In Praise of Oversharing

In Praise of Oversharing July 24, 2013

As someone who wears the “blogger” hat quite frequently, I always wonder how much sharing constitutes oversharing. Does my audience really need to know if I’m feeling cranky and bloated because I’m on my period, or that I made yet another batch of jam with farmers market berries, or that I’ve been lifting weights for X number of consecutive weeks and I’m happy with the results? On a less formal level than blogging, do I write about these things on my Facebook, to keep my faraway friends and family appraised of how I’m doing?

After giving it some thought, I’ve decided that yes, I’m in favor of what might be considered by some to be oversharing. There are both personal and political reasons for this.

On the personal front, I was raised in a household that was very tolerant of difference. We held (and continue to hold) some rather non-conformist values, and I was exposed to multiple cultures at an early age (it helps when your mom is an art teacher in the Los Angeles Unified School District, working primarily with mentally handicapped high-schoolers). As my parents took me and my sister on various trips, we wandered through art museum after art museum, and later ventured to Europe. It became incredibly obvious that what is considered polite or appropriate varies by subculture and by region. This awareness of how arbitrary social norms are influences me to want to challenge them on principle, to push people to see if they realize whether their responses are due to socially conditioning or individually held values (as though it were easy to distinguish between the two!).

I’m a firm believer in respecting other people’s boundaries, whether we’re talking about giving consent for intimate acts or social interactions. And yet I see no reason to artificially enforce cultural norms that are arbitrary to the point of being silly. Don’t get me wrong, my parents raised me to be polite – but I will bring up politicized issues like the way women’s bodies are treated in our culture, from advertising to fat-shaming, at every opportunity. I will also include my own personal experiences in these conversations. If that kind of oversharing offends you, well, you’d better own that and tell me so, because I’ll respect your boundaries – but you need to be self-aware enough to set them in the first place.

This leads us into my political reasons for oversharing. I hinted at them above, when listing activities that some people might not care to hear about, whether thinking they’re extraneous or icky. What did all those descriptions have in common? They relate to bodies: eating and cooking bodies, menstruating bodies, exercising bodies. As I’ve discussed over at MySexProfessor.com, dualism is an insidious Western mentality that separates minds from bodies, valuing the mental over the physical, the rational over the passionate, and the masculine over the feminine. By talking so much about my body and related activities, I open myself to various kinds of criticism: that I spend too much time in the physical world and not enough in the mental realm that as an academic I’m supposed to inhabit; that I am shallow; that I am vain. The gendered dimensions of dualism make it clear that women are more likely to be aligned with the body than men are, resulting in our devaluing and degradation.

So I share about my life in a small gesture of resistance to the prevalence of dualism. I share about my life in order to say yes, I’m a woman, and yes, I happen to be extraordinarily intelligent, but I do not neglect my physical existence, and if you have a problem with that, well, you should work on those unconscious biases of yours while I’m over here busily (and happily) living my life.

There’s another reason that I share, sometimes to the point of oversharing. I’m painfully aware that people like me did not and do not always have a voice. Very few written records of historical women’s daily experiences exist. Those that do are, in European history at least, overwhelmingly noble (as not many lower-class women could read or write). Other people at the margins of society – gays and lesbians and transfolks, people of color in white-dominated societies, and so on – have also been voiceless and powerless in many situations, throughout many centuries. This makes me angry. I know that our oppressions and struggles are not equal or symmetrical, but I’m angry nonetheless. I’m angry that our experiences get lost and neglected because literacy and education are not yet considered universal human rights. I’m angry that history was written by the victors, most of whom were wealthy, Christian, heterosexual, monogamous, cis-gendered, neurotypical, European white men. I’m angry that even with the wealth of information at my fingertips thanks to the Internet, I still won’t be able to learn about what women’s lives were like in historical periods when men’s lives, and the lives of the rich, and the religious upper castes, were the sole ones being documented.

As a folklorist, I believe in the transformative power of personal narratives, those stories we tell based on our experiences. I want to see everyone’s lives documented. We all have stories, and those stories are treasures.

As a feminist, I want to see women, women’s lives, and women’s experiences and stories valued at least as much as those of men. I want to see that for all oppressed peoples no matter why they’re being oppressed, whether it’s skin color or religion or social class or sexuality or gender identity or nationality or (dis)ability.

So I share about my life. Sometimes I overshare. I broadcast it to the world, documenting it on the screen and in pen and ink. Maybe these small acts of resistance matter as such, and maybe they don’t, maybe they border on solipsism and narcissism. But I share because I know there are people like me living right now who cannot. Because if I’d been born perhaps one century ago, and definitely two or three centuries or more ago, I would not have been able to document my life.

Again and again, I return to the feminist slogan “the personal is political.” And yet I long for a day when it will no longer be useful. Perhaps documenting lives, even to the point of oversharing, is a step that will help us imagine that future.

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