Feminism S&F Online Scholar and Feminist Online, published by the Barnard Center for Research on Women
about contact subscribe archives submissions news links bcrw
Volume 5, Number 2, Spring 2007 Gwendolyn Beetham and Jessica Valenti, Guest Editors
Blogging Feminism:
(Web)Sites of Resistance
About this Issue
About the Contributors

Issue 5.2 Homepage

·Introduction: Gender, Blogging, and the "Where-are-the-women" Case
·Silenced by Sexuality: Sex, Attraction, and Women's Participation
·Subversive, Strategic Appropriation of Femininity (What if I Like Talking about Sex?)
·Conclusion: For Further Discussion

Printer Version

Attracting Readers:
Sex and Audience in the Blogosphere

Clancy Ratliff

Introduction: Gender, Blogging, and the "Where-are-the-women" Case

Weblogs are open spaces for writing about any subject, and sexual experience and lust are by no means off-limits. While the references to sex and attractiveness are almost always intended to be playful and harmless, even sincerely complimentary, they can inhibit equal participation by men and women in public discussion. In this essay, I take up sex and its relation to audience in blogging, specifically the common argument that the best way—or even the only way—for women to have their Weblogs read by a wide audience is to use their sexuality by posting titillating photographs of themselves or by writing about sex along with the issues of the day. This argument, along with many others, often arose in the recurrent discussions about gender in the blogosphere that have come to be known collectively by the general shorthand referent "where-are-the-women." These posts, which appeared with some regularity in 2004 and early 2005, addressed the perceived absence of women in the blogosphere. The primary source material for this research comes from the "where-are-the-women" posts, most of which were written by white, middle-class, heterosexual women and men in the United States.[1] While researchers have examined sex and sexuality in computer-mediated discourse for decades,[2] communicative practices on Weblogs are arguably distinct in some ways from those taking place within older technologies, such as e-mail listservs and discussion boards, and continued research about sexuality's manifestations in emerging technologies is warranted. My effort here is a small step toward addressing these issues.

However, before I explore the roles of sex and attraction in blogging, let me first explain how I see Weblogs functioning in political discourse, broadly defined to include anything that the participants in the discussion consider to be political. So far I have used the terms "blogging" and "public discussion" synonymously. Perhaps this is in error; after all, whoever said that blogging is public discussion, with all that that implies? I liken the Weblogs I study here to public forums because, while most Weblogs are personal journals written for an audience of friends and family, the bloggers in the "where-are-the-women" case generally treat their Weblogs as public forums and create that expectation in their audience. Most of the bloggers I quote here identify their Weblogs as "political Weblogs," and they welcome the publicity their Weblogs have garnered. Each has cultivated a public persona, and each seems eager to create a climate of free, open, and civil participation. Thus, I invoke the normative ideal of public sphere as a goal for these Weblogs and others like them.[3]

Nancy Fraser argues that Jürgen Habermas's description of the eighteenth-century bourgeois public sphere as a normative ideal is inadequate for participatory democracy in contemporary societies that strive to be egalitarian. Specifically, she critiques the assumption that inequalities in social status can be "bracketed" in a public space for the purposes of a discussion.[4] Particularly in a predominantly heterosexual context, social differences exist between men and women. It would be naïve to think that masculinity and femininity could be bracketed for the sake of a discussion; they inevitably intrude, and when this happens, they cannot be ignored. Fraser claims that "[o]ne task for critical theory is to render visible the ways in which societal inequality infects formally inclusive existing public spheres and taints discursive interaction within them."[5] I will now attempt to "render visible" the ways that inequality works in blogging via the mechanism of sex.

Tools 5.2 Online Resources Recommended Reading S&F Online in the Classroom
S&F Online - Issue 5.2 - Blogging Feminism: (Web)Sites of Resistance - ©2007