Tuesday, April 11, 2006

The Vietnamese Yentl

Newsflash: This Is Not a Blawg.

At least according to Ian Best's Taxonomy of Legal Blogs. I'm on the list of blogs not included, and the reasons for this are yet to be explained. Law and Letters doesn't fit Ian's taxonomy for legal blogs, I'm not really offended. I did once say that this was not a blawg, and then immediately contradicted myself by blawgging. Besides, I'm in some lawyerly company. Also not included are Left2Right, The Leiter Reports (admittedly becoming more and more a philosophy/theory blog), and The Yin Blog, among others, despite being written by lawyers/law profs. As far as I can tell, the blogs included are very focused on the analysis/teaching/practice of the law or the professional life of the lawyer/judge/law professor. There are a handful of "lawyer webjournals" that were included--I'm probably excluded because I'm not lawyerly enough. That's okay by me, since I'm going back to being a student. So if I don't fit "the day in the life of," I guess I wouldn't fit in anywhere--despite my best efforts at blawgging (not bad, eh? I have been driving away some of my non-lawyer readers with recent attempts to explain The Law Behind ____), this is not exactly a blog entirely devoted to legal analysis.

I have struggled since Day 1, January 26, 2006 (a whopping three months ago!) with the scope of this blog. I have struggled with my anonymity and whether I should step up, be a woman, and "own my words." I'm trying to just be myself and have fun with this, as wiser blog friends have kindly suggested, but it's hard not to be concerned with and worry about something you invest a good deal of time on. This blog has become significantly more political and blawggish in the past few weeks, whether consciously or unconsciously. Not very personal, but polemic enough to worry about future googability. I haven't done a very personal post in a long time (although I'm about to do one now)--but would you put me into the following category of anonymous (female) bloggers?

Gaia Bernstein at PrawfsBlawg has interesting and insighful comments about anonymous female blogging:

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?

I think my blog posts are very subject-matter oriented and very political (and very often legal). So I think I'm different in that respect. But I do agree with Gaia about the community-building aspect of the blog. I'm not newly tenured or isolated geographically, but I've been feeling intellectually isolated ever since I graduated from law school and moved home. This blog has been tremendously helpful for allowing me to blow off some Bar-exam stress, making blogospheric friends in different fields and of different ages, and helping me to feel like an academic member of an academic community--even if I change a lot of diapers. More importantly, and more recently, this blog has allowed me to practice distilling and refining my thoughts on certain subjects of the law--a good skill to practice for any aspiring professor. In fact, knowing that my audience comprises mostly non-lawyers forces me to be even more clear and precise in my articulation of legal principles and arguments. So I'm really thankful for that aspect of the blog. Yet I'm bothered by the possibility that because I'm anonymous and because I sometimes blog about my frustrations how childcare affects my scholarship, I exist in this netherworld parallel universe--unseen and unheard. And I wonder if the anonymity and sometimes personal aspect of this blog will obscure my substantive and political posts.

One of the comments suggested, "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." To which the wonderful Dan Markel responded, "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?"

My blogospheric dream is to be invited to guest blog or be a permanent contributor at Concurring Opinions or PrawfsBlawg. So it bugs me that this blog--particularly the more substantive posts on this blog-- may not be taken seriously because it is "too personal"--should I thus stop being personal? Should I stop writing about myself, my gender, my racial identity, my cultural background and family history? Even though they inform so much of myself, my identity as an academic, and (sometimes) my scholarship?

I have recently begun to regret certain admissions I have made about my family or personal life (although with respect to the latter, I have been remarkably reserved). I write about family issues when I find that it affects or intersects with issues of academia. Work/family balance, gender issues, culture, identity politcs--I try to make sure that the personal details are suffiently abstracted to become academic questions. It's not new what I'm doing, and I'm actually much more restrained than many other CRT storytellers. I have issues with storytelling, but that was another discussion. When I do talk about myself in terms of my gender, cultural background, and experiences with race, gender, and family, I think of such discussions as a way to emphasize and focus my discussion of a greater meta-topic. But I'm always conflicted by the intellectual usefulness of making myself an example, and the strange self-exploitation of it all--not to mention the exploitation of my family history.

Yet whether because of a deluded sense of self-importance or an earnest belief in relevancy, I find myself needing to write about what it is like to grow up in a strict Asian household, having both public and private roles, and living to two different sets of expectations. The whole "you can be whatever you want" and "you have to go to schools within a commutable distance because you'll never survive living on your own" and "you shouldn't apply to Harvard because you could never handle the pressure." It's a strange, complicated story that I've only told in bits and pieces as I've seen fit. But it was a very strange and not-so-fun experience trying to be a campus feminist in college and a shark in law school (especially given the inherent patriarchy there) and come home to a different set of gender roles. Basically, all I've wanted to do in life is just go to school, do some activism, and not be forced to listen to a bunch of Vietnamese radio Rush Limbaughs when I get home (especially when it's parroted back by my father). I haven't had the most normal life, but it's been interesting--one in which I rush home from the "Take Back the Night" rape vigil so that I can be home by sunset/dinnertime as demanded by my strict father. One in which I'm thankful my command of Vietnamese isn't better than basic, so that my father and I don't debate feminism, anti-communism, civil rights, and immigration reform. One in which a critical race theorist slides down in her passenger seat as she's ferried about in her father's "Bushmobile." It's an interesting life. If I wanted to or was ready to, I could write a couple of articles of about the complexities of Asian-American feminism. And seriously, all I wanted to do was just go to school and learn without all these added complications.

This is not the oldest story to tell, but I find myself wanting to tell it. You know, like the Vietnamese Yentl--"Papa, can you hear me?" I want to tell the story to show people that women like me exist, dealing with two sets of sometimes conflicting, sometimes confluent gender roles, and I want to tell it to disabuse people of such stereotypes. And in this safe space, I can. It's all the complications that have made me appreciate every chance I get to prove myself. It's hard not to think that they're not important or worth mentioning. It's as much a part of my identity as an academic (and sometimes, my work) as Kenji Yoshino's homosexual identity is a part of his, or Patricia Williams' black identity a part of hers. Do other non-anonymous blawggers in positions of privilege have any understanding of what it's like to be able, for the first time in your life, move away to a school you want to go to? Do they know what it was like to be discouraged from applying to elite schools as being both a waste of money and time? Do they know what it was like to be told that it would break a mother's heart, resulting in disownment if you did not go to a school close enough to commute? To not worry about coming home every weekend to fulfill your daughterly duties of changing diapers while your classmates are studying or having age-appropriate fun? It's not as easy as you would think to say no to all of this. Not when you have 5 siblings and 8 nieces and nephews and aging and increasingly infirm, paranoid, and (senile) parents who appear more pitiable and needful everyday. It was, and has always been, a hard choice. I don't have to make this choice anymore, this third time around--but it weighs on me, the burden of all my past choices.

I suppose most other people would have been man enough to make the choice at 18, as I was able to do but didn't, to reject all the filial piety demands and move away to all the elite schools I got into. But instead, I stayed at home and went to my local state school, did really well there, and became a campus feminst. And I suppose, at 21, other people would have gone to a higher ranked East Coast school, if they were accepted as I was. But I stayed nearby and went to a highly respected but not "top-10" school and did okay there too. And now, at 25, I get to make this choice all over again, and this time I have the extremely hard-won support of my parents, who finally believe that this difficult path I've chosen is right (enough) for me, that I can hack it at a top-ten school, and that I'm ready to be on my own. They keep talking about how hard it will be when I'm not here to help take care of the kids. And I still have a severely constrained social life whenever I live with them. But the times, they are (finally) a-changin'.

And that is something to blog about. It's given me the space not to focus so much on the personal and think of myself as the external world sees me--as an academic. It deepens my understanding of how hard the path to academia really is if you have all sorts of barriers and restraints to entry. It makes me appreciate every door to the ivory tower that I can finally push open, run prancingly through, books in arm, drinking the noble draught of knowledge, and singing,

Where is it written what it is
I’m meant to be, that I can’t dare
To have the chance to pick the fruit of every tree,
Or have my share of every sweet-imagined possibility?
Just tell me where, tell me where?
If I were only meant to tend the nest,
Then why does my imagination sail
Across the mountains and the seas,
Beyond the make-believe of any fairy tale?
Why have the thirst if not to drink the wine?
And what a waste to have a taste
Of things that can't he mine?
And tell me where, where is it written what it is
I'm meant to be, that I can't dare-
To find the meanings in the mornings that I see,
Or have my share of every sweet-imagined possibility?