Monday, September 04, 2006

On Being A Female Blogger, And Yes, A Real One At That

To be cross-posted at Feminist Law Profs.

Ann Bartow has a great post at Feminist Law Profs about the unfunniness that is David Lat's new blog:

The Kind of Satire That Often Isn’t Funny: David Lat’s “Hottest ERISA Lawyer in America” Contest:

Possibly Lat doesn’t understand that being celebrated for her looks is not known for being a ticket to career success in the legal world for a female attorney.The idea that people are now going to be nominated without their knowledge, and that Lat will not honor their requests for withdrawl if they do find out, frankly strikes me as both mean and sickening. I was present when a hard driving female attorney won a satirical “Miss Congeniality” designation during a “jokey” awards luncheon, and I watched her muster a tight little smile as she accepted a sash and tiara to a sea of derisive laughter, and I saw her crying in the bathroom later, too. I have little doubt that certain kinds of lawyers will take a golden opportunity like this to try to heap ridicule upon colleagues or competitors they dislike, or want to see put in their place. But who cares, as long as Lat is amusing himself and his buds, right?

I never "got" the appeal of Underneath Their Robes, and I generally avoid snarky blogs (The Defamer, Go Fug Yourself, Wonkette, Gawker...). But because I don't read them, I don't generally comment on them. But sometimes, I take exception to this in order to discuss some broader point about what it is like being a feminist in this rather unfriendly-to-femninist age.

The last time I discussed David Lat, it was as an addendum to my Pictures and Patriarchy post:

If you bring up A3G as an example of a "person" who would gratuitously comment on a male law prof's appearance, well, you should remember that A3G turned out to be a _man_, David Lat. This is an interesting bit of gender stereotype bending, as if Mr. Lat felt compelled to assume the persona of a "judicial diva" in order to make more risque and trivial judgments (bench slaps, judicial hotness meter, litigatrix). That is, to be more sexist and sexualizing, he probably thought it would be safer writing in the "female voice." But I hardly think that qualifies as a "turn the tables" use of the "female gaze"--it's just the male gaze in "drag." And in both cases, rather inappropriate and insulting.

I still don't get the appeal. So this guy is out of stiletto drag now, and we are still supposed to care about his juvenile characterizations of legal figures? Even after finding out that Anonymous Lawyer was just some inventive 2L (now graduated) at Harvard Law, the posts were interesting to read as a type of fiction. It was a caricature of the Law Firm Hiring Partner, almost Dickensian in proportion--you half expected him to have a name like "Hyman A. Hirebrand." I don't read Anonymous Lawyer as much, but I do see the appeal. But honest to goodness, I just don't get the point of this faux sorority girl tone of David Lat's. I read his New Yorker coming out with interest--he has quite impressive credentials (Yale Law, high placed clerkships) and supposedly conservative political beliefs. Then why not just be a blawgger? I guess it doesn't get you as much notice as when you go "Ohmygaw!" and pretend to be "smart" but "not too threatening" woman. That is, a woman can be a lawyer and have her share of impressive credentials, but she must in some way be trivialized. In Article III Groupie's (A3G) case, it was that "During her free time, she consoles herself through the overconsumption of luxury goods. Her goal in life is to become a federal judicial diva." And apparently, becoming a federal judicial diva is best accomplished by running a "legal" blog that is the combination of "People, US Weekly, Page Six, The National Enquirer, and Tigerbeat." I am pretty intent on becoming a federalism "diva" (can we substitute "maven" or gender-neutral "rock star"?) and I doubt it will be achieved though this blog. And I definitely don't think it will be accomplished by running a test for "Sexiest Jurisprude." Seriously, people think this is funny or even interesting? Am I just another humorless feminist?

David Lat is not the only male blogger in stiletto drag (I have love for stilettos, I do not say this to degrade them, but rather to indicate that there is a certain caricature these men endeavor to convey). Another one, before "she" was unmasked was Libertarian Girl, who is now Libertarian Man of Mystery:

One thing I learned from this blog is how easy attractive woman have it. When I had a blog as my real self, no one linked to me, no one left any comments, it was as if the blog existed in a vacuum. But things were different for Libertarian Girl. Every day I’d check Technorati and discover new unsolicited links. It was like I had warped into an alternate universe where all the rules had changed. At the rate things were happening, this would have been an A-list blog in a few more months. It’s funny how there have been some posts in the blogosphere saying that the political blogosphere was a boys club that discriminated against women, as evidenced by how few politics bloggers were women. Boy were they completely off the mark. It’s ten times easier for a woman’s blog to become popular. This effect no doubt carries over into the real world. Whenever I see an attractive woman with a successful career, I’ll remember the experience of this blog and assume that she didn’t really get there on merit, just her looks.

You can read Libertarian Man of Mystery's blog for more sickeningly offensive posts about women. But I won't link to him/her further.

All of this blogging-in-drag is bewildering and appalling. I just don't understand the prurient interest some have in watching an otherwise impressively credentialed or politically opinionated "woman" degrade "herself" by trivializing her politics or profession. Is this the appeal of watching Ann Coulter in her mini-shorts?

Speaking as a female blogger, who writes a "blawggish" blog at that, I am personally offended. I think these poseurs, cheeky and satiric as they intend to be, bring down the image of serious female bloggers everywhere. It's not that I argue that my blog is entirely serious--I do run personal posts about poetry, the occasional blog meme, etc. But this is not exactly trivial gossip to share your favorite books or anxieties about relocating to a new school or adjusting to a new advisor. If some law profs can write about what they play the most on their IPod, or where to find challah in Alabama, or the births of their children, or their recent weddings with their "Osita" (not that I mind these posts)--I feel entitled to share with you on my personal blog by an aspiring legal academic, my non-legal interests. But I don't devolve into gossip and the truly trivial. And I write about my personal life, but always in relation to legal academia--the struggles between work/life balance when you have childcare issues, the difficulty of being a young academic and trying to even think about how you can figure in marriage and children within your tenure period, the problem that is "packaging" your CV as you consider entering the market. But I don't write about my romantic life, my daily activities (this is NOT Livejournal), or which law profs I think are "hot." I just don't see the point--that is, the usefulness, the interest, the humor in that.

If I can relate my personal life to legal academia, I write about it. If I want to share my favorite non-legal texts with my readers, I do so with abandon. I am, after all, "Belle Lettre," and if you knew a bit of literary history (or just looked at the sidebar, "Defining Belles Lettres") you'd know that "belles lettres" means "literary works valued for their aesthetic qualities rather than their information or instruction." So this blog was always intended to be a mix of the legal and the literary. And as this is my blog, I always intended to write about my own personal journey through academia--from recent law grad to graduate law student to (hopefully) clerk to AALS meat market to (hopefully) tenure track. It is a long journey, and a very different one from most of those Harvard and Yale trained WASPy men out there, and so I wanted to share it with you.

But blogs like those by David Lat and Libertarian Man of Mystery make me a very self-conscious and cautious blogger. I feel trepidation about writing on non-serious or even non-legal things, even though it is perfectly within my prerogative to do so. I'm not saying that I would like to engage in snark, vitriol, gossip, or triviality. Read Jack Shafer's essay "The Heaving Pukes Behind Gawker and Wonekette" for reasons why I never want to go down Lat's or LMM's path. But I would like to be able, as many male bloggers seem able, to write about my desire to balance my career with a "personal" (i.e. romantic) life without feeling like I'm veering towards the path of Myspace, Xanga, Livejournal, and other "confessional diary" blogs. I would like to be able to do a few non-serious writings without risking my ability to be taken "seriously." As it is, I will probably not do any personal or "non-serious" posts unless they relate to my life as an aspiring academic. For example, the most I'll say about my romantic life is that "it's tough, but not impossible to have one" in an intensive graduate law program, and the most I'll say about my own future reproductive plans is that "I am struggling to figure out when I will let myself get married and have children when I have to think about geographic flexibility and tenure." To me, this is not having an online diary. It's having an honest discussion about the difficulty of being a female aspiring academic. There is a lot to think about that I wonder whether my male colleagues think about. Like how to fit in having a baby after you've gained tenure, but before menopause.

David Lat and Libertarian Man of Mystery do no favors to women (and especially women bloggers) when they pose as women or caricature "female triviality" to suit their own ends. Even as they continue this "cheeky" style of writing with their genders and identities open, it never fails to be a nudge nudge wink wink at how salacious and saucy writing can be if done in the "female voice." I happen to think my own "female voice" is quite intelligent and serious, thanks. And there are plenty of women bloggers (and blawggers) like me, who can write about our lives and our work, without being sexed up fembots or saucy wenches. There will be no nudging and winking here, not for your amusement, and definitely not to ours.