Where Are the Women?:
Pseudonymity and the Public Sphere, Then and Now
Women don't blog about politics. Most bloggers are white
men. Women are afraid to put their opinions out
there. What women write about is personal and
narcissistic. At the heart of the
"where-are-the-women-bloggers" question is the issue of what counts as
public discourse. Women
supposedly don't blog much on
politics—at least, not as much or as successfully as men—preferring
instead to write "mommy blogs," "knitting blogs," "personal blogs," and
the like. This is, of course, a fiction: largely as a response to the
cliché, political and feminist women bloggers have made a point of
organizing, online and off, and making their presence known. For the
most part, the major political blogs now acknowledge that women, too,
write about politics. Indeed, some of the major political blogs are
written by women, for example: Jeanne D'Arc's Body and
Soul, Jeralyn Merrit's Talk Left,
Amanda Marcotte and Pam Spaulding of Pandagon,
and Michelle Malkin.
In fact, it's quite difficult to
determine how many of the top 100 blogs are written, or co-written, by
women. According to The Truth Laid Bear
rankings, most group blogs have
at least one woman contributor, and a number of bloggers write under
Another cliché is that "for most of history, Anonymous was a woman."
And there are historical antecedents for women writers'
invisibility. The main difference between then and now, as far as the
"where-are-the-women" question goes, might simply be a question of
feminist consciousness; we (rightly or wrongly) expect men to notice
their women colleagues. We also expect women, now, to make a fuss if
they're overlooked, and indeed, women bloggers' successful fussing has
resulted in increased visibility. In addition to feminism, bloggers,
unlike women writers of past generations, also have the nature of the
Internet itself: self-publication and broad distribution are only a few
keystrokes away. We can easily organize, link, collaborate, and call
attention to ourselves—"fuss"—through comments, e-mail, dedicated Web
sites, and group ad sales. Indeed, studies show that women and
men blog in nearly equal numbers.
But the association between women and anonymity continues to
resonate, and the impression that women are more likely to be anonymous
lingers. Though we are just beginning to test the reliability of this
impression by gathering hard data, it does seem to be the case that,
though women and men both blog, women may be more likely to do so under
an assumed identity: for example, one study has found that "74 percent
of the anonymous academic bloggers . . . are women."
Historically, we know that publication presented problems for women:
while the modern world of novels and newspapers was being formed,
readers "heard the word 'public' in 'publication' very distinctly, and
hence a woman's publication automatically implied a public
is, a whore. This problem, however, is surely a
relic of the past, and since blogs are self-published, women bloggers
need not mask their identities to overcome real or imagined publishers'
prejudices. Do women bloggers write anonymously more often then men? And
if so, why?
This essay constitutes one attempt to begin answering these
questions. I write a pseudonymous blog that is explicitly feminist and
academic, and in two years of blogging I have been frequently struck by
apparent parallels between blogging and my primary research area, early
periodical publication—with, as it happens, a particular focus on
women's early pseudonymous periodical publishing. The same
truisms—women wrote far less than men, and when they did write, they did
so anonymously—have obtained in eighteenth-century periodical studies
for years, even while scholars have come to recognize the centrality of
women's role in other genres, particularly the novel.
The distinction lies in the question of what counts as public
discourse. The beginnings of print culture corresponded with a shift in
the meanings of public and private. Broadly speaking, where public had
been associated with authority, and private with common individuals, the
early modern period began to redefine these terms along gender lines.
While the public interest included affairs of state, it also included
apparently apolitical issues such as marriage, domestic life, and
manners. But increasingly the role of the state was seen as managing
public affairs (politics, economics) in order to create a private
domestic space in which men and women, as private individuals, were
free from such management.
Hence, although both sexes
consisted of private individuals who, combined, formed a public, the
increasingly gendered nature of the economic roles of men and women
meant that the public individual was conceived of as a man. Where women,
as women, differed from men, their roles were assigned to the private