Blokes blog, birds don’t: the impoverished political potential of the internet?

Since he flagged up the votes for the Top 20 blogs (as reported by Iain Dale), I’d been figuring on looking at Mick’s point about the lack of nationalist blogs on the list since they are maybe 2 of the 20. I’m going to do that in the next week or two, but first I thought I’d flag up the equally glaring under-representation of the majority community on that list: the 51.25% of society that are female.

Some have argued that blogging as a pursuit is predominantly male, mainly middle class and generally right-wing (and white) and so that would be reflected in any on-line popularity contest (i.e. the results will be a reflection of the values of the voters). So such accolades probably have a hugely devalued currency outside the same blokish circles.

Since the electoral demographic is rather limited, then, this seems to flag up one area where elections won’t be won or lost on the internet. Where the internet is reported to have impacted on the 2008 US election it seems to have been in facilitating access to videos, debates and party literature – acting as an on-line proxy for the print and broadcast media. So political blogging may just be another male vanity, then…

At the same time, most of us have grown up with feminist critiques that decry the masculinity of public debate. Blogging appears to be a relatively open access activity, yet female-authored political blogs are scarce (in Ireland, at any rate – although superficially it appears little different in Britain and the US). If the user names are anything to go by, women only provide a small proportion of the comments on here (and many other blogs). Is this simply because the blogs are mostly male-authored or does it run deeper and point up differing values – women prefering to engage in different ways on the internet (e.g. in a more egalitarian way in forums) or feel more inclined to read and less bothered to write?

Locally, if we are to see a mirror image of electoral political preferences in online opinion and debate (and by extension, ‘internet elections’), is the major missing ingredient female?

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  • Anon

    Where the internet is reported to have impacted on the 2008 US election it seems to have been in facilitating access to videos, debates and party literature – acting as an on-line proxy for the print and broadcast media

    Well it could be that, or it could the huge sums it raised from small donations.

  • Huge sums that then became the spend on print/broadcast media.

  • Jj

    Well, the recent real-world elections showed how one NI blogger utterly failed to translate his own grossly inflated popularity online into a mere handful of votes in east Belfast….

  • Anon

    But pretty hard to argue it didn’t have an impact.

    Yup, lots went on broadcast and print media. Lots went on internet advertsiing, too. Then was the viral stuff, like the youtube videos that did the rounds, or the Facebook groups and so on. It also had an impact in helping people organise, and connecting like minded groups and coordinating efforts.

    Not that giant claims about “read write web” and other nonsense here doesn’t raise my ire. The web let people do some old stuff, some old stuff better and some new stuff. It’s not quite the same old stuff again and not quite the ultimate revolution in our heads.

    But if you want the impact, follow the money.

  • alley cat

    Meanwhile slugger fiddled while the real issues burn!

  • Granni Trixie

    Slugger is a political blog (are most other blogs also?) so surely a lack of female participation on blogs reflects a lack of visibility in poltical parties. Same with commentors analysing politics in other media.

    Some chill factor may also arise from having a blokeish culture on Slugger but then this is chicken and egg.
    And whilst I dont think that Slugger is overly geekish, another chill factor may be that women are less computer literate (but this is just my perception – any research out there?). I am not particularly into computers but find that on a need to know basis I can do most things.
    Many of the factors I mention are related to lack of confidence. I was confident enough to find the help I needed to get going;but most might not bother.

    As for class – surely this is also related to confidence and literacy skills (although I always find it quite endearing when someone with weak English joins in – it appeals to my sense of egalitarianism).

    Whilst taking on board the limitations of bloggs in influencing voting patterns,(as I have mentioned before)
    a blog can influence agendas/public discourse as presumably journalists and other opinion formers read comments.

    Would be even more interested in the context of NI if a blog such as Slugger contributes to mutual understanding.
    There is much examination of complex moral positions for instance. And where else would you get nuanced intepretations from ‘the extremes’ plus people from a Republican background bring in nuggets of new info (unsure if this applies to hardened loyalist/supporters…do they conbribute to Slugger?).

    Many thanks for a post so close to my heart.

  • I’m not arguing it didn’t – to date (until the mid-terms anyway) it remains the election most influenced by the web.

  • Martin

    Saw the same point made on Will Crawley’s BBC blog this morning.

    (Hope the rusty HTML works!)

  • fitzjameshorse1745

    Granni Trixie makes the points of the bloke-ish culture of Slugger/internet and also that women are perhaps not up to speed on computer literacy.
    Id just like to add thats also a problem for those of a certain age (viz my certain age).
    I find the bloke-ish nature of the Internet rather silly. Not of course referring to Slugger here. But teenagers acting like grown ups and using grown up words without having the ability to think grown up thoughts is all…..well……….silly.

    Its certainly an odd state of affairs that crude language not legally tolerated in the gender free environment of an office is tolerated in Blogs and message boards.
    The falling standards of courtesy, spelling (that means me!), grammar are merely indicative of a falling standard in political discourse, language and the anonymous nature of the Internet has re-juvenated Racism and Sexism which has been driven underground by political correctness (a dirty word with people under 30 and Daily Mail readers).
    Those of us who deluded ourselves that we had somehow made the world a better place to live in (in the 1970s and 1980s) are genuinely aghast at the way the process has rolled back.
    If Bernard Manning was alive today …he would be a blogger.

    But it seems absurd that a post which poses the question about the lack of women bloggers……should be answered by me…….a rather obvious person of the male persuasion.
    Essentially women are much smarter than men……use time better and have probably worked out that 99% of Internet message Boards/blogs (Slugger and mine are in the 1%) have are of no value or influence.
    Women are also (I observe this as a man of course) essentially more social than men.

    But often on Blogs (and possibly on this one too guys) Im reminded of the Arabella Weir character on the “The Fast Show”. Constantly coming up with good ideas, she is pointedly ignored until a man comes up with the same idea and the same idea is met with a chorus of approval from the other guys.
    Couldnt possibly happen here of course. Although Ive noticed occasions when I have been pointedly ignored only to see the exact same thought emerge a few days later. Granni Trixie I observe (and indeed others male or female) might well recognise this observation in having a grain of truth. Cant of course speak for her.

    But I think the great problem with men of a certain age is that they take themselves and their opinions much too seriously. After a while……we ……men of another certain age……have second thoughts about that.

    The great weakness of Internet Blogging is that it takes itself much too seriously and wants the World to take it more seriously. And is mightily ticked off at anyone who steadfastly refuses to take it as seriously as they do.
    Women just have more sense.

  • PJ Maybe

    So bloggers, who thought blogging could (potentially) be a new channel for political engagement, are blogging, about a blog which reports blogs don’t really a poke of difference?

    Well I am surprised.

    Not even slightly.

  • fitzjameshorse1745

    The better blogs have been around for a long time.
    Essentially they all entered into the Blogosphere with idealistic hopes about the citizen journalist and all that.
    The sheer popularity of blogs have forced the better bloggers to re-think and re-group. They need distance between themselves and the “nutters”.
    So far they have not found a way to square the circle of “open-ness” with “quality”……..and naturally enough this is a discussion point on the better blogs.

    Unfortunately the seriousness with which they take their blogging undermines their ability to think thru this problem.
    While sectarianism, sexism, racism etc are tolerated…..the one capital offence on a message board is not to be fully wedded to the Blogging “project”.
    Trying to give serious bloggers a sense of proportion is always a thankless task, often leading to charges that people who are cynics or skeptics about blogging have no place on Blogs.
    This exclusivity of course ignores the fact that cynics and skeptics have a viewpoint which (like women?) is not well represented on blogs. Giving bloggers a sense of “proportion” is a good thing.

  • All valid points – if you look at a group of blogs you tend to see a certain amount of wish fulfilment being played out over how the bloggers would like the world to be (in terms of who they include or what is deemed valuable).
    The danger is when you draw the line upwards to mainstream media commentators who might take what the blogs say seriously and repeat it as general opinion – thus confusing the majority of the population who realise that it is the blogs, rather than them, that are disconnected from reality.
    I’m trying to draw out more comments from women to see if they do feel this is all very male and daft, or, if they think it is good as it keeps us occupied and off the streets … (or whatever)

  • Big Maggie

    Why there are so few female bloggers?

    Id guess or the same sort of reason there are so few female anglers. Both pursuits involve sitting on one’s arse all day doing fuck all. Generally, women have things to do.

  • Jj

    Someone once said, thanks to the internet (or reading blogs) its both possible to know a fantastic, incredible amount about any given subject – and yet be totally, utterly wrong.

  • fitzjameshorse1745

    There is of course a difference between “gender”, “politics” and “gender politics”…..as any feminist lecturer points out.

    Thus Margaret Thatcher is dismissed as a non-person. Her image “Iron Lady” etc was masculine. Likewise its no coincidence that Cameron, Clegg, Miliband are all taller than average. Having a male Prime Minister of say 4 feet 2 inches tall would (rightly or wrongly) not look right…..not “manly”.
    As I recall the shortest President of the USA was James Maddison (at about 5feet 3 inches). Early in 19th century that mattered less than it would in 2010 (allegedly a more sophisticated age)…that perception enhanced by potential commanders in chief Hillary Clinton (trouser suited) and gun toting Sarah Palin……so yes “gender” (but not actually the sex..if you see what I mean) IS an issue in Politics.
    Certainly in Journalism and big business…..the pressure for women to be “one of the boys” is intense.
    Same surely with blogs.

  • I’d challenge the essential premises here:

    * that the Iain Dale exercise has much validity (except in promoting Dale and all his works);

    * that there are not women, in large numbers, active on the net (which is, I accept, different from “blogging”).

    Consider:

    * the potency of Mumsnet (and a couple of similar sites), on specific topics;

    * the agenda-setting impact of Heather Brooke on the Conway affair. That was the essential preparatory to the whole year-long expenses scandal;

    * the number of women active on Sagazone forums;

    * Granni Trixie either spreads herself unbelievably widely and thinly, or her equivalents seem to pop up, aggressively, on any of the political sites I visit.

  • Really? Is this a variation on the “Red Ed”/”doesn’t he look peculiar” meme?

    This one came round a few says back, courtesy of Tim Montgomerie in the New Statesman.

    Then I found myself responding:

    What it amounts to is a job-spec for leadership which prescribes superficial metrosexual, media-friendly, cosmetically-enhanced, Photoshopped, Notting Hill glam. No “one-eyed Scottish git”, no “mutt like me”, no “Swabian housewife”, no “hidden dwarf” need apply.

    Perhaps there’s Dewi‘s short daily quiz: identify each description. I’d reckon it’s a doddle.

    And, come on: Sarah Palin really is weird.

  • Malcolm – regarding the essential premises – see the first sentence in my comment @ 2.52 pm and [as to women on the net] my point in the original post about women engage in different ways than men (not that they aren’t active on the net).

  • Alias

    Two thirds of Facebook’s 500 million users are female so that could suggest that women are more interested in using the Internet for social networking than Blogging. Incidentally, a study from Inside Network found that half of Facebook’s female users have a very poor understanding of the tools provided to manage privacy settings while only 11 percent of them had a good understanding of the tools, so make of that what you will.

  • Seamus Eolach

    Women have long realised that blogs have little or no influence, many have told me so, and that it is essentially a game played by men.

    A perfect example of the total ineffectuality of blogs can be seen in two campaigns heavily internet based.

    1. Sinn Féin, ever blog in the North threw everything they could againist Sinn Féin, Slugger included. Blogs bounced off Sinn Féins sides as would an airgun pellet again the side of the USS Wisconson.

    2. UNCUNF – againist a dozen liberal unionist blogs and Slugger assured us that UNCUNF was the end of sectarian politics, a new beginning, some even believing that it would suck the republic into the UK. UNCUNF and the bloggers that promoted it just look silly.

    Most people have a job and a life and have no interest.Only journalists looking to steal stories and politicos hired by their parents at the tax payers extent blog.

    It ain’t journalism, it aint politics, it aint academic – its just a daft bit of fun on the same level as Coronation Street.

  • pippakin

    Far from being less familiar with computers I would say a lot of women use them at work on a daily, very often all day, basis. To such an extent that the last thing they want to do when they get home is switch the pc on.

    Women are generally pretty busy. No matter what equality says most women go home to do more work, not put their feet up or indulge a hobby.

    I blog but as a little amateur hobby not as a platform to champion this or that. It was some years after I finished working in offices before I even looked at a pc again and I’m still pretty resistant to some of the so called protocols of blogging.

    I do it for me no one else. I suspect that is the opinion of many women they will blog when and if they want to. In the mean time the ego of the men in suits can have it.

  • Alias

    True, but who claim that blogs were capable of competing with other media in disseminating state propaganda? The advantage of blogs being irrelevant is that you’re not going to read a line that is there as a result of some chat between the state and the publisher, and duly proffered by those who are paid to write what their employer employs them to write. If an official line or state agenda is proffered by a blogger then it is either because he has been indoctrinated with the line proffered elsewhere or because he shares the agenda. So while it is no guarantee of honesty it isn’t the guarantee of dishonesty that you get with mainstream media and the paid employees therein either…

  • Alias

    “Women are generally pretty busy.”

    Then why are two thirds of Facebook’s 500 million users women if women are too busy to become members of Facebook and waste the time chit-chatting on social network sites?

  • joeCanuck

    Great answer, Maggie.

  • pippakin

    Alias

    Perhaps it’s because such media takes less thought, can often be done from work and unlike blogging is a way of keeping in touch.

    Blogging is very different. My own family check twitter to see I’m alive, respond to my blogs by email (so annoying) but post lots of lovely family pictures on twitter just for me, especially after I’ve nagged for a few days.

  • pippakin

    Big Maggie

    LOL!!

    Like they needed to be told!

  • fitzjameshorse1745

    Well said.

  • Granni Trixie

    MRI: and there was me thinking I was a one off!
    For the record, I only contribute to Slugger (ie I have a life).

  • Alias

    And yet according to Google, to focus on the average Facebook user in the UK, they still find the time to make 51 visits per month to Facebook and spent a total of 1360 minutes (23 hours) on it per month. Busy, busy UK women, eh? It’s possible, of course, that women do not account for two thirds of Facebook’s UK users as they do its 500 million global users but there is no reason to suppose that to be the case. 23 hours to squander per month on Facebook chit-chatting and not a minute to spare for debate…?

  • Alias

    Just to add, of course, that Facebook isn’t the only site that UK women use so you can add the time they spend on other sites to that 23 hours a month spent on Facebook and then ponder your “women just don’t have the time” theory again.

  • PD James

  • Are we all agreed then:

    * there is a difference between male and female use (though not headline occupancy) of the net?

    * that it is qualitative rather than quantitative?

    * that there is no great differential in impact or effectiveness?

    * that I can go to bed without a smack on the head?

    * that Iain Dale and all his works should be consigned to the eternal bonfire?

  • Noted, and — belatedly — acknowledged and agreed.

  • Richard Gadsden

    The premise is wrong: more women blog than men (look at British Social Attitudes). Semi-professional / full-time bloggers are more likely to be men.

    Women bloggers do often blog about political issues, but not so much about party politics and the often blog about other things as well, which is fine if they are a friend, but if you’re looking for a politics blog and you find one that’s 20-30% politics then you won’t count it as a politics blog

  • I can live with that.

  • pippakin

    Alias

    But they are, generally, quicker and reflect varying interests in the way political blogging does not.

    It is easy to do a quick update on Twitter etc at work. It is not so easy to write an article on the current financial situation and the reasons for it, that takes the kind of time many women don’t have to spare.

    It does not signify a lack of either interest or understanding.

  • Munsterview

    Granni

    “…..And whilst I dont think that Slugger is overly geekish, another chill factor may be that women are less computer literate (but this is just my perception – any research out there?). I am not particularly into computers but find that on a need to know basis I can do most things…….”

    I have problems with that statement since many of the under forty female generation use computers in their work place either directly for correspondence purposes or for invoice control etc.

    I do not think that the problem is one of computer literacy per se, I occasionally read my partners face book and it is full of the most inane trivia from her adult daughter and friends. They have computer literacy and time but limited interest if any in politics.

    Up to six months or so ago ( my; but don’t time fly when one is annoying unionists) I just read slugger to keep abreast of current Northern politics but I never felt like intervening in the debates.

    If I a former political activist could be passive, how much more those who just skim to keep informed ?

    Break down the number of women posters such as your good self, Big Maggie, Pip etc as against the regular male posters here and I would say if anything there is a better representative ratio from the women posters than in politics generally.

    And may I add the average content of the female posters while of lesser quantity is generally of higher quality than their average male counterparts!

    As for confidence, despite having edited and written books and won literary awards, I am hopelessly dyslexic and have been all my life. Computers and spellcheck liberated my writing skills and saved the day for me.

  • fitzjameshorse1745

    Theres a certain irony that the absence of women bloggers is being discussed with great angst by (mostly)….men.
    It seems that statistically many of those contributing to the thread are married men or have a significant other. Guys……why dont we just ask them?
    Speaking for mysel Mrs FitzjamesHorse1745…..occasionally peeps into this little den and asks “whatcha doing?” and I might say Im replying to a particuarly interesting comment by……..one of you.
    And Mrs FJH 1745 will say “thats nice” and might even patiently listen to a little reading of my post.
    “Thats telling them” she might say before pointing out the spelling errors.
    Am I wrong in thinking that this is a similar scenario to your own situation? Certainly “family membership” on Slugger might prove interesting reading.
    I am reliably informed that the real question is not why do women NOT blog…the real question should be why DO men blog.
    Pressed on whether Ive ever actually changed anyones mind with a post Ive written…….I have to reply “no”.
    Has anyone ever changed my mind? No.

    So its all pretty sterile and academic. So Im told. And completely pointless. And women (so Im further told) LIVE politics and they dont WRITE about it. And (Im asked) How much is a litre of milk?

  • “Blogging appears to be a relatively open access activity, yet female-authored political blogs are scarce (in Ireland, at any rate – although superficially it appears little different in Britain and the US)”

    Hi!
    “Scarce” , perhaps – but we do exist.
    I use our blog as a means to announce events which might not otherwise get publicity , knowing that the posted events will be ‘lifted’ by other blogs and , on occasion, make their way into the pages of newspapers and magazines. Blogging is a time-consuming enterprise – especially with kids to look after! – but , overall , it is worthwhile.
    Thanks!
    Sharon.