Places to be

I was fascinated by this post on Helen’s blog, Show your workings. Helen writes a craft blog, but along the way she talks about mothering and politics and feminism, and all that. As a new mother, she found her way to The Nappy Network, and there she found:

Hidden in this apparently domestic women’s forum is a hot bed of political debate, some of the liveliest threads were about climate change, peak oil, sustainability, religion, reproductive rights and women’s health.

As for herself, she sees craft as a political statement.

It places value on “women’s work”, it promotes sustainability, it’s used to help women and children in need and to raise awareness of important issues. It’s often dismissed as a time waster for white middle-class women and, at it’s worst, I guess it can be. At its best it’s much more than that.

And her daily life is political. It’s a round of cooking, cleaning, sewing, gardening, childcare, running a cottage business, all sustainably, both for the environment, and for her and her family.

In other words I’m trying to live my politics on a daily basis and it seems to me that there are many more women like me doing the same thing. It’s not that we aren’t thinking about politics or interested, we are just busy living it!

And then Lyn of Notes from the Grery Lynn Singles Club fame wrote a series of posts about women’s experience on-line. She started with What’s in a name, remarking that she felt that people dealt with her more politely, in direct exchanges, when she used a female name. (I was surprised by that; it’s not been my experience, but well, read on to see what happened next.) Lyn went on to say that when she used a male name, people were more inclined to deal with her arguments.

I felt as though what I had to say was the most important part of any comment or interaction I had online, and no quarter was given for the fact of my being female. It was like I’d sneaked into the secret boys’ club where arguing is allowed. I loved it. It gave me a taste of a world where I was finally part of the male in-crowd. However temporarily.

But a few days later, she wrote about being female in on-line gaming contexts. The default assumption is that you are male, if you use a male or a non-gender specific on-line name, and that can bring some quite extraordinary benefits.

As a woman with a male handle or character you can shout and burp and fight and not care about people’s feelings and not be looked at. It’s an oddly comfortable place to be. The way that women get treated may always going to be a motivation for us to assume male identities if we can pull it off. Does the net actually offer us a way to get beyond the vicissitudes of gender? Could it be possible to escape misogyny forever by becoming metaphorically male in droves?

Sadly I think not. It’s discovery that causes the problems. One slip about how attractive Johnny Depp is, or that you’re appalled by the sexism in a blog post and it’s all over.

So she urges women to stake a claim in the on-line environment, making it women’s space as well as men’s space, just as women have made it into legislatures, business, universities, all sort of spaces that used to be reserved for men.

A few days later again, she wrote an ‘Update on What’s in a Name?’.

After posting my musings on the gendered ways people (probably men) treat (probably) women in comments threads on political blogs I’ve had the happy experience of getting into a couple of (minor) stoushes with (probably) blokes over at the standard. I guess I spoke too soon.

She had some stories to tell of her experiences at what is supposedly a progressive blog in New Zealand. Go read them on her post. She concluded:

I do continue to think however, that there are online spaces in which women don’t always feel comfortable to contribute. Recent second-hand reportage from bloggers I know off-line has suggested that there are women who’ve been forced out of their OWN internet spaces or silenced in others through intimidation from people who, if they aren’t men, certainly purport to be and also seem to act that way (if anyone can be said to “act” when all they’re able to do is write text).

Then in response to a comment made at The Hand Mirror by one of the more prolific writers on the supposedly progressive blog, Lyn wrote about the importance of exemplars.

Getting back to my opening point, if the standard wants more women to comment then they should probably have more women writing. At the moment Steve is posting about 60% or more of all the pieces being run, and there are no writers who can be obviously identified as female. I assumed that all the posters were male, which is apparently not the case, but I bet I’m not the only one. Choice of topic might be an issue, and the stoushing style of interaction, coupled with some really brain-dead and/or sexist comments are not usually something that women indulge in when in more female dominated spaces. However – I’d be interested to see what would happen at the standard if there were more writers identifying themselves as women. Given all available evidence I’d be inclined to expect that the number of comments by women would increase and that this would quickly snowball, and that the change to commenting style would make it a space women would be more interested in occupying.

I been thinking about all this, about Helen’s identification of places where women are free to be women and to be political, and Lyn’s experience of being female in on-line political forums.

Lyn’s experience gels with mine, both seeing and experiencing what goes on in some progressive blogs when feminism is raised. It’s as though claiming that something is sexist or misogynist is disallowed, no matter what. Whoever you are arguing with sees it as a foul play, something that’s going to derail the argument, or not something to be taken seriously at all. Introducing a gender analysis, or claiming to be feminist, invites derision. To be fair, it’s not the blog writers who are seemingly deaf to feminist arguments and analysis. But the commentariat seems to forget that being feminist is not a optional extra when it comes to being socially progressive; feminism is an integral part of progressivism. (Check the Feminism 101 blog on Feminism and Humanism / Equalism for more on this and other basic feminist ideas, and Melissa’s list of Feminism 101 points at Shakesville.)

It’s no wonder that women aren’t always vocal in on-line environments, or that they are vocal in places that are gender demarcated as women’s spaces, like mothering blogs and sites, and craft blogs. And it leaves me wondering about where I want to be. I get tired of being shouted at for daring to raise a claim of misogyny, and I’m sure other women do too. I’m loving blogging at The Hand Mirror, being part of a community of women blogging together on topics that really matter to us, as women. But it’s a shame if the only places where I feel I can be me are demarcated as women’s space, and that if I enter another part of the blogosphere, I must leave being female, and feminist, behind.


18 responses to “Places to be

  1. Hi Deborah, interesting post. I’m interested to find out why you refer to The Standard as a “supposedly progressive blog”. I’d have thought our politics were pretty clear.

  2. Well I do not think you should have ” to leave being female, and feminist, behind” when you blog
    And I suspect nether do you

    But of course by using a tag that is not an indicator of your feminism you do have the freedom to be one of the boys
    If you want to be one
    It is a sort of freedom I suppose, it is not right but the best we can do

  3. Gidday. Good post. I think it’s true that the blogosphere is a male-dominated environment and that can exclude women at times.

    I would say in The Standard’s defence that we most certainly are a progressive blog but that does not mean all the commentators who freguent our blog are progressive. Indeed, quite the opposite – the blogosphere is mostly populated by rightwingers and that’s not surprising, they’re more likely to have office jobs and internet at home.

    Some people are surprised to learn that we have male and female writers. we have a number of regular commentaotrs who are women and we are concerned with finding ways to enable women to be more involved in the political blogosphere. It’s not all that easy for us because The Standard’s style is punchy and combative, which has been very successful in terms of establishing a reputation for ourselves in the blogosphere and in the media but can be off-putting for some women. It’s also not necessarily suited to the thoughtful but wordy (we try to keep our posts to 200 words because it suits our target audience)style one sees on blogs that are primarily feminist. That said, we’ve robustly attacked misogyny a number of times, like yesterday, and I believe that it is one of the worst aspects of rightwing political culture..

    So, yeah, we are progressive and we definitely value women’s voices in the debate. We’re thinking around how to enable women more and we’re always open to suggestions.

  4. littlegemsession

    Thanks for the mention. I think it is really important to feel you can be yourself in any part of the blogosphere. Why not move between the safe retreat of a craft blog or the Handmirror and the more male dominated sites? We can use sites like the Handmirror to re-group, gain strength and find new allies before re-entering other parts of the blogosphere.

  5. I’d have to second littlegemsession’s comment re mixing in and out of female spaces.

    What annoys me truly is that spaces that aren’t coded as “gendered” are, in fact, coded as male with male rules of engagement and we all assume that unless someone “comes out” as female that they’re not. And if you want to participate in these “male spaces” you have to negotiate sexism, “special treatment”, shouting and aggression. Women have penetrated the public arena IRL but the web, with its odd “private-feel”, public access virtuality reflects older mores in many ways.

    For myself, I believe that I have to live and die by the sword some of the time. It changes the world a little bit when a woman enters spaces that are covertly male. Behaviours shift as perceived audience and interlocutors become feminised. And I want to know I can defend myself in open combat! But I also want to not have to some of the time. Which is why a presence in a variety of online worlds is an answer of sorts.

    Thanks for the awesome attention to my words in the post above. It’s such an unbelieveable shot in the arm to attract such a considered review and response.

  6. The Standard as a ‘progressive blog’.

    I guess that I am reluctant to equate ‘left wing’ and progressive; there are plenty of people who espouse left wing politics, but not feminism, or left wing politics, but not the fight against racism.

    Having said that, the values that the Standard claims are progressive values. And I hope you saw that later in my post, I made the point that it’s the commentariat, rather than the bloggers themselves, that are not progressive.

    But, even though the Standard espouses progressivism (and yes, nice post re HC and children, and the vileness that’s around in other parts of the NZ blogosphere), I think that what worries me about it is that the practice, especially among the commentariat, is such that women don’t feel all that welcome there. If you go for a punchy, aggressive style, then there’s a huge group of women that will be turned off. Not because they don’t want to discuss the issues, but because they want to discuss issues, not engage in point scoring.

    I think Lyn is right when she talks about spaces that are supposed to be free for all (and the pun is intended) really being coded as male with male rules of engagement. But that means that at least some women, at least some of the time, don’t want to go there.

    So in practice, even if not in belief, the Standard is not a great place for women. And that makes it difficult to be a progressive space.

    I don’t know what to do about this. I don’t think there are easy answers. Perhaps if your female posters were to use female monikers things would be better. At this stage, as we all know, the only person using a name that is usually marked as female, is actually male. Perhaps the occasional think piece would be good, even if only a bit of it appears on the front page, and the rest is on a link page (use that handy little ‘more’ tag/command that WordPress provides). Perhaps explicitly endorsing some of the posts on feminist blogs would be good – did you see the great series of posts about the ALAC rapist ad on The Hand Mirror? (None of which were mine, BTW – living across the ditch as I do, I’ve never even seen the ad.)

    But perhaps we had better try something. Because otherwise people will mistake the political discourse on blogs like the Standard, and Public Address, and The Hive and Kiwiblog and Kiwiblogblog and so on, for being normative.

  7. littlegemsession

    I’ve been thinking about Steve’s comment and the how the word count for posts is around 200 because that’s what the readers want. In contast the comments on the site go on and on and on. I’m also struck (no pun intended) by his words used to describe the blog – “punchy and combative”. As far as I can see sites like these are a venue for a verbal fight by the commentariat. As I said in my blog I don’t see the attraction of this.
    I would far rather read a think piece and thoughtful but friendly discussion / comments than an online fist-fight. I don’t think is ncessarily a “feminine” desire either. I’d like to see this kind of blogging and commenting done in a space that is shared by men and women.
    If sites like The Standard really wanted their site to be like that I’m sure they could. Why not start by inviting guest posts by feminists? Or even (dare I say it) having a regular spot for feminist writing? Why not back up policy statements more?
    Just an idea…

  8. Every time I leave the house I have to be prepared to deal with “punchy and combative”. The streets are full of blokes who are complete strangers to me, and yet happy to tell me to smile, or how to raise my kid, or offer the opportunity for naked activities back at their place, or some other rude interruption of my day on the basis that they are male and I am not. Really, the last thing I want in my faffing around on the internet time is more punchy and combative blokes.

    So I generally don’t read the comments on political blogs.

  9. Ah this is vexed for me. Despite the downside of punchy and combative I rather like it, at least some of the time. But it does seem to not be very female friendly.

    I don’t think it’s the posting that the standard does that’s at issue – as Deborah says – it’s the way space is used by commenters – and there are pre-existing rules about blog-behaviour at work here. The standard is not a vaccuum. To its credit, it does manage to be a *much* nicer place to be than kiwiblog or Whaleoil because of the people it attracts as readers and stringent moderation of assholes. Left doesn’t equal progressive, but it’s a reasonable bet compared to the right.

    I’ve made my suggestions for what the standard can do to up its female quotient on my own blog and Deborah has kindly reiterated them here, but given the situation standard writers are in re anonymity I can appreciate that suddenly announcing which author-identities are women would be difficult for a number of reasons, not least of which a bunch of readers would possibly get turned off or start in with the misogyny. I reckon the political point would be worth the pain, but that’s only my opinion. I’m not putting it out there to 1000s of readers when I post.

    And Kate – I sooo know what you mean, even if I still like punchy and combative online.

  10. Just by the by, Lyn Prentice is a guy and that’s his real name.

    It’s been a source of confusion for people throughout his life appearently.

  11. Just for clarification, since there seems to be occasional confusion on the blogosphere between the two Lyn/n’s – the Lyn commenting here is a girl – me. One “n”, no “e”. The Lynn Steve is referring to is a guy and sysop on the standard. Two “n”s, no “e”. Lynn usually posts/comments under the moniker lprent.

  12. Thanks for writing about this Deborah, it’s a frustration to me too.

    To be honest I’ve been surprised that The Hand Mirror hasn’t attracted many trolls yet. My observation is that most political blogs have a far greater number of men commenting than women, and while THM has more women commenters than men there are still more comments from men there, as a proportion, than there are from women on sites like PA System and The Standard. (Does that make sense?) Sure there is nowhere near the number of comments of those sites, but we don’t exactly check people’s XX credentials at the log-in, there is nothing stopping men from commenting, or stopping trolls (of any sex). I haven’t had to delete any comments yet (except for a weird spambot that got through recently and was directing people to a 404 URL).

    I think there are a number of factors encouraging women to comment, and you see this on PA System too at times:
    1. Openly women writers and commenters – when Jolisa or Fiona, or Emma in the Speaker slot, write then there are usually more women responding. This works with those beyond the dominant Pakeha demographic too – when Tze Ming wrote all sorts of people would come out of their lurking cupboards and comment.
    2. A wide variety of topics that include the domestic. The impression I’m gathering is that many of the women who have time to read political blogs, and comment, are at home with kids at least part of the week and even in households where women are working full time and/or their are no kids my experience is that women are doing the bulk of the domestic work (research backs this up).
    3. Encouraging a friendly environment for commenters. Calling commenters on it when they are nasty or bigoted (I like to ridicule them). Thanking people for sharing their stories and thoughts. Writing posts in a style that doesn’t give the impression that the author is All Knowing. Encouraging readers to share their views, asking questions.

    I’m sure these aren’t the only factors. The Hand Mirror is small yet, in terms of readership, and perhaps the commenting culture is part of that – would we get more hits if we had a more scrapping going on in the comments? And is that a good way to increase the hit count/readership? While hits are gratifying that isn’t the main thing we are trying to achieve.

    It is possible to have short posts, as The Standard does, and still create an atmosphere where women are comfortable. PA System isn’t perfect but it does do a better job, albeit the posts are longer. Dare I mention a defunct blog but Spanblather rarely had problems with nasty comments, and the posts there were often shorter.

    Steve, I don’t want to force any of The Standard’s writers to nail their gender colours to the mast, I respect that people have reasons for the way they choose to be perceived online. I do think it would help though if there were some open women. They could still use pseudonyms of course. And The Standard is a much needed antidote to Kiwiblog et al, and I really appreciate the analysis that your bunch put out there, it is fantastic to have the site after years of a blogosphere so firmly dominated by the right (and not just right of centre but often really quite extreme right).

    Also I definitely don’t have all the answers. Deborah and Lyn have written some great stuff about women and online identities. Perhaps The Standard could invite some openly women bloggers to do a guest series on a particular topic, which could be that they break down what might be a longer post on their own blog into a series of 200 word posts for The Standard? This would increase the profile of the woman doing the blogging, be a good collective thing for the left of the blogosphere, and also might have an impact on the readership (and commentariat) at your place?

  13. Julie – regarding the relative differences in levels of readership between the handmirror and the standard – at a guess I’d say that content and demographics have a part to play in this, over and above the style and length of posts. Without being able to quote stats it seems evident that there is still a greater proportion of men on the net, and a good chunk of them seem to be attracted by the state-politics content on the standard. Feminism and woman-oriented politics, which I consider to be the handmirror’s bread and butter, are not something that all women, even those online (who still number less than men) would be attracted by. In other words the handmirror’s potential audience is less than for the standard.

    I wonder – is it better to just accept that there are these differences or do things need to change? The idea of guest posts by women bloggers at the standard that you mention has occurred to me also and it would be very interesting to see what happened under the circs. Or maybe the standard could invite more regular writers who are women? But conversely I’d be sad to see the handmirror change its content or approach to try and attract a broader readership – it needs to be doing what it’s doing. There’s a big idea lurking in that last statement but I haven’t the time to unravel it here.

  14. I don’t think The Hand Mirror is at any risk of changing direction any time soon Lyn. For one thing we’ve only been going three months and that’s too soon to make any assessment. I’m actually very pleased with how things are going in terms of hit count, it’s much better than I had expected and increasing all the time. If it started to go consistently down I might worry, but otherwise I’m not bothered.

    The main things for me that are indicators of success, which we are meeting and exceeding to my mind, are the number of good posts being written there, the number of other bloggers posting about something they saw at THM, the number of comments (and individuals commenting) increasing all the time, the positive off-blog feedback I’m getting, and the good vibe that the writers are getting about the project in general. And all of these activities are involving more women, both new and old to the blogosphere, and that was our main purpose right from the start. (Yay us! 😉 )

    Thanks for your positive feedback, Lyn, and I’m so glad that through working on The Hand Mirror I found your blog 🙂

  15. Thanks Julie…that’s very sweet of you 🙂

    (And I NEVER use smileys).

    Am really pleased that you’re seeing an increase in women in the blogosphere – and the handmirror is noticeably proactive there which is just wonderful. You guys were one of the first blogs to link to me when I re-started blogging this time and this was really encouraging, and you keep adding posters and spreading the word about events and linky love – it’s a bit of a one-stop shop in many ways. Makes me feel like there are people out there who form a community I feel comfortable participating in, and that means that other fora are only part of my online life, rather than having to be all of it. Which is absolutely part of your master plan I’m sure!!

  16. Hey, sorry I’m just catching up on this conversation. Guest posts and other ways of working together are a great idea, I’ll have a chat to the other Standardistas some time next week and be in touch.

  17. The reason I don’t comment on The Standard is because I find it nasty and combative. Commenters swear at each other, make snide personal attacks, and the blog itself devotes most of it’s energy to attack blogging (against National). I’ve been subject to pretty harsh abuse, despite having only made a few comments.

  18. I meant also to add that I love THM, despite not commenting there so often – mostly I comment when I feel disagree with what the poster has said, or feel the need to add something that should have been said, and those aren’t often the case on THM.

    (I do have to say that the combination of Blogspot, purple and green isn’t something that works for me, although I can see the reasoning behind the colour scheme)