Sisters: The Path to Punditry Isn't Paved With Baby Powder
In what's quickly becoming a hot-button article, the New York Times has proclaimed that female bloggers face a glass ceiling. Why is it so controversial?
Because the article wasn't in the Tech section, like a previous Times article about death by blogging, or even in the business section, where the paper previously ran an article on blog marketing. It was in the Fashion and Style section -- proof, some bloggers claim, that the story itself is patently dismissive and patronizing. Just another example, some claim, of gender bias in the coverage of female bloggers.
They're quick to point out, too, that women outnumber men online and control the majority of consumer spending decisions. So why are they being discriminated against? Why aren't they linked more often by other bloggers, called more often by mainstream media for their opinions, sponsored more often by high-dollar advertisers?
It's discrimination, some say. But maybe there's more to the story.
Last week, the annual BlogHer conference took over San Francisco's Westin St. Francis Hotel, drawing in nearly 3,000 women. While plenty of (female) bloggers have taken umbrage at the NY Times' description of the event as "a corporate-sponsored Oprah-inflected version of a '60s consciousness-raising group," perhaps that description is not entirely inaccurate. Back when the founders of BlogHer first sat in a coffee shop dreaming up the notion of a female-oriented conference, they asked themselves:
"What do women want? Technology. Our work with bloggers indicates that blogging is the gateway drug of technology to many new users. It is also a terrific source of emancipation from mainstream media coverage of the field for established female developers, tech writers, engineers, and tech entrepreneurs."
Yet a glance at the BlogHer 2008s agenda shows a conference light on technology and heavy on the "girl stuff." Granted, there were hard-hitting topics on the agenda, things like how to effectively use social media and strategies for blogging about race and gender without inciting death threats. But for every tech-related topic there were two focusing on "Mommy Blogging": whether it's a radical act and how to do it while respecting your children's privacy.
Attendees at BlogHer were treated to 7 a.m. yoga sessions and demonstrations of the iRobot vacuum cleaner. Some of them positively oozed about the Sesame Street suite, which provided not only snacks but full-length DVDs of Elmo and Grover, "probably the most amazing celebrity you could have brought to the conference." But now they're upset that the conference is being treated in the press as something less-than-substantive.
Please. Can anyone imagine the organizers of Netroots Nation putting up signs in the bathrooms, as BlogHer's founders did, assuring their attendees "You are perfect"? Or SWSX offering free beauty makeovers? Do any of the political, gamer, tech, or geek conferences promote a panel discussion about Beautiful Blogging and how the medium can be used to promote "love, trust, positivity, hope, empowerment"? Or one on blogging as a healing force? Do they offer seminars on crafts?
For some, the emphasis on socializing, attending cocktail parties, and garnering invites to private suites felt less like a computer-related conference and more like old college sorority days. Even a mainstream print journalist attending the conference, pen and paper in hand, saw it more about socializing with other women than an actual source for learning about technology, business strategies, and honing one's skills at political punditry:
The only difference between me and the mommy bloggers, foodies and political junkies is that I write for a living, and most of them live to write. Their blogs are their diary/creative outlet. They sneak time from kids, partners and day jobs to share their innermost thoughts with total strangers.
Those who claim there's a glass ceiling in the blogosphere note that TechCult's list of the top 100 internet celebrities includes only 10 women and Forbes' list of 25 web celebs contains but four women (and Perez Hilton). What they don't note, however, are some of the glaring differences between writing a blog about politics and writing a "Mommy Blog" that occasionally explores political topics (as mine admittedly does, but then again, I don't take umbrage to being considered a "mommy blogger").
As one glass ceiling skeptic notes: "At least 75 percent of your posts should have nothing to do with you or your life." Women who disregard that will continue to find themselves wondering Why Baby Poop Don't Get No Respect, but the fact is that such topics simply don't hold universal -- as in, trans-gender -- appeal the way politics does. "Maybe other frustrated mothers of toddlers can find some comfort in seeing they're not alone. But it's not going to land you in the Politics section or draw comparisons with Edward R. Murrow," says the skeptic.
In this year when a record percentage of people are going online for political coverage, women who want equality on the web -- and by that, apparently, they mean getting as many calls from the mainstream media as well as ad revenue from their blogs -- might want to consider whether there's really a glass ceiling, or whether they themselves have shut out a wider, more profitable audience. The internet's 50 most influential women have figured out something that you, apparently, have not.
Call yourselves "Mommy Bloggers" if you want, organize conferences and "online communities for women," and attend conferences supposedly about technology but write only about the "hunky" celebrity chef's cooking demonstration or the cocktail parties. But don't blame over half of the internet -- in other words men, as well as women looking for serious news coverage -- if they assume you aren't going to offer anything they're interested in.
It's not because you're a female. It's because you bore them.