participating in a research project
March 16, 2003 09:10 PM

I started writing out my response to Jordynn's research questions (posed to the WHB contributors), but then I figured... why not post them here? [I'll finish this post as I have time to answer the remaining questions.]

Online Identity & Community
What attracted you to WHB?
When I started the site (in 2002), I was really looking for a way to share opinions and to have an opportunity to challenge my own feminist leanings with others'.

As a feminist in a relatively conservative town, I found myself serving as a representative for all feminists. My typical feminist debate focused on me trying to educate others or convince them that feminism is still valid. They might have learned, but I didn't. That's not to say that interaction wasn't valuable - I still feel that nearly anyone who actually thinks about what feminism means will recognize him/herself as a feminist - but it's also important to refine your own opinions by learning from others who differ in some respects, but know where you're coming from.

I tried starting a webzine (in late 2000), but it felt like a solo effort most of the time. Zine submissions from others don't foster conversation the way that blogs can - because they're so immediate.

What kinds of people do you think are attracted to WHB?
The one commonality that WHB participants seem to share is that they already identify as feminists. They're also primarily women, though the site was never intended to exclude men. Initially, the lack of male participants bothered me - but then I realized, the accidental femaleness of the site also creates a sense of sisterhood for me, and probably for others. It's not all bad. Not to say men wouldn't still be very much welcomed. ;)

Do you feel like you assume a different identity, or shape your identity in different ways when you write online? (i.e. do you feel like you can be more assertive, or more outgoing? Can you share parts of yourself that you might not reveal in ýRLţ?)
When I first ventured into online journalling a few years ago, I did assume another identity. I was a little more aggressive and political than in my daily life. It helped me discover my inner soapbox. I'd always been inclined towards dispassionate debate, but I discovered a streak of self-righteousness that I've become fond of.

I found over time that I incorporated those things into my daily life as a result of "putting them on" online. That, combined with a shift in employment (now I work for a company that wouldn't care about my online presence), led me to drop the facade, for the most part. I don't feel there's much I couldn't just express as myself. [I should add, though, that I speak mostly in opinions; very few of the daily events of my life are posted to my site.]

Has blogging or WHB changed how you think about yourself?
I mentioned above the shift from dispassionate observer to quasi-demagogue. That was definitely a big shift as a result of blogging. A large part of that was others' reactions to me.

In addition to the learning opportunities presented by people who agree with you, the blog community creates the potential to find others who will see your opinions and say "Hell yes!". Take that, plus the sense of respect for each other that builds between people of like minds and different voices, and you begin to have a sense of your opinions as more valid. I think that's why so many people have started blogging - the potential for recognition by kindred spirits.

What kinds of relationships have you been able to form online in the blogsphere?
For the most part, I've formed transient friendships. When I first started journalling, everyone I met online seemed brilliant, fabulous, like the best friend I might wish for. You can form attachments based on very limited information very quickly. But. People stop journalling temporarily, or their sites go in a different direction, and you don't have as much in common.

Most of the longer relationships I've made online have been intellectual - formed based on respect for someone's opinions, writing style, what little they share about their life. In that context, you know you're only getting this disembodied voice, but that voice can still be very important.

I have, however, met one on my netfriends in person (and attempted to meet one other), and I have a handful of others who know more specifics about what's actually going on in my life.

Do you find it easier to ýspeak outţ when you write online? Have you encountered any barriers to speaking out, forming relationships or communicating in the ýblogosphereţ?
There's a lot of talk about sexism in the blogosphere recently (a lot of it from women bloggers who wouldn't call themselves feminists), but when I started blogging, I ended up in a community filled with supportive people who seem to really respect each others' opinions - so my experience is different from some of the women who've participated in the "boys' club" environment of techbloggers (bloggers who focus on technology topics).

An interesting side note to this: I've noticed a tendency in myself to assume other bloggers are like me, more or less. This means, primarily, that I assume a female sex if not told otherwise. I thought many of those "blogelite" guys' sites were published by women for quite awhile.

Blogging tends to skip over the basic pleasantries that allow you to get to know someone closely. That's both an advantage (you get straight to the discussion) and a disadvantage (you don't form close friendships based on those discussions). And of course, there's the communication factor - without the nuance of voice and body language, you can misunderstand others pretty easily. I've had several episodes of that - and probably alienated some people who might have been friends as a result.

One of the other common complaints about blogging is the tendency for like bloggers to gather. The theory being: if only like bloggers interact, they're not actually sharing opinions beyond saying "of course" and "hell yeah" to each other. I disagree - you are generally more likely to understand and respond to a slightly (or even wildly) different opinion that comes from someone you share some background with than with someone whose experiences are foreign. No blogging community is completely homogenous.

What have you learned from being involved in WHB? How has it affected your life?
I think I've refined a lot of my opinions based on what the other participants' share. For instance, while I haven't necessarily changed my opinions on these topics, I now at least understand where anti-porn feminists are coming from, or why one might think men couldn't be feminists.

I also feel more like a part of the greater feminist community because I have the give and take of the collab. If you're in an area where you don't have an active feminist organization, or if you just don't have time to participate, it's nice to know that there are other similar-thinking people out there.

Writing, Technology & Collaboration
How do you write for the collab or for your blog? (i.e. do you write a draft first, go back and revise, etc.?) How has blogging changed how you think about writing?
I've never been a draft-writing person. I type my collab entries straight into my blog tool. I do, however, add postscripts occasionally (say, if the comments I receive spark a new idea or highlight a need for clarification).

Journalling - which is different, more personal than simply blogging, in my mind - shifted my perspective on writing somewhat. I've discovered that I care much more about style than clarity when reading someone else's journal, and that the writing I'm most proud of is the most abstracted, imagistic side of my journal. Blogging, though - well, the act of blogging is just a means; it's not about the writing so much as the opinions that get written. I have a set of blogs I read for their opinions, their clarity of thought; I also have a set of journals I read simply for the experience of reading. The two sets appeal to completely different aspects of me, the reader. I'm not certain if this split-personality reading style is something I would have thought about before I started blogging/journalling online.

Is there something about blogging thatÝs different from other forms of writing or communication? Does it change how you communicate?
The differentiation between blogging and journalling is interesting here. I journal as if I have no audience, and even find it irritating sometimes when my audience doesn't "get it". The webjournal is one of the internet's great ironies.

I find, conversely, that I'm likely to directly address my audience in the context of my blog: you know, "What do you think?" - because blogging is, to me, all about debate and exchange.

I find myself unconsciously slipping into rhetorical form in blogging opinions: posing a question (implicitly seeking a response), following it up with background information, and drawing a conclusion. I never used to write, or debate, this way. But there's something about the exchange of blogging that makes me want to draw the audience along, allow them to draw their own conclusions: it wouldn't be any fun if we weren't all trying to figure things out together.

How do collaborative blogs like WHB connect personal and political action? Do they enable feminist action in ways that might not be available otherwise?
To an extent, yes. The value of blogging, to me, is its power to create a community out of empty space. People end up building relationships out of common causes, and digging deeper into political issues as a result of friendships they make. Of course, this happens in the day-to-day world away from the internet - but the internet enables this to happen quickly and over great distances.

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