Open your eyes: Blogs and gender
Interesting conversation over at Neville Hobson's blog about gender. Neville started by stating that gender of a blog author doesn't matter to him -- what matters to him is the content.
Of course, content is what matters. Good writing, interesting ideas and original thought are what make you want to read, and continue reading past the first post. But gender does impact how likely it is that you will find a blog. As I commented on his blog, in a specific search, the odds may be a bit more even, but:
"Where it gets sticky is when you search a blog directory on a broad term like “public relations.” I just did it on technorati (http://www.technorati.com/blogs/public relations) and the first 9 results are written by men. And the 10th is Marketing Profs.
Same with the memetrackers, especially in the tech space - there does seem to be a male bias (see Chris Carfi’s post http://www.socialcustomer.com/2006/08/mr_rivera_tear_.html)
And then there are the lists. Sure there are blogs written by women on the various top-whatever lists, but they are predominantly (still) written by men. And when you look at who they link to, you should not be surprised if their chums are also lots of guys."
And the conversation continued from there, with a great deal of back and forth between Neville and me, along with comments by
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I'm not suggesting anyone should read a blog or link to a blog simply because it is by a woman.
Here's the thing, though. We tend to "hang out" in an online community of like-minded people. I forget which one of my respected PR and marketing colleagues pointed this out (identify yourself and get the recognition you deserve) but our virtual communities, not unlike our real ones, are about 50-100 people. We read many of the same blogs, we comment, we make an effort to meet up at conferences, and so on. You may belong to one or more overlapping communities, and even some very dis-similar ones if you have wide-ranging interests. But it is quite likely that you'll gravitate toward one. For me, it is the collective group of PR/marketing blogs (big surprise there!). I read lots of other things too, but not as deeply. For example, I like the shows created by Joss Whedon, but I only read Whedonesque regularly.
In other words, in most subjects, I skim the surface, whereas in my chosen area, I take a pretty deep dive.
When we take that "deep dive" into a subject, in some subjects, like PR, we are likely to be finding blogs by men and women, and choosing them based on the content we find there, not the gender of the author. In other subjects, like technology, you will find women, but you have to look hard. The men have a far bigger profile. And there are not many women at the top.
When we skim, odds are that our list will have more male authors than female, simply because the men are easier to find. I'll use politics as an example: I scan about half a dozen political blogs. Four are "owned" or written by men, while only two are driven by women, Ariana Huffington, Huffington Post and Chris Nolan, Spot-on.
Gender doesn't make you a better writer or thinker. Gender shouldn't matter in the blogosphere, or anywhere else for that matter, unless you are picking a mate, and perhaps not even then, unless reproduction is one of your goals.
But no matter how often or loudly we say that gender doesn't matter,
And that's why BlogHer (and other efforts to even the playing field) are so important. We aren't proposing some sort of "blog affirmative action" where you must have so many women or minorities in your feed reader. That's simply absurd.
What I, and many other women, suggest is that you examine your biases -- conscious and sub-conscious -- and make a choice. Stay in your comfort zone, where you know everybody and they know you. Or take a step out, a virtual "walk on the wild side," and look for new voices. Perhaps even ones that disagree with you. We could all use a bit more diversity and a little less "group think."
Gender doesn't matter when it comes to smart thinking. But it is an issue. So please, folks, open your eyes. I know it's unpleasant to remember that we still don't have equality of the sexes, but we don't. Ignoring it does NOT make it go away.
You may think you're being gender blind, but I'd tell you, you are simply blind about the issue of gender.
A final example. Some have wondered why we need a women's blogging conference. We don't have men's blogging conferences, they say.... After I get through banging my head on the wall at that, I remind them, that's because most conferences ARE men's conferences. They just aren't advertised that way. Bringing these issues to light, and creating a space where women (and like-minded men) could work on them together, is why BlogHer was founded and why so many women of different backgrounds embrace it. As Mary Hunt points out, we are part of a long tradition of women getting together to build strength in numbers. Susan B. Anthony anyone???
Be truly gender-neutral. Seek out the different voices. Not because they are women or minorities but because you understand that the system favors a dominant group (in tech, it's white guys, sorry), and you want to push past that to meet some new folks with some new ideas.
Who maybe aren't just like you.
Tags: blogher, blogher 06, gender, sexism, blogging, blogs
Posted @ 6:08AM in Blogging, BlogHer, BlogHer06
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Interesting post ... but I'm not sure I understand what you mean when you say "the system favors a dominant group."
In the PR profession -- without even a shadow of a doubt -- the dominant group is women. Yet there are few women PR bloggers, comparatively.
That's not the fault of any system or any favoritism. That's just the way it is.
The other day I saw a quote from a prominent black author defending the role of black media such as BET. His point was that since all other media are "white," there is a need for separate entities that are focused on blacks and black issues.
The key point, however, is that all other media isn't "white." While there may not be as much black representation as some would like, there IS diversity ... everywhere but on BET and in other black media.
Perhaps that same issue is what chaps some about BlogHer ... are they feeling that the conference does more to segment people than it does to bring them together?
Can't speak for them as I have no personal feelings either way about BlogHer. Just making an observation. What do you think??
"The key point, however, is that all other media isn't "white." While there may not be as much black representation as some would like, there IS diversity ... everywhere but on BET and in other black media."
I'm sorry but are you serious? Yes there may be more diversity now than 30 years ago, but the top-level decision-makers, the top editors at newspapers and magazines, the top TV producers, the top media executives, are all still overwhelmingly white.
And let's not overlook the powerful role played by the quest for advertising revenue. I would highly recommend that you read Kim Pearson's excellent post "Race, journalism and blogging, part 2: Becoming actors, not objects, in the media system" here:
In it, she writes:
"although newspapers technically separate their advertising and editorial operations, editors often skew their coverage toward the most affluent, advertiser-attractive readers: typically suburban, mostly white. The advertisers whom they are trying to please generally have few people of color in management, spend less on marketing to people of color, and pay lower ad rates for media targeted to people of color."
The advertising industry is so overwhelmingly white that the New York City Council and the New York Human Rights Commission are launching an investigation into its hiring practices.
It's also still overwhelmingly male. From this DiversityInc article:
"The lack of gender diversity was brought to the public's eye after last year's astounding comments by former WPP executive Neil French's astounding comments about women saying "they're crap" and they 'don't make it to the top because they don't deserve to.'"
Is it possible that you don't see the lack of diversity and gender equality because it doesn't directly affect you?
Carmen has made some excellent points in answer to John's question. I'll just add a few more thoughts.
Our culture is male-dominated. And to a large degree, in the Western World, it is white males. It just is. This is a basic reality that women and the non-white races in this country deal with every day.
This does not mean that some professions don't have a lot of women in them. Or that women and minorities can't rise to the top and lead large companies. Or that women and minorities don't run many many successful small businesses in all sorts of industries. And so on and so forth. But, at the tippity top, as Carmen points out, more often than not you'll find a white guy.
In this environment, gender/minority organizations serve a number of purposes. One of them is certainly social, to create a community within the larger society. That is a discussion far beyond the scope of this little post.
The reason that interests me today is the power of the collective voice to break through into the dominant culture. Not just safety in numbers. Power in numbers. I'll get back to that in a minute.
First I want to expand on what I meant by the system favoring a dominant group. Yes the cultural systems as we've been discussing. But even more specifically to a discussion of blogging, the tech systems underlying the popular blog discovery mechanisms are biased toward male bloggers. One of the causes of this is the community effect mentioned in my post.
It is an unintended effect. No one is suggesting that someone designed the bias into the systems. But since both tech and business are heavily male dominated segments, it makes sense that this would happen. Of course there are women bloggers in these spaces. In general, we don't pick who we read by their gender -- it is all about content. As it should be.
But then we start linking. And if everybody links to everybody else, even equally, it stands to reason that the men will have more links. There are more of you. Search engines reward links. You see where it ends. An unintended bias created by the system itself.
And that is one of the other important jobs of an interest group such as BlogHer -- to use the mass of the organization to break through a barrier to entry. Or in this case, discovery.
So let's go back to Neville as an example (link in my post). He wasn't intentionally being sexist in his reading choices. For him, as for most of us, it is about the content, not the gender of the author. As a result of the communities he is in, however, most of the blogs he was exposed to were written by men. An unintended gender effect caused by an imperfect system. Enter BlogHer. Loud enough and big enough in the blogosphere to cause Neville to check it out. And lo and behold he found some blogs that interested him. Now, to keep him as a reader, the blog authors have to continue to write compelling content. No one expects Neville (or anyone else) to keep them on his reading just because the authors are women. There's no movement to demand gender-balanced reading lists. That would be silly.
But...because the system does have a bias, albeit unintended, I do believe we have to make a conscious effort to correct it. Which is why I say we cannot be blind to the effects of gender.
Individually, we can rail against the machine. Collectively, we have the power to change it.
Not picking on John, but he was the only opposiing viewpoint in this dicussion, I have
"In the PR profession -- without even a shadow of a doubt -- the dominant group is women. Yet there are few women PR bloggers, comparatively.
That's not the fault of any system or any favoritism. That's just the way it is."
Well, my question is why is that "just the way it is?"
I don't have all the answers, but it seems that the system by which the online community is ordered (as Susan said links) inherently favors men, maybe becasue they were early adopters. Women also favor men. The links out from my site go primarily to men. So, women are part of the problem too. Couple that with the fact that many of us (women) feel uncomfortable with women-centric events (me included), and viola, we perpetuate our own problem.
It's a strange world when women can dominate a profession, but not dominate its voice.
I can't speak on the minority issue with any authority, but it is hard to be heard from the bottom of the hill, and both women and minorities suffer from this vantage point.
And it isn't just in the PR blogosphere that we see this phenomenon.
Just for kicks, I checked out the program for PRSA's international conference this fall. Whether you think the organization itself is lame or not, the speakers list is quite telling. In the guts of the program (panels and sessions, workshops and so on), the split is pretty even, male/female.
At the top of the program, though, it is all men. Three keynotes and two fireside chats (whatever that is.) In a profession that is heavily populated by women, there wasn't a single woman this group could find to put on the top of the program with the boys?
Susan: your post-BlogHer writing has been on fire! And the conversations you are catalyzing with that posting have been on fire too.
I'm just going to start pointing people here with a "like she said" when they ask "why BlogHer?"
Thanks for the all the opposing points. Interesting discussion.
Some thoughts ...
First off, I don't have a problem with efforts like BlogHer (even though I'm not a conference-goer myself). :)
Second, if any of you believe that being a white male is always the answer, think again.
Take blogging, for example. There is a definite divide between the "techy" white male PR bloggers and the non-techy PR WMB.
That divide is evident in links, in comments, in every aspect of what defines a popular blogger. If you work in Silicon Valley or with tech-based companies, you tend to write about tech issues, and you therefore get more links from the many tech-oriented PR bloggers.
If you're in agricultural PR, or energy, or what have you, not so much.
So these segmentations aren't just race or gender biased. And they don't just impact women or minorities.
In fact, I would argue that there are two main "circles" of PR bloggers -- the insiders and the outsiders. There is little interaction between the two. But that's okay.
Remember, it's not supposed to be about the number of people you impact.
On a related note, I read several blogs about race and racial issues, and I'm often surprised at how often minorities will close off a discussion with "well, if you're white you don't understand."
While there may be some truth to that, it's not really advancing the issue any, is it? I get the sense that many of the comments here are in that same vein ... "well, you're a white man ... what would you know?"
And how would the flip side of that be taken, if I were to tell a woman or minority that she/he "can't understand this or that because they aren't a white male?"
That would deemed racist/sexist, wouldn't it? This double standard is one of the most frustrating things about discussions such as these.
Please don't feel picked on. I admire you for trying to understand the issue. Certainly no one here is saying that because you're a white guy, there's no way you can understand what we are talking about. But, I do think it is harder for you (and other WM) because by and large, what we are talking about is beyond your experience. You sympathize, maybe even empathize, but you haven't lived it.
And in answer to your question, how would a woman/minority feel if the statement were reversed -- you don't get it (can't have it) because you aren't a white man.....
Well, it happens all the time. It has happened in subtle ways and in overt ways to women and minorities for years. It's the politics of exclusion, and it is one of the reasons I am so vocal on this issue.
I hope you didn't take the last line of my comment to mean "well, if you're white you don't understand."
What I meant was that if you're in the majority, you tend to not have to think about things that affect the minority.
For example, as a right-handed person I never have to think about being right-handed because the world is designed around my needs.
Or living a comfortable middle-class existence, I don't have to think about the fact that if I was poor, I'd probably end up paying more for stuff than I do now. Check out Barbara Ehrenreich's post about the "poor tax" or "ghetto tax":
Sometimes I think you blog like a girl.