Why These Diaries?
I was talking with my friend Deb about her doctoral thesis, which is going to be on women's diaries on the Web, and she said that the diary had long been a predominantly female form. (I cracked, "Yeah, men call them journals.") It seemed odd to me, I guess from Everything2 daylogs where I've never really noticed any gender imbalance. But then Deb pointed out that in her reading and others' work on online journals/diaries/weblogs/etc., that men chronicle events and women go deeper into emotions, and that idea does ring true with me. Not exclusively so -- daylogs certainly can reveal men's emotions, but on the whole guys are more private, more worried about the consequences. "One danger of having your friends using Everything" expresses a common viewpoint, particularly asterphage's words. What if the authority figure finds out I've done something they won't approve of? The loved one finds out something about me that will push them away? This is certainly not just a male concern; a female classmate in library school once gave me a friendly, well-intentioned warning that perhaps I shouldn't be so open, shouldn't talk about having been abused perhaps, so publicly. Employers or whoever might read it. (Obviously I didn't really take her advice.)
The diary has a weird public/private duality. The parent (mother, usually) who reads their teen's (daughter, usually) diary "for their own good" and the kid who reads their sibling's (sister, usually) diary just to be nosy are seen in real-life advice columns and fictional sitcoms alike; the teenager wants a place away from authority and peer pressure both. But when it feels safe, the diary can become public. I could never have put my childhood/teen diaries online if I were still in contact with the guys I drooled over in them; I've considered putting up the college years but was stopped by the agony of embarrassment I would feel to this day if my friend Matt read the chronicles of my freshman-year obsession with him, particularly what I wrote after I asked him out and he turned me down.)
Limited openness can serve a purpose. When my sophomore-year boyfriend Chris got another girl to let him onto the dorm floor to come into my room (while I took a shower after Chris and I had fought and I left him for the evening) I was angry that he'd dared to follow me into my private space when I was trying to escape from him and calm down. That he'd looked through my diary while waiting was by far a lesser evil, because it seemed to explain how I felt to him much more clearly than I could ever do aloud, and it actually helped the relationship at that point. On a few occasions later, I showed Chris what I had been writing lately and again the scribbles put my point across better than my speaking.
However, I tried the same thing with my next boyfriend and was accused of writing something just to show others (as if that would make my feelings any less valid!). Or when he believed I was writing for myself, it merely proved to him I was doing him even more wrong than he'd previously been aware of. So revealing private writing has certainly been shown to be a two-edged sword.
It didn't stop my posting personal stuff online, starting in 1996; there are a couple of reasons for that.
- The "Oh my God!" of I'm-not-the-only-one-who-was-abused that I got from books and later alt.sexual.abuse.recovery -- if I can help someone the way those helped me, it seemed worthwhile. (At the time, after all, none of my family even had Internet access anyway, and they were about the only people whose reaction I really figured could make a difference.)
- Summer of '96 I was an emotional wreck -- I cried on my friends so much that May and June that I really worried they'd get sick of me. Another outlet was a relief.
Despite seeing jerks post "get over it" and supposed abuse stories that turned into gratifications of their own fetishes at the expense of the unsuspecting readers on alt.sexual.abuse.recovery, I never got negative mail about the personal stuff. As an earlier essay put it, "Everybody says I'm courageous."
But my essays on the web site have the disadvantage of needing a point. (At least I think they should, and it's my web site!) For such thoughts as didn't come together in quite so purposeful a way, there remained the paper diary, and very rare daylogs on Everything2 (mostly on my birthday, when I felt they could be indulged even by Everythingians who don't particularly approve of daylogs). E2 also siphoned off a lot of writing time too, because I wrote mostly factual entries for it. The occasional rant -- including one in support of personal writings on E2, citing the worth of such diarists as Samuel Pepys and Mary Chestnut to historians -- went on temporary display on my E2 homenode.
And it was my interest in others from Everything that got me starting a LiveJournal. Trying (now and then, at least) to keep the Web Pages of Everythingians list up-to-date led me to the many online journals of people I'd met at offline gatherings or whose E2 writings caught my attention. I like keeping up with the little pieces of people's lives, rather than the just-the-highlights answers to "so what have you been doing?" when you see them every couple of weeks (months, years). I like the chance to talk to them easily that the LiveJournal set-up provides -- it makes it seem that comments are expected in a way that just putting one's e-mail address on a web site doesn't begin to approach.
So I started posting my own diary entries, feelings about E2, and amusing things found on the Internet -- a combination of the long-established Memepool-style blog and a traditional diary. (With adorable kitten mood icons provided by LiveJournal!) Frankly, I was suprised to find people I'd never met in person (but was acquainted with through E2) putting me on their friends list, despite my own interest in the logs of others from E2. It's an ego boost similar to that of getting an e-mail complimenting something on my web site.
It is, however, writing for an audience, unlike the diary volumes on my bookshelf. Even if it doesn't require the subject and focus that the personal essays do for me, there's still an awareness. If they're bothering to read, they're interested in me. It's a weird feeling, but a good one, to know you're being read, that one's life is worth paying attention to -- a feedback you only get occasionally on a standard web site. That you can vent to others even if no one is around can make it even more cathartic than a private journal.
On the other hand, the electronic conversation feel, and the scrolling-off-the-screen of old entries (yes, I know they're still stored and you can choose to go back to read them) makes it feel less permanent. As I said on my old diary page, I'm a relentless self-archivist, and I want this stuff to be more permanent. I haven't quite worked out what to do about that yet.
So this is "why these diaries" for me. I don't know if everyone who journals online feels this way, but there have to be some pretty compelling reasons for LiveJournal, DeadJournal, Diaryland, and all the other online diaries with or without a site to make them easier are flourishing. If this is a traditionally female form, perhaps more guys will see the benefits and future historians will note a change in the profile of diarists with the advent of the Internet.
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