Gender in the Media Studies Blogosphere
Melissa A. Click and Nina B. Huntemann
To blog or not to blog is a question we have pondered for over two years. Well-publicized enthusiasm from colleagues that we take our scholarship out of the “academic ghetto” and participate in the fast-paced post-and-response world of online publishing, led us to wonder why we weren’t blogging, since it seemed everyone else was. ((http://henryjenkins.org/2007/02/from_youtube_to_youniversity.html>, par. 16)) In addition to feeling we lacked the time required to maintain a blog and that we needed to focus on activities that count toward tenure, the benefits of blogging weren’t immediately clear. Balancing the expectations of our institutions with second-shift responsibilities at home left little room for adding yet another activity which appeared to offer uncertain benefits for our careers. But in March of 2008, we had the opportunity to interview Ann Friedman from feministing.com, and she persuaded us to reconsider blogs’ potential, setting us on a path to understand how our colleagues feel about, use, and benefit from their blogs. We created an open-ended online survey that fifty media studies bloggers completed and interviewed a dozen survey respondents via telephone. While this is an on-going research project, thus far we have found that media studies scholars report a diversity of benefits as a result of blogging. We also found that the media studies blogosphere may be reproducing some of the inequities that traditionally mark the academy, particularly those involving gender, race, and class. By discussing one thread of our results below, we hope to initiate a discussion about the role blogging plays in our field.
The reported reasons for starting a blog were fairly common across respondents: Many said their blog gave them a place to “workshop ideas;” compile “an archive of thoughts;” “participate in the scholarly community;” “quickly react to ongoing developments in the media industry;” and “publicize [my work] with my blog.” Most felt they should be “public intellectuals,” taking their scholarship from the academy to the masses.
The career benefits of blogging are undeniable. Respondents reported being “invited to several conference panels, some of which led to publication opportunities,” and that blogging has “gotten my name out in the field in a way that wouldn’t have happened otherwise.” A junior scholar stressed that without her blog, “I don’t think I would have gotten my first choice academic press for my first book.” One blogger explained the importance of blogging to media scholars’ careers this way: “[I]n the era of Google, if you’re not producing things online, you’re not really producing things.” This comment tapped into the anxiety we increasingly felt because we did not have blogs and underscored the reality of academic production today (or at least the public perception of it) which has raised the stakes for academics who want to, indeed have to for career advancement, participate in the ongoing development of media studies.
How media studies is defined, what objects of study and theoretical approaches are legitimized, is increasingly occurring online. But what has emerged in the media studies blogosphere, how are blogs defining the future of our field, and who is participating in those spaces?
Herring et al. described three types of blogs: filter blogs contain content external to the blogger (links to world events, online happenings, etc.); journal blogs contain internal content (the blogger’s thoughts and internal workings); k(nowledge)-logs are repositories of information and observations. ((Herring, Susan C., et al. “Women and Children Last: The Discursive Construction of Weblogs.” Into the Blogosphere: Rhetoric, Community, and Culture of Weblogs. Eds. Laura Gurak, et al. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota. 18 Apr. 2008 <http://blog.lib.umn.edu/blogosphere/women_and_children_pf.html, 4.)) A 2006 Pew study described two distinct types of bloggers: The majority (76%) “say that they blog to document their personal experiences and share them with others” and a smaller group “view their blogs as more time-consuming, and more public, endeavors.” ((Lenhart, Amanda, and Fox, Susannah. “Bloggers: A Portrait of the Internet’s New Storytellers.” Pew Internet & American Life Project. 19 Jul. 2006. 18 Apr. 2008
Through our respondents’ eyes we saw a divide very similar to the one Herring et al. observed: more media studies blogs written by women incorporate elements of the journal style (particularly on LiveJournal) and more media studies blogs written by men incorporate elements of the k-log style (particularly on WordPress). ((Herring, Susan C., et al. “Women and Children Last: The Discursive Construction of Weblogs.” Into the Blogosphere: Rhetoric, Community, and Culture of Weblogs. Eds. Laura Gurak, et al. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota. 18 Apr. 2008
Though this distinction might seem inconsequential, there are material consequences to the types of blogs media studies scholars write. While research has shown that journal blogs written by women and girls are more prevalent, ((See Herring, Susan C., et al. “Women and Children Last: The Discursive Construction of Weblogs.” Into the Blogosphere: Rhetoric, Community, and Culture of Weblogs. Eds. Laura Gurak, et al. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota. 18 Apr. 2008
In addition to lack of time, many female media studies bloggers shared that writing a publicly accessible blog felt risky. One female scholar noted “it kind of makes me nervous to think about people reading” her blog. Another said “academic female bloggers get a lot more grief in the commentorsphere.” Yet another female media scholar reported that shortly after she posted a blog entry about a TV program that many other bloggers praised, she wanted to pull it down: “I thought perhaps … it had too aggressive a tone to it…if others hadn’t commented on it, I probably would have taken it down, which I think I would have regretted as a feminist.” A male respondent recognized the difficulties for female scholars “engaged in critical feminist work, and also critical LGBT work.” He compared their work to his, saying “when I’m talking about a trailer I don’t really feel like I need to watch what I’m saying.”
To minimize risk while aspiring to stay academically engaged through blogging, many female media scholars write pseudonymously or on LiveJournal (LJ), neither of which allows them the career advancements reported by our WordPress respondents. LJ authors may lock their blogs so that readers must be invited in order to gain access. Also, LJ blogs are not searchable by Google, which many LJ users cite as very important for maintaining their privacy. Thus, LJ’s advantages are also its drawbacks: the site provides a safe community for bloggers, but doing so keeps them from developing visibility as scholars. Furthermore, if feminist and queer approaches to media studies are unwelcome or too risky for the “public conversations” occurring in k-log/WordPress blogs, then the entire field suffers.
As media studies scholars we know the history of new technologies—from radio to the web—and even though we should be critical of the hopes and fears we have for new technologies, perhaps we’ve let blogging off the hook a little too easily. As Trish Wilson (2005) argued, “The blogosphere, like many other social groups, has a hierarchy that reflects existing social mores.” ((Wilson, Trish. “Women in the blogosphere.” Off Our Backs 35 (2005, May/June) 52.)) While we agree that blogging has great potential, we also wonder how we can praise this blogosphere that is literally pushing women to write under assumed names and behind locked doors? It is time for media studies scholars to begin a difficult conversation about bloggings’ real impact in our own field. Here we have only touched on one small aspect of gender, but there is much work to be done, particularly around race and class.
While our intention for this short piece is to encourage a critical conversation about academic blogging, we also praise online venues that are making important and innovative contributions to media studies and academic publishing broadly (like FLOW and In Media Res). We would like to create additional spaces; safe places for scholars to develop ideas, build networks, accommodate busy schedules, and feel protected by a supportive community that allow everyone to contribute to the development of our field and shape the technologies scholars might use to truly be public intellectuals. Reporting the preliminary findings of our research here is, in our minds, the best possible venue because of the immediate feedback we hope to receive from FLOW readers. We look forward to your comments.
Melissa A. Click is an assistant professor of communication at the University of Missouri, Columbia. Her work has been published in scholarly journals such as Popular Communication, Women’s Studies in Communication, and in NYU’s anthology Fandom. She presented a portion of her research on gender and blogs at the 2008 Flow conference.
Nina B. Huntemann is an associate professor of media studies at Suffolk University in Boston. She is co-editor of the forthcoming anthology, Joystick Soldiers: The Politics of Play in Military Video Games (Routledge).
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