Home > Uncategorized > More conversation on women in the blogosphere

More conversation on women in the blogosphere

A good post from Melissa on the scarcity of women in the theology blogosphere, with a good comment thread, too. Obviously the deck is stacked somehow, but I confess I’m mystified as to exactly how. We’ve repeatedly tried and failed to recruit any of the women in the department to write for Memoria Dei, but generally for perfectly predictable reasons, reasons that often tempt me to abandon blogging too—the professional risks involved in “publishing” unpolished work, the time commitment involved, the kind of emotional energy it takes to argue still-unformed points with strangers… Nothing that obviously flags a gender differential. My own suspicion is that the explanation is to be found on the other end, not in what keeps women from blogging but in what drives men to blog. I’ve definitely noticed that I’m more immediately comfortable sparring in public than many (not all) of my female colleagues, more undeservedly confident in how interesting my own lines of research will be to others, etc.

I’ve not really given this question the time it deserves, but it’s an extremely important one for any estimation of the long-term value of academic blogging. It’s my belief that blogging could fill some important scholarly needs. It could provide a space between casual conversation among friends and the official settings of a conference or a journal; it could leave scholars in more control of their work; it could sometimes eliminate the lag-time between writing and publication, making possible more productive conversation between scholars; it could open doors for serious interdisciplinary, inter-institutional, international collaboration. But if it gives new life to a good old boy network of the kind finally dying off the in the physical halls of academia (more slowly in theology than elsewhere), and if it only runs on the fuel of men’s overblown self-perception, blogging is not going to be any good to anyone.

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  1. June 18, 2010 at 11:48 am

    Great post. I think the temptation is also present for male bloggers to “recruit” or “welcome” or “seek out” female participation in blog discourse…but of course, as it is already constituted as a male discourse. It’s a balance wire act, but how can we be thoughtfully concerned not to limit ourselves to only one incredibly particularized voice without falling into either an essentialist “let’s get women in on the fun too” tone or a paternalistic “yes, you too can participate in our game” attitude?

    Thanks for extending the conversation.

  2. signonthewindow
    June 18, 2010 at 1:59 pm

    Brad: I’m not as concerned about the “affirmative action” approach to blogging. That may be how it starts, to ask women to lend their voice. Asking a woman to “guest post” would also allow for more preparation, which might make it more comfortable.

    And I agree with Brian’s insight into the level of discomfort in this form of knowledge production and assessment, at least on a personal level. When I was in Oxford there was one don we were required to take for a tutorial. Year after year the women considered him abusive and vituperative. The men, by contrast, loved this don and were always trying to outdo one another with the kind of responses they would get out of him. His abuse was a badge of honor for the guys and a long-nursed wound for the women despite the fact that we were equally intellectually capable of handling the material.

    I also wonder if a large part of this issue is old fashioned busyness (namely the “second shift”). Most women, by the time they get to the a higher level of theological studies are juggling children, a husband, a mortgage, tight finances and are trying to establish a career in a field that doesn’t give a damn about any of these things. While I hear a lot of the wives of colleagues talk about being “academically widowed,” this simply isn’t an option for a mom (especially a breastfeeding mom). I’m only able to keep up in my limited way because my toddler still naps for three hours a day.

  3. June 18, 2010 at 9:20 pm

    Thanks for the comment, Melissa. On the “affirmative action” approach, I think it’s just difficult (as touched on in the comments on your blog) on the part of the male side to avoid all of the unconsciously foolish or insulting approaches — all the while not getting so wound up by the possibilities of doing something stupid that the point is missed altogether.

    I’m intrigued by your story about the don and as well about the “second shift.” The latter makes sense, but is there any solution? Does it simply mean that, with so many professions, there will be more men than women? Regarding the former, it makes similar sense, but I wonder what prescriptions to draw from such a seemingly regular description. Not that that is what you are looking for, but I guess the situation just breeds frustration.

    Anyway, I appreciate you sharing your thoughts.

  4. signonthewindow
    June 19, 2010 at 9:21 am

    Thanks Brad. I think the solutions are meta-. Like universities not setting up situations where you lose your housing or funding to take a semester off after having a baby, or going down to part-time (here’s looking at you PTS!). Academia tends to be masculine in its outlook so things like nursing rooms, class schedules that accommodate family time, on-campus childcare etc. aren’t taken into consideration (on the other hand, PTS is amazing in this area). Men who are serious about changing the situation will begin by advocating for changes like these alongside women in their department.

  5. Bridget O'Brien
    June 19, 2010 at 12:56 pm

    There’s also the larger numbers issue, Brian: you only need to have five of us, total across all five years in ST lack interest in blogging to have no women from the department on the blog. You’re looking at much better numbers with men.

  6. June 19, 2010 at 2:26 pm

    @Brad: It’s definitely important to avoid pulling women into a game rigged against them. That could be a danger here, but the only way I know to find out is to think about what’s keeping women out of the academic blogging world. As we figure that out, we can experiment with changes here and there—in tone, in structure, in content, whatever—to see whether any of it actually works to invite more women into the conversations.

    @Melissa: You’re probably right to say that busyness is key. Busyness obviously applies to both men and women, too, but I’m starting to get the impression that aspiring women scholars are more deeply instilled with a worry about busyness—a pressure to avoid any academic work without direct institutional payback, or in general terms, to avoid any work without pay. Which makes sense. In that case, it would be important to find concrete ways of tying blogging into the institutional structure—which is something worth working on for all kinds of reasons.

    @Bridget: General numbers probably explain a good bit—especially at Notre Dame. And God knows nobody has to blog; I’m sure there are plenty of personalities, writing styles, life situations, etc., that make blogging counterproductive. But it’s odd that the academic blogosphere is even more disproportionate than academic departments themselves. I think there has to be some other, structural reason for that.

  7. June 19, 2010 at 7:19 pm

    You guys aren’t familiar with “Pythagoras’s Trousers: God, Physics, and the Gender War” by Margaret Wertheim


    There are interesting parallels concerning gender in philosophy and physics.

    • June 19, 2010 at 10:21 pm

      Baus, I just spent a while reading some of Wertheim’s articles and love her. I’ll have to check that book out, and The Pearly Gates of Cyberspace, too. Thanks for the recommendation.

      • June 20, 2010 at 2:33 am

        cool. btw, I meant my first sentence above to be a question (not a declarative statement). Forgot the ‘?’

  1. June 23, 2010 at 12:06 pm

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