The Mute Majority

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.

Read Time:
2m 15sec

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, then ranked 23rd, continues, and liberal and raunchy, 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.”

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