Saturday, February 24, 2007

BlueNC Women on Wednesdays

This was written for BlueNC. Please join in the conversation there.

As many of you have heard or read via Pam's House Blend, cskendrick, Anglico, Matt Stoller, Screwy Hoolie and Matt Hill Comer, in January there was a gathering in Raleigh at the Democratic Party Headquarters of a small group of North Carolina Bloggers. We met with NCDP Chair, Jerry Meek, Schorr Johnson(NCDP Communications Director), Matt Stoller(, Tim Cullen (Dodd for President), NC Senator Jim Harrell, III and Congressman Brad Miller to discuss the role of blogs in politics, how we do or might influence news in the corporate media and how we can help further the cause of progressive politics in North Carolina.

At one point during the meeting, Matt Stoller asked why there are so few minorities using blogs to reach their audiences. He posed the question to the group, but directed it particularly to Pam Spaulding, the only minority in the room and one of only three women. Pam responded that he was asking the wrong person. Pam is a professional. Her African American peers have computers and use the internet. The conversation hovered around the men at the front of the room and I don't believe the question was ever fully answered, if answered at all.

Seeking a solution to what many see as a problem is not as simple as you might think. There is no band-aid fix as people like Francis Holland would have you believe. Simply adding a link to your blogroll or a face to your front page isn't going to provide long-term solutions.

It's true that the number of African Americans using the internet is growing, however, there is still a large part of the community that does not use the internet for political activism. I realize not all African American writers direct their message to other African Americans, however, traditional political activists probably consider the minority community a large part of their target group. If their purpose is political outreach and they aren't going to reach their audience by blogging, they aren't going to blog.

Within most political blog communities women are also underrepresented. BlueNC's own Leslie H had this to say about a large contingency of women(moms) and their ability to find time for online activism:
I can blog the little I do only because my children are grown, 20 and 17. They are and always will be my heart and my first priority, but they are so amazingly incredibly mature, intelligent and good that now I have time for reading and thinking and writing. Up until a few years ago, the reading of political matters was a challenge, the thinking about purely political matters couldn't be done in stretches and the writing about political matters was out of the question.

Mothers, single or not, know the drill all too well; Raising the next generation is the most honorable of work. Indeed, there is none more important. But raising good people does not translate into anything immediately tangible to the outside world, like pay or publishing or recognition. We must either be wealthy enough to hire help or wait for our children to gradually grow into caring for themselves before our attention can be turned to other matters, like blogging.
The above is probably true for all caregivers, male or female. Women, though, continue to fill the role of caregiver far more often than men. This is only one reason women make up a smaller portion of the communities at the different political blogs, but it's a big one.

I've heard over the past year that communities at political blogs, especially at MyDD, are around 80 - 85% white and 65 - 70% males. DailyKos might have a different ratio, but most other big national blogs that I frequent seem to follow that ratio - especially among commenters. I wanted to find a way to start changing this ratio and to start from the roots up. Our front page and the front pages at sites like Scrutiny Hooligans, MyDD and Swing State Project reflect the face of political blogging. It is what it is. You don't change that by sticking more women and minorities on the front page and calling it a day. The problem goes much deeper than that and it takes more effort than that to bring about a solution. If you aren't willing to really put in the effort, then no amount of changes to front page ratios is going to change the face of the blogosphere.

The owners, front page writers and the women at BlueNC have been working together to come up with a plan that will hopefully take a baby step in changing the face of our blogging audience.

Knowing that we weren't going to add a writer to our front page group at BlueNC any time in the near future, I wanted to find a way to give women here a little bigger soapbox. I never once felt that women were ignored, belittled or undervalued in any way at BlueNC. That wasn't my motivation. I simply felt that shining a brighter spotlight every now and then might encourage other women to come out of lurk mode and speak up. This includes women of all skin colors.

This coming Wednesday, BlueNC will host our first, "BlueNC Women on Wednesdays". It will be a day off for our regular front page writers as we highlight our women on the front page during most of the day. Men are certainly welcome to post and comment, however we ask that the front page remain reserved for our women between 10am and 4pm.

In discussing BlueNC Women on Wednesdays, the three site owners and I agreed that the entire approach and feel of the day should be different. Not just posts on women's issues, but a woman's perspective. Not just women writing posts that typically show up on BlueNC. No need to bump the regulars from posting for that. It needed to have a different feel and tone. The post topics are up to the writer, but we will try to vary them. I will not write for the front page, but will facilitate the moving of posts to the front page and will help moderate. The posts will also be timed and planned as opposed to the unstructured feel we currently enjoy.

As I said, the purpose is to highlight our women as a means to bring more women out of lurk mode and attract more women to the conversation. Lance said it better than I ever could:
Affirmative action -- The program as I understand it would tend, over time, to improve and increase the overall participation of those who are a part of it. By focusing this toward women, the program may shift the overall balance of participation towards a more even male/female balance.


Lab research -- My hope is that Women on Wednesdays will give us a glimpse into what a BlueNC with more ovaries than we have had on any given day would look like. Women draw conclusions about the world differently than men, and communicate differently, too. Is there something about BlueNC that makes it more inviting to men, resulting in sexism by selection? Is there something that we can learn about the site (which was designed and deployed by men in a disproportionately male context) by having the guys sit it out for a day a week? I suspect that there is, and I'm thrilled at the opportunity to find out.
How does this attract minorities? BlueNC WoW does not, in and of itself, bring minorities into the community. That will take more active outreach. Starting tomorrow I will highlight blogs written by African Americans, hopefully blogs in North Carolina, and will challenge each of you to reach out to minorities in your community to invite them to BlueNC. Let them know we're trying to change the face of online activism and to enrich our conversations. I will do the same thing for blogs written by women.

This isn't about who is writing on the front page at BlueNC or other political blogs. It's about changing the ratio of the community in the blogosphere and that doesn't happen by simply inviting people here once. The outreach is much more energy and time intensive. Pointing fingers and placing blame isn't going to solve any problems, but that seems to be all some people do. I plan to take a more active role and I challenge each of you to do the same.

Some of you will think this is a bad idea - that it won't accomplish anything. Some will thing it's patronizing. It may very well turn out to be a bad idea and it may very well be patronizing. All I'm asking is that you give it a chance. I'm also asking that if you choose to criticize, you back up your criticism with a better solution.

It is my sincere hope that we will wind up attracting so many women and minorities to BlueNC that we won't need a special day for anybody. Everyone will feel welcome. Everyone will feel encouraged. Everyone will feel that their voice is important.

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