22 October 2007

In which I get dragged into the Battle of the Sexes

From 'Slutty McWhore' in the Comments of this week's Roundup:

Perhaps I won’t go so far as to say that the Scottish Roundup guys are sexist but they, and countless men like them, are guilty of ignoring the female point of view and the way in which women express themselves. Like it or not, women do express themselves differently to men, and we dowrite about/care about different topics. Whether that’s nature or nurture, I don’t know, but it is a fact.

I can't speak for Duncan, who will speak for himself if he thinks it's worth it, but here's my take, as one of the 'Scottish Roundup guys'.

What does the Roundup focus on? Primarily, Scottish political blogs.

Is it true that more men are featured than women on the Roundup? Undeniably, yes.

Is this a problem? No, it is a symptom of a wider problem.

The fact is, it can't just be a case of us being male chauvinist pigs: IndyGal was doing the Roundup, she was preparing it all day, and she couldn't find enough posts by women bloggers to justify a full roundup using only posts by women, as she admits. So there's more going on than us snubbing women. The problem is wider: either there are fewer women blogging than men on the subject, or there are more women blogging but they haven't yet come to our attention. Both of these problems can be fixed, but not by us.

If the problem is that few women are blogging, then I would say this to every woman who reads Scottish political blogs and wants to see more women taking to their keyboards: don't wait for someone else, do it yourself. Bloggery is not like politics, which is undeniably a male field - look at the House of Commons and you can sense the testosterone bouncing off the walls. This undoubtedly puts women off - primarily because men and women do, indedd, communicate differently. I am already aware of this: as I recall, it was Janet Holmes who said that men were 'public speakers' and women were 'private speakers'. In other words, men are good as grandstanding and confrontation; women are better at empathy and conversation. Anne's findings on Sunday bear this out to a degree. Where the blogosphere differs is that as long as you have a computer and internet connection, you can take part if you wish. Politics depends on being selected by a party or being nominated by enough people, then getting voted in. Bloggery depends on signing up with Blogger or Wordpress. I did this two years ago, out of boredom, to pass a few minutes.

If the problem is that we haven't encountered the blogs yet, then I would say this: we can't be everywhere, we can't find everything if we don't necessarily know where to look - the Scottish blogosphere isn't as small as Slutty McWhore thinks and the Internet is a big place - and we tell people how to nominate blogs and posts. Take advantage of that, get the free publicity!

And we do have plenty of women bloggers who have something to say about politics, so I won't be told that women just don't do politics: this blog links to women Prospective Westminster Candidates, it links to women Councillors, it links to women activists. Women do politics. That is a fact, and it is reflected in the fact that these blogs exist. The problem is that fewer women seem to do politics than men. We can hardly be blamed for that.

So, when I'm doing the Roundup, what do I do? Do I go for gender balance, or do I try to reflect the demographics of bloggers? In fact, the answer is neither. I pick the posts that get my attention - gender doesn't come into it. I do get insecure if I only find arguments and opinions from one side of a debate, but apart from that, I pick the posts that I notice. I go through my blogroll on a Saturday night, link by link, picking out the best things that people have said. Duncan e-mails me his suggestions - I return the favour when he does it, and in any case, we've usually picked a similar group of posts - and if I remember, I check the GMail account (scottishroundup@gmail.com) and posts that are sent to that are not ignored, that is a key policy of the Roundup, as if we vetoed links from that, there'd be no point in having it. Nothing else matters. And seeing as there appear to be more male political bloggers than female, logic dictates that, yes, there will be more men in my Roundup. It's not a snub to women, it's a reflection of the fact that there are more posts by men to draw from.

I'm gay, and left-handed: the latter is actually more responsible for discrimination and difficulty in my life than the former. But both those things do mean that I have strong support for equal opportunities. However, the conclusion I have come to is that it serves no one to have a quota system for everything, ensuring that n% of any group is from Group X, even if that means we have to turn away people from Group Y whose presence would be valuable but simply belong to a group that is already well-represented. No, I take 'equal opportunities' in its most literal sense: that everyone, regardless of gender, orientation, race or religion, has an equal opportunity of progression and is considered on their merits. When I do the Roundup, that kicks in: if a man posts something worth reading, it goes in, even if the last 10 posts I linked to are by men; if a woman posts something worth reading, it goes in.

Do we ignore the female point of view? The fact that we link to women when they post something that gets our attention - which is a lot of the time - and that we have women bloggers who could be considered stalwarts of the Roundup would show that to be false. Is there a 'female point of view', anyway? The fact that I can link to women of all of the Big 4 political parties and women of no party should call that into question. Basically, when women have something to say, I listen, and to be blunt, Slutty McWhore is wrong. Of course there's scope for me to link to more women, but for that to happen, there need to be more women to link to.

PS Why does she rail against sexism, then lump Duncan and me in with 'countless men'? Isn't gender-based stereotyping sexism?


Slutty McWhore said...

Right, OK, OK, I concede that it was unfair of me to suggest (and "suggest" was only what I did) that you or Duncan might be sexist (but, to be honest, I'm glad I did, as at least it provoked an intelligent, thoughtful response from you).

What concerned me more was Lab Rat's comment, which rubbished the first (as far as I can tell) "Roundup" by a woman, and seemed symptomatic of a wider problem. No wonder there aren't more women bloggers if they're shot down as soon as their open their mouth (or put a finger on their keyboard)!

Perhaps you would find more women bloggers if you broadened your definition of what is actually "political".

Will said...

Thanks for your comment - I felt it was worth answering your point, if only because concerns have to be answered. Now, either we do that by making changes or by defending how things are going at the moment. On this score, I feel that things are going OK, whereas Anne's initial e-mail got us thinking that maybe a 'Women's Week' was a way forward. And who better to do it than the woman who got us thinking about it?

To be honest, there is a good deal of confronatation in the blogosphere and sadly, there are going to be people like Lab Rat who do slag off people for taking part. Frankly, regardless of whether or not he's sexist, he's clearly a troll and as such can more or less be dismissed as an occupational hazard.

We have had Roundups done by women before - though not many, admittedly - and they've not been on the wrong end of comments like that, leading me to suspect that Lab Rat is just a troll or is someone who knows Anne and thinks this is amusing and clever. Either way, he isn't worth it.

To be honest, the definition is probably, "what issues are people talking about?", so maybe 'political' isn't the word... 'current affairs' might come closer, and even then, as the weeks have passed, there's been extra stuff in there: reflections on the Internet, the media, music, and just things that have raised our eyebrows, so things have got more diverse.

The fact that the Election has been and gone has helped that, I think - remember that when the Roundup was started, Scotland was six months away from the Holyrood Election, so political bloggery was gathering momentum. Now, especially with a Westminster election ruled out for two years, things are easing off a little and it's only natural that people will discuss other things.

Mark McDonald said...

I write about personal day-to-day stuff all the time. It never makes it onto the Roundup, so chances are nobody reads it.

I think this is one of them "mountains out of molehills" scenarios...

Bag said...

Will, a good post.

I'm all for picking articles based on merit. Can you imagine the outcry if you did a male only blog round up. But as usual a womans only one is perfectly OK.

So if you are going to do a womans week as suggested, we also need a corresponding mens week. To balance it out. Then we need a gay mans week and a lesbian week,(Why do gay girls get their own name btw and males are just gay?) followed by a blind persons week and a barely literate week. Yes, I might get a slot in there but by that time I, andmany others, won't be reading the roundups so will never find out.

Keep to picking them on merit and don't ruin what is a good format, until now anyway.

Slutty McWhore said...

Will, I do think there needs to be a "Woman's Week" for the sole reason that it would make your site more "attractive" to women. Whether the guys who contribute to the Roundup are sexist or not, the fact remains that when a woman comes to your site she notices two things:

(1)The vast majority of the bloggers are male who apparently also seem to know each other in the "real world".

(2) You all write about very factual stuff i.e. you're commenting on the week's political events and giving your opinion.

There is nothing wrong with either of these things, but I will tell you this - it certainly didn't make me want to contribute anything. I personally don't want to read/write about factual stuff, but would much rather learn about how the week's political events affect real people and real lives. In other words, as Indygal suggested women often do, I would much rather get more personal, but I didn't feel there was any space for my opinion on your site because I thought it would not be in sync with the tone of the other pieces.

You may put that down to my own individual confidence levels, but I actually do think that this is a gender issue because, since the Enlightenment, "reason" has always been preferred over "feeling". For thousands of years, philosophers have argued that women were not "rational" like them and so our "emotional" opinions were discounted.

As I said, I also think that a "broadening" of the term political would attract more women to your site. I'm not especially interested in political facts, but I amvery much interested in Scottish literature, music, culture and, of course, these things are ALL linked. Take, for example, the book sitting on my desk right now - "Gender in Scottish History since 1700". One of the authors, Lynn Abrams, states in the introduction how "the book was conceived at the start of the new millennium, in the wake of Scottish devolution and the opening of the Scottish parliament. These events simulated new interest and investment in Scotland's past, and Scottish historians rose to the occasion [...]"(2). So many things are affected by the political climate in Scotland at any given time, and your site would be more diverse and more interesting if it made much more room for views reflecting this.

You have also said, Will, that you don't know how to change the fact that there are not very many women political bloggers. You said - and I believe you - that you will consider all bloggers, irrespective of their gender, who submit their blog to the site. However, this is rather a passive stance on your part, don't you think? Ultimately the tone of the site ("masculine", very factual) probably keeps women away who don't see it as "their" space (OK, I'm extrapolating from my own experience here, but this does perhaps explain why there are so few women political bloggers).

You also say that there is no need to change the format of the site because "things are going OK" but how many men, Will, have said that throughout the centuries because the status quo was convenient for them? I'm not accusing you of sexism here but I do want to make you see that there are people who do not think it is OK, and who do want change.

My proposals for this would be:
(1) A "Woman's Week"
(2) A broader, more diverse site.

I don't think that a blog should be included just because the writer happens to have a vagina. Of course, inclusions should be based solely on merit. But until you change the climate of the site, you are not going to find enough women to include.

As for you, Bag, are you actually serious?! Are you winding me up?! Surely someone can't be that stupid?! Your comment barely merits a response but I will respond, anyway.

The Scottish Roundup would be far from the first entity to devote itself briefly to women's issues if it decided to have a women's week. I'm looking right now at my bookshelf:

(1)The Norton Anthology of Literature by WOMEN.
(2)Contemporary Scottish WOMEN writers.
(3) A History of Scottish WOMEN writers.

There are other books devoted to those pesky minorities who dare to rear their heads and annoy (no doubt) white men like you:

(1) The Norton Anthology of African American literature.
(2) The Literature of Lesbianism.

I even have a large volume, edited by Douglas Gifford, called "Scottish Literature". Perhaps, Bag, you would just prefer it if Scottish Literature got subsumed in a book about "British" Literature. That's what happens here in the States, anyway. Irish Literature is its own separate subject but Scottish Literature always gets lumped in the "British" category. (It was the same thing when I was in school in Scotland. I barely got taught any Scottish literature....Now that would be a political article for the site, I think!)

The point is, Bag (and I can't believe that I even have to tell you this. Still suspect you're winding me up) is that certain people's voices get silenced, and sometimes they need their own separate forum to reverse that trend. And people with your point of view hihglight all the more why there is a need for that.

As for ironic comment that there should be a "gay week". Well, why not?! Just a week or so ago I read an article in The Sunday Herald which was about hate crimes against gay people. One victim mentioned the attack he experienced in Glasgow, and went on to say how he never experienced such prejudice in London. His words were ""Scotland's got to catch up with the rest of the country and it helps having positive examples of homosexuality and bisexuality in the media." I think it would be pretty damn interesting if there was a gay week where the LGBT community could tell us what their experiences were like (Will?). Again, this, for me at least, would be very much a political thing.

Anonymous said...

Like it or not, women do express themselves differently to men, and we dowrite about/care about different topics.

True enough, but it's not the fault of the male sex that women are generally more interested in buying shoes and watching Eastenders than blogging, now is it?

Mark McDonald said...

Will, is it just me or are you getting flashbacks to the debate which raged about a women's IV during our debating days?!?

Bag said...


I was going to write a comprehensive reply to your post but with my dull male chauvinistic brain I was unable to string the words together.

The mere fact you have those books on your bookshelf says enough to me about the axe you came prepared to grind. I don’t have books on how the way women should be put in their place or they will ruin our society or anything. Personally I love women, they are my favourite humans, and have no axe to grind either way in the matter. I actually read women’s blogs and a couple are among my favourites. I have looked though and they mainly seem to be US or Oz based with no Scottish ones that I can see. Of course that is my fault because of err…. well…... it’s just my fault and I need put in my place.

I am a simple man. Most men are. All I want to do is read articles that interest me. The Scottish Blogging Roundup provides links that do. I don’t read Women’s weekly because it doesn’t.

So why don’t you go away and set up your own sub set and call it the Scottish Women’s Blogging Roundup or something. Then you can put in it what you want. Then men will be too intimidated to write anything for it. That should make you happy.

I will actually read it if you do. If it doesn’t meet my criteria of interesting then I will stop just exactly the same as I will stop reading the Scottish Blogging Roundup if it becomes uninteresting. I don’t read Steam Train Monthly or whatever either because it doesn’t interest me not because it’s written by women.

In the meantime I will write to Women’s weekly and whine about how it doesn’t seem to cater for the average man and they should change it to do so. I’ll let you know how I get on.

Will said...

In response:

Mark - no, it's not just you! And of course, the reason it fell apart is that most women were horrified at the idea of needing an IV of their own and wanted to compete - and win - against the guys.

Slutty McWhore - I'm slightly perplexed. A "Women's Week" is what we tried this week, and IndyGal felt it wasn't viable. The fact is, after her initial e-mail we thought that she may have a point and a special might be worth considering. We tried what you asked already, and that's why this has all started. Secondly, what you say about the blogospehere is one of the ways that blogging spreads! X has a blog, he shows his friends, Y and Z. They start a blog. Y tells his friends and Z tells hers. They start blogs, and so on. That's responsible for the Glasgow SNP bloggers - male and female. And the Edinburgh Labour bloggers - male and female.

Secondly, 'factual stuff' is the news, current events, things that affect us. We don't focus solely on which MSP sneezed during a debate on Members' Allowance, but on the whole gamut of politics from the process to all the issues - whether they're written by a man or woman. And plenty of it is written by women. And we do cover other stuff as well, actually, we do cover the media, we do cover music, we do cover sport. We lead with politics, but other things are discussed.

If you want to change the content of the site, then please, please, please, recommend links using the form. That's why it's there. We can't invent blogs and posts for the site. We can't select posts we don't know are there. You can do more about this than I can, frankly. All we can do is reflect what we see, so point us in the right direction. Simple as.

On an LGBT Roundup - not by me, not today, not next week, not ever. Firstly I only blog about LGBT issues when they're the big story, and posts on the issue do get in when it's got people blogging. However, it may surprise you to learn that I don't do and say everything 'as a gay man'. Of course it affects a lot in my life, but only when it's pertinent, when it's relevant, or when it is a factor in something, do I say so. Otherwise, I act 'as a voter', 'as a man', 'as an SNP Member', 'as a blogger', or just 'as a human being'. To do an LGBT Week wouldn't occur to me and I wouldn't want to do it: I do not blog because I'm gay, but because I'm interested in politics, and in any case, what you're asking for is more like an episode of a talk show, where people e-mail in with their 'experiences'. The Roundup is there to summarise what's already written.

Besides, I'm now reluctant to support any repeat of what we tried this week. We tried to redress a balance, we weren't able to do that, and what was an excellent Roundup that raised some good points was spoiled on the one hand by those who say we shouldn't have tried - and I admit that if it hadn't been for IndyGal's e-mail, it might not have occurred to me, though I can't speak for Duncan, but I still think it was worth a shot - and on the other hand by yourself for not making it 'woman-friendly' enough when, as I keep repeating, the basic point of the Roundup is simply to summarise what we can find out there. Anything else, and it's not a Roundup anymore. If you can find something we're missing, then that's great! Tell us about it! If you can't, and we can't, then what exactly are we supposed to do about it?

You complain about me beng too passive on this - what do you expect me to do? Break into women's houses, frogmarch them to a computer and force them to start a blog?

The success of the Roundup depends on other people posting things over the course of a week, and on whoever is doing the Roundup being able to find them. And to help that happen, if people think we should cover a post on a subject, we have the form and the e-mail address that we flag up every week. Use it!

Longrider said...

Will, I commented over at DoctorVee's place, but I'll repeat it here. You are under no obligation to do anything for anyone. Your round-up is what it says on the tin - a round-up of Scottish blogs. You don't have to define what you mean by politics, nor do you have to pander to anyone else's whims. It is what it is, you provide it, so you do what you want to do. If Slutty doesn't like it, well, no one is forcing her to read it and the Internet is a big place - big enough for Slutty to create a round-up of her own, balanced as she thinks fit. Castigating you for not making it more balanced in her eyes is unfair and unreasonable. You are not obliged to justify yourselves at all. That you have both sought to do so is admirable and those justifications are reasonable, but not necessary.