Sunday, March 05, 2006

Why Am I Doing This, Again?

When I told my tutor I was going to write my dissertation about "the liberatory potential of blogging", he got this strange glint in his eye that I took to mean:

"Ha-ha! I am going to completely hijack your dissertation project by making you write hackneyed stuff about how blogging is undermining the mainstream media, and how it gives voice to downtrodden people in countries with oppressive régimes, and all the other worthy, big-picture stuff you can read about week in week out in the Economist."

(It was quite a long glint).

But I don't want to do that. *Everyone* does that. I want to write stuff about what it means that we write actions in between asterisks, and what our screen names say about us, and why it's so exciting that we can move between physical and virtual planes and masquerade under different identities, and why comments are so important.

So I woke up this morning thinking "I know! I'll make it all about how blogging liberates women from thinking they have to look like women in glossy magazines all the time, and getting depressed when they don't. That'll show him!"

This seemed like a great idea at 6am. However, I've spent an entire day reading up on feminist theories of technology, and I now feel like throwing myself out of the window.

This feminism is tricky stuff, alright. You have to be careful with every single word, because apparently the language of academia was made up by men (hiss) while we were still tethered to the sink, washing their socks, giving birth to their children and muttering primitive thoughts to ourselves in crude Anglo-Saxon monosyllables.

This means that using "their" language to write a feminist essay is, like, tantamount to *totally* giving in to patriarchal oppression. So before I write it, I should really make up some kind of new language that doesn't have any Western, capitalist, phallocentric connotations.

Man, that's going to be hard.

UPDATE: If we're talking about metanarratives (which Urban Chick is, in the comments), then I should like to draw everyone's attention to Occasional Poster of Comments' new blog: Not 4'33". Go forth and investigate - you won't be disappointed. Although it does seem to be heading in a different direction from everybody else's - literally *and* figuratively.

Hmm, that's quite enough with the pretentious academic language now. Back to the hats tomorrow.


Urban Chick said...

i like the sound of *your* (tutor-glint-free) dissertation idea

you should *so* totally go with that one (and while you are at it, explain to me how it is that i speak as if i were a walk-on part in the long defunct 'friends')

mensch!* that would be in'erestin'

* see, if you use patriarchal language in german, it seems infinitely more acceptable

[oh, and you can so totally interview me for your research if you like for i have nothing useful whatsoever to say on the subject]

patroclus said...

Ah hey, thanks UC. Shucks, you *guys*, etc. Not that you're a guy. Or plural.

I was thinking of interviewing some people, if they were willing to be interviewed, but I have to follow some sort of methodology, so I'd better sort that out first.

I'm also not sure of the academic validity of blogging about writing a dissertation about blogging, but hey, it's a crazy new frontier, eh?

Urban Chick said...

i think blogging about a dissertation about blogging is terribly postpostmodern

i'm inclined to ramble on invoking terms such as 'metanarratives' but hell, it's sunday night, and the final of 'it takes two, baby' hosted by vernon and tess* is on, so i am mildly diverted, to say the least

* alternatively, perhaps your dissertation title could be 'whither tess daly' 'cause i'm just not sure myself

Spinsterella said...

Why don't you write it in Pictish?

(My flatmate is subjecting me to that awful singing thing as well right now. Martin Fry looks like Val Doonican!)

patroclus said...

Would it help if I told you I have no idea who Tess Daly is?

patroclus said...

Oops, sorry Spin. Pictish - that's an idea. Only about five words of Pictish remain, so it'll be quite easy. Although I'm not sure how sophisticated an argument I'll be able to come up with.

Mind you I'm not sure about that anyway.

Urban Chick said...

you've never heard of tess daly?

gosh, how unburdened i would feel if i could say the same for myself

forget i ever mentioned her: knowing who she is will not enhance your life in any way, shape or form

move along now - nothing to see here, folks...(except maybe vernon kay - ugh)

Smat said...

there's a book called (I think) Ella Minnow Pea whereby no-one is allowed to use a gradually reducing variety of letters - if that author can manage several chapters with just half a dozen letters, then you can manage a whole dissertation with five words surely? Especially if you use lots of asterixes?
wv - is it just me, or are the leteers getting smaller and more difficult to see?

occasional poster of comments said...

Ye gods! What have I started? I haven't even thought past post three yet.

*worriedly anticipates hordes of new readers*

*realises it's more likely to be a few confused tourists wondering where the giftshop is [sighs with relief]*

Ms P said...

I'm totally in love with the internet right now (mostly because a debate i started on a message board didnt descend into a predictable bunfight and I made some interesting new acquaintances out of it).

I reckon the internet is the way forward for making friends and meeting partners. It's far superior to any other ways I've encountered. I've been on a site called okcupid for almost two years, and around half my 'real' friends were met through that site or are somehow connected to it.

Where else do you get to size people up so effectively prior to meeting them? You can scrutinise pictures, guage their intellectual ability, decide if their sense of humour matches yours (all that bullshit about people creating false identities online is just ... bullshit. Online idenities are no more false than the variety of masks we assume in the offline world). Of course, people may turn out to confound your expectations in real life - but that can be good too.

For women especially, its good to be able to sound people out in advance and approach them in a secure environment. That is, until society evolves to a stage where we are all comfortable going into bars on our own and approaching people who look interesting for a chat (i.e when hell freezes over)

surly girl said...

i love the internet, me.

*retires, confident in having brought precisely nothing to the discussion*

taigathefox said...

Dude, that sounds very intresting indeed.

* feeling proud of the absence of grammatical gender in Finnish language *

Kirses said...

I was just talking about this in the weekend. I think blogging is a really good way to be judged on you rather than what you look like. It feels more genuine in some ways.

Jane P said...

I like what you say. In real life I'm not even a woman. I'm a 5'2" gerbil. But no-one will ever know in the made-up world of blogging.

Oh damn, I've given the game away, haven't I?

Betty said...

In theory blogging is the great leveller and you're not judged by gender or appearance, but nevertheless there are a lot of blogs where the majority of readers and commenters are female if it's a female blogger and male if it's a male blogger. Is this due to shared interests or some sort of gender bonding?

Can't contribute anything of worth to the discussion because I only have 2 ropey A-levels and have never been near a university. Sorry.

Dave again said...

I seem to get more female commenters than male. Does that say something about me?

patroclus said...

I'd hazard a guess that more women have blogs than men...what with our general tendency to communicate and confess, what?

Just a theory; I don't know what the balance is in practice.

cello said...

Fascinating stuff. Without doubt, the liberation from the whole looks, gender, age does faciliatate all sorts of alliances that wouldn't otherwise happen. But I'm just as interested in how it frees us from the social and geographical context that is so often a barrier; what job, what family, what address.

But what happens when the virtual becomes real? Do the old barriers re-emerge or have they been dispensed with forever? I'd like to think so but I'm not so sure.

kyahgirl said...

oh P, I think this is a great project! Carry on-we're right behind you :-)

frangelita said...

Excellent post me dear. But do you ever have these strange images about what your fellow bloggers might actually be like? Some people are prone to exaggeration and it is really quite easy to do that without any real fear of repercussions. And of course, outright lying. And can you tell if someone is joking or being deadly serious if you can't see their face or hear the tone of their voice? Interesting.
But then there are dumb eejits like myself who actually post pictures of themselves. Man, I should have thought that through.

LC said...

Feminism, harumph! You'll all be wearing burkas when I'm in charge. I do believe we were promised more hats today.

patroclus said...

Oo, there's some great stuff here, thanks everyone.

I thoroughly agree with the divine Ms P when she says:

Online identities are no more false than the variety of masks we assume in the offline world.

Absolutely true. I've met several people "from the internet" who turned out to be very different in person, but who's to say which version of them is the "real" one?

I especially like the phrase "the offline world", as opposed to "the real world". One thing I'll be looking at is our general insistence on thinking of the physical world as the "real" one, when as far as I'm concerned, they're all equally valid parallel worlds.

Mind you, that's the kind of crazy talk that gets marked down as "technomania", so we'll see.

ScroobiousScrivener said...

I always find it frustrating that "feminism", which is a jolly cool thing in principle, gets so extremely rarefied and fragmented and downright confusing in academic practice. So good luck with tackling that. Should be fun, if you can prevent your head exploding with the vocabularic (?!) frustration.

But it does sound like a very groovy subject and my oh my, but you have a lot of ground to cover. I envy you. Re the gender balance of blogging: I have heard that most bloggers are women, but then there's a lot of online whingeing about "even blogs are male-dominated" etc, etc. I have *lots* of thoughts on the subject but I think part of it comes down to the silly snobbery about what constitutes "proper" blogs. A lot of the oldest and most serious blogs are by men; us girls just fritter our time away in these little social bloggy spaces, talking about Johnny Depp and lamps. Eh. Like I said, I have Thoughts. But I'll spare you.

patroclus said...

Johnny Depp is a fine topic for discussion on any occasion, I find.

And it's OK - I have a copy of "Every Girl's Guide to Feminism", with a fluffy kitten on the cover and a FREE stylish clutch bag wrapped in cellophane. They're giving them away free in Starbucks when you buy one full-fat hot chocolate with whipped cream and a skinny blueberry muffin.

I'd like to hear your thoughts - maybe on the 23rd? Or is it too serious a subject for a birthday drinks do?

surly girl said...

once again i lurk, confounded by all the cleverness. can we talk about hats some more now?

and my blog persona is much more fun than any of my others. i don't think that's such a good thing, really. hmm.

Dave again said...

So where are the hats then?

Oh, and I apologise for the use of the word 'Quinquireme' over at my place today. I do hope its not (c) or trademarked or anything.

patroclus said...

Ah Dave, if it *was* trademarked, it would be to John Masefield, the original mis-speller of the word...

taigathefox said...

I'd just love to talk about Johnny Depp and lamps. That does tell a bit of my online and offline personalities.

DavetheF said...

Well, speaking as a dissident member of the patriarchy, I rather dig visiting the chick blogs, man. Women can be much more devastatingly cruel and funny than guys. Blokes do like to talk frivolous where they can get away with it, or at least I do. I had originally planned a semi-political blog, and I expect my pal Norm is somewhat disconcerted at the fripperies that dominate my blogspace. Anyway if you actually LIKE women as I do it's all good.
And as far as your essay is concerned, you're turning the patriarchy's language colony against itself, innit? Undermining ver system from wivin. Go to it.

Marsha Klein said...

I'm not sure that social barriers don't exist to the same extent in the blogsphere (Cello's point above). Personally, I am frequently intimidated by the jobs done/lives led/comments made by the bloggers I read regularly. Although it has just occurred to me that this could be because I've had a glimpse of their "other", off-line selves - therby confirming Cello's fear! Hmm, perhaps I'm right to feel intellectually inferior...

patroclus said...

Agree, Marsha - I don't think there's ever going to be a time or place where everyone is the same (and thank god for that, quite frankly), it's just that online, the things that people are judged on are different.

Which puts people who may be at a disadvantage in the offline world at more of an advantage, and vice versa. Well, mainly, online we aren't judged on looks, or social skills etc. Like Pulp sang about in that "Mis-shapes" song.

But then, online, the way you write can take the place of the way you look, and there is definitely such a thing as a sexy writing style, or turn of phrase.

patroclus said...

Oh, and pfft to your "intellectually inferior" thing. I've never seen you come out with anything that wasn't highly intelligent and funny and thought-provoking.

And Dave: I love the patriarchy, me. Without it, my life to date wouldn't have been nearly as much fun :-)

ScroobiousScrivener said...

Will endeavour to make intelligent comments on gendered blogging on the 23rd. Depending on how much wine is involved, this could be tricky.

patroclus said...

I don't mind talking about Johnny Depp instead. And/or lamps.

DavetheF said...

Marsha Klein, I am (more or less) living proof that the social barriers can be hurdled with ease in the blogosphere. Were this a dim cafe in Hackney, or wherever else is hot now, I would be sitting alone with my double espresso, listening somewhat cyinically, rather tolerantly, sort of wistfully to the heady chatter of the bright young things whose company I have now totally gatecrashed. I even popped me blog into the charmed (and charming) circle, with the help of my new friends here. I'm not even in the same country as north London (mentally that is where I place this daisy chain of happy collisions). Social barriers are entirely conditional in cyberspace.
My avatar is completely adaptable to local conditions, fortunately.

patroclus said...

I like the way you metaphorically place this little blogcircle in North London, Dave - when actually I think only Pashmina and Wyndham live up there.

And I think it's quite lovely that I get to hear about the ins and outs of daily life in Cape Town, via you and Extemporanea - I wonder how many other Brits are so aware of the vagaries of the Capetonian electricity supply?

And as Taiga lives in my second favourite city, Helsinki, I'm quite delighted to hear all about the goings-on there, too.

Ahhh, blogworld.

Sorry, technomania again. But it's great, isn't it?