The Mute Majority
Women number fewer than men among bloggers, despite a few prominent voices on the Web. The explanation may be found in the Internet's history and culture.
The source: “The Gendered Blogosphere: Examining Inequality Using Network and Feminist Theory” by Dustin Harp and Mark Tremayne, in Journalism & Mass Communication Quarterly, Summer 2006.
For more than a generation, the editorial pages of America’s newspapers have been assailed as testosterone terra firma. Even as women moved into nearly four of 10 editing and reporting jobs, they still contributed only about 10 to 20 percent of opinion pieces. The free, uncensored, unedited World Wide Web was supposed to change this. Guess what? The number of women among the top 30 political bloggers was exactly three, or 10 percent, in 2004, according to Dustin Harp and Mark Tremayne, journalism professors at the University of Texas, Austin.
This would be merely another anecdote in the inexplicable realm of gender differentials if the number of blogs—Web logs or online entries in diary form—were not growing so fast. About 32 million people reported reading them in 2004, and researchers increasingly find that young Americans regard them as a superior form of citizen journalism. They are free, include a wider range of views than traditional newspapers and magazines, and provide opportunities for dialogue.
Of the 30 top-ranked political blogs in 2004, the most popular female-written blog, “A Small Victory,” at No. 13, has disappeared from the Web. The conservative blog MichelleMalkin.com, then ranked 23rd, continues, and liberal and raunchy Wonkette.com, then written by Ana Marie Cox, was 26th.
Harp and Tremayne argue that one of the most common explanations for women’s paltry showing among the top blogs—that there just aren’t many female bloggers—doesn’t hold up to scrutiny. While it is true, they say, that women were slower to start blogging than men, women now write 43 percent of all blogs, and hundreds of female bloggers—at least 466, according to a recent list—write about politics.
A more fruitful explanation might be found in the history and culture of the Web, as bloggers link to one another and boost each other’s readership. “Original players in any network have an advantage: The longer you have been around, the more links you are likely to acquire. In the 1990s, men outnumbered women on the Web by a sizable margin. While that is no longer true, the early advantage may continue to grow and snowball.” Men also may simply prefer to link to other men, they suggest.
Could it be that women’s political blogs are inferior? Harp and Tremayne dismiss the notion. As long as quality is judged by popularity—and popularity is skewed by historical patterns—there is no way to make unbiased judgments. Their verdict: “Patriarchal hegemony” should be actively combated by women bloggers and others “who understand the importance of inclusive spheres of discourse.”