Monday, 22 March 2010

Blogging for Girls

What do Zoe Margolis, Sarah Lacy, Brooke Magnati, Charlene Li, Pip Lincolne and Julie Powell have in common? That's right. They are all well-known successful bloggers, read by millions. Most have turned their blogs into books and one has been adapted into a Hollywood film. Oh and they all happen to be women.

Sadly, it seems, Margaret Wente of Canada's Globe and Mail, has not heard of any of these accomplished women. She thinks blogging is 'a guy thing', like driving a snowmobile up a mountain 'at 120 miles per hour' is a guy thing (for James Bond maybe). According to Wente, women don't share men's urge to 'spit out an opinion about current affairs every 20 minutes'. And, as all phenomena in the (post)modern world are explained, Wente says the blogging gender divide is caused by a syndrome: 'Male Answer Syndrome'. This 'sexual' syndrome explains everything apparently, from boys putting their hands up before girls in Maths lessons (do they??) to women being quiet at dinner parties (are they??), to women's so-called inhibitions about writing stuff and posting it online.

This stunning revelation in a Canadian national newspaper must be backed up with some pretty shit-hot research and references musn't it? Well, you will be pleased to discover that yes, Margaret has done her homework here, girlfriends. She went to the trouble of rigorously asking her 'friend Sarah the other day (Sarah is 24 and several of her male friends have started blogs)'. Sarah and Margaret agree that though equally opinionated as men, women just 'aren't interested' in taking part in the 'peeing contest' that is male posturing on the blogosphere. That settles it then.

It's very tempting to dismiss Wente and her 'theory' out of hand. The women bloggers I sent her article to on twitter certainly did, succinctly summarising her ideas: 'bollocks' (@girlonetrack)and 'blah blah men are rubbish, nature/nurture will that do?' (@sarahditum) We had a laugh. Forgot about it. Went back to our...blogging. But Wente's words have got under my sensitive skin. Lazy, poorly written and generalizing they may be, but they tap into some very powerful discourses that impact on real gender divisions that do exist, in new media, in journalism, in RL (that's 'real life' Margaret dear). Wente is saying that men like to write talk and argue in a combative manner, that they do so impusively, aggressively and effectively all over the media-old and new. And women don't. This reductive stereotype of essential gender difference is infuriating and wrong. But, as with most stereotypes, there is a 'truth' to which it relates. Werte is right, there are many more men than women in highly paid news journalism jobs, including columnists and opinion leaders (some of whom have blogs). She is also right that when it comes to the comments sections on newspaper forums online, they are full of men, arguing the toss. Men's 'talk' in the media and online does hold more power, and earns more dollar, overall, than women's. Before I get lost down a 'blah blah nature/nurture' culdesac (thanks @Sarahditum!), I want to talk about this 'talk'.

I have been wandering around the 'twittersphere' recently, and reading comments sections on online newspaper pages. In doing so I have witnessed some of the difficulties faced by women who have a public and online presence. The main difficulty they face being, that they get shit from men for, well, speaking basically. On twitter for example, the TV critic and columnist @gracedent, asked why there were so few women on TV panel shows. One man responded in a very rude and aggressive manner, and when she argued with him he became more personally insulting so she ended the conversation. In another exchange, @JosieLong the comedian was harangued and personally insulted out of the blue by a man who'd seen her perform somewhere and had decided she was 'shit'. Online comments sections following articles can be just as fraught for women offering opinions and analysis. Zoe Margolis, in recent interviews about her new book: Girl With A One-track mind: Exposed, has had numerous abusive comments from men based on her open-ness about her sexuality. In a now well-documented irony, when discussing this and other issues in the Independent On Sunday, the sub-editor decided to call her a 'hooker' and now she's involved in a libel case against the paper. I am sure the women I have cited here are accustomed to this kind of hostility and are tough enough to deal with it. But that doesn't mean it doesn't hurt. And for women less successful and confident, maybe young women setting out on careers in journalism, comedy or other fields involving a public persona, personal attacks from anonymous and not so anonymous detractors can put them off pursuing their goals.

A blog can be a haven for women. It is a place where you can put down your thoughts and feelings, document your experiences, and even have some control over who reads and comments on your work (on sites like LiveJournal for example). A bit like a diary. When blogs become 'successful' , read by large numbers of people, that's when they become less easy to control. The person behind the blog becomes more liable to be put under the microscope, as Zoe Margolis found when she was 'outed' as Abby Lee, author of Girl With a One Track Mind. As Zoe has said, she has on a number of occasions since her outing, sat with her finger poised over the 'delete' button of her blog, wanting to put an end to the upset and abuse she receives on a daily basis.

My research into this issue of how women who blog, tweet and post articles are treated online, has so far been minimal (though not as minimal as Wente's!) I would really like to hear from more women of their experiences and thoughts. And, I would love it if collectively women might come up with some methods for dealing with the problem, if it is a widespread one, which I have a hunch it might be. Because they may just be words on a screen, but as all women bloggers and journalists know, words on a screen can mean making a living, forging a career, keeping or losing one's sanity, privacy, sense of self. Margaret Wente is wrong: it's not 'a guy thing' at all.


  1. I'm a man. But I really want to hear more female voices. I understand the problem, though. Even though I'm male, and even sometimes a bit of a provocateur myself, I too often feel intimidated to be outspoken, or to even post at all, because of the moronic aggression of some anonymous Internet commentators. It's a pity that a beautiful means of communication is being ruined by such vile behaviour.

  2. Great post! Expressed a great deal of what I wanted to say (except politer!) and very well written.

  3. Hello!

    I have been a writer for over three years at and I contribute to a few female blog-carnivals like the Scientiae (for female scientists and their supporters) and the Down Under Feminists carnival.

    I'm a writer for CSI at 'Curiouser and Curiouser' along with blogger Dr Karen Stollznow who also has a great blog column there. She's probably best known for the Skepbitch Blog and the long-running Bad Language site :)

    I enjoy reading a variety of female-authored pro-atheist and pro-science blogs, like those on ('On Becoming a Domestic and Laboratory Goddess', 'Cocktail Party Physics', 'Erv', 'Thus Spake Zuska' and 'GrrlScientist' and more) and the independent sites like Greta Christina's, Pandagon and the like.

    Pro-skepticism sites like, the 'Fat One In The Middle' blog and the female contributors to are regularly checked upon in my RSS feed.

    I admit the guilty pleasure of checking out the once-blog-now-internationally-famous-novelist-and-outed-scientist Belle-Dejour blog.

    I enjoy group female blogs, like and (which one of the most popular Australian sites out there, let alone written by women!).

    In addition, some of my writing will be seen on Ada Lovelace day (another blog carnival!) at the soon-to-be-launched site.

    I'm surprised that anyone can MISS those female bloggers out there, quite frankly... :p

  4. Oh - and Jezebel, the commercial site, mostly written by women. :p Thanks for your post, it's excellent to see people speaking out!

  5. I think there's also this assumption that women should only talk about women's things and any forays into 'men's business' - politics, journalism, science, etc - is considered inappropriate. I've seen this sort of attitude extend to female comedians as well, and then seen them blamed by men for not being funny (enough) because they're talking about 'women's business' and not about things that men are interested in. It's like you can't win, either way.


    Einstein puts the final nail in the coffin of atheism...



    atheists deny their own life element...

    add some comment moderation to your blog of blasphemy

  7. Thanks for all your comments, folks! I will check out some of those links mentioned.

  8. @DM If I moderated this blog I might have chosen to remove your comments! But I don't. Freedom of speech for all.

  9. Until recently almost all blogs I read were written by women (trans and cis), largely because I spent most of my time reading about trans issues and feminism (and sometimes the two together). It does definitely seem to be that the majority of women bloggers write about sex, feminism and issues that either largely affect women or are deemed to largely affect women. Perhaps there is also the feeling that if you are a woman who has blogged substantially about feminism then you are a "feminist blogger" and hence, even when you're blogging about something completely different, that gets forgotten (a sort of confirmation bias). But maybe that's just me.

    I'm a bit torn, because I think that a lot of women bloggers are writing about things that really need our attention, but at the same time want to see more women writing about "gender-neutral" topics. Is the solution to see more men writing about "women's issues"? I think what we really need is more men reading women's blogs, rather than a change of topic for women bloggers, but without women bloggers having to pander to male priviledge. Uphill struggle, much?

    (PS Sorry for possible incoherence).

  10. It is true that most of the bloggers that get mainstream attention are men. The Atlantic did a "top bloggers" list a little bit ago and it was almost all old, white men between 40 and 60 who had gone to Oxford or Yale. That's who mainstream newspapers and politicians read. It makes it pretty clear why mainstream discourse is so wildly off.

    I'm a woman who blogs at I blog about all different things - anarchism, atheism, politics, discrimination...

    I don't have a huge readership. I've never taken a demographic poll, but based on who comments, it seems to skew male. I did do one of those demographic checks on my twitter account and that definitely skews male.

    I don't know if the men just tend to comment more. Or maybe the atheism and anarchism attract more male readership...?

    In any event, aside from a couple nasty one-off comments from haters, I haven't had any real problems yet.

    That said, the nastiest comments I have ever seen have been on women's blogs. They were vicious and personal. But it wasn't always men making the comments. Get some feminists talking about porn and the fireworks will really start.

    I follow a wide range of other peoples blogs - feminist, womanist, anarchist, liberal, libertarian, atheist, even a couple conservative ones...Some of them have supportive communities. Some of them do not. I don't think the topic or the gender of the blogger is very predictive of which are which.

    As for what to do - I try to be a good blog reader. I try to make positive comments. I try to help in the comments so that bloggers aren't out there by themselves when they are being bombarded. (But, of course, I try not to feed the hateful trolls.)

  11. Brilliant points, Mel, thanks. I try to be a good blog reader, too! I have also noticed personal comments on women's blogs. Even on twitter women, esp those making points about gender inequality get abusive remarks all the time. Its a subject worthy of research

  12. Aww. Thanks. Someone did do research on women's participating on email listserves for academics. I remember reading it several years ago. She found that the listerves had plenty of women in the beginning, but slowely lost them as the men became either abusive or condescending. I've been trying to (re)find that study, but no luck so far.