From livejournal to wordpress–on gender divides, interface, and academia

This blog has been a long time in coming. I’ve hesitated for a year–planning to debut a blog on media and fandom in addition to my participation in acafan livejournal spaces–but not followed through until now. A range of issues have kept me from taking this plunge. I am very aware of the stakes (professional and personal) involved in posting on a blog rather than in (or as well as in) the locked, community spaces of livejournal. At the same time, perhaps I’ve artificially inflated the divide between an interface/network such as wordpress, with access to the blogosphere, and and journal-based social networking community like livejournal, journalfen, greatestjournal, or even vox. I haven’t hesitated to participate in creative spheres such as flickr, but I’ve held off from the world of blogging.

A large part of my hesitation may indeed have been my perception of a gender divide. I have viewed blogs as spaces of professionalized, controlled sharing–one to many communication–rather than the organic community discourse that made livejournal so compelling when I initially discovered it as a pre-dissertation writing grad student. Comments seem more self-censored here in the blogosphere, and the lack of threaded comments has seemed to me to devalue decentralized conversations and the relations between individuals within a shifting whole. Yet, by not participating in these spaces, I realize that I (and we–and here I’m referring to the generation of acafan media scholars with whom I at least partially identify) are cutting ourselves off from valuable discussions, from the possibility of dialogues that need to happen. Yes, we want (or at least, I want) change to happen, but we can’t just sit back and wait for it to occur.

And of course the differences between blog networks and livejournal etc. is not only hinged on issues of gender–professionalization, emotive language, aesthetic choices—all of these come into play; all are colored by gender but not necessarily defined by it.

Over the past years, I’ve increasingly come to perceive conferences as similarly bifurcated, and not only along gender lines, although we can always read gender as a contributing factor. SCMS’s struggle to integrate TV and new media with film is as clear an example as MiT’s struggle to bring together the video game = scholars, fanboys, and fangirls (and, as an aside, I wonder what we’re gaining and losing by throwing around the term fangirls and fanboys as we have been lately…)

It’s almost funny that the latest manifestation of this divide occurred at a conference I couldn’t be at–MiT5–and I precisely couldn’t be there because I’m pregnant and the pregnancy hasn’t been smooth (not to mention juggling this new experience of pregnancy alongside my first year as a professor). This has been a year where issues of gender—which have always been central to the way I experience and understand my work as an academic and my interplay in the academic (not to mention fannish) world—have become so much more tangible, central, and unavoidable.

And yet, out of this conference a discussion about these very issues which have been bubbling underneath. While I would like to see change happen in person, at conferences themselves, perhaps it’s more than fitting that we use online interfaces as a place to lay the groundwork for change. If we begin conversations online, and if we venture into web spaces that may not be our initial comfort zone (be it livejournal, blogger, mediacommons, Flow, or others) in order to begin conversations that we can continue in person, then perhaps we won’t find the same divides seemingly repeated unavoidably at conference after conference.

As for the discussion at hand itself–how much issues of gender have shaped and continue to shape the directions of media studies, tv studies, new media studies, and audience/fan studies–I’m somewhat torn because partially I don’t want to simplify along gender lines. I consider myself very enriched by the dialogues and relationships developed in some cases across disciplinary divides and did not seem impeded by issues of gender- dialogues that started at SCMS, Console-ing Passions, Flow, and Media in Transition. Indeed my experiences at these conferences have significantly shifted my academic focus and goals within the field.

But as Kristina Busse points out in her provocative post about gender in media and fan studies, the gender divide ramifications have been impossible to ignore at so many of these conferences, enough to spur heated conversations after and tactical decisions about how to handle future conferences etc., on multiple occasions.

However, I feel that this is the first time we’re opening up the dialogue publicly–where we’re really putting it on the table, and this, (and perhaps I could be accused of a utopian moment here—I do tend to have those), gives me some hope. I don’t believe we can magically fix these larger structures in one foul swoop, but dialogue among diverse participants in a range of spaces, and the new intellectual connections that come out of those dialogues, could begin tectonic shifts, so that over time all of our perspectives may change, thus changing the patterns that seem so frustratingly repeated at conference after conference despite everyone’s good intentions.


9 thoughts on “From livejournal to wordpress–on gender divides, interface, and academia

  1. jmittell says:

    Louisa – welcome to WordPress & public blogging for the untenured! I was sorry to miss you at MIT5 – glad to hear about the pregnancy, sorry about the bumps in the road, but may the pregnancy be the rockiest part of parenthood for you… I hope you join in the dialogue on Kristina’s blog.

  2. Jonathan Gray says:

    Yet another person blogging before me. D’oh! 🙂
    Anyways, I look forward to reading more, Louisa!

    Indeed, maybe the space of the blogosphere will be one in which some of these gender issues can be worked out. At the risk of sounding so grade 8, I do wonder how much *some* (but I’m not naive enough to say all) of the gender issues in the fanboy/fangirl issue go back to personal awkwardnesses with the opposite gender. This is a public space, so maybe I shouldn’t admit, but I will: I’m still very awkward when faced with a circle of women. I don’t feel like I belong, and can feel under judgment. I remember all too easily how, pre-teen years onwards, I was never cool enough for the *groups* of girls to want to talk to, only when they were away from the pack. So it still can take a lot to cross that divide in a physical space. And since the divide we’ve been talking about over the last few days is a fanboy/fangirl one (though like you, Louisa, I’m uncomfortable with the terms), I’m sure that a lot of fanboys and a lot of fangirls feel similarly: few of us were the cool ones in the room, and high school probably taught many of us to fear large groups of the other gender. So, yes, it becomes sexist when the men are more entrenched in the system (because fangirl/fanboy divides are nothing when it comes to the at-times rank and multi-levelled sexism of academia as a whole) and exclude the women, but a chunk of the root cause may be simple old grade 8 issues.

    So, in the conference realm, this is a problem. Conferences are kinda like high school dances, after all, in a bizarre way. And as we were often trained to at such affairs, the guys go their way, and relax, and the women go theirs, and relax. Perhaps the blogosphere can be a step towards less fear?

  3. lstein says:

    Hi Jason! Thanks for the welcome 🙂 Blogging for the untenured indeed… it took me quite a while to finally take this plunge, but I’m glad I did. And now that I’m getting settled here (though the interface does take some getting used to), I did finally enter the fascinating discussion going on over at Kristina’s blog.

    I’m very sorry to have missed the chance to catch up at MiT–and of course to participate in all of the conversations that took place there, though I’m very pleased that it seems to have spurred so much online conversation, which a) I can participate in, pregnant in CA *G*, and b) I have hope will actually open up new opportunities for dialogue both online and in person.

    And thanks for the good pregnancy wishes too! Things do seem to be looking up, and now that it’s almost the summer, I can start to see the next stage on this journey on the horizon. It’s going to be a rollercoaster, but I’m getting very excited now as it starts to feel more real!

  4. lstein says:

    And hello and welcome Jonathan! (I still haven’t gotten used to this unthreaded comments thing–I suppose I should reply to multiple comments in one, but it just doesn’t seem right…) As much as this new interface will take some getting used to, I am excited to have finally set up a blog–something I’ve been putting off for too long. And hey, once the semester is over, I’ll even have some time to post in it!

    It’s funny–I’ve never come away from conferences feeling that, on an interpersonal level, I was segregated in terms of gender. In the hallways and in many panels, I feel that we have may conversations that cross gender and disciplinary divides; in fact, I often spend more time speaking to men then women, come to think of it. And yet, the high school dynamic is always very much there (though I’ve never thought of it in those terms, very appropriate, given the Teen TV book on its way to press…).

    I think I most notice the gender divide in two places–more systemically in how conference play out–panel organization and attendance as a whole, often influenced by disciplinary difference that seem linked to gender–and, in a connected way, as ramifications of the gender divisions *online.* The new generation of fan(girl) scholars that I’ve met–and that very much changed the direction of my scholarship–I met originally through the International Conference for the Fantastic in the Arts, which had a subconference on fanfiction and slash that was very much organized in connection with acafan livejournal spaces, and those spaces as much of livejournal fandom are dominantly female. Meanwhile, the work done in technology and game studies especially (a direction my own work has moved in) as well as in fan investment rather than fan communities seems to be more shaped by male academic (and popcultural) discourses, and that’s reflected in panel make up and attendance.

    So, I think I really do agree with you in your hope that if we use the web as a tool to change the online conversations, establishing connections rather than assuming differences, we may be able to change the way those divides play out in conferences as well. I’m definitely not ready to give up my optimism on this front yet! And I think the conversation going on at Kristina’s journal and beyond give us good reason to be hopeful.

  5. dkompare says:

    Just a quick shout-out (in between too much grading) to also welcome you to WordPress and (as Jason said) the blogging untenured. I know how hard it is to maintain a blog. Best of luck with the pregnancy, and the coming life changes. As a dad of two (both under 4), I raise my glass to you.

    This fall-out is yet another reason it sucked that our SCMS workshop proposal was shot down. It could have been a great space for addressing these gender issues. And maybe it’s me and my grad student experience, but I’ve generally been a bit more comfortable around my female peers than my male ones. The two most important academic mentors in my life are female, and I was the token guy (with five women) on my first dissertation writing group.

    Anyway, looking forward to your blogging!

  6. lstein says:

    Thanks Derek! Nice to see you here virtually–especially given how our two conference meet up opportunities slipped through our fingers after Flow. I was disappointed about our SCMS panel–it’s almost as if the media divide (TV seems to really be struggling to find a place at SCMS) got in the way of addressing a range of issues, including these gender issues that have come up in the wake of MiT5. But hopefully, now that we’re all talking about it, we can change the dialogue and patterns both here online and at future conferences.

    I’m like you–I’ve always had male (and female) mentors and colleagues; it was actually only when I started doing fan studies that I found myself in a predominantly female cohort of scholars. And while there’s something to be gained from studying a community from within, I do think it’s time we start bridging the divides.

    Thanks also for the good pregnancy wishes! I’m entering the world of academia-with-kids, and I know I’ve got a lot to learn!

  7. Jonathan Gray says:

    I’m optimistic about SCMS: Michele Hilmes got onto the executive committee this year, right? And Heather Hendershot is the new editor of Cinema Journal. So Vive La Revolution Televisuale!

  8. lstein says:

    Jonathan, that is good news! Hopefully the tv part of TV studies (and the M in SCMS) will find its place in the sun sooner rather than later!

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