Click around the blogosphere and you’ll see a lot of ideological diversity. Bloggers are posting from left, right and center, from perspectives that range from Libertarian to Marxist. And on the surface, that diversity extends to other arenas: Men and women, recent studies show, blog in roughly equal numbers. A notable exception: Women are responsible for as little as four percent of political blogs — “sites devoted to politics, current events, foreign policy, and various ongoing wars” — according to the National Institute for Technology and Liberal Education (NITLE).
When it comes to politics and campaign commentary, in other words, the blogosphere looks a little like your high school chess club: Even though everyone’s invited to join, you could be forgiven for thinking that someone posted a “No Girls Allowed” sign on the classroom door.
Of course, you probably didn’t need Campaign Desk to tell you that. From Instapundit to Daily Kos to Atrios to Andrew Sullivan to Calpundit, men run the poli-blogs with the most buzz — and the most traffic. There is only one female-run blog, the venerable Wonkette!, listed among the top twenty at The Truth Laid Bear, which ranks a number of blogs by their daily traffic.
By contrast, according to the NITLE study, twice as many women as men write personal diary-style blogs. If the numbers are to be believed, then, outspoken male bloggers all live on Mars, while the more introspective women are blogging away from Venus.
But why does the blogosphere conform to such traditional social mores? This is a community that prides itself, after all, on being the closest thing the media has to a meritocracy. With no glass ceilings or institutional barriers to entry, anyone with a computer can broadcast his or her punditry to the world. Why haven’t women been able to force their way into the political dialogue?
Perhaps because the blogosphere doesn’t quite live up to its hype as barrier-free. Clay Shirky and others have argued that even the blog world has an Establishment, with dominant blogs garnering an amount of traffic disproportionate to their quality. And while the blogosphere has been hailed by itself as a horizontal (or links-driven), not a vertical (or hierarchical) universe, there are those who claim that male bloggers have benefited from what amounts to a first-mover advantage.
“Blogs have their origins in the male-dominated tech world,” says New York University professor Jay Rosen. “In any group, there’s an in-club dynamic. That mentality can prevent the cream from rising to the top.”
Rebecca Blood, who started her blog in 1999, disagrees with Rosen. “Women have been represented from the very beginning,” she says. Instapundit’s Glenn Reynolds, whose site gets roughly 100,000 visits per day, agrees. “Among the first wave of well known bloggers,” he says, “there were a lot of women — Virginia Postrel, Joanne Jacobs, Rebecca Blood. The problem is that female bloggers tend to drop off the map. I try to find female bloggers and send people to them, but there just aren’t that many. A lot of the time, the ones I do find end up disappearing.”
Nonetheless, says Rosen, cultural expectations inevitably play a role in defining who gets attention. “The definition of a ‘political blog’ itself is the product of a male dominated culture,” he says.
Columbia University professor Sreenath Sreenivasan is another who rejects what he considers the myth of the idealized blogosphere. “It’s just not true that it’s all based on merit in the blogworld,” he says. “You’ve got the same problems there that you do in the mainstream.” Sreenivasan advocates a sort of blogosphere affirmative action, with bigger bloggers making more of an effort to link to women and minorities. Such a program would violate the meritocratic ideal of the blogosphere, but it would also correct what Sreenivasan sees as a too-often-unacknowledged institutional bias.
Blood, who has written a book about blogging, argues that for a weblog to attract a wide audience, it has to have a narrow focus, a formula that works against women bloggers.
“A lot of the women who have weblogs will post about a lot of different things,” she says. “They generally won’t focus only on politics. I think that writing style tends to strike people as more personal, even when it really isn’t.”
Calpundit’s Kevin Drum, who until recently diverged once a week from his steady focus on politics to blog about his cats, has seen firsthand what happens when you stray too far from the formula.