Category Archives: Blogging & the internet

Why blog?

We’ve not had the internet for a while – laptop meltdown – and I’ve had a little think about this blog; I haven’t written in it since last year… partly because of the internet, but also for other reasons. It’s not because I haven’t been writing, or keeping a record of my time here; my own journal & notes, other writing. But I feel a bit stranger than I thought I would about putting up private journal entries here…mainly because they aren’t really that interesting to anyone but me. Originally I started this to keep in touch with a few people and, mainly, as a way to document my reaction to Japan/keep a record of what I did when for future reference. However, after S started his blog, I felt like that kind of served as a future prompt. I feel that in future years I’ll be able to read that and look back on week by week events. As for my own, personal reaction – i do write that down in my journal, but like I said, its not always interesting (and when it is, I just can’t get used to the idea that my mother might read it).

Anyway – the result of this seems to be that when I do have the urge to write something in a blog post, it’s some comments on a book or film. I’ve tried to stop myself from always posting these since I started thinking “but what does it have to do with Japan etc” but the result is that I don’t post anything…so should I just post whatever is on my mind, although 99.9% of anything fit to print doesn’t have to do with Japan at ALL? Although I have a suspicion I’ll just end up posting book reviews…not that there’s owt wrong with book reviews…

Blog identity crisis alert or what?!

As for keeping in touch with people, it seems that almost everyone I know has signed on to the incubus that is facebook…

Update

Hey, Sara, and anyone else wondering why I haven’t updated for a while-

don’t worry, the B will soon be back up and posting. I’ve been pretty busy here for a while, having taken on some extra work until July, and also doing more Japanese lessons and stuff. Also, Knicks has only 10 weeks left until leaving so I’ve been spending more time in Osaka (and probably will be until then, mournfully caterwauling to Half The World Away)..

The stumbling blocks of solidarity

Winter has been posting recently about women-only spaces, and infighting amonst feminists. She has an understandable reaction: she’s keeping out of it. (Not the women-only spaces, but the infighting). Blogwars being the latest symptom in our binary-riddled, politically polarised culture to illustrate why having to pick a side isn’t always conducive to progress, and can often be draining.

What is it with identity politics and infighting? It’s not just feminists who argue over the definition of feminism, although given the loaded way feminism has been represented in mainstream culture as either a monolithic sisterhood or a ‘cat-fight’ its no surprise that debate and disagreement can be a sensitive issue for the movement. Wherever people feel passionately about a subject, there’s bound to be dissent. So a major issue for feminists is: how to encompass dissent without alienating supporters?

In part, resentment and/or dissent often spring from the tension between the concept of group and the individual. Nobody likes being discussed as just a representative of a group, yet solidarity insists they must form as such to act as representatives within society. Feminism is an interesting case because the traditional (but contested) mode of entry – being female – is not a chosen category (not usually, anyway.) Recent blogwars were centred on trans and pro/anti porn issues, which is interesting. What do those issues have in common? They are threatening to the notion of solidarity, that is, of class solidarity/traditional notions of such: trans issues; because the issue of whether gender can be chosen, undermines the idea that women are bound together through something not their choice: sex positive feminism, or pro-porn feminists, because to the radical feminists who insist on the idea of ‘class woman’, and women as the sex class, again the notion of choice threatens the solidarity there. It’s dangerous to the consistency of theory.

The very term ‘feminist blogosphere’ kind of creates a false sense of unity. Each blog is an individual, or loosely/tightly associated collection of individual voices – virtual, real. It’s hard to tie them into types. Some blogs are there as a sort of alternative news source. Some concentrate on activism. Some on theory. Some are a focal point for discussion and debate, etc. And all of this becomes infinitely more diverse if one understands that some blogs are explicitly feminist, named as feminist, with a credo explaining the blog’s particular feminism, and some aren’t.

The problem, for feminists online, is partly to do with this issue of unity. The unity of feminism, as an ideology, is partly descriptive (following Foucault) and partly productive. In the case of blogs the descriptive part works in a positive sense, to give a sense of community and interconnectedness – feminists finding other feminists to debate with, and work with. This is essential for any political movement. However, a lot of feminists (who by their political nature tend to be kinda…sensitive to/questioning of the status quo) have a problem with the productive side of this discourse. This sense of ‘toe-ing the party line’, the pressure to conform which any discourse produces raises a fair few hackles.

I don’t see this as simply a problem within feminism. It’s a tendency which has beset all political movements, particularly those which have been countercultural. When identity politics are thrown into the mix, the issues become that bit more heated and personal. I think we are living in the age of identity politics as never before.

So the tension between ‘group member’ and ‘individual with overlapping affiliations’ is one thing. There’s also, I think, a danger when we consider that feminism is both a theory and a practise. The tension then seems to manifest around issues relating to activism. The question here is all about solidarity. How far should it go? How truthful is it? And is it necessary for a movement to enact political change?

I think solidarity is needed for activism. It’s needed for compassion, and empathy too; but solidarity in feminism has been a powerful and effective force. People have a great need to feel that they are not alone in their experience. When I read about, say, Islamic dresscodes in Iran, it is solidarity that enables me to know whose side I am on. Those women may be living in a totally different society from me, they may have different beliefs, and very different lives, but solidarity not only makes me want to work against their oppression – it also enables me to draw parallels and trace patterns in the female experience. I want to help draw attention to other women’s voices who haven’t been heard. Solidarity can be a great positive force for change and growth.

However, it does have its problems. I see those problems most starkly when it comes to theory, philosophy, and the investigation into human existence. For solidarity has the effect, if we’re not careful, of flattening and decontextualising the very group that it unifies. That is, I am a woman, but I am also many other things. My truth may not be your truth. My experience may contradict your experience. And so on.

Why is this a problem? Well, because, in order for a group to make an impact politically, it often needs to simplify its message, shape its message around and against the prevailing culture. (Think of the arguments around Jessica Valenti’s recent article). The way our political (and cultural) system works does not tend to allow for complexity. I think this is what happened, partly, in the post-stonewall Gay Liberation movement, for instance. The political arguments of GLBT (in those days, perhaps just ‘G’) groups struggling for political (human) rights have to be understood in the context of the prevailing political climate – which was extremely homophobic.

To illustrate this: there is an argument that desire is somehow ‘hard-wired’ into our brains. That we cannot change what we find attractive. It’s an argument which has been very important, politically, to many, especially the gay rights movement. It was needed, because while desire was described (after Freud) as something which one had been conditioned into, it was too easy for homophobic discourses to describe homosexuality as a disease which could be cured. (The history of the work of Anna Freud, for instance, who believed that homosexual desires were a result of incorrect socialisation, were bad for society, and could be treated in psychoanalysis.)

Understandably, many gay rights activists argued that sexuality was in fact an orientation, one was ‘born’ gay, and thus any attempt to ‘treat’ gays was not only wrong ethically, but cruel and impossible. This argument was not only crucial to fighting homophobia but also the way many people actually experienced their desire.

While I would not want to deny anyone their identity, I think that the fact that the arguments over the origins of (queer, but by extension, all) desire became politicised has muddied the waters. In political discourses like this one, the arguments become streamlined, forced into a makeshift dichotomy, and robbed of their original complexity.

What I am saying is not that desire is or is not ‘inborn’ but that, for a long time, and to a large extent still, consideration of this topic was/ is very affected both by the participants’ knowledge of the antecedents of this argument, and by consideration of the potential consequences. Thus, there is a pressure to believe one way or the other, depending on what political motivations you have, and the authenticity of one’s own experience (let alone that of others) gets further and further out of reach.

This – the expediency of activism, and the elision of experiences under solidarity – is very dangerous for theory. Not only because it leaves theory open to criticism, and allows later, the tearing down of it’s arguments, but simply because too many people are affected by theory (or rather, the effects of theory upon culture) in a way which is not truthful, and is restrictive.

Theory itself may also be oppressive, even within a liberatory framework. I’m thinking here of the arguments over transsexuality that have occurred within feminism (academic and activist). On one level, feminism should not be prevented from discussing the way transsexuality affects/enacts gender, and how this is to be viewed by gender theorists working from an explicitly radical agenda. ‘ Is transsexuality a subversive or repressive act?’ is not a question people should be afraid to ask. Indeed, transsexual theorists (feminist or non-feminist) themselves have long been investigating this and many other questions. However, what happened, or seemed to happen, with some feminists was perceived by others as an enactment of hierarchy, a creation of insider/outsider status groups relating to trans-friendly and trans-hostile camps. How did this happen? Was it simply a result of bigotry? Was it a legitimate standpoint?

The discussion that resulted from the issues over transwomen (a discussion that has been going on, in one form or another, for a long time, but in recent years was symbolised by the exclusion of pre-op transwomen from Michigan Womyn’s Festival) can be seen as useful to feminism in many ways. Feminism needed (and still needs, often and repeatedly) to have a conversation about womanhood, because of the ways certain groups of women have been positioned to ‘speak’ for all women – and the ways this has resulted in marginalisation and silencing for non-white, non-able bodied, third world and trans-women, as well as other groups.

So what’s the answer? Tracey has some good ideas at Unapologetically Female (as well as further links). I like the way she points out that diversity can and should be a strength, and also this:

“Ever hear that old saying that we learn in spirals instead of straight lines? We all have something to learn from each other, no matter where on the scale we happen to fall.”

The history of feminism, as written by the world, has been one of spirals, if you think about it. Women’s voices buried and elided by history, forgotten and remembered; the rights of women moving forward, and often back. But one of the most hopeful things about it is the solidarity that kept the voices and ideals alive, resurgent through times of struggle.

 

 

Identity politics and the internet

I’ve been thinking about this recently, what with the whole “woman attacked for daring to be a woman” most-recent-ish example in blogland.

What’s in a word, what’s in a name, what’s in a label? Aren’t they almost always for other people, so that their identification of you might be a little easier? Strange, it seems, the effect of the internet on identity politics. The internet, virtual; famously anonymous; people can be who they want, etc etc. Yet with identity politics, people have been very certain to establish exactly what their credentials, and identities are; helpfully adding selected details re personality, interest groups, political affiliations etc to their profiles.

Now on one level, this is because most people, writing blogs about a particular topic for example, are keen to speak to others who understand that of which they speak. This is crucial for things like fandom, finding others who share your interests etc. If you want to discuss the finer points of post 1977 punk groups emerging from the Estonian music scene, in English, then perhaps it helps to find friends and like-minded folk who are happy to discuss such things. Indeed, the internet is a valuable resource for people who previously have felt isolated or alone in their obsession/interest/whatever. Notoriously, the internet can connect two people with the most seemingly random fetish, although this is often a happy pairing or more, the media tends to only report on the shock! Scandal! aspects, like the famous cannibal case in Germany. I have a friend who argues that the internet ‘creates’ more paedophiles – or at least encourages people with taboo fantasies to feel somehow ‘supported’ in their actions when carrying those fantasies out in the real world. I disagree – I don’t think that one can ‘accidentally’ become a paedophile through the internet, or that the existence of other ‘supporters’ is necessarily a major factor in people’s minds when committing acts. It’s an interesting argument, though, since people can influence each other for bad and good – whether bad influences actually intensify each other to create more scope for bad acts I’m not sure. There’s an argument which goes, the evil of the Third Reich was so huge and hugely impacting due to the ‘chemistry’ that occurred between Hitler, Himmler, Goebbals and a few others – each man had evil in their heart, but the largeness of the evil that resulted was due to them knowing and redoubling the energy of that evil, through the interaction that occurred between the three of them.

I wonder about all of this, and the extent or influence such interaction has, and the way the virtuality of the internet mediates and affects that influence.

It’s a micro- (or should that be macro-?) cosm of the world, and just as people feel freer to express their opinion, especially if anonymous, so they feel freer sometimes to express their rage and hatred towards others. Or rather, towards the IDEA they have of those ‘others’ who have a virtual presence…

I also wonder about the way this ‘virtual’ world works to exclude certain people – the obvious exclusion of the poor, the illiterate, people who have no access to the web as well as less obvious things like the fact that the original language of the net is English, most things seemed designed for the already ‘savvy’ and the younger, more technologically educated and so on. So to say it is an exact mirror, or –cosm would be very incorrect; the third world especially, is vastly vastly underrepresented and actual, real-life ‘global’ perspectivism is elided.

But back to the issue of identification. Since it’s been much in the news etc re: woman bloggers, it’s a good time to address the issue of identification. Now, a lot of feminists have pointed out that there is a problem with women who don’t want to be called ‘feminist’ yet acknowledge that they believe in gender equality and in fact, benefit from the effects of the feminist movement. Since feminists hold equality to be their ideal, and the ideal of what feminism stands for, understandably they find it annoying that women don’t identify as such. It’s kind of a semantic issue as well, as feminism is often mis-represented in the media as being about hating men or whatever. I won’t get into the whole argument here. I just want to make the point that for ME, the idea of feminism being that women and men should be equal, and the professed goal of, say, men’s rights that men and women should be equal, seems to be subsumed into the idea of human rights – that all humans should be equal and so on. The differences come not from the goals, but from the identification of the problems impeding those goals, and the solutions offered…

I am very wary of saying that I *am* any “ism”. I don’t know why this is, but all my life I’ve held that the overarching thing is to ‘question, question, question.” Never just accept on faith what other people tell you to be true. Examine the evidence, go with your experience, even your feelings, but always question. This is not to say that one shouldn’t listen – as long as it’s with an open mind. (This tendency …possible contributing cause to me being bisexual vol. XVII no. 734).

However with something like feminism, I have to look at the historical evidence. Have you ever asked yourself or been asked by someone, “If you could have lived in any era during history, when would it be?” It’s fascinating question. My thoughts on this go something like: well, am I going to answer that question as myself? As in, would I be ‘me’ as I am now, physically, just born in a different time and place? Because, quite honestly, if I think about it the fact that I am female always comes into play! As a woman, I don’t think I can answer by saying any time apart from the present one. As much as I might have liked to live during certain fascinating or romantically viewed time periods – let’s face it, if I was anything other than a rich white man during most of them I would have probably ended up as a slave, a chattel, or at best, the wife of a rich white man!!! (I mean, there’s people who argue that things haven’t changed all that much now…) There might have been other times when it would have been good to be a woman, but I’m really not aware of them, what with history books being all coy on that subject and all.

So the reason for positive changes during MY lifetime, anyway… often, if not always, has those people to thank who promoted feminism in the past, who promoted the idea of equality. For me, directly, it was feminism, because I am a woman. For me also, it was those who argued AGAINST racial stereotypes and all sorts of profiling, which led to the eventual fact that I could live my whole life in England without ever encountering any real sort of barrier through racial prejudice. I could not say the same for my parents, who had a bit of it, or my grandparents, who had a lot of it. Our race? Irish. If you read that and thought, “but that’s White so what racial prejudice are you on about? Then my point is kind of proved. Irish used to mean ‘non-white’ or rather ‘non-english’ and this was terribly important to certain people who believed in innate racial differences between the English and the Irish, beliefs which were used in the service of colonisation and exploitation, the eradication of a language and the starvation of a people. The racial scale that was used then has shifted, so now skin colour is the more ‘important’ barometer in the categorisation of races – the scale shifts to whatever it is most convenient at the time. Irish people are now ‘white’, whereas they used to be something else.

Thinking about these historical shifts makes me wonder about myself. Truthfully, I would choose my own life from all the other times in history for the very selfish reason that until this moment in history, I have never been as priviledged as I am now. Yes, I might not be as priviledged as someone richer or male, but I most certainly am priviledged, as is attested by the fact that I can even write that sentence, in English, on the internet.

But this also makes me think about those other people, who, through the accident of fate, are born into bodies and situations which means they are still being excluded. You might well ask: who, exactly, am I talking about? What are they being excluded from? Isn’t it human nature to form cliques?

Who am I talking about: nearly everyone experiences some form of exclusion in their life. In different situations, people may be included or excluded from a group based on their perceived characteristics. This judgement is almost always made in reference to the excluded person being categorised as a member of another ‘group’ – a group that is seen as Other to the first, exclusionary group. Sometimes this is gender, sometimes this is race, sometimes it is sexuality, – all these things, the aspects of the body. Sometimes it is aspects of the person’s culture, their beliefs, religion and so on; aspects of their person. It is often less crudely about one aspect of a person and rather more about the way an individual may stand at an intersection of two or more of the aspects described. These are usually underlying. One can also say this works globally, with the first world and its relation to the rest of the peoples on earth.

What are they being excluded from: essentially, human worth. Recognition of them as a full human being, as infinite and various as any included member. From this follows all exclusions from: culture, history, material goods, care for the body and for the mind, sympathy, empathy and respect.

Isn’t it human nature to form cliques? Whether it is an inherent genetic trait or a learnt behaviour, the fact remains that it is not something which we, as a people, need in order for our species to survive. That is a massive lie which is told by those who hold power. The lie creates it’s own truth, and the situation resulting means that if power is reluctantly ceded by the powerful, those who gain power from them have often used it to perpetuate the lie under a different banner… Yet one has to remain optimistic in the fact that this is NOT inevitable, just likely…you will have to decide what is more important in the endeavour to live – safety, or truth? Also, if you conceptualise all power AS something to be ceded you acknowledge the fact that there is only one source of power. This is probably erroneous and in itself, creates an intensification of power. What do I mean? Well, if you take the issue of race and culture, you can imagine culture as this ‘thing’ – the history of western civilisation, for example, which includes all knowledge about the branches of human endeavour that the west has seen fit to remember. The majority, and in fact the pinnacle of knowledge, is attributed to individuals who are overwhelmingly white, male etc. If one says this ‘is’ culture, objectively, and it’s hard not to when you’re raised in the west, then one can conceive of a culture which may be threatened by the Other (non-white, non-western and so on) – or one can conceive of an attempt to make that culture more inclusive, by widening the net to include contributions from the Other. Yet the original conception of the culture remains the same – the way we think of its origin, its power. This way of thinking affects everything you do because it conceives human interaction as ‘give and take’. Is human interaction necessarily ‘give and take’? I don’’t know; but I do know we live in a capitalist world, where we are encouraged to see things like that, and value everything in terms of worth. One might consider capitalism to be the best of all systems, or the one best suited to human lives, but one must recognise that it is not the only system we can conceive of, and thus might not necessarily be a priori reflective of all that we are.

For my own description of the workings of power, see the post below: A Nightclub called Exclusion.