Wednesday, September 02, 2009

Biblioblogging Gender Gap and what can be done

Remember this cartoon? No? All will become clear in a bit. The occasion to dig it out is the recent, welcome resumption of the discussion about gender issues in biblioblogging.

I am delighted to see April DeConick, over on the Forbidden Gospels Blog, raising the issue of the disproportionately high ratio of men to women bloggers, in a lively post entitled What are we going to do about the blogger gender gap? This issue is one that many of us have been concerned about for some time. Back in 2005, it was one of the hot topics on the blogs, and it was one of the major discussion points at the SBL session on biblioblogging at the Philadelphia meeting in November 2005, not least because there were nine men -- and not a single woman -- on the panel. (I take responsibility; I chose the panel and could not find a single female biblioblogger to invite). Paul Nikkel and Yasmin Finch problematized this, and the subsequent discussion was fascinating, if inconclusive (See, among many other posts, Identity, Schmidentity @ Deinde; Death of the Biblioblog?; Stop obsessing about biblioblogging; and a great round-up on Hypotyposeis, Sans-biblioblogue). One of the more amusing things to come out of it was Tyler William's satirical cartoon above, over on Codex: Blogspot (where the image has since vanished), though the discussion was serious. Several of us were concerned, in particular, that we were seen not only as the symptom of the problem, but also its cause, that we were actively excluding women bibliobloggers from joining a club that we had created.

As time went on, a particular aspect of the issue began to bother me. The discussion about the lack of women bibliobloggers was taking place almost exclusively among men, and it was not reflecting well on us. When asked about it by Jim West, I wrote:
Of course we are right to be concerned about the lack of women bloggers in our area, but I am not sure that the issue is fruitfully dealt with by our obsessing about it. To problematize the phenomenon actually runs the risk of making it more difficult for changes to happen because we draw too much attention to the current situation, unduly isolating current and potential women bloggers. In other words, I am becoming increasingly convinced that the current lack of women bloggers is a situation not well served by a bunch of men sitting around frowning about it.
I suspect that that was not the ideal response and, if so, I repent of it. But I was genuinely unsure about how to try to change the situation for good, and I suspected that our discussions were only making things worse.

Looking back on it, and on other related episodes (e.g. see Pat McCullough's comments on kata ta biblia), what we needed was exactly what we now have: someone like April DeConick to take things forward. I, for one, appreciate her rallying cry, and hope that it will encourage more women to join the blogging fray. In other words, I like the fact that it's less a matter of soul-searching ("Enough of this nonsense and rationalizations") and more a matter of encouraging women to take action.

If I have a concern about April's recent post, I think I would be inclined to caution against the idea that there is some kind of conspiracy by men to marginalize women's blogs in the area, e.g. it seems clear to me that the person behind Biblioblog Top 50 is part of the solution and not the problem; we are lucky to have someone so well attuned politically running that chart (Anyone who quotes Sugi favourably is a friend of mine). But he may be Wrong and I may be wrong. Sometimes, the way that these things work is subtle, hidden, unconscious, and we are too dense to see it. I doubt that April will be able to find 270 women bibliobloggers who have been ignored and marginalized, but it would be fantastic if it turns out there are so many.

In relation to this, April quotes an interesting comment from Julia O'Brien to the following effect,
But I also wonder about the role of networking and way that many of the blogs in the top tier regularly reference one another. How do we encourage each other's success, make sure that others find the good work that's out there?"
This is an excellent question. One suggestion here would be not only to ask the male bibliobloggers to link more and to engage more with female bibliobloggers, but also to advise female bibliobloggers who feel themselves to be invisible to engage more with others on the scene, to link, to discuss. In other words, it is quite possible that male bibliobloggers are a cause as well as a symptom of the problem, but it is also worth considering the possibility that those, like me, who would like to call themselves feminists, may also be part of the solution.


Juliette said...

I had no idea there was such a huge gender gap in Bible blogging - somehow, I find it both depressing and fascinating. Of course, some Christian denominations are still stuck in the dark ages, gender wise (I am a feminist Catholic, a frustrating thing to be) - is that a contributory factor?

J. K. Gayle said...

Excellent post, Mark! You and April both point to your own respective complicity in the problem. And you muse about and begin to act towards finding solutions.

Girls and boys, the marked nature of maleness even in (especially in) biblioblogging is our problem together.

Juliette, Yes I'm depressed and fascinated too! And so is Nancy Mairs, feminist Catholic (woman), who finds sexism entrenched deeply in writing and spirituality in the West. Wishing she also were blogging. I'm so glad to find your blog "(hopefully witty and entertaining) random thoughts on appearances of Greek and Roman stuff in popular culture" (and have blogrolled your now at mine)

Nathan said...

What is the gender ratio in bloggers in general?

We noticed the same phenomenon over at a religion discussion forum I've frequented. Very few women participated. Some of us asked our wives why they were not interested, and the general consensus was "why would I want to sit at a computer all day arguing with strangers on the internet?"

Hypatia said...

Honestly, does it really matter what gender bibliobloggers are? If someone has something interesting to say, I'll read it. If someone has something interesting to say on a regular basis, I'll keep reading. Doesn't matter whether they're male, female, both or neither. Upping the profile of female bibliobloggers to make up the numbers has a whiff of tokenism, patriachalism or the PC brigade to it.

Brian Small said...

There are many fine women biblical scholars in the world today. Encourage them to start blogging, instead of making accusations that there is a conspiracy among male bibliobloggers to repress female voices. I think the whole discussion is absurd.

John Anderson said...


I have intentionally not weighed in on this topic, and I still will not beyond saying your response is the most measured, well-articulated, and thoughtful one on this topic thus far. Thank you for handling it with respect and seriousness.

A bit off topic, are there any plans to do another session on blogging at SBL? I think it would be worthwhile, and I would very much like to take part if so. Let me know, please.

Geoff Hudson said...

"we are lucky to have someone so well attuned politically running that chart (Anyone who quotes Sugi favourably is a friend of mine). But he may be Wrong and I may be wrong. Sometimes, the way that these things work is subtle, hidden, unconscious, and we are too dense to see it."

Come on! Come on!

Juliette said...

I'm so glad to find your blog "(hopefully witty and entertaining) random thoughts on appearances of Greek and Roman stuff in popular culture" (and have blogrolled your now at mine)

Thanks - I'm glad you liked it!

Roger Pearse said...

I find it difficult not to laugh at all this nonsense, but of course it's really quite sinister. What manner of business is it WHO writes? Still less whether or not they have ginger hair, are left handed, or any or every possible favoured group?

The idea, I take it, is about power. Instead of anyone being able to blog, someone wants to be able to DECIDE who is allowed to be important. Very sinister, as I said.

Let those who want to blog; let those who don't, not; and never mind whether they all have ginger hair or not.

But for god's sake who can stomach this obsessive concern as to whether those who DO actually do anything have ginger hair or not (or whatever the favouritism currently is).

It's called liberty and merit, and shame on all of you for attempting to sabotage it.

David Ker said...

Mark, there's an overarching contributing factor. There are twice as many men blogging as women in the population in general. At least that's how I read the Technorati state of the blogosphere for 2008.

Mark Goodacre said...

That's interesting, David. Do you have any links for that?