Tuesday, December 04, 2012

Ellen Moody on Women in Cyberspace & Ron Charles on PW's Person of the Year

At Jim and Ellen Have a Blog, Two, Ellen has written a thought-provoking piece on women's discourse on the internet, "Women in Cyberspace."  Ellen is a scholar, professor, blogger, and the moderator of the  Yahoo listserv, Women Writers through the Ages.

She analyzes women's discourse by describing the ramifications of a quarrel on a women's listserv.  One distressed woman said during the altercation that she would leave the list or become silent.  That response, or kind of response, is very common on the net.  

Ellen quotes a post by Katha Pollitt, a poet and columnist for The Nation, saying that women's lists all have this dynamic:

... sugary mutual admiration, with occasional outbursts of snark that cause conniptions. Yerra makes a personal remark, Joyce slaps her down by appealing to ‘the spirit of the list,” Yerra takes her marbles and goes home. On a coed list, or a mostly male list, a slightly snarky remark would have just been one of those things that happen. A reprimand would be be read as impossibly stuffy, and a threat to leave would be a joke. ...

Ellen points out that women's fights are not childish.  She says women are culturally not supposed to argue, and that they are punished when they complain. "The punishment will be meted out; it will be presented as reasonable behavior."  

She cites Carol Gilligan’s In a Different Voice, and Lyn Mikel Brown, Meeting at the Crossroads: Women’s Psychology and Girls’ Development, studies that indicate that girls are coerced into being quiet and refraining from expressing controversial opinions at age 12 because they are expected as women to be diplomatic and polite.

(I will add parenthetically that a friend who participated in one of Brown's studies as a girl assured me that she and her friends made up the answers on the questionaires.)  

Ellen's article is fascinating.  I agree that women are punished for complaining.

So is it a gender thing?  Well...
Yes, partly.

The quote from Pollitt's comments, at least out of context, strikes me as another version of the latest received journalistic wisdom that people are too "nice" online.  Niceness is ruining the brittle edgy honesty of the internet.

The web "has become friendly, well mannered, oversweet," says Nathan Heller at New York magazine, who says he misses the hostility.  And social media have ruined or weakened literary critcism, according to writers at Slate, The New York Times, and The Guardian.  Some say bloggers and tweeters are too "nice," others that opinions on the internet are not equal to journalists'.

In forums, you can pick your battles.  If a listserv upsets you, you can leave.  Why not?

AND NOW FOR SOMETHING LIGHT:  Ron Charles's response to Publishers Weekly's Person of the Year, E. L. James.


Belle said...

This made me laugh just as loud as the Ellen DeGeneres piece you posted some time ago. Thanks.

Frisbee said...

Belle, Ron Charles is a brilliant comedian. I loved this, too. He used to run video reviews with his reviews on The Washington Post, but seems to have given that up.

Frisbee said...

This comment is from Ellen on the "Women in Cyberspace" part :

"It maybe that on some venues, especially where books are reviewed generally and people want to sell them or garner a consistent readership, discreet courtesy to the point of erasure of faults, and unjustified praise for books (flattery) has replaced frankness and evaluation. But in many places this is not so. Many list-servs are old and people have learned how to cope in cyberspace, but my experience last week on two lists brought me head-on with the old thugs and flames and shaming of people. Many political blogs mean to be hard-hitting. And then this gender faultline clicks in."