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.