There’s another round of this perennial favourite going around the international blogs. Flavia at Tiger Beatdown links to a few relevant posts in Politics and gender imbalance online: women are not participating. The first response from many is “oi! look at what I’m writing over here!” but then the discussion becomes about how “politics” really means big-P Politics: the party politics manoeuvring for electoral/policy-making/legislative dominance. Because apparently structural socio-political inequalities don’t really count, because it’s not about the next election, which is all politics is.
The latest study’s authors have concluded that there’s a very strong correlation between the exclusion of women generally from the party political process in the UK and the proportion of women actively engaged in party/parliamentary political commentary online. This strikes me as yet another one of those things that’s long been obvious to the thoughtful gender-binary observer, but which needs to have data on record before the mainstream commentariat will take women’s experiences of it at all seriously.
Women’s opinions in the mainstream environment routinely get discounted, distorted and often shouted down by the why-aren’t-you-making-me-a-sandwich crowd. This effect is amplified online by the technical ease of flooding that blog/forum/inbox with invective without offline consequences, so that if women persist in stating those opinions anyway they are likely to experience graphic abuse and frequently become targets for harassment and persecution by people who appear to have a little list which constitutes their major hobby.
There’s also the other big issue: that political issues which affect primarily women are cast as minority or special interest issues in mainstream commentariats, so that many women simply don’t feel welcomed or taken seriously even in forums where the operators make a special effort to zero-tolerance the more aggressive/abusive members of the shout-women-down club. Whether women’s posts are disproportionately ignored or disproportionately generate Threads of Doom, the message is clear: you’re not one of us.
A woman doesn’t even need to be running a political blog to get all this bullshit – just running a foodie or a knitting blog is enough for some people to decide that you deserve to be their target. Yet people profess to be amazed that women don’t want to be part of this, as if it’s an irrational decision.
And yet, none of the various proposals to ameliorate these well-documented patterns of hostility and condescension online address the basic disconnect that is rooted in persistent gender stereotypes: that what many women see as being fundamentally political issues are simply not acknowledged as part of “politics” by the mainstream – they’re supposedly just personal problems. As I said in the opening paragraph, there’s still a prevailing view that if it’s not about winning elections, then it’s not really politics.
Needless to say, I reject any politics so limited. Of course who is holding power and who is making policy that informs legislation is important, and I do blog on that quite often. But I’m not interested in the 24/7 partisan horse-race reportage – there’s so many more important political issues to cover than just that.