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On Recognizing Women's Writing and Labor

So I'm reading a volume of essays on Early Modern women's life writings, which can be identified as just about any nonfiction prose--including diaries, letters, autobiographies, religious writings, commonplace book material like recipes and household accounts--and personal poetry. For a long time much of this material has been totally overlooked because, you know, women's stuff, that's not historically valuable or interesting. And it's interesting to me that culturally we have this dichotomy of "darnit, womenfolks, stay in the house and let men handle the big thinkie thoughts" and "augh, women write about nothing but marriage and family and household stuff, like that's valuable, pfft." That they are there and not there at the same time.

I was taking a course at Rare Book School last week on the history of the Stationers' Company of London, and was delighted that there was a brief section where we discussed women stationers. For many years I was sternly told that, you know, women printers didn't actually print or anything, they were just, you know, there and stuff, at least of course until they remarried or died. Which, you know, that little story is being firmly taken down now, but the insistence on that narrative always struck me: the idea that women couldn't possibly run a business or be knowledgeable about a trade because reasons. Anyway, in class we talked about how women were sort of "written around" in the ordinances--the rules that men could only teach the trade to his sons and his apprentices--with the implication that wives and daughters probably knew the trade, they just wouldn't expect to one day set up their own shops. And then in the late seventeenth century you start getting women who *do* formally apprentice themselves in the trade (this means that their parents pay the trade master $$ for the seven year apprenticeship, and then they live in the master's house working for room, board, and some pocket money) and are then made free. And it's a very small group, but it *happens.*

Anyway, digression. But we look at women's work and devalue it as a matter of course--witness the fact that it's 20fucking14 and women still make, on average, $0.70 to a man's $1.00. If we don't value the work women do in offices or in homes, why would we value their writing?

I have a friend on FB who has several times mentioned starting a blog to talk about being a single mother and stuff, and we had a conversation once where she wondered about putting a donate button on it because she felt bad being seen as "asking" for money from women like her who were her intended audience of working moms, and I was like, "Dude, no, the rest of the world will insist your writing's not valuable as is, so why help them with that assumption?" Similarly, for a long time fans who had a donate button on their sites, or just bloggers, would be attacked for daring to think they should be paid--for work that often, you know, requires paid domain space, sometimes advertising, etc. etc. MedievalPOC has been through the ringer for that too recently, and never mind she has a *huge* site that has become a reputable historical and fan resource for locating books and material on POCs in history and SFF.

I'm fascinated (repulsed, but fascinated) by this cultural notion about being unable to recognize women's writing. I mean, I'll be honest, until I started reading this book, recipe books hadn't occurred to me, but of course they are: they show what's available, what people are doing, and often little histories like "this is my grandmother's" and whatnot--which, I did know they were often useful for geneaologists, but as documents of *writing* hadn't occurred to me.

And then, looking at other forms of contemporary writing: We have social media, of course. I've had this lj for a decade at this point (I remember when the first sort of blogging software/online diaries were a thing and people pooh-poohed them as a sort of exhibitionist writing, as if you could care about a stranger writing about their life, god!). There's an interesting transition to be seen in the trend of blogs that become books (or, like Julie and Julia, sometimes movies too). Can we see this as an analogue to the transition from manuscript culture to print culture, or no? Especially in terms of authority and value. (How does it change when you read a blog versus pay $20 for a book that reprints those blog entries? Is that different from collections of newspaper essays and such?)

I tend to read a lot of SFF blogs, but also cooking blogs, and I think there we start to see similar material to 17th c. stuff, in terms of people recording recipes but also talking honestly about things like depression, job-hunting, relationships, etc. (Seriously, I dare anyone to read Hyperbole and a Half's piece on Depression, and not find it visceral and brilliant.) I post a lot on FB, mostly just sharing SFF and news stories with my own (brief) commentary that I find to be of interest. Sometimes those posts become precursors to longer pieces of writing here; more often I just like having on and off conversations with people throughout the day because otherwise I get bogged down in the solitude of reading. I don't consider that material "published" in the same way that I do my lj stuff, though; I guess because it takes more effort and thought to put together an lj post than a FB post. Also the difference in venue/audience: people on lj are here because they like/want my writing, whereas some people are on FB because of my writing and work while others are relatives, social acquaintances, and so forth. (Scott once referred to my FB as my version of "LinkedIn" which I think is very true.)

Anyways, to conclude: If contemporary historians are revising what they consider to be historical writing, how/does this also apply to writing through social media? How do you even begin to preserve that material (and do you want to)?

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