I got into a discussion recently (and by “recently,” I mean “about a year ago, because time apparently flies when you’re an adult) in which I made an assertion that the conversations in the mainstream Bloggernacle are mostly male-dominated. (I defined mainstream as “aside from the feminist blogs,” since the writerly voices at FMH and Exponent are mainly female.) My interlocutor pushed back, pointing to such mainstream luminaries as Peggy Fletcher Stack and Jana Riess as evidence of Mormon women writing and speaking publicly. The whole conversation made me curious, and so I asked: these days in the Bloggernacle, who’s really talking?
Let’s start with By Common Consent, which I think of (rightly or wrongly) as the most prominent and active “mainstream” Bloggernacle site.
In 2016, women were 29% of the regular authors posting at the site, but they made up only 16% of the total posts and 21% of the word count and number of comments generated. Women’s posts had a higher average number of comments (34 vs. 24) and a higher average word count (1378 vs. 1017). The higher comment and word count averages also don’t necessarily point to a stereotype of chatty women: of the top 10 longest posts in 2016, 8 were by men, and 8/10 of the most commented-on posts were by men as well–both slightly over what you’d expect, given that they’re 70% of the writers. Instead, the averages for men are probably driven down by their overall frequency of posting, especially in regular series: many of the regular series like the Easter posts or General Conference posts, while lovely, were short and had few comments.
Interestingly, the above stats change if you include guest posts: 61% of BCC’s guest posts in 2016 were from women, meaning if you count them in the total women wrote 20% of the posts instead of only 16%. Since some guest posters have converted into regular writers, this may be a good strategy for recruiting more female writers.
Now let’s look at Times and Seasons, where the stats are strikingly similar:
In 2016 at Times & Seasons, women were 24% of the authors, and they wrote 23% of the posts, 25% of the words, and got 25% of the total site comments (by count). Women’s posts had a higher average number of comments (30 vs. 26), but a lower median (14 vs. 17), meaning there was higher variance–4 of the top 10 most commented-on posts at the site were by women, 3 of those by Julie Smith, a true T&S rockstar.
This is by no means a complete analysis, of course–I’d love to go add more sites to this over time to increase the sample sizes, and I’d love to start coding conversations in the comments by the commenter’s sex–but, as a first pass, I feel pretty good about my assertion that Bloggernacle conversations, at least at the sites not developed by and for women, skew male overall, despite the presence of some prominent women. Similarly, these numbers line up to research done on women’s speech in other mixed-set settings: a study done out of BYU and Princeton found that women spoke up to 75% less than men in mixed-sex settings, less than their proportional representation in those groups, and most studies on whether men or women talk more in mixed-sex settings have decided in favor of men.
It’s not surprising that I’d get pushback on the assertion, though: human cognitive biases, particularly the availability heuristic, mean that we’d be more likely to remember women speaking and writing publicly in Mormonism, since it’s more unusual, and therefore also more likely to overestimate it. Moreover, some other research has hinted that women are perceived as having equal representation or talking time in mixed-sex contexts when they approach 30%. (These numbers vary, and the research is of questionable quality, but I love this one example: Hanna Roisin, a journalist who wrote a book about the supposed “end of men” and coming female dominance in American life a few years ago, asserted that a Congress that was 18.3% female was “nearly a third” female, and that was “a tipping point when a minority becomes normalized and starts to enter the mainstream.” Ha.)
And so, with that on my mind: I have the perception that ZD is mostly a feminist blog, and, as a site that tackles mostly feminist topics, is dominated by women’s writing. Certainly most of our writers, past and present, are women, but given how many of them are on Heavenly Mother status right now, what did our actual stats look like in 2016?
A-ha: 2/3 active authors in 2016 were female, and our post count was nearly evenly split, but Ziff’s posts are certainly driving the conversations, both in terms of the word count and the comments generated. We’re a small sample size, certainly, and this isn’t a bad thing at all: Ziff’s posts are awesome, and at this point I’m glad for ZD to have any posts at all, but it was interesting to find my own personal perceptions on this to be so skewed, since ZD in 2016 was in no way dominated by women’s writing, much like the rest of the mainstream Bloggernacle.
(I say “mainstream”, of course, because there are places in the Bloggernacle dominated by women, of course–Segullah, The Exponent, and Feminist Mormon Housewives spring to mind–but, to me, there’s an open question about whether’s that’s healthy. On the one hand, segregated spaces allow for women to write and engage more fully, but on the other hand, they can contribute to the marginalization of women’s writing and women’s issues as topics that men shouldn’t have to care about, much as only quoting women leaders in Relief Society or only allowing women to preside over children or other women reinforces a hierarchy in which men are rarely challenged to take women seriously as leaders or thinkers.)
There’s a lot to unpack here, but I’ll save that all for another post (maybe even one with more Bloggernacle data). In the meantime: look who’s talking, because it might not be who you think.