Jeff Jarvis of BuzzMachine points up some very interesting statistics from a Pew Internet and American Life study [pdf] [here's a quick look at the demographics] Note that 58% of women go online.
If you look at the daily trends, 13% of the people with internet access log on to look for political news, more than the 11% who do log on to do some online banking. (Does a PayPal transaction count as online banking?) (It's very interesting data on the Pew website, worth digging through.)
It's not that bad of a figure -- especially when it's almost certain to go up. (Or perhaps that's a misreading of the trends. I realize it's quite possible that the 13% figure will not budge as more people people spend more time in the new media. Not for nothing that news divisions are struggling with low ratings.) One can hope.
Does this mean that the net can be a powerful online tool for feminism? To me, the answer is "yes." The web is a great way for people who cannot get away from home, or from their social circle, or from their region to reach out and connect with others. And if Faith Popcorn has it right, we women seek connections more than men do, and we thrive when our connections are strong. What better tool for building connections than the hyperlinked, trackbacked, pingbacked, xml'd web?
Kameron of Brutal Women writes in response to the poll:
My favorite was using blogs to reach people. But as much as I love the idea of blogging as being a bit like consciousness-raising groups ("You mean it's not just me?"), there's a big problem with it:
The internet isn't free. It's not in everybody's home, and unless you have broadband or wireless internet, reading or creating blogs is pretty much a hopeless cause. You'll never be able to keep up. If you're savvy, you might create your own newsfeed of favs so you don't have to visit each every morning, but that means a couple of Saturdays spent with a sloooooooowwww dial-up connection trying to find blogs (probably initially starting with google and moving on to blogrolls from there). You've gotta have the leisure time, which means people who work 12 hours a day (not at a cooshy office job like mine where I can screw off) and then put in a second shift with kids and housework aren't going to have the time to do it.
...which is a good point. There are so many women who just do not have the time or resources to spend time online. And any web sojourner who's taken care of kids knows that being online can kind of seize all of your attention to a point where you really don't know what the kids are up to -- not a problem with TV, especially the tripe on TV these days.
Yet there are so many others who are reachable -- especially teens, who aren't exactly free to go to a local feminist political organization. Heck, who is free to do that?
We do see a lot of focus on the question of "Where are the women bloggers?" Clancy of Culture Cat has started compiling a list of blogs discussing gender and blogging. If you look at the list, you find very quickly a number of thoughtful, thought-provoking, well-written pieces just from a few people. One wonders about all the smart gals (and guys) out there whom she (and onseself) have not yet read. Surely our universe is not so small. We're talking more than half the population here.
I suspect that there are a number of women out there writing some very insightful stuff on feminist issues -- but without tagging it as feminism, or labeling themselves as feminists. (Oh, that darned f-word!) A woman writes about the boss who keeps coming on to her. Another blogs about driving around at 10pm trying to find a gas station that looks safe enough for her to stop. A snarky gal describes all the space some men take up on the subway. Big things, little things, all adding up to a picture of the ways male privilege colors our lives -- and sometimes oppresses us.
Connections! We need connections! Tie it all together!
And we need men to get a clue and get involved. Many try, some succeed. Alas, many end up just doing the manly thing and just take over the issue for themselves. After encountering just such an experience, Amanda at Mouse Words writes:
Feminism isn't just an intellectual exercise, it's a reality that men need to confront and now. It's one thing to say that women are as smart as men; it's another entirely to act like you believe it. If you are a blogger and you believe it, you act on that belief. You link to women, you promote feminism, you *gasp* concede that a woman occasionally thinks of something first. You quit thinking that "women's issues" are secondary things. Nothing that affects more than half the population is a minor issue.
Of course, there's always the risk of homophily, a blogging tendency Kieran raises at Crooked Timber:
Within the blogosphere homophily may explain a lot. The tendency for like to associate with like, or for â€œsimilarity to breed connectionâ€? is a very general social process. Similarity on various dimensions might predict who you read and link to on your blog. With respect to gender, it might be that men are more likely to link to men and women to women, if only because (to begin with) youâ€™re more likely to be acquainted with someone of the same sex as you. The blogs youâ€™re likely to discover will be influenced by this process. The composition of the blogosphere will look very different to people in different parts of it as a result. (This is likely to lead to shouting matches of the â€œWell I havenâ€™t seen anything like thatâ€? variety.)
--which is all very interesting and rings true. (But I have to say that, unless men are involved, I haven't seen anything like those shouting matches!) --erm, anyway....
Yes, if we're not careful, if we're not open to engaging others, we can all end up just connecting with each other in a circular matrix, locked tight like a noble gas -- able to glow when surging with power (like the most beautiful neon) but ultimately is nonreactive with other elements.
When it comes to feminism in our society in general, sometimes it seems that way. Here we are, scarcely 85 years with even the right to vote, with Roe's being dissembled ruling by ruling, bill by bill, with teen pregnancy at appalling levels, with rapes happening so often that universities actively work to hide the statistics from the public and the students, with women making, what, 78% of men in the workplace -- and feminism does not rate with the Democratic National Committee, is not mentioned at all by the corporate media, is mocked and attacked in the blogosphere, and is treated with suspicion, mistrust and resentment in our schools and universities.
To the latter point, Laura at 11D brings up the recent Chronicle of Higher Education article that details the difficulties of women in academia, a place where presumably people should know better. Unfortunately anti-feminism still seems to be the spirit du jour, as Laura points out, quoting some ... interesting ... responses to the article in the Chronicle's colloquia:
in their Colloquy section gave this bit of useful advice:
Let me conclude with some advice to new female PhDs looking for employment. It is an immediate---and I do mean immediate---turnoff when your cover letter starts out with
"I am a female applicant...."
We on the faculty are tired of having to deal with the AA office and their stupid requirements. Starting out your cover letter with this wording just throw it into the face of the faculty---and they resent it. Start your cover letter with this and believe me when I say you will automatically go into the REJECT pile.
Another commenter adds:
Oh geez, not yet another inane hand-wringing session on the lack of women in the academy. Why do we have to endure this pity party year after year? Puhleeez.
Discrimination against women in the academy (and frankly, anywhere else in Western society) is a non-issue. In fact, contemporary women in First World societies are the most pampered, spoiled and privileged people in human history.
Yes, all academics are frothing-at-the-mouth, knee jerk, crazed liberals.
Judging by my own experiences in academia, and the attitudes expressed by my father the liberal professor, my impression is that the article is dead accurate and these commenters are somewhat representational. One of the biggest challenges we feminists face, I believe, lies right in our midst: the self-proclaimed, and often self-contratulatory, liberal male's entrenched perceptions of the world. (Before the good men jump all over my case, please note that I do not mean all liberal men, nor that all such men are liberal.) Aside from a few classes in "gender studies," the university classroom is not going to prove to be an environment to hone feminist thought -- at least not without active opposition.
Then again, maybe opposition and ignorance are what we should expect to face in any context. Lindsay at Majikthise puts it best:
As long as you want to talk to people who don't share your basic premises, you've got to keep explaining yourself. It's not just feminists who have to keep explicating. Anyone who has radical beliefs is in the same position: atheists, Darwinists, act utilitarians, aesthetic minimalists, libertarians, gun nuts--anyone. If you didn't question the conventional wisdom, you wouldn't be a radical.
Thus (to bring all this to a close) I ask rhetorically:
With issues such as women's rights and feminism, which seem to be so sorely misunderstood by so many men and (shockingly) so many women, what better format outside of a seminar for people to explain, explore and take exception than the blogosphere? The medium of the net seems to be a natural for this kind of deep, subtle and often controvertial subject matter. It gives us tools to connect, and the means to engage others in dialog without smirks, raised voices and repeated glances at our breasts. It provides us the means to get into the subject further than commonly possible in the casual coffee convo, while providing the chance to interact and engage each other with immediacy not possible with essays, academic papers, articles and letters to the editor.
But don't take my word for it. After all, I'm just a girl, what could I know? So I turn to a greater authority....
This is America, where the mythos of "the market is king" (king?) is assumed to validate all decisions, from the fats that saturate McDonald's food to the tastes of our beloved Manolo. And so, looking to the marketplace, we discover what the advertisers have learned: that women are indeed going online. Kirsten at re:invention reports:
If you are looking to reach women online, I suggest you think beyond iVillage. Earlier this year, a Yahoo! and Starcom MediaVest Group study found that the Internet is the leading media choice among women, proposing a 8-category Female Internet User Profile System (Cassandra, Cowgirl, Debutante, Detective, Diva, Shopkeeper, Socialite and Voyeur [Someone could write a dissertation just on that breakdown, I think. -mg]). While men may be spending more online than women, women are "surchers," doing a mix of surfing and searching on favorite sites. In addition to shopping, home/family and health/beauty sites, the study found that news, financial services and games also top the list of online destinations for women.
[Note: Internal links within the original post.]
In other words, we here -- online, writing and reading blogs -- are onto something. Even if interactivity were not considered the future all-thing for media, this realm we currently call the blogosphere (sorry, Kieran, not all new words are epitomes of cultural pith and poetic c00lness, alas) holds a lot of promise for us.
And so, 40 years after Timothy Leary, I offer this: Log on. Link in. Trackback.