Tuesday, September 23, 2014

Socialization of Gender Norms Through Blogging

The internet has easily been the defining social medium of the 21st century. Bloggers have capitalized on this platform and have turned their interests, hobbies, and thoughts into profit. Although men and women blog roughly the same amount, when it comes to the business side of blogging, women take the lead.

(Figure 1: Gender distribution of bloggers)
According to the Pew Research Center, 18.9 million women blog. Compared to the 16 million men blogging, they have collectively been more aggressive and profitable at “generating financial support from brands” [1]. However, most women bloggers are associated with Lifestyle, or “Mommy Blogging.” Indeed, of the top 10 female bloggers in the U.S (that is, bloggers with the highest readership) all were related to an aspect of motherhood or homemaking [2]. Katherine Stone of PostPartumProgress.com blogs about depression and pregnancy/childbirth. “Design Mom” Gabrielle Blair focuses on style, design, and child-rearing. Ree Drummond of The Pioneer Woman blogs about life on a cattle ranch with her husband and four children, Food Network television show, and two cookbooks. Yet, as successful as these top female bloggers are, Gina Trapani was the sole woman on the list of the 10 top-earning bloggers in 2014 [3]. She founded Lifehacker, a blog with tips and ideas to make everyday life easier. Her blog was one of only 3 others on the top-earning blog list that was not related to technology, finance, or business. As such, lists of “Top Female Bloggers” can be misleading. These women are the top bloggers, but only among other women. If success is measured through a blog’s earnings, men and their generally business and technology related blogs still dominate.

            What do these obvious differences between the sexes in blogging say about gender? While women may not be dominating the highest-paid blogging positions, they have certainly found their success through certain niches on the internet, mainly through lifestyle blogs that cover topics ranging from beauty and fashion to child-rearing and homemaking. Many of these “Mommy Blogs” portray an idea of “new momism,” or “motherhood [as] the most important thing a woman can do,” defined by Susan Douglas and Mereith Michaels in “The Mommy Myth: The Idealization of Motherhood and How it Undermines Women.” These mothers are “always smiling and understanding” exhibiting “boundless, unflagging and total love.” New momism, as defined by Douglas and Michaels, makes a failure of all mothers while placing them in competition against each other [4]. Certainly, these women attract an audience through emphasis on beauty. Their fashionable clothes, trendy children, loving husbands, and stylish homes give readers a picture of perfection.

This socialization through blogging can have diverging outcomes. On one hand, many lifestyle bloggers who understandably portray only the good in their lives socialize other women to believe that they, too, must have it all together. Their clothes must always be of the latest style, their children always happy, their homes always spotless, and their husbands always supportive. Being a woman revolves around being a mother and a wife. Blogging can socialize women to believe that their roles as mothers go far beyond simply caring for the needs of their children. Their lives and families must be stylish and worthy of sharing in the blogosphere as well. Certain ideas of motherhood and gendered expectations get passed on through this as well. Women can be pitted against one another in scenarios of good mom, bad mom. A good mom sacrifices everything for her children. A bad mom does not breastfeed. A good mom sees motherhood as her calling and purpose. The pattern could go on forever (and often does in the comment threads of many popular lifestyle blogs). Lifestyle blogs have glorified motherhood to the point that women without children are not the social norm.
taza.jpg(Figure 2: Popular lifestyle blog Love Taza)
Yet, these gendered ideas of what women are to be as mothers are not completely negative. Indeed, it could be said that lifestyle blogs have elevated the status of women. As Powell points out, “Seldom have mothers negotiated their own constructions in the public eye. Mommy bloggers construct versions of their own motherhood and readers identify, correct, clarify, and reinterpret those constructions” [4]. For much of history, motherhood has been seen as the private sphere occupied by women. The public sphere, occupied by men, consists of careers, business, economics, and politics. Essentially, it is where the action of the world happens, where discourse occurs, and decisions are made. Yet, blogging has given women a tool to take their traditionally private sphere roles and transform them into something viable in the public sphere. No longer are the ideas society has about motherhood shaped solely through the idealistic mother of television (think: Brady Bunch) or magazines. Mommy blogs have made real life, and actual motherhood and mothering responsibilities, a part of everyday, mainstream discourse. Even the most “perfect” mommy bloggers often post about their struggles (sick children, difficult pregnancies, family crises) and find support among other women. Not only have women found solace among other women blogging, but gender norms about parenthood have been changed as well. “Daddy bloggers” are on the rise, challenging gendered stereotypes about unattached fathers. Fathers are helping make the traditionally private sphere of parenthood public, and helping raise the status of parenthood as they do it. The notion of parenting as solely a woman’s responsibility is beginning to disappear, and while there are certainly social norms that exist around motherhood and fatherhood, bloggers are helping bring about new ideas of social norms.

dad blog.jpg
(Figure 3: Popular “daddy blog” “How to be a Dad”)

            In this digital age, blogs, and the discourse that comes about because of them, shape many of our perceptions on gender norms. Inequality and sexism is apparent in the blogosphere. Research found that males are more likely to blog about technology and politics, while women are more likely to focus on journal keeping and the sharing of personal experiences [5]. Men’s “filter blogs” of news and information are more likely to gain followers, but women’s participation in the blogosphere is unprecedented in history. Women are narrating their own stories. Motherhood is no longer a subject discussed behind closed doors, solely a matter of the private sphere. While there are unrealistic expectations placed upon women as a result of blogging, the new ability for women to connect with other women and join the public sphere is an important step towards greater gender equality.

[1] Faw, Larissa. “Is Blogging Really A Way for Women To Earn A Living?” Forbes. 25 April 2014. (http://www.forbes.com/sites/larissafaw/2012/04/25/is-blogging-really-a-way-for-women-to-earn-a-living-2/)
[2] Purdy, Alicia. “10 of the most popular women bloggers in the U.S.” Deseret News. http://www.deseretnews.com/top/701/0/10-of-the-most-popular-women-bloggers-in-the-US-.html
[3] Darling, Annika.”The 10 Top Earning Bloggers In The World.” The Richest. http://www.therichest.com/rich-list/world/worlds-10-top-earning-bloggers/
[4] Powell, Rebecca. “Good Mothers, Bad Mothers and Mommy Bloggers: Rhetorical Resistnce and Fluid Subjectivities.” MP: An Online Feminist Journal. February 2010. http://academinist.org/wp-content/uploads/2010/02/03_Powell_Bloggers.pdf
[5] Lopez, Lori Kido. “The radical act of ‘mommy blogging’: redefining motherhood through the blogosphere.” New Media & Society. July 23, 2009

[Figure 1] Sysomos, http://www.sysomos.com/reports/bloggers/
[Figure 2] lovetaza.com

[Figure 3] howtobeadad.com

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