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June 22, 2007

Digby 1, Beale 0. (Or, She’s Mad As Hell And She’s Still Not Taking It Anymore!)

Digby-1A Digby-4

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As long as I’ve known … her, Digby has never left anything on the table.

If no blogger is more consistent on a day-by-day, paragraph-for-paragraph and even word-for-word basis, the speech she gave at her “unveiling” at the Take Back America Conference this week was simply an elevated example of her gift for hitting a target with the utmost precision.  In the name of progressive bloggers everywhere, she explained what we do, why we exist, and how we came to be in the clearest, most exact, and most exacting terms.

But you can read all about the speech from superlative textual bloggers, like Glen Greenwald.  In this house, it’s mostly about the picture — which is what Digby gave us on Tuesday, with purpose.

As she explained to Joan Walsh at Salon:

“There wasn’t any real plan to ‘come out’ but when Rick Perlstein approached me about this I felt it was an important moment for the progressive blogosphere, and I knew that it would be a good use of my (otherwise useless) mystique.

Digby’s comment reveals two points in her thinking, both consistent with her impeccable instincts.

First, her revealing herself represents one more step in the rising visibility of the blogosphere.  Like it or not, we are a personality-driven culture.  To let herself be seen — to put a face to the name, and a face to the words … as well as to extinguish any last fantasy that Digby starred in “Network” — was to play an ace she’d been holding to further boost the sphere’s maturation.

Second, with “Decision ‘08″ starting to acquire shape, the radical right still drunkenly stumbling around and the ‘roots starting to really, well, sink roots, the hour was perfect.  Said Digby (in this brief interview on the TBA Conference blog):

I don’t think people have heard the progressive argument explicitly in a long time, not filtered through the right wing and the conventions of their media and interpreted by the mainstream media. … I think there is a new political debate that has opened up at a very propitious time for us as a result of the unfortunate failure of the conservative project under George W. Bush, and let’s just say there will never be another time like this one.

The other point, yes, has to do with gender, which makes me wonder if Digby is toying with us, or maybe not fully appreciative of what she casually dismissed as her “useless mystique.”  (And yes, this presuming blogger had it wrong also, and I — from our email relationship — thought I knew … her.)

In any case, I enjoyed this encapsulation of the issue from a reader named melthough on Joan Walsh’s blog.  She (or he) writes:

We donated a small amount to the blog a year or so ago, and when we got a thank you note, I thought to myself, “Wow! What an exceptionally nice man!”

When I read people’s praise of her elsewhere (including Glenn Greenwald’s), I thought, “AWWWW.” Not exactly the reaction I would expect to have if Digby had “come out” as male; that would have been more of a mental power fist, I expect. It matters to me very much that Digby is a woman – both at an unconscious level, apparently, and at a conscious level. Most of us, despite our high-minded desires and ideals, still have different basic attitudes toward and expectations of men and women, and this was a little lesson for me in that fact. Also, I agree that having a strong voice – a voice many assumed was a man’s because it is so aggressively analytical and so smart – that turns out to be a woman’s voice is totally cool. I don’t care about the intellectual arguments and politics on that score. It just makes me happy. And I don’t think there’s anything wrong with that.

I share the hope, repeated up and down in various discussion threads over the past few days, that Digby will reflect on, and will blog about this fascinating social enactment.  Personally, I think the loss of the “mystique” is actually a tremendous gain. Not only have our gender assumptions been tested and exposed; and not only has the blogosphere gained another influential women; and not only has a blow been struck against the stereotyping of strength (and tone, and written voice); but clearly, nobody can read Digby again without the now verifiable confirmation that she speaks to, and for, all of us.

And finally, what a treat to view every last frame of that marvelous speech through the Hullabaloo in my old “mind’s eye.”  In this inspired person’s expressions and gestures, the reading experience — the humor, the outrage, the “flat out” confidence, the gotcha, the subtle aside — was suddenly all so animated.

Digby, with all the passion and reverence you have for words, you have also encouraged me so much with your regard for pictures.  With that in mind, all I can say is: What a pleasure to see you!

Digby’s speech here

(screen shots: Take Back America Conference via Google Video)

  • Roger D Walker

    Actually, I think the secret of Digby’s gender leaked out a while ago when John Dean (Conservatives Without A Conscience) mentioned at a FDL book club a couple of months ago that he’d met her at a conference.
    Even then, it was a moment that was overlooked and/or quickly forgotten.

  • PTate in FR

    Well, that’s way cool!
    In the blogosphere, one assumes that bloggers are men in part because, in fact, so many are, especially among political pundits. One wonders why because, in theory, the blogosphere should be gender-free: Someone has something to say, writes well, and people come back for more. Who knows, who cares about gender? In theory, one should see equal numbers of female and male bloggers, but it hasn’t worked out that way. And the usual suspects can’t be blamed.
    But how refreshing to have a blogger/pundit develop a reputation for insight, breadth and clarity of thinking, and then only much later–almost as an aside–discover that that particular voice belongs to a woman. Brilliance above all, gender irrelevant. Its like an adult version of that ubiquitous child’s toy, the jack-in-the-box. Just when you have been lulled into complacency by the music, “*Pop* goes the weasel,” and we giggle from the surprise.
    I also enjoyed the pics. Her face reveals variously acuity, quickness, understanding, intense listening, humor and warmth–her expressions embody the progressive blogosphere!

  • 14All

    Digby is one of the best writers anywhere. Period.

  • margaret

    She has such a cheerful countenance and great sense of humor, that it should put to rest the MSM’s portrayal of liberal bloggers as raging, ranting, vehicles of vituperation and extremism. She rants and she rages, but with elegance and wit, skewering her subjects with intellectual insight. (I used to think she was a man, too, and when I found out quite some time ago that she wasn’t, it was a strange moment of self-revelation…expectations that men are the only authoritatve voices…..well, I guess we have proof otherwise.)

  • http://www.futurebird.com futurebird

    Okay. I just posted this at http://community.livejournal.com/feminist/ and nobody at livejournal knows who digby is. I did, but just a little. I think that we need to get these communities linked in more. There are all sorts of isolated islands of people out there writing good things.

  • http://profile.typekey.com/seajane/ seajane

    As a plus-sized woman myself, I really appreciate that she is plus-size as well. We big-girls are frequently invisible, ignored, discounted, and marginalized. She has undisputable street-cred and, as all of us plus-sizers want, is respected for what she is and not ignored because of how she looks.
    You Go Girl!!

  • http://www.thehuffingtonpost.com gabriela

    Great….. I certainly thought Digby was male.
    Courageous, … and let us hope, — effective. Somebody needs to jump start the glacier. It is time to stand up and be counted.

  • Gahso

    Hullabaloo is another of my favorite spots on the web. The Bag is my first daily stop, though, mostly because I’m a visual thinker…
    I like that Jane Hamsher is in the background – another AMAZING female blogger !! .. with a KILLER SMILE to boot!
    How about the Blogosphere gaining some “face”, huh? I do believe we’re seeing the birth of a new media for an audience who likes to think and write – as opposed to the zombies of the TeeVee world.

  • travy

    i’m a long time digby fan, and like most was thrown off a bit by the picture of howard beale and the somewhat masculine sounding name. once it became apparent (after much googling of all the speculation that was available) that ‘he’ was a ’she’ i have to admit i pictured her pretty much in this way exactly.
    her age, and background had been mentioned before so the image of a cassie bates looking ex-hippy seemed most likely to me…
    gotta get a still of her looking off to the side with a mischievous grin after cracking a joke, though. deadly!

  • Captain Goto

    Maybe three years ago, Steve Gilliard (God rest his cranky butt) let on about digby’s true gender, in comments (IIRC) at The News Blog.
    Then again, about the same time, he asserted that *THE RUDE PUNDIT* was female. When Lee Papa outed HIMself for his stage production, I concluded that Steve had been f**king with all of us, and I didn’t know *what* to believe.
    Whatever. Lady digby was magnificent in person, as she always has been on-line.

  • KingElvis

    I actually like the disembodied nature of the web.
    It makes it so ideas must stand on their own merits. We’ve got the TV medium full of hot babes and hunky anchors, do we really want to turn blogging into something where you have to be a looker to get any traction?
    Digby probably couldn’t get anyone to listen to her at cocktail party, but the web made her relevant.

  • http://www.not-a-walking-encyclopedia.blogspot.com Candy Schultz

    I have been reading Digby for years, even sent money. I was totally surprised but I think, whether conciously or not, she chose a masculine sounding name like Digby for a reason. Unfortunately people still give more respect to male authority. Just look at the crap Hillary has to endure. Now that her credentials are secure it is a good time to show just how prejudiced we all are. But the name and that picture in the upper left corner definitely incline one to think ‘male’. I love her either way.

  • readytoblowagasket

    Why 8 different stills from the speech? Why not 6 or 3 or even just 1? What are we supposed to glean from Digby’s every expression? I looked at this selection several times throughout the day before I watched the video of her speech. When I finally saw the video, I thought there was something about the stills posted here that doesn’t translate from the video. And something about the text of the post doesn’t match the images (for example, what’s up with the “toying with us” idea? She seems dead-serious to me).
    I see lots of anger in all of these expressions; are you trying to soften that anger with pics of her laughing? If so, why? The video confirms she’s pretty angry through the laughter too. But stills don’t pick up the temporary nature of her laughter.
    I love Digby’s voice. It’s soothing even when she’s seething. Perhaps that’s why she writes: so the melodious sound doesn’t distract us from her fire-breathing fury.

  • http://luckystrikehitparade.blogspot.com/ L.S./M.F.T.

    And finally, what a treat to view every last frame of that marvelous speech through the Hullabaloo in my old “mind’s eye.” In this inspired person’s expressions and gestures, the reading experience — the humor, the outrage, the “flat out” confidence, the gotcha, the subtle aside — was suddenly all so animated.

    In all due respect, you forgot one: brilliance.
    Digby is one of those rare people who if she were a star would be one of those rare Type F or A Super Giants, like Deneb, in the constellation of Cygnus, the Swan.

  • Cowpunk

    I simply can’t believe how many of Digby’s regular readers thought she might be a man. Her many passionate posts on women’s issued should probably have been enough, but there were many other hints. She once even admitted that she had bought an Alanis Morrisette album, fer chrissake.

  • PTate in FR

    readytoblowagasket:“I see lots of anger in all of these expressions; are you trying to soften that anger with pics of her laughing? If so, why? “
    I was finally able to watch the speech, curious about rtbg’s observation about anger. I had a couple of reactions. First, Digby is, just as she says, unaccustomed to public speaking–I saw someone who was, first of all, nervous. This was not someone who has had many occasions to craft her public persona. In addition, she spoke as she writes: I had to listen as a reader, not an audience. The experience for me, as a viewer, was surprising. It made me reflect how completely the media and media styles have pervaded our society. It is as if our vision has been corrupted by the PR folks. The credential, “authority to speak,” is granted by the media based on education, position, polish, buzz, celebrity. We rarely we see a normal, everyday person in the spotlight, being honored in this way. The blogosphere may be corrupting the media’s stranglehood.
    Second, I also saw a lot of anger. I suspect that Digby’s personality is one that is innately critical of the conventional, no matter where she finds herself. In our relation to the external world, we can adopt a number of roles. Some people are good soldiers, loyal to the status quo, or others are Prophets who can see how the good soldiers are failing and feel compelled to call out the error of their ways. Both are necessary. Digby is a prophet in an era when prophets have their work cut out for them.
    The moment one speaks of anger, all sorts of complex resonances begin. “Anger” is a negative emotion. It scares people. The Right and the Media has been using the conceit of “Irrational Bush Hatred” syndrome, the Dean scream, “strident” or wild-eyed liberals, to marginalize criticism. It is also used by the establishment to attack those outside of the establishment who have reason to be angry. So the question is, are the pictures of smiling digby (the first two and the last two) used to soften and feminize the discomfort one feels observing angry digby? And another question is whether it matters whether it is angry digby or angry female digby?
    Finally, I agree with KingElvis’s point. “I actually like the disembodied nature of the web. It makes it so ideas must stand on their own merits” Now that I know just a little about digby, will it affect how I respond to digby’s ideas? It is so complex. Good to know, and yet, maybe it changes things. I have not been a regular reader before though I knew digby’s reputation. Will I start reading with a different understanding now? How shallow would THAT be? Person perception is sooo complicated. I have only so much time and mental energy to bring to awareness my automatic, unconscious assumptions.

  • Katherine Hunter

    when the possibility that Digby was a woman first came out there were the “Digby’s a woman?” exclamations much like “Steve’s black?” exclamations re Steve Gilliard.

  • Bella

    Who assumes that most bloggers are male, and why? Seems to me that there are just as many women with the time, interest and equipment to use the web.
    Try an experiment – visit a blog community where you’re known as a certain gender and make a comment under a name of the opposite sex. The results may surprise you. I did it and two men who had always patronised me as a female were very keen on carrying on a respectful discussion with me as a male.
    We make too many assumptions about other people based on appearance. How come nobody’s hollering “Digby’s a blonde!”

  • http://www.futurebird.com futurebird

    Visit a blog community where you’re known as a certain gender and make a comment under a name of the opposite sex. The results may surprise you. I did it and two men who had always patronised me as a female were very keen on carrying on a respectful discussion with me as a male.
    I’ve had this happen too. And from some otherwise progressive folks. I make no attempt to hide that I’m both black and female, though I feel like I should be out there so that when others come on the scene they see the diversity and know it’s safe. It can be intimidating even thinking that you’re the only one. So I’m right here and people can know they’re not the only ones.
    So I never really understood the urge to hide who you are. But I suppose i respect it, at least.

  • readytoblowagasket

    PTate, great thoughtful comments, especially:
    she spoke as she writes: I had to listen as a reader
    Yes! That made me laugh about digby, because she was so completely herself: smart, serious, thorough, determined (and long).
    I suspect that Digby’s personality is one that is innately critical of the conventional, no matter where she finds herself.
    Interesting to consider, especially since she has worked in Hollywood for so many years.
    “Anger” is a negative emotion. It scares people. The Right and the Media has been using the conceit of “Irrational Bush Hatred” syndrome, the Dean scream, “strident” or wild-eyed liberals, to marginalize criticism. It is also used by the establishment to attack those outside of the establishment who have reason to be angry.
    Yes about the Right and the Media (the second being a branch of the first) and the attempt to demonize (your word was “marginalize”) those who speak angrily against the status quo. It works because most ordinary people can’t deal with their own deeply buried (and sometimes completely unacknowledged) anger. Anger is not just negative and scary. Although anger is a perfectly normal emotion, the expression of anger is not socially acceptable (except, ironically, in the manifestation of deadly violence and fantasies of such). Since we all accept the protocol of not permitting anger expressions in public (and for some, even in private), many people feel it’s not fair when someone else gets to publicly express what the rest of us don’t even get to acknowledge in our own emotional lives. So someone else’s anger needs to be squelched and repressed, like our own has been. Doubly true for women. Anger is not ladylike.
    The Right manipulates with anger. But the Left can’t seem to deal with it at all. Dems abandoned Howard Dean after The Scream (which wasn’t, btw, an expression of anger).
    And another question is whether it matters whether it is angry digby or angry female digby?
    It didn’t matter before, but it will now.
    Now that I know just a little about digby, will it affect how I respond to digby’s ideas?
    I predict it will affect digby more than it affects her readers. Which may, in turn, affect her ideas.
    But the blogosphere did not “gain” another “influential woman,” as The BAG says (patronizingly, I might add). The woman was there all along, influencing people. digby revealed herself publicly in order to better use her influence to speak out for progressive issues during the 2008 election effort, not necessarily to make the blogosphere itself more visible. My interpretation was that she wants to become an active activist.
    A long time ago, Asta made a distinction between sitting around blogging all day and taking action after she saw An Inconvenient Truth. Asta was right when she observed there’s something very passive about blogging. Interestingly, she was angry when she expressed it, and the progressive host of the site didn’t handle it very well.
    I doubt digby struck a death blow to any social stereotypes. She knows gender biases exist and she unfortunately proved it, even in 2007. Like many other women, she just used those biases to get something important done.
    Finally, I agree with KingElvis’s same point. But that’s probably obvious by now. :)

  • http://ignatz.blogspot.com Iggy

    I think most people assumed that Digby was a man because her name is “Digby” and she has a picture of Howard Beale fronting her page. Not gender assumptions. I’ve never seen Shakespeare’s Sister, either, but I assume she’s a woman.
    That said – what a great lady. Thank you, Digby.

  • thebewilderness

    The reason that people think that most political bloggers are men is because men who are political bloggers say so, over and over and over again. The whole time they were reading blogs written by women they wrote these little handwringing posts asking where are all the female bloggers. Meanwhile, they treated their female commenters like crap.
    Gee-whiz, I wonder why women blog under a pseudonym.

  • Phredd

    Sorry, I don’t see any evidence of “anger” at all in any of those still shots, nor did I see it in her speech. Methinks you are projecting.
    Here’s what I see:
    -Introductory, slightly nervous smile
    -Making a point using air quotes
    -Making a serious point
    -Reflection
    -Checking notes
    -Pause to accept applause for a point
    -Concluding points
    -Whew! It’s over! Accepting accolades

  • http://www.futurebird.com futurebird

    “The whole time they were reading blogs written by women they wrote these little handwringing posts asking where are all the female bloggers. Meanwhile, they treated their female commenters like crap.”
    It’s not just in the internets that such things happen.

  • readytoblowagasket

    Sorry, I don’t see any evidence of “anger” at all in any of those still shots, nor did I see it in her speech. Methinks you are projecting.
    Why would I be projecting anger onto digby?
    Here’s a direct quote from digby’s speech; it followed a list of various criticisms (smears) that liberal bloggers (such as herself) have received in the MSM from the likes of Hannity (whom she sarcastically calls “centrist”):
    . . . that [political] passion sometimes manifests itself as anger. But how can you not be angry? (She waits for the applause to die down.) So many institutions have failed us in the last decade that being vitriolic seems the only sane response.
    Hey, guess what? Her subject is anger. Maybe that’s where I got it.

  • http://www.virgotex.wordpress.com virgotex

    I knew, or was pretty sure, based on Gilliard’s and Hamsher’s descriptions, that Digby was a woman. That wasn’t as significant to me as just seeing and hearing her speak and of course, what she said. I felt, watching that video last week, that it was a momentous summing up, a snapshot in time, and it was the content of what she said, not simply the event of her ‘revealing’ herself. That video is an important document.
    And,yes,seajane, I agree with you. I’m overweight and I know about the “invisiblity” issue very well. Fat bigotry is very socially acceptable on all sides. It’s good to see someone so respected and confident confound that.

  • Phredd

    Because political passion and anger was *mentioned* in her speech does not mean that she was *angry* at the time or *projecting anger* in her speech.
    Kind of like your name. Are all of your posts filled with anger and vitriol, because you call yourself “ready to blow a gasket”? I think not.

  • Mr.Cactus

    I went over to Hullabaloo to read her post on pro-choice and halfway through, on the sidebar, was The Bag’s blogad with a picture of Digby’s smiling face. It just made me happy.
    I didn’t see the video (3-days to download on dailup), but rtbag made the point that she is angry. OF COURSE she’s angry. Every woman in this country is angry or in denial. Some of us deal with it by tearing up things, some by activism, some by wit and humor. Digby still makes her point eloquently. I like the points PTateinFR made about reading assumptions. I freely admit that I will read Digby now with more interest, knowing that here is a woman speaking out with intelligence, grace, wit and, yes, brilliance. Plus more than a little pride in knowing that a sister is making her mark in a supposedly male dominion……..thinking ahead of the game.
    I remember Gloria Steinem telling of attending a meeting at which were many noted democrats, including a prominent economist (male), who immediately and repeatedly shooed her out of the way and ignored her comments. Steinem’s not exactly a lightweight bimbo, and democratic males are males first, democrats second. It’s as if men taunt women with slights, slurs and demeaning comments and when we react in anger they say, ‘awww, did we make the little girl angry?’ This tactic has been perfected by certain radio puffbags and used with precision against every female leader.
    I heard somewhere the other day that most users of the internet are older women. I don’t know what ‘older’ means…….over 30? Over 50? I think that’s because it’s anonymous and no wet-behind-the-ears repuke is going to shut us up. We can think and write intelligently so of course we must be men! I still think xymphora is female.
    And long time readers of this blog may remember that we have our own mystery is s/he or isn’t s/he? ‘Nuff said.

  • Harley

    I’ve read most of the comments above and then went to Hullabaloo and read some of the posts. The case could be made for the voice of the outsider. Maybe Digby is so outspoken, in addition to being thoughtful and intelligent, because she is female. Think of the black congresspersons who were so outspoken before 2006 when most of congress was ‘me-too-ing’ everything 43 did. They knew they would never be part of the establishment and that gave them sort of a wild courage. Did Digby have that when we all thought she was he? Will she lose it now? Only time will tell. I, for one, hope not.

  • http://www.sobeale.blogspot.com/ Southern Beale

    Digby 1, Beale 0.
    I resemble that remark.

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