How dominant is the “blokeosphere”?

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Rowenna Davis writes about her experience as guest editor on Labour List on Comment is Free. What interests me about this experience is that while I think the so-called “blokeosphere” is out there, it isn’t universal across political blogs and, as a “bloke” bores me to tears as well. A few observations:

It is hard to see how you can infer a wider principle from LabourList. With Derek Draper at its head, LabourList is one of the most testosterone-fuelled blogs out there. It has reached its existing readership primarily by picking fights with people. I have to admit that even then I was surprised to learn that it has an all-male editorial board (and presumably will continue to have an all-male editorial board after today), but it does figure.

If you want change, you need to more than have a guest female editor for a couple of days. This was an oddly patronising way to mark International Women’s Day – bring the women out for the special occasion and then put them back in their box. LabourList has been significantly more interesting with her as editor (weirdly, I understand she isn’t a Labour Party member) than with Draper and there is every sign that we will be back to business-as-usual in the next couple of days. Indeed, with LabourWomen now established, the boys will be left to it. Only in the Labour Party is such a phenomenon seen a progress.

You can make a systemic shift – and the Lib Dem blogosphere proves it. I don’t wish to over-emphasise this as I am hardly in a position to claim to have expunged macho blogging, but eighteen months ago the Lib Dem blogosphere was as male-dominated as the Labour blogosphere. For whatever reason, it became apparent that there was a distinct increase in female bloggers, seemingly as a result of the relatively high profile blogger awards at the Autumn Conference and the excitement surrounding the leadership election. And that increase has proven itself to be relatively sustainable: the party’s top blogger is a woman, Lib Dem Voice has a good mix of men and women on its editorial team and most blog meetups that I’ve attended have been equally well balanced.

Why is this? I suspect it is a combination of the fact that a certain critical mass was reached and the fact that we talked about it. Much derided at the time, the Campaign for Gender Balance’s decision to launch its own awards in Spring 2008 helped create that dialogue. A great many women seemed to feel patronised by the awards and several men howled with outrage; as a result I (as one of the instigators) didn’t particularly push for a 2009 event. But I do think that the awards – or more precisely the debate that surrounded the awards – helped create a shift in attitudes.

There are plenty of female political bloggers out there – they just aren’t labelled as political. This is a point that Jenny Rigg makes repeatedly, and she’s absolutely right. Partly this is because of how women perceive themselves, but a lot of it is down to the different way they seem to get labelled, as opposed to men. My blog, for example, has always been a mix of politics, film, comics, television and general toss; yet I’ve always been regarded as a political blogger. As Jenny discovered, by contrast she tends to be regarded as an “other” by default and even feminism is assumed to not be political (as opposed to something to do with women’s bits).

Some of what Rowenna says is arrant nonsense. Sorry, but the idea that only Harriet Harman and other female politicians gets personally abused on the internet is simply not the case. Google “Nick Clegg” or “Menzies Campbell” if you don’t believe me. And “Cif is a good exception to the rule” of political blogs being male dominated? I don’t even follow the comments threads on my own articles on Cif because they are so full of bile and the first three comments in response to her article have been censored presumably because of their sexist content – if that is what Rowenna considers to be a feminist utopia she needs a wakeup call. It is hard to shake the impression that Rowenna is little more than a tourist when it comes to this subject and hasn’t really explored the blogosphere outside of LabourList at all.

20 thoughts on “How dominant is the “blokeosphere”?

  1. I thought about pushing on organisation for more CGB awards. But it felt oddly unnecessary – which is sort of the right outcome, surely. Positive discrimination, when it works properly, makes itself obsolete.

  2. FWIW, I’ve given up jumping up and down and shouting “But what about me? I’m doing exactly what you claim to want to do with no problem at all!” at people who write those sorts of articles. Typically, whether it’s on LibCon or CiF or wherever, I don’t get a response. It’s like they can’t compute me, possibly because I don’t blog about gender issues.

    /cynicism.

  3. I have a tiny quibble: I think the CGB awards mobilised lots of pre-existing female bloggers that the men weren’t looking at, or linking to, or paying attention to. It didn’t magically create lots of new female bloggers, as you seem to be implying. But thanks for the linkage.

    * tries to resist the urge to correct your spelling *

  4. I read the linked article with a strong feeling of “huh?”

    Perhaps the Lib Dems are odd – we have libdemblogs.co.uk which acts as an equal opportunities hub – giving anyone the chance to get started, be read and maybe even be noticed.

    Female lib dems are doing quite well in the blogosphere as a whole – look at the lib dem blogs in the Wikeo political rankings and women outnumber the men. I’ve no idea why that might be the case.

    Perhaps it’s the way lib dem women see themselves, not as representatives of a special interest, but as fully enfranchised individuals?

    I do wonder what exactly Rowena thinks should be done…

    PS was lovely to meet you in person James, I owe you a drink. You’ll be pleased to know that unlike Jennie I won’t be referring to you as a gravelly voiced sex-pot, but I will nod in understanding when she does. (woo turning a male blogger into a sex object! +10 points down the feminist club for that one)

  5. Sorry, but the idea that only Harriet Harman and other female politicians gets personally abused on the internet is simply not the case. Google “Nick Clegg” or “Menzies Campbell” if you don’t believe me. And “Cif is a good exception to the rule” of political blogs being male dominated? I don’t even follow the comments threads on my own articles on Cif because they are so full of bile and the first three comments in response to her article have been censored presumably because of their sexist content – if that is what Rowenna considers to be a feminist utopia she needs a wakeup call. It is hard to shake the impression that Rowenna is little more than a tourist when it comes to this subject and hasn’t really explored the blogosphere outside of LabourList at all.

    I think you miss her point completely.

    First, she’s talking about sexist comments directed at women compared to similar comments directed at men. Abuse is abuse, but sexist abuse mostly only goes towards women.

    Second, she clearly doesn’t mean the comments section on CIF. I know this because I’ve talked with her about it. She’s referring to writers on CIF – which has a better ratio than any other British political group blog (taking out feminist blogs here), including LibCon (I try, as I keep saying, but it’s not easy).

  6. Jenny, absolutely, and I’m sorry if I didn’t make that clearer.

    Sunny,

    I don’t think I miss her point at all. I’m not denying that women get sexist abuse, I merely question that that abuse is any more offensive than all the other abuse aimed at men.

    Is calling Harman a ‘harridan’ any worse than the ageist remarks aimed at Ming? How is ‘Hapless Harman’ worse than ‘Calamity Clegg’? And as for all this endless ‘Cleggover’ stuff…

    It’s all abuse. Singling out the sexist stuff is ultimately counterproductive because it usually results in a pointless row about ‘political correctness’ instead of confronting the real issue of basic politeness.

    And it is NOT clear she is referring to the CIF articles as opposed to the comments, mainly because she segues from talk about LabourList’s comments to CIF. In that context it is a reasonable assumption to make, but mea culpa if I misunderstood.

  7. Sunny, to clarify, I meant when I’m on comment threads at LC. The most recent example I can think of was Laurie’s piece about how schools set up the lifelong conditions for sexual bullying from men towards women, and I popped up and said, but what about those of us who went to all-girls schools? Absolutely none of the generalisations she was making about women in that context were remotely familiar to me, so I seemed to somehow not count in her analysis, and it’s the same with Rowenna’s piece. To be fair I was late to that particular party, maybe that’s why I didn’t get a response.

  8. Further to what Charlotte says, I guess liberalism, done properly, obviates the need for feminism per se, which is why few of us are interested in specifically gender issues. It’s the wider context to James’ point about sexist abuse being no worse than other sorts of abuse.

    In fact Call Me Dave (you see? there I go!) made this point well in his recent Dale interview – that the guiding principle as to whether something is acceptable or not should be politeness and not political correctness.

  9. In this case, Dave is an exception to the rule. The general Tory attitude seems to be that you must never be rude or impolite EXCEPT when it involves sexism or racism. In which case any questioning of your indivisible right to offend gets reflexively branded as “political correctness gone MAD!”

  10. I think the CFGB blog awards last year, had a lot to do with how much more balanced the Lib Dem Blogosphere – partly by encouraging a greater volume of women to blog and partly, as Jennie says, by focussing some more attention on those of us who already were.

    And I’m not sure they were really needed again, as Alix says sometimes temporary measures like that can work.

    I think the role of liberalism and individualism is really interesting in producing that. If that is the reason why we have a more balanced blogosphere then great, but then why don’t we have a more balanced number of approved and selected female candidates (currently both running at about 25%, compared to membership and attendance at conference of 40%)? Why isn’t the philosophy of liberalism or individualism working the same way there?

    Just a thought….interested in people’s views.

  11. Jo, I think the answer to that is that you either impose positive discrimination measures, which most people in the party find unacceptable, or you invest seriously in training and support, which most people in the party pay lip service to but aren’t prepared to take a stand over. And so we go round in circles.

    Any sign of that “Leader’s Academy” getting set up yet?

  12. Before you guys pull your arms out of your sockets patting yourselves on the back – I could also point to the party’s poor record on ethnic minority representation – which James himself has written about.

    Sometimes efforts have to be made to get better representation.

    Alix:
    I guess liberalism, done properly, obviates the need for feminism per se

    But you assume a very liberal society is a society without prejudice. Why should anyone make that assumption?

    James, on your other points, I’m not saying sexist abuse is necessarily any worse, only that its only the women who have to deal with abuse on how they look, sound, act and all the rest.

  13. “But you assume a very liberal society is a society without prejudice.”

    The point of feminism is tackle the problems caused by prejudice against women, and unfair monopolies by men, right? The role of liberalism is to tackle the problems caused by all kinds of prejudice against everyone, and unfair monopolies by everyone.

  14. Of course, in practical terms you need pressure groups within the liberal church to draw attention to the set of monopolies/prejudices that particularly bother them – so that still means a women’s group (members of which may or may not call themselves feminists), a BME group etc.

  15. The role of liberalism is to tackle the problems caused by all kinds of prejudice against everyone, and unfair monopolies by everyone.

    Mmmm…. not exactly. You could get rid of natural monopolies, but if a high enough percentage of women don’t feel comfortable interacting in a particular space then you still have imbalance. Feminist groups fill that space not only to empower women to go forward but also argue for that change.

    Assume a given institution has no prejudice in its recruitment. You only have to have a sufficient percentage of women or ethnic minorities, who assume its not the kind of institution for them because it might not want them, to perpetuate ongoing imbalances.

  16. “high enough percentage of women don’t feel comfortable interacting in a particular space then you still have imbalance. Feminist groups fill that space not only to empower women to go forward but also argue for that change.”

    Exactly, but the ideal endpoint is a situation in which feminist groups don’t have to have that role, isn’t it. Ideally, all women should feel comfortable interacting in any space, and so should all men. This can only be achieved by according equivalent rights to each. This is what liberalism (ideally realised) can provide, along with equivalent goods for other groups.

    Essentially, one of the branches of feminism says much the same thing – that feminism will have succeeded when it makes itself obsolete. In the meantime, a dialogue between women which gets them to that point of feeling comfortable with a particular space is, of course, a useful thing, and isn’t precluded by others pursuing a liberal society in the meantime. But its usefulness means nothing to me personally. Since providing that dialogue is basically the main concern of feminism as practised on the left, it tends to leave me out altogether.

  17. [Back talking amongst myself again]

    Been thinking about this, and maybe I’m making the Glorious Liberal Future sound far too sterile. Of course, support networks can and must exist in it – that’s the point of being an individual with free association. They’re just not necessarily gendered or responding to problems that have been gendered. When I was first blogging and needed advice/reassurance about something I used to go to our curmudgeoningly host more often than not. Not gendering whatever problem it is you have opens up a whole 50% of the human race to ask for help. Which is a Good Thing.

    [wanders off again]

  18. Exactly, but the ideal endpoint is a situation in which feminist groups don’t have to have that role, isn’t it. Ideally, all women should feel comfortable interacting in any space, and so should all men. This can only be achieved by according equivalent rights to each.

    Mmmmmm, yes and no. There is no utopian liberal future. There will always be tensions in society – with mysoginists, feminists, racists, anti-racists etc all battling it out constantly. That’s my view anyway. Or at least, there won’t be the need for formal structures to support these ideologies, but there will always be civil society movements that gravitate towards competing ideologies.

    Isn’t that the whole point of a liberal society? I’m not sure if you can ever remove imbalances… is that possible?

    I’m not denying your experience Alix. I’m just saying people are different. I’ve never really felt intimidated by BNP types, I usually laugh at them, but I know people who get really scared by that sorts of hatred. It affects them differently than just normal expressions of anger.
    This is why I think its important to recognise that sexist attacks and racist attacks have a more personal, confidence-destroying impact than just normal abuse.

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