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Thoughts on blogging, hostility and feminist dialogue June 23, 2006

Posted by Winter in feminist blogging.
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If the anger, hostility and hurt expressed around the feminist blog community in recent days reveals anything, it’s the fact that we have a serious problem with dialogue and communication. Clearly, it is very difficult for people to disagree and engage with each other on important issues respectfully and constructively. Having indulged in some of the bitching, I don’t exclude myself from this problem. I have no solutions, so I’m just going to throw out a few thoughts and questions.

Why is feminist dialogue so difficult?
Why can’t we disagree respectfully without insulting each other?
Why do things get so deeply personal?

Is it partly a problem with the blogging medium?

It is very easy to forget that there is a real person with feelings behind the pseudonymous name and we lose so much, in the cold type, that is part of personal human communication. It is also very easy for posts and comments to be interpreted as offensive whatever the intention of the writer and, when people respond angrily, things kick off very quickly and spiral into a fight, although there are also people who’s intentions are unmistakable. Still, in the 11 or so years that I’ve been involved in feminism, I have never seen anything like the infighting I’ve observed on feminist blogs. In personal group situations, I find that feminists of different persuasions are generally well able to communicate ideas and opinions without any eye gouging. That said, perhaps I’ve just been lucky and of course I’m well aware of a long history of passionate feminist fighting, especially over certain issues deemed to be of special importance to the movement. So, perhaps it is inevitable and we’re just going to have to fight it out for a while yet.

The question of dialogue is particularly pertinent here because, as we keep saying until you’re probably sick of it, we set this blog up as a space to discuss feminism. Now we’re wondering if we were a little bit naïve and are very aware that the hoped for discussion has not really transpired. This raises important questions for us:

Are feminists at all interested in dialogue with feminists who don’t agree with them?

Does the fact that a lot of people out here plainly cannot stand each others’ guts render discussion impossible, because it gets to the stage when even speaking to someone is read as putting you in their camp?

If so, the general aim of this blog is called into serious question.

Or, is it just the case that we’re not doing it right and haven’t configured this space in such a way as to facilitate the kind discussion we want?

We have no problem with traffic. We get about 100 hits a day here, which exceeds our wildest expectations for a small and slightly haphazard blog. But, in relation to the readership, we get relatively few comments. If people prefer to read and lurk that’s absolutely fine, but again it raises questions about our discussion agenda. We have wondered if we should write more provocative posts to spark debate, but we certainly don’t want to encourage fighting and nastiness.

We also note that there’s been a deathly silence in response to the new discussion rules, so we have no idea if they’re ok or not. When we posted them we were aware that in seeking to protect everyone, we might not be pleasing anyone or, worse, offending pretty much everyone!

Perhaps we don’t want dialogue and community building. Perhaps we want fights. Well, at least we should be honest enough to admit that bitching can be a lot of fun, but are the resulting thrashathons productive? Some people say yes, but I’m not at all sure I agree.

Interestingly, we’ve only had one serious disagreement in MTG and it was over whether the group was going to be inclusive of all people who identified as feminists or whether we were going to adhere to a more specific feminist politics. At the time we didn’t know why were all so riled up about it, but now I think I’m starting to understand the significance of the argument.

Over to you.

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Comments»

1. Kate - June 23, 2006

Hi
I am one of the non-commenting ‘lurkers’ – been reading Mind The Gap since finding it through your blog, Winter (which I stumbled on accidentally after searching for some Angela Carter info!). I haven’t commented yet – on either – although finding and reading them has been very interesting. I’m from the UK and living abroad at the moment, and fairly new to using the Tinternet for anything other than emails. However, I like to read through the archives before commenting on blogs, so that’s why I haven’t commented before…I’m still reading them! I think Mind The Gap is a great site and resource, and I’ve been following lots of links to other feminist sites etc. I will definitely comment in the future if I have something to add. Maybe about the state of feminism and/or queer identity in Japan if I can marshal my thoughts. I just wanted to thank you all for your work on the site though.

2. avanti - June 23, 2006

Hi

I lurk too. I learn alot; agree with most of what you say; and for particular reasons am concerned about anonymity. I think you do a great job!

3. Winter - June 23, 2006

Kate, thanks for delurking. I’m glad you enjoy the blog and it’s really to know that someone’s reading the archives. We don’t want to make people feel bad for not commenting, we’re just wondering if we’re on the right track with the blog really.

Hi Avanti, thanks for saying hello!

4. Lingual X - June 23, 2006

Hey gals, a big hello to Winter,
Naiades, Siberian Fall, Snow, and
Striga!

I’m a frequent lurker on your blog. So, first up, thanks for a good post. I’m more thick-skinned on-line than I am in person, so a lot of the blog controversy flies over my head. I tend not to take the insults as seriously as I would in person. However, I think that for many folks, the power of the written word actually makes the emotional trauma of negative comments even worse. Words, in some sense, stick. I think blogging is one of the best things to happen to the feminist community because it has greatly extended–across international lines–what we previously understood as the feminist community through articles and books. It’s cool that “everyday feminists” are now defining and fighting out the issues that were previously reserved for the “big gun feminists.”

Also, on your new rules for comments, I think they’re great. I was thinking about writing to you to see if I could borrow them, but decided not to since I don’t get much comment traffic on my blog at all. There are lots of lurkers in my corner too. However, kudos to you for being very up front about the parameters for discussion.

You rock!

5. Andygrrl - June 24, 2006

WRT hostility and flame wars, blogging is such a quick medium that it’s easy to give immediate vent to feelings without taking the time to process them. Also the fact that it’s an anonymous, written space removes a lot of social rules and etiquette about how we interact with other people. I’ve been in real-life discussions with people where maybe I was pissed off or offended by someone, but because I’m in a face-to-face social situation I behave accordingly. I don’t get in their face and scream at them, or storm out of the room and go ranting down the hallway about how horrible they are. Whereas with a blog you have the illusion of anonymity and privacy, it’s far too easy to shoot your mouth off without realizing that the other person can read your words. I think a good rule of thumb for people would be: if you wouldn’t say it to their face, don’t say it on a blog.
Not to mention the fact that like 90% of communication is through body language, so without those clues it’s easy to be misunderstood.

6. The Happy Feminist - June 24, 2006

Oh how refreshing to find this post after a very divisive set of conversations at my place about Linda Hirshman!

I think feminist dialogue is hard because it IS personal. Feminist thought goes right to the heart of how we live our lives, so of course people are going to react negatively when they perceive their choices to have been maligned. I struggle with this issue all the time, because I often feel constrained from saying what I really think by the fact that my opinions might hurt people I know and respect. I even feel constrained on my anonymous blog!

I think the comments rules are reasonable and make a lot of good sense. I also think that you all do a great job at creating a civil and friendly environment that engages the issues.

7. Winter - June 25, 2006

Hi Lingual,

Feel free to poach the rules of you ever need some.

I think that for many folks, the power of the written word actually makes the emotional trauma of negative comments even worse.

Yes, I think this is true for most people. It’s for this reason that I avoid making difficult communications to people via e-mail. I always try and talk to them face-to-face. Also, I always try and give my students face-to-face feedback on their essays if possible. If I don’t do this they tend to take the criticism very personally indeed.

I think Andy is also right on the money about this. Blogging does make it very easy for us to vent things we wouldn’t say to people’s faces. Ironically, I think this causes people to get more upset and angry than they would if you had said it to their face!

I think blogging is one of the best things to happen to the feminist community because it has greatly extended–across international lines–what we previously understood as the feminist community through articles and books. It’s cool that “everyday feminists” are now defining and fighting out the issues that were previously reserved for the “big gun feminists.”

Yes yes yes! Thanks for reminding us! I think this fact is getting lost in all the arguing recently. I wonder if the feminist blogging community had got so far and there had to be a bit of a sort out.

8. Winter - June 25, 2006

Hi Happy,

I’m glad you enjoy the blog and I’ve been a bit surprised at all the anger expressed over at your place because I think you make a serious effort to write about issues carefully, taking into account different opinions. And you really engage with people who disagree with you.

We’ve been wondering how constrained we should be. I think we’ve agreed that we shouldn’t shy away from difficult issues and are going to make an effort to be a bit more assertive with our opinions.

Having made it a year, I think we’re just wondering what our niche is in the feminist blogging community. What purpose does MTG serve?

9. Zoe - June 26, 2006

*delurking*

hi,

i am also an occasional lurker. i recently moved to cardiff and heard about this site from a friend. i enjoy reading this blog, i just don’t have lots of time to comment.

10. deviousdiva - June 28, 2006

“Perhaps we don’t want dialogue and community building. Perhaps we want fights”

I think this is true of many blogs and bloggers, not just the feminist ones. I get the most comments on ANY post that has a fight in it. It’s depressing but since I banned several racists from my blog, my comments have dropped big time. I don’t care about the lack of comments it’s the fact that there’s so much interest generated when there’s a scrap going on.I have refused to even read the recent BJ arguments that are going on, let alone comment.


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