Thinking About Gender Bias (yes, We’re Sitting Around, Waiting)

March 15th, 2005 · 4 Comments
by Booksquare

We are as susceptible to media overload as the next person. In our case, this resulted in an uninformed but rational decision to bypass Malcolm Gladwell’s Blink. Luckily, Gladwell personally sold us on his book (okay, us and like 3,000 other people, but it felt very one-on-one there in the standing room only crowd). The book suggests that many decisions are made without detailed information, even in situations where it appears a large amount of information is being gathered. In certain cases, the lack of information leads to better decision making.

In his SXSW keynote speech, Gladwell recounted the story of how a female musician entered the bastion of white male classical musicians playing with orchestras. Prior to her hiring, the decision makers asserted that there were no quality female musicians. In fact, there were plenty (since then orchestras are somewhere in the range of 50% female, and most new hires since have been female), but other factors were in play. Specifically that white males were hiring white males.

As we’ve read with train wreck fascination the exchanges between Susan Estrich and Michael Kinsley (and others) about the lack of women on the Los Angeles Times opinion page, we’ve also formed many opinions on the matter (some quite fantastic, most quite pessimistic). But Gladwell’s words about instant decision making struck us as relevant to the case at hand. Smarter people than we have analyzed the social mores underlying this situation, but we remain convinced that it’s more a case of repeating history, however inadvertently.

Which leads to Elizabeth Spiers’s discussion about female bloggers. Maybe it’s us, but we’ve been surrounded by a large number of women who blog with the best of them. Even so, there was a panel this week about the lack of female web designers. Is it that they don’t exist or is there inherent bias in this industry? Or is the lower profile of female bloggers and opinion writers part of the current state of the market:

And he may be right, but I’d wager that it’s not the sort of clubbiness he implies it is. It’s a reflection of another sort of clubbiness that’s much more widely acknowledged and also helps explain why there are fewer female opinion writers at major newspapers: the opinion pages of most major newspapers and most high profile blogs cover political, technological and/or economic issues—fields that are all heavily male-dominated.

If Spiers is right, we can promise this is changing in the technology realm. The question is, as another panelist suggested, does the public nature of blogging or opinion writing work with female traits (in this case, the theory was that women look for more of a safety net in public forums, for a variety of reasons).

Until then, the fact remains that the New York Times Book Review covers more male writers than female. The top bloggers are perceived to be male (yes, we use that word deliberately). Women are not well-represented on the opinion pages of newspapers. Perhaps the time has come to make certain decision makers into an uncomfortable realm: self-consciousness.

File Under: Square Pegs

4 responses so far ↓

  • Karen // Mar 15, 2005 at 5:03 pm

    Ugh, ugh, goddamnit, ugh. This topic is never going to go away. Not in our lifetime. But which “top” bloggers are you referring to? The political ones? In the lit-blogs, women seem equally represented.

  • booksquare // Mar 15, 2005 at 6:26 pm

    You’re right (see new post!). It’s mostly political and technology. And you’re right that many prominent litbloggers are women. But I’m at this conference and the stars are men. That’s not to say that women aren’t well represented and that they aren’t speaking prominently on panels. And women, of all ages (which is heartening to me), are actively involved on all levels of this conference.

    But, yeah, you’re looking at Jeffrey Zeldman, Josh Marshall, etc. I’m not saying they don’t deserve their respect. There are women who are at the top of the tech industry, but somehow that doesn’t seem to be capturing the media’s attention on the same level.

    I, however, believe this will change in our lifetime. I think it’s happening now. Moreso in tech than politics (politics being politics). Heck, I was one of generation who went from girls having to wear dresses every day to being allowed to wear pants. I believe.

  • Collected Miscellany // Mar 17, 2005 at 6:29 am

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  • Margaret // Mar 17, 2005 at 6:53 pm

    In his column in the March 21st Newsweek (“The Technologist”) Steven Levy asks “[s]ince anyone can write a Weblog, why is the blogosphere dominated by white males?” He concludes: “It appears that some clubbiness is involved. [Blogger Halley] Suitt puts it more bluntly: ‘It’s white people linking to other white people!’ (A link from a popular blog is this medium’s equivalent to a Super Bowl ad.) Suitt attributes her own high status in the blogging world to her conscious decisions to ‘promote myself among those on the A list'” (p16).