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March 19, 2004

The "Invisible" Woman Blogger

Update: I found Suburban Guerrilla's post on this subject after I wrote my own post. She made some excellent points well worth the read.

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When I first came to the blogosphere, I collided head-first with a "why aren't there more women bloggers" discussion. Apparently it wasn't the first time the issue came up for debate. That same debate came up recently - again. Although the latest incarnation is about liberal women bloggers, the debate was the same then as it is now - some men wonder where all the women are, and women sigh, repeating for the umpteenth time, "Take off your blinders, guys. We've been right in front of you all along."

Kevin Hayden wrote about those mostly male bloggers who ask "where have all the women gone?," sprinkling nearly every word of his post with a link to a woman blogger. His update of that post had more links, including one to my blog. I remember in May, 2003, not long after I had joined NZ Bear's Blog Ecosystem, when Kevin had sought to make left-wing bloggers (in particular left-wing women bloggers) more prominent, and he had promptly been spanked by NZ Bear, NZ Bear's commenters, and others to whom he had bcc'd his e-mail. Aside of the annoyance some felt over what they believed was spam from Kevin (I received the e-mail and did not take it that way), there was the usual (mostly from men) "women get mentioned" and (mostly from women) "women don't get mentioned enough."

The debate this time around hasn't changed a bit since last spring.

CJR Campaign Desk pointed out that Wonkette is the only female-run blog in the first twenty of NZ Bear's Blog Ecosystem. It probably helps that Wonkette's publisher is Nick Denton, who started Moreover Technologies. I have noticed that the women bloggers towards the top of NZ Bear's Ecosystem, bloggers such as Rebecca Blood and Virginia Postrel, tend to be more conservative. It could be that these women reflect the conservative politics of the more popular conservative male bloggers who populate the upper echilons of the Ecosystem. Some lefties have pointed out that NZ Bear himself is quite politically conservative - something that has been reflected in and criticized about his Ecosystem. Not everyone feels that way.

Ezra started the ball rolling at Pandagon. He had wondered "Where Have All the Good Women Gone?" He asked "So why aren't there more? There are certainly as many women as men on the Left and I know of no statistics showing varying rates of internet use between the genders, so what's the deal?"

The "good women" let him know the deal, right between the eyes. It's not like this is the first time left-wing (and right-wing) men have been told where the women bloggers are.

The statistics are out there. A February, 2004 Pew Research Institute study found that there are nearly equal numbers of men and women who write blogs. Respectful of Otters rose to Ezra's defense: "I should say that I honestly think Ezra means well, and I think he's genuinely bewildered at the number of pissed-off women in his comments section complaining about feeling invisible. I don't think there's some sort of cackling misogynistic conspiracy of male bloggers. I think there probably is a general cultural tendency to take men more seriously than women, at least on matters in the public sphere, and I think that general tendency is amplified by the self-perpetuating nature of blogosphere popularity. Feminist women and men tend to deliberately work at overcoming the subconscious tendency to give men more attention than women, so they tend to read and link to more blogs by women. In the absence of that kind of deliberate work, you get male bloggers with blogrolls full of men quoting and linking to other male bloggers, and the perception that female bloggers barely exist."

I see the point. I don't think there's a vast blogger conspiracy to silence and ignore women. The problem lies, in my opinion, on several factors, including the image the blogosphere has as a utopian "equal" turf, when in reality it isn't equal at all. Despite its reputation for being an equal ground between the genders and barrier-free, the blogosphere is just like any other group entity: it has a hierarchy that reflects existing social mores. CJR Campaign Desk described the disappointment and anger many women bloggers have expressed over feeling invisible as "[p]erhaps because the blogosphere doesn't quite live up to its hype as barrier-free. Clay Shirky and others have argued that even the blog world has an Establishment, with dominant blogs garnering an amount of traffic disproportionate to their quality. And while the blogosphere has been hailed by itself as a horizontal (or links-driven), not a vertical (or hierarchical) universe, there are those who claim that male bloggers have benefited from what amounts to a first-mover advantage."

CJR quoted New York University professor Jay Rosen, who said "[b]logs have their origins in the male-dominated tech world. In any group, there's an in-club dynamic. That mentality can prevent the cream from rising to the top."

I believe that the "woman blogger problem" also lies in differing definitions of what constitutes political discussion. Kevin Drum inadvertantly shined a light on these differences in the post he made yesterday, March 18, about Gavin Sheridan being sued by John "Mars, Venus, and Unaccredited University PhD Degrees" Gray. I don't think he's even aware that he wrote, (my emphasis) "Here's a little break from nonstop political blogging. You all know Dr. John Gray, don't you? The author of Men Are From Mars, Women Are From Venus? Sure you do."

That comment in his post inspired me to write about women bloggers today rather than two weeks ago when the discussion was at its peak.

Kevin is a top blogger. He never sits far from his Number 6 spot on NZ Bear's Ecosystem, and he deserves that seat. He has always been one of my favorite bloggers. I read him every day. His writings about the Bush administration and the bait-and-switch war we're stuck in have always been succinct and illuminating. But... today is Friday. I miss his Friday Cat Blogging. I remember that he wrote that he had received complaints about it because it wasn't "political." I thought it was amazing that some people had the gall to complain about Jasmine and Inkblot. I mean, come on!

I don't think he had stopped because of those complaints, but the complaints themselves were interesting. Anything not deemed "political" may be viewed as watering down and weakening a political blog's impact. Even if the non-political entries were very popular, they were perceived as having that effect. Kevin's Friday Cat Blogging was nominated for a 2003 Koufax Award. He inspired me to start my own Friday Cat Blogging. Lots of women who write about political issues also include what some men may consider "fluff" on their blogs. Men write "fluff," too. I don't believe the "fluff" detracts from their blogs, but some bloggers apparently do.

I had thought that a discussion about a pseudo-science relationship "expert" was a political discussion. It's not about Iraq, Spain, Plane, war, Bush, Afghanistan, the economy, or job outsourcing, but it is definitely a political discussion. My blog is very political, even with its non-political posts and categories about cats, the television shows Without A Trace and CSI, and the game Uru. I choose to discuss political topics outside the narrow range of Bush/War/Economy/Policy. I recall the narrow political range described as "muscular" politics and sociological and feminist discussions as more "soft." Those are male and female dichotomies created most often by the people who run things. The "soft" politics are not taken as seriously as the "muscular" politics.I'm sure some women bloggers and especially feminist bloggers would consider hucksterism by a relationship "expert" a political discussion because pop-sociology has become a political issue that revolves around human social intercourse, relationships, marriage, divorce - and how all of that affects women and children.

It seems that top bloggers, especially top male bloggers do not agree. And there lies one reason why women bloggers who do discuss issues related to human interaction, feminism, and anything outside the narrow scope of the Bush administration are not quoted on top male blogs. The top (and even middling male bloggers) may think that such discussions are "fluff" that detracts from the "real" political discussions. Interestingly, when men discuss these same issues, especially from their perspective, these issues are suddenly no longer considered fluff. They become real.

So, what constitutes "real" political discussion?

Here's a list of Kevin's recent "Political Animal" posts that may provide a clue. I've noticed that the top political blogs, mostly run by men, also narrowly focus on these same topics.

Kerry's Fan Club
Link to Spencer Ackerman's article "Iraq'd" at New Republic
Closing in on Osama bin Laden
Cheney on Terrorism (and dirt on George Tenet)
The Foreign Vote - Do foreign leaders really want John Kerry to win the election?
Spanish Appeasers - Speaking of Warmongers vs. Appeasers™, Tom Friedman's latest column is simply revolting
Kerry vs. Bush (another round of Warmongers vs. Appeasers™, related to the Spanish elections)
Corruption (Valerie Plame, Nick Smith and bribery, Republican memo pilfering, illegal use of funds by a Republican majority leader's PAC, and deliberate witholding of info by a Republican about the administration's Medicare bill.)
Malpractice awards
Bush on WMDs
Memogate

"Real" political discussion revolves around the Bush administration, the U. S.-led war on "terra," foreign policy, foreign politics that affect U. S. politics (such as the Spanish elections), and the upcoming U. S. presidential elections. Offshoots of those top issues would be U. S. labor and economics as well as throwing pot-shots at liberal and conservative barking heads on television and radio. Think of Atrios and his "Freep Wolf Blitzer" posts. They're fun, they're goofy -- and they are firmly within that very narrow definition of what constitutes political discussion.

In my opinion, such a narrow view ignores other equally important political issues. It can also get old and boring after awhile. I recall several bloggers saying that they chose to write about other topics because everyone was writing about the same thing - Bush, Plame, Memogate, Spain, WMDs, Kerry, Dean's scream, South Korea, North Korea, Blair, etc., etc., etc., ad infinitum, ad nauseum. The left-wing female political bloggers I read have written about much more than that little matchbox-sized list of topics. Those additional topics are not "fluff." Sad to say that the blogosphere isn't much different from the Larger World that also has a much more narrow opinion of what constitutes a "real" political discussion. The left-wing women political bloggers are out there. They've been out there. It's up to the higher-ranking male bloggers to expand their definition of political discussion so that they may hear the voices that have been talking to them longer than I've been in the blogosphere.

Posted on March 19, 2004 at 09:05 AM | Permalink

Comments

I think you're basically right that men tend to be more narrowly obsessed with pure politics than women. In my case, however, I do write about stuff other than pure politics fairly regularly, but for some reason in the past week I have been pretty much mainlining politics, which is why I wrote that initial sentence. (In addition, I'm still getting comfortable in my new home.....)

As for Inkblot and Jasmine, I never really got all that many complaints. But it's true, I did get a few, which I thought was pretty amazing. The whole point of catblogging was to try and get the point across that bloggers are also ordinary people with ordinary lives, not just single-minded political machines. There were a few people who just hated that, I guess.

Posted by: Kevin Drum at Mar 19, 2004 11:00:47 AM

Thanks, Kevin. I noticed that on Calpundit you wrote about all kinds of things. The focus seems to be much more narrow on "Political Animal." I wondered how much of that was more of a reflection of what Washington Monthly expects of political discourse. I'm glad you're getting comfortable there. It's a big change.

I like the different angles and perspectives given to the same issue that you see from a multitude of political bloggers rather than the handful that tend to cite primarily each other. Those alternate observations make you go "huh." The world is opened up just a little bit more.

When you wrote that some people complained about Friday Cat Blogging, I just couldn't believe it. Seeing Jasmine and Inkblot (and that great fish-eye lens type shot of both of them nosing up to the camera) made you look more human.

Posted by: Trish Wilson at Mar 19, 2004 11:18:17 AM

Great post, Trish.

If I "came to Ezra's defense," I didn't mean to do so strongly or unreservedly. Even if we are mostly dealing with unconcious social processes, rather than conscious discrimination, there's still a responsibility to become aware of your biases and try to counteract them.

Posted by: Rivka at Mar 19, 2004 11:47:47 AM

Woo-hoo, very good post, Trish! This makes my next LC blogaround for sure! (I think I can actually do an LC blogaround again now that Bloglines helps me get through my blogroll faster...)

Posted by: Elayne Riggs at Mar 19, 2004 5:15:50 PM

Excellent analysis, lady, and I concur. I've repeatedly been slammed for not being political enough, although it seems to most of my readers that feminist issues are inherently political.

Maybe I'll cut the "fluff" and ignore that I have a life outside of blogging when I write.

Then again, you're talking to a pre-service teacher that seeks to bring the subjective back to the secondary classroom. Don't think the "fluff" cutting will occur any time soon.

Posted by: Lauren at Mar 19, 2004 8:07:50 PM

FWIW, the Washington Monthly hasn't asked me to make any changes at all, although I suspect that catblogging really wouldn't have fit in. I'm not really sure why I've been doing so much politics lately, but it's probably just related to what's been in the news. But it does start to get a little stale if you do it nonstop, doesn't it? Hopefully the news cycle will die down a little and I'll be doing a little bit of non-political stuff soon.

(Actually, I really have to give the WM guys a lot of credit. They're paying me to blog, they've put the blog smack in the middle of their home page, they don't edit my stuff, and they haven't said one single word about what I can or can't write about. That's pretty amazing, really.)

Posted by: Kevin Drum at Mar 20, 2004 12:09:16 AM

I should add that one of my favorite amateur theories about gender differences is that men simply have a greater propensity to become obsessed with things. This seems true whether the subject is nuclear physics or stamp collecting.

It's not like I can prove this or anything, but doesn't it ring true? I wonder why.

Posted by: Kevin Drum at Mar 20, 2004 12:12:21 AM

Rivka, it was "came to Ezra's defense" as opposed to "ripped Ezra an eighth butt-hole" (previous commenters in that thread had obliged him with the other seven). You said that you thought Ezra meant well, so your comment didn't come across as an attack, the way some of the other comments did. The way your wrote your comment over there insured that it would be read and not taken defensively. Your point wasn't lost - by the nature of their political focus, feminist men and women are more aware of societal biases. They're also obligated to become more aware of their own personal biases and then change them, which is hard to do. More "average" people need to be aware of their personal biases and work towards changing them, but first they have to know they have them. Discussions such as this one can lead to that. It's annoying to have to keep having this same discussion about blogger bias in paying more attention to men's views than women's views, but hopefully every time a few people "get it," and then work towards changing it.

Posted by: Trish Wilson at Mar 20, 2004 7:12:23 AM

Elayne, I'm going to your blog in a couple of minutes. Looking forward to the blogaround. I'm going to have to break blogarounds down when I do them. They're just too big and unwieldy.

Posted by: Trish Wilson at Mar 20, 2004 7:14:07 AM

Lauren, I remember you mentioning several times on your blog that you've been criticized for not being political enough. There's a hierarchy within movements, too. I read Suburban Guerrilla's post about this same subject after I wrote my post (going to add this link to the main body of my post when I'm finished here). She wrote something that reflects your thoughts exactly: "Let's go back to the start of the feminist movement in the 60s. Women embraced the notion of "the personal is political" and were ridiculed by the men of the leftist movement, who were focused on "important" issues, like the war and racism. Women bloggers still tend to put their politics in the context of the personal, and men react... not a whole lot differently than they did forty years ago."

Feminism itself has done the same boxing of "important" vs. "less important" issues. You've seen me rant numerous times about how the major national feminist organizations in this country do not pay enough attention to motherhood, divorce, marriage, and custody issues. Motherhood issues are not part of NOW's annual conference despite activists petitioning to get them included. The last move NOW made to bring feminist light to motherhood, especially in the context of custody battles, child abuse, and domestic violence, was in 1997 when it came up with its Action Alert Against Fathers' Rights Groups. Nothing came of that. Other issues such as pay equity, Title IX, gay marriage, domestic violence, and abortion are considered to be more important. Activists working on motherhood issues have been repeatedly frustrated trying to work with organizations that are supposed to work on behalf of women. Anti-feminists (especially anti-feminist women) pop up and say that they, not the feminists, have mother's and women's "real" concerns at heart, but I don't believe that's the case at all. All they do is reinforce the status quo that demeans women and mothers.

Posted by: Trish Wilson at Mar 20, 2004 7:27:26 AM

Kevin, Friday Cat Blogging on Washington Monthly would be a bit of a jolt, wouldn't it? LOL "What is Inkblot looking at???...Osama bin Laden captured!" I'm very glad WM is giving you free reign. It's easier that way for you to express yourself and gain your footing in there.

Pure politics will likely go into high gear because there are only eight more months until November, so I think you'll be writing much more from the pure political standpoint anyway. It'll ebb and flow like anything else. I see you eventually writing both non-political and other-political stuff soon. It could also be interesting to see the usual pure political discussions through the eyes of women and minority bloggers. The perspective is different. Those additional perspectives would widen the scope and bring in considerations not normally heard. So, one possibility is that it might not be so much that pure politics gets stale after awhile, but pure politics expressed in the same, narrowly-defined way gets stale after awhile.(I do get tired of All War, All The Time myself though. Gotta have a break every once in awhile.) Plus adding other-political and non-political topics to the spectrum will see the discussions branch out.

>I should add that one of my favorite amateur theories about
>gender differences is that men simply have a greater propensity
>to become obsessed with things. This seems true whether the
>subject is nuclear physics or stamp collecting.

The first thing I thought of when you wrote this was "Everquest Widows." LOL I know that women become obsessed with that game, but it seems to be a guy thing. It's the geek version of the Football Widow.

It's an interesting theory you have, and I think there's some truth to it. I suspect it's more of a social contruct than anything hard-wired into male or female biology. I think to become obsessed with something you can't have a lot of little things tapping at the back of your head, distracting you. I think of mothers who have to multi-task and micromanage every aspect of their lives because they must take into consideration people other than themselves, including little people. It's changing somewhat (not as much as some people think, though), but girls still tend to be raised to take other people and other responsibilities into consideration more so than boys. This especially becomes the case when adults have children. The social attitudes are changing about childrearing and housekeeping, but I don't think the social roles have changed as quickly as the attitudes. Not yet, anyway. Women today still tend to have primary responsibility for the children and for the home (Arlie Hochschild's "Second Shift" comes to mind).

So, it's harder to obsess about one thing when you have a million things running through your mind, demanding attention. One commenter at Pandagon (Mauritsky) wrote this: "Well, I'm a married woman, I have 2 kids, a full-time job, a part-time job, 1 dog and 2 cats, I do all the cooking in my house, I am a participatory supervisor for much of the cleaning in my house, I do all the shopping, the vast majority of the chauffeuring, I like to spend time with my sisters and brother and in-laws and friends, I have a few offline hobbies of my own, and I like to sleep at night. If I blogged, I wouldn't have time to read all the wonderful bloggers who are out there. IOW, I'm too damn busy to contribute anything but comments." Jill in the same comments made similar points: "Because most of us are too busy earning a living and still doing all the cleaning and cooking and budgeting and the other things involved in keeping reality together. Those of us who are even a little bit web geeky are also off doing other projects."

This is an interesting discussion. I'm enjoying it.

Posted by: Trish Wilson at Mar 20, 2004 8:06:53 AM

Your observations are interesting and put me in mind of the debate in the art world several years ago about why there were hardly women artists.

Well, as you know, women have always made art. They just didn't make the art men made (paintings, sculpture, etc.) The art women made wasn't considered art --- it was "craft."

Maybe we need a bloggers version of the "Gorilla Girls"?

Posted by: Roxanne at Mar 20, 2004 5:42:06 PM

When I first saw the the item at Pandagon I wondered what he was talking about, as I probably read more "XX" blogs than "XY".

Then it became more specific to "political blogs". Sorry, but in case no one has noticed, since the GOP was highjacked there is little left in this country that isn't political on some level.

The fact that "XX" blogs tend to be more concerned with the effects of the political process on "real life" rather than the process itself doesn't make them less political.

Not even "Cat Blogging" is spared. Do we, or don't we know the names of Presidential pets?

Frankly, it is inconsistent to complain about the "party line" reporting on "Faux News", and then complain that too many women don't obssess about every move in politics.

Posted by: Bryan at Mar 20, 2004 11:04:49 PM

The 'where are the women' question pops up frequently when talking about tech issues too I've noticed. Your point about most men being narrowly focused applies there as well. The women I read who write about tech issues also write about their everyday lives. The men, however, don't genrally do this. The few men that do sometimes go to great lengths to cater to the 'more' serious audience, supplying them 'fluff' free RSS feeds. Frankly, I like a little 'fluff' thrown in the mix. Gives me a sense of who the person is. Unless I have that, I'm not likely to keep coming back.

Posted by: patricia at Mar 21, 2004 3:07:06 PM

Well, what about James Lileks? He's one of the most rightwing political bloggers, an d one of the earliest early adopters. His blog is constantly updating us on the doings of his cutesy-wutesy daughter, who is, don'tcha know, a genius and not like any other child (James seems blissfully unaware that all other parents think the same of their offspring, too!) He is also fond of telling us about his dog, Jasper. His newspaper column, BackFence, is full of pop culture trivia. So obviously it's OK for some men to do this.

Posted by: Helen at Mar 21, 2004 9:58:13 PM

A great article, Trish!
I actually think that the Mars and Venus stuff is political, too: it's intended to affect
societal norms about how men and women act and think, and it's especially intended to
reduce any pressure put by women on their partners to change. It's a very unsophisticated
part of the same argument that evopsychos use, and one of the basic pillars of the
nonfundamentalist extreme right's value system. So yes, it's political, too.

And Kevin, I'm not sure about the obsession stuff by gender. I am a woman, and I am
a master obsessor. It's always something. I dive into it head first, and persist until
I think I know enough or everything. Then I dive into something else. The plus is that
I really know a lot by now, the minus is all the junk in the basement that has to do with
past hobbies. But I did inherit the tendency from my father. And neither of us extends
the volatility to personal relationships or jobs, so that's ok.:)

Posted by: Echidne at Mar 22, 2004 12:02:23 AM

Have a look at this post: http://bitchphd.blogspot.com/2004/12/where-are-all-male-academic-bloggers.html

--> why should we even accept the question? It instantly assumes that MEN are the centre of the universe.

Posted by: Jill at Dec 20, 2004 3:37:28 AM