Redefining the Female Voice in America
By Deirdre Clemente
Blogging. It may sound like
a fraternity hazing ritual but these days, everybody is doing it. Stay-at-home
moms, disgruntled teens, and single twentysomethings are enthusiastically
creating and maintaining weblogs or "blogs"
--online journals that feature everything from boyfriend bashing to baby
food reviews. Even Barbie
has a blog.
Although they've been around
since the mid-nineties, blogs had been reserved for techies
and professional writers. Rebecca
Blood writes that in the beginning of 1999, there were only 25 blogs in
existence; today, the number is around 2.5 million. Blogging software provider
LiveJournal reports that 60% of blog readers are men, but nearly 65% of the those doing
the blogging are women.
reshaping how women are represented in and represented to American
society, offering unprecedented and unparalleled insight into such
topics as motherhood, single life and sexuality. Blogs are silently
altering the landscape of "the female voice" in the 21st
century, as push-button publishing emerges as an accessible means
of self-expression. Time and again, American women bloggers share
stories of medical problems, discuss parenting techniques, and
expound upon political issues that they deem important. With 35
percent of the country surfing the internet daily, what women are
saying about themselves, their interests, and their bodies is reaching
a vast cross-section of the American public. For the first time
in human history, a woman's most intimate thoughts are accessible
to anyone interested in reading them.
To those in-the-know, one
of the progenitors of such sites is Meg Hourihan's, www.megnut.com.
With the help of Evan Williams, Hourihan started
Pyra, the company that would come to release Blogger,
an innovative and popular blog publishing service. Averaging more than 2,000
unique visitors a day, Hourihan's site has been up since May 1999, and she is
considered to be one of the most influential voices on the blogging playing
field. While her posts range from political musings to notice
of a free concert, her purpose is constant: "I want to communicate
whatever is on my mind that seems either helpful/useful, entertaining or 'important'
to my readers." Hourihan's mom has taken up blogging, as has her best
friend. Once an avid journal keeper, Hourihan does not "view megnut.com
as an online diary or journal," but does "like the experiences of
writing, and the way the routine of near-daily writing improves my skills."
Hourihan is not alone in
her desire to create, share, and inspire her readers. At the root of the blogging
revolution are the varied sources of personal motivation that prompt women to
post private musings in a public forum. This essay surveys 20 female bloggers
ranging in age from 17 to 55 and pulls from the interviews, conducted via email,
the reasons why each woman maintains a weblog. Using links to entries, quotations
from the survey, and website content, this article divides the murky waters
of personal motivation into three main sectors.
The first and most prominent
group of women bloggers use their blogs as a journal that is intended to be
read, and their content is catered to the audience they are courting. These
bloggers put much weight on the craft of writing and find pleasure in its practice.
As these audience-seeking bloggers view their blogs as the physical incarnation
of who they are, their sites often have a pronounced visual element including
striking graphics, and hand
A second camp of female
bloggers use their blogs to establish a "cyber
community" aimed at exchanging information and providing emotional
support. These communities range from a group of bloggers with the first name
Sarah to new mothers swapping potty training stories. These sites often feature
or lists of links that connect one to another.
A third group of female
bloggers are motivated by a particular cause. Politically motivated sites
are most common, though blogs with sexual
content often fall into this category, as their aim is to educate or to
discuss alternative lifestyles. Often, women use these sites as a means of fundraising,
and donations are made via Pay
Many female bloggers, such
as Hourihan, can fit nicely into two or all three camps; as blogging is an act
of personal choice, one's topics of discussion can shift from day to day. While
there is usually a reason why a woman posts a particular thought on a particular
day, it can be difficult to discern her overall motivation for maintaining the
blog from week to week, month to month, and year to year.
The aim of this essay is
not to simplify the complex conglomeration of reasons why women blog. The purpose
of this article is to provide a platform from which observers of popular culture
can survey the ever-evolving nexus between Internet publishing and women in
"I Want to
At the core of a blog, is
the writing. Women who view themselves as writers, whether they dabble or do
it professionally, comprise a major
component of the community. Often, these women are lifelong journal writers
(17 of the 20 woman surveyed had journaled at some point in her life) and have
adopted technology as a means of attracting an audience. Dawn "journaled since at least middle school and used to use green steno pads
with nice black felt tip pen." And while she admits to being "a bit
of an emotional exhibitionist" who "weirdly gets my jollies by putting
my stuff out there," she stresses, "I am a writer and not the Emily
Dickinson type; I want to be read."
has kept a writer's journal every day for 12 years and found it to be "a
highly rewarding, enjoyable exercise albeit a solitary one." She views
her blog as "a way to keep the creative instincts honed," and is pleased
"to know that my writing isn't sitting unread in a journal." Her site,
which has been up for nearly a year and a half, includes an extensive collection
creative writing. These pieces get the least amount of comments or feedback,
but they are a source of pride.
whose self-professed goal is to ensure "that the world is aware that someone
like me exists," came to blogging three and a half years ago as a way to
practice her writing. She writes, "I was wanting to be a writer and figured
that it would be good for me to craft regular bits of writing and post them
up for public viewing." Her methods appeared to have worked, she is working
on a book and attracts over 200 hits a day.
The audience-seeking blogger
is forever aware that someone is reading. "I like hearing from readers,"
confesses Rose. "I never had a negative reaction to my site, except for
a Christian woman telling me she'd pray for me, which was sweet, really."
Dawn hopes that people will find comfort in her honesty. "I also try to
talk about things that are hard for me--my struggles with secondary
infertility and our decision to adopt--because
I hope that it will be meaningful for someone maybe going through something
similar." While she does admit that she "likes it when my audience
has grown" she can "feel stifled" and prefers an anonymous reader.
Comments from readers via email or message boards help her "figure out
what to do as a writer."
The well-visited site of
Jessamyn has been around since 1997. She
is "aware that I am writing for some sort of audience, not my own personal
edification." She started her site to cater to one particular reader. Her
goal was "to keep my mom from calling me every day she didn't hear from
me." When people question her motivation as to sharing personal information,
she feels that she really doesn't open up that much. "My phone
number is not that personal...my sex life might be, and I don't talk about
What Jessamyn deems too
personal is common fodder for other bloggers. Rose openly discusses her years
working in prostitution.
When a good friend found Patricia's blog and commented on how well it represented
her, Patricia felt self-conscious. She writes, "For some reason that embarrassed
me a little, but it was also rewarding to know that some essence of me comes
across in my writing."
Jessamyn's site speaks to
another common link between audience-seeking bloggers--an advanced visual element.
Her easy-to-navigate site offers photos, links, and even an indicator as
to what state she is in; she travels between Washington and Vermont. Patricia's
blog has striking graphics, a cartoon character, and the option of changing
the color of the background.
tend to use a component of their actual name in their URL to closely identify
themselves with the work. They are not seeking anonymity, rather, the contrary.
This group of bloggers has posts with few spelling errors and very little Internet
lingo or symbols; most of these bloggers edit their content before they post
it. Viewers can identify such sites by their advanced visual elements.
"A Safe Place
A second sector of female
bloggers is motivated to share their life and experiences out a desire to enlighten,
instruct, or elicit empathy from readers. Natalie started her blog after reading a friend's and uses it to help "remember
things that my kids said and as a tool to vent my frustrations with feeling
overwhelmed at being a stay-at-home mom." As with most bloggers of this
genre, Natalie uses her blog as a means of gaining new friends; one new friend
she plans on meeting soon.
who has been blogging for a year and a half, became so close with a fellow blogger
that she racked up a $50 phone bill talking to her. Tess believes "Blogs
are certainly a way to make friends because they tend to bring together people
of like-mindedness." Tess's mother and sister read her blog , and she even
became friends with a troll,
slang for a blog reader who sends bothersome emails.
took her friendship with Statia outside
the realm of the Internet when she visited Philadelphia in mid-August.
While she was there, she also met Nicole,
"who is far more into politics, but highly eloquent...and incredibly amusing."
Within the next year, Sarah plans on meeting a woman
she met through a webring for those with the first name Sarah: "Love
at first name, I suppose." Sarah has sent her pal a case of beer from Texas
in exchange for some trinkets from New York.
Sarah started to blog in
December 1999 to stay in touch with friends from San Diego after she moved to
Ohio and found individual correspondence to be too time consuming. She decided
to "learn HTML and start an online journal of sorts so they could keep
up with me without having to send a billion emails each week." Once a site
for her friends, her blogs gets thousands of hits a day and her interest has
spread to others. "One of my best friends was even pulled into the cult
of blogging," she jokes. "Okay, I admit, I did it."
Most of the community-seeking
bloggers start their websites as a reaction to a friends or an interest in reading
other blogs. Michelle was given her blog as a Christmas gift in December
2002 and is one of the rare bloggers who never kept a journal while growing
up. To Michelle,
the blog is "a safe place to bitch," and she finds comfort in her
online relationships. She confesses, "It's nice to know that I am not the
only one who gets frustrated with being a wife, mother, daughter, friend, WOMAN."
A woman's quest for camaraderie
can play a large role in why she blogs. For example, Michelle's September 15,
2003 entry recounts an incident that happened while grocery shopping early
in the morning with her children. Her readers quickly offer up condolences with
as "Sorry you had to deal w/that so early in the morning, hon!" The
same reader posts a comment
on the site in reference to her September 23, 2003 entry entitled, "Bad
Day." The reader writes, "I hate asshole drivers and even worse are
late doctors. That shit really burns my bacon."
While stay-at-home mothers
do comprise a large portion of the community-seeking bloggers, it is a sense
of isolation that is a more prominent bond. Tess works as a paramedic on the
12-hour night shift. Natalie's husband Peter travels a lot on business. Sarah
describes herself as "perpetually single." The camaraderie of an online
support group can certainly never replace human interaction for these sensitive
and family-focused women. It can, however, provide a "web" of emotional
involvements to be called upon in times of need. According to Tess, "It
is a way of easing some of the loneliness we can feel as humans."
True, the community-seeking
blogger rarely uses the involved graphics or advanced architecture of more the
audience-focused blogs. These blogs can be distinguished by another prominent
visual feature--a blog roll. Michelle, Sarah, and Natalie have more than 50
other blogs linked to their sites. Also seen on these sites are areas for readers
to post comments on an entry. Entire "side" conversations ensue between
readers and the blogger.
"I Like To
What motivates a third component
of female bloggers is the same concept that has prompted writers from St.
Augustine to Thomas Paine--an inspiring cause. Bloggers with agendas
are hoping to impart change and are particularly important to study as they
often offer alternative views to mainstream opinions and politics.
A prominent blogger among
the politically motivated is Karen DeCoster , who gets between 60,000 and
70,000 visits a day from readers looking for a dose of her libertarian
views. While her website was built to store her work as a freelance political
writer and scholar, the blog section served as "an outlet for all that
I don't have time to write on in a more detailed fashion, in full-length
columns." She finds much pleasure in her blogs: "I like to write,
and I like to promote liberty."
Her audience ranges from
"men's rights guys" to her like-minded father, but DeCoster is quick
to note that "no particular cause ever 'owns' me." While she finds
it nice to know "that there are others who see my blog as a source of inspiration,
information, or just good FYIs on various issues and news," she is careful
not to share private information as her "views are rigid and principled,
and that makes a lot of people angry." Despite her efforts to remain somewhat
aloof from her many readers, DeCoster has been threatened, harassed, and hated
by Internet followers. She notes, "Being that I am female makes it more
likely that I'll draw out the weirdoes. And do I!"
In the same camp is Claire
Wolfe, "a long-time netizen
and news junkie" who received her first diary for her 11th birthday
and has been keeping one every since--more than 40 years. For Wolfe, "It
would be impossible NOT to keep a journal" and "both journaling and
blogging help me sort out the intellectual and emotional puzzles of my life."
writer, Wolfe uses her blog to maintain her readership and keep a visible
profile on the web.
"Politics and humor
are a big part of what I want to communicate, for sure," she explains.
Wolfe estimates that 90% of her readers are men and admits to being somewhat
reserved in her comments as "most of my readers aren't there for the soft
stuff or the girl stuff." She fears that readers would "be disappointed
if they found out strong, sassy Claire was very much and very emotionally female."
Politics are not the only
source of motivation for female bloggers. Heather,
a sex writer, activist, and erotic artist who has been blogging since March
1999, is interested in "representing people who work in sex outside
of common stereotypes." To do so, Heather is incredibly open about her bedroom happenings. "I recently had an entire
cheering section in my comments for getting laid very nicely on a recent date."
She sees that "it's all kind of weird, having a public life in any regard,
especially one you're scripting."
As their motivation springs
from personal interest and they are often professional writers, these sites
commonly have links to the author's books, online writing, or favorite readings.
Many sites feature a means for readers to donate
money to the author's favorite causes or the author herself. In some cases,
these fees come in the form of memberships
that give the viewer access to controlled areas of the site.
Their online personas have
a moniker of their own-- Moody Mama, Lilly
White, Da Goddess. Their topics range from sex advice to sandwich recipes.
Some update hourly, others once a week. Many grew up keeping journals, dream
of writing professionally, and share their sites with family and friends. Others
do it completely anonymously.
Female bloggers are a diverse
group who are spurred into sharing for a range of reasons as individual as they
are. Beyond the circumstances that led them to the medium, are, perhaps more
importantly, the reasons why they stay to participate.
For most, it is the desire
to express oneself, the enjoyment of artistic creation, and the hopes of carving
out a personalized niche in the impersonal world of the Internet. Others are
motivated out of a need to communicate and commiserate with other humans. By
developing and maintaining online friendships these women find comfort in people
unassociated with their "real" life, people who are less likely to
pass judgment on their private thoughts. A final group blogs for a cause. Whether
they are interested in bashing Bush or shaking down sexual stereotypes, these
agenda-pushing bloggers consider their sites as part of their larger life's
work, a tool to bring their message to the masses.
As the Internet further
permeates American culture, women will continue to blog. In doing so, they will
establish more readers, build stronger bonds to each other, and attract increased
academic study. The initial phases of the blogging revolution have shown that
the social changes accompanying this technological advancement has not come
forth with a burst of chaotic energy. Rather, this dramatic change in the projection
of "the female voice" has proven to be silent. It has been and will
be accomplished, not with the power of the fist, but with the stroke of the
Clemente is affiliated with Fashion Institute
of Technology, where she researches the changing role of women in American
society. Her blog has been profiled in The
New York Times and her writing has appeared in magazines including Self,
Health, and Mademoiselle, and various journals.