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Friday, March 25, 2005

1. Thoughtful essay; 2. Me, myself, and I; 3. Foreshadowing

posted by bitchphd
1. One of the great things about blogs is the way that, if you follow a particular blog over time, you can discern certain threads and topics being examined from different angles. An argument can emerge, or a picture of someone's life, or a reflection of a way of thinking. Getting caught up on bloglines, I found a nicely fortuitious combination of links and posts at Learning the Lessons of Nixon. In reverse chronology, I first found this link, to a blog I didn't know before: a long, thoughtful essay arguing that depression can and should be understood as a social construct as much as an individual "illness." Then, about a week ago, there was this, about "choice," particularly in conjunction with the "to work or stay home" question that gets asked of moms. But there's a broader point being made: "Individuals can make choices, but it is society that makes better choices available, and the mechanism for making new choices available, initially, is dissent."

This is absolutely true, and the same thing can be said of depression (and is, in the second link posted above): "Individual people have to find ways to cope with their individual situations, and often a medication is the best answer. But it is **not** the **societally** best answer **when there are clear social and economic reasons for this mental illness.**" Yes, as individuals, we operate within a limited framework: we choose to stay home, or to medicate, or to quit our jobs, or whatever. We sometimes have to make very hard choices indeed. But they don't happen in a vacuum; they're subject to analysis. It's not a coincidence that women have to make more "choices" about work and family than men do; it's not a coincidence that women are criticized for their choices no matter what choice they make; and it's surely not a concidence that women suffer more often from depression.

It's broader than that, though. Beyond questions of work and family, the fact is that women are judged constantly, every day, in ways that I don't think men can fully understand. I say this in part because I know I didn't fully understand, for instance, the judgment of mothers before I became one. I have never fully understood the judgment of fat women, because I have never really been fat. I have no idea what it's like to monitor everything you eat, because I've never dieted in my life. I do know something about academic depression. But even the things we don't experience ourselves, we can get some idea of what they're like by reading other people write honestly about them, and part of that honesty is the rage, the frustration, the complaint. These things matter not because they're abstractly unfair but because they affect real people, who have real feelings about them. There's an enormous amount of good writing out there about important stuff, popular though it is to dismiss it. But then feminists and feminist writers--and I do think that this kind of open, frank memoirish writing is inherently feminist--are used to being dismissed; it's water under the bridge, and the writing is still there.

2. I've been thinking about this in terms of this blog. First, there's the hit spike from the Drum and Volokh posts--I'm well over 2,000 hits/day now. There's a temptation to write more about politics, both in response to that, and in response to the whole "women don't blog politics the way men do" thing, but the fact is that the A-list type of political blogging bores the crap out of me, and frankly, feels false to me for precisely the reasons outlined above. Next, I find that writing every day, or almost every day, and often more than once every day, is fantastic for me; I was telling my therapist the other day that blogging lets me have an intellectual and social life that's not located here (where I have neither), and that it's something I'm successful at, praised for, and that that's very helpful for managing the depression. Then again, I feel a certain amount of guilt over spending as much time as I do on something that is "just a hobby," that makes no money and takes my attention away from my family.

At the same time, however, I think blogging has developed my confidence and skills as a writer and given me a window onto other ways that I can do the things I love to do--teach, write--whether or not they're my "job," whether or not I stay on the tenure track. As some of you know, I've been using the blog to make connections to people who do things that sound like interesting career alternatives to me--as well as to get advice from people who've stayed in academia. Thank you to everyone who's been generous with advice or information. One reader has been advising me--wisely--that to do op-ed writing, I'll need to control my ego: less of the "I." I've been thinking about doing or practicing some of that on this blog, but it feels false to me; this is, and always has been, a personal blog (which makes it amazing to me that it has so many readers now). This is okay with me; my academic writing is different from my blog writing, so the idea of having different voices doesn't bother me. And finally, there's been the fact that my own depression means my blogging pace waxes and wanes: when the anxiety is high, I post a lot; when I'm feeling catatonic (as today), I post very little. It's kind of nice, actually: the writing is always there, and I can come and go to it as I please. It's one of those things about writing I had always hoped to learn.

3. All of which matters to you, the reader, not at all. Except possibly in one minor way, which is that I've picked up another venue for the more overtly political news & events type blogging (albeit with a personal voice, no worries) so that Bitch can stay more or less the hodgepodge it's always been--and I can get practice writing in a slightly different vein. I'll have a li'l announcement about the other venue soon.
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