Women and political blogging

// 18 March 2012

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This is a guest post by Alyson Macdonald

Jane Morris Blogging, after Dante Gabriel Rossetti

This month has seen the seventeenth anniversary of a landmark in women’s journalism: The Scotswoman. Frustrated with working in such a male-dominated profession, Scotsman deputy editor Lesley Riddoch suggested that the paper should mark International Women’s Day by sending all the men home, and producing a special edition of the daily broadsheet that was entirely written by women. But nearly two decades on, women are still under-represented in many aspects of the media. Over the past year, feminists have used Twitter “diversity audits” to draw attention to how few women are appearing on current affairs programmes like Newsnight, Question Time, or Radio 4’s Today, and research by Guardian writer Kira Cochrane has shown that women are getting less than a quarter of the bylines in national newspapers.

The lack of female voices doesn’t just affect professional journalists and the mainstream media; women are noticeably in the minority amongst the online commentariat as well. As a woman who blogs on political issues, I was well aware of the gender imbalance, but was wary of commenting on it publicly in case I was accused of seeing a problem that didn’t exist – after all, there are a few women, like Laurie Penny, who’ve become famous for writing about politics. So, inspired by Kira Cochrane, I decided to gather my own statistics to find out how they compared with my own perception. The results were even more extreme than I had expected: some of the most popular left-wing blogs have around 90% of their content written by men.

Blogs are an increasingly important forum for political discussion. They can provide an alternative source of news and opinion, often without the kind of editorial restrictions found in the mainstream media. A well-written post can form opinions, and if it’s published in the right place, it could be read by thousands. But most of those who attract that amount of attention are men; women are under-represented at all levels, but particularly at the top. This means that women’s views aren’t being put across, either directly through opinion pieces, or indirectly through the choice of which issues are written about.

There’s such a shortage of women writing for the more high-profile political blogs, that even when a distinctly feminist issue makes the news – for example, the protests against Nadine Dorries’ abstinence education bill – it’s often male writers who are reporting and commenting on it. Although I’m usually in favour of men taking up the cause of gender equality, we shouldn’t have to rely on men to put this information across when we’re perfectly capable of speaking up for ourselves.

The defence that political blogs give for not publishing more articles by women is that they just can’t find female bloggers to write for them. There’s a perception that women aren’t interested in writing about politics, but anyone who spent half an hour browsing through feminist blogs would prove otherwise. Just look at the discussion that has developed over the last few months over welfare reform, reproductive rights, public sector employment. Look at the dissection of Louise Mensch’s statements on “blue feminism”. You’ll see a lot of intelligent, politically literate women, who know exactly what they’re talking about.

But feminist writing often isn’t counted as political – not by people who claim do “proper” politics anyway. This is at least partly because feminist discussions about politics take place in feminist spaces, where they aren’t acknowledged by the people involved in mainstream, male-dominated politics. While I’m fully supportive of the need for women-only spaces, I sometimes think if it would be helpful for more women to be politically active outside of feminist spaces as well. Not so that we can assimilate into male-dominated political culture, but so that we can bring our own perspectives to the debate.

This is easier said than done, particularly because most of us have been taught not to be “pushy”, or to draw attention to ourselves, but one of the nice things about the internet is that you can ignore social conventions. There’s safety in numbers too, and the more women join in, the easier it gets for all of us. So let’s talk tactics: how do we get more women blogging, and how do we make sure that they get recognition for it?

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Alyson Macdonald lives in Edinburgh, where she is a mild-mannered admin worker by day, and a community activist and blogger by night. She is a co-editor at Bright Green.

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Image: Jane Morris Blogging, after Dante Gabriel Rossetti from Mike Licht, NotionsCapital.com’s photostream; used under Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic license.

Comments From You

Laura // Posted 18 March 2012 at 10:27 am

Left-wing blogs could start by weeding out some of the disgustingly sexist commenters that are allowed free reign to rip apart female writers. The stuff directed at Laurie Penny in the New Statesman is a prime example of this. There’s no way I’d want to waste my time and emotional energy writing somewhere I have to deal with the level of patronising, sexist bullshit she faces every time she blogs there.

I don’t see the need to continue to allow these sexist commenters – and right wing trolls, for that matter – to dominate or even appear in comment sections. We can have much more useful, productive debate without having to constantly defend ourselves against the same old accusations and arguments. We’re not going to change these people by engaging with them over and over again online, so why not banish them to their own spaces and allow those who want to write and debate in a respectful manner to do so in peace?

If left-wing blogs and sites cared about getting more women and other oppressed groups involved, they’d bring in the kind of anti-oppression comment moderation policies we see on most feminist blogs. Women generally do need to put ourselves forward more, I agree, but that usually entails a hell of a lot more effort than it does for men because we’re expected to fit into a male-dominated, often sexist space. The onus should be on the men who run these blogs to change this dynamic, not on us to toughen up and just accept that sexist comment sections are inevitable if we want to get our voices heard in non-feminist spaces.

Hannah M // Posted 18 March 2012 at 2:11 pm

I agree Laura. I don’t have the time and energy to engage with offensive people and trolls, and I do think that when you blog about political issues as a woman you come up against it much more often. There’s also the fact that if you write about a political issue that relates to women, people will be plain dismissive of it and act as if there are more important things to discuss. I agree that the onus should be on the people who run the blogs to change the culture.

Alyson Macdonald // Posted 18 March 2012 at 4:15 pm

I definitely agree on the point about sexist trolls – they shouldn’t be given a platform anywhere – but I’m less sure about banning or silencing right-wing trolls if they’re not threatening. They might be a nuisance, but if that’s all they are, if their trolling is purely ideological, it might be easier to just ignore them rather than face the more serious accusation of silencing anyone who criticises your writing or your point of view. Tolerating them may not be pleasant, but I’d consider it the lesser of two evils.

Sandra Garton // Posted 18 March 2012 at 10:34 pm

I completely agree- so many women feel disengaged from politics and I’m sure this would not be the case if more women were publicly commentating on politics online and in print. You are right in saying that women should be contributing to political debate alongside men. Without this women’s commentary runs the risk of been sidelined as a minority view.

IronFly // Posted 19 March 2012 at 8:59 am

I’m surprised about this. It’s clear that most political bloggers, writers and TV pundits are male but I’ve noticed far more women getting into it recently. It really depends how you define ‘political’ too as you say.

I recently got published in Huffington Post and spoke about youth politics so … yay. :)

melrios2001 // Posted 21 March 2012 at 6:18 pm

This is my first visit to your site and I think it’s wonderful! I am new to the political blogging world and am disappointed that there is the same disparity as traditional journalism.

What made me comment today that this issue seems universal whether in the UK or the US. I just finished writing a blog about the notion that a candidate that espouses values promoting inequality in women or limiting a woman’s rights (among other things) should not be considered a viable presidential candidate. One would think that any individual outwardly supporting any form of discimmination would be viewed as a pariah rather than a serious contender in a major election.

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