In September 2006 NPR ran a story on a study of numbers of women in academia (or lack thereof), particularly science. Maria Zuber, commenting on the study, made good points that I think are also pertinent to the structure of the Bloggernacle and the conversations we have. Firstly, the tendency in academia is to, as Zuber put it, “stay close to shore.” Academics tend to recognize excellence if it looks like their own work. Likewise bloggers tend to read the kind of content and join the discussions they themselves like to produce, and think those are the best conversations to have.
Patrick Mason, Chair of Mormon Studies at Claremont, noted the problem this creates in his survey of graduate students in the Bloggernacle. As described by Joel at Juvenile Instructor, “A few graduates students felt that the Bloggernacle actually Balkanized Mormons by [creating] very small and distinct spaces for specific kinds of thought and discussion.” For example, Feminist Mormon Housewives focuses on feminist issues within the church, as does The Exponent and Zelophehad’s Daughters, while Segullah attracts mostly conservative readers; each blog maintains a distinct tone. Juvenile Instructor focuses on historical discussions. Millennial Star takes a uniquely conservative approach.
This tends to conceal the overall picture of the Mormon experience and contribute to navel gazing and emotion driven discussions rather than good analysis. Of course that isn’t to say all Bloggernacle discussion need to be serious and analytic of Mormonism culture, history or theology (there is certainly room for humor) ; but if we really want to expand our understanding of who we are as a people and what our faith and culture mean to us not only individually, but collectively, then it behooves us to come together on different themes and listen to one another. I also don’t mean to say that all the blogs should discuss the total sum of Mormonism all the time and maintain absolute objectivity, but Balkanized certainly is an apt description of the atmosphere.
Mason also, “argued that the blogs sometimes enforced patriarchy by becoming ‘boys clubs.’” It’s not hard to miss the ratio of female to male bloggers on the big blogs. Why is this? I can’t help but wonder if some of the Balkanization is caused by this problem. Women bloggers may be compelled to create their own space in the Bloggernacle because male bloggers don’t take them seriously, don’t think certain (female-oriented) kinds of discussions aren’t worth having and/or interesting, don’t think the point of view of many female bloggers is valid, or, as in the case of academics reading scholarly papers, don’t recognize themselves in the writing (in both style and content), so choose not to engage.
One contributing factor that might be suggested is that women don’t care as much about Mormon blogging. But as Zuber said, “Don’t blame the pipeline.” In academia the study showed there are enough women in the pool to choose from, but they aren’t utilized in the academic field. “Talent is there and the interest is there,” Zuber said. For the committee who appoints them, “The tendency is to ask, How will they fit in? What research do they do?” Zuber also mentions that during their childbearing years women have less time because of childcare to do research. I’ve noticed some of my favorite bloggers left the blogs after the births of babies. It’s hard to write thoughtful comments when a two-year-old needs lunch, even harder to write a post.
Do you agree with Mason that Mormon blogging sometimes inadvertently reinforces patriarchy? How? Are our discussion too compartmentalized? Is it problematic? If it is, how can we fix it?