January 19, 2004

Race, Gender and Blogging

Posted by shonk at 12:06 AM in Blogging, Feminism | TrackBack

Over at Misbehaving (an excellent site, by the way), danah boyd asks “why are bloggers mostly straight white men?” She writes:

Women are often purported to be the primary social network maintainers, the communicative sex. Yet, the more time i spend in blogging land, the more i realize how few women blog. (Major props to the women listed on the right!) In response to a conversation about blogging as an equalizer, i wrote a note today that blogging is a privilege. Assuming that my perception is accurate, i’m pretty convinced that bloggers (note: not LJers or other journalers) are primarily straight white men. Given that this is a sociable technology, this seems rather suggestive that blogging is not an equalizer.

I have my doubts about how accurate this perception really is, but since it is just a perception, it’s not something that can really be argued. However, I would like to take issue with a couple of things.

First off, I, like many of the commenters there, question the validity of the distinction between “journalers” and “bloggers”. I tend to think of the space between a “journal” and a “weblog” as more of a continuously varying continuum than a vacuum. For example, since most of what my brother and I post here is related to news, politics or meta-analysis of online communities, this site would probably not be classified as a “journal”. However, posts like Fun with Transliterations, When You Dance or Me, Style Savant, just to take some recent examples (or, for that matter, most of the Ramblings category), are certainly more along the lines of what you might find on a Live Journal. On the other hand, Petya’s site, since it primarily deals with what’s going on in her life, would be more likely to be considered a “journal”, yet Petya herself calls it a weblog and a quick perusal of, say, the September archives and her posts on feminism will convince you that a site can be both “personal” and “serious”. In fact, I find it a little surprising that boyd would distinguish between journals and blogs in this way, since making such a distinction seems to be judging journals as less worthwhile or important than blogs.

Second, moving on to the claim that “blogging is not an equalizer”, I tend to disagree. However, it is a qualified disagreement for the following reason: blogging, in and of itself, is not so powerful an equalizer as to completely overcome all obstacles. As boyd points out in blogging is a privilege :

Privilege is a funny thing. Often it opens up opportunities that we don’t even realize. Take time, for example. Who has the time to sit online and read, write and discuss all day? A working mother? A migrant worker? Time is money. Very few people have both time and money and most people spend most of their time trying to make ends meet or trying to calm their nerves from the stress induced by the former. Having time to “waste” is privilege.

However, this is not the fault of blogging in and of itself. I suspect that a disproportionate percentage of white men are online, which fact is a result of various and complicated social phenomena, but any disproportionate representation in the blogging community is probably a direct effect of this reality (I exclude the “straight” part of the equation because I think it’s ludicrous to think that there is any reliable way of determining the sexuality of a blogger. Most people simply don’t broadcast this information). In fact, I wouldn’t be at all surprised to find that, if we merely consider the simple function

f(x) = (number of bloggers from gender x)/(total number of people online from gender x)

we might well find that f(female) > f(male). Why do I say this? Because, in my personal experience, women I know who spend a fair amount of time online are more likely to blog/journal than are men who spend an equivalent amount of time online. So, in this sense, we see that, even in the area of gender, blogging may indeed be an equalizer.

Whatever the case, the claim that blogging isn’t an equalizer is, to me, ridiculous. Absent blogging, Glenn Reynolds would be just another law professor, dooce would be just another pregnant ex-Mormon and danah boyd and I would be just two more grad students with more ideas than outlets. I challenge you to find anybody who reads a fair number of weblogs and/or journals who doesn’t think they have a broader understanding and perspective than they could get merely from newspapers and television. So no, blogging, in and of itself, can’t produce perfect equality (whatever that is), but that doesn’t mean it’s not an equalizer.