Privilege checking

Jennie Rigg made a recent post which got me thinking about the blog-roll on here. I composed it in two, short, bursts of organisation, where I dumped the contents of my blog aggregator into links dialogues. Wasn’t really thought about; it was just ‘list o’stuff wot I read’ and ‘list o’stuff about beer wot I read’. The outcome was this:

Political blogs:

The beer blogs remain unchanged, so you can reference them from the sidebar. After reading Jennie’s thoughtful series of posts, I read archive material from all of the female-led or run blogs she listed, adopted some (though not all) into my aggregator and adjusted my blog-roll accordingly. Then it occurred to me to analyse the starting conditions and the results of the update; fortunately, I have a tendency to back up such things before I change them. The results were quite interesting.

If you take that list as a whole, I count four collaborative blogs, three blogs by men, and four blogs by women. The collaborative blog contributor lists are all male-dominated, and only one is run by a male/female editing team. If you split out beer from politics, the image is slightly different as I only managed to find one good lady’s beer blog; whereas on the politics side the score is three to one female.

In making the new roll I included the new blogs I’d found via Jennie’s link but I also included several blogs I’ve started reading since I last remembered to fiddle with the blog roll. The beer-blog roll hasn’t changed, so I’m going to ignore it for the time being. My previous score was 3 female-run blogs, 1 male-run, and two collaborative of which one is male-edited and the other is a male/female team project. The new list counts 3 blogs by men, 8 blogs by women and 6 collaborative blogs, of which 2 are male-dominated, 3 specifically female, and 1 split.


Recursive++

I started doing the personal online journal thing because I needed content to test the perl script for updating an online journal that I’d written. This was mumble years ago, I’d not heard of LJ yet, and I was doing the thing primarily as an excuse for a coding project. I was an active poster on /. and read various other, similarly technical blogs. I eventually got on Livejournal because suddenly I was missing all the social events. “Why didn’t you tell me about your [ party / theatre trip / visit to London / wedding / delete as appropriate ]? I’d have loved to come!” “… But I posted it on Livejournal!” I got really tired of that kind of thing so I started actively using it.

I was eventually persuaded to start reading political and current affairs blogs by the ever-industrious Penny, by way of her persuading me to start working on this thing. That was the first time I began to notice the phenomenon Jennie is taking the blokosphere to task for. You see, my anecdotal impression from 1999 to this year was that the blogosphere was massively, disproportionately dominated by women.

In my LJ friend circle, nearly all the interesting posters were women: all the prolific posters were women; all the communities worth reading seemed to be started and run by women. Most of the contributors to any given comment thread were women; and most of the comment threads that were political at all were about masculine privilege, about abortion rights, about the strains of being a single mum, about trying to work with the kind of salesman who thinks Ethics is the county his next shag will come from.

In the wider blogosphere, my initial link stock came via Penny Red, which was going to tilt the stats towards women and socialists anyway. On the other hand, I suspect I have a taste for the perspectives offered by female political bloggers who are not single-issue; Alix Mortimer is an exceptional writer, as is Penny herself, but I read them both for their thinking more than their writing. I’m acutely aware of the process of Othering, having been thoroughly Other myself for most of my life. Perspectives besides mine are how I avoid perpetuating that problem.

I have no idea if LJ use is statistically dominated by women; all I know is what I tended to get linked to. When I broke out into the wider world of political blogging, I noticed that the vast majority of the contributors and comment ranters on LibCon were men. What I hadn’t realised is why: LJ is a ghetto within the wider blogosphere, which I just didn’t know until about a year ago. It’s perceived as a kind of nature reserve by the ‘serious’ bloggers; and (so far as I can tell) as a refuge for the thin-skinnedeasily-triggered by those who use it obsessively. As far as I can tell, no-one from outside the pale really pays much attention to what goes on in there, except when there’s a generalised trainwreck like RaceFail09 to gawk at.

My impression that blogging was female-dominated seems to have come from spending time on LiveJournal. In technical and political circles, blogging seems to be dominated by men. That led me to thinking about chronological contexts. 10 to 15 years ago, the people technically sophisticated enough to think of blogging about politics or science or economics, who were also in a position to actually know anything about those fields, were mostly men. Our society still has a major skill, interest and experience gap in all of those fields; a partially self-perpetuating one, because they are all fields whose male over-representation has developed intense social traditions, mid-way between rugby club and monastery. The imbalance is shrinking as women are offered more opportunity, but also (in my observation) as the younger generations come through.

It is the children, not the gender warriors, of the 80s who are changing the prevailing cultures in politics and science, because they are able to be confidently themselves without being confrontationally female. With each cohort since the PC revolution, more women have proved that they don’t have to act like men to beat men at their own games. That trend seems to be bourne out by such projects as the Huffington Post, GeekaChicas and ABW.

I’ve been recently arguing that one of the problems the human species manufactured for itself in constructing the Great Machine was that we have systematically ignored half our creativity pool for several thousand years. More eyes on a problem is good provided communication and decision making are clear and streamlined; the Open Source movement has illustrated the power of distributed mind-share. The more we integrate perspectives such as those of Ben6 and Sunny Hundal with those of P.C. Bloggs or Charlotte Gore, the better our ability to respond, to change, to debate, to persuade and to improve.

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8 Comments

Filed under Context, Signal

8 responses to “Privilege checking

  1. I have no idea if LJ use is statistically dominated by women

    It is, massively so, and Dreamwidth shows this to a higher degree as all the accounts there that declare a gender have been set up within the last few months, and they’re 75%ish female.

    And yes, I concur, until I started my first political blog (2005) I didn’t really know what blogging was, even though I had an LJ. I’d been commenting in places for ages linking to my (paid) LJ and it was ignored, but when I set up the (free) blogspot I got lots of “welcome” posts and similar from the blogs I used to comment on.

    Of course, part of that was cultural, LJ wasn’t seen as a blogging platform by most users until very recently, even calling it a ‘blog’ at all annoyed people, and the setup there with the /users/username etc got in the way.

    Part of the objective of getting Jennie (and more recently Debi) involved in LC was to get the stuff on LJ wider exposure, and it’s working to an extent.

    But LJ really is at times a ghetto, and a lot of that is self imposed, to the extent that some people refuse to comment off site at all.

    FWIW, there are still more female bloggers than male bloggers, including within the UK (some stats on that somewhere I keep meaning to dig out). But it’s the men that take it seriously and obsess over it, while women just treat it as part of life and move on…

    • johnqpublican

      It is, massively so, and Dreamwidth shows this to a higher degree as all the accounts there that declare a gender have been set up within the last few months, and they’re 75%ish female.

      I knew about DW: what interests me there is the technical predominance of women, rather than the predominance in terms of accounts. I like the fact that DW is a female-dominated OSS project; I’ve been wanting to use that phrase for a number of years now.

      Of course, part of that was cultural, LJ wasn’t seen as a blogging platform by most users until very recently, even calling it a ‘blog’ at all annoyed people, and the setup there with the /users/username etc got in the way.

      But LJ really is at times a ghetto, and a lot of that is self imposed, to the extent that some people refuse to comment off site at all.

      That it was imposed from inside was never really in doubt for me. I have been inclined to connect this to the Pollyanna attitude within the LJ community towards discussion etiquette. The internet has been, starting from Usenet and working sideways, a thick-skinned place with a certain number of conventions for when you’re allowed to light the HNO3 and when you’re meant to don asbestos knickers. The convention has always been that if you disagree with someone they can argue with you but they have no authority over what you choose to post: nor do you have any right to expect them to take what you post seriously.

      The conjunction of a sense of ownership (“it’s my blog”) with a very deliberate rejection of the wider internet’s rules (“the internet is for geeks, LJ is for real people”) led to an overwhelming sense of entitlement to only having positive reinforcement regardless of how ridiculous what you write is. Of course, people don’t always act the way this summary suggests; but there’s always been the implication that they were supposed to.

      FWIW, there are still more female bloggers than male bloggers, including within the UK (some stats on that somewhere I keep meaning to dig out). But it’s the men that take it seriously and obsess over it, while women just treat it as part of life and move on…

      I think that this reflects a perception difference. On average, men on the internet 15 years ago were conditioned to seeing it as a working tool; women on the internet 15 years ago were conditioned to seeing it as a social tool.

  2. FYI: LJ is about 70/30 female to male, and DW looks to be even more female-skewed. The cynic in me says that’s part of WHY LJ is ignored.

    • johnqpublican

      You could well be right :) Thank you for the linkage, btw. Discovered a lot of people very well worth reading.

  3. The Dreamwidth project is notable for its extremely high rate of female coders (and team leaders, support volunteers, etc), which is probably tilted in this direction by inheriting to some extent the fanfic userbase from LiveJournal… a double filtering mechanism skewing the stats towards the female side. They seem to be doing very well, and it’s almost certainly contributed to their incredibly welcoming and inclusive development community.

    This infotrope post has some stats about the project:
    http://tr.im/oBmR

    • johnqpublican

      Yah. As I say to MatGB above, I’ve been wanting to use the phrase “female-dominated OSS project” for years and never been offered an opportunity.

  4. bensix

    Thanks for the link – belatedly reciprocated.

  5. Also for what it’s worth, this is just my own thought on it – I started blogging a couple of months ago – and although I write about politics mostly, I also like writing about music and art and all kinds of other topics, I want to put the odd bit of fiction up in amongst the facts and opinions, it’s basically becoming like an online notebook for me of things that interest me at that moment.

    But I am aware that that is way too self-indulgent and also that it leads to a big old mess in terms of answering the question ‘what’s your blog about then?’. And I think sometimes you fellers are better at being single-minded about things and I wish I was too.