This is my favourite post, so now it lives here.
I have a vagina.
Yes, I was shocked too. But until reading Company magazine’s, “Bloggers issue“, it had never occurred to me that my vagina and my blogging had anything to do with each other. My vulva’s typing speed is only 60wpm, whereas my dainty woman’s fingers can type at 90wpm. Fingers win.
I’ve never identified as, “a female blogger”. I’m a blogger. My gender doesn’t come into it. This surprises me, as I tend to consider gender in everything. Having read too much of Sociological Images, everything I see- from the caloric content of McDonalds packaging having a woman’s outline next to it (aaah but usually males are the default image, aaaaaah is this trying to redress a balance or do they think women are more interested in calories AAAAAAH) to expensive advertising- I tend to analyse.
I’m both consumer and critic of the folly of mainstream media and its representations of women. First of all, I have almost nothing but disgust for women’s magazines in their back-breaking hypocrisy, but they do occasionally run a decent article, so, I, consumer. It’s also well known to my friends that I am irretrievably obsessed with women’s weeklies. Thursdays are my holy day, my day of worshipping at the church of tragedy. I buy this stuff. And while Robert was smearing lipstick on his face for one of the below photos, I grabbed his hand and screeched, “THAT’S CHANEL!” and snatched it away from him. Okay, it’s Chanel lipstick I found in a dark corner of a club, but still. What I’m saying is that I am a consumer. I’m no different and I don’t profess to be. I’m not some genderless warrior out on the sidelines. I’m a feminist, I am a woman, and I am a consumer.
As for critic: here is the accompanying photograph to an article about being groped and assaulted in clubs at the weekend, written by a blogger I respect, from the F Word:
That, to me, looks like a advertisement. Compare it to this:
Passive expression, wanton pose.
Dead-a-like selling perfume.
Advertising constantly glamourises and sexualises violence against women and portrays them as passive, and yet! A magazine that espouses it doesn’t see the irony in such a photo illustrating an article about violence towards women, putting the blame squarely at the feet of men. It is their fault, too, but whose aiding them in shaping their images of women? Ho hum, eh?
This magazine also recently featured interviews with politicians in which they asked questions like, “Who won the X-Factor”? Do you care? Do you care if Gordon Brown cares? I like a sneak at celebrity gossip as much as the next person but why do these magazines think we care that our leaders give a shit about who Katie Price is shagging at the moment?
The issue was all about these strong, “sassy” (almost totally conventionally attractive) women bloggers, writing about “women’s things”, like fashion, baking and so on. They featured a few pieces from bloggers who wrote about other subjects, but it mostly concentrated on things they think their young women audience would be interested in. It did have some good points, in that it repeated that being a woman is not a barrier to success (despite? because?), and you can be successful from blogging (and hey, you can also get a boyfriend from blogging, right?) But it’s window-dressing. Tokenistic.
My ire is not towards other bloggers. Blogging is an important and revolutionary medium for spreading ideas. I read a lot of blogs, and I’m faintly obsessed with sociological and feminism blogs. And self-identification is one thing. My issue is how female bloggers are categorised and identified within the media. At the oft-repeated notion in the media that we are separate, that we write about “women’s things” and thus should stay there, waving our little flags, “representing” womanhood itself. That whatever we write, we must keep it relevant to women. To me, it’s as divisive and counterproductive as the awful, “chick-lit”.
Maybe when I write about my next appointment, I should write this:
“It was 2pm, and I was still dizzy from my dose of antipsychotics the night before. I slicked on my Chanel lipstick, and huddled my face deep into the silky folds of my Hell Bunny coat. Pulling on my Mary Janes, I stepped outside into the blinding afternoon haze. A man- thirties, well-dressed- passed me, interest briefly flickering as his cobalt eyes skimmed my face…”
A blogger called Nee Naw used a male pseudonym throughout the entirety of her blogging career. Now she’s got a book published, and when she came out as a woman called Suzi, people were shocked. They’d (and I, until I discovered we had mutual friends) totally believed that she was a man, and that’s because she didn’t make her gender an issue when she wrote. Mark Myers was just a name. It wasn’t a person. And I think that she did “manly” things; she was heroic in some ways, she was calm under pressure, she was wry and funny- how would she have been perceived if she had been explicit about being a woman from the beginning?
This is not the fault of women, but of the way the media (and not just print media, but everything) represents women. It is important because it’s the largest and most efficient way to communicate with people. It frustrates me constantly that I never see anything within it that remotely represents my own experiences. There is a strange cognitive dissonance in that they try to portray women as smart, autonomous and capable (as women, men, all people can be) whilst at the same time reducing them to component parts that are apparently the essence of womanhood; that is, clothes, children, fashion, men and chocolate. There’s always a “softening” of any strong woman they seek to portray. It cannot escape the attention of them that a sports star, like Venus Williams for example, who could kick your ass and mine up and down the M25, is “beautiful”. A female writer with brains to burn, she looks so ethereal in the sunlight. And, on the off-chance that the woman in question is fat (ha, who ever heard of a women’s magazine interviewing someone who is fat?), they must reference her gym routine and all that healthy food she eats. She’s a good fattie. If you’re a bad fattie, turn to page 36 to lose 14lbs in a month!
It is true that bloggers are exclusively male and that any sort of media attention that refers to women who blog as a movement, which is necessary but irritating; I wish everything we did didn’t have to be activism. It may encourage other women to blog. And I won’t bite the hand that feeds me. I love blogging and it has changed my life in a lot of ways. There’s a fecking Radio 4 play about my blog. That is extremely surreal.
But why should your gender ALWAYS be relevant in your blogging? Why should a woman automatically have to write for an audience of other women? Fashion blogs will obviously be squarely aimed at women unless you’re a man who likes wearing a dress (Step up, Robert Vaughan). Likewise, feminism blogs, fat acceptance blogs and so on are largely read by women, because these are issues that directly affect them. (If you’re scratching your head at fat acceptance being an issue that predominantly affects women, please do not kid yourself that fat women are in any way treated in the same way as fat men. Try to imagine a fat women being the CEO of a company, as opposed to a fat man).
However. When it comes to other topics, is gender relevant? It’s true that being a female blogger is different than being a male one. There are expectations you’d never have imagined you’d have to entertain for a second. Nay, it’s almost an novelty to some people that a little woman had her head out of her Sex and the City boxset long enough to write something intelligent. (I’d just like to state for the record right now that I own a Sex and the City box set. And if we’re going to focus on other things that the media uses to communicate with women in the belief that we’re all the same and we all like the same things, I also love chocolate, kittens, coats and make-up). And god forbid you’re not conventionally attractive. You may achieve the respect from men, but that’s about it.
I almost never consider my gender in terms of this blog. Obviously being a woman does have some impact upon my illness, and vice versa, and therefore, I write about that. But it’s incidental. The only time it occurs to me that I may be perceived as a “woman who blogs” and not just a person who blogs is when I get the comments and emails that attack me for my appearance. They’re usually from men, but occasionally they’re from women. The parade of insults are the usual: you’re fat, you’re ugly, it’s no wonder you’re depressed, look at you and etc etc etc. I very much doubt I’d have received the same comments if I were a man, because with a woman, you hit her where it hurts, and where it’s perceived to hurt is her beauty. That’s her currency. Not her mind, nor her wisdom, but her breasts, her adipose tissue, the whiteness of her teeth. I have body dysmorphic disorder so water off a duck’s back because their distant spite-typing is dwarfed by my present skull-rattling, but it’s very telling. People try to engage me on the basest level.
I do wonder if I’d have been as popular as a blogger if I were a man. Okay, I’m not that popular. I don’t get that many hits (despite what you may think- I average out at about 1000 unique hits a day, which, in terms of the “big blogs”, is not a lot). But in the clamouring corner of the madosphere (which, on reflection, is dominated by women, though that never crossed my mind until I started to think about it. Eating disorder blogs are almost exclusively written by women), I am well known, most probably because I am one of the longest-standing bloggers there. Yeah, three years later and I’m still subjecting you to my rubbish. Bake a cake.
As much as I’d like to believe that people are interested in my blog because I write well or because I make them laugh, I’m also aware that part of the reason people read this blog is because I’ve danced upon the extreme end of the bipolar spectrum which is all the more shocking or interesting because I’m a young, 4ft 11″ woman with a silly Irish voice. That I am surprising because I can string a word together without any education past GCSEs. A robust man throwing himself at people in the street, jumping off a multistory carpark or getting into fights in manic rages would be less shocking to someone that tiny I doing all those things. Indeed, it’s probably a comic image when it comes to some of my excesses. People would probably perceive him differently for the depressions and darknesses he endured, because he is a man; he can endure them. As a woman? The endurances are all the more painful because she is not supposed to endure them; not a young woman like me.
Because I am a woman, my problems take on a different light; can I be a mother, is it even wise for me to be a mother? and so on. And mental illness; particularly psychotic ones like severe bipolarity or schizophrenia; are the remit of the man. If you think of someone with schizophrenia, I’d say that most people would conjure up the image of a man in their heads. I’m also aware that on the bipolar spectrum, my first impulse when I think of mania is to imagine a man, with depression, a woman. The dynamic creativity that I think is wrongly attributed to bipolarity is often articulated by men in the media; the depression, by the women. Active/passive.
If I’m sounding egotistical, I’ll touch upon another slightly controversial point in terms of my own gender and this blog. Some of my readers have expressed protectiveness towards me. In fact, people in general are protective of me. Whereas this is appreciated and lovely, I don’t think I’d inspire the same feeling if I were a man. Would I even have written this blog if I were a man? I don’t know. I’m glad I do write this blog, and I hope that my experience of being a young woman living with mental illness helps and enlightens others, but at the same time, I’m genuinely afraid that if my book gets published, that it will have a fucking handbag on the cover with a bottle of pills and a box of Tampax falling out of it.
So, if you’re a woman blogger: HERE ARE THE RULES.
Obey, ladies, or else no-one will care for what you have to say.