Saturday, May 08, 2004

Another Wrinkle On "No Female Bloggers"

In the last few weeks, two different men have linked approvingly to Respectful of Otters - using male pronouns to refer to me. One of them even used male pronouns with my name, which, although it's not common, does follow the traditional "English female name" pattern by ending in "A."

What's going on here?

"Do I write like a man?" I asked my Significant Otter. He gave me a look like, "I'm waaay too smart to answer that question."

I asked my favorite linguist. She said, "You do have a way of putting words together in that thing that comes across as kind of male much of the time."

Kind of male, how? She said she would need to spend a lot of time with tools of discourse analysis to figure it out, but, "You're more prone to sarcasm and avoidance of stating personal feelings in your blog, I think is part of it."

When I started this blog, I adopted what I thought of as a "blog tone of voice" - similar to the style I'd seen other bloggers use. It's not the way I write in online settings where I assume that I'm mostly talking to my personal friends, or where I'm mostly talking about my personal life. It's more formal, more abstract, and more oriented towards strangers. It's more explicitly oriented towards explanation and persuasion. And it turns out that it's more the style that most people perceive as "male." Take a look at this description:
In the keynote speech at the American Library Association annual convention in 1994, Herring (1994:3-4) proposes that this is the case in that "women and men have different characteristic online styles" that echo the differences of culturization and integration into society: "The male style is characterized by adversiality - put-downs, strong, often contentious assertions, lengthy and/or frequent postings, self-promotion, and sarcasm"; while the female style, in contrast, is characterized by "supportiveness and attenuation" with expressions of appreciation, thanking, and community-building; as well as apologizing, expressing doubt, asking questions, and contributing ideas in the form of suggestions."
The "male style" described here looks an awful lot like the standard "blog style," to me. So maybe part of the reason that female bloggers seem "invisible" is that, if they write with a traditionally female style, their sites don't look like "real" blogs - and if they write with a standard blog style, they don't look female.

I felt a little hurt by the implication that I write like a man, and it took me a while to tease out why. In a society as gender-polarized as ours, it's hard to characterize something as differing along gender lines without taking sides. "If men do this thing, and women do that thing, which one's better?" Even if you refuse to draw evaluative conclusions yourself, other people inevitably will. In pre-feminist days, "you write like a man" was supposed to be a compliment - Dorothy Parker strived for it. Then came arguments that privileged a female writing style. "Which way is better, the male way or the female way?" By adopting a male style, am I implying that I think it's superior to a female style?

So then I just get pissed off. I write like Rivka; Rivka is a woman; therefore, I write like a woman. Strong assertions and all.

(And no, Respectful of Otters isn't going to stay pink. It's just a temporary statement.)