Lady bloggers just can’t catch a break. Whether they’re writing about politics, pop culture, or what they’re wearing, women must endure disparagement from a broad range of critics. It seems they have become a screen on which to project ideas of femininity, feminism, and a woman’s place in society today.
A recent essay in the literary magazine n+1 criticized “ladyblogs” for fussing over conventional concerns like hair and makeup. Not enough focus on “the harder to articulate, more insidious expectations about women’s behavior,” proclaimed author Molly Fischer. In short, female-interest sites like Jezebel, The Hairpin, xoJane and Rookie are not explicitly, politically feminist enough. Even using the term "lady," argued Fischer, is evidence of being uncomfortable with womanhood. If Fischer’s aim was to start a discussion, it worked.
Loyal readers of The Hairpin and Jezebel jumped to those sites’ defense in their own online essays. “Fischer isn’t wrong when she says the Hairpin publishes things about makeup and cats,” writes Emma Healey for Maisonneuve, “but to suggest that a site that featured “Ask an Abortion Provider” [...] or an essay on dealing with a stillbirth (just to name a few) doesn’t concern itself with the harder-to-articulate aspects of being a woman is disingenuous at best.” The value of these blogs, argues Healy, is that they do not separate being a feminist from being a woman or ‒ more simply ‒ a person.
Meanwhile, over at Thought Catalog, Joanna Rothkopf recaps the rise and near-fall of Jezebel, a bad girl site forced to clean up its impertinent tone after a semi-scandalous public interview with two of the writers. In Rothkop’s view, the repercussions (effectively silencing those writers) are evidence of a double-standard. “I am appalled by many of the things the writers said in this interview, but the fact that they were brave enough to speak as women without speaking for the whole gender is admirable and nearly impossible in a society that demands ideological consistency from women who self-identify as feminist or otherwise. […] Ultimately, women cannot break free from these imposed ideological constraints until we stop conforming to them.”
Put it all together and things don't add up. Female bloggers are reprimanded for being audacious and criticized for being virtuous ‒ both mostly by women. It seems that feminism itself may be having an identity crisis. Women raised with the notion that they can do anything, and given the added advantage of directly representing themselves online, cannot agree on what constitutes the contemporary woman, what we should say, and how to behave. The line between established notions of femininity and rebellion is no longer clear. We are left with more questions. What does it mean to be a feminist, a woman ‒ a person ‒ in an age of such mixed messages? How do we find the “ideological constraints” from which we are to break free? If nothing else, may the debate continue.