Digital equality revisited - new report on gender and digital politics

Friday, 8 July 2011

Hat tip to Cath Elliott for alerting me to a new report by the Hansard Society entitled Gender and Digital Politics, published yesterday, which I would have missed otherwise thanks to a certain story dominating the news.

Reading the report reminded me of the post I wrote on debating digital equality at Netroots UK after I attended the conference in January. Cath was also there and I recognised many of the issues we discussed that day in her blog post from yesterday, which covers many of the main points I feel it's important we make here. The way women's voices are sidelined by the 'blokosphere', abusive behaviour below the line and a dismissive attitude towards such abuse, the way many of the things women write about are categorised as 'Life and Style', even when they're actually important political issues (sorry Guardian, I'm looking at you). Is it any wonder that the report identified that the majority of commenting on political blogs is done by men? Not at all, when you get to know about the level of abuse and intimidation leveled at many women who get involved.

As Cath says:

"Until that changes and feminism is recognised as being political rather than seen as some kind of niche lifestyle interest, we’ll continue to see questions like “why are political blogs dominated by men?” being posed, when in reality the question should be: “Why do men always get to decide what is and isn’t politics?"

In the last election we saw how the majority of issues were framed as 'men's issues' while women were portrayed as only having interest in areas of policy such as child benefit and flexible working. Never mind the fact that every other issue affected them too.

Says the report:

"There is also evidence to suggest that women are discussing politics online in places that would traditionally have been perceived as non-political. Mumsnet, which is dedicated to sharing information and tips on parenting, has a campaigning focus, lobbying government and private companies on a variety of issues. This site has blogs from female contributors, and features a talk section, where users are able to discuss issues such as childcare, children’s food and education, lifestyle issues, health and politics."

This was a key aspect of our discussions at Netroots. Many people felt it's important to recognise that there is massive engagement in political issues going on which is not limited to the 'big' political blogs, which are male-dominated and are often a very hostile environment for women. But because these blogs are the ones getting the attention, it's assumed that there is a lack of participation, that women have a tendency to interact on 'lightweight' websites and talk about 'lightweight' issues - when in fact it's more often the case that women are combining discussion of politics with discussion of other topics. The same goes for blogging.

Overall I feel the report missed a lot of important points and that the reasons for political exclusion and how this links in with male-dominated political discussion, with a lot of stereotypically 'female' issues being seen as secondary or 'fluffy', need more analysis.

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