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Some thoughts on critique, again.


I was going to add this on to an outfit post, but I feel it deserves it’s own post, so I’ve posted the outfit earlier today, and now you’re getting the full benefit (or not!) or me going on about something or other.


Have you seen the contoversy L. on academichic kicked off after describing her female students as ‘parading their bodies’ (thanks to La Historiadore de Moda for the link)? I don’t want to add to the substance of the discussion here (I’ve documented some of the concerns I have about the modesty debate in a previous post), but I just wanted to point out of what a high quality the critiques offered in the comments were. Yes, people disagreed very strongly with what L. had written but they did so in a rational, respectful way, they focused specifically on what she had actually said, and offered different ways of thinking about the issue. Which is as it should be, because as a blogger you should expect get judged on what you write, and that expectation is particularly strong for a blog written by academics. With one single exception, noone attacked her personally, i.e on anything other than the statements in her post. And L. herself recognised this, and gave an excellent defense/apology in the same rational respectful manner.

Yet many commenters described those giving a critique as making personal attacks and described what the critiquers had said as unacceptable and rude (ironically, some of these same people then did get quite personal in their refutation of the critiques). This worries me a lot. As I said in a previous post on critique, challenging people on their views in a grown up and respectful manner is one of the best things about blogging, and crucial for working through ideas properly. But if what I perceive as adult discussion is perceived by others as personal attacks, then how can we ever understand each other across different positions? What hope is there for any sort of critique? Are we really left with only ever commenting if we agree?

photo by Mamluke.

Comments on this entry are closed.

  • Meg 4 October 2010, 4:28 pm

    This is a really interesting topic. As I don’t have a blog of my own and have to post as just a name I tend to shy away from anything controversial on other people blogs as they have no way of coming back to me and seeing what I’m about; but even if I had I probably wouldn’t post a comment that was in any way negative as I’m increasingly feeling, uncomfortably, that this is not the done thing.

    However, I don’t think this phenomenon is limited to the blogosphere. I see around me an increasing condemnation of anyone who sticks their neck out and criticises, no matter how constructively. It is very hard to be anything but utterly blown-away by something without being looked at askance by your peers or even condemned as a negatron. I think the author Barbera Ehrenreich summed this phenomenon up very astutely in her book Smile or Die. Look out for it if you haven’t come across it.

  • WendyB 4 October 2010, 4:51 pm

    I just made the mistake of reading some comments on a news site and thinking that fashion bloggers should be grateful — even the most heinous comments we get don't compare to most of the filth (and plain stupidity) out there!

  • hillary 4 October 2010, 5:31 pm

    It is a very interesting topic and I like the point someone raised about how she thought it implied there was something wrong with parading their body.
    I personally try to dress without a lot of body hugging shapes but I don't think that because someone wears skinny jeans that they are "parading" their body more than I am. Yeah this topic is something I think about often working on a university campus and being about 12-14 years older than the students. I do find things questionable but in my head quietly. I also don't pass judgements well except for that one kid who had a "thank god for boobies" tshirt. That kid was pretty damn cool.

  • sacramento 4 October 2010, 5:37 pm

    You can disagree without being rude. What I would call disagree in a positive way.

  • Kristin 4 October 2010, 5:55 pm

    I, too, was impressed by the quality of the discussion over at academichic, and I think, if anything, it's a good demonstration that intelligent debate and dialogue is possible here in the style blogoverse. No one should ever feel that they are forced to only comment if they have something happy and bubbly to add. Also, we should not feel like we have to worry how the author of a blog might take our criticism – if it's put forth in a respectful manner, then we've done our part in the discussion.

    Style blogs, and outfit posts in particular are not the kinds of places where I find myself feeling the need to leave disagreeing comments. Posts that ask questions and elicit conversation? Sure, don't be afraid to disagree there.

    Now, all that being said, I do admit that I can think of two comments I've ever left on personal style blogs that can be considered negative. Just suggestions of a different belt or something. Whether I'm inadvertently censoring myself or if I really don't have that many negative things to say … hmmm …

  • Sidewalk Chalk 4 October 2010, 6:20 pm

    Interesting topic, and very thoughtful points! I think sometimes the style blog world can be overly nice to each other (comments full of praise for an outfit), that anything other than that, such as a suggestion or a viewpoint could be considered rude and thoughtless by comparison. We're very lucky to have a community where people are very nice to each other, but I do think we need to realize that debate doesn't necessarily equal attacks on each other's philosophies, either.

  • The Waves 4 October 2010, 6:37 pm

    You pretty much summed up my thoughts regarding this debate. Every time I receive a comment that challenges me or my post, I am grateful. The whole point of blogging is exchanging different views and bringing them out. Rudeness and hateful comments, of course, do not belong in this dynamic in any way.

  • Terri 4 October 2010, 8:01 pm

    One of the reasons I keep my blog is to have commenters help me out of my style rut…and it is working, thanks to their "constructive criticism".

    I read the discussion at Academic Chic and it gave me so much pause that I don't think I commented. It had never occurred to me that the phrase "parading their bodies" would/could be objectionable. As I pondered it, I began to understand. I also think it is possible that the younger women at the private school where she teaches honestly don't understand the rhetorical message of their style. I can remember being that innocent.

    Recently, as a commenter, I've decided that if I can only say some positive comment on an outfit, I tend not to leave the "gushing" comment. I let others do that.

  • jesse.anne.o 4 October 2010, 8:35 pm

    I did skim most of the comments as of yesterday or earlier and I had the same feelings you had re some of it – that it was a good, mature conversation with many different points of view.

    I don't know why it devolved into a perceived attack? I think when people walk that line of critique, some people feel apologist because they're uncomfortable with conflict – even if it's someone *else's* conflict?

  • La Historiadora de Moda 4 October 2010, 10:18 pm

    I think there were one or two comments that took an unusual tone for the style blogging community and criticized L. on her outfit choice. What strikes me as weird is how much more effort bloggers (myself included) tend to put into responding to negative comments or criticisms than to positive comments. L. added an addendum even. I have also noticed on some other blogs that the blogger doesn't respond to comments at all unless someone criticizes them on their outfit choice. I know that we are all people with feelings that can be hurt, but it seems a little unreasonable to expect everyone in a public forum to agree with us, our points of view, and our sartorial choices all the time.

  • Rad_in_Broolyn 5 October 2010, 3:21 am

    I read through the comments pretty quickly (thanks LaHdM). I didn't think they were mean spirited or attacking, but I did feel the need to applaud L. on responding thoughtfully to the criticisms. There was a blog that I used to read that became quite nasty to its readers at one point, and I realized that this person wasn't interested in a dialogue, and that put me off. I liked that L. considered the criticism.
    I was confused when some of the commenters said, "You don't have to apologize- it's your blog!" Of course no one HAS to do anything on a blog, short of following federal trade regulations. But if a blogger cares about readership and community, which I think Academichic seeks to do this, then he/she will care about how the community reacts to a post.

  • Franca 5 October 2010, 9:18 am

    Thank you all for your comments!

    I did think that L. responded very well. Though I also think that a response was absolutely neccessary, it really was a very thoughtless thing to say, particularly on a blog such as academichic. If she hadn't engaged seriously and apoplogised, it really would have undermined the stature of the blog as a whole.

    HdM – I think it's natural to respond more to negative comments, because it's an instinct to defend oneself. I've done it too in the past, though more on posts where I have tried to make a point, rather than outfit posts.

    Rad, I thought the same about the 'you shouldn't have to defend yourself' comments. What also surprised me was the whole 'new to blogging' line, when L. was an academic until very recently, and a large part of what academics do is write as strong an argument as they can and then put it out there for others to critique/pick holes in. That's how knowledge advances. I've seen some academic debates A LOT more vicious than what was going on here!

    And terri – isn't it great that you've learnt to appreciate someone else's point of view and thought about why such comments might be offensive to some people? If everyone just held their tongue and unsubscribed in protest instead, that would never have happened.

  • Anonymous 6 October 2010, 5:02 pm

    The problem with how things were handled in that particular posting was people forgot why L. commented the way she did. She works at a boarding school with young impressionable teenagers and didn't think their dressing in a way to "parade their bodies" was appropriate. And honestly in a school setting, we have to all admit that's not appropriate yet it became this huge tirade about how those words were antifeminist. I would have rather just seen some of the respondents unsubscribe just like they said they would. Even if you dress revealing outside the classroom, work, or any other professional-like establishment (after all, why would they always refer to it as your "high school career"??) I think L. was trying to say that school was not appropriate.

  • Franca 6 October 2010, 6:16 pm

    Hhhmm. I don't at all disagree that you shouldn't wear going out clothes (as I would describe what I think she is talking about) to school and that there are things that aren't appropriate in such a setting.

    But that wasn't what she was saying as such was it. She didn't say 'I dislike the way my pupils dress inappropriately/too casually/don't take the school environment seriously' She said 'I hate the way these teenage girls are parading their bodies'. This (a) singles out girls/women over boys (b) implies that it is an intentional choice of girls to attract male sexual attention, and distract the boys in the class from their studies, thereby at least partially excusing boys from responsibility for their own actions and implying that the girls are, well, sluts.

    I don't think she meant any harm, but these are anti-feminist points, and it was a very thoughtless turn of phrase. And I think she recognised that herself and I'm sure in future she will be more thoughtful.

    Like I said, I don't want to rehash the debate here, people have already said what I think a lot better than I would have in the original post.

    My point was merely that this discussion highlights the difficulty of giving any sort of critique. No matter how rational and respectful it is worded, people somehow manage to take offence at it.

    See LHdM, now I've given a big long response to criticism! It's hard not to!

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