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Sunday, June 1, 2008

Where have all the women bloggers gone?

A contributor to the DakotaWomen web log recently announced a suspension of her contributions when the discussion of Hillary Clinton became less than civil and valuable. This resulted in the observation that so few bloggers are women and some questioning of why. The Beacon has a perspective on the matter.

When the NVB started out, it was intended to be the electronic version of the newsletter of the Brown County Democrats, which was called the Northern Valley Beacon. The print version was very expensive and required a great deal of work. We thought the web log format provided a much less expensive option and made it easier to get the work done. The contributors included three women and one man, me. The idea of using the blog format was to develop talking points that party members might find edifying and useful. We had an editorial board that critiqued items before they were posted.

Blogging is very time-consuming. One of the women found very soon that the demands of the blogging process conflicted with family and job obligations, so she withdrew from the editorial board and asked to be an occasional contributor. However, she also was perturbed by the blog that John Thune paid for against Tom Daschle and resented being identified with that kind of activity. The nature of blogs has been a constant point of concern in the NVB.

Initially. we identified the individual writers at the end of their posts. One woman member of our board. Val, is a professional writer and editor who has worked for a number of prominent publications. Another board member, Erin, had worked on a number of campaigns, was manager of a congressional campaign, and had developed a critical interest in the theory and practice of rhetoric as applied to political discourse.

For a short time. the NVB worked fairly well as a web log, although we quickly realized that it did not have anywhere near the audience penetration of the print version in getting out factual information and posing talking points.

When members of the opposition party discovered the NVB, circumstances changed drastically. Val has a very forceful and evocative writing style. Her expository writing is meticulously documented and the cases she builds are frustrating for those who prefer not to believe the facts she presents. Val's posts received some insanely vicious comments. which we deleted. However, her detractors also began telephoning her with insult and abuse. The breaking point came when one of her children answered the phone and became the target of an obscenely abusive and menacing call. At that point, most posts were made over my name. but the experience created doubts in Val about the value of blogs in political discourse. Her husband was also in the field 9f communications and believed that it would be necessary to leave South Dakota to d0 significant work in his and Val's professions. After the election of 2004, Val also wondered if South Dakota was the place she wanted to raise her children. The family decided it would be better for all to relocate and devoted their efforts to making that happen. While Val intensified her writing, her blogging posts became infrequent, but very critical of South Dakota. Eventually the family left the state, and Val said the move did wonders to improve family attitudes.

Meanwhile, Erin had to assume the major role in producing the NVB web log. I was called away to help family members during times of extended illness and provided Erin only occasional posts, although nearly all of the posts in the NVB appeared over my name. At this time, South Dakota Politics began to make malicious accusations and comments on every post on the NVB. Erin found the attention obsessively perverse. She said it was cyber stalking. Our policy was not to engage other blogs in pissing duels, but on occasion we felt it necessary to respond.

Erin decided that the blogging atmosphere was so dementedly mean that she did not want to be associated with blogging. After some intense reviewing, we decided to intensify our e-mail efforts and the use of printed materials to reach our party members. We decided to close the Northern
Valley Beacon down, which act produced some revelations of character and mentality among other bloggers.

Erin who majored in social science in college had developed an interest in the theory and practice of rhetoric. The blogging experience convinced her that there had to be a higher level of thought and expression than what could be witnessed on most blogs. She went on to graduate school to study writing and rhetoric. She used her blogging experience as the basis of a thesis paper.

After some encouragement, I revived the NVB as largely a personal commentary blog. One of the people who encouraged resumption of the NVB was hoping we could lure more women
bloggers. We could not. Most women see blogging as the province of adolescent males. Val put the matter in a way that the women we contacted agreed with. She said blogging is like trying tp play with playground bullies with pretenses toward the macho. They carp and bicker and insult and abuse and try to dominate under the delusion that they have something worth saying. Most women have grown tired of their bully games before they are out of high school, said Val, and most blog posts and comments resonate with adolescent belligerence.

This may not be a definitive reason there are so few women bloggers. I suspect Val is largely right, as I find most that blogs, except for a few national ones. devolve into indignities on the language and the intelligence. There are exceptions. but blogging has developed a culture of petty meanness that taints the whole enterprise.

Like Erin, I am convinced that better use can be made of the Internet. We are working on some different approaches.

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Aberdeen, South Dakota, United States