A recent comment on my Us Magazine "Jolie Drove!" piece took this blog to task for writing about such trivial matters, with all the terrible sexist stuff that happens to nonwhite women. I mostly didn't agree with the comment, but it raised some interesting questions, and I want to take a moment, not only to reply to the comment, but to talk a little about what this blog is -- and what it isn't.
First. Are my porn commentaries and my Us Magazine rant the "only" things I can say about sexism? Of course not. I've blogged about hate crime laws, abortion laws, the Duke rape case, body image, abstinence-only sex education, whether gender roles are learned or innate or a combination of both, and the disturbingly thin line between consensual spanking fetishism and domestic violence in the Christian domestic discipline scene. Among other things. The Us Magazine rant was only one of many posts I've written about sexism.
Was it a bit silly and trivial? Yes. Absolutely. And I'm not going to apologize for that. I write about serious things and frivolous things in this blog, and I think that's one of the best things about it. And I sometimes find a kernel of seriousness in something utterly trivial. I think a lot of how sexism and other -isms work is in the little things that people often don't notice, and I think it's interesting to point them out.
Why did I decide to write about this particular thing? No tremendously good reason. I was stuck on a plane for an hour and a half and was reading my girlfriend's Us Magazine over her shoulder, and it just jumped out at me. But that's one of the things I like best about blogging -- I can gas on about whatever happens to catch my attention me at the moment, and I don't have to worry about whether a publisher or editor thinks it's relevant. I can write about the place of religion in politics one day, porn videos the next day, the scientific method the next. How to keep artisanal bread fresh, sexual differences in relationships, hate crime laws, blasphemy, the future of the novel, grilled chocolate chip and peanut butter sandwiches, the new Harry Potter book, facing death without a belief in an afterlife, bisexuality, theocracy, blowjobs, a really annoying parking garage in my neighborhood. All of it is relevant, because all of it is relevant to my life.
Which brings me to what this blog isn't:
This blog isn't the New York Times. I'm not pretending to be an objective source of news and commentary on subjects of general interest to everyone. This blog is an extremely subjective source of news and commentary, on subjects of specific interest to me. People are free to read it or not as they like. If anyone thinks it's too frivolous, too serious, too lefty, not lefty enough, too focused on atheism, too focused on sex, too long-winded, whatever... well, there's a great big blogosphere out there, full of other blogs with different focuses. (Foci?) I suppose it's a bit arrogant of me to assume that anyone would be interested in mine. But that sort of arrogance is an inherent part of being a writer, or indeed any sort of artist -- the colossally arrogant assumption that anyone in the world outside your circle of family and friends will give a flying fuck about what you say and do. All I can say is that experience seems to be bearing me out -- my blog traffic isn't huge, but it doesn't suck either, and it's growing.
Now. Why don't I blog about sexism in gangster rap? Mostly because I don't listen to much gangster rap. Just about none, in fact. (Remember my post about being a hopelessly out of touch 45-year-old in pop culture land?)
But perhaps more to the point, I don't have anything to say about sexism in gangster rap that hasn't been said a thousand times. One of my quirks with this blog is that, if I don't have something original to say on a subject, I tend to keep my mouth shut. I don't like being just another voice in the lefty blogosphere chorus, so if I don't have a unique observation or twist on a topic, I usually don't say anything at all. (With the Us Magazine post, I wasn't just writing about how sexist it was -- my twist was how bizarrely retro and outdated the sexism was.)
Why do I write so much about porn? Ummm... I gotta say, criticizing my blog for having so many posts about porn is a little like criticizing Pharyngula for having so many posts about creationism, or Cute Overload for having so many pictures of cute kittens. That's what I do. I'm very interested in porn, both as a consumer and a cultural observer, and I write about it a lot. People do what we're inspired to do, and writers write about what we're inspired to write about. I realize this seems like circular reasoning, but I don't write about things like Darfur because I don't have much to say about them, other than "Oh my God, that is so awful," which isn't very interesting. I do have a lot to say about porn -- and so I say it.
And now we come to the part of this critique that I think has some real validity:
Why don't I write more about race and class?
In my own defense, I do write about it some: in my Katrina piece, my hate crimes piece, my Duke rape case piece, the comment discussion in my Barack Obama piece, a couple of other places. (I've also written about it in some of my porn reviews, although not in any of the ones I've posted here yet.) But it's true: I don't do it very much, and when I do, it's often a secondary mention in a piece on some other topic.
Why is that?
I have an answer, although it's probably not a very good one.
I think that when middle-class white people open their mouths to talk about race and class, a good half of the time we wind up sounding like idiots or worse. And I don't just mean conservatives, either. So much liberal white middle-class writing about race and class winds up sounding patronizing and clueless at best.
And I have something of an aversion to sounding like a patronizing, clueless idiot.
So when it comes to race and class, my usual inclination is to shut my mouth and listen.
Like a lot of people, my identity-politics identities are a mish-mosh of privilege and oppression. I'm white, middle-class, college-educated, American -- all of which make me pretty damned privileged. I'm female, queer, atheist, fat -- all of which really don't. And not surprisingly, I'm a lot more comfortable writing about identity politics and -isms when I'm on the short end of the privilege stick. (That's another reason I don't write about sexism in gangster rap, actually -- I think the phenomenon of white people scolding black rappers for being sexist often falls squarely into the "patronizing and clueless" category.)
Now, I realize that that's something of a weak excuse. I realize that middle-class white people have an obligation to not stay silent in the face of racism and classism. And I realize that one of the things that perpetuates racism and classism is people's discomfort with the subject, and our unwillingness to even bring them up. That's something I can and should pay attention to. If nothing else, I can do more pointing to other people's blogging on the subjects than I do.
But again, we come back to the basic fact of this blog: It isn't the New York Times. It isn't even the Daily Kos. It's my very personal, very subjective view of the world and the parts of it that I feel I have something to say about. I do write about politics, and I can and should try to buck up my courage and expand my horizons and risk making an ass of myself to talk about important subjects I don't know so much about, including race and class. But ultimately, I'm writing a personal blog from my own personal perspective And it's always going to be written from a white, middle-class, college-educated, American perspective, in the same way that it's always going to be written from a queer, fat, female, atheist perspective -- because that's who I am.