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Blogging While Female

BY Morra Aarons-Mele | Monday, August 6 2007

Gender is seeping into discussion of the netroots in a major way. As today’s Washington Post quotes Yearly Kos Executive Director Gina Cooper on her conference: "It's mostly white. More male than female," says the former high school math and science teacher turned activist. "It's not very diverse."

Indeed, there’s a growing chorus bubbling up online. I think Garance Franke-Ruta summed it up brilliantly with the title of her recent Yearly Kos panel: “Blogging while Female.” Political blogging, while female, is not the norm.Is it different?

This column will attempt to explain. This might be like sticking a finger in a dam, considering the huge breadth and presence of women online, but here goes. And I’d love your feedback if you think I’ve missed major pockets.

Gender is seeping into discussion of the netroots in a major way. As today’s Washington Post quotes Yearly Kos Executive Director Gina Cooper on her conference: "It's mostly white. More male than female," says the former high school math and science teacher turned activist. "It's not very diverse."

Indeed, there’s a growing chorus bubbling up online. I think Garance Franke-Ruta summed it up brilliantly with the title of her recent Yearly Kos panel: “Blogging while Female.” Political blogging, while female, is not the norm. Each day, I’m hearing this: “Where are the female political bloggers”? But it’s a risky business, this gender aware blogging. Are we whiny, or just noting the obvious? Are we missing something when we highlight the extreme maleness of political blogging?

I’m not sure the “Blogging While Female” argument is good for women bloggers’ public perception (in the same way that feminism can become “Femme-Nazism” when spun), but I do feel it’s necessary. And it’s valid.

Most media accounts portray the netroots right now as a monolithic bloc, and a powerful one at that. Anyone who’s participated in an online community knows there is certainly not one netroots bloc, nor is there one blogosphere. That’s why the Internet is so great: public participation becomes as vertical and diverse as human interests. But as political gatherings such as Yearly Kos become more powerful, women must be firmly present. It’s ironic that the Party of the big tent seems to be expressing itself online as the Party of the white male. Nothing could be further from the truth.

Today, Garance wrote this on women and political blogging. “…Obama, whose campaign is headquartered in Chicago, sent no one to the largest gathering of women bloggers in the country (the BlogHer 2007 conference, which took place in Chicago on July 27-29, right before Yearly Kos). It seemed like an odd political decision, but, some suggested, perhaps he was just not trying to make much of a play for blogger affections.

Well, think again. During today’s Hillary Clinton noontime break-out session at Yearly Kos, Barack Obama held a quiet get-together with 13 or 14 top bloggers, according to two attendees, of whom Ali Savino (who is not a blogger per se but is deeply involved with the Center for Independent Media, which she co-founded, and the Townhouse blogger list-serv) was the only female. The Atlantic’s Matthew Yglesias was there, as were my colleague Ezra Klein and his roommate Brian Buetler, of the Media Consortium, The New Yorker’s Hendrick Hertzberg, Huffington Post foreign policy blogger Alex Rossmiller, and others…” There’s a complicated follow up to the original figures Garance reports, but suffice it to say, it’s an issue.

The upside to such gripes is this, as the National Women’s Editorial Forum blog points out: “Coming on the heels of last week's BlogHer conference, what I'm seeing is an ever-widening circle of women bloggers, reporters and media-reform advocates who gave begun to connect and inter-connect their efforts.”

As I mentioned in an earlier column, women are the majority of participants online, and we’re half the bloggers. When we are participating, writing, and blogging, do we hang out in the same places online as men? Is it derogatory to call women who blog about being parents “mommybloggers”?

Let’s delve in.

Women and blogging: trend lines
Women used to be the true minority in blogging, but we have caught up. The most recent Pew Internet and American Life survey shows that women make up 51 percent of Internet users, according to the survey, and represent 46 percent of bloggers. Fifty-four percent of bloggers, male and female, are between the ages of 18-29, the survey found; 60 percent are white, and 51 percent live in suburbia. Men are more “intense” Internet users than women, but women talk more online.

The same Pew report notes, “Women are more likely to see the vast array of online information as a “glut” and to penetrate deeper into areas where they have the greatest interest, including health and religion. Women tend to treat information gathering online as a more textured and interactive process – one that includes gathering and exchanging information through support groups and personal email exchanges.” In short, women are social networkers online as well as offline, but the context in which we have these interactions is even more important online.

I don’t have any empirical research on women and political blogging. I’d love to see some. Personally, I often feel political blogging is quite clubby and wonkish (and I’m at the Kennedy School of Government, for goodness’ sake). It takes balls (and seemingly, a Master’s Degree or near-constant attention to CSPAN) to participate on the homepage of the Daily Kos. As the Election hots up, political discussion will seep out beyond strictly political blogs, and this is when online voter-generated content will get really exciting and fresh.

Popular portals for women bloggers

As you see with the increasingly popularity of diary or “group” blogs, increasingly women bloggers coalesce online. Of course, many women blog at places where their gender isn’t a point of interest, but it’s important to keep tabs on women’s online communities.

If you are searching for nodes of powerful women bloggers, I recommend:

Feministing.com
BlogHer.org
WIMN’s Voices blog. This blog has a great blogroll of women bloggers too.
Culture Kitchen
and Liza Sabater’s other sites...
BlogsbyWomen
MotherTalkers
DotMoms

Also, Suzanne Reisman is a funny, smart feminist/political blogger.

Postscript: Mommybloggers!

When I worked in the private sector, nearly every large corporate client I had was desperate to “reach” moms who blog. The likes of Dove, Nintendo, Kraft, GM, and every consumer packaged good company sends product, press releases, and swag to powerful moms who blog.

Several years ago, a movement started online. It’s equally powerful as the “netroots” and if you’re involved in social change in this country, you should know about it. I won’t describe it here, since I am not qualified. For one of the best summaries on the semantics behind the term Mommyblogging, read this post from Liz Gumbinner:

“I have never once called myself a Mommyblogger, not without a heavy dose of irony. I admit in fact to cringing when I hear myself described that way. I tend to say instead, "I have a parenting blog."

And yet, I often feel the need to offer a disclaimer. "I have a parenting blog, but..."

But...it's funny.

But...I can also discuss Bush's heinous disregard for the Kyoto treaty and the potential impact for generations to come.

But...hey, do you like Journey? Wait til you hear my new ringtone!

Saying "while I write about my child, I think really what I do is look at social issues, politics, pop culture, and my own feelings about work and the world through the eyes of a new mother" is a wee bit verbose in most contexts. Mommyblogger it is. Blech.

Liz also writes: There isn't mommyblogging, there is mommybloggings.

There are two groups as far as I can see. There are writers who came to blogs as another medium in which to hone their craft. The community of kindred spirits found through blogging is a wonderful and rewarding but altogether unexpected side benefit. These are the women - me included - for whom the term is inherently limiting. It tells men, older parents, the childless, this writing is not for you. And there is no writer who wants to alienate a potential reader before he or she has even read word one.

The second group of mommybloggers are women who came to blogs as a way to find a community of like-minded people and develop more meaningful relationships than those found in a chat room or an online message board. The writing itself was perhaps secondary to the friendships--or maybe it became more important as time went on. For these women, mommyblogging is entirely the opposite of limiting. It's downright freeing. It's a portal to wonderful things, opening far more doors than it closes.”

Memo to political campaign staff: these women vote, they are vocal, and they’re mobilized. Reach out to them! Take a page from Corporate America, for once- these women bloggers drive change!