Monday, February 21, 2005

Where Have All the Women Gone?

It's that time again, the time to lament the dearth of female political bloggers in the upper ranks of the blogging hierarchy. I learned about the newest wave of this lamenting from Roxanne on the American Street, but it was all begun by Kevin Drum. These lamentations have happened three times since I started blogging fifteen months ago, so this is a recurring theme in the blogosphere.

(While I write this Freddy the spider is sitting on my shoulder, watching. When I was reading Kevin's discussion on the dearth of woman bloggers Freddy quickly slithered down into the relative safety between my breasts. Now this is the kind of writing that might get me a big audience, don't you think? I'd probably have to make Freddy hairier and somewhat bigger, first.)

The story usually goes like this: Some blogger, a male one, notices that there are very few women bloggers among the top one hundred most popular political blogs (or in some other similar measure). He then points out that the internet doesn't discriminate so the reason for this cannot be in discrimination. In what then? The answer usually consists of some kind of a combination of the following: a) women are not interested in politics, b) women don't like the rough nature of political writing and commenting and c) women are too busy cooking and taking care of children to spend time on the blogs. Sometimes a note is added to the effect that women might be above all such bickering and self-aggrandizing behavior or that women are genetically doomed not to reach for positions which indicate dominance in the human society. And so on.

The next stage of the lamentations is the chorus of responses. These take several different forms from purely misogynistic shit to arguments that there are plenty of famous women bloggers, only nobody knows about them. I'm kidding here, but truly the chorus does cover the whole octave of possibilities. Somewhere in the refrain the following points are emphasized: that the early adopters have a great advantage on the internet and most of the early adopters were men, that men tend to link to blogs by other men and that the measures we use for gauging popularity are in themselves biased towards older blogs and those that belong to various blogger groups. All of this is true in some ways, as are many of the other theories I have summarized here. But none of them are completely true and many of them are totally untested against actual data.

(Now Freddy is whispering sweet nothings into my ear. Tickling me in ways that none of my readers has been able to, so far...)

But the lament has so many discords that I get frustrated in trying to follow the music. For example, the idea that women don't savor bickering goes against the archetype of bitching as something that women do, and Ann Coulter goes totally against the idea that women don't like to say outrageous things for attention. The idea that women don't like politics may be true, but then there are many men who don't like politics, and it might all depend on how we define politics. I find it fascinating that one of the lament cycles argued that women like to talk about people and men about concepts but my experience is that most political blogs talk about people nonstop and about concepts very rarely, and those that do focus on the latter are often written by women (I have in mind Rivka of the Otters (who hasn't blogged recently) and Trish Wilson's blog here). It seems that the theories themselves are rubbery and can be turned whichever way the debater wishes. Take the genetic bunch: Here they should be pointing out how all the tests show that women are better writers than men, on average. But instead they tend to argue for other sorts of genetic reasons why women wouldn't be famous bloggers. A girl can't win.

(Except with Freddy. Freddy knows what a woman wants. His velvety forelegs are caressing my neck, slowly, so excrutiatingly slowly. I feel my breathing speed up, my heart melting my juices flowing, flowing.)

There is one theory about all this that has some merit, I believe, and that is that some men don't want to read what women write (unless it is on sex), so if a blogger can be identified as a woman she will lose those readers whose print looks too feminine. I have a book by Molly Peacock, entitled How to Read a Poem...and Start a Poetry Circle, and in its appendix Peacock includes a long list of poetry books that famous poets recommend for poetry clubs. I analyzed this list of recommendations to see whether male and female poets recommended books written by their own gender more often than those written by the other gender.

The results are interesting: For the group of twenty-seven male poets, the percentage of male recommendations is 87%, for the group of thirty female poets the percentage of male recommendations is 58%. (Most poets gave more than one recommended text. I was unable to tell the sex of a few poets from their names and omitted them from my calculations.) This is a sizable difference. The women appear to give female names almost as often as male ones whereas the men are much less likely to list female poets as recommended ones.

(Freddy! Where are you going, Freddy? Ahhh. MMMMM...)

What does this mean, if anything? I don't know but I suspect that there are at least some men who will not read female writing. Unless it is on hot sex.

(Oh Freddy, Freddy!!!! YES! YES!)