No longer simple online diaries, blogs offer a platform for women to find their voices as experts and opinion-makers.
LONDON, U.K—The media environment is mostly male-dominated. News is written by men and about men, and female journalists, experts and sources remain underrepresented.
Data show how media organizations—in the U.K. and the Western world generally—perpetrate a systematic marginalization of women, and an increasing number of them have turned to the digital sphere to claim a public space through personal channels, social media and blogs.
Blogging has often been praised for validating female voices, allowing them unprecedented freedom to publish original and unfiltered content, regardless of mainstream agendas and focuses.
“Women have been socialized to defer to men when it comes to expressing opinions. Blogging can be a powerful tool to counter that,” says Joy Goh-Mah, a London-based journalist and feminist blogger.
Goh-Mah says blogs are a great tool for social change and believes women are being heard in a way that has never happened before on such a large scale.
Having grown outside of the conventional media domains, the “blogosphere” does not respond to the established power structures in which women struggle to advance.
“In the past, the editor, the printer and the retailer came between the writer and the reader. And there was some discrimination against ‘women writers.’ Blogging has provided a forum for women to discuss what matters to them,” explains Alexandra Campbell, a journalist, prominent garden blogger and writing consultant.
Since the late ’90s, blogs have evolved from simple online diaries into powerful digital publications that shape public opinion about major topics and issues. Now recognized by the mainstream media, blogs are often integrated within newspapers’ websites and are regularly accepted as authoritative sources.
Blogs can promote women’s visibility, increasing their opportunities to participate in the news and move from the peripheral ranks to the centers of interest. As Campbell points out, “Online networks like Britmums and Mumsnet are now so powerful that politicians actively address them.”
Operating at the margins of the news system, bloggers may have the privilege of responding to their specific interests and setting their own priorities, but can their fringe practice challenge the lack of female sources, experts and reporters throughout the media?
With more than 30 years of experience as a journalist, Campbell is very familiar with print media and newsroom politics. She sounds skeptical: “Blogging isn’t going to help women get on an equal footing with men in a newsroom. Blogs are seen as a ‘soft’ lifestyle area. They’re not going to change much in terms of news coverage.”
Bloggers can also be affected by skewed perceptions of their work as the product of young, inaccurate and highly opinionated writers. Goh-Mah believes that dismissive prejudices and the nature of blogging as an unpaid and mostly female occupation contribute to an imbalance of power in favor of men—men journalists specifically. “This is not an ideal state of affairs,” she says.
Yet blogging can still represent an opportunity. “I suppose it is a good first step to getting women’s voices heard, and eventually centered in mainstream discourse,” she admits.
Now able to publish freely and develop a dedicated audience, women bloggers are more likely to gain confidence about their personal expertise, developing and exhibiting the skills necessary to build a career in journalism.
A successful blog attests to timeliness, good writing and promotional practice, establishing the most talented individuals as experts within their specific area of interest.
Debbie Djordjevic, a digital media expert, journalist and blogger, sees blogs as not only an easily available creative outlet but also as a showcase. The best bloggers prove themselves to be engaging writers, interacting with their audience at a greater level than many journalists do.
“Bloggers are multitaskers and have to take full responsibility for their content. Running a successful blog involves everything from writing to growing an audience, all valuable skills to journalists too,” she says.
Blogs seem to be the quickest way to gain writing experience and join the public debate, but the online environment may intimidate many new women writers. Under the scrutiny of a wide and diversified audience, women can become the targets of harsh—and often sexist and misogynist—criticism. The extreme death and rape threats directed toward feminists Anita Sarkeesian and Caroline Criado-Perez have revealed the disturbing abuse that women writers are exposed to.
Chayya Syal, a London-based blogger and journalist, has grown a following writing about racial and ethnic issues. She recalls, “I have received death threats and unsavory messages from older men who hate what I write about, especially if it’s to do with South Asian women. I have had messages from ‘Die, you fat ugly bitch’ to ‘Your family should be ashamed of you.’”
Having received hateful comments herself, Goh-Mah knows the inhibiting power of fear: “It can—as is the intended effect—silence women.” Her response, though, is about courage and trust, urging women to support each other and make a difference. “It’s so important for women to visibly and vocally support one another. Often this could be the determining factor as to whether a female blogger gains strength and confidence or is inhibited through fear of abuse.”