With one pretty bad tempered thread going strong and evidence of another one tipping over into trolldom, it may not be worth worth adding to the already extensive body of commentary about the gender gap in blogging. But fools skate without paddles on thin ice near the edge of volcanoes, etc. I hope we can keep things civil.
Is there a gender gap at CT?
Well, of course there is. Just look at the roster to your left. Of the sixteen contributors, thirteen of them are men. One of them has been dead for some time, though, so really we have fifteen people. Of those, perhaps four contributors don’t post that often—two or three times a month, or even much less. Of the people you’re most likely to see posting on CT, 10 are male and 2 are female. So that’s a gap.
Is CT unusual in this respect?
No. Take the population of academic blogs in the list to the right. Here’s Henry’s count of them:
Anyone who qualifies under the guidelines and comes to our attention somehow (or nominates themselves) gets into the blogroll – we don’t pick and choose – while there may be biases in the data, they’re not conscious ones on our part. I did a rough-and-ready count of the numbers of male and female academics, discounting group blogs, pseudonymous blogs, and others where I couldn’t figure out the gender. My quick-and-ready total (which could probably do with re-checking) was that there were 302 single authored academic blogs in total, of which 258 were authored by men, and 42 were authored by women. In other words, about 14.5% of the single authored academic blogs that we know about seem to be authored by women. I didn’t count representation in group blogs, but my hazy impression is that the ratio isn’t too different. If this is right, it would seem to suggest that there’s a general problem out there. You can argue about whether CT has a specific responsibility to address that problem or not – but it isn’t a problem that is particular to CT as best as I can tell. It’s an imbalance in the academic blogosphere as a whole.
While there may not be fewer female bloggers in general, there do seem to be fewer female academic bloggers, in particular.
Why does this imbalance exist?
The fact that there are fewer academic women with blogs shouldn’t be that much of a surprise, given everything else we know about gender issues in academia or elsewhere. The mechanism generating this outcome is harder to pin down. What might it (or they) be? I fear that not very much in the next few paragraphs is going to be original.
Within the blogosphere homophily may explain a lot. The tendency for like to associate with like, or for “similarity to breed connection” is a very general social process. Similarity on various dimensions might predict who you read and link to on your blog. With respect to gender, it might be that men are more likely to link to men and women to women, if only because (to begin with) you’re more likely to be acquainted with someone of the same sex as you. The blogs you’re likely to discover will be influenced by this process. The composition of the blogosphere will look very different to people in different parts of it as a result. (This is likely to lead to shouting matches of the “Well I haven’t seen anything like that” variety.)
This process of association affects content, too. which in turn affects the probability of reading and linking. It may be that explicitly political blogs are more male-oriented because of the confluence of male concerns and linking patterns. For example, earlier this year Matt Yglesias was wondering why women weren’t interested in politics. There’s a time-demands answer to this, which I’ll get to in a minute, but it’s also the case that many of the political concerns of women are not well-addressed in mainstream political commentary, or are simply not thought to be political issues at all (e.g., “work/family choices”).
Given the size and network-structure of the blogosphere, the upshot is that there will be many, many blogs with different perspectives from yours that you don’t ever read or link to, even though you’re probably only one or two degrees of separation removed from them via blogrolls. For instance, we don’t link to feministe and she doesn’t link to us, though we share a tie through Respectful of Otters and probably other blogs, too. Nobody chose not to link to her, of course. It’s just that, insofar as you make your reading and linking choices on homophily criteria, you contribute to this kind of segregation.
The degree to which this kind of homophily-driven segregation is offset by the ease with which you can read about and link to people different from you is the subject of a debate started by Cass Sunstein in his book Republic.com. Sunstein was pessimistic, but wrote his essay before blogging became really popular, and many people have been more optimistic than him as a result. My feeling is that, perversely, linking and exchange of views across the political divide (polarized as it’s supposed to be) is more likely than a decent gender balance.
A related, but separate, mechanism that would push things in the same direction is the tendency of women not to demand attention or rewards for their efforts. By not promoting themselves enough, female bloggers might shortchange themselves. I have no evidence that this actually happens, by the way, it’s just a plausible extension of a recognized phenomenon elsewhere.
Outside the blogosphere, there’s the question of the material conditions of blog production (so to speak). In the case of academia, it seems clear that women thinking of starting a blog would have more reservations about it than men—and with good reason. Unequal family responsibilities, second shift problems and many other smaller issues (e.g., familiarity with the technology) probably also play a role.
What about CT?
The homophily explanation works well for CT’s formation and growth. I imagine the same is true of most group blogs: there’s a reason that nearly all the members of the Volokh conspiracy (15 contributors, 1 woman, 2 pseudonyms) have a personal connection to Eugene Volokh, are lawyers, and share a broadly right-libertarian political outlook. Similarly, the recently-formed Left2Right (26 contributors, 6 women) are all philosophers of one description or another. That’s how these groups form. I’d say that CT has fewer pre-existing personal ties between its members than is typical for group blogs (one marriage notwithstanding). Our original membership was formed when one person emailed six or seven of his regular reads (all male) with the idea of forming a group blog. Guest bloggers who later became regular members were recruited partly through personal networks and partly through self-nomination. Interestingly, I don’t think we ever had a woman ask whether she could write for us, whereas at least four men have.
I think that the population-level is where we should be most concerned about issues of equity. The conversations sustained across blogs should be representative at least of the composition of bloggers. People who think this isn’t important should recall the complaints that get made when journalists write stories about blogging: it usually turns out that the bloggers that get the most attention—e.g., Mickey Kaus, Glenn Reynolds, Josh Marshall—are often people with strong ties to mainstream media outlets, or are in fact full-time journalists. Homophily again. Worrying about the composition of specific blogs seems less productive. CT is not a formal organization, doesn’t provide a service people pay for, and comes with no warranty express or implied about the content or quality of its contributions. There are a myriad of other choices available should you not be satisfied, and I don’t think anyone is actually forced to read us. Even so, I do think that if we’d been a little more on the ball earlier on—before we maxed-out the roster, discovered that this was going to be a relatively popular enterprise, or realized we might need to plan for growth, or anything else—we might have a somewhat different group today.
Update: David Adesnik at OxBlog responds in part to this post, though I don’t find a lot of it all that satisfactory. Some quick responses. First, David says, “Surprisingly, one issue Kieran doesn’t raise is whether the gender gap in academic blogging reflects the gender gap in academia as whole.” This is odd, because the first sentence in the “Why Does This Imbalance Exist?” section above says, “The fact that there are fewer academic women with blogs shouldn’t be that much of a surprise, given everything else we know about gender issues in academia or elsewhere.” I didn’t rehearse that stuff, but it’s not true to say I didn’t bring it up. Second, and a bit more substantively, David says
The most interesting idea that Kieran throws out there is that women have a general tendency to be less assertive than men when it comes to demanding attention and rewards for their achievement. … This identification of significant behavior differences between the sexes opens up a whole Pandora’s Box of hypotheses about the gender gap that might sound cliche and sexist if a conservative without a Ph.D. in sociology decided to elaborate them.
This isn’t right, either. Let me reiterate (again) that I don’t know whether this phenomenon matters to blogging, or what its importance is relative to other mechanisms. It’s just one possibility. However, believing it entails no commitment at all to “cliche[d] and sexist” views. Not asking for things or not promoting yourself can just be a learned behavior whose rudiments are acquired very early in life and which can be reinforced in all sorts of ways later on in the workplace or seminar room. In other words, this sort of gendered practice might be explanatory in particular contexts, but is also itself an outcome, rather than some immutable fact about men and women.
And if any female bloggers who’ve thought about this more than I have want to ping this thread, feel free.
fn1. Can we have a better word for that, please?
fn2. Though my own argument suggests there are plenty of group blogs out there that might be counterexamples, but I’m unaware of their existence.