Last week I had an exchange with Tom Murphy, organiser of the ABBAs online poll to find the best aid blogs, on the issue of gender and blogging. Tom's conclusion from the ABBAs (where my blog got best organizational and second overall best aid blog) was:
"The contest continued to tilt towards men. I really have little idea as to why. Possibly it has something to do with it being a largely academic field and maybe there are more men in the social sciences that deal with poverty alleviation (I have absolutely no data on hand for this and could be entirely wrong). There could be a gender bias. I am not sure."
To which I replied, "NSS (no sxxx Sherlock). A platform designed for people who love the sound of their own voice and think the rest of the world is dying to hear their opinion? Dominated by men? Well who'd have thought it... Even on the comments, I routinely get female colleagues emailing me their comments, rather than posting them. Drives me crazy."
So I went back to my own blog and looked at some of the numbers. A readers' survey (a bit old now, really need to do a new one), actually came up with a 54%/46% split between men and women reading the blog. So very little gender difference on readership (or at least those responding to reader surveys). But skimming back through the last few weeks of comments and discounting comments from me, or people whose gender I could not identify, I got a 70/30 split in favour of men, which bears out my comments to Tom.
Meanwhile in the blogging world, there are many outstanding women bloggers, but the majority feels very male.
Some possible explanations:
• The snarky/aggressive edge to blogging is more likely to deter women than men (I have had this feedback from would-be commenters worried about being rubbished, but on the other hand, I know lots of women who are great at private snark - is there something about doing it publicly?)
• Men have more time on their hands - blogging with a beer late at night, when women are doing something more useful (you know, quilting and stuff)
• Blogging is actually a massive exercise in time-wasting egotism - women have got better things to do
• Aid and development are male-dominated, and so the blogs just reflect that (a look around Oxfam's office suggests this isn't true, but perhaps the blogging is more dominated by the very male world of economists - Elinor Ostrom was the first ever winner of the Nobel economics prize in 2009)
• Blogs written by men get more male commenters for some reason (choice of topics, tone etc)
I triangulated by consulting some top women development bloggers - here are a few thoughts
"What I do find very interesting though is that the same is not true of Twitter. One of the reasons I am such a fan is that women are much more vocal on twitter - not just in development, but also the journalists etc who I follow. No idea why, since twitter is just as susceptible to snark as blogging - though it does take less time as you're limited in what you can say, so it's easier to combine with the 1001 other things that women are often doing at the same time."
"I think that from a career perspective, it is far more important for women to be liked than it is for men. It's the whole men are assertive/women are bitches problem. High-level public communications expose women to the same communications balancing act we also face in everyday life. Add to the mix that that the most engaging blogs aren't nice, (They're sharp, even mean. That's what keeps people coming back. You, Chris, and Tom are exceptions. Think of Tales from the Hood, or Aid Watch)and it is very difficult for a woman to develop a blog that won't wreck her career and is also worth reading. Now you know why I only post once a month."
"There are tons of women bloggers on all sorts of subjects, so it's not as though we as a group can be found knitting rather than blogging! For development blogs, I think the economics focus explains a lot. From what I can see, development as a field is tilted toward female participation, but development economics still attracts more men. Much less firm on this, but my gut sense is that there is something culturally male about the putting-oneself-out-in-front-of-the-public aspect of it all and being publicly critical -- I do get more men than women commenting on my blog too, from what I can see -- especially when it's an issue with a vigorous debate, or a disagreement with something I've written."
Over to you.
An edited version of this post also appears on Duncan's From Poverty to Power blog