September 22, 2006
Rosa Brooks on What the Internet Age Means for Female Scholars
Posted by Christine Hurt

As part of the Yale Pocket Parts "volume" on blogging and scholarship, Professor Rosa Brooks (Georgetown) has posted an essay entitled What the Internet Age Means for Female Scholars.  Although I enjoy reading Professor Brooks' blog posts and op-eds and generally agree with them, I feel compelled to provide a counterpart to her essay, which seems to echo the same fears as a post by her co-blogger Jessica Silbey from last April.  I will put my lengthy comments below the fold:

Professor Brooks begins her essay with the premise that female professionals have less extra time than male professionals because of domestic obligations, and asserts that this premise will also apply to female law professors.  Brooks continues with the premise that the legal academia values scholarship above all else.  Scholarship takes time.  Because more scholarship will be a proxy for good scholarship and because male professors will be more prolific than female professors, male professors will be more successful in academia.  In addition, visibility (presenting papers at conferences and workshops, visiting at fancy schools) will be used as a proxy for good scholarship, and females will have less time than their male counterparts to create this visibility.  After laying this predicate, Professor Brooks then turns her analysis to the potentials of blogging and the Internet generally in breaking this cycle for female law professors.

Although Professor Brooks acknowledges the increased opportunities for visibility for female law professors via blogging, she concludes that "the Internet age may also bring new dangers for women int he legal academy.  Indeed, the online world of legal scholarship may ultimately replicate many of the hierarchical and gendered structures found in the offline world of legal scholarship."  Professor Brooks asserts that blogging will become a race-to-the-volume activity, where the bloggers that will be the most successful will be the ones engaging in round-the-clock-blogging.  Again, because female law professors have less time than their male counterparts, male law bloggers will dominate this new field as well.

I have two rejoinders here, one a factual argument and the other one of policy.  First, I don't think that round-the-clock blogging will eventually become the norm.  Many bloggers have already realized the law of diminishing returns with respect to blogging.  I know of several formerly addicted bloggers who have tapered off their dosages to a more moderate, recreational use.  The newer blogs that are entering the blogosphere seem to be group blogs, where no one blogger feels the pressure to carry the enterprise with multiple posts a day.  Most blogs have also incorporated guest bloggers who promote their ideas and their work for a couple of weeks or so and then go back to their real lives.

Second, I have a more general problem with Professor Brooks' argument.  Were we to accept the argument that the Internet is dangerous for female law professors because blogging takes time and so blogging will inevitably be dominated by those with the most to spare, then where are we left?  If all activities that require time will eventually be male-dominated, then what should the academy value?  (I was venting about this yesterday and a colleague suggested that we value "inactivity" because all activity takes time.)  For example, Professor Brooks seems to suggest both that the academy does not value teaching and that if it did, then the playing field would be more level.  However, we all know that good teaching takes an inordinate amount of time -- prepping for class, preparing hands-on projects, providing individual feedback on projects throughout the semester, meeting individually with students about ongoing projects, etc.  I understand that law professors are given to extending arguments to a ridiculous extreme, but I think the logic behind behind the "blogging takes time, so women will suffer if it is valued" argument would extend to all time-consuming activities.

Admittedly, I have a much more sanguine outlook on blogging, particularly because I believe the Internet creates time for law professors, female or otherwise.  After the Bloggership symposium at Harvard Law School's Berkman Center on the Internet and Society, Prof. Brooks' co-blooger at LawCulture Jessica Silbey posted this statement: 

. . . the economy of time as a measure of successful blogs may also translate into a reified privilege based on class and/or gender status, which works to entrench working mothers as second-class professionals.

I disagreed with that pessimistic view then, and I included in Tung Yin's and my paper from that conference the following:

From time to time, the topic of blogging and gender arises, and much of that discussion usually centers around whether female professors, who may already be trying to balance work and family obligations, can afford to spend time blogging. Some have suggested that these time constraints account for the fact that more male law professors than female law professors blog. In fact, Professor Jessica Silbey, of the blog LawCulture, has opined that the “economy of time” creates a blogosphere that is dominated by the privileged few with excess time resources and that thie dynamic works against women, who will not be able to exploit the career advantages of blogging. However, blogging may be the technology that expands female law professors’ career opportunities precisely because it requires a different sort of time. Previously, the best way to interact with senior scholars and network was traveling to them. Traveling is a considerable drain on professors who are primary childcare givers. Blogging allows young parents to interact with scholars across the country from the comfort of one’s couch, while children sleep, watch Backyardigans, or have a snack.

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