Sometimes the universe reaches out and gives you a nudge. I can take a hint, usually.
A few weeks back a reporter from a local paper that shall go unnamed sent me an e-mail with a survey of questions about my role as a “political blogger” in Nevada. Why did you start your blog? What do you hope to accomplish with your blog? Isn’t blogging just the 21st century version of talk radio? And some questions about “political blogging” in Nevada, etc. I dutifully filled out the survey and e-mailed it back. (I wasn’t mentioned in the article that came out, so I’m not sure what that means. Did I fail some sort of test? Wait. I’ll get back to this in a minute.)
My first thought was, “Am I a political blogger?” It had never occurred to me to identify with that label. In fact, in my past life as a reporter I was initiated into the winsome world of politics and official political reporting. And political reporters. For the most part, I found politics and political stories to be somewhat boring. (Somewhere, my old reporter chums are gasping at the admission and yet not surprised.) It all seemed like a charade, a parade and a soap opera (sex! scandal! corruption! boo!) that the vast majority of Americans didn’t even care about. Not that I measure myself by what the vast majority of Americans like. After all, this is a country where American Idol and Dancing with the Stars are two of the most popular shows on TV.
The nail in the coffin for me in terms of my feelings about politics and reporting on it was the second Bush election in which several local douchebags got elected into local offices. My colleagues and I busted our asses and did everything but go door-to-door with The Truth. Not a web of lies that was being peddled to the public but actual, factual truths. I remember well the day after the election. I went into the office with a heavy heart. How could America be this stupid?! TWICE! My news editor at the time (himself a Republican against Bush) just looked at me with a blank stare. We were stupefied. How could we go on? NO. ONE. IS. LISTENING. I cannot explain the immense sense of disillusionment and frustration I felt. What is the fucking point? I thought I was in this low-paying, disrespected career where I worked all the time and missed time with my family and friends because I was working for something noble. I was part of the Fourth Estate for fuck’s sake. Sure, I never worked at the New York Times or became a big-shot, but even backwater stories like Gibbons-grab-ass-gate needs covering. (And again, like the truth had any effect on the outcome.)
For a while I channeled my energies into fights that felt more tangible and personal — domestic violence, sexual assault, poverty, homelessness, sex work, how Republicans are raping the environment. You know, the easy stuff. I say “easy stuff” because in the reporting world there are really only two kinds of reporters. There are the bulldog types who live for the scoop and generally gravitate to covering politics, “cops and fire” (your basic crime/tragedy/shoot-em-up sort of stories) or sports. And there are those who are looking to shine the light in the dark holes no one is looking into. Sometimes the dark holes are interesting and complex — like toxic waste dumps — and sometimes they are lame — like doggie costume shows. I’ve covered all the above (even sports). I suppose the whole thing is kind of like high school. Everyone thinks their clique and what they’re into is the best and everyone else is an idiot for thinking differently. Political reporters tended to look at me with a smile and mentally pat my head. They couldn’t really say I didn’t have talent, since I won some pretty decent awards for my work. I think what was most puzzling to them was that I spent my talents looking into things that were mired in history and shades of gray and bureaucracy. It wasn’t sexy. It wasn’t what everyone else was writing about. There was no way to play a game of one-up-manship.
Well, we know how this story ended. I left journalism. I embraced my activist spirit. I started this blog. (Not necessarily in that order.) Would I ever go back? Who knows? I loved the idea of shining light on the truth. I hated all the crap that went with it. I was never ruthless enough. As one editor once told me, “All reporters are assholes. If you’re not an asshole, you don’t last very long.” Perhaps. But I took it as a badge of honor that I never stabbed a coworker in the back for a story. I never stepped over someone else to get the story (as I saw one reporter literally do once). In one of the newsrooms I worked in some took to calling me Pollyanna. Maybe I am. I felt it was better to embrace my nature than fight it. But you can be a square peg in a round hole for only so long. Now I look for other ways to tell the truth. (And yeah, that includes a book idea I’m shopping around. Keep your fingers crossed for me.)
In feminism we talk a lot about how we define things — how we define ourselves. As a reporter I had to find a way to be me in a world that didn’t embrace my … me-ness. I did that by defining certain things for myself and ignoring certain things. Some of these things had to do with the old “woman in a man’s world” thing. (There was more than one newsroom where I was the only female or one of two.) And I can admit now that I was the victim of sexual harassment on more than one occasion (most notably at a newspaper, coincidentally the only one I worked at with a majority female staff, where the tyrannical editor would call us into his office and ask us about things like our sex lives — no joke). But the idea of defining the role of reporter as I wanted it to be had limited success. If any.
Now as a blogger, I notice that there’s a contingency of people in the world who need to classify “the blogosphere.” What are you doing over there? Why are you doing it? And there is a distinct vibe that comes from the traditional journalism world. This seems to stem from both insecurity (should I be blogging?) and elitism (blogs are fad and irrelevant). If nothing else, journalism is a world of set, unmovable, impenetrable boundaries. And to answer their implicit question: No, I don’t consider what I do at The Siren to be “journalism.” I do sometimes use my journalism training. And I do think journalists and former journos make better bloggers because they have a more finely honed skill-set. But I don’t attempt to be objective in any way. I don’t attempt to get both sides of the story. (And why is it that there are always only two sides to a story? Never four or five? How convenient.) This is my blog. These are my opinions. I’ll hear out any rational argument. But at the end of the day this is my space. Like it or leave it.
Have I traded one “man’s world” for another? Perhaps. But unlike other spaces I operate within, I creates this space. I make the rules of this space. It does not matter to me if there are more male bloggers in the world. Unlike the physical world, their “maleness” does not impede me. (Not that maleness, in and of itself, is bad or an impediment.) And, in fact, it is infinitely easier for me to ignore what I don’t like about other blogs or even traditional media since it is I who choose to interact with it or not. Yes, in fact at The Siren, I am the creator and the dictator. But I like to think of myself as a benevolent dictator.
So let me get back to my original point. This reporter was asking me questions because he thought I was a Nevada political blogger. But that’s not how I see myself. I don’t write about what most “political bloggers” write about. I can count on one hand how many times I’ve written about the presidential race. I rarely write about local politics.
Here’s how I (partly) answered one question:
To be honest, I don’t feel like I fit into what other NV political bloggers are doing. They are mostly interested in the presidential race, partisan politicking and power plays. I think that side of it is very well-covered, especially by blogs like The Gleaner and Reno and Its Discontents. And I certainly agree with a lot of what they are doing and saying. So I don’t feel like I want to repeat what they are doing so I try to do something different but still rooted in politics.
And here’s the question I thought was probably only for me:
4. Apart from rising anti-feminist sentiment (in some corners of the nation), what drives the content on your blog?
I have to guess I’m the only one getting this question. If there are other feminist bloggers in Las Vegas, I haven’t heard about them or met them. And I’d love it if there were more!
A big part of The Siren for me is the idea that I’m not alone in my personal philosophy or political ideas. I took a lot of inspiration from my favorite feminist blog Feministing.com. And I take heart that the Nevada blogs I read regularly are written by men and women who are sensitive to sexism in the world. I think Hugh does a great job of that at The Gleaner. But it’s not his or others’ focus.
What I was seeing as a journalist is the reluctance of younger women to identify themselves as feminist. And this is not unusual as it’s happening all over America and the reason books like “Full Frontal Feminism” are coming out now. Feminism has become an “f-word.” I’ve been overtly or discreetly involved with feminist issues since college and I’ve never backed down from being identified as feminist. I take that label with pride. So I wanted to create a safe space for women and men to get together and talk about these issues.
Another factor is that a lot of people I meet don’t think the national issues (abortion, reproductive rights, access to affordable health care, sexual harassment) are local issues but in many cases they are. Look at what happened to the bartender at Harrahs in Reno who was fired for not wearing makeup. That’s a case that has implications all over Nevada because of the extent of Big Gaming in our state. Likewise, there are women in rural Nevada who have had trouble getting access to birth control, the morning-after-pill and other legal services. That’s wrong and I think if people become educated that these issues ARE local ones, then they have tools to do something about it. It’s hard to get involved if you’re ignorant to what’s going on and these stories aren’t always getting coverage in the mainstream, local media.
The other factor is that I get tired of the label of “women’s issues” because I believe that anything that you label a “woman’s issue” is in fact an issue for everyone. Restricting access to adequate sexual education is directly linked to higher rates of teen pregnancy. More teen mothers tends to mean more people using public services and that’s paid by every tax payer. Likewise, sexual discrimination can lead to women earning less than her male counterpart. If women are earning less, then their families have less income and less choices. So all these things that are treated like “pink” issues, are really about making our communities stronger and better and I want to be a part of making Las Vegas a stronger, better community.
So maybe based on this and some of my other answers, I didn’t fit into what a “political blogger” is. And I’m pretty okay with that. I consider The Siren to be a community forum where grassroots activism can grow (hopefully), not the place where people come to scream unintelligibly at each other, as I see on a lot of other “political” blogs.
So imagine my surprise when I saw that The Sin City Siren was listed as a political blog of interest on a BlogHer post. In this case, I’m honored. So I had to ask myself, “What gives?” Why did I bristle at the connotation from a reporter while I embraced it from a woman-centric blog? I have to call myself out as a hypocrite because I’ve got no other way to explain it to myself or anyone else. I guess it has something to do with who is defining you and what their definition is. But having never met the reporter who e-mailed me, I assume he had good intentions. He was certainly friendly and in no way hostile toward me.
I don’t know what to think. Maybe I am a political blogger. Maybe I’m not. Maybe I’m only a political blogger on the second Tuesday of the month. What do you think?