Inside baseball in your head

I wrote for a big feminist blog, Feministe, for a few years – all of this relates to that, and will be esoteric and tedious for some people.  That’s okay!  I care, so you don’t have to. 

I stopped blogging there because it got to be too exhausting.  I was fighting a level of disaffection I couldn’t even place.  I still go back every once in a while, usually to get into arguments with people (whatever they tell you, this is what blogging is for; this is how bloggers busy themselves), and in one of these rather contentious discussions I was called an “outsider.”  My feelings about this comment and the woman who made it are, I will start by saying, totally embittered and immature.  I think that it is asinine to refer to someone as an outsider because she only used to be on the masthead, only used to be a regular contributor, and currently only reads some of the comments threads and comments some of the time. 

But what struck me is this: at the time, I was not even offended on my own behalf.  I thought it was a stupid thing to say, and I think this definition of outsider is useful to nobody, especially a blog with a stated mission of being more responsive and inclusive.  But I took offense on behalf of some imagined community.  I didn’t care what was being said about me. 

I was a contributor – I worked for that website during its transition from not very famous to quite famous.  I had a following and a lot of laudatory response: I added value to the site, attracted and held an audience, drove up traffic.  In the feminist blogosphere, credibility is a sought-after asset, one that “big blogs” increasingly can’t obtain from people who care about it.  I offered that big blog a certain level of credibility.  I still show up on lists of Reasons Why Feministe Doesn’t Suck as Much as All the Other Big Feminist Blogs Suck, high praise in this hothouse. 

All of that was work resulting in work product.  I spent hours of my day and years of my life working on that website, creating a body of written work for publication, and responding to commenters – who can be defined as both customers and colleagues – at a level very few creative-writing and journalistic positions require.  That work was valuable to Feministe at the time, and it continues to add value to Feministe.  I believe that this experience makes me something of an authority on Feministe – I told you, esoteric and tedious – but it also makes me something of a professional in the context of Feministe and feminist blogging.  No, excuse me, in the context of writing.  That makes me a professional writer. 

For the longest time, it was impossible for me to see myself or my work that way.  It’s still difficult – it is embarrassing to sit here writing all this out as though it’s important. 

Some of this is because of what feminist blogging is: a subculture, complete with jargon and factions and feuds.  Some of this is because of the way feminist bloggers conduct themselves: everything is fodder for fighting.  I include myself in all this!  I am a gossipy, truculent, ungenerous, mean person when I comment on feminist blogs.  It’s the attraction of any sport: an end in itself.  There are plenty of reasonable people who dislike me, and I heartily resent but cannot blame them. 

Some of it, though, is the way bloggers consider their work.  I don’t think of it as work.  I don’t think of it as making anything, even though I manage sometimes to write cogent essays on sophisticated topics, even though I have had discussions that I am proud of, and even though I have improved as a writer through all this writing, even though it amounts to a great deal of writing.  I think of it as somewhere between a compulsion and an obligation.

I think this is the worst possible way for any artist to conceive of their art.  Blogging has turned me into a housewife.  It has made me a good writer, but it has also taught me to think of my work as crude and disposable, there to be used up and replaced each day. I am overjoyed to have people come and admire my lovely home – to become a hostess – but where is my work collected?  To whom does it even belong? 

Bloggers constantly repeat, “get your voice heard, make sure our voices are heard,” but this can amount to exposing yourself to consumption by a larger and more diffuse audience.  Some connection between capitalizing on and expanding on your work is inevitable – but the relationship between these two things hasn’t been explored to much depth in blogging, feminist blogging in particular.  We didn’t set out to be commodified.  We wandered into an industry, and our interest and work brought it to the attention of the market. 

I think feminist blogging – and any other kind of activist, subcultural, progressive, or “marginalized voices” blogging – also suffers from the internalized sense that its interests are trivial – the way that the mainstream treats them as illegible.  This could just be me, but I suspect we feel defensive about our own interest in our own lives – our obsession with rape culture is not more worthwhile than an obsession with Star Wars.  Feminist blogging – long, elaborate debates over what precisely rape culture means, including a whole lot of personal testimony about what rape culture has done to each writer – is childish, self-absorbed, useless.  Worthless. 

We seek out the approval and lent credibility of some other field besides simple talking – journalism, academia, creative writing.  It is not enough to be a blogger – you want a book, a column, a thesis.  The same words and arguments have no currency in their current form.  All these fields suffer from their own prestige insecurity, but we organize at a level so marginal that we crave recognition from them. 

I should say that on a community level this plays out differently.  I haven’t just been a homemaker.  I have been a guest, and I have benefited enormously from reading and collaborating with the work of so many intelligent, active, and generous people.  I don’t only need to look at this from my own side; I have a duty to the people I read – the people whose work I use.  This sense of the toxic commodification of blogging is not original to me; bloggers like Brownfemipower, Blackamazon, and Flavia Dzodan have written eloquently about it over just this past month.  One of my former cobloggers  – the woman who founded Feministe – Lauren, posted a long comment about how sick and tired she is, post-departure.  But I read these posts and nod along but don’t seem to have folded this back into my sense of what my community is doing to me.

As a writer, I need to give myself a little more respect.  I can’t go on with this assumption that my work is meaningless.  It’s destroying my ability to enjoy my work, and it’s making it impossible for me to continue doing it.  I feel, now, like a divorced housewife: nobody to cook for, nobody to smile at.  I have devoted myself to labor without value, and now I have nothing to show.

Advertisements