The Irony of Wente, Opinions, Blogs and Gender

Once again a Globe Columnist talks about technology in a manner that is not just factually completely incorrect but richly Ironic!

Earlier today Margaret Wente published a piece titled “Why are bloggers male?” (I suspect it is in print, but who knows…). The rich irony is that Wente says she doesn’t blog because she doesn’t have instant opinions. Readers of her column likely have their doubts. Indeed, I hate to inform Ms. Wente that she does have a blog. It’s called her column.

Reading her piece, one wonders if Wente has ever followed a blog. Her claim that women don’t like to emit opinions every 20 minutes struck me – as an incredibly active blogger – as odd. I post 4 times a week. Of course, as anyone who actually uses the internet knows, there is a blogging like medium where people are more predisposed to comment frequently (although not every 20 minutes). It’s called twitter. But if, as Wente claims, women are hardwired to not share opinions, why then – according to Harvard Business School – do women outnumber men on twitter 55% to 45%? Indeed, what is disturbing about the Harvard survey is that rather than some innate desire to have opinions, women suffer from the disadvantage of having their opinions marginalized for some other (social) reason. Both women and men tend to follow men on twitter rather than women.

But forget about the complete lack of thought in Wente’s analysis. Let’s just take a look at the facts.

Her piece starts off with the claim that men are more likely to blog than women. Of course Wente doesn’t cite (or hyperlink? the internet is 40 years old…) a source so it is hard to know if this is a fact or merely an opinion. Sadly, a quick google search shows Wente’s opinions don’t match up with the facts. According to a 2005 Pew Research Centre study (look! A hyperlink to a source!):

“Women and men have statistical parity in the blogosphere, with women representing 46% of bloggers and men 54%”

Awkward.

But it get’s worse. In The Blogging Iceberg by the now defunct Perseus’ Development Corporation claims that its research shows that that males were more likely than females to abandon blogs, with 46.4% of abandoned blogs created by males (versus 40.7% of active blogs created by males). That might even tilt the balance in favour of women… And of course, in France, that is what Médiamétrie has found, with over 50% French bloggers being female.

I do agree the men are potentially more likely to share their opinion than women. But there may be strong social reasons for this and it is clearly not that cut and dry. Many women have decided they want to share their opinions via twitter – indeed more women than men have. And of course, when it comes to being “quick to have opinions on subjects they know little or nothing about” men hardly have a monopoly. One need only look at Wente’s daily blog. Or, I meant to say, column.

Okay, that’s two blogs in one day. I’m taking tomorrow off.

Added March 19th: Nick C sent me a link to a fantastic post by Spydergrrl in which she points out that this was probably all a gimmick to get people to show up to an event Wente is putting on. It is a dark, unnerving perspective but one that sounds plausible. So, I say, boycott Wente’s event.

24 thoughts on “The Irony of Wente, Opinions, Blogs and Gender

  1. nickcharney

    David – thank Darwin you commented on this because I wouldn’t be caught dead leaving a comment on Wente’s piece.

    It was probably one of the worst things I have ever read as a blogger. I publish once a week on a fixed schedule (that is often hard to maintain due to competing interests).

    Your point about a column being equivalent to blog is bang on.

    Thanks for restoring a little sanity.

    Reply
  2. Nick Charney

    David – thank Darwin you commented on this because I wouldn’t be caught dead leaving a comment on Wente’s piece.

    It was probably one of the worst things I have ever read as a blogger. I publish once a week on a fixed schedule (that is often hard to maintain due to competing interests).

    Your point about a column being equivalent to blog is bang on.

    Thanks for restoring a little sanity.

    Reply
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  4. Jacques Drolet

    You need to take some distance David. All your points are bang on (as stated above). Deal with some other journal for a while. It might allow them to really start looking with less fear. Then you can come back. You are kind of hitting your head on a wall and we all need that head of yours (in case you thought it was yours alone). Always nice to read you.

    Reply
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  6. spydergrrl

    Wow, “dark and unnerving” – thanks :)I'm seeing dozens of tweets about people getting their coffee on for the lunchtime discussion. Which means more press for G&M. I'll be out for a run.

    Reply
  7. wikisteff

    Good points and good post, David. A minor quibble: your quote, “the internet is 40 years old…” is a bit mean-spirited and misleading. Wikipedia notes that CERN plugged into the TCP/IP internet in 1989, and that the first commercial ISP, The World, opened its doors in 1989. Mosaic, the first graphical browser, got made in 1993, and Navigator in 1994. Certainly, hyperlinks would not have worked before the hyperlink text transfer protocol, built in 1990. That's about 20 years ago, not 40.

    Reply
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  9. Alison Loat

    I read Wente's column less as a diatribe on new media and the blogosphere (although as one of the several resident G&M curmudgeons, no doubt there was a bit of that) and more as plea for more women's voices in public affairs commentary online. While there are many valid points and clarifying facts above, I wonder if we could pause for a moment to consider that there may be a shred of validity in Wente's piece. While she didn't say this in the original column, I read bits of her online discussion, where she clarified she'd written it from the point of view of current affairs. Wente wrote, ” I was referring in my column to the type of blogging that refers to news and current events. This is largely — though by no means exclusively — a male world, just as radio phone-in talk shows and televsion panels of people analyzing and opining on the days' events.”As a woman deeply interested in matters of public policy and current events, I agree with her. Let's take the federal level as an example. In the blogosphere, save for Kady O'Malley at CBC and Susan Delacourt at The Star, I struggle to think of many more female commentators of any scale in Canada. Scroll down here, to “Blog Central,” for just one example of what I mean: http://www2.macleans.ca/.* Of the top 10 political blogs in Canada (http://rjjago.wordpress.com/canadas-top-25-blogs/), only one (#10) is authored by a woman. If we take Dave's great point about columns being blogs, in the Globe and Mail, Wente is the only woman with a regular gig commenting on public affairs (interspersed with updates on her condo and her and her friends' confusion over gadgetry and their kids' jobs). The Star fares better (Chantal Hebert on Ottawa, plus several others on other news-y topics).I have no doubt there are a lot women blogging and tweeting out there, just not on current affairs or politics. There are also lots of women reporters on the Hill (most of whom tweet, and whose reporting I follow), just not a lot with profile in the commenting scene, either online or off.The more interesting question to me is why, and if anyone else cares about this, what to do about it. Wente “blames” it on men's propensity to step up and speak out. Maybe we women need to do a bit more of that. I'll include myself as a guilty party – as pretty regular blogger at http://www.samaracanada.com/blog, I think about my blogging more as a curating and less as opining. Maybe that should change. Or maybe editors have to do more to hire/encourage women in this way, if Wente's right that they're not naturally predisposed to opine. Or maybe readers have to demand more of it, and encourage those who are trying. I don't know. But I think Wente has a point. Thoughts?Alison Loat*As an aside, these are all excellent writers who I rely on to help shape my own views on things… I don't wish any of them to stop writing. I only wish Maclean's would add a female or two to its mix.

    Reply
  10. Alison Loat

    Hi Nick,I wrote a longer note on this topic below on how I thought Wente had a point. I'm curious – I know there are a lot of public servants who are female. Of all the public servant bloggers that you follow, are they equally male and female?Alison

    Reply
  11. David Eaves

    Alison, I think you are letting Wente's off the hook by changing her argument. I'm going to disentangle your comment to address what I think is the main point:1. What was Wente's Thesis?It wasn't that women are under-represented in blogging or in traditional media (two very different things). No. Wente’s piece was about how women – because of something innate – don’t want (or worse, can't) engage in political debates because they don't want to share (or don't have!) opinions. You and I are concerned about the under representation of women, but this was not Wente's concern. (it later became a concern after she was shown how ridiculous her argument was – but it wasn't in the original piece).2. Blogging and news media are primarily male worldsSo what if we are generous and we say this is what Wente was trying to raise a concern about. Here I agree. These worlds are largely male. But now we are conflating to VERY different things. Mainstream media and the online world of social media. In the world of traditional media (or, financed blogs) women are under represented because managers – either at the Globe or Macleans – choose not to hire women. (Or, one can believe Wente – and you think women don’t have as many opinions)In the online world there are clearly a lot of women who blog and tweet about politics (as you point out). What is more disturbing is that many of them may not be getting as much profile profile as their male peers. (note the part of the HBS articles in which men tend to have 15% more followers than women). Here we have lots of women with opinions, but not as much recognition. This is not what Wente argues. I'd argue that there is a structural bias against women – we learn to perceive their voices as less relevant. There isn’t an innate inability to have or share opinions (as Wente claims) – our society has decided not to value them as much. This is a serious problem. But it is also antithetical to everything Wente believes. She derides structural feminist critiques.So I don't think we should let Wente off the hook. Her article misinformed those Canadians who know the least about the net (newspaper readers) about the role women play online. Worse, I believe it helped undermine women in the political space by suggested they didn't have as many opinions to share.

    Reply
  12. alisonloat

    Hi Dave,Always fun to exchange, here or wherever.I certainly can't speak for Wente, nor do I intend to let her off the hook. Above all, I find it interesting that we've read different things into the same article.First, I always read her piece to be about current affairs (i.e., see her 4th and 7th paragraphs), although I agree she could have been more explicit. And while she led by talking about blogs, to me, that was really an (albeit inflammatory) example of a larger point about ways in which the sexes express themselves.Second, she doesn't lament that women don't have opinions. In fact, she says just the opposite: “Opinionizing in public is a form of mental jousting, where the aim is to out-reason, out-argue or out-yell your opponent. Women are just as good at this as men and, in some ways, better.” Her point, at least as I read it, is that women develop and express their points-of-view differently than men, and in ways that don't naturally translate into the “opinion-sphere,” be it online or off. I think this is true. Looking beyond the financed, MSM-associated blogs, there aren't a lot of women bloggers on current affairs that have achieved much scale (i.e., only one of the top 10 political blogs is female). Also, of the first 100 contributors to The Mark, in the politics section, less than a quarter are female. No doubt there is a structural bias against women and it's pretty obvious that the MSM folks don't hire them. What to do about it is the more interesting question. The online world naturally provides an excellent opportunity for females to establish their voices, and they are doing it in many spheres of activity. I'm just not convinced it's happening as much in current affairs, at least not yet. I think that's partially because there's not an established “demand” for women's voices from the public (which may partially explain why there are few women in Parliament as well, although there's clearly more to it than that). I think it's partially risk aversion on the part of editors. But it's also the responsibility of women who care about politics and public affairs to speak up more, when it makes sense, even if they risk being wrong or offending.See the comment on my blog post on this subject for more on that point: http://alo-experiments.blogspot.com/And on a final point, I actually thought her most “sexist” points were about men, not women! So I end where I began: it's always fun to see how different people read differently into the same article. Mars versus Venus!ALoP.S. My bigger beef about Wente (and other women journos, such as Leah McLaren) is the use of “me” journalism, which is when you extrapolate from your own life to make a larger point. But that's for another day.

    Reply
  13. Mike M

    I think Wente's point about men being more amenable to 'opining' in a public space (online) is buying into the whole 'Women are from Mars, Men are from Venus' argument. I think its much more systemic and structural,as Alison also points out. Although the internet has made it easier for all to voice their opinions, and make their mark as a writer, it would be fascinating to consider the intersection of search engines, tagging and clouds and the sexist classification systems that that I suspect underlie them and which I suspect have ghettoized women and their ideas and opinions – witness how sexist terms, phrases and catchwords go viral and then become search words themselves, embedded into google and yahoom becoming memes and tropes overnite.

    Reply
  14. David Eaves

    wikisteff – agreed. My point was less to be accurate and more to exaggerate for emphasis. Even 20 years… but either way, probably not a moment for my highlight reel…

    Reply
  15. David Eaves

    wikisteff – agreed. My point was less to be accurate and more to exaggerate for emphasis. Even 20 years… but either way, probably not a moment for my highlight reel…

    Reply

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