Our blogs, ourselves

blog boardI’ve been mesmerized by a debate that’s been going on for a few weeks now.

I’m intrigued because this controversy involves, in part, the recruiting/HR/career world. (As you may know, I was a writer and blogger for a career site last year.)

It’s an interesting debate with a lot more questions than answers.

Like:  When creating content for your blog, what constitutes appropriate content? Where is the line of demarcation between personal and professional content? What do we expect in terms of content from information streams like Twitter and Facebook?

And do readers have a right to protest content – or do they have a misguided sense of entitlement about what they’re reading? Is the blogosphere so PC that we’re restricting what should be a free and open platform for expression?

The name at the center of this controversy-slash-discussion-slash scandal is Penelope Trunk. Trunk is a prolific writer and blogger; she’s an entrepreneur who had a long-running column for Yahoo!, and wrote a book, Brazen Careerist, which is also the title of the Web site that her company started a few years ago (and launched in earnest as a full-service networking/career site earlier this year).

Penelope Trunk, enjoying Madison's finest coffee (Barriques)

Penelope Trunk, enjoying Madison's finest coffee (Barriques)

In addition to her book and the main Brazen Careerist Web site, Trunk also maintains a blog that is more about her own personal brand. The content is primarily industry-related (career advice, business-centered topics, etc.) but there’s also a healthy dose of personal content.

This is not a surprise to Trunk’s readers. She’s blogged at length about her sex life, her body and her relationships. (Her on-again, off-again relationship with a Wisconsin farmer has readers as captivated as an episode of Days of our Lives.)

I’ve really enjoyed Trunk’s writing, because it’s concise in a way I’ve yet to master. She’s blunt and to the point with her words in print and in person.

And this is, perhaps, what got her into hot water.

A few weeks ago, during a meeting, she Tweeted the following: I’m in a board meeting. Having a miscarriage. Thank goodness, because there’s a fucked-up 3-week hoop jump to have an abortion in Wisconsin.

The response was fast and ferocious. Several news media outlets sensationalized the story. (Career and business blogs seem to be curiously silent on the matter, though.) Anti-abortion activists condemned Trunk in droves. CNN’s Rick Sanchez asked Trunk whether she “had no shame” when she appeared on his show.

I follow Penelope Trunk’s Twitter feed, and I have to admit, I was taken aback when I first read the tweet. My first, knee-jerk response was, “Whoa, serious TMI.”

I thought about it for a few hours, and then I started to remember some of the women I’ve worked with when I worked at minimum-wage jobs. These were women who were fired for being pregnant. These were women who gave birth in the morning and were expected to work a closing shift that evening. Two managers I worked for had miscarriages at work, and were not allowed to leave to go home or to a hospital.

Our culture doesn’t give space for acknowledging these events, these situations that happen. We much prefer the fiction of the idea to what really happens. Sometimes, things go wrong. Sometimes, having a baby happens in less than ideal circumstances. Or it doesn’t happen at all. (Of course, if the physical elements of pregnancy happened to us guys, there would be entire blogs devoted to placentas alone.)

And then I thought: Social media is supposed to be a stream of communication. It may not always be pretty, or politically correct, but what’s behind this strong reaction? Have we been RedEye’d to death? Are we only allowed to Tweet about YouTube videos and Mad Men? Is Facebook only suitable for posts about LOLcats and Lady Gaga?

Penelope has never been one to mince words, so the intensity of the backlash about her post surprised me. I understand that people have different opinions about abortion, and I respect that people have very deeply held beliefs about that topic. I was still surprised at how incredibly hateful some of the comments were.

When Trunk talked to Rick Sanchez, she mentioned something that she’s said many times to her readers: she has Asperger’s syndrome. People with Asperger’s experience social interactions in a substantially different way than the rest of us.

They don’t always perceive the emotions or reactions of other people, and often approach conversations and ideas in a very detached way. Their communication can be blunt and emotionless. And people with Asperger’s often express an intense, focused interest in specific subjects.

trunkSound like anyone you know?

I have a personal experience interacting with Penelope Trunk – and experiencing her communication methods.

A few years ago, I lived in Madison, Wisconsin. (Trunk relocated from New York City to Madison a few years ago, and lives there with her son.)  I was writing a freelance piece about networking for the Wisconsin State Journal, and I did a telephone interview with Penelope.

She was blunt and curt on the phone and I remember thinking, either I’ve somehow pissed her off – or I’ve forgotten how blunt people from New York are!

I never got to use that content (the editor wouldn’t allow her comments to be included) and the networking piece went through several other iterations, all doomed, before it died a quiet death. But I learned more in that 20 minutes about careers and networking than I’d ever learned before, and it helped me lay a foundation for my own career and networking (as well as writing about those topics).

I completely understand expressing frustration about the intersection of law and one’s personal life, too – especially in Wisconsin. I didn’t have a blog, a Facebook account or a Twitter feed in 2006 when Wisconsin voters enacted a ban against gay marriage. I had a big mouth and a desire to be heard, and as a result I was interviewed for a front-page story the day after the ban was voted into law. But if I’d had these Web 2.0 communication streams at that point, I’d have damn well used them.

I love Wisconsin (a fact I was reminded of this weekend when I visited Madison), but the ban was a catalyst that compelled me to move to a place where those restrictions wouldn’t be imposed on me. And I cherish the right I have as a citizen, a writer and an American to make those changes and to express my opinions about those laws.

I’m curious to learn what others think – about Penelope’s Twitter post, as well as the controversy that’s followed and the issues it’s all raised. I’d love to hear your comments – pro or con.

One comment

  1. Thanks for this, Patrick. Funny enough, I was checking her blog for the first time in a few months yesterday. That’s when I found the post to view the CNN interview. Before yesterday, to be honest, I was a bit on the fence about PT. Not because of her blunt demeanor (I’m one of those myself), but because I think she’s too modern in her view of Gen Y, whereas I’m more towards Gen X.

    Well, the post caught my attention and now, I’m more understanding and sympathetic towards most of her views. She was taking a no-BS attitude towards what really happens in the workplace to women that are pregnant. She’s taking a stand and what’s great is that she is doing her best to go on about her business. It was after viewing this, that I started following her on Twitter.

    Communication should be transparent. That’s really the only way forward momentum can take place. Personal or not. Waiting period or not, abortions are going to happen and women should have the option to do what they will with their bodies. Sadly, though, other women judge them quicker than anyone else will.

    Sorry if this was a little long-winded. If you can’t tell, it’s a passionate subject of mine. 😉

    Thanks, Rachael! I don’t always agree with Penelope, but I really appreciate her unique point of view.

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