Women have finally arrived on cyberspace. Weblogs - more usually referred to as 'blogs' - are arguably the most significant indicator of online activity today, and a recent survey has found that men and women share the 'blogosphere' rather equitably.
"While earlier there were more men blogging, now there is a tie," says Lee Rainie, Project Director at The Pew Internet and American Life Project, a Washington DC-based NGO that regularly conducts surveys on trends in the use of Internet. This comment is based on a random telephone survey of 2,000 people that Pew Project had conducted in January-February 2006 in the US. The survey found as many women writing blogs as men.
A blog is a web-based publication in which the writer can publish his or her thoughts regularly. For the past few years, blogs have taken the idea of net-based communication to the next level by providing commentary and links to other websites, and presenting creative writing, art and music to interested readers.
The results of the 2006 survey are not surprising, though, given the fact that earlier Pew Project had found that women actively use Internet as a medium for exchanging thoughts and ideas. The survey 'How women and men use the Internet' was conducted in December 2005, and found that women are more likely to use e-mail to keep in touch with people and enrich their relationships. Some 94 per cent of online women and 88 per cent of online men use e-mail. The survey summarised results of a variety of tracking surveys on the use of Internet between March 2000 and September 2005. The 2006 survey, in fact, continues the work of last year's survey.
These results contradict a common perception that women are less active on the Internet than men. Krista Kennedy, a PhD student in the Department of Rhetoric, University of Minnesota, said that there is a common assumption that girls are reticent in trying out new technologies as compared to boys. "There are plenty of women who program, develop, and research technologies. But these are not the faces you see on the news or in movies when technology issues are discussed. Instead, we see men." One of the research interests of the Department of Rhetoric is looking into participation of women in writing blogs.
Kennedy says blogging services are easy to use and women have been using them regularly. "For most women, the bigger problem is of finding the time to blog. Women still take on the responsibility of running the household and, therefore, end up with less time for leisure activities like blogging."
Software engineer Lilly Tao did not let lack of time deter her from blogging. She began her blog 'GirlHacker's Random Log' in 1999. "My weblog is an outlet for me to create quality writing and share interesting, often unique, information on topics that I find enjoyable," says Tao. These topics range from Queen Elizabeth's pink diamonds to launch of Play-Doh perfume. "The reason I started blogging was to practice reviewing and editing my own writing. I wanted to see if I could follow the discipline of regular writing, so I had a daily schedule at first, then every weekday, and I kept that up for five years until the birth of my son."
Tao says she has deliberately not let her identity as a woman affect her blog content. "At times, I offer a female perspective on issues but largely my blog is not different from a man's blog."
While Tao's blog is an example of random and interesting jottings, other women have used the internet for making their voices heard on the blogosphere on a variety of topics - from fact-based political debates to reproductive rights.
For instance, 'Reproductive Rights Blog' has been generating discussions on diverse issues including stress and pregnancy and contraceptives given to pigeons in Thailand to control their population. Feministe and Blogsheroes are two hugely popular feminist blogs. While blogs on and by women cover different issues, their important contribution is in bringing the voices of women to the forefront and initiating discussions.
The blog 'One Good Thing' certainly seems to be doing that. It contains the blogger Flea's writings on her children, politics and porn for women. Flea's personal jottings elicit responses from men and women who seem to relate to the world of a seemingly stay-at-home mom.
Kennedy says that besides feminist writings on blogs, another interesting area to look out for is of 'mommy bloggers' writing about their experiences. "The underlying fact is that blogs by women and about women are growing in numbers on the Internet," she says.
And it is not only women who find their way to blogs - young girls are also using blogs to express and connect. In a survey titled 'Teen Content Creators and Consumers' conducted in November 2005, Pew Project found that, among teens, girls lead blogging activity. Mostly, they like to share stories, drawings and photographs. The data for the survey was collected through random telephone interviews of 1,100 parent-child pairs. This survey found that 25 per cent of girls in the age group of 15-17 keep a blog, compared with 15 per cent of the boys.
Deborah Wilcox, mother of two girls, is not surprised that teenaged girls are more into blogging than boys. She said it can be explained as a continuation of activities undertaken by boys and girls in preteen years. "Between 8-12 years of age, boys arrange themselves in competitive sports whereas girls seem to enjoy interactive sports. That later reflects in the use of computers as well. The boys are more into competitive games on computers whereas girls seem to enjoy interactive activities like chatting and blogging."