Monday, October 03, 2005

Gender, Blogging, Invisible Netroots

ArronBurrFan quotes Matt Bai in the New York Times claiming that "the importance of the "Net roots" can be overstated." Well, Mr. Bai, that depends partly on what you understand by "Net Roots."

One of the best kept political secrets of the Internet are that many of those Democrats who are "too busy working and raising kids to spend a lot of time debating political tactics online"...are in fact important part of online political communities. [And let's break Bai's code here: in the world of American corporate media, when you write about "raising kids," you are talking about women.] Only, those communities don't necessarily place politics first and foremost in their mandates. I'm talking about knitting blogs, mommy blogs, live journals, and all kinds of "girlie"-blogs that are too small and too first-person to attract the attention of the A-list (male) bloggers, or mega web traffic.

Remember the Pew study this summer that showed over half of all blogs are written by women? In the patriarchy of the political blogosphere, these blogs get ignored for being too small (i.e., not important enough), and having focuses beyond just politics (what women call "multitasking)--in other words, talking about issues outside what Kos recently dubbed the "important shit": issues like childcare, women's health, reproductive rights, politics in public education and homeschooling, divorce, child support, and discrimination (not just sexism and racism, but also sizeism, ageism, and ableism). *And* knitting and recipes and quizzes and books. *And*, outside the mighty gaze lowered down from the heavens of Kos et al, politics.

I am constantly astounded (call me naive) at the extent to which the blogosphere is gendered. I find there are two main writing styles, which broadly break out as belonging to male and female writers (with exceptions, naturally, but the broad camps still exist.) The male style is modelled after the corporate media that the writers claim to hate (hmm...feminism and racism could explain a great deal about internalizing negative stereotypes, if they'd only listen). The male/corporate style is agent-less; there is no "I" or self in the writing, and rather than voicing personal, and therefore fallible, opininions, instead the authors hand down universal truths (sic) carved on stone tablets. (I tend to think of this style as Mt. Sinai Blogging.) Likewise, the topics are impersonal--about what "they" should do in DC or at the DNC or in state capitols.

The female style, i.e., the style I see used by, and represented by, women--predominantly but not exclusively, is a far more personal style. The writers have the courage to say "I" and share their own opinions, instead of posing as unquestionable authorities. And, instead of regurgitating or fisking the latest excrescence of the New York Times or the Washington Post, these writers engage political issues in the context of their own lives. Reading the Bloghercon synopses via Culture Kitchen, I saw this style refered to as "naked blogging;" I think the title is superb, because it speaks to the subversiveness and bravery involved, in the extent to which the authors really put themselves out there. Unfortunately, since writing about your own personal battles with breast cancer, or working at an abortion clinic, or the racism of your children's new stepmother, aren't considered "important shit" by the polticial blogosphere gatekeepers, and so this quality writing, first-person reporting, about real people engaging real life issues...doesn't get the spotlight, or the readership, it deserves.

These "female" blog communities are like multi-celled organisms--an individual blog may not be that big, but the cross-linked communities start to achieve not only internal traffic, but also community cohesion where ideas introduced by members have credibility and authority. And, as a politician, you can't get into that loop that forms the vast proportion of the blogosphere by getting a mention on Eschaton or buying a blogad.

On the other hand, it *is* possible to gain entrance to these female blog communities. A great example is the goodies-for-schilling promotion set up by Adagio Teas which I participated in and wrote about earlier this year. Their target: knitting blogs. The promotion spread inside the blog communities like wildfire. From the number of references to Adagio Teas I've encountered, the campaign looks like a great success. Democratic political operatives would be wise to take notice--with a little ingenuity, we can do the same thing, and tap into the real political net roots.

Politicians, corporate media, and the patriarchal political blogosphere have colluded together to misrepresent the open-source, open-access, horizontal-structure of the Internet as a phallically vertical-structured, corporate-media style gateway access, hierarchical political blogosphere--run by affluent white males, reflecting and regurgitating their interests and prejudices. (What a tremendous shame.) Politicians misunderstand "netroots" because they think it consists of the top 100 political blogs. Sure, the 80/20 rule of untargetted campaigning says that is where you go; but, the field rules of microtargetting say that if you can introduce an idea or find a champion-advocate in the discrete communities outside the "official" political blogosphere--you can tap into net-tops people who are extremely influential in those online communities, and wage the kind of stealth, effective, netroots / grassroots campaign that makes a big impact.
True Confessions

I started this post as a comment in response to ArronBurrFan on BOP, and when the comment began to take on a life of its own, I decided to make it a post. (Overgrown comments are where most of my posts seem to come from these days.) I did not intend to make this post a bash-fest of the A-list blogs or a boys vs girls gender war--I think I've managed, to some extend, to accomplish those goals nonetheless regardless of my original intent. All I can say is it angers me tremendously that we have collectively taken the (relatively) clean slate that the potential of the Internet presents, and managed to import all of our own prejudices intact so that we could use this new tool to celebrate and enforce sexism and the politics of entitlement and exclusion the same way we do in the brick and mortar world.

If all of this bothers me so much, it is fair for readers to ask what I do about it.

For starters, BOP News is the only "big blog" I read or link to (as far as I know). I was a regular reader long before Matt Stoller invited me to write for BOP (for sassing him off in the comments, I suspect)--because the site generated new content (instead of just regurgitating other people's corporate media writings), hosted a range of naked writing, and presented a caliber of thought and writing that has maintained my interest.

(I read Amanda on Pandagaon and I read Forest for the Trees and American Street--I suspect they are big, but I don't know how big they are, and I don't read them "because" they are big. I don't read status symbols, designer tags, traffic stats, or the size of your penis as indicators of quality in real life, either.)

Otherwise, I mostly read "little blogs." (I don't need gatekeepers to tell me what to think or what is important in the blogosphere any more than I do in any other area of my life.) On Tsuredzuregusa, I've made an effort to link to blogs by women, to compensate for my lack of access to political discourse by women through other media. Otherwise, I look for quality writing, and try to find a range of viewpoints from a range of authors outside my own experience.

I also recognize that, at different conscious and subconscious levels, I use male-gender writing tricks if I am writing something for BOP. For example, I started the second paragraph of this post with "I think that one of the best kept political secrets of the Internet..."--and when I was considering posting it on BOP, I went back and edited out the "I think." I scrabble up the foothills of Mt. Sinai when I blog with the boys, too, and I know it. I think the compulsion to boy-blog may be a phase in a blogging cycle--when I started blogging, most of the blogs I could find were by men, and I thought that Mt. Sinai blogging was the "only way" to write; as I gained my bearings and my confidence, it grew easier to write naked, as me, than from Mt. Sinai as a guy. I've been meaning to comment on this phenonemon within my own writing for some time, and I'd be interested in discussing with other writers if you catch yourself gendering your writing for certain venues.

Final thought: the media/blog feeding frenzy around Katrina shone a spotlight on some tremendous small, first-person, naked blogs in Louisiana and Texas. Suddenly, blogs written by people, on the ground, *doing* instead of *talking* politics, were the big fad. Granted, the blogs filled an information vacuum, and their subject matter was compelling. But, outside a crisis, blogosphere traffic stats seem to show that everyone has gone back to the corporatized, status-quo vision of the blogosphere. I hope it won't take another bout of news pron to turn the sheeple of the blogosphere back to reading quality small blogs again.
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