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  • Mama PhD

    Mothers attempting to balance parenthood and academics.

Blogging, Politics, and the Personal
July 20, 2009 - 9:16pm

Blogs are boring. Did you know? No less an authority than the Wall Street Journal has decreed it so; indeed, work-life balance blogs, like this one, are particularly boring. At least, that seemed to be where the above-referenced article began, with a side-swipe at the entire concept of a “national conversation” (especially one about something so potentially trivial, and certainly so elusive, as work-life balance). By the end of the piece, though, the writer (Naomi Schaefer Riley) seems to come around to something like a grudging agreement that people are concerned with the issue of balance; she ends up, then, claiming that their concerns are making their life harder:

“At times it is hard not to think that the "work-life balance" is like the Loch Ness monster -- there are lots of sightings but no one has ever found it, and no one ever will. More important: Is it possible that so much agonizing and discussing may make life harder rather than easier? In short, is it possible to lose your balance, so to speak, by overthinking the work-life balance?”

In this paragraph, suddenly, Riley starts to sound like some of my Children's Literature students, particularly the ones who are annoyed by the class's insistent focus on literary analysis. “You're overthinking this,” some will accuse. “You're taking all the fun out of the books.”

Fun is, of course, a notoriously elusive concept, and what English professors find fun may not comport with what their students would choose. Fair enough. But, more importantly, both complaints seem to me to embody two related problems. One, they are anti-intellectual. Two, they are politically biased. Why are some problems worth talking about and others not? Who gets to decide? I find it telling that Riley claims that male readers would be particularly likely to find a blog like this one boring. Maybe so. Maybe they are the same readers who find Jane Austen, with her insistent focus on women's lives and women's concerns, boring also. Or the same readers who find it impossible to locate meaning in something so trivial as a children's text, despite their insistence — usually at the same time — that reading is vitally important to child development.

Feminism started to make sense to me when I first heard the slogan, “the personal is the political.” Austen's personal, domestic world is deeply political, even if the soldiers in red coats seem mostly to serve as escorts to dances. And children's stories like Alice in Wonderland or, indeed, the Harry Potter series, are imbued with meanings — about education, knowledge, even ethics — that are all the more important for being so easily missed. The minutiae of how our lives work — or don't — from day to day is, as most feminist scholars know, deeply political. The way power is distributed in society is visible in the small things like whose job comes first and who knows the pediatrician's name, in how we organize our time and who has access to what kinds of work. These issues are also, of course, capital-P Political, when we consider the economic, governmental and social policies that have, for example, made the two-income family the norm without commensurate changes in our social organization. I've learned a lot about these issues from blogs, including the ones collected here under the Mama, PhD umbrella (check out the archive on the right).

Of course, there's a simple solution to the problem of boring blogs or, indeed, boring novels. One can simply stop reading them. But as long as I keep learning from other people's lives — expressed in blogs, memoirs, novels, and, yes, conversations over coffee, I'll keep inviting them in.


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