Monday, August 07, 2006

Kathy Sierra Says: I Am Not A Woman Blogger

Update: Thank you, Ann Althouse, formidable female blogger, for linking to me! I respect your work and your takes, and I like your Warholized picture, too. She has lots to say about women and blogging and men and blogging. She answered Kevin Drum's feeble piece stating that women aren't suitable to the "food fight nature of opinion writing — both writing it and reading it". Oh, really? Here is Althouse's response:

Blogging is just writing. There's no reason why it needs to be nasty and domineering. The best writing is not a "playground dominance game" – to use Drum's term. The best writing has some subtlety, charm, humor, and insight. It is not name-calling and bluster. Drum's idea of a "fundamental" blog is a blog I don't even want to read. Maybe there is one form of blog game a lot of women won't play -- though some will -- but there are endless other things you can do with a blog if you're capable of breaking out of your playground mindset.
Kevin Drum mistakes civilized discourse with a thoughtful take as feminine writing? Evidently. And states this about the women offended by his pea-brained post and brazen enough to call him out, "My critics certainly make a spirited — if anecdotal — case for the proposition that women have no problem being as nasty as men."

I missed all this nonsense the first time it came around. Perhaps my views would be more gender-sensitized. In my humble experience (only blogged for the last year or so) I haven't noticed bias against me. But I'm a teeny toad in the pond. In fact, bloggers like Ms. Althouse and others have been exceedingly generous. I would love more space on formidable bloggers blogrolls, though. Man, woman or it. I'm honored by all.


Over at PassionateUsers, Kathy Sierra laments the BlogHer conference. I don't know much about it--other than a lot of women went to California for a blogging conference including Ann Althouse who travelled her way across the fruited plain and blogged about it. I read her every day and she did a post or two about the conference. She didn't sound overly impressed. Okay, that's what I know.

She goes on to say this:

I am "one who blogs" (among many other things). I happen to be a woman. But I am NOT a blogHer, and my male co-author is not a blogHim.

I write code. But I am NOT a programmHer.

I write tech books. But I am NOT a writeHer.

I ride horses. But I am NOT a rideHer. (sounds vaguely sexual... never mind)

I am NOT a skiHer or a skateboardHer or a runHer.

I work on ecological causes, but I am NOT an enviHERmental activist.

And I am NOT typing this on my computeHer (even if it is, I must say, a sexy-yet-adorable black MacBook)

These are my passions, but they reflect the part of me that is about horses, running, skiing, skating, the environment, writing, or creating. If I relabel them to reflect my gender, I believe both (my gender and the labeled thing) are diminished by the "Her" qualifier.

Her take is spot on. In fact, one of the reasons I like the Internet generally and blogosphere specifically, is that it is the take, the expertise, the style, the clarity and the content that counts. No one (save my friends and family who read this) knows what I look like. Who cares? It's irrelevent anyway. You either like what I say or don't. You either appreciate my expertise or you don't. Great either way.

I counted my links by gender: 18 women and approximately 42 men. Almost 2:1 men to women. But I have never thought in those terms about blogging. If I like the blog, I blogroll it. Male, female, and I do believe there might be an "it" or two on the Blogroll. Don't care. Care about the content and quality.

Sierra also says:
If the women of BlogHer were all discussing the ways in which being a woman was an advantage, I'd probably be inclined to join in. But if the message is that we need special treatment, help from men, and the extra-strength courage to participate in a world that is (supposedly) not friendly and open for us, wow... count me out. That's not the message I want to send to the young women who can actually change the gender imbalance in technology, because it's not a message I believe.
Amen to that, too! The comments thread got really interesting because the BlogHer Conference organizer responded with this:

This year we threw a second conference, BlogHer '06, because people who attended the first conference asked us to. Why did 700+ bloggers come to San Jose? Ask them! Neither I nor BlogHer pretends to speak for all women who blog. I help run a conference and a site designed to help people find, read, meet and learn from the women bloggers who participate.

As for some women, like you, and some men who don't see the value of a conference or a community for women who blog, that's fine too. I respect that. It's a question of individual identity. I suspect a number of women had conversations at BlogHer '06 about work or life where being female did not factor into the discussion -- I know I had a number of conversations about writing for the Web that didn't. At the same time, many women told me, in person and online, that they deeply valued the opportunity to be all that they are as women -- personally and professionally -- when they walked in the door. I read that from both professional women and women who blog personal diaries.

Kathy Sierra responds and her response gets a double Amen from me:

I think we all have the same overall intentions -- support for women -- and goals -- getting more women involved. And I think you DID accomplish the goal of answering the question of "where are the women bloggers?"

But I still do not like the answer. Rather than saying, "They are over HERE", I'd have preferred the answer was "they are EVERYWHERE." This distinction matters a great deal to me.

And I do not like a gender-qualified title... as I said, I'd be offended if people started adding my gender as a qualifier to things I do ("woman coder", "female tech author", etc. Women worked too long and hard to get RID of that. This does not mean that my gender doesn't matter, but I don't want it as a title, and I believe it's divisive and does more harm to "the cause" then good. It reinforces the separation and stereotypes.

That said, I DO think the name BlogHer would be a kick-ass name for women who blog about women or women's issues. But that's an entirely different story!

As for women and visibility... this could be a dangerous path to go down. The implication both stated and implicit coming out of BlogHer (again, this is perception, not the intended message from you folks) is that women have lower visibility (including fewer on the Technorati Top 100) than men because they are being held back because they are women. I believe this is a huge distraction and deflects from the more solution-oriented notion that it matters very little who you are if you have content that appeals to a large enough group of readers. I prefer the Occam's Razor answer... that the problem is much simpler than some are making it out to be. I don't believe it is a complex sociological phenomenon where men choose (subconsciously or otherwise) not to read "women" blogs (or link to them) soley because the authors are women.

People read only what they consider worth their scarce time and bandwidth. Period.

The other disturbing related message I'm hearing (again, not coming from any 'official' message from the organizers) is that some women feel that they should have more visibility. That people should read what they write and that it would be good for readers. That's the least productive notion I can think of.

Nobody -- male or female -- gets a pass on this. We either offer something of value to the reader or not. And most importantly, only the READER can decide what is worth his/her time.

I do think that all bloggers--male and female--need help with the initial bootstrapping. A few links from a blog with larger traffic can definitely help get the ball rolling, but after that... it's up to the linked-to blog to offer readers a reason to stick around.

There is no need for quotas or incentives or affirmative action on the web. Please, oh please, no! There is a need for accuracy, relevance, helpful information and usability. A woman or a man can do this equally well. A woman or a man can screw this up. The web keeps a record of everything. It is a great equalizer that way.

And as far as bootstrapping goes, a few formidable bloggers have thrown me love: MaxedOutMama, Glenn Reynolds of Instapundit, John Hawkins of RightWingNews, Dr. Helen Smith of Dr. Helen, Iowahawk and StoptheACLU. I'm profoundly grateful to all of them. I have never met them and yet consider them friends.

See, the blogosphere is the best, most egalitarian place in the 'verse. I'm not interested in seeing it get genderized.


Anonymous said...

Yeah, right. Kathy Sierra doesn't want to be known as a woman writer, yet when push comes to shove what does she say?

"It's this culture of attacking women that has especially got to stop."

Typical. Have problems and fall back on your gender first thing. She said many of the threats are coming at here just because she is a woman. Can't have it both ways. Oh that's right, you can if you're female.

agnes said...

That was a long time ago. I was a single gay man, living alone. All I’d done was go online to chat and meet men. I met the wrong one, realized it and quickly dropped him. My guess is that there are some people who would say that I “had it coming” and “brought it on myself” by going online. The death threats, that is.

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