Monday, April 13, 2009

Gender and Blogging

The Gender and Technology blog with the Berkman Center for Internet and Society has posted an interesting note on Arab female bloggers:

And while there are certainly well-known female bloggers discussing issues unique to women, many female bloggers in the Arab world face a unique challenge: to speak out about women’s issues often means going against the grain of family and society.
Still, for those who do, blogging is a potentially liberating experience.

Yet, in spite of this, the post proposes that many Arab female bloggers are getting out of the bloggosphere, mainly because blogging is constructed as a 'masculine' (made me wonder what exactly is meant here by 'masculine' - is it a male practice, like in saying 'men are interested in politics'; or is it a practice shaped by particular values associated with masculinity, like in saying 'men are rational'?). A Libyan blogger adds a new layer of explanation: women who blogged were probably reprimanded by family and friends for doing this, so they either opted out of the bloggosphere or restricted their blogs 'by invitation only'.

There's one argument I often hear: that the bloggosphere - or the internet for that matter - is a safe space. As if the 'safety' is a feature of the space. But it is not. What makes a place safe is not its physical characteristics, but the people and social structures inhabiting it.

First, a blogger is never fully safe - the precise location of your averagely tech-skilled blogger is easy to pinpoint. Furthermore, should the blogger subscribe to the many various services that aggregate your digital traces, the blogger's identity may be inadvertently disclosed. Say you have a Facebook account to keep up with your friends. You list your blog there, thinking it's only them who have access to it. But you forgot to set your privacy settings - and a simple search by either name or blog may bring that info up. There are also things you cannot control: say a friend adds you to her blogroll, but instead of using your blog's name, she uses your real name.

But there's yet another way in which the blog is never fully safe: it has to do with the emotional involvement in building your digital life. In many cases, the comments people post may be supportive, pleasant and educational. Yet, in many other cases - and particularly in the case of posts about gender relations - the comments are stereotyped, destructive and even hateful. If you think you're safe from such comments just because nobody knows who you are, that they won't mean anything just because you're blogging from the comfort of your couch or bedroom, you've probably never blogged. The emotional toll such comments may take on you is almost never discussed by researchers. Maybe because it's deemed as a 'feminine' trait?

I think many of our biases in approaching blogging stem from the fact that we get blindsided by its so-called 'empowering potential'. We forget to ask ourselves exactly whom we want (or think of being) empowered and what are we missing because of this assumption. We also tend to think that blogs will collectively contribute to the advance of democratic, liberal and tolerant values. Again, we forget to question the assumption that if people have the means to express themselves, they will participate in the rational public sphere and reveal themselves as critical thinkers. This assumption is closely connected to that of 'understanding via information': let there be information, which will allegedly reveal the 'truth', and there will be mutual understanding, acceptance and ultimately a redress of oppression. Such assumptions are in great need of more deconstruction, particularly in the social construction of new communication technologies.

Photo credits: bohPhoto

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