 10:23:20 AM

Dan, The original comment was hardly snark. The comment was not insulting, and, in fact was actually as “pro-feminist” as it could get. The comment fears that when women act like 1950s stereotypes in academic roles, that people will perceive them as being less than men. This is a valid concern which is held by many. It is not “snark” and its genius was in its brevity! In declaring it to be a troll (it was too short to be a rant) you bypass its merits, and simply insult the writer. I don’t really know if blogs can be “safe” places or not (or whether they really are “places” at all). So to put it simply: there is nothing misogynist about fearing that something is a sexist stereotype.

Simon, For better or worse, blogs are cited in judicial opinions and in briefs. (I know mine was, though I actually question whether doing so was a good idea or not.) Even if the blog isn’t specifically cited, many idea that judges and law clerks get about the “path” of the law are likely to come from blog which are constantly updated and often represent the “pulse” of a legal community. When female professors talk about themselves and their personal feelings, they seem to be admitting that they are not capable of doing what others are: keeping their finger on the pulse of the subject.

Posted by: anotheranon | Apr 11, 2006 10:34:15 AM

I believe there is value in this other blogsphere and would distinguish the female academic blogs from live-journals. The blogs are not purely personal. They focus mainly on the personal dilemmas that accompany academic life and address issues that are rarely raised in discussions among colleagues. Issues that many struggle with alone. Those who operate solely in the visible, subject matter oriented sphere, whether male or female, could benefit from visiting this other sphere.

The extent to which the two blogspheres are in fact separate is an empirical question that cannot be easily answered. But, I am glad to see that if anything my post has started a conversation between the inhabitants of these two spheres.

Posted by: Gaia Bernstein | Apr 11, 2006 10:48:43 AM

Anotheranon, I didn't mean to suggest that the first comment was an example of snark, trolling or rants--when I used those words, I was making a broader point about the dangers of anonymity, from my perspective on this blog. I also think that the authors of those blogs may find it "insulting" to be called sexist.

Posted by: Dan Markel | Apr 11, 2006 10:51:05 AM

My co-bloggers and I take seriously, on this blog at least, that opinions (especially denunciations of others' work) should be owned by their authors. Too often, people are quick to be snide or snarky about other projects without using their name to make those comments.I agree entirely. I elaborated on this principle, inter alia, a couple of weeks ago, talking about accountability as a key component of blogs:[In my view, ] anomynity fosters incivility and lack of intellectual rigor because it is essentially unaccountability . . . [a] sense of anomynity fosters unaccountability, an alienation from the societal norms that would otherwise constrain rational human beings. I have written my fair share of incendiary comments and posts, but I do so under my own name, and am therefore constrained by the awareness that I might actually have to answer in person for anything I say. If I wouldn't say it to someone's face, I don't say it, and I think that is characteristic of most bloggers who write under their own name. Thus, my comments cannot and will not ever be so vituperative, hateful and entirely useless as, for example "Armando" from Daily Kos. (Presumably . . . contributions [from such anonymous authors] would simililarly improve in quality were there the real possibility that his boss were reading them). It's almost a pathological thing: freed from the fear for having to answer for what they say in daily life, anonymous bloggers - blithely un[constrained] by societal norms to warn them they're way of the reservation - plunge the blogosphere into a bizarre version of Forbidden Planet - less monsters from the id than monsters from the ego.What I'd say in relation to "Anon"'s comment and to "Belle Lettre" is that it isn't personal comments in blogs that detract, in my view - it's anomynity. It's very hard to take seriously an idea that someone will not put their own name to, which is why practically every interesting blog is written under the author's own name (or at least, if not eponymously, then at least without serious effort to hide the author's identity).

Posted by: Simon | Apr 11, 2006 10:57:48 AM

Belle, To answer your questions: I take you less seriously because you discuss your personal life in your blog. If you would stick to posts regarding your field of expertise, I would take you more seriously.

I'm a fan of Belle's blog, and I think she she writes very substantively, and interestingly, see e.g. http://lawandletters.blogspot.com/2006/03/post-on-duncan-kennedy.html
I like the fact that she writes about her life as well, because I think we all filter our legal analysis through who we are as people, plus it's just fun to read about the experiences of an aspiring academic, and maybe it gives me a little insight into the lives of my students.

Male bloggers often write about their personal lives too, see e.g. Dan Markel's posts about "the osita."

Is there something unsubstantive about this? http://ataxingmatter.blogs.com/tax/

I blog and comment under my own name. There are many days when this seems like a huge mistake. Note to Gaia and Belle: Never underestimate the misogyny of the blawgosphere.

Posted by: Ann Bartow | Apr 11, 2006 11:19:49 AM

For better or worse, blogs are cited in judicial opinions and in briefs. (I know mine was, though I actually question whether doing so was a good idea or not.) Even if the blog isn’t specifically cited, many idea that judges and law clerks get about the “path” of the law are likely to come from blog which are constantly updated and often represent the “pulse” of a legal community.I think it is very difficult to justify citing a blog in an opinion or a brief. In a piece of scholarly work, yes, but not a blog. I mean, consider even someone who's broadly respected, like Orin Kerr, and consider a piece he wrote about the NSA wiretapping program and FISA a few months ago. It was a great summary, and I don't mean to take away from Orin at all, but I would be shocked to see a court of law refer to that blog post in deciding a case. Now, a law review article which discussed the same ideas more fully and explored them in greater depth, perhaps, but not just a raw blog post, no matter how good on its own merits.

At the risk of suggeting an immodest comparison, I wrote a post a few months ago, asking Can Congress give the President authority to appoint judges without Senatorial consent? That post took what I assumed to be a scatterbrained random comment at a blog and examined in a little more depth whether it really such a scatterbrained idea. But while that post dealt seriously with a serious topic, it is far from constituting "serious writing" in or of itself; it does more or less what blogs are best for: it discussed a few ideas for possible future serious writing. I find it very hard to accept the idea that blogs should be cited in a judicial opinion, which, after all, is supposed to represent the top of the food chain; humans shouldn't eat plankton, and judicial opinions shouldn't cite blogs. Blogs are great at providing and developing raw materials, but to ask more of them, I think, is to overextend the medium.

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