Wednesday, May 2, 2007

Blogging While Female In A Male-Dominated Blogosphere

Like most feminist bloggers, I started out by blogging at my own little website, which I named Mouse Words. It was mostly a place for me to tee off about how I felt on various issues, and mostly started to give friends and family a break from me teeing off about those issues to them. To make a long story short, my little blog got some attention from bigger bloggers and I was invited to join the big dog blog Pandagon by the site owner, Jesse Taylor.

At the time I joined, one of the great jokes running around the feminist blogosphere was how, every few months or so, one of the high traffic bloggers would wonder on his blog why more women weren't blogging. This would tee us off every time, because women were blogging, and the real question was more, "Why aren't there more women writing the high traffic blogs I like to read?" But the reason that question wasn't asked more was that it made it harder to blame some sort of inherent female distaste for political blogging and made it much more obvious that the reason that for the male dominance in the liberal blogs was boring old sexism.

It would be really unfair to say it was conscious sexism. A lot of the men who asked this question, most notably Kevin Drum, sincerely wanted more female participation in the liberal blogosphere. Unconscious sexism, however, ran rampant in the liberal blogs, and two major strains of it led to the problem of male dominance of the top ranks of bloggers:

  1. People tend to take women less seriously, and without even meaning to, will often dimiss women's opinions more quickly. In terms of gathering readers, this tendency was devastating to female bloggers.
  2. The laws of self-interest will dictate that women will generally be more interested in "women's issues" on average than men. "Women's issues", i.e. all the ways women struggle against the patriarchy, are considered less important than big issues like the economy or war, even though the oppression of women worldwide is, by any objective measure, a serious humanitarian crisis.
The solutions to the "women bloggers" issue were simple---top tier male bloggers had to make a concentrated effort to overcome internalized sexism by linking more to women, promoting female bloggers on their own blogs, and taking "women's issues" seriously. After the February 2005 drubbing of Kevin Drum for his mistake in assuming that because he didn't read or link female bloggers, there weren't any, there was a sea change. A number of top tier male bloggers seemed to take a hint and start linking women more, and then, in March 2005, I quit my little blog Mouse Words and joined the A list blog Pandagon.

The fallout was pretty startling to me and more so to my co-blogger Jesse. While we both expected some grumbling about a feminist waltzing into a big blog and starting to write about "women's issues" in a more mainstream blog, we were surprised at some of the hostility we got. Jesse particularly was amused/annoyed by all the emails he got from male readers who seemed to be under the impression that he'd been somehow hooked in by my feminine wiles (we'd never met and he had no idea what I looked like) and needed to be straightened out and told that I didn't deserve my spot at Pandagon.

What got really ugly, though, was not the "concerned" liberal male reaction to my presence at the blog so much as the unhinged hostility that came from blatantly sexist readers. On our blog and various others, speculation about how ugly I must be in order to be concerned about women's equality started flying around, and a single (unflattering) picture of me was discovered on the website for my day job. Once my day job was discovered, phone calls and emails were placed to my boss in an attempt to get me forced off the blog. My home addressed was published, and I had to spend time filing a police report and contacting anyone who may have my home address to make sure that it was taken out of public record.

Eventually the furor died down, and after awhile, I formed a pretty solid relationship with the readers who weren't run off by the scariness of the feminist blogger on Pandagon. My real fear, with all the threats being made by male commenters at Pandagon and elsewhere, was that I really was going to damage site traffic, but that didn't happen at all. Having a woman talking about stuff important to women in a big blog had the opposite effect: Our traffic began to climb, in fits and starts. By the time that Jesse had to leave the blog in November, we'd doubled our traffic and gone from having a predominantly male readership to one that was more 50/50, and even leaning slightly towards majority female.

The most fun part of joining Pandagon initially was getting a chance to link my favorite female bloggers who never got much in the way of big dog links. It ended up being a solid demonstration of how getting links and attention is a matter of getting links and attention, and if women got the links and attention, they'd revel in it just as much as men would. In the months after I joined Pandagon, in part because of Pandagon links and in part because of an effort from many male bloggers to be more conscientious of linking female bloggers and paying attention to women's issues, a number of female bloggers saw their traffic rise. And it stayed high, and the question of where the women bloggers were disappeared. Within a year, I found myself walking down the street on vacation with other bloggers in Amsterdam, and of the four of us, only Ezra Klein was male, and he suddenly joked, "Where are all the women bloggers anyway?"

As for me, I got a much thicker skin, especially over things like being told I'm ugly and stupid and no one cares what I have to say anyway. For a time, being one of the few female bloggers on such a high traffic blog also invited some blatant sexual objectifying, and it's still disconcerting when whether or not I rate high on some fuckability scale is dragged out and discussed on other blogs. Still, even that kind of discussion has died down as it's becoming clearer that female bloggers are here to stay and that all the discussion about their waistlines and breast size in the world won't be stopping that.

Even the most stinging criticisms I received, about how it's supposedly tedious to write frequently about "women's issues", as if such issues were a minor thing, have died down. This I don't think has much to do with the ascendency of so many female bloggers into the higher levels of traffic as it does to do with the increasing problem of sexism in our country. It's easy to suggest that feminists need to write about something else when reproductive rights seem secure and women seem to making gains all the time, but lately, the rollback on reproductive rights and the general culture of machismo that helped lead to the war are getting a lot more notice as mainstream issues. Now, I don't see feminist bloggers get as much credit as they deserve for calling attention to these issues as they should be getting, but at least these issues that used to be considered minor are getting a lot more attention and respect in the major blogs, and with that attention and respect comes a side dose of attention and respect for feminist bloggers.


theCougar said...

OMG you ladies are blowing my mind. Amanda you as well as the other contributors on your newly developed blog are a great inspiration to me and source of knowledge. I'm new to this whole blogging thing but I've always been a feminist. Keep up the great work! You ladies have a lot of insight and give me strength to continue fighting for women's rights, because I know that I'm not alone. Probably one of the best/greatest things that I realized as i've ventured into the "blogosphere" is that there are sooo many women and feminist out there that are concerned about equality and are blogging about it!! Vs up to all women bloggers!

Holly said...

First of all, it's great to see this website, it has definitely made my day! Second of all, not only is it great that this website exists, but it is written by amazing women who actually know what they are talking about. Thank you for calling attention to feminist bloggers, which not only I can relate to, but a lot of others out there as well. Thank you.