Principles, Plagiarism, and Pressure: Or, Superwoman Is Not a Book Blogger (And Vice Versa)

A well-known book blogger took her site offline at the beginning of 2015 after a confrontation over reviews that she had plagiarized from other blogs and media websites. Nearly two months later, she published an apology and attempted to explain her actions:

“(Y)ou deserve to know the truth and I need to be the one to tell it. My blog has been shut down since the beginning of January when it was discovered that I had plagiarized numerous book reviews both on my own blog and in guest posts on other blogs. The hurt and disappointment I caused to both good friends and the blogging community at large cannot be quantified and as I write this post I continually feel how inadequate any apology really is. And yet as inadequate as it feels, an apology is still an absolute necessity. I want to tell everyone that there is no excuse whatsoever for my actions. None.”

There are a lot of words on the Internet. While that makes committing plagiarism easier than it’s ever been, I do think some of it is genuinely accidental. A language has only a limited number of words that can be strung together to discuss a particular thing, and chances are that sometimes the same words about the same subject may be put together in almost the same way by different people. What appears dishonest may very well be–sometimes–an honest mistake.

But when you know where you found the words you’re using, not crediting them to their original writer is dishonest–and writing on the Internet also makes it easier to avoid plagiarism. Adding quotation marks to the text you copy-and-paste into your document is simple enough, and linking back to where you found it is far easier than footnoting your sources ever was. And in that respect, I agree: there is no excuse for plagiarism.

"Superwoman is not a book blogger" The 3 Rs Blog
…and book bloggers don’t have to be superwomen.
(banner image via pixabay)

The majority of individual, hobbyist book bloggers are women, and so it’s appropriate for us to consider how this hobby affects our lives as women. The apology post continues (with emphasis added):

“I was feeling overwhelmed with life, kids, work and I honestly couldn’t keep up with the demand of reading and reviewing books. I didn’t want to let anyone down. I didn’t want to say I had too much on my plate. I didn’t want to admit that I couldn’t be ‘Superwoman.’ I couldn’t say ‘I can’t do this anymore.’ My site had grown so much faster than I ever imagined it would and I couldn’t keep up. I didn’t think I could step back. I didn’t think I could say ‘Time Out.’ So instead? I started taking short cuts – multiple times. I knew better but it seemed easier than to say ‘I can’t.’ It was stupid and honestly I don’t know how many times it occurred. Now I desperately — fervently wish that I had spoken up. I wish that I had taken that step back and said ‘I can’t.’ I wish… well wishes don’t change my actions. It was that silly fear of not being Superwoman that stopped me from speaking up.

Particularly in the early stages when you’re trying to grow a blog and make a name for it, it’s not hard to get in over your head. You’re excited about the new opportunities and the exposure, you don’t want to hold yourself back, and you jump at nearly everything and almost never say “no.” And if you have little else claiming your time and attention, that may work just fine for you.

But very few of us have “little else,” and most of us eventually realize that something–and probably more than one “something”–has to give. Realizing this is healthy, and taking appropriate action to reassess your priorities and reclaim what really matters demonstrates strength. There is strength in knowing, and respecting, your limits. (Maybe it’s not the kind of strength you’d associate with Superwoman, but we’ll get to why that doesn’t matter.)

With ten years as a book blogger under her belt, Andi knows something about dealing with the pressures, and says:

“There’s been a lot of discussion lately about plagiarism in the blogosphere. Plagiarism that erupts from being overwhelmed, desperate. I can tell you from 11 years of teaching…that’s a very common cause. Let’s just stop all the Wonder Woman talk right now. None of us are Wonder Woman. Most of us are overwhelmed at some point in the day or when we can’t sleep in the middle of the night, and we have to be kinder to ourselves and come to terms with fluid priorities. With letting some things go.”

And Becca would like to see Superwoman “die a fiery death”:

“I totally get feeling overwhelmed. I completely understand how intense the urge is to deny that you cannot do it all. And I do not know where this bullshit idea about women needing to be able to do all, be all, have all came from but it needs to die a fiery death.

“It is okay, I repeat, IT IS OKAY TO STRUGGLE. YOU ARE NOT A FAILURE. I AM NOT A FAILURE. WE ARE HUMAN. And humans need to take breaks. Humans need to step back and reassess. Humans are not robots.”

I can tell you a little about where that “bullshit idea” comes from. One of the defining debates of the last forty-odd years of feminism is the one over “having/doing it all:” nurturing happy, healthy families while having fulfilling, productive careers and making ourselves a priority; being caring neighbors and active community members; and keeping our homes and lives looking great. It’s not just a matter of having/doing it all; it’s having/doing it all all at the same time. An idea once intended to be inspiring and empowering has instead become a source of dissatisfaction and desperation, and desperation seldom leads to good decisions. Again, from Becca:

“(I)t breaks my heart that women have been taught that our worlds will implode if we cannot hack everything. We are taught that we must be everything to everyone – the doting wife, the stay-at-home mom, the breadwinner, the maid, the friendly neighbor, the perfect employee, the PTA president, the spin class master, the butcher, the baker, the candlestick-maker. If men were forced to be all these things, we would’ve learned about their implosion long ago. Let’s be real. We are strong but we are not invincible.”

In short, Superwoman isn’t real, and her myth has no place in book blogging. (And if she were real, she’d know she had too many “super” things to do to be able to blog about them, too.) Even the occasional woman who seems like she could be her is probably just putting up a better front than most. Even the most talented jugglers drop things, and no one can fake it forever. Eventually, anything under too much pressure cracks.

And really? A book blog doesn’t matter nearly as much as your principles–let alone your relationships–do, and it is not something worth cracking under. We do all women a disservice if we make a practice of behaving like it is.

Thanks to Kim for her contributions to this post as sounding board (and copy editor).

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