Rhetorical Gatekeeping, Gender, Etc.

Bitch Ph.D. is indulging in a metablogging series; Part 1 includes a satisfying rant against the necessity of continually explaining one’s fundamental premises to all the ignorant yahoos on the internet, and the genderedness thereof:

When one is not teaching entry-level courses, when one is trying to think something through at a fairly high level of analysis, having to reiterate basic premises is not only irritating (which is why women so often get “shrill” or “angry” when they’re interrupted YET AGAIN, and why it is so fucking wrong for men to say patronizing things like, “don’t be insulting, or you’ll never get anyone over to your side”).
I’m willing–as are we all–to occasionally pause and reexamine the opening chapters, to go back over beginning stuff; this is how we learn, after all, and our understanding of things changes over time (which is another element of blogging, by the way). But when I am in the middle of thinking stuff out, it is really frustrating, and disruptive (and, one suspects, sometimes deliberately so), to be interrupted all the time and asked, “sorry, I came late to class. Did I miss anything important?” And it seems to me that this kind of thing happens a lot more to women bloggers than it does to men. And I think that people should think about this.

Skipping over, for the moment, a handful of men I’ve met who make me ponder polite ways of saying “Hey, you know how you grinned while interrupting me just now? That was just really fucking patriarchal, blaaaargh chomp chomp!” – as I said, skipping those folks over, ahem… feminists have traditionally coped with such disruptive students by creating explicitly female-only or feminism-friendly “safe spaces”, with tightly controlled participation: moderated invite-only mailing lists or even physical rooms with heavy doors to close. Blogs don’t have such ready barriers against the trolling masses, but nevertheless some are safer spaces than others. Why?

I’m thinkin’ ’bout rhetorical strategies for gatekeeping in the absence of actual gates, which we all indulge in to one or more extents. I think I’ve used, or at least seen, all of these in effect at one place/time or another:

  • Inside jokes and internal references.
  • Wheedling attention from other people whose readership is uniformly well-reasoned and insightful, while limiting one’s interactions with ignorant yahoos even outside your desired safe space, lest they be tempted to follow you home.
  • Interweaving “friendly” topics (food, kittens, gardening, office supplies, how other people are rude drivers) with the heavy stuff – I assume this has a gatekeeping function, if only because niche blogs tend to attract larger audiences. Presumably it’s an exercise in healthy community bonding as well.
  • Writing in crazy moon language idiolect, euphemistically described as “quirky” or “jargony” or “Danish” (og selvfølgelig her snakker jeg ikke om virkelige dansker, men om mig og min “dansk”)
  • Aiming entries at particular readers, because you like them and you know they’ll be interested, or because you hate them and you know they’ll be bored to tears.

These are all very generic means of delimiting social groups, and I suppose I’ve strayed from the gender-issue pasture… but that’s okay. I’ve got a dinner date tonight, and this is a blog fercrippesake so I don’t need an excuse to leave my thoughts half-finished anyway, so there.


  1. bitchphd wrote:

    Ooh, good analysis….
    The thing about the traditional safe spaces, of course, is that one wants to educate. I like blogging b/c of the way it’s simultaneously open and kind of in-groupy. I like the tools you’re giving here for thinking about the way those divisions play out.

  2. yami wrote:

    Yes – safe spaces have also functioned as a kind of retreat from public education, too, to recharge – and in the same line of thinking as the Quaker notion of inward and outward journeying. I wonder if we’re not trying to have two journeys on one piece of path here?

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