So Rebecca Traister has an interesting post up over at Broadsheet about the recent bloggy kerfuffle over the NYT’s coverage of BlogHer. There’s lots to talk about there, but I want to highlight one point that I don’t see discussed very often (although I might actually have mentioned it here before — I think that was in comments, not a post, but if I’m repeating myself, fuck it):
A blog about personal experience and illness certainly needn’t be named with an eye to political urgency, but what about starting from a place of self-regard and personal authority and naming it after yourself, like Kos, or Drudge, or one of the women who does get taken seriously online, Arianna Huffington? Think about how much easier it would be to get the respect that some of the BlogHer women crave if they started taking themselves more seriously.
I think it’s a bit of a leap to equate not naming your blog after yourself with not taking yourself seriously, especially when one of the primary reasons why so many women bloggers don’t name their blogs after themselves is because there are very real risks that go along with that. Even if your name is an open secret, there’s a difference between that and naming the blog after yourself. People refer to me as Kate Harding whenever they mention me, but they refer to The Rotund as The Rotund, for instance, even though she doesn’t hide her real identity. And Heather Armstrong has “I’m Heather B. Armstrong. This is my website” right at the top of the page, but how often do you hear other bloggers refer to her as anything but Dooce? Naming the blog after yourself, as opposed to merely blogging under your real name (or not hiding it) does make a real difference in terms of your online visibility — which can be a blessing and a curse.
That said, I did name this blog Kate Harding’s Shapely Prose — and decided to keep that name* even after the co-bloggers came along — for pretty much the reasons Traister is getting at. As much as I’d like to pretend I started blogging strictly out of the goodness of my heart, the fact is, I was not only a budding fat acceptance activist but a writer looking to establish a readership and brand myself. I could have called myself “Lucysol” (after the dogs), which was my online handle in the very few places I hung out online before I blogged, but that wasn’t the name I wanted people to remember if, ahem, I ever got a book contract or something. And honestly, what pushed me over the edge — apart from the fact that I was already using kateharding.net — was seeing blogs with men’s names show up on WordPress’s top blogs list every damned day. I don’t even know what any of those blogs were about, but I know those names were burned into my brain just from checking that list periodically. And I thought, hey, why the hell isn’t my name burned into people’s heads? (A little over a year later, Kate Harding’s Shapely Prose currently appears at number 18 on that list. Ahem again.)
Having said all that, I still struggle with feeling like keeping my name up there is too egotistical — conduct unbecoming a lady blogger! — especially when I’m not the only (or best) writer here. The fact that my co-bloggers don’t use their real names makes that somewhat less problematic, as it’s not like I’m inhibiting Filllyjonk’s or Sweet Machine’s efforts to brand themselves. And I did start this shit from scratch and blog all by my lonesome for some time, so I can justify it. But I can’t help feeling that if I were a guy, I wouldn’t even be thinking about justifying it. I wouldn’t be worrying that having my name up top might affect the community spirit or make FJ and SM feel unappreciated, or whatever the fuck. I’d just be thinking, “Yep, that’s my blog.”
Of course, any number of male-owned blogs, including some Traister mentions, aren’t named after their founders. But the fact remains, I can easily name a dozen eponymous male-owned blogs off the top of my head, and pretty much no female-owned ones other than this here blog and the HuffPo. (Help me out in comments, ’cause I’m sure I do know of other lady blogs named after the ladies, but I’m drawing a blank.) You almost never see Jane Doe’s X or Mary Smith’s Y, no matter how internet-famous Jane and Mary may be. And that’s exactly why I ultimately went with Kate Harding’s Shapely Prose, even though it felt a little oogy — because it fucking pissed me off that it did feel oogy. Why should it? It’s my goddamned blog.
I mean, of course it’s also Fillyjonk’s Shapely Prose and Sweet Machine’s Shapely Prose and — in a different and arguably even more important way – Shapelings’ Shapely Prose. But I think (hope, anyway) all of that is quite clear even with my name at the top. Meanwhile, in less than eighteen months, I actually have achieved the goals I set for myself when I started this — a significant readership and paid writing opportunities that flowed from blogging. On one level, that still surprises the shit out of me. There was a whole lot of luck, good timing, and indeed privilege involved. But on another level, I do think it’s partly attributable to the fact that I took myself seriously and believed I was producing something valuable even when I had about 12 readers, 11 of whom I knew personally — and naming the blog after myself was a big symbol of that for me.
Of course, I’m nowhere near as internet-famous as a Heather Armstrong or an Allison Blass — the blogger whose title set Traister off on that train of thought — and I couldn’t live off of blogging or my checks from the book and Broadsheet. I feel like this has been a hugely successful project because I’ve exceeded my own wildest expectations — which weren’t actually all that wild — but by real-world standards, I’m still pretty much a starving no-name. So, you know, take all this with an entire salt lick.
But I’m still fascinated by the question of why so few women bloggers have eponymous blogs. What do you think about that, Shapelings?
*You might have noticed that the last couple of headers haven’t said “Kate Harding’s…” but that’s because I was putting my name elsewhere and felt stupid doing it twice. If you look up at the top of your browser, you’ll see KH’s SP remains the official blog title.