Every so often in the blogosphere, on the Left and the Right, hostile debates over gender seem to rise up to the surface like a leviathan from the depths. Some male bloggers tend to think women get more links because they’re women, some female bloggers think there’s some sort of a “good ol’ boys” club that keeps them from getting big, and more than a few people seem to get huffy about the whole debate.
However, the fact is that the issue is much more complex than it appears on the surface. The blogging experience ISN’T THE SAME for men and women. There are different advantages, disadvantages, and challenges that both men and women have to face.
That’s something I’ve been aware of for a long time, but a particular conversation inspired me to put together an article that covers the unique trials and travails that female bloggers face.
At CPAC, I had an opportunity to speak to Liz Mair, a blogger who is now the Republican National Committee’s eCampaign Communications Director. Liz and I had exchanged a few emails and had done radio together a handful of times. Although I didn’t know her very well, one thing that had struck me about her was how formal she was — even in off the air conversations, before we went live on the radio. So, when I met her in person, I was surprised that she wasn’t the least bit stuffy and that her whole manner of speaking was different. Later, I asked Liz about the difference between meeting her in person and talking with her on the radio. What she said was,
Partly, my tendency to sound more formal when on radio (or TV) is the result of my legal training — my brain is wired to “go formal” when I know I’m speaking to an audience. Partly, my tendency to do this is also to ensure I don’t come off as “unserious” though — that is something that I think most commentators of any sort should be concerned about, and I suspect that I’m not the only one (or the only female one) who’s attuned to it.
Personally, it has never even occurred to me to “go formal” when I do a radio show, nor have I ever worried about being considered “unserious.” That started my brain spinning like Speedy Gonzalez in a hamster ball: did Liz and I look at the issue differently because we’re different people or because I’m male and she’s female? Are there lots of other little subtle differences between the ways men and women look at blogging that I hadn’t caught onto before?
I decided to find out.
So, in order to do that, I reached out to a few of the more intriguing women on the right side of the blogosphere and interviewed them about their backgrounds and gender issues. The results, as you’re about to see, are fascinating and in some cases, the abuse they have had to deal with is more than a little disturbing. Let’s start out with…
Pamela Geller has managed to build up a large audience at her blog Atlas Shrugs with her exuberant writing style, her ferocious attacks on radical Islam, her vlogs, and her excellent “gets” of big name interview subjects. Few people in the blogosphere work harder than Pamela or put more effort into making their blogs successful.
Behind the scenes, Pamela tends to be as expressive as she is in public, but when you get to know her, her character, fierce determination, and simple decency shine through in a way that is difficult to capture on her blog.
Pamela was an associate publisher of the New York Observer and a director of strategic planning at the New York Daily News. Over time, Pamela started commenting on blogs and eventually, a poster at Little Green Footballs suggested that she start her own blog. She took that advice in 2005 and the rest is history.
Pamela on feminism.
I don’t need equal rights….I’m already equal. I don’t need somebody telling me something that’s already a fact. All these women like Gloria Steinem, “Oh, we made it happen for you!” You didn’t make it happen for me. That whole movement…is rooted in Marxist-Leninist propaganda….I’m not a feminist, I’m an anti-feminist. I think it has hurt women enormously.
You’ve gotten a lot of flack for a bikini vlog that you did. Do you want to talk about that?
Sure. It’s interesting to me that would become such a point of conversation, derision, what have you, when it was really so innocent. You might say, “Oh, come on,” but it really was. I was supposed to go to Israel and the war broke out and they cancelled all my interviews. There I am, standing with a ticket to Israel, and I was like, “Am I not going to go now?” So, I went to Israel and it was an unbelievable trip. …Then my mother had a major stroke and I flew right back, grabbed my kids, went to Florida, and we were spending the whole of our time by her bed, because she had not come out of a coma. The kids would say, “Come on, Mom, let’s get out of here,” and we’d run right to the beach.
I said to one of my girls, “I’ve gotta do a vlog. I’ve gotta do a rundown of what happened in Israel.” So, she said, “Let’s do it,” and she turned on the camera and I was in the ocean and I started talking and that’s the infamous bikini vlog that you are talking about. I guess because no one had done it, it really caught fire.
…The craziest stuff went on with that video. You have no idea how many (parody) videos were made from it and ALL not by friends of Pamela.
It got major hittage…but, the message of it was enormously important, so if that’s what it took to get it out, hey, hey, hey, I am all for it…
Does it bother you that there are guys who are coming to your page because they like the way you look or do you look at it as, “Traffic’s traffic?”
…I mean listen, if you’re looking for babes…there are a million sites with babes and T&A. They’re not coming to me for that. There are girls that are far prettier, that are far younger — so, yes, they may like my look, but they like what I have to say, they like the whole package…
Do you get any vulgar, nasty hate mail?
Oh sure. I do delete that stuff. Look, there are websites out there that are solely devoted to me, that photoshop me in sexual positions with senior Bush administration officials. You have a limited amount of energy each day and this is what these people do with their energy each day…it’s frightening.
…When they Google Earth my house and my car, that I thought was kind of sick, you know? Because what am I doing? I’m just voicing my opinion. …What it’s really about is a form of attrition, it’s a form of harassment, where a normal person would say, “I don’t need this sh*t. Who needs this? They Google Earth your house, the names that you’re called, and the photoshopping.” But you see, I want very much to leave the nation that I grew up in to my children. That’s why I do what I do.
Rachel Lucas is an extraordinarily talented writer, the sort of person who could write a post about her grocery list and make it interesting. She’s also sharp-witted, profane, and has a Coulteresque knack for coming at a story from a completely different direction than anyone else. All of that is mixed in with posts about her personal life, pictures of her dog dressed in funny clothes, and a wry, self-effacing sense of humor. It was that talent, years ago, that had turned her into one of the bigger bloggers on the Right before she mysteriously quit and came back in May of last year (She’s already back over 3,000 readers a day). What happened to her? What does she think about women in the blogosphere and perhaps most importantly, does she curse like a drunken sailor on shore leave when she’s on the phone? All those questions, and more, were answered in our interview.
Rachel comes across as surprisingly shy on the phone, so I took a few moments to show her I was friendly before we got started. After she seemed a little more comfortable, I noted that I was surprised she hadn’t dropped any F-bombs in our conversation so far. She replied,
“Have you noticed that over the past week or two, I haven’t even said that on my blog? …My mom told me I have to knock it off.” (Laughs) Still, profanity count for the phone call: 3, with two F-bombs. Is that toned down from her blog? Maybe a little, but she doesn’t know me that well.
Rachel is also a bit of an oddity, at least amongst the bloggers I interviewed, in that she doesn’t have a writing background except, as she joked, her experience as the editor of the school paper when she was in 5th grade.
Originally, Rachel began her blog after her father had a heart attack as a way to communicate between his family and friends. From there, she started looking around at other blogs, wrote some rants to “amuse her brother,” and then she asked for some links from two of the bigger blogs, got them, and started doing political blogging on a regular basis.
Rachel explains why she doesn’t have a picture on her blog now (and why there isn’t one with this piece)
It’s maybe 5% because of the stalkers, but it’s mostly because I have seen what they do to other people. I have seen what they do to Ann Coulter, Michelle Malkin. They photoshop them. Do nasty stuff to them. Like pictures of Michelle Malkin hanging from a noose. That sort of thing.
What Rachel thinks about female bloggers who do put up their pics to try to draw traffic.
The ones who are clearly trying to use their looks to get ahead, I have a little less respect for because they shouldn’t feel like they need to. I don’t hold it against them, but if you’re good, people will read your stuff even if you don’t put a pic up.
Why did Rachel quit blogging at one point when she had more than 10,000 readers per day?
I really regret that I got out. Partly because I didn’t like all the pressure. At that point in my life, I didn’t feel like I knew enough to deserve that many people reading what I wrote…and the relationship I was in at the time, my ex, he didn’t like it because I spent so much time on it. He thought it was “creepy.” A lot of people don’t understand why anyone would read blogs. They think it’s voyeurism, they think it’s creepy….My sister doesn’t read it. She thinks it’s “creepy.” …Plus, I was getting a lot of hate mail and some of it was borderline bad stalker material.
What advice would Rachel give to people who want to create a successful blog?
I think a lot of blogs by people who complain that they don’t get much traffic? Those blogs tend to be very boring. If you can read the exact same material on 10,000 different blogs and all they’re doing is repeating the same thing and it’s not very well written, I don’t know what they expect. I think people need to have a little more humor, either really know what they’re talking about… and have connections and do interviews, or they need to be a lot more interesting. I think a lot of blogs are really boring.
As anyone who knows her can tell you, Amanda Carpenter is an ambitious, driven, extremely talented reporter/columnist/vlogger for Townhall, who is also the author of The Vast Right-Wing Conspiracy’s Dossier on Hillary Clinton
Aside from Michelle Malkin, if I had to lay down a bet on the female blogger most likely to land her own show on Fox, CNN, or MSNBC one day, my money would be on Amanda.
Amanda started paying her own bills at 17, paid her own way through college at Ball State after a career ending injury cost her a softball scholarship, and she had, literally, 27 different jobs — at Levis, Bath And Body Works, cocktail waitressing, the Sunglass Hut, landscaping, etc. — before she got a full-time position after graduation.
In her senior year, ironically, Amanda wasn’t allowed to join the school paper because she wasn’t a journalism major, so she started rabblerousing online. She wrote about how the school’s tuition money was being spent, she posted professors’ salaries, and she started getting more and more attention — some of it negative — for her work. Those efforts eventually helped land her a post-college job with Human Events. From there, she moved on to a full-time gig with Townhall. She also blogs at Glamour.
Here’s Amanda discussing how she was targeted at Ball State for promoting a conservative viewpoint.
There was a graduate assistant who had photoshopped 400 pages of pornography of me onto the university website that the administration would not do anything about…I had to print it off and take it to the police station because the…campus people said, well, you know it’s free speech. …Do you know how demeaning it was to have to print that off and take it somewhere? It wasn’t me, but it was lifelike.
Do you think women are subjects of more vitriol in the blogosphere than men?
…Whether you are a guy or a girl, you will be criticized, especially if you mess up. …But, yeah, with women it’s almost certainly a lot more sexual and demeaning…
Do you ever feel like people say, eh, she’s a woman, so I don’t have to take her arguments seriously?
I have never encountered that. In fact, within the conservative movement, I think being a girl and trying to be taken seriously…you’re actually welcomed a little bit more. There are some people who try to take the snarky, cute route — you know, dress in the cute clothes, put on the lip gloss — the people who have been around for a while don’t really have a lot of tolerance for that…
You have any opinion of the feminist, liberal blogs out there?
Well, they’re some of the ones that are the most hateful. If you look at the language that’s used on those…it’s just incredibly base. It’s this whole feminist thing where it’s empowering to use foul language, to do the lowcut shirts, and act sleazy — and I don’t just mean that just sexually, I mean intellectually as well…
Do you get any repulsive hate mail, that sort of thing?
Oh, yeah, I have a file of it. I save the good ones…and in case anything were to happen, there are crazy people out there, I’d want a paper trail of some sort.
There aren’t a lot of bloggers who can say that they have “spent a summer in Mozambique, Africa helping to build the World AIDS Children’s Orphanage with Teen Missions International, Inc,” but Ericka Anderson isn’t your run-of-the-mill blogger. She is an impossibly bubbly, enthusiastic, good-natured news producer/reporter for Human Events, who also blogs at Redstate.
Ericka went to Indiana University, got a degree in journalism, and then got an internship on the editorial page of the The Washington Examiner. That was her springboard to a job with Human Events. Here’s some of what Ericka had to say…
Do you feel like it’s an advantage or disadvantage to be female in the blogosphere?
I think that in the blogosphere and in the media in general, there are more men. So, I think that a woman’s presence is an advantage just because…our faces and names will get picked up more easily.
At the same time, I think that women…are more apt to be criticized harshly. People come up with dirty names and talk trash about women, not because it’s more accepted, but because…it’s a lot easier for people to toss around words that are derogatory towards women…Also, my picture is up next to my work, and you get a lot of (critical) comments about the pictures.
Do you think that if you were a man you’d have less critical comments or that they would be less vulgar and sexualized? In other words, the criticism level is the same, but it’s nastier because you are a woman. Would that be accurate?
I think that the criticism towards women is different. You’re right, I don’t know that there is any more, but it’s more harsh and like you said, vulgar and sexualized. I don’t think men get that at all….
Ericka shared some of her hate mail with me. Here are a few examples to give you a feel for it.
* “Some stupid dame who writes a stupid column in a neanderthal publication has about as much credibility as a Mississippi high school journalism C student.”
* “Soon, the conservative death march will come to an and. God willing. Stop writing, you amateur little prig. Stay in the kitchen where the Baptists think you belong. Please. Stop writing, because you suck.”
* “I just saw you against John Soltz, How about you show your support for the war, and sign up… Hopefully you would get shot in the head. dumb slag.”
Do you think women sometimes use their looks to get ahead in the blogosphere and does that bother you?
I definitely think women use their looks to get ahead, especially in the media. …Everyone is just more drawn to attractive people. People use that to their advantage and I think that obviously, people should be hired for their skills, but at the same time, you have to give people what they want. That’s just the way the world works, so I don’t have a problem with people using their looks to get ahead if they can do it.
If someone said to you, “Ericka, I have always wanted to work at a magazine like Human Events,” what advice would you give on how to succeed and would it be different for men and women?
Especially if you’re talking about DC, and you would be if you want to get into political journalism, I would say you would start out by attending lots of different social events and…networking. …It really comes down to who you know in this business. That’s how I got my job and that’s how I continue to make contacts, and I don’t think it’s any different for men and women.
Yes, you do have to have talent. You’ve got to be able to do your job. But, I think it comes down to who you know….
Michelle Malkin is not just one of my favorite bloggers; she’s one of the people that I most respect and admire. She’s ambitious, courageous, talented, a really decent person, and I am not sure if I have ever seen anyone who does a better job of managing her time. Since I’m such a big fan of her work and since Michelle is arguably the most successful blogger overall on the Right — she was one of the people I most wanted to talk to for this interview.
Michelle said she first started becoming politically active when she was writing at Oberlin College. From there she became an editorial writer and columnist for the Los Angeles Daily News. Then she moved on to the Seattle Times where she wrote columns and did investigative reporting. She has also had a column with Creator’s syndicate since 1999 and here’s a little something about Michelle’s background that I certainly didn’t know:
“I worked for Arianna Huffington many, many moons ago. She lured me away to work on the failed Michael Huffington for Senate campaign in 1994. I worked there for 3 months and it was my first and last job in politics, ever. That was the silver lining. It got rid of any ambition I had about working in politics.”
From there, Michelle created a primitive website way back in 1999, but the blog that she has made famous today? It didn’t really get going until June of 2004.
Here’s Michelle on whether it’s an “advantage or disadvantage to be female in the blogosphere.”
(I) tired a long time ago of these debates about gender and the blogosphere and the white man keeping female bloggers down. Why can’t we break into the boys’ club? Wah, wah, wah! Well, maybe it’s because you’ve become such a tired bore, beating your victim drum all the time.
Michelle had this to say about Kathy Sierra, who got an enormous amount of sympathetic attention from the mainstream media because of some death threats she received.
The Kathy Sierra thing, I thought was amusing. Not to belittle her security situation, which was very serious…
But, that’s like what? A Tuesday for you?
Yes!!! A Tuesday morning….the shock and the horror with which the tech elite greeted that whole debacle, to me, shows how out of touch and unplugged one side of our business and our world is from the other. There are a lot of double standards, and in particular, that conservative women just aren’t seen in some ways (laughs) as human beings. We’re just supposed to expect the level of vitriol that they look at with such horror when it’s aimed at one of their people.
Speaking of vitriol and horror, Michelle and her family once had to actually move for safety reasons. Long story short, a group of misfits at UC Santa Cruz managed to run some military recruiters off campus and, because they weren’t very smart, they wrote a press release bragging about it, posted it on their website, and used their own home phone numbers as contact numbers. Michelle was one of the many people to link to the website and publish the press release and when, inevitably, these morons were deluged with abusive phone calls, they blamed Michelle for the whole thing and accused her of publishing their private home numbers, which, of course, they had posted on a press release.
In response to this, liberal bloggers and forums that were undoubtedly hoping to get Michelle and her family harassed and/or murdered, responded by posting her phone number and maps to her house online while maliciously and falsely accusing her of invading the privacy of the UC Santa Cruz students. After asking her about the experience, here’s what she told me,
(We had) people posting photos of our past house…people urging their minions to come and stake out my house. ….I had tons of people email me and tell me they were going to come to my home. They posted my private phone number and I had dozens of people calling and leaving crude messages. …Yeah, it was one of those things where you think about your family, you think about your safety, and you do what you have to do. But, does it stop you? No.
Michelle had this to say about whether she feels like she isn’t taken seriously because she’s a woman.
In general, no, I think it has more to do with my ideology and I think…liberal racism is much more rampant than liberal sexism. As an example of that, here we are engaged in this whole debate of the use of Barack Obama’s middle name.
Again, I find it amusing in terms of liberal double standards that none of these people who are so worried about middle name calling had anything to say when Keith Olbermann went on cable TV and started invoking my foreign sounding maiden name (Maglalang) as some sort of game winning argument. There he is going Mag-la-gong, Mag-la-gong, mispronouncing it…I think if I weren’t a conservative, there would have been more of an uproar about it or at least some principled liberal would have said, ‘That’s a really dumb way to argue against somebody. Can we all just grow up?’ But, no, no, that didn’t happen.
I think that was less because I am woman than because I am a conservative minority. …I think that it always has made a lot of people uncomfortable and irate because I happen to be these three things: a conservative, a woman, and a minority. In a lot of people’s lives, that’s just such a toxic, unacceptable combination. If you look at people who have that combination in public life, they all have similar stories….
Is Michelle bothered that there are undoubtedly a lot of guys going to take a look at her vlogs because of her looks?
Well again, it’s a double edged sword and I think a lot of women who are successful at blogging and vlogging realize that, so you use it to your advantage. There’s nothing wrong with using what God gave you to spread your message, to get people to pay attention to your content. …On YouTube, the key to producing a viral video is to be very visual and that includes looking good….If people only knew what I look like half the time…
So humble, so humble.
(Laughs) I don’t know…
Michelle on how to be a success at blogging.
There are a couple of factors. The first is not to try to be somebody else. If you want to be a success…don’t be another Michelle Malkin or Glenn Reynolds or a Drudge wannabe. The marketplace of ideas rewards original ideas and original thinkers and I think having a niche is very important. …The blogosphere rewards fresh information and reporting, energy, initiative, and…I think a lot of the humor blogs do well, like Iowahawk, Ace of Spades HQ. There are so many people with something unique to add. Plus, it takes a work ethic. You’re not going to be successful if you only post 2 or 3 times a day and if you don’t have fun doing it, you shouldn’t be in it.