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Is blogging (or commenting on blogs) a guy thing? And if so, why?

March 2, 2012
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Last week I had an exchange with Tom Murphy, organizer of the ABBAs online poll to find the best aid blogs, on the issue of gender and women bloggersblogging. Tom’s conclusion from the ABBAs was

‘The contest continued to tilt towards men. I really have little idea as to why. Possibly it has something to do with it being a largely academic field and maybe there are more men in the social sciences that deal with poverty alleviation (I have absolutely no data on hand for this and could be entirely wrong). There could be a gender bias. I am not sure.’

To which I replied ‘NSS (no sxxx Sherlock). A platform designed for people who love the sound of their own voice and think the rest of the world is dying to hear their opinion? Dominated by men? Well who’d have thought it… Even on the comments, I routinely get female colleagues emailing me their comments, rather than posting them. Drives me crazy.’

So I went back to my own blog and looked at some of the numbers. A readers’ survey (a bit old now, I really need to do a new one), actually came up with a 54%/46% split between men and women reading the blog. So very little gender difference on readership (or at least those responding to reader surveys). But skimming back through the last few weeks of comments and discounting comments from me, or people whose gender I could not identify, I got a 70/30 split in favour of men, which rather bears out my comments to Tom.

In terms of who writes (rather than comments on) blogs, there are many outstanding women bloggers, but the overall picture still feels very male. Some possible explanations:

• The snarky/aggressive edge to blogging is more likely to deter women than men (I have had this feedback from would-be commenters worried about being rubbished, but on the other hand, I know lots of women who are great at private snark – is there something about doing it publicly?)
• Men have more time on their hands – blogging with a beer late at night, when women are doing something more useful (you know, quilting and stuff)
• Blogging is actually a massive exercise in time-wasting egotism – women have got better things to do
• Aid and development are male-dominated, and so the blogs just reflect that (a look around Oxfam’s office suggests this isn’t true, but perhaps the blogging side is more dominated by the very male world of economists – Elinor Ostrom was the first woman ever to win of the Nobel economics prize in 2009)
• Blogs written by men (i.e. in this case me) get more male commenters for some reason – choice of topics, tone etc, (but that would seem to be contradicted by the even gender balance of readers).

I triangulated by consulting some top women development bloggers – here are a few thoughts

megaphone-girlClaire Melamed
“What I do find very interesting though is that the same is not true of Twitter.  One of the reasons I am such a fan is that women are much more vocal on twitter – not just in development, but also the journalists etc who I follow.  No idea why, since twitter is just as susceptible to snark as blogging – though it does take less time as you’re limited in what you can say, so it’s easier to combine with the 1001 other things that women are often doing at the same time.”

Alanna Shaikh
“I think that from a career perspective, it is far more important for women to be liked than it is for men. It’s the whole men are assertive/women are bitches problem. High-level public communications expose women to the same communications balancing act we also face in everyday life. Add to the mix that that the most engaging blogs aren’t nice, (They’re sharp, even mean. That’s what keeps people coming back. You, Chris, and Tom are exceptions. Think of Tales from the Hood, or Aid Watch) and it is very difficult for a woman to develop a blog that won’t wreck her career and is also worth reading. Now you know why I only post once a month.”

Deborah Brautigam
“There are tons of women bloggers on all sorts of subjects, so it’s not as though we as a group can be found knitting rather than blogging! For development blogs, I think the economics focus explains a lot. From what I can see, development as a field is tilted toward female participation, but development economics still attracts more men. Much less firm on this, but my gut sense is that there is something culturally male about the putting-oneself-out-in-front-of-the-public aspect of it all and being publicly critical — I do get more men than women commenting on my blog too, from what I can see — especially when it’s an issue with a vigorous debate, or a disagreement with something I’ve written.”

So let’s see who’d like to comment…..

A version of this post also appeared on the Huffington Post 


  1. Duncan, I don’t necessarily think there is a gender bias in the writing of blogs; but perhaps a gender bias in regards to popularity and who is ‘known’ and ‘heard’.

    32 of 50 our contributors to are female, and just as interestingly (and to be discussed more soon), 72% of 270 respondents to our peer coaching initiative are female.

    A few more suggestions I would include for female bloggers and writers:

    – Emily D’Ath

    -Akhila Kolisetty

    -Shana Montesol Johnston

    -Jennifer Lentfer

  2. It´s a nice light blog, but I feel like it´s just reinforcing gender stereotypes. I´m female and I don´t blog because I don´t enjoy it, that´s all. Everyone has different interests, and although blogging is an important platform, it´s not the ONLY platform to voice an opinion. Maybe instead of blogging, I´m reading, or talking in person to co-workers/random people about development issues.
    I´m just not into writing my own blog because I like to choose who I share my opinions with, and it doesn´t capture my interest. And I hate twitter, what a waste of time. Personally, I don´t think it has anything to do with the fact that I have lady parts. And also, I don´t think it´s necessarily negative that less women blog. If I don´t put a comment on your post does that mean I don´t have an opinion? Maybe I just want to share it at a more relevant time?

  3. Duncan, this post is uncharacteristically sexist! Are you really claiming that men, significantly more than women, are “people who love the sound of their own voice and think the rest of the world is dying to hear their opinion”; slackers with nothing to do in the evening but drink beer (while women “do something more useful”); and “time-wasting egotists”?

  4. An interesting question on the male/female blogging divide, so I have written a blog post on it:

    I would agree that female bloggers seem to be less confrontational than male and perhaps better at giving advice.
    I can think of some female academics in development theory whose blogs I would love to read if they had one! I think there is a general reluctance by academics (male and female) to blog and possibly risk their reputation, which I think is a shame as it makes academia seem all the more inaccessible.
    (And we do have even better things to do than quilting!)

  5. The dominance of male economists seems the biggest reason for the blog-writing disparity among the mnost popular blogs.

    How much is this is a generational issue too? Brendan’s observations from whydev are interesting since this represents (I think) a younger set of bloggers than the others. It would be interesting to see if other group blogs include more women than the individual blogs.

    Duncan, did you specifically ask your female colleagues who email you instead of posting comments why they do that?

    And no-one seems to have mentioned that the best development blog snark is surely the female team at Wronging Rights?

  6. I say: I love to discuss development in all its forms, learn about latest issues, listen to and exchange with others and even debate hotly and disagree (after all, I am Italian…). So yes to lurking and occasionally commenting.
    There is something in blogging as a platform for discussion, though, that is inherently hierarchical – the main argument and the topic are always set by the author(s), who also decides how to handle the comments. I think that is what instinctively draws me away and doesn’t tempt me to set up my own blog (the idea of constantly exposing one’s thoughts and exhibiting oneself also seems extremely tiring to me!).
    Maybe Twitter makes for a more horizontal kind of communication, and therefore more female-friendly? Oh, and by the way, please, please not the “there is no gender difference, these are all gender stereotypes, it depends on the individual” argument again!

  7. This point of view is reinforced by recent research into how boys and girls use facebook. I was amazed to see that teenage girls are much less chatty than tenage boys on facebook! : ‘ …Boys also seem to be more interested in updating their status and letting people know what they are up to than the girls, with boys being three times more likely to update their status. The girls tend to be spectators more than authors, preferring to ‘like’ rather than comment, and only update their Facebook status twice a week, on average, compared to the boys, who update their status daily’. So maybe it’s not just on blog sites where males ‘love the sound of their own voice and think the rest of the world is dying to hear their opinion’! PS – This is my first time commenting on this blog despite being a regular reader!

  8. Many women have trouble claiming our “expertise” in any one area, let alone claiming our voice, our space, or our rights. But do you know who doesn’t? Most of the “expert” voices we hear about all aspects of our lives are from an extremely narrow group—mostly western, white, privileged, Christian, and overwhelmingly male.

    The OpEd Project is an interesting attempt to change this. It is an initiative started by Catherine Orenstein to expand the range of voices we hear from in the world, with an immediate focus on increasing the volume of women thought leaders in the public sphere.

    In the U.S., 80-90% of OpEd pages are written by men, 84% of guests on Sunday morning political talk shows are men, and 85% of Hollywood producers and directors are men. In short, despite advances in the women’s movement, public conversations exclude many people.

    Why is this a problem? Clearly as a result of the lack of women and minorities in key forums, the public and our leaders are not getting the best information to make the best decisions.

    Thus, we have to ask—what is the cost to all of us when so many of the best minds and perspectives from the community-level are left out of navigating the paradox of development? Female or male, this is where we clearly need all the help we can get.

    Robert Chambers talks about the strong centripetal forces that draw resources and educated people into the ‘core’ where there is mutual attraction and reinforcement of power, prestige, resources, professionals, and the training to generate and disseminate information. What happens to the periphery then, especially when it’s those in the periphery that the development industry is trying to serve?

    This is a much bigger issue than whose aid blog is most popular.

  9. I don’t know what I’m adding here, but…

    I read most of my Blogs via RSS and I find most of my RSS feeds by searching, or Twitter profiles and looking at my feeds, writers are more evenly divided.

    I looked through 25 and 11 were written by women (I’m too lazy to look over all 500 feeds)

    Anyway, I’m wondering if there are almost as many Female bloggers, but they’re just not getting the same amount of attention.

    There are defintely more male commenters, but maybe that just means women are more relfective and men more reactive.

    I know I usually only comment if I violently disagree with the author, so maybe there’s more than a grain of truth in what Alanna says.

    As for Twitter… well it’s not really blogging at all — it’s more like a conversation, more like IRC in fact — and there has always been more gender equality on IRC.

    I don’t often indicate my gender when I comment, but in the interests of your survey, I’m an middle aged, working class white male :)

  10. Is writing reflective blogs on development a girl’s thing? And if so, am I really a female blogger?

    Because if I dig a bit deeper and include ‘female bloggers’ like Ian Thorpe, Ed Carr, myself or many non-economists and political scientists who write about development topics including social learning, stories and qualitative methodologies it becomes clear that these different perceptions are not simply divides across an easy ‘male/female’ blogging universe but more fundamentally about different approaches towards change, growth and professionalism that often don’t find their way into the mainstream of development (blogging). This doesn’t necessarily say that there aren’t any gender biases in blogging and commenting, but it depends to some extent on your own standpoint and your beliefs as to how development should be researched, represented, challenged and approached of how much of a ‘gender gap’ you will be able to find and acknowledge.

    Read my full response to Duncan here:

  11. Duncan
    You don’t need to be a development economist to write a development blog, and there are plenty of women political economists, so don’t think that’s it. Don’t agree with the snark thing either, or ego. There is something there about women not wanting to accept the reality of the need to market onesself. But mostly I think it’s to do with time/more women working part-time. Twitter much more useful platform for women for that reason.

  12. This is one way to get women to comment on blogs, it seems – so will distort your figures when you next do the analysis!

    I’ve written some blogs, tweet, and even commented on one of your previous posts – so not sure what that says about me…

    Doesn’t the proportion of m/f bloggers reflect the proportion of m/f who have the type of professional jobs that would involve blogging?

  13. Interesting post! I think it has nothing to do with dearth of women in these fields, but I do think it’s similar to the issue of women in the boardroom. As Sheryl Sandberg writes, why are there so few women CEOs? Partially, women are less likely than men to market themselves, make themselves known and be prominent. Sheryl Sandberg’s piece of advice to women is “Sit at the table.” Sadly, many women are less likely to do things such as speak up at important meetings (or sit at the table instead of in the side of the room!), raise their hand in an audience, or even negotiate for higher salaries. I think there is somewhat of a similar dynamic online, as women might be less likely to promote their work actively/loudly. Another point Sandberg makes is that success and likeability are positively correlated for men and negatively correlated for women. So I liked Alanna’s point that many women who are successful bloggers might not want to be as snarky, etc, because they don’t want to draw negative attention. And unfortunately the snarkiest blogs are the most popular of all.

  14. Claire Melamed says there are lots of comments on twitter, but unfortunately I can’t read them or reply as I’m not on it. Does this destroy my thesis, I wonder?

  15. I think it depends on the person posting. Some guys I know are avid bloggers and there are a few girls that I know of that will not touch a blog if their lives depended on it. It just depends on the person.

  16. We seem to keep having this same conversation over and over again. See this one from the IDB blog in January It’s not that the female bloggers aren’t out there, perhaps the ‘list makers’ (mostly male) aren’t seeking them out or respond more favorably to other male voices?

  17. All in all, a really interesting set of comments, and I’m glad I took the risk of posting on it. What emerges from the comments, apart from a great list of women bloggers on development?
    – the really interesting gender difference between twitter (horizontal, less time-consuming, more conversational) and blogs (vertical, soap box + hecklers)
    – also interesting that women might prefer to write on group blogs than individual blogs, although Global Dashboard is incredibly male, apart from Claire
    – in response to Stephen, I always ask female colleagues why they email rather than comment, and the usual answer is they didn’t feel brave enough/didn’t want to make fools of themselves/were worried they might say something wrong or stupid.
    – I was struck by Brittany ‘I like to choose who I share my opinions with’ as capturing the difference between blogging and other social media
    – and finally, a nice update on Robert Chambers’ question ‘who hold’s the stick’ is ‘who compiles the list’? Would it be a step forward or a step back if Tom Murphy added a ‘best woman blogger’ category to next year’s ABBAs?

  18. It’s all about what Neidi says: comments sections on the internet are expressions of relentlessly violent hostility. If you don’t have a little box to put the endless rape and death threats in, you can’t blog as a woman.

    Is this not known?

  19. I know I am late with this and we have already moved on to something else …so to those of you doing the stats:

    did anyone check how many of the men and how many of the women were posting and/or responding on matters of women’s rights and feminist concerns? mmmmm

  20. Well taking this blog as a totally unrepresentative sample, comments are currently running 14:6 in favour of women. But not quite sure what point you’re making here Ines -presumably that the gender and gender bias of the blogger influences the gender of the commenters? But in this blog’s case, that doesn’t quite fit with the roughly even split of readers.

  21. Also late to this as I work part time (Mondays I am busy quilting and stuff). I’ve been writing a personal blog for nearly 10 years… when I started out it was a geeky thing to do, then it went more mainstream, and a lot of my favourite blogs were by women. One in particular was full of quirky, oblique posts written by someone who had experienced domestic violence when she was younger. I ended up getting to know her IRL (in real life) and we drank a lot of beer and talked about how our blogs gave us a voice. I still think that’s true, in that you can create a slight (or in the case of the not-actually-gay, not-actually-a-girl in Damascus, significant) alter ego to inhabit and speak from, but as Neidi and Michael mention, the blogosphere is a lot more intimidating now than it was five years ago, and there is a tremendous amount of virulent misogyny out there that you risk attracting — if you want to avoid it, the best thing is to not have many readers. I still blog, and I’m lucky that I haven’t had much trolling to deal with, but I’m not sure I’d start now.
    I am speaking from the point of view of blogging about personal views and experience, rather than professional ones (which in my case would be knowledge management rather than development economics), but I think a lot of the same head-and-parapet arguments apply. Most of the people who comment on my blog are men, and always have been, and, like you, I tend to get comments from women by email — some of them saying ‘are you sure it’s wise to write about that on the internet?’
    Re: the Twitter phenomenon, I agree that it’s quicker and easier and lighter and more ‘social’ — and I do it all the time, and it’s supplanted my blogging to a large degree. It’s a good way to take the temperature on something, and it’s a good way to crowdsource, and great for current awareness, but I’m not sure it’s a great place for debate, as the conversation stream moves past at such a great rate. I’d never reply to a tweet that was four days old, I probably wouldn’t even reply to one that was four hours old… and I think blogging is still a powerful and relevant medium, if we can only keep it a civil space.

  22. Did you finally take up on Claire’s suggestion – because its great to see you on Twitter (which is where I saw this post and have been drawn in to comment on it).

    Would agree that tweeting works much better for me – more efficient, multi-taskable and engaging! Maybe it’s not just gender, but also age 😉

    1. Now that is a low blow, Lysa! I do keep meaning to start using twitter, but can’t quite bring myself to get round to it (hours in the day and worried about impact on my already shrinking concentration span). So for the moment it’s just robo-tweets of the headlines of each blogpost. But now I’ve realised that not tweeting makes me part of the patriarchy (as well as a sign of old age), I may have to finally get round to it…..

  23. I mean, “hearing women’s voices” has been an age-old problem. Its not new. In publishing, in science, in the classroom, and now in development and twitter.

    There’s lots of buckets one can toss this into: busy+caretaker, No notoriety to burn, the patriarchy, women are emotional and not factual women aren’t as good at self promotion, women don’t have jobs worthy of street cred (and other assumptions)… the list goes on.

    Some days I might be knitting, or quilting (hush now!) And I think Jo set on an interesting point… that blogs give women a voice. It was a low-risk opportunity. And then the stakes got higher, and the voices became slicker, got book deals, got speaking tours, and our little voices didn’t seem so significant. Or in my case, the amount of time I spent in self promotion, meant that my relationships with people (instead of pixels) felt less real. So I cooled it a bit… And silence is the end of identity on the internet.

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