By Karen Trimbath
Monday, August 2, 2004
Many more women than men start and maintain personal online journal postings known as Web logs, or blogs for short. Female bloggers of all ages say they provide a great means of self-expression and forum for social-policy discourse.
(WOMENSENEWS)--Teresa Heinz Kerry, wife of Democratic presidential nominee John Kerry, is a "major American crone." That's according to Elaine Frankonis in her blog.
Frankonis is a 64-year-old grandmother from Albany, N.Y., who describes herself as the "self-proclaimed crone of blogging." Her brief praise--and plea for readers to vote for John Kerry--was posted the day after Heinz Kerry addressed the Democratic National Convention in Boston on July 27.
Frankonis is one of millions of women who sit in front of computers, posting their opinions, photos and links onto online journals called blogs, or Web logs. While most blogs are created by the under-30 crowd, particularly teens, women of all ages are enthusiastically blogging, says fellow blogger Jeneane Sessum of Atlanta.
"Blogs make it really easy to express yourself," says Sessum, a public relations writer. "It's an amazing tool to help you figure out who you are, what you care about and to connect with other human beings. Plus, it's a place for me to exercise my voice. I've been so busy writing for clients that I've never kept up with my personal writing. Blogging has really helped me refine my voice."
Sessum is the founder of Blog Sisters, a group blog with more than 100 female members from around the world who discuss everything from gender and international politics to family life and career quandaries, without fear of being censored. For instance, Shelley Powers, a computer writer from St. Louis who posts photographs on her site, enjoys discussing her images with professional photographers.
More women than men start blogs and they're also more likely to keep them, according to a study conducted by Perseus Development Corp., a Web-based market research firm based in Braintree, Mass. The study notes that the number of hosted blogs is expected to exceed 10 million by the end of 2004. It also found that women created 56 percent of surveyed blogs.
Opinion pages in most newspapers are dominated by male voices. With so few women editorial or opinion writers, blogs have become many women's method of choice to get their opinions heard.
"My fascination with blogging lies in my voice informs someone else's voice," notes Sessum. "I can push out thoughts, opinions and ideas."
All a blogger needs to get started is a computer and an Internet connection. Then she chooses a blog service provider. Blogger, headquartered in San Francisco, offers free templates and services. TypePad of San Mateo, Calif., offers a 30-day free trial of its services with monthly fees ranging between $4.95 to $14.95 per month. LiveJournal of Portland, Ore., enables people to join for free. Users can upgrade their accounts for extra features that cost between $5 to $25 per month. Motime of New York City has not yet determined the fees for upgraded accounts.
Part of the set-up process includes deciding on the level of privacy. Bloggers can choose whether to use a screen name to conceal their identities and whether readers can post comments. While many women use pseudonyms, others like Sessum and Frankonis openly use their real names.
Bloggers can update their sites as often as they want, although the Perseus survey did find that active blogs are updated on average only every 14 days. Most of the writing is informal in style and typically rife with misspellings, slang and grammatical errors.
Helping Sessum maintain the Blog Sisters site is Frankonis, a life-long activist. She began blogging after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks in order to share her views about world events. Her son helped her set up her own site, called "Kalilly Time."
She says that her posts are a way for her to share her perspectives on feminism, spirituality and politics with readers from all over the globe.
"Women are very articulate in their blogs," she adds. "They're in their best face, using their best words. In many cases, women don't get the chance to express themselves this way" in face-to-face relationships.
Standing on a soapbox carries risks, as Frankonis has found, for readers can sometimes leave negative comments. She believes that women and men respond to blogs differently. "When commenting, women tend to be more considerate of each other, while men tend to be more ruthless," she says.
Even she admits, though, that this generalization isn't always true. She and Sessum, for instance, have "had a few tussles. There's a risk, because we're not face to face, that you could get hurt or make enemies. But we get over it."
With blogging, as in real life, connections are the name of the game.
Most blogs contain links to other blogs, news sources and other sites. Technorati is an online company in San Francisco that ranks the world's top 100 blogs according to how many other blogs link to them. It lists only a few sites supposedly run by women, and these tend to feature images of large-breasted models, according to Powers, who's tired of seeing such blogs. She says these soft-porn sites conform to men's expectations.
Sessum and Frankonis like rocking the boat through voicing their opinions. So does Powers, who isn't shy about voicing her opinions about the prevalence of sexism in technology in her blog titled "Burningbird."
For instance, Powers took on blog templates created for Blogger that she believed reflected gender stereotypes. One titled "Mr. Moto" features a taupe background and a photo of a skyscraper in a sample post, while the other, "Ms. Moto," featured a pink background and a photo of a Barbie doll in a sample post.
"What is the message from these templates?" writes Powers. "That men have professional-looking sites while women prefer pink and dolls?"
Powers adds that participants--both men and women--are influenced by society's gender expectations. For instance, she observes that bloggers of both sexes tend to give more credibility to men's opinions than women's.
"There tends to be sexism in technology," she says. "It's frustrating. When you're a writer and have something to say, you want to be treated with respect."
The solution to resolving the tension between the genders, says Frankonis, may lie in continuing to blog and to read other blogs, to keep the conversation going. "Blogging is a really good way to diminish isolation," she notes. "It makes you realize there is one planet. We Americans forget that so easily."
Karen Trimbath is a writer in Pittsburgh, Pa. She received her MFA in creative writing from Penn State.