Thursday, March 18, 2010

Social media and the sexes

“I definitely don’t relate to the aggressive, impulsive, chest-thumping male blogger that Wente bemoans.”

After making a studio visit north of Toronto on Monday, I only got half way back to New York before exhaustion set in. That suited me just fine, as I was happy to enjoy the historic architecture and waterfront of Kingston before heading out the next day. On my way out, I ran a few errands, such as banking in my homeland.

Of the many brochures at the bank, the one for mutual funds/ comfort portfolios caught my attention. The image (cropped version: shows a little girl playing dress-up in a wedding gown while her mother looks on, smiling. The veil grazes the floor and the neckline practically comes to her navel, revealing her actual clothing underneath. Her pink top shows two frolicking animals (bears, I believe). They are surrounded by hearts (the classic symbol of love and romance) and flowers (often overlooked signifiers of sexuality). It makes me think of Michael Wolff’s recent assertion that women are popular Tweeters because of their fixation on relationships and fashion. Back to the brochure, the dominant text—presumably in the mother’s voice—reads, “I’ve got a lot of reasons to invest for the future.” How much would I love that brochure to feature the same girl in a judge’s robes or a surgeon’s scrubs instead of a wedding gown?

Before writing a blog, I’m certain that I would have overlooked this brochure. I would have found artistic inspiration in a pink shirt with bears and hearts and flowers, but it would be in the context of looking for clothing in a store to use in soft sculpture. It would not happen incidentally. Now, though, I feel more attuned to my environment. I’m constantly looking and listening for content that relates to my work. It is one of many benefits I’ve discovered in blogging.

Michael Wolff’s article, “Maybe Twitter is for girls” appeared on Newser ( this past Tuesday, followed by Margaret Wente’s article, “Why are bloggers male?”
( in The Globe and Mail on Wednesday. Both have provoked controversy. I don’t use Twitter, so I am reluctant to comment on Wolff’s article. As to Wente’s article, I want to resist the urge to point out female blogging accomplishments, such as the sold-out BlogHer conference. The reason for my post is to consider whether social media is a gendered practice in my personal experience (and yes, I realize that this kind of self-involvement is exactly what dissuades a number of people from reading blogs).

Aside from the obvious fact that the majority of my blog content is feminist, does gender affect my experience of blogging? I think it does. I definitely don’t relate to the aggressive, impulsive, chest-thumping male blogger that Wente bemoans. Far from aggressive and impulsive, I am an occasional and careful blogger. This post, for example, is only my second this month, and it has gone through three drafts. The length of my posts (averaging 600+ words) reflects the conversational tone that Wolff attributes to women, although I believe bloggers can be conversational and scholarly in the same breath. This makes me think of Wente, who compares the act of blogging to ‘mental jousting’ with the public. I agree with the jousting metaphor, but for me, the competition is entirely internal. The challenge is to determine if I can still construct an argument like I could when I was in graduate school (important for working in academia) and if I can continually relate my art to popular culture (important for not losing myself in academia).

Wente connects the shortage of female bloggers to gendered behaviour (namely shyness), but I actually see this trait as a reason for women to be drawn to the medium. Like the younger version of herself that Wente describes, I am a better listener than a speaker. It could be a combination of my Canadian heritage, my gender, and my editorial experience (i.e., learn to ask the right questions and then write frantically when the interviewee responds). Without people interrupting, I find I can really work through ideas in a blog in a way that I cannot in an academic seminar, for example. Similarly, when I attended a session on blogging at the Teaching and Technology Conference at Baruch College last spring, I learned that ESL students tend to be stronger participants in course blogs than face-to-face because the pressures of responding quickly are removed. Wolff writes about the hermetic nature of men and the gregarious nature of women playing into Twitter/ female associations. I think there’s a hermetic quality involved in blogging as well—especially if, like me, you’re more focused on the post being made than on the comments it may generate. For me, the 2.0 concept of content flowing in both directions is exciting but difficult to reconcile with traditional publishing in which the delivery of content is top-down.

In the ten months that I’ve been blogging at Artist in Transit, the payoff has been wonderful and unexpected. Besides establishing a dialogue outside of my own headspace and becoming more engaged in my subject matter, I have experienced professional perks. Next month, I’ll be presenting ‘Blogging as an Artist/ Librarian Hybrid’ at the Art Libraries Society of North America conference. I will also be exhibiting an excerpt from my blog along with related artwork in Twitter/Art + Social Media at Diane Farris Gallery in Vancouver.

If the blogosphere is the old boys’ club, that's all the more reason for this feminist to retain her membership.

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