Image linked from BulletJournal.com blog.
Gender & Bullet Journaling
While the bullet journal method was developed by a man, it appears that most of the method’s users are women. This is a trend that becomes visible very quickly through a basic Google search for the phrase “bullet journal.” After Carroll’s site and YouTube videos, blogs start to appear. In the first few pages of searches, you get posts from Shelby at Little Coffee Fox (“The Ultimate Bullet Journal Cheat Sheet for Beginners and Beyond”), Kim Alvarez at Tiny Ray of Sunshine (“Thorough Guide to the Bullet Journal System”), Kendra at The Lazy Genius Collective (“How to Bullet Journal: The Absolute Ultimate Guide”), Megan at Page Flutter (“8 Swoon-Worthy Notebooks for Bullet Journaling”), and Kimberly Job at Sublime Reflection (“Bullet Journal 101—Everything you need to know to get started”).
This doesn’t necessarily mean that all bullet journal users are women, of course: it’s possible that the demographics of bloggers and blog readers are distorting the sample. According to Sysmos, as of 2010, blogging was equally split between men and women, while The Atlantic found in 2012 that women were slightly more likely than men to blog (Garber). More recent data from Pew suggests that women are more likely to use social media in general (Smith & Anderson, 2018), which suggests that some of the difference in gender in this search comes from gender differences in social media use. However, NPD does note that women are buying about two thirds of blank journals sold in the US (NPD Group, 2018), which suggests that women are, in fact, doing more bullet journaling than men.
So women are the primary users of bullet journals, and they appear to be the primary creators of digital content surrounding bullet journals. Why? So far, I cannot locate anyone who has written about bullet journals in peer reviewed journals at all, much less about the relationship between gender and bullet journals. Because of this lack of information, I started reading around women’s use of social media and women’s labor for useful frameworks.
Especially helpful was Hilary Jones’s “New media producing new labor: Pinterest, yearning, and self-surveillance” (2016). Jones connects feminist theory, digital scholarship, and Marxist critique to understand how women are using Pinterest (2016). She draws on Hochschild’s concept of women’s “second shift” (the labor women are expected to do to maintain their homes and families in addition to their primary employment), as well as on the work of later scholars show have theorized a “third shift” for women; this “third shift” consists of “unpaid activities that purport to be leisure activity but yield production that advantages capitalism,” such as maintaining one’s fitness, volunteerism, self-improvement, and more (Jones, 2016, p. 357). Jones argues that Pinterest “engages users in imagining and surveilling all parts of life” through presenting “a hyper-idealized world that coaches users how to govern almost every aspect of life” (Jones, 2016, p. 359).
Bullet journals can serve to centralize and streamline the many tasks demanded from women in the realms of work, home and family, and personal self-improvement. But they can also serve as a place where women “govern and monitor the self” and their productivity (Jones, 2016, p. 359). Jones invokes Foucault’s concept of a “technology of the self”: Pinterest serves as a site for perfecting and surveilling oneself, a task that serves not the user but capitalism and other hegemonies (2016, p. 359). Perhaps bullet journals are doing the same. Not only are bullet journal users spending money on notebooks, pens, stickers, and other supplies, but many of them are creating content for social media sites and blogs, which ultimately generate ad revenue for the content hosts. And, presumably, bullet journals are allowing their users to contribute more efficient labor to their jobs, families, homes, side hustles, and self-maintenance.
Bullet journaling is obviously tied up in Neoliberal ideologies surrounding labor, but this becomes even more troubling when gender is considered: bullet journaling can serve as a gendered site of self-surveillance, producing and requiring additional labor from women that benefits corporations more than the individuals using the method.
Garber, M. (2012). "The Digital (Gender) Divide: Women Are More Likely Than Men to Have a Blog (and a Facebook Profile)." Retrieved December 2, 2018, from https://www.theatlantic.com/technology/archive/2012/04/the-digital-gender-divide-women-are-more-likely-than-men-to-have-a-blog-and-a-facebook-profile/256466/.
The NPD Group (2018). "Bullet Journaling Trend Lifts Sales of Notebooks and Writing Instruments." Retrieved September 21, 2018, from https://www.npd.com/wps/portal/npd/us/news/press-releases/2018/bullet-journaling-trend-lifts-sales-of-notebooks-and-writing-instruments-reports-npd/.
Jones, H. A. (2016). "New media producing new labor: Pinterest, yearning, and self-surveillance." Critical Studies in Media Communication, 33(4), 352–365. R
Smith, A., & Anderson, M. (2018). "Social Media Use in 2018." Pew Research Center. Retrieved from www.pewresearch.org.