What Would Tod Goldberg Do?
Last week, Jordan Summers and Kassia Kroszer engaged the romance community at Romancing the Blog in a debate over author blogs. Summers felt hamstrung, in the past, about voicing strong opinions, particularly political ones, for fear of losing readers. Kroszer argued against the milquetoast bloggers. One response that I saw and have seen argued in the past is that our community is fettered by its femininity.
It’s not an uncommon complaint – “you wouldn’t see this if we were all men.” (This is something that is asserted by a good blogger friend of mine, in fact). First, it’s a false dichotomy because the forum itself would not exist if “we were all men.” Second, it raises up male discourse on the internet to be qualitatively superior to that of female discourse on the internet. Would the community be better off if we addressed things like men? How would men interact about romance books? Or books in general? Let’s look at one popular male author/professor/blogger.
Karen Scott uses the term “fucktard” quite a bit. She says she acquired her usage from Tod Goldberg. I asked Tod Goldberg, he of the one “d”, whether I should attribute the term “fucktard” to him. Goldberg demurred stating that fucktard has surely been around for as long as there have been fucktards. Perhaps he just applies it with more vigor and accuracy. Certainly Goldberg has no qualms about giving blunt opinions regarding behavior on the internet. He called a recent miles long thread here a “fucktardapalooza”. I’m of the opinion, although I haven’t shared it with Goldberg yet, that the more that you insult him, the more that he appreciates it. After all, you certainly don’t expect hugs and kitties when “fucktard” is used in every other paragraph. I’m sure, though, if you send Goldberg an email, you should be armed with something more witty than “No, I think you are the fucktard.” I mean, when he calls you a fucktard, you need to return fire and say something like “at least I can carry through an entire interview without my attention wandering like a five year old distracted by chewed gum on the sidewalk.”
Let’s be up front about a couple of things. Women are viewed differently than men by both women and men. Women have to work twice as hard to gain respect as men do. This is as true in the real world as it is on the internet. Despite the fact that the number of females and males who blog is fairly equivalent, the most popular blogs appear to be helmed by men. I also completely understand the desire for authors to not want to cause conflict, make waves, or even tiny ripples. But part of our oppression is self-inflicted. It is possible that men see us differently because we perceive ourselves to be different. Perhaps we have adopted an outmoded, outdated narrative about ourselves.
If we hold ourselves back, there is no progress made forward. If you are a female author who blogs and has something to say, then say it. And if you don’t want to say anything, don’t blame it on your particular set of genitals or lack thereof. I’m not really sure whether this assumption that men relate better is reflective of what actually goes on. Have you been to the ESPN message boards, where I would bet my left leg it is dominated by the penis endowed? Basically, it’s filled with name calling and schoolyard taunts.
Summers points to bloggers with large readerships like John Scalzi. Scalzi is often someone who is pointed to as an example of authorial blogging. People seem to forget that Scalzi has been blogging for over nine years. Nine years, people. He’s built an audience, found his voice, and has been blogging on a consistent, near daily basis, for nine years. I don’t say this to suggest that time alone is responsible for Scalzi’s large audience. Obviously his voice is incredibly important. I find Scalzi’s blog to be entertaining and his fiction work is award winning. But for all Mr. Scalzi’s huge per day visitor rating, he has not made it to the NY Times list** or USA Today list. Again, this is not to diminish Scalzi’s ability as a writer. He has won the John W. Campbell Award for best new writer in 2006 and Hugo Award Best Fan Writer in 2008. He may very well be a bestseller with his next book. But being a popular blogger may not necessarily translate into more sales and being outspoken about one’s opinions does not necessarily translate into less sales.
**Mr. Scalzi did make the extended NYT List at No. 33 for the paperback release of The Last Colony.
What is keeping female author bloggers in check over voicing opinions on a wide array of topics? Answer: Fear of losing sales. What is it that makes authors fear losing sales? Comments in which readers say an author’s actions can adversely affect her sales? How often does that happen? In each case in which Dear Author has highlighted fucktardy behavior by an author against a reader such as the case of Deborah Ann MacGillivray or Victoria Laurie, the authors’ sales have increased. In fact, I somewhat cynically wonder whether authors taking cheap shots at readers is done intentionally to gin up controversy.
There are authors that I’ve stopped reading because of their online persona, the only persona that I know, but I’m pretty sure I’m in the minority. There are authors that I’ve stopped reading because their books are bad. There are authors I’ve stopped reading because I’ve simply forgotten about them.
The truth is that there are plenty of advantages of having a female audience. A) females buy more books by a whopping margin of 3 to 1. B) there are more female authors that make a living off of writing than male authors primarily because of A.
An author can lose a reader for a whole host of reasons, and if being true to yourself is important, then why not blog about what you believe in or conversely don’t believe in. Summers closes her article with a sentiment that she wants to be unfettered by her fear in her blogging. I applaud and support that.
If men can get away with having opinions whereas women can’t, then we women are partially responsible for that. What it means is that we women don’t have to support everyone’s opinion, but rather their right to voice that opinion. This means that if you state an opinion, be prepared for criticism because if you can’t handle it, then you aren’t supporting the right of a person to voice that opinion. Calling someone a bully or running away because an opinion is challenged is just as suppressive.
Authors should feel free to say what they want. But free speech isn’t the same as speech with no consequences. If I disagree with another blogger within the romance community, I’m going to say it here. And I might say it in a mocking tone, in an insulting tone, or in an aggrieved tone. And yes, in return, I can be castigated, praised, insulted. You have to live with those consequences. But I’d rather engage in debate with a person that called me a fucktard than one who would challenge me and run away because that chills more speech, in my opinion, than any invective filled response.