By Ellen Goodman
BOSTON—It’s worth remembering that the blogosphere is still so new it baffles spell check. For that matter, if I type “blogger” on my screen, my retro software offers alternatives like “loggers,” “floggers” and “boggler.”
It “boggles” my mind to realize how quickly a piece of Internet terrain has gained power in politics. By now, the political blogosphere is to the left what talk radio is to the right. It is a forceful, sometimes demagogic, message-monger organizing tool for the progressive end of the Democratic Party.
The New Republic’s Jonathan Chait recently called the netroots “the most significant mass movement in U.S. politics since the rise of the Christian right.” In fact, they’ve amplified the antiwar, anti-Bush views, become an alternative fundraising operation, and linked cyberliberals across the country.
Last week, these progressive political bloggers not only attracted 1,200 to Chicago for the YearlyKos convention, but made it a designated stop for seven out of the eight Democratic candidates.
Nevertheless, there is another, less flattering way in which broadband has followed broadcast and the liberal political bloggers mimic the conservative talk-show hosts. The chief messengers are overwhelmingly men—white men, even angry white men.
I began tracking the maleness of this media last spring while I was a visiting fellow at Harvard’s Shorenstein Center on the Press, Politics and Public Policy. An intrepid graduate student created a spreadsheet of the top 90 political blogs. A full 42 percent were edited and written by men only, while seven percent were by women only. An additional 45 percent were edited or authored by both men and women, though the “coed” mix was overwhelmingly male. And, not surprisingly, most male bloggers linked to male bloggers.
Yes, this is the kettle of the MSM—mainstream media—calling the pot of the netroots male. In fairness, half of all 96 million blogs are written by women. But in the smaller political sphere, what is touted as a fresh force for change looks an awful lot like a new boy network.
Now, after what’s been a long, low rumble over demography and diversity, a grass-roots rebellion is finally surfacing in the netroots. At YearlyKos itself, home of what Jennifer Pozner described on Huffington Post as the “blustering A-list boys of the ‘netroots,’ ” there was the panel titled gamely “Blogging While Female.” The question for the panel was this: “The blogosphere was supposed to be a place where gender didn’t matter and voice was all. So what happened?”
What did happen? Is it the angry voice—a netroots norm but a female abnorm? Markos Moulitsas, founder of the Daily Kos and namesake of the convention, said unabashedly in an ABC News interview last year: “I learned to talk the way I do in the U.S. Army. And we don’t mince words. In politics, I don’t see it any different. I see it as a battlefield. ...” The American Prospect’s Garance Franke-Ruta, who was on the panel, notes, wryly: “If you’re an angry man you’re righteous. If you’re an angry woman, you’re crazy or a bitch.”
Is it harassment? Women have been talking about this since blogger Kathy Sierra was threatened with a picture of her next to a noose. Convention organizer Gina Cooper has two e-mail addresses, just one carrying her female name. Only “Gina” gets the hate e-mail telling her “I’m going to hunt you down” and “what you need is a good f—-.” Who knows how many women are scared silent.
Is it because men raise their hands first in class? Cooper thinks one reason for the demographics is that educated, economically comfortable men were the early adopters to the technology and took the lead. Blogger Adele Stan suggests that white male bloggers have a network of “funding, linking, quoting, or bookings on political talk shows.” Or maybe we need only count viewers. The typical political blog reader is a 43-year-old man with an $80,000 family income. Is it any surprise that Hillary gets only 9 percent in most online-activist polls, while garnering more than 40 percent in traditional polls?
It’s not that women are invisible. There are “women’s pages” on the Internet. Technorati counts more than 11,000 “mommy blogs.” There are “women’s issues” blogs like the funny and bracing Feministing.
But this is not just about counting, not just about diversity-by-the-numbers. It’s about the political dialogue—who gets heard and who sets the agenda. Cooper asks herself: “Are we going to do the same thing we’ve done all along, but with computers? Or will we create a new institution that allows for marginalized voices?”
Next year, YearlyKos will undergo a name change. The assembly of progressive bloggers will call themselves Netroots Nation. But when will the members of these netroots look more like the nation?
Ellen Goodman’s e-mail address is ellengoodman(at)globe.com.
© 2007, Washington Post Writers Group