Not unlike other political bloggers (McKenna & Pole, 2008), the women in this study are well – educated and concentrated in occupations that emphasize writing, namely academia and journalism. More than half of the respondents interviewed in this study earned a master’s or higher degree, compared to less than half of average political bloggers (McKenna & Pole, 2008) who hold a master’s degree or higher. Because this study relies on a snowball sampling, these data are not gener – alizable to all women political bloggers. However, it is not surprising that women political bloggers are well-educated given that blogging requires a facility for writing. Though the women I interviewed were, on average, slightly older than other political bloggers, this again might be attributed to the snowball sample. Studies detailing online activities across gender, suggest that women still lag behind men on two measures “having read a blog” and “creating a blog” (Fallows, 2005; Smith, 2008), which support the findings from this study.
Respondents estimate that three-quarters ofthe content on their blogs pertains to politics, public policy and current events. More specifically, the topics about which women blog are extensive. Because a majority of the women I interviewed reported that the issues they blogged about are not necessarily unique to women, it implies that the political discourse on these blogs is extensive, potentially appealing to a diverse audience. Blogging provides a space for discussing a myriad of topics from a woman’s vantage point, free of time, editorial and monetary constraints which often inhibit participation. Yet, the failure of women to be linked to male bloggers still poses a formidable obstacle if the blogosphere is to be used a means of facilitating political discussions and an exchange of ideas. Despite this, blogs, according to the women I interviewed, are an excellent way for women to become involved in politics and to have a voice. Blogging is a flexible medium allowing women to read and discuss a wide range of issues or a subset of women’s issues at their convenience. So too, it creates a sense of community with shared interests. Several women indicated that they were reassured by knowing that other women had similar experiences.
Women political bloggers use their blogs to inform their readers, check the mainstream media and engage in advocacy efforts in ways which were similar to average political bloggers (McKenna & Pole, 2008), suggesting that women political bloggers behave similar to other political bloggers, regardless of gender. Encouraging readers to make charitable contributions is undertaken more frequently by women political bloggers than other political bloggers. This is not unexpected given that the literature on women and philanthropy indicates that women tend to be more engaged in philanthropy than men.
These data reveal that women political bloggers do indeed encourage their readers to participate in politics with more than half of all bloggers reporting that they use their blogs to encourage readers to contact elected officials, to vote, and to sign petitions. Average rates of participation on these activities for average Americans (Verba et al., 1995) is not nearly as high as political bloggers, suggesting that bloggers themselves may be more civically engaged than other individuals. All but one interviewee indicated using her blog to mobilize readers. While previous studies of participation, mostly notably Putnam (2000), report low rates of civic engagement, these findings show that perhaps people are not as disaffected and unconnected as we think. While traditional methods of participating offline still occur, online forms of participating likely augment more traditional ways of participating in politics. Blogging serves both a direct and indirect conduit for participating. Directly, mobilization efforts have been mounted and political discourse occurs on a daily basis. Indirectly, bloggers ask their readers to undertake a variety of activities. Respondents frequently provided detailed accounts of instances in which they asked their readers to vote, contact elected officials, and to sign petitions. One blogger said, “I’ve promoted candidates and legislative reforms. I’ve encouraged people to become active in their communities. I’ve encouraged parties to be more open to certain things. I’ve advocated social and political positions….” This quotation illustrates the potential for using blogs creatively to participate in politics online.
The above findings support Wallsten’s (2007) characterization ofpolitical blogs as “transmission belts, soapboxes and mobilizers.” In addition to providing links to other sites, women political bloggers best illustrate the notion of soapboxes and mobilizers. Women write about a wide range of topics on their blogs that are not necessarily unique to women, and they receive comments, illustrating an exchange of ideas. Though the topics are not necessarily unique, many topics that traditionally receive less mainstream media coverage—and which are not necessarily of interest to the larger public—can be discussed at length. One woman asserted her ability to shape the policy agenda because of her blog, exemplifies blogs as soapboxes. The data also highlight respondents as mobilizers who use their blogs to promote candidates and organize grassroots efforts. Similarly, these findings illustrate how respondents use their blogs to mobilize their readers to vote and contact elected officials.
Obstacles to blogging occur regardless of one’s gender, as do instance of exclusion. Though subtle, discrimination appears not infrequently. A majority of respondents reported that they personally did not face discrimination. Several respondents however, qualified their answers saying that there were discriminatory attitudes in the blogosphere or other bloggers faced discrimination. Gender discrimination in the blogosphere, while not rampant does exist, despite what theoretically should be an environment absent traditional constraints. When asked what challenges they faced, more than half of the bloggers indicated that they faced sexism or sexists remarks. Respondents also asserted that male bloggers tended not to link to them. The lack of linking might be intentional or unintentional. Even if men unintentionally exclude women this is arguably a form of discrimination. Discrimination and exclusion may be overt—in the form of invectives or intentionally refusing to link to a blogger. And, it may also be far more subtle, such as the failure to link to women political bloggers. Still the effect is arguable the same—a fragmented blogosphere, absent a cross-fertilization of ideas.