Rough Theory

Theory In The Rough

Rants Abroad…

Scott Eric Kaufman continues his analysis of the gender disparity between lurkers and commentators on his blog. I seem to have decided that his discussion would benefit from a rant from me – on differences in gender dynamics between the US and Australia, on why I don’t use my first name when posting (even though I know that anyone who cares can look it up), and on other matters of gender, nationality, and patterns in blog comments…

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10 responses to “Rants Abroad…

  1. Joseph Kugelmass November 2, 2006 at 5:30 pm

    Nice rant. Two quick thoughts: first, though there is an obvious difference between a rape threat and an offer of marriage (and the very idea of a rape threat is making me ill), there is a similarity in the sudden impatience to switch registers, as though the participation of a woman has suddenly made the abstractions in play merely pretenses.

    Also, I’m no longer writing, or commenting on Acephalous, as “forgottenboy,” but it’s a pleasure to return to Rough Theory. Linked next time I update.

  2. N Pepperell November 2, 2006 at 5:56 pm

    With the specific “marriage proposal” I have in mind, there was unfortunately more of a similarity than one might think… But yes, it’s the quickness of associative movement between what might start as an intellectual discussion, and then, when something gets thwarted in that realm, the immediate translation is to something disturbingly concrete…

    I strongly considered blogging anonymously to avoid the issue entirely – I gather Scott’s informal research suggests that, whether for this reason or others, this is precisely what many women do. But my work (messy and fragmentary and incomplete as it is) is foundational for my identity in so many ways – ultimately, I just didn’t want to feel forced into anonymity…

    So my current compromise: to rely on the social conventions in relation to unmarked gender to minimise the issue, without having completely to go into stealth mode…

    Speaking of unstealthing: is it appropriate to ask why you’ve done so?

  3. Scott Eric Kaufman November 3, 2006 at 5:18 am

    I didn’t sound like a rant, and had you not marked it thusly, I wouldn’t have considered it one. But now that I know you were being hysterical, I’m not obligated to respond to it, right?

  4. Scott Eric Kaufman November 3, 2006 at 5:20 am

    I kid, I kid. On to the real stuff:

    But my work (messy and fragmentary and incomplete as it is) is foundational for my identity in so many ways – ultimately, I just didn’t want to feel forced into anonymity…

    It’s that “forced” in there I find interesting, because I think there’s a fine line between the tactical decision to write anonymously, your decision to game the system, and being “forced,” obliquely or directly, into such tactical decisions.

  5. N Pepperell November 3, 2006 at 5:46 am

    Why Scott – how… Freudian of you… ;-P

    It’s actually something I’ve thought about myself quite a bit: the issue of why hostility or even threats in an online environment should be experienced as, well, particularly threatening. After all, it’s not like there’s someone towering over you in person. It would often take considerable effort for someone to track you down in order to carry out any action in the real world.

    I’m not sure if it’s just over-extrapolation from real world experiences – a pattern of long-term behaviour where you learn to defuse certain kinds of situations for safety, convenience, etc. – and this habit then carries over into the online realm (where, as you’ve commented yourself, we do tend to feel as though we’ve established connections with the people with whom we interact).

    So no: of course no one would be forcing me, or (except in certain limit cases) anyone else, to do anything. This is also often true in real world environments, as well, although I’ve certainly been in real situations where there was a quite literal physical threat. Choices are generally available. But, compared to a hypothetical ideal situation where you just didn’t have to worry about certain kinds of reactions, there is nevertheless constraint – a sense of potential consequences, desired consequences, etc., that plausibly leads large numbers of people to limit their actions – structure always has its relationship to agency… I’ve written elsewhere on the complex psychological consequences that, sometimes, I think arise from the ways in which we become complicit in the things that constrain us…

    On the rant not seeming like a rant: it’s a funny thing – I was just discussing this issue with someone in person yesterday. I suspect I tend to feel like I’m ranting if I’m feeling strong emotions when I write, in situations where the point of writing is actually to say something analytical, rather than emotive: I think I worry that the emotions will come through, rather than the ideas…

  6. Kerim Friedman November 3, 2006 at 5:30 pm

    South Asian women friends often say that they find it odd how often American women talk about the oppression of “brown women” whereas they find that (white, middle class) American women are actually much more conflicted about their gendered status than they are. I don’t think you’d find many educated South Asian women who are afraid to speak their minds. Class is (of course) an important part of this. Highly educated South Asian women also tend to be less insecure about their class status.

  7. N Pepperell November 3, 2006 at 6:26 pm

    This sort of thing is very complicated – I had an odd experience in a meeting the other day, in which there was a quite serious and sustained demand from some of the women present to eject the men from the room, in part on the grounds that women would be unable to speak freely with men present… I have a fundamental objection to this on a number of grounds, but I’ll leave my personal ethical concerns aside for the moment.

    What I found myself particularly curious about afterwards was the move to one particular strategy – kick out the guys! – rather than, say, moves to learn how to function effectively in a wide range of discursive spaces – so that everyone becomes less dependent on the environment being engineered in a particular way, as a precondition for asserting their views… (Or, for that matter, moves to propose mutually-acceptable groundrules for discussion… etc.)

    I want to be very careful about what I mean here: I have no illusions about how particular discursive and institutional environments make participation easier for certain people and groups, and I have no objections to political contestation over acceptable norms, procedures and institutions for communication. I just personally don’t want to wait until these sorts of issues get resolved before I participate in public debate… Pragmatically, it cedes too much ground.

    (There’s also a meta-point that gender identity is not the only thing that influences personal comfort level in a public discussion – there are other ascriptive identity issues, but there is also just garden variety individual variation: I don’t really see any way around pushing yourself to move beyond your comfort zone, if you are trying to achieve something through public debate… The ideal speech situation isn’t suddenly going to descend and carry us all to discursive utopia…)

    At any rate, a bit to the side of your point – your description of your friends’ reactions just reminded me of some of the things I was thinking at the meeting…

  8. Joseph Kugelmass November 5, 2006 at 4:51 pm

    I “unstealthed” (great verb) because writing for the Valve necessitated doing so. There are many times when it would be easier to write as “forgottenboy,” but the Valve is worth it.

    I really like what you had to say about the painful experience of freedom; this is, naturally, very close to Sartre on being “condemned” to be free.

    One of the specifically painful parts of freedom, when it asserts itself against capitalism, is the sense of losing one’s desire. Since capitalism works hard to marry itself to desire, when one rejects consumerism, browsing bookstores or record stores or malls is less fun. When one rejects sexism, mainstream sex symbols become boring. I’ve frequently encountered academics who reject Adorno on the grounds that he’s a downer. But calling the market society thrilling doesn’t make it so.

  9. N Pepperell November 5, 2006 at 6:22 pm

    I have to confess that my imagination fails, when trying to imagine a post-consumerist world where one is no longer interested in browsing bookstores… I’m with you on the rest, though…

    I’ve run into the “Adorno’s a downer” brigade, as well – sometimes closely affiliated with the “if we don’t name it, it isn’t there” approach to discussing structural domination… Although I have to admit that I find Adorno’s work emotionally confronting – I’ve been wondering whether this is why I keep procrastinating on a nearly-complete article I’ve written on his psychological theory…

  10. Pingback: On Feminism and “I Blame The Patriarchy” « The Kugelmass Episodes

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