Mar 102009

Because I cannot be arsed to read the news while there is work to be done, I find that a lot of what alerts my ‘blog-post dammit’ sensors comes from other blogs, and today is no exception. By David Davis (no, not that one) at the Libertarian Alliance, I was entirely brought up short by a singular piece of commentary:

And, to round off, what a load of feminazi crap from Rowenna Davis at the Grauniad, about the “bloke-o-sphere.” Thanks to “And there was me thinking” for hat-tipping me off to this fem***z* august woman journalist. Perhaps it’s that males are just more intellectually and literarily creative? We can’t fabricate babies, you lot have to do that for us (and yourselves, don’t forget that, ever): so we write more, and harder, and faster, and with more exquisitely crafted anger feeling instead. The pen is mightier than the p**** I guess.

Many eons ago (a couple of years in reality), I was fortunate enough to be introduced to the wonders of University Challenge, that exquisitely British quiz programme hosted by the even-more-exquisite Jeremy Paxman. During the course of several rounds of filming and, later, numerous Monday evenings spent shouting trivia at the television set in tandem with some of the brightest young minds in the country (‘Wadham-Harris!’), it became apparent to me that females made up rather less than 50% of the contestant pool. On our own team (of which I was not a member, lest you accuse me of delusions of grandeur), there was one female, who answered precisely two starters-for-ten in the entire course of the team’s progress. I remember asking my then-boyfriend, the captain of our team, why women were so under-represented in the competition.

To give him his due, he considered the question carefully rather than, a la David Davis, leaping to the defence with accusations of feminazism. Eventually, he said something along the lines of: ‘To be successful on University Challenge, one has to be aggressive and take risks. If you don’t know the answer, you have to come up with a plausible guess and run with it. Those tend to be male traits, I suppose.’

Much later, or perhaps it was around the same time, I asked him why it is that females, on average, perform much better in school, but males perform better at university. His response was similar: ‘When you think about the university examination system, you know that most of it consists of writing rather long essays in answer to rather vague questions. What achieves good marks doesn’t seem to be simple repetition of facts. Instead, errors of fact are overlooked if an answer is bold enough or has enough flair. Men, I suppose, tend to be rather bolder and more given to flashes of insight.’

My own experience as a teacher would seem to support his conclusions. When I taught history in the US (in a mixed school), my best students were male. Even when they misreported the circumstances of historical events, their essays often displayed a deeper understanding of the material and a more rigorous level of analysis than those of the females.

What does this mean for women in the blogosphere, then?

A quick survey of my own blogroll (which is rather more extensive than what you will find in the right-hand sidebar), reveals that there are two women on it: one, Megan McArdle, is an MBA who writes for the Atlantic, and the other is a feminist. This is not to say that I’m not aware of other female bloggers: David Davis tips his hat to one, Dennis often features another, and who hasn’t heard of the lovely Trixy? And yet those five women represent the sum total of my conversance with the female side of the interweb-commentariat. Of the two on my blogroll, I read Megan McArdle to keep up with the American libertarian world, and I read the feminist because she is angry and sweary and uses neologisms like ’empornulate.’

Rowenna Davis (no relation to David) says:

Second, it’s worrying because – like any forum – virtual spaces develop institutional cultures over time. The House of Commons building might be gender neutral, but fill its chambers with mainly men for hundreds of years and sexism begins to looks like part of the furniture. So too with cyberspace. Unlike parliament, the internet was not made exclusively for men, but mainstream political blogs are starting to become defined as such.

In such a context, it’s hard to stay true to yourself online. When editing LabourList, I felt the need to turn up the aggression, to be more cutting than I would like to be and less willing to compromise. Online, I felt a similar pressure that Thatcher may have felt in the Commons – the need to compensate for my femininity in a world dominated by aggressive masculinity.

Her choice of the words ‘aggression’ and ‘aggressive’ certainly hearkens back to my ex’s remarks and suggests that the blogosphere, like University Challenge and university exams, is a realm in which success is achieved by having the loudest, most insistent, most incisive voice.

Rowenna Davis goes on:

But facing that world alongside other female bloggers gave me hope. I was lucky enough to have commentators like Sadie Smith tweeting alongside me, and blog-readers like Grace Fletcher-Hackwood questioning the male-dominated blogroll. While editing, I saw first-hand that – given a critical mass – the internet can work for women as well as against them.

But changing the content for one day is not enough. If women don’t keep up a lively presence online, the “blokeosphere” will rule. Ultimately, the internet is what we make it. This poses a challenge to mainstream political blogs – who have a responsibility to make space for female voices – and to women, who have a duty to fill them.

It’s rather heartening to know that ‘mainstream’ political blogs, of which I read precisely none according to what this woman’s definition probably is, suffer the same dearth of oestrogen as the libertarian blogs I frequent. Whilst I don’t support the idea that any internet community has ‘a responsibility to make space for female voices,’ I do agree that women, if they want their voices heard, need to enter the space and start making waves.

The delightful Tim Worstall mentioned a related problem recently when he ridiculed Mary Honeyball MEP for contradicting her own argument about gender quotas, and let’s be fair, the woman is a stupid ass:

It took all-women shortlists to raise the number of Labour women MPs to 27% of the parliamentary Labour party. Compare this with the Tories – who, incidentally, oppose quotas – of whom only 9% are female. Quotas do work, and I do not believe we will get significantly more women elected representatives without them.

Only 26% of MPs are female, meaning that Westminster does not have enough women for them to form a critical mass – estimated to be around 30% – where they can bring about changes.

Only by getting more women into parliament will some of the structural barriers that prevent more women from being elected be removed. Female MPs are role models who raise women’s and girls’ aspirations. Quotas are a short-term measure that will ensure long lasting democracy and equal representation.

Although women comprise, as is often cited, half of the population, women do not comprise half the population’s representatives. I don’t want to get into the issue of quotas, which are a silly idea in any situation (vide Tim, supra) and already discredited more than ably over at Musings on Liberty, but it’s interesting to see how Honeyball attacks democracy in the name of…democracy. Democracy is not only choosing for whom one wishes to vote, but choosing whether or not one wishes to stand for office. When more men than women wish to stand, and more people prefer to vote for men over women, that is democracy, however much it might offend the sensibilities of equality-seekers.

And why do we have this confluence of more men running and more people voting for men? Perhaps it is because politics, like University Challenge, university exams, and the blogosphere, is a realm in which success is achieved by having the loudest, most insistent, most incisive voice. If a majority of men and women believe that women possess those traits in insufficient quantities, then women will neither stand for office nor receive votes.

The question, is seems to me, is: why are aggression and flair considered primarily masculine, rather than feminine, traits? We all know women who possess them, and we all know men who don’t. Are women employing these characteristics in other spheres of their lives? Is David Davis right in suggesting that women divert their strenuous efforts into the creation of babies?

I don’t know the answer. I know that I am not a person who is much given to flair. I am rarely loud. I do not craft my anger into exquisite, invective-filled blog posts, and other people’s pens are indeed mightier, as David Davis says, than my pussy. I am not aggressive. So maybe this blog is doomed to fail, I will never have a career in politics, and Gail Trimble truly is the man.

What I do know, however, is that whinging on about what women are entitled to, whether it be space in the great political debate, seats in Parliament, or exams tailored to fit their character traits, is a counter-productive waste of time. Women are entitled to be treated as human beings, with all attendant rights and liberties. No more, no less. And the more we focus on dragging down men to pull ourselves up, the more harm we do to our primary, legitimate, and above all imperative goal.

  12 Responses to “The ‘blokeosphere’ etc.”

  1. Wow! When I chided you the other day that you “could do better”, I didn’t know how right I was.

    There is no getting away from five million years of hominid evolution. Like it or not, we are the product of a process. For 99.99% of that time, it was in the interests of survival that men should exhibit predominantly those rather unpleasant but necessary tendencies of which you speak. It’s not so easy to change your genes just because you feel that some aspects of human behaviour need updating.

    I think women really are more sensible than men. Most blogging is a waste of time, achieving nothing. The same with politics. Look at all those dopes who knock themselves out to get elected, imagining they can change the world, then find that they are wanted for nothing but lobby fodder.

    Far more valuable and interesting to concentrate on the sorts of things at which women excel — communication, nurturing, all that. Part of that “communication” is what you have just done with your sober and superlative post; some blogs could be deleted without loss, but not this one.

  2. I think there are a number of reasons women don’t make it in politics. One is the relative loudness and thick skinnedness required to hang out with the big boys. More men have a Narcissistic Personality Disorder which can be very helpful in advancing a political career. My blog roll is a bit the same…mostly blokes, and the women on there generally have private blogs that you need to sign into. As Dennis says, blogging is an dreadful time waster, if hugely amusing and informative. I think a lot more women read blogs than is indicated by the number of comments/blogs by women.

  3. “I asked him why”

    My answer would have been, “I don’t know” – at once both a more honest and a more useful answer.

    • @ Dennis – you’re such a dear. I dunno if women are actually better at communication and nurturing, or if that’s merely a product, as you say, of the process of socialisation; whatever the case, it is certainly true that not everyone can be good at everything.

  4. […] March, 2009 by landedunderclass Curious piece by Bella Gerens about the internet being a feminist issue. Or not, as the case may […]

  5. Much as I like and admire Mr Underclass and his blog, I think he errs on this occasion. The very fact that you can produce this line:

    “Because I cannot be arsed to read the news while there is work to be done”

    is proof positive of your gender! And I think it is by and large possible for an experienced reader to deduce the sex of a blogger or commentator. Not always, by any means, as is shown by perusal of a long thread at Guido’s — which anyhow, being one of the most combative arenas on the net, seems to scare most women away; or repel them.

    Gender stereotyping isn’t really stereotyping at all, if the differences are genuine, and after much experience I believe them often to be so.

  6. If it’s a simple case of meeting more female bloggers just get yourself along to and enjoy :)

    We are out there and we are making waves. We just don’t shout as loud as the menfolk maybe :)

  7. There are theories as to why women are less likely to come up on lists of “political” blogs.

    It has been argued, & I can believe, that it’s because those who blog about politics & other shite will be filed under “politics” if male, or “other” if female, with exactly the same content.

    The link to Jennie Rigg, who is an excellent blogger, is worth following.

    As for inherent differences between men & women, whether they exist & if so whether they are innate or cultural, I haven’t given it that much thought actually. I don’t particularly give a toss what gender people are if they say something worthwhile. Almost all my bloggers are male, but I haven’t speculated on the reasons for that.

    You may like to have a look at my mate Alix Mortimer if you want to hear from a right good female blogger.

    I am all for the barriers on capable women being lifted, & think they have a lot to offer society & we might find ourselves benefiting from female leadership. But I find a lot of feminist argument cringeworthy, & have never believed in identity politics.

    We have also to recognise that many women limit themselves through choices, such as having children. How fucking difficult is it to realise that having children is a choice, one that you shouldn’t make if you can’t pay for it or otherwise handle the conferences? Do get mightily sick of the argument that we should all bend over backwards to accomodate those who’ve chosen to breed at the expense of those who never felt like it.

    Besides. Even if it’s true that more men than women fall into the utterly genius bracket, there will always be women at the highest levels. An overall tendency says nothing about individuals.

    Am not a libertarian, just someone who stumbled across this site & was provoked into commenting :)

  8. Bella — you are a fine blogger. So I wouldn’t worry too much about your blog failing.

    As for women being under represented in political circles maybe it’s just because they are less interested in this area of life.

  9. Clearly I should have been dating you instead of him. Pity I didn’t know, even though not knowing is apparently classed as ‘useful.’

  10. @ Dennis – Ha! Well, before we start getting any funny ideas about my work ethic, let’s remind ourselves of the fact that I’m a teacher, and my next month-long holiday is rapidly approaching. I see what LU is getting at, and in most circumstances he/she/it is probably right; however, I have it on good authority that most of my blog roll are, in fact, men.

    Not that I’m all that fussed one way or the other. The only reason I even started this post was because I got fucked off at David Davis. I interpreted his remarks initially to mean that men are walking literary demiurges, whilst women are fit only for creating babies. Then I changed my mind – and rambled a bit – and have somehow ended up in the position of wondering how many secret Martians or octopodes (LU mentioned tentacles, didn’t he?) populate my RSS feed…

  11. @ tbrrob – Thank you so much! What a kind thing to say. And I suspect you are right about women and politics.

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