I was into debating long before I hit the keyboard in an attempt to do some progressive feminist blogging. In high school I first found myself comfortable in the label of “Liberal,” which got me into almost daily “discussions” with a number of my decidedly conservative classmates. That was my life back then. I read a lot of news and had a lot of opinions.
This predisposition to being opinionated and my lack of concern about being, as some may see it, controversial at times, is what lead me to blogging during my first year in college. I was new to academic feminism at the time but had within me some absolutely feminist beliefs. Looking back at some of my earliest blog posts, it’s clear to me how far I’ve come in being able to express myself and analyze and critique problem areas in my society, even though I still have a lot of progress to make. I’ve also learned something else: Blogging has helped me practice some important life skills, and those skills have transferred nicely from the internet to the world outside of the computer.
Blogging/Life Skill #1: Clear Articulation
Having discussions with people who disagree with you is difficult because it often entails a lack of understanding regarding the other’s point of view. This is why articulating your position is key – if you put in the effort to make yourself clear, there is a greater chance of increased understanding. I recently had this problem when I got into a disagreement with my parents about using the word “gay” when they meant “stupid.” I took the time to explain exactly why using that word in that way was offensive and inappropriate. While my parents eventually understood where I was coming from, they did not come around to my side of this disagreement. That leads me to skill #2.
Blogging/Life Skill #2: Knowing When to Say When
When I first started blogging, I wanted to encourage as many people to participate in discussions as possible. For a long time, I did not enforce comment moderation, and that meant that I spent a lot of time checking on comments. It also meant that a lot of unsympathetic, and at times downright sexist, commenters made their way into our threads. My gut instinct back then was to engage with commenters, including trolls who were not interested in any type of productive discussion. I would spend countless hours hashing out arguments that had been presented in my posts in more detail in the comments so that one commenter might walk away with some nugget of feminism lodged in their head. That was stressful at times, and I finally learned that it was most likely unproductive. There is a difference between a troll and someone who disagrees with you who comes to the table willing to civilly engage in discussion about a topic that they feel strongly about. I had to learn to cut the trolls from my blogging life, so I turned on comment moderation. The same thinking applies to people in my life outside of the internet. While I’m not always the best at picking my battles, I’m getting better at knowing who and when to engage.
Blogging/Life Skill #3: Rules of Engagement
Learning how to engage in debates has been helpful to me even outside of the blogosphere. I try to live my politics in all aspects of my life and that means needing to know how to take part in productive discussions. Before I started blogging, it was easier for me to fall into the trap of ad hominem attacks if the person I was debating with made the first move into that territory. Blogging has helped hone my ability to attack issues without attacking people, and it makes it easier to spot those who do not have strong cases to present when they either cannot or chose not to do the same. I have learned to address all issues brought up by those who disagree with me, instead of addressing only points that will help my case, something sometimes missing from ideological adversaries who come to my blog looking for a fight. I have also learned the hard lesson of conceding when someone who otherwise disagrees with me completely brings up a point that I either cannot address with my current level of knowledge or that I had not previously considered when making my case. I accept that I am not perfect, and I welcome all fair and civil attempts to help me grow in my knowledge. There have been times when I have made a mistake and have been corrected by commenters who explain how I was wrong. And it has made me stronger as a blogger and as a person. It’s one of the most important things I’ve taken from blogging.
Blogging/Life Skill #4: Embrace Differences
Ok, so this has been a general rule of mine for most of my life, but it has been put to the test frequently in my work as a feminist. One of my first lessons as a feminist was that people who may have similar beliefs about things like gender equality, sexism, etc. may not always agree on the route to take toward achieving shared goals. They also may not even identify as feminists. This was a particularly difficult lesson for me to learn because in discussing my feminism with other people who also call themselves feminists, I have come across some ideas that I find very distasteful. Learning to negotiate plans of attack against recognized problems alongside people with whom you may disagree is not only a skill for the blogosphere. It’s one of the only ways to accomplish any real change in the world. There are allies everywhere, even in places where tactical differences seem more obvious than similarities. Learning to find value in different opinions has been a large part of my life, especially when it comes to feminism on my college campus. There’s no time to worry about fighting with other members of the feminist and pro-feminist communities, so I had to learn to listen and open my mind.
Perhaps practicing these skills in the more anonymous setting of the internet before trying them offline has helped make me more successful in my ventures, even as I continue learning as I go. Either way, I feel like progressive blogging has helped make me more productive outside the internet, and for that opportunity I am grateful.