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Blogging’s Glass Ceiling, Or Why Baby Poop Don’t Get No Respect

A Sunday NYT piece about the BlogHer convention begins,

FOR two days last week, many of the men’s bathrooms at the Westin St. Francis Hotel here were turned into women’s bathrooms. The stalls on the second floor were lined with note cards featuring nurturing messages like “You are perfect.” Nearby, women were being dusted with blush and eye shadow, or having the kinks in their necks massaged.

There was a lactation room, child care, and onesies for sale emblazoned with the words “my mom is blogging this.” No doubt they were.

In which section would you think this story would appear? If you guessed “Fashion and Style,” you’re a much more astute judge of the newspaper trade than Erin Kotecki Vest, the political director at BlogHer.com and mommy blogger at Queen of Spain.

Perhaps, with all the talk of us being “…a corporate-sponsored Oprah-inflected version of a ’60s consciousness-raising group” they missed the part about 36 million of us taking over as power-users of the web while raising our children and supporting our families.

Perhaps, I need to remind or at the very least provide some additional information that may or may not affect the future placement of a piece on women bloggers.

Women are outnumbering men on the web.

Women control .83cents of every household dollar spent. That means from buying a lawnmower to buying laundry detergent, women hold the purse strings.

Women have been turning off DayTime television and canceling their subscriptions to ‘female’ based magazines in favor of going online.

Yet when we get together yearly to learn from one another on the business and practices of blogging, the NYT sees fit to discuss us in the same breath as “what women are wearing on their feet this summer.”

But this wasn’t a feature on the business of blogging. That story’s so 2005. The short answer is that there’s not much money in blogging unless you’re leveraging a major network. (More on that latter.) No, this was a freelance piece from Kara Jessella, a former beauty editor for Teen Vogue and the co-editor of How Sassy Changed My Life: A Love Letter to the Greatest Teen Magazine of All Time.

Indeed, as Digby notes while also complaining about the story’s placement,

This story doesn’t delve deeply into any stories about those women who attended the convention who are successful, what kinds of blogs make money, how they do it, why some work and some don’t. Instead it took a snide tone about female bloggers as if they are some bizarre, trivial subculture of lactating zombies who bitch and moan all the time.

And it contains such insights as,

Blogging has come a long way from its modest beginnings. These days, there is money to be made, fame to be earned and influence to be gained. And though women and men are creating blogs in roughly equal numbers, many women at the conference were becoming very Katie Couric about their belief that they are not taken as seriously as their male counterparts at, say, Daily Kos, a political blog site. Nor, they said, were they making much money, even though corporations seem to be making money from them.

We’ve got a strange juxtaposition, with these women simultaneously trumpeting that they control 85 percent of the money and all of the dominate the Internet and yet whining about how hard it is to make a buck. Let me assure you, ladies, that very few bloggers are making much money. It’s a gig with absurdly low barriers to entry and with fierce competition for eyeballs.

You want to get the respect of DailyKos? Well, put together the biggest political blog on the planet, raise a ton of money for political candidates, and write about things people care about. Want a hint? This ain’t it:

I’m listening to my mother and my brother discuss my daughter, and I can’t decide if I am thrilled or offended.

“She’s going to give you a run for your money.”

“She’s going to be the wild child.”

“The life of the party, breaking all the rules.”

“Battle of the wills. My money is on Princess Peanut- Erin, you’re going down.”

[Photo of Princess Peanut redacted]

I just kept on slicing eggplant at the counter while they went on and on and on.

Needless to say the past few days with my 3-year old have been…let’s call them trying.

That’s the lede to the most recent post on Kotecki’s blog not whining about the coverage of BlogHer. A quick scan of the site indicates that this is pretty much what every post is about. Now, this is fine. It’s an online diary of the frustrations of motherhood that presumably has some value as an outlet. Maybe other frustrated mothers of toddlers can find some comfort in seeing they’re not alone. But it’s not going to land you in the Politics section or draw comparisons with Edward R. Murrow.

Ditto:

“It’s disheartening and frustrating,” said Allison Blass, a BlogHer attendee whose personal blog at www.lemonade-life.com is about living with Type 1 diabetes.

Some non-diary bloggers were mentioned in the piece, too, including one very familiar name:

Other prominent female bloggers who did not attend the BlogHer conference agreed that there are unique challenges that women in the blogosphere face. “Women get dismissed in ways that men don’t,” said Megan McArdle, an associate editor at The Atlantic Monthly who writes a blog about economic issues.

And they draw interest in ways men don’t. But getting paid to blog by one of the most prestigious magazines around? That’s pretty rare. Megan’s doing it. She’s taken seriously enough to have been given that platform by a really unorthodox scheme: She got a first class education (UPenn undergrad, Chicago MBA) and wrote for next to nothing on a well regarded blog until she got a break, first writing for the Economist and then the Atlantic.

Then there’s Kate McMillan, whose small dead animals is the most popular political blog in Canada. Unless she’s got some funding source of which I’m unaware, she’s still supporting herself with her day job as a graphic artist. The dirty little secret is that even respected, popular sites generally don’t make much money.

There are dozens of superb writers out there writing about important topics in unique ways, drawing a very respectable following, who aren’t making a lot of money at it. There are only a handful who are making the mad blog bucks.

Most money in blogging comes in much the same way that it does in the rest of the media: by either cornering a niche and getting lucky or by putting together capital, starting a network, and hiring others to do the writing. The only mommy blog I’m really familiar with is Heather Armstrong’s Dooce. I presume she’s doing well with it financially. Nick Denton’s Gawker sites are, one suspects, doing fine. Quite a few celebrity gossip sites also do well — and handful, extraordinarily so — simply because of the massive search traffic they can generate.

And Stacy McCain is right: When the NYT devotes column inches to your project, have the good grace not to whine about which section it’s in.

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About James Joyner
James Joyner is the publisher of Outside the Beltway, an associate professor of security studies at the Marine Corps Command and Staff College, and a nonresident senior fellow at the Atlantic Council. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm vet. He has a PhD in political science from The University of Alabama. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter.

Comments

  1. Thanks for the link, James. By the way, having offended a few feminists with that first post, I decided there was only one thing to do: Double down.

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  2. Dave Schuler says:

    This sounds to me like yet another iteration of the “Why isn’t my blog in the Top Ten?” discussion that goes around blogosphere in one form or another every couple of months.

    The secret of being a top blogger is easy:

    1. Start in 2001.
    2. Have name recognition before you start blogging.
    3. Post lots and lots.
    4. Confirm the biases of your target audience.

    If you’re a woman, posting about your sex life seems to be a sure-fire path to fame and fortune. Washingtonienne is being made into a TV program. It may depend on whom you’re having sex with.

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  3. I’m not even sure where to start here, so I guess I’ll just dive in.

    All blogHERS are not Mommybloggers and many of us, in fact, are making money. QueenofSpainBlog is my personal site, where I blog about everything from parenthood (as you noted) to politics.

    As a blogHER I also contribute to the Huffington Post and I am the political director for BlogHer, as well as the Election ’08 producer and BlogHer in Second Life producer.

    I an not sure if you noticed, but when male bloggers discussed health and heart attacks, they were placed in the ‘technology’ category of the NYT.

    Technology.

    I’m curious if the SXSW interactive conference was discussed in Fashion and Style? I attended panels there that ranged from how to make money to race and gender.

    Guessing that’s under the ‘Technology’ heading too.

    I’m plenty successful on the fame and fortune scales thanks, but many of you continue to ignore us. Can’t imagine it has anything to do with us being pushed off into the Fashion section, now can it?

    Erin

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  4. No matter how you spin it, the emergence of women in blogging and the fact that corporate sponsors are wetting themselves to get a spot on Dooce is about business – not fashion.

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  5. This seems like a designedly unfair and aggressive strike against those people who remarked that the NYT had erred in running a piece on BlogHer in the Fashion and Style section.

    So let’s be clear about something: the piece that was written? Arguably that piece, as it stands, belongs in Fashion and Style. And I say “arguably” there because as Erin has pointed out even the most mundane, daily-life kind of blog stuff gets included in Technology when men do it. But there are two culprits here: first, the author of the piece, who misrepresented BlogHer in some ways by charicaturing it a bit as a big mommy-blogging group hug. Second, the editor who opted to put the piece in Fashion and Style instead of Technology. Fully four-fifths of the sessions at BlogHer had nothing to do with mommy-blogging, except where mothers, like everyone else, might take an interest in general interest blogging topics. Four-fifths. A puff piece that makes the conference out to be all babies and nipples isn’t helping BlogHer in any way: not all publicity is good publicity.

    Now, for you to criticize those who don’t appreciate the Times’ coverage as, essentially, needing to just put their big girl pants on and gracefully accept whatever crumbs the NYT is willing to give them for their meaningless little mommy-blogs-of-insignificant-interest, well, that’s what we in the business of critical thinking like to call a “straw man fallacy”. You see, while the blogHers are concerned, just as everyone else in the blogosphere is, about revenue, that isn’t the guiding force of the outrage against the NYT piece. It’s an easy target to pick on, and to point out that hardly anyone makes money from blogging; but the brunt of the criticism so far has just been that the NYT misrepresented the BlogHer conference in its myopic article.

    Condescendingly patting these bloggers on the head and telling them that they should be thrilled to get any mention at all in the NYT is insultingly patronizing and does nothing to further discussion. It just makes you look like you are so devoid of substantive replies to the critical blogHers that you need to dismiss instead of engage them squarely.

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  6. sengseng says:

    didn’t nyt pan ‘Sex and the City: The Movie’ and women showed up in droves to propel it to top the box office with a $55.7 million opening? female blogging will be proven, in time, as a lucrative business. who better to have online conversations than those at home who seek social interaction and are even defined as a gender by it? the money will eventually come to the blogs that resonate with women because these are the blogs that will attract the biggest audience and any business that ignores or dismisses this female market will miss out on the financial gains.

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  7. Kelby says:

    Wow! I’m not sure I’ve seen one blog post quote so many and understand so little.

    First of all, yes we certainly can criticize how or where the NYT covers something. Acting like it’s so special to be in NYT that you should never dare to question their decisions is just absurd.

    And yes, you can make money blogging. I could make a pretty long list of women doing it, both directly on their blog or through book deals and simply landing gigs as consultants. But I won’t.

    But really, all of this is about perception. When women blog, it’s cute. It’s about wiping asses. It’s about sleepless nights. Why is that ALWAYS all some of you men see (I have griped about this before on Mashable too).

    Moms who blog are not just people keeping a journal about the nuances and trials of motherhood. Some are political, some are geeky, some are trend-setters. Some are doctors and lawyers and accountants.

    Bottom line: EVERYONE, including New York Times, you, everyone, needs to stop pretending all moms are the same. Or all women who blog are the same. It’s insulting. When I was pregnant the first time, I despised it because it seemed all anyone wanted to talk to me about was the BAYY-BEEEE. Like my mind devolved to Jello when I became empregnated. This is the same thing. Just because we are moms who blog does not mean all we talk about is our children.

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  8. This piece misses the point of the criticisms, such as those by Kotecki Vest, just as badly as Jesella’s NY Times piece missed the point of BlogHer ’08.

    BlogHer is a convention of all types of bloggers and while it did provide services geared towards women—such as childcare, nursing rooms, and more bathrooms—that was provided as a backdrop that enabled women to attend political panels, discussions on race and gender, building a writing career in order to make a living, and how to use Web 2.0 to do good.

    Perhaps Jessella simply doesn’t know how to write anything other than style and fashion, but in that case, she could have—and should have—made it clear that focusing on that was her own personal limitation, not that of the conference or its attendees. And it could easily have been delivered in a way that didn’t mock or create a caricaturization of the attendees of BlogHer.

    Perhaps you can’t imagine that women prefer to not be mocked or depicted overly simplistically as squeeing fashionistas or money-greedy writers striving to be as successful as Dooce. But try to wrap your mind around it. Try hard. Or…better yet, open a discussion instead of ladling out judgment and shutting down conversation with written hand slaps.

    Many of us contribute to more than one blog—I have three, personally: one for activism, one for politics, and one for personal—and I have a day job writing freelance. So my criticism is that I prefer to be viewed as a professional who enjoyed the opportunity to gather with other women writers and explore the many facets of a life of writing, regardless of topic or how much it earns.

    Even though little of my writing is about motherhood, some of it is, so your comment that writing about motherhood isn’t a topic people care about and isn’t going to get respect? Gets no props from this quarter.

    Neither does this article, especially because you conclude by telling me I shouldn’t open my mouth or worry my pretty little head about how women are depicted, and I ought to simply be grateful we get any attention.

    Phhbbbttt to that, James. For real.

    Women quit accepting that role about the time racial minorities quit believing they should sit on the back of the bus.

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  9. Cecily says:

    I wish I could say what I think as eloquently as those that have gone before me. I can only agree: why are women always dumped into the style section?

    I’ll tell you who gets the truth about women blogging about even that oh-so-insignificant thing as RAISING THE NEXT GENERATION–companies that want us to buy stuff. There were more corporate sponsors tap dancing at BlogHer than I could have imagined. Of course, that doesn’t mean they are willing to PAY us to blog about them.

    Dollar for dollar, the money that is being paid to bloggers is going to men. And there is no way you can say that is fair.

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  10. RW Rogers says:

    Life is so unfair.

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  11. designtwit says:

    Market surveys, focus groups, raw data on women bloggers, readers, writers and lurkers that include education, household income, how many hours of TV they watch a week etc, would be the only way to turn a head on this subject. Black & white data will perk up men’s minds and open pocketbooks. Blog content about poop causes men to glaze over and miss a huge opportunity. Their loss.

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  12. Triumph says:

    What these broads don’t understand is that chicks have a serious leg up on dudes in the arena of net-commerce.

    Porn makes more cash than blogs any day of the year–particularly porn involving dames. If you want to start raking in the cabbage, drop the blogging insanity and set up a web-cam site with paypal.

    You can retire by the time you hit 30–believe me, I know.

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  13. make money online…

    Finally, I found a site that I can depend on for good content. THanks!…

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