I started this blog turned something-maybe-slightly-bigger in July 2012. Most years around this time, I take a moment to reflect on why I blog as an academic and why others might want to as well. Past reasons—which I wrote about in 2013, 2014, and 2017—still resonate with me. Blogging builds an audience of readers, collaborators, friends and fans, mentors and mentees. Blogging also builds bridges. Blogging helps my writing, especially if and when I feel stuck. It has opened doors I didn’t even know to knock. And it’s been fun, year after year.
This year, however, I have some different things to reflect on.
What does it mean to be a public scholar, to blog, and to share my work, perspective, and life, after being trolled quite unpleasantly, for weeks? (You can read more about that in my Nursing Clio essay, “I Was Trolled, Here’s Why I’m Turning It into a Teaching Opportunity.”) Seeing this happen to me has made some fellow scholars and friends even more hesitant to start blogging. To that I say, no. Now is the time more than ever to be public scholars and to be scholars in public.
To begin, the outlets that picked up the story about my Feminist Media Studies article, those who wrote the stories, and the folks who read them, commented on them, tweeted me, and emailed me, weren’t at all interested in who I am or what my research is actually about. All of that information is freely available and easy to find here on this site. So, blogging about my research did not invite or incite any of this vitriol.
Furthermore, my research could have been attacked even if I didn’t have an online presence, which would have left me with fewer avenues to claim, own, and drive the narrative of this situation as it unfolded. Similarly, because I already have an established online presence, a Brietbart article isn’t the first thing online searches return for my name.
A more important point, at least for me, was that being a public scholar meant I didn’t have to face this experience alone. People who I had never met or even spoken to before, who had been reading my work over the years, reached out to me with words of support at moments when I needed them, for which I’m unceasingly grateful. Without my online presence, I might not have had as many generous and kind folks on my side as this experience transpired.
But what made me most uncomfortable in all of this wasn’t the mean tweets or being called offensive names or having my happy corner of the Internet poisoned—perhaps forever, which I’m still trying to figure out how to deal with. It was the sustained antagonistic sentiment against social scientists, humanists, and feminists; against scholars, academics, and professors; against the academy and higher education.
I know that I’ll likely never convince some (or maybe even very many) folks, but I also hear and see and acknowledge that there’s a lot of confusion about what academics do and why it matters. That’s part of the reason why I share publicly some of what I’m working on in the classroom with my students, like teaching with cookbooks, designing dietary guidelines, defining American food, or writing on food, gender, and popular culture. It’s why I’ve blogged about how my Instagram is full of visual representations of what my work life of research, writing and revision, class prep, conferences, etc. (etc.!) looks and feels like. It’s why I blog my research publications to make them more accessible, so they’re not just behind a paywall or too full of jargon.
Sure, part of me is utterly heartbroken that I’m starting my academic career at a time when my professional field is widely misunderstood, attacked, and maligned. But for me that’s all the more reason to stand up for what and who I believe in, to weather the storm(s)—(with help and support!), to not stay silent, and to be a public scholar with all the grace, resilience, and empathy I can muster.