Wednesday, March 24, 2010

More on Mars v. Venus, in the opinion-sphere (II)

The latest installment of Mars vs. Venus in the opinion-sphere, in response to the debate posted here and here:

I certainly can't speak for Wente, nor do I intend to let her off the hook. Above all, I find it interesting that we've read different things into the same article.

First, I always read her piece to be about current affairs (i.e., see her 4th and 7th paragraphs), although I agree she could have been more explicit. And while she led by talking about blogs, to me, that was really an (albeit inflammatory) example of a larger point about ways in which the sexes express themselves.

Second, she doesn't lament that women don't have opinions. In fact, she says just the opposite: "Opinionizing in public is a form of mental jousting, where the aim is to out-reason, out-argue or out-yell your opponent. Women are just as good at this as men and, in some ways, better." Her point, at least as I read it, is that women develop and express their points-of-view differently than men, and in ways that don't naturally translate into the "opinion-sphere," be it online or off.

I think this is true. Looking beyond the financed, MSM-associated blogs, there aren't a lot of women bloggers on current affairs that have achieved much scale (i.e., only one of the top 10 political blogs is female). Also, of the first 100 contributors to The Mark, in the politics section, less than a quarter are female.

No doubt there is a structural bias against women and it's pretty obvious that the MSM folks don't hire them. What to do about it is the more interesting question. The online world naturally provides an excellent opportunity for females to establish their voices, and they are doing it in many spheres of activity. I'm just not convinced it's happening as much in current affairs, at least not yet.

I think that's partially because there's not an established "demand" for women's voices from the public (which may partially explain why there are few women in Parliament as well, although there's clearly more to it than that). I think it's partially risk aversion on the part of editors. But it's also the responsibility of women who care about politics and public affairs to speak up more, when it makes sense, even if they risk being wrong or offending.

A comment on my original post elaborates this point.

And on a final point, I actually thought her most "sexist" points were about men, not women! So I end where I began: it's always fun to see how different people read differently into the same article. Mars versus Venus!

More on Mars v. Venus, in the opinion-sphere

Over at is a continued discussion on Margaret Wente's column that wondered why bloggers were mostly men. Over at The Mark, David Eaves raised some great questions about the piece and Wente's understanding of blogs and online media in general.

I had a slightly different read of her column, which I thought to be more about the differences in the way men and women express their opinions, which betrayed some concern over the lack of female voices in public affairs commentary.

In his response, posted here and pasted below, Dave accused me of letting Wente off the hook:

Alison, I think you are letting Wente's off the hook by changing her argument. I'm going to disentangle your comment to address what I think is the main point:

1. What was Wente's Thesis?

It wasn't that women are under-represented in blogging or in traditional media (two very different things). No. Wente’s piece was about how women – because of something innate – don’t want (or worse, can't) engage in political debates because they don't want to share (or don't have!) opinions. You and I are concerned about the under representation of women, but this was not Wente's concern. (it later became a concern after she was shown how ridiculous her argument was - but it wasn't in the original piece).

2. Blogging and news media are primarily male worlds

So what if we are generous and we say this is what Wente was trying to raise a concern about. Here I agree. These worlds are largely male. But now we are conflating to VERY different things. Mainstream media and the online world of social media.

In the world of traditional media (or, financed blogs) women are under represented because managers – either at the Globe or Macleans - choose not to hire women. (Or, one can believe Wente – and you think women don’t have as many opinions)

In the online world there are clearly a lot of women who blog and tweet about politics (as you point out). What is more disturbing is that many of them may not be getting as much profile profile as their male peers. (note the part of the HBS articles in which men tend to have 15% more followers than women). Here we have lots of women with opinions, but not as much recognition. This is not what Wente argues. I'd argue that there is a structural bias against women – we learn to perceive their voices as less relevant. There isn’t an innate inability to have or share opinions (as Wente claims) – our society has decided not to value them as much. This is a serious problem. But it is also antithetical to everything Wente believes. She derides structural feminist critiques.

So I don't think we should let Wente off the hook. Her article misinformed those Canadians who know the least about the net (newspaper readers) about the role women play online. Worse, I believe it helped undermine women in the political space by suggested they didn't have as many opinions to share.

You can read my response here.

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Where are the women? Maybe Wente has a point!

Last week, Globe and Mail columnist Margaret Wente upset online commentators with her column that asked why most bloggers are men. One of Canada's top political bloggers, David Eaves, wrote a great piece that poked holes in many of her arguments.

I had a slightly different take on Wente's column, which I read less as a diatribe on the blogosphere (although there was no doubt some of that it) and more as plea for more women's voices in public affairs commentary online.

While she didn't say this in the original column, I read bits of her online discussion, where she clarified she'd written it from the point of view of current affairs. Wente wrote, " I was referring in my column to the type of blogging that refers to news and current events. This is largely -- though by no means exclusively -- a male world, just as radio phone-in talk shows and televsion panels of people analyzing and opining on the days' events."

As a woman deeply interested in matters of public policy and current events, I agree with her.

Let's take Ottawa as an example. In the blogosphere, save for Kady O'Malley at CBC and Susan Delacourt at The Toronto Star, I struggle to think of many more female commentators of any scale in Canada.

Scroll down here, to "Blog Central," at Canada's national newsmagazine, for just one example of what I mean. To be clear, these are all excellent writers who I rely on to help shape my own views on things... I don't wish any of them to stop writing. I only wish Maclean's would add a female or two to its mix.

Of the top 10 political blogs in Canada
, only one (#10) is authored by a woman.

The Mark, a online opinion journal, of the first 100 contributors in the "politics" category, less than a quarter are female.

If we take Eaves' point about columns being a type of blog, in the Globe and Mail, Wente is the only woman with a regular gig commenting on public affairs.

I know there are a lot women blogging and tweeting out there, there's just not a lot of them doing so about current affairs or politics, at least not in a high profile way in Canada. There are also lots of women reporters on the Hill (most of whom tweet, and whose reporting I follow), just not a lot with profile in the commenting scene, either online or off.

The more interesting question to me is why, and if anyone else cares about this, what to do about it. Wente "blames" it on men's propensity to step up and speak out. Maybe we women need to do a bit more of that.

I'll include myself as a guilty party - as a pretty regular blogger (mostly over here)
, I think about my blogging more as a curating and less as opining. Maybe that should change.

Or maybe editors have to do more to hire/encourage women in this way, if Wente's right that they're not naturally predisposed to opine.

Or maybe readers have to demand more of it, and encourage those who are trying.

Or maybe it's just Canada.

I don't know. But I think Wente has a point. Thoughts?

P.S. Thanks to the female-penned The Pundit's Guide and to @tideswaters for reminding me of their great work. And who can forget @withoutayard's awesome blog? If other female policy-wonks want to send me links to their blogs, I'll compile a list and share it online.

Sunday, March 21, 2010

Dispatch on emotion and public policy

Congratulations to the organizers of the emotion and public policy conference, held last week at U of T. A full dispatch is available on the Samara blog.