January 08, 2006
(Sigh) Women & Blogging, Part 72
Posted by Christine Hurt

For our readers who were not lucky enough to attend Friday's "Blogging:  Scholarship or Distraction?" panel (or who were lucky enough to leave early), you missed quite a surreal free-for-all at the end of the Q&A session.  The preceding panel was great, with Larry Solum speaking bullishly on blogging, but more importantly on broader technological advances such as SSRN, Bepress, and Google, Vic Fleischer speaking optimistically, but cautiously, and Randy Barnett expressing the (qualified) view that blogging was good for senior scholars, dangerous for junior scholars.  (Paul Caron has an outline of all three remarks here.) 

However, during the end of the Q&A session, the topic turned to women and blogging, beginning with the question "Why aren't more women blogging," which led to questions such as "Why aren't any women on this panel?," "What does Christine do with her children?" and then, "What do these men on the panel do with their children?"  (Only one person on the panel had children, and they are grown, so that question was poorly researched.)  This panel will be podcast at some point, so I will go back and listen to see if I actually heard what I thought I heard.

Below, the fold, I will give my reasons for why, at the present time, my interest has waned in the "women and blogging question." 

1.  Mere disparities in number of men and women engaging in blogging is not due to any insidious discrimination or hierarchical structure.

Although if one found disparities in the number of women and men being admitted to law school, graduating from law school, being hired at certain jobs or being promoted at them then one would have reason to consider some sort of discrimination on the part of the decisionmakers, this situation is not analogous.  In blogging, there is no gatekeeper or decisionmaker restricting access to blogging.  Unless Typepad is dumber than we think, anyone who wants to have a blog can have one in about 15 minutes.  Any disparity among genders must be due to something else.

2.  Mere disparities in number of men and women engaging in blogging is not due to restricted access to the resources of blogging.

Blogging requires little capital, education, or skills.  So, even if women were being denied access to capital or to educational opportunities, women could still blog.  Women would not have to petition a dean for money or go to a bank or even ask the dean for research support.  Some blogging platforms are free, and most are cheap.  The barriers to entry of blogging are as close to zero as one can imagine.  The questioners at the panel referred to time, and free time could be seen as a barrier to entry to blogging.  However, I have come to believe that we all make time-based choices and we can make time for new activities if we want to do so.  I don't piddle; I don't drink coffee or do the NYT crossword except on airplanes.  I don't watch TV now that Rome is over and I exercise just enough not to die.  This leaves me some time to blog.

3.  Mere disparities in number of men and women engaging in blogging is not due to discrimination by consumers.

Even if no one would read a woman's blog or link to it, that blog would still survive.  Unlike a restaurant or store that needs customers to survive, because the costs of running a blog are so low and the financial advantage of readers/linkers negligible (notwithstanding ads), a blog can survive on the desire of the author alone.  Even if there exists a propensity for men to blog and to link to other men, this should not foreclose women from entering the blogosphere or for remaining in the blogosphere.

4.  I am beginning to think that the disparity may be due to something called a "preference."

Marketers make zillions of dollars a year recognizing that women like some movies, TV shows, books, magazines, and food items, and that men like others.  There is some overlap, but generally there are preference differences between genders.  Why is this hard to accept?  I worked at Baskin-Robbins for a year, and every 16-year old BR employee can guess what kind of ice cream a 35-year woman is going to order.  (In 1986, this was Pralines & Cream.)  We didn't think too hard about why more women than men liked this flavor, and I never thought there was something insidious in the way women were socialized to believe that they like it.  Maybe more men then women like to blog.  What's so hard to understand about that?

5.  It may not always be this way.

As Randy Barnett pointed out, blogging is a safer choice for senior law professors than junior law professors.  Dan Solove's census (version 3.0) doesn't distinguish between ranks, but it is conceivable that more tenured persons blog than untenured.  Because there are more male tenured persons than female, then the numbers both aren't surprising and should be subject to change as time goes on.

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Comments (20)

1. Posted by Paul M. Secunda on January 8, 2006 @ 18:39 | Permalink

Great post, Christine!

2. Posted by William Henderson on January 8, 2006 @ 18:50 | Permalink

Based on what I heard about the AALS session on blogging (things like "free for all" from more than one person), your post is a fitting postscript. Thanks for sharing your thoughts. bh.

3. Posted by Scott Moss on January 8, 2006 @ 20:58 | Permalink

This horse having been beaten well past its death, the point I'm about to make probably is not a new one, but here goes.

I'm a bit of a luddite for a Gen X'er, so whenever there's some "X in the world of the internet" issue, I think, "what non-technological phenomenon does this remind me of?" "Why do men donimate blogging" reminds me entirely of the question, "why do men speak much more than women in law school classes?" There are a lot of answers to that one, e.g., socialization that leads men to think they're geniuses whose off-the-cuff thoughts are incredibly insightful, whereas too many women preface comments with excessive self-effacement (e.g., "I don't really know, but I thik maybe XYZ...").

The big difference between class participation and blogging is, as Christine noted, the entirely decentralized nature of blogging. So I think the socialization and/or inherent preferences explanation, always persuasive in the class participation context, is all the more persuasive as to blogging.

4. Posted by Tracy McGaugh on January 9, 2006 @ 5:43 | Permalink

I agree with Christine that the Internet is a great equalizer. If you want to join or begin a conversation on virtually any topic, the blogosphere provides cheap, quick access to do that. However, I do think the question of *why* more men than women *choose* to blog is still a fascinating one. I tend to agree with Scott Moss that one answer is "socialization that leads men to think they're geniuses whose off-the-cuff thoughts are incredibly insightful."

I've been interested in blogging for several years but didn't quite see the point of sharing my musings on the day's news or legal developments. I felt that I needed a purpose for the blog beyond that. Consequently, the only blog I've devoted any time to was the blog Kathleen Bergin and I created to document our experiences and observations at the Astrodome post-Katrina.

Based on that, I'll offer up another theory of why men blog more than women. Perhaps women are generally more purpose-oriented when it comes to blogging.

5. Posted by HeScreams on January 9, 2006 @ 10:04 | Permalink

I have to disagree with Christine's points 2 and 3. On 2, while it's true that it there is very little barrier to entry to creating a blog, it *does* require a good deal of time and effort to maintain a good blog and attract readers. In addition to taking the time to write well researched, properly linked posts, to generate a readership you have to read several other blogs and participate in their discussions in order to get some name recognition and links.

On 3, why would a blog survive if no one is reading or linking it? Who would spend the time on writing posts if they knew that nobody (or maybe just a few) people are reading it? Would this blog or any other continue to run if StatCounter reported 0 hits, day after day?

If you accept my arguments, then there is still a large barrier to (ie) first-tier law-blogging, similar to the barrier to getting onto a faculty: the old-boys network. There are cliques of blogs that frequently link and quote each other, and if you're not part of these cliques, your chances for success are low.

Of course, my theory breaks down with the idea that these cliques would reject a quality on-topic blog just because the author is a woman. But to say that there are no barriers to entry to the blogosphere is a little off. Just like in a democracy, in the blogosphere you have a voice, but the problem is being heard.

6. Posted by Gordon Smith on January 9, 2006 @ 10:08 | Permalink

This is one session that I am going to review in podcast because things were happening pretty quickly at the end, and I am not sure that I caught all of the comments. But if memory serves, the entire "incident" was prompted by a question along these lines: does the composition of this panel represent the composition of the blogosphere, and if it does, what does that say about the blogosphere?

First, about the composition of the panel, Ann Althouse wrote:

There was a time when a question like that would be not only anticipated, but feared, and an effort would be made to include a woman on the panel. But the heydey of feminism in the legal academy was about 15 years ago. Anyway, I think I can safely say that virtually no effort was made to include a woman on this panel.

That's unfortunate. Ann's right that the point is fairly obvious and the organizers should have been attentive to that.

As for the composition of the blogosphere, I have no new theories about that, but I thought that the person who asked the panelists what they do with their children was not only misinformed about the panelists, but way out of line in asking about their personal tradeoffs. (If it had been done with genuine interest, rather than as an accusation, perhaps that sort of question would be appropriate, but even then, it's not the sort of question that seems appropriate for the public setting of the discussion.)

7. Posted by Christine on January 9, 2006 @ 10:10 | Permalink

I agree with you (hescreams), but I think we have to agree on what "success" is for a blog. For a commercial enterprise to be successful, it has to bring in more money than it costs to keep the doors open. But most blogs are not a commercial enterprise. So, you seem to be saying that you would not consider your blog a success if no one linked to you and no one read to you, but I'm not sure that your definition forecloses others. Nothing would force someone to close a blog just because no one read it. Although to you, running such a blog would be pointless, I'm not sure others agree. Many college students, high school students, etc. have blogs that about 3 people read, for example.

8. Posted by quixote on January 9, 2006 @ 10:29 | Permalink

I agree that there isn't much insidious discrimination. It's right out in the open. We are so used to it, apparently, it's hard to see. Psychology experiments going back a generation or so (1972?? I could look it up, if anyone wants references) show that if you give a group of people the same piece of writing, but the author listed as male on some copies, female on others, then the male-authored copies will be more highly rated than the female-authored ones.

Women as well as men suffer from this perception problem. Does that make it non-discriminatory?

9. Posted by Lucia on January 9, 2006 @ 11:44 | Permalink

"Why aren't more women blogging,"?

Silly, silly question! Many of the speculative answers are equally silly because they assume it is true that women don't blog. (I love the theory that they are too busy to blog.)

Loads of women blog. Many waste tons of time blogging -- just as men do. Some women's blogs even have tons, and tons of links and are widely read. Not to burst your bubble, but "The Yarn Harlot" has over 1100 blog links -- (see http://www.technorati.com/search/www.yarnharlot.ca/blog)
or five times Conglomerate Blog gets. She's now on a book tour -- which came about as a result of her blogging.

Why don't the political bloggers know about her blog? (I think I know why.)

That the "fact" of "no women bloggers" is used to support large numbers of socio-political theories expounded at political blogs simply shows that political bloggers are entirely myopic with regard to blogging.

Maybe if non-political bloggers were added non-political bloggers to these panels, the non-political blogger would just bust out laughing when an academic political blogger asks this question.

One obvious question the non-political blogger might ask after she stops laughing is this: Why do socio-political bloggers think non-political blogs aren't blogs? Other good questions are: Why do women blog about different things than men?

Alas, I suspect next year, I will still wander onto political blogs and read people suggesting reasons women don't write blogs.

10. Posted by Laura I Appleman on January 9, 2006 @ 12:22 | Permalink


As one of the female law profs who spoke at the blogging panel, I wanted to write in and concur with most of your conclusions. As I said at the panel (I was the last speaker at the microphone before the session ended), I don't think it's blogging per se that is forbidding to women; instead, law prof blogs (both established and new) reflect the underrepresentation of women on law faculties. It's not surprising that the panel was entirely white and male, since that's what most faculties (still) look like. It would have been good to have a woman on the panel, though. Ann Althouse comes immediately to mind as a prominent, popular lawprof blogger.

I think that what several women found offensive during the panel discussion was the idea (NOT suggested by the panel) that female law profs don't blog because they are shy about putting out their opinions in the blogosphere. This is just ridiculous; any woman who has jumped through the hoops to enter legal academia isn't afraid to state her thoughts.

Hopefully you are correct that the representation issue will diminish with time and tenure. Until then, I will continue to enjoy reading your posts (and Vic and Gordon's) on Conglomerate!

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