Wednesday, March 24, 2010

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.

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