Gender and Digital Politics
Posted on July 7, 2011
The Hansard Society has a new report out today entitled Gender And Digital Politics in which, according to the press release, the three (male) authors examine the question: “Why are political blogs dominated by men?”
Now anyone who’s been following this blog for any length of time will no doubt be able to predict what my response to that question is…..
Yep, it’s “Erm actually, I don’t believe they are, so as far as I’m concerned the premise of that report is fundamentally flawed.” In fact I’ll go further, and state once again for the record that I don’t think the issue is one of a lack of female participation in political blogging: the problem is more to do with with how the men who make up the blokeosphere get to define what political blogging actually is, and how feminist blogging consistently gets either ignored, or marginalised and siphoned off into some kind of “other,” non-political, “women’s interest” or “lifestyle” category.
Interestingly, as if to illustrate exactly what I’m talking about, I was alerted to the report’s publication by a tweet from Jane Martinson, the Guardian’s women’s editor:
That’s Jane Martinson who’s excellent blog – The Women’s Blog – can be found on the Guardian site (as can any other feminist piece published by the Guardian), filed in the Life and Style section, along with ‘fashion’, ‘food’, ‘craft’, and ‘homes’.
According to the Hansard report:
“We start to see a slight difference creeping in around digital media use at the last general election and this is a trend that starts to accelerate as we go further into the world of digital politics. Eighty-five per cent of individual blogs featuring in Total Politics’ Political Blog Awards for 20105 were written by men, just 15% by women”
And yet, as I’ve already pointed out elsewhere on this blog, the Total Bollocks award is by no means an accurate indicator of the involvement of women in political blogging, because year on year it manages to ignore the 100+ UK feminist bloggers who also contribute to the www. And because it’s an award that relies on people nominating blogs, and as we all know, when it comes to blogging, and to writing in general, men promote men promote men, ad infinitum.
The report concludes:
“The balance between men and women decreases as the inherent level of contention or potential for conflict rises; women are marginally more likely to sign a petition (a passive process) but considerably less likely to stand for Parliament and significantly less likely to make comments on a political blog. This brief study suggests that gender imbalance online is the result of wider political exclusion, not digital exclusion and, where women are active in politics, they are equally as likely as their male counterparts to be digitally active.”
Unsurprisingly I disagree. I think there is digital exclusion when it comes to women. Not in the sense that women are excluded from using the Internet, but in the sense that oftentimes the spaces where we do contribute are not categorised by the compilers of lists or by the writers of reports as being political in the first place.
Until that changes and feminism is recognised as being political rather than seen as some kind of niche lifestyle interest, we’ll continue to see questions like “why are political blogs dominated by men?” being posed, when in reality the question should be: “Why do men always get to decide what is and isn’t politics?”
Incidentally, the photo I’ve used to illustrate this piece is of the Ellis Bookstall on Norwich Market. There are no shelves labelled: “Modern Fiction – Male Authors A-Z”. Make of that what you will.