- We're all cowgirls now
In the winter of 2008, I created an online blog persona called Historiann, a cowgirl who (supposedly) keeps horses and perhaps some ruminants on her ranch on the High Plains Desert. She allegedly looks a lot like the pinup cowgirls drawn by Gil Elvgren. This was mostly unthinking on my part and an artifact of living in Colorado, a place that evokes in people's minds a kind of rustic, Rocky Mountain glamour. I had been a reader of political and academic blogs for several years at that point, and was interested in experimenting with the format for two reasons. I thought it might help to publicize and generate interest in the 2008 Berkshire Conference on the History of Women, for which I was the U.S. and Canadian History Program Committee co-chair. In addition, I thought it might be fun to write for a more general audience on topics I don't engage in my own scholarship. I wanted to see if anyone else would be interested in my peculiar constellation of interests, namely early American history, women's history, feminism, and politics. Boy howdy, as we say out here on the Western plains: did I get more than I bargained for! Over the years, I've come to see my cowgirl alter ego as an appropriate companion to assist me in navigating both the wild frontiers of the nonpeer reviewed World Wide Web and my real (or as we say in the blogosphere, "meat") life as a women's historian.
The skirts that Elvgren's cowgirls wear are frequently in disarray—caught on a fence splinter, swirled up around their waists after a tumble, or hitched up to accommodate a holster so that the cowgirls' legs are usually very exposed. One of my earliest (and most depressing) realizations in blogging was that, like those cowgirls whose skirts are always tripping them up, women who write in cyberspace are exposed in ways that people who present online as men are not. Whether we write under our own names, whether we are truly anonymous or entirely pseudonymous (like Notorious Ph.D., Girl Scholar; Squadratomagico, or Another Damned Medievalist at Blogenspiel), or whether we're only lightly and playfully pseudonymous (like Tenured Radical, Roxie at Roxie's World, and Historiann)—we still have to play by the same "girl rules" that we're subjected to in the meat world.1
You know the rules I'm talking about: don't take up too much space (physically or rhetorically), don't say anything not-nice, and don't make the mistake of thinking you're an authority on anything. Those of you who have made the mistake of clicking on the comments responding to most articles in newspapers or online magazines will recognize these "rules" immediately [End Page 220] in the misogyny that gets thrown at women writers, especially those who write on feminist, women's or gender issues, by people who present online as women and men alike.2 By choosing a pseudonym but stating clearly on my homepage my real life identity, I thought that my academic credentials and position would at least inoculate me against the last "girl rule," that I should never presume to be an authority on anything.3
Sex, Scolding, and Civility in Cyberspace
Historiann is a role I inhabit online, but because I am not truly pseudonymous and my blogging persona is clearly linked to my real life professional identity as a tenured professor, I monitor the comments on my blog closely. My goal in blogging is to provide a space for feminists (scholars and other interested readers) to meet and discuss various issues in our intellectual, professional, and personal lives, as well as in contemporary politics. I see my blog as a virtual living room, where all are welcome so long as they are aware they're in my space and they are willing to engage in serious and respectful conversations. I have an obligation to ensure that debates and disagreements—either with me, or between commenters—remain respectful.
The internet unfortunately does not usually foster the best in people. Many blog...