As we all know, for the first time in the nation’s history, a woman, Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton, has a real shot at becoming president. She is banking on the idea that women will come out for her in droves. And like most of this year’s presidential candidates, she’s putting time and money into an Internet strategy.
But those two things aren’t necessarily connected. That is, she’s going after women in several ways (house parties, for example). But her Internet strategy is more about having an aggressive, up-to-the-minute, informative Web site, building a presence on YouTube and MySpace, and keeping a hand in the comments sections of mainstream political blogs.
We know that women slightly outnumber men online. But at least anecdotally, it seems as if more men are on the political blogs, writing specifically about politics, reading about politics and putting in their two cents in the comments sections. Did you notice how many more men compared to women submitted videos for the Democratic YouTube debate in July? The pool of videos for the upcoming Republican YouTube debate is similarly stocked with more men.
If the campaigns are trying to reach women-- and they all should be, since more women than men vote and they could determine who gets elected -- are they looking for them in the right ways, in the right places?
I asked our readers if they thought more men were engaged online in politics than women, and if so, why.
Many said yes, guessing that perhaps twice as many men as women, maybe even three times as many men are involved, at least on the traditional politics-oriented sites.
First, I think that women engage in politics online in different ways. Many read activist blogs that highlight certain subjects that are of concern to them, instead of reading partisan political blogs. Here's what the Times readers thought...
As for why, readers offered lots of reasons, including this newsflash: women are just too busy, often with the household chores that men choose to ignore in favor of going on the computer.
I especially liked this post from Joyce, who described herself as someone who thinks seriously about politics, reads editorials and watches the televised debates:
“More men spend time on computers arguing when there is no football or other organized mayhem to watch on T.V. while the ‘little woman’ is looking after the children, preparing dinner, getting her clothes ready to go to work tomorrow, etc.”
She added: “Women realize posting doesn’t change a thing, so we spend our time more usefully.” Besides, she said of posting, “nobody really bothers to read to the bottom of the posts” and the posts are often redundant.
(Don’t despair, Joyce; we’re reading.)
Other thoughts from readers:
* For men, elections are like sports and they love the horse race. C Ray (gender unknown) put it this way: “I think men are more interested in the competitive nature of the election. It’s like a sport — who will win or lose, who has the best strategy, who is on offense, who is on defense? Men are interested more in the minutiae of the game.” He/she added: “I think women could care less and are more focused on the big picture.”
* Men “like to show off more, like to force quasi-muscular opinions more on the unseen multitudes that they think are eager to hear them, want recognition more,” wrote another reader.
* Many readers note, sadly, that if a woman makes her opinion known, she opens herself up to abuse, thanks to the anonymity and rancor of the blogosphere. One poster who said she is a woman said she posts under fake male names because women “are routinely attacked.” (Along these lines, Jay Rosen, a journalism professor at New York University and a blogger, reminded us about the recent coming out of Digby, a highly respected progressive political blogger whom many had assumed was a man but turned out to be a woman.)
* Abe asked this: “Is it women who aren’t interested in politics or politics that isn’t interested in women?”
* Men and women communicate differently. Sarah writes: “This is a generalization, of course, but much has been written about how men tend toward more problem-solving and direct point-to-point repartee whereas women like to sit down and discuss more details and come to consensus.”
* Do yourself a favor and take a look at post #34 (so good it was duplicated as #41) from “a woman on the inside.” She says that men are not online more than women, they are just louder and more likely link to one another “and build up an echo chamber that reinforces their dominance.” Women tend to work more behind the scenes, she says, and she urges us “to look beyond the incestuous political blogosphere” to local blogs and the so-called mommy blogs. She refers to a number of sites with female voices.
“Woman on the inside” is exactly right. When we started out trying to measure the degree to which women were visible in online politics, we were looking in the wrong places.
For further guidance, I contacted a couple of noted female bloggers _ Morra Aarons, the political director for blogher.com, and Emily McKhann, a highly respected blogger who is a co-founder of The Motherhood and who was recently credentialed to cover former President Bill Clinton’s Global Climate Initiative.
They echoed what some of our posters said _ mainly that women were re-defining politics online, away from conventional male-dominated sites that were obsessed with the horse race and toward sites that wove politics into the fabric of women’s lives. This is an important distinction, and you have to wonder if the campaigns, most of whose Internet strategies are driven by men, get it.
“Campaigns approach women bloggers on the soft issues, like health care,” Ms. Aarons said. “Let them bring the foreign policy debate to the big mommy blogs, which get tons of traffic.”
Standard political blogs are “in-the-weeds stuff, for political junkies,” she said. Women are more comfortable when they can share mutual interests, which is why parenting networks and mommy blogs are so popular. Many are filled with politics, just not in the same old way.
For Ms. Aarons, this raises an age-old question: Can women be taken seriously as analysts if they are not part of the boys’ club? If their own club is separate, can it be equal? Blogher.com held a conference this summer with guest speaker Elizabeth Edwards, a revered figure in the blogosphere. But it drew almost no attention from the mainstream media, much of which later gathered for the better known (male-dominated) YearlyKos convention (which also attracted almost all the Democratic candidates).
For Ms. McKhann, what is happening in the bifurcated blogosphere simply underscores the old saw, “the personal is the political.” The smartest candidates, she said, are those who take seriously the “kitchen-table politics” that “unfold every day on the mom blogs and Web sites.”
“If we’re talking about car pool, what’s for dinner and the war in Iraq all in the same breath, it’s still politics on the blogs and across the Web,” she wrote by e-mail.
Obviously this topic is rich. We have to leave it for now, but you can continue to add your thoughts here. Tell us the sites where you pick up political chatter, even _ especially _ if that site is not devoted to such. When we next appear in this space in a couple of weeks, we’ll look at this subject from the perspective of some of the presidential campaigns.