Academic Women and the Blogosphere

Torill Mortensen has a post today referencing the ongoing debate about gender balance in the blogosphere. Are there more men, or more women? Are the men or the women more visible? —Liz Lawley, Academic Women and the Blogosphere (Misbehaving)

I found this discussion interesting, especially in light of Andrew Orlowski’s sneering dismissal of bloggers as mostly teenage girls.

At our small school, which until recently was all female, social networks are tight. There are about 80 student blogs on our MoveableType installation, of which I’d say about 50 represent students who are currently in my classes (and therefore are forced to blog). One student recently estimated that another 50 students regularly read the blogs of their friends. If this is true, most of them are lurking.

The online social networks typically mirror the offline social networks — at least, so far as I can tell from my position as a faculty member. The students who regularly comment on each other’s blogs tend to sit together in the classroom, although I don’t think that group identity correlates with posting frequency. Nevertheless, a critical mass of female students who have been forced to blog for my classes has decided to turn their academic tool into a social one. Some see their roles as welcoming newcomers, answering questions about personalizing the plain-vanilla designs I set them up with, and helping newbies properly interpret comments that come across as snarky or offensive to the uninitiated. And, as we have seen elsewhere in the blogosphere, we have had our share of personal spats that spill over into the blogosphere (though of the two major incidents I can think of, both ended peacefully, with new or renewed friendships).

As a group, the male students who blog for my classes don’t participate in this social network. One male student is a bit of a troll, but in the classroom he is personable and cheerful, and those who know him don’t find his online persona troubling.

Another three male students who aren’t in any of my classes have also requested blogs, and two of these are among the most prolific bloggers on the site. Besides myself, two other male faculty members are blogging as well. Because they are outside the dominant social network, these male bloggers are more likely to post a stand-alone essay on something that the female-dominated social network isn’t already discussing. While I have been writing more commentary in my blog in the last year or so, it still leans more towards “professional link log” than “public journal.” And because I’m not in a position to give a grade to any of these “outsider” male bloggers, the only way I can encourage/reward/praise their best blog entries is by linking to them. If it is true that men are more likely to blog for professional reasons, and if professional blogs are more likely to have more outbound links, perhaps I am part of a mechanism that inflates the visibility of male professional bloggers.

I don’t have any numbers to support my theories, and at 5:15 on a Friday afternoon I’m not about to start looking for any. Time to pack up and head home.