Growing Up Slowly: Ladyblogs, Womanhood, and Extended Adolescence in the Internet Age

Growing Up Slowly: Ladyblogs, Womanhood, and Extended Adolescence in the Internet Age

Diana Clarke: Ladyblogs, Womanhood, and Extended Adolescence in the Internet Age

In ?So Many Feelings,? a recent web essay for n+1, Molly Fischer took down the ?ladyblog.? Fischer complains that while the sites she writes about?xojane.com, jezebel.com, thehairpin.com, and rookiemag.com?position themselves as ?an alternative to traditional female media? such as Cosmopolitan, this does not make them feminist. Feminist blogs, she contends, ?have a specific and explicitly political project.? But if feminism?or any political ideology?is treated as something separate and sacred, it will remain accessible only to the intellectuals within its own field.

?Behold the ladyblogosphere, for these are not women?s blogs but ladyblogs, and ?lady? is their endemic verbal tic,? Fischer announces. ?Here genitals are ladyparts or lady business…here there are single ladies, of course, but also fancy ladies and lady squatters, lady politicians as well.? Fischer?s objections to the word ?lady? are understandable. Culturally speaking, it smacks of the Shakespearean?of something antiquated, prissy, and disempowered. Yet Fischer’s position seems mired in a rigid second-waveism. Fischer calls the term ?lady? ?a child?s categorical noun for non-mother adults.? In the postmodern era where people don?t ?grow up? in the traditional sense until much later, few younger people can use the term ?woman? without a hint of skepticism. While calling myself a woman might be more up to both Fischer?s and my political standards, I (a twenty-year-old) always feel like a pretender when I do. ?Lady? seems to me more like the female equivalent to ?guy,? which has been a colloquial alternative to ?man? since the mid-nineteenth century, than a trivializer.

That gets at the split between the much-stereotyped (?bra-burning?) 1970s feminism and the ladybloggers Fischer takes on. Because women?s rights are far more advanced than they were forty years ago, the discrepancies are more subtle and often can?t be shaken off by visceral reactive tactics. Because people are much more likely to assume that the fight against sexism and misogyny has been won, arguments to the contrary must insinuate themselves in digestible guises. As Autumn Whitefield-Madrano wrote in a response to Fischer’s article on her blog The Beheld, ?I greatly enjoyed my guest blogging stint at Feministe [a mainstream feminist blog] last summer, but I also walked away from it understanding, for the first time, why some people whose politics roughly parallel mine refuse to call themselves feminists…if explicitly feminist blogs are the only acceptable online outlet for feminists to inhabit, we?d get exhausted mighty quick.?

Writing about Jezebel, Fischer complains that ?The site?s two ideals?high-minded inclusivity and cool-girl daring?made for an uneasy balance.? Jezebel and xoJane are written in a inflammatory, gossipy tone, but if covering celebrity and fashion brings readers to the sites and provides a more inviting forum for discussion of women’s issues than Feministe or Feministing, I can?t object. By placing s.e. smith?s critical pieces on unionizing and the profitability of fat shaming alongside Cat Marnell?s glamorously grody and frantically superficial beauty posts?by covering both celebrity gossip and changing housing patterns among low-income couples?these websites acknowledge the varied reality of modern women?s lives.

What Fischer calls the ladyblogs? ?rebellion?demanding the right not to be taken seriously? seems to me more a holdover from the days of old-boy media, where what?s male is considered universal and what?s female is trivial. As Whitefield-Madrano writes, ?I?m not alone in being a female writer who writes about women?s issues who would be happy to publish in more gender-neutral spaces…I rarely pitch those spaces because there?s still a little voice inside me telling me that what I write about is just girl stuff.?

The Hairpin, the upmarket, intellectual, hipster version of Jezebel, is unabashedly proud of, and fascinated by, ?girl stuff.? Ask a Clean Person and Beauty Q&A are weekly features, as is Friday Bargain Bin, in which one of the editors, Jane Marie, recommends excellent discounted things to buy yourself, from makeup and clothes to vacations and a bronze-finish mermaid sculpture. But alongside these articles, the Hairpin runs interviews with abortion providers, first-person accounts of experiencing stillbirth, regular book reviews and talks with authors, and a series called Reading Between the Texts, which both acknowledges and satirizes the small and absurd neuroses of instantaneous communication. The Hairpin approaches women?s lives with thoughtfulness and critique, and there?s nothing more feminist than that. Though it covers topics that have traditionally fallen under a woman?s duty, I see the Hairpin as a venue to reclaim those tasks in an empowered and conscious way?similar in a way to the DIY punk movement, which is also the background of Jane Pratt, xoJane?s founder, who started Sassy magazine in the 1980s.

The youngest site Fischer criticizes, both in launch date and target age group, is Rookie, fifteen-year-old Tavi Gevinson?s online magazine for teenage girls. Gevinson has been the darling of the grown-up media circuit and fashion world since age eleven, when she launched her fashion blog, thestylerookie.com, which featured her unique sense of style and articulate writing. Fischer argues that ?adults are some of Gevinson?s biggest fans,? because the ?idea of being a teenager is interesting primarily to preadolescents and adults.? In a social climate marked by looser mores and economic insecurity, it is much more difficult for young people to live a traditionally adult life?married, salaried, steadily employed?in their early twenties. As a result, social adolescence is extended, and the fascination with that phase of life is too.

But whether or not adults read Rookie, the site explicitly positions itself as ?an online publication for teenage girls,? and its tone (Rookie features articles like ?How to Approach the Person You Like Without Throwing Up?) and aesthetic (the background is a bright pink pinup collage fantasy of a teenage bedroom) suggest as much. But Fischer thinks that teenage girls are more interested in ?the idea of being an adult??even as she expresses discomfort with Gevinson?s more nostalgic and adult tastes, like her fondness for The Virgin Suicides and other media less than appropriate for her teenage audience. But as a respected cross-generational figure, Gevinson has the platform to introduce a lot of teenage girls to more challenging and interesting ways of thinking (and to get Paul Rudd to give extremely blunt relationship advice).

By titling her essay ?So Many Feelings,? she underscores her classification of the ladyblog as a cozy nest of ?slumber party intimacy,? irrelevant to the outside world. That logic, powerful as it might read, draws a false and harmful division between old and young, lady and woman, frivolity and seriousness. It classifies certain concerns as irrelevant simply because they are articulated by or for women, and in a roundabout way reasserts a patriarchal censor on the media, with no room for emotion or variety. While by no means a perfect form, ladyblogs provide an outlet for mixing high and low. This gives them the potential to make readers who don?t consider feminism integral to their identity friendlier to feminist ideas. And it acknowledges that the reader is not just a woman but a human, and no matter how much she thinks, she still has to feel.


Duggan | University of California Press Gardels