Thursday, 6 September 2007

The curious incident of the female bloggers in the night-time

CNet reports that last week's BlogHer conference for female bloggers was a media wash-out, with only three pieces of coverage in the local Chicago press, and none in the national press. (via Deep Edition)

"While a 2006 Pew report found that the blogging population is young, evenly split between women and men, and racially diverse, women still struggle to receive equal media coverage of their online activities. Pozner cites the recent YouTube/CNN Presidential candidate debate as a significant example, in which CNN chose to have 70 percent of the questions asked by men."

I'm in two minds about this. Just because a blogger is female, does that automatically make her worthy of attention? Being female isn't exactly a remarkable thing in itself, and neither is being a blogger. Many people are eminently capable of being female *and* writing blog posts without demanding nationwide recognition for their ability to tap on a keyboard.

But on the other hand, I do get a creeping suspicion sometimes, in reading the business and national media here in the UK, that women are indeed often simply ignored.

I've started looking at the letters pages in the Guardian, for example, and counting the number of letters written by women compared with the number of letters written by men. And leafing through the Economist and the Financial Times, comparing the number of pictures of women with the number of pictures of men.

I probably don't even need to tell you how these completely unscientific experiments pan out. Let's just say it's not a close-run thing.

The letters pages of the Guardian and the pictorial content of the Economist and the FT are the result of editorial decisions, not of chance. So you could accuse all three publications of being biased towards men. But, at least in the case of the letters, it could be that far more men than women write letters to the editor, so the distribution is naturally balanced in favour of men.

So it's difficult to prove that a group is being deliberately ignored by the media: it's like Alderaan, or the dog in the night-time, where the absence of something that ought to be there is the only observable phenomenon.

But as much as I detest it when women claim they deserve praise and attention for doing something just because they're female, at the same time I can't help but feel that CNet might be on to something.


Better Bloging with Michael Martine said...

Here's an interesting related question: how many women bloggers who write about anything in an outspoken manner (especially sex) get their blogs attacked, hacked, defaced, and flagged compared to men?

The fact that most bloggers are women, compared to the attention they get that isn't negative ("mommy bloggers," indeed), plus their greater numbers as attack victims paints an overall picture that's quite unpleasant.

Fiona Blamey said...

Hi Michael, thanks for dropping by. It's an interesting question. I read a lot of blogs written by men and a lot of blogs written by women (including a couple of sexblogs), but I've never seen anyone, of either gender, really get attacked. I've certainly never known of anyone's blog getting defaced or flagged, although I know what happened to Kathy Sierra, and I know that some of the female bloggers I read have had stalkers. I would be very interested to know if your experience differs.

I'm not sure that *most* bloggers are women; the Pew survey that this article mentions actually found that 46% of American bloggers are female, and this is borne out in my general experience.

Lastly, it hasn't escaped my attention that all the blogs on the blogroll of this blog (my 'professional' blog) are written by men. It seems that the blogs I read on a professional basis tend to be written by men, whereas the ones I read on a personal basis are fairly evenly distributed between the two genders.

K said...

Hi Fiona,
Really interesting post. It's a tricky one isn't it?

I remember sometime last year Anne Spackman, the Times Online editor, saying how she thought online news would become more dominated by men because journalists increasingly need technical skills -

A ridiculous statement, that shows no understanding of the women who are coming into journalism now (the 20 somethings) who have almost always lived in a world of the internet and mobile technology, and who are often far more savvy than their male counterparts in using this technology. And, all those women who are already doing exactly that, but may be just getting on with the job and not asking to be noticed.

From an editorial stand point, often it is men that write in to newspapers and not women - why, is another matter - so I'm not sure if that's really indicative of a problem. And as someone who has tried to champion women in technology - as writers, by inviting women to speak at events and panels etc. - it has not always been easy an task, as like you I think women should be invited to things on merit, not just because they begin to even out the gender balance.

PS. You've kindly listed me on your blogroll with Mary, so there are women there, don't fret.