Where are the white women at?

And just in case the reference in the title escapes you—which would make you a film philistine—here it is….wait for it….

While recently celebrating the commenters on my blog, Laura Blankenship made a very simple observation, from which a fascinating conversation emerged. Why are all your top commenters men? And however I might try and chalk it up to my header imagesor an aestheticizing of S&M, truth be toId, I immediately flinched when I saw Laura’s comment. For I too noticed this immediately when I pulled the totals, and however I might try and spin it, the fact remains that the testosterone level on the bava is pretty high—which is one of it’s many strengths 🙂

And while Laura suggested that it might be because there is a lot of detailed WPMu tech write-ups. But I’m not sure this is the case because, oddly enough, the most consistent fans of these posts are Andrea_R (the top female commenter on the bava—you rock Andrea), Martha, Esther and Michelle—all of whom are solid WPMu developers and doing amazing things in their respective businesses and universities.
So, in fact, the technical WPMu posts seem to bring in more consistent female commenters than the nostalgia, film, and other topics that run far afield of EdTech, but remain nearest and dearest to me.

I really don’t understand why, but I think Laura is right when she asked how many women bloggers so you read, comment on, and linkback to regularly? And while I do follow a number of women bloggers, the number is far smaller than the number of male bloggers I follow and comment on. But, hope springs eternal, and this is something I can work on. I just need to become more Stephen Downes-like in my blog reading. So, in short, I want to thank Laura for calling me out so tactfully, yet importantly. And I want to honor the “The Women of the Bava” with a Top 10 list of their own. You’ll notice there are far more than 10 on this list because when the numbers start to get less insane the overlapping number of commenters is far more common. Might this speak to the fact that women indulge in the web more moderately than my crack-baby male commenters? I just don’t know.

The Women of the Bava, a Top 10
1. Andrea_R 27 comments
2. Shannon 16 comments
3. Martha 14 comments
4. Sue F 12 comments
5. Barbara Sawhill 11 comments
5. Lucychilli 11 comments
6. Laura Blankenship 10
6. Leslie M-B 10
7. Esther 8 comments
8. Jen 8 coments
8. Mary-Kathryn 8 comments
8. Serena 8 comments
9. Michelle 5 comments
9. Allison 4 comments
9. Keira 4 comments
10. Susan Carter Morgan 3 comments

Now, if all of you comment on this post, we may go a long way towards eradicating this nefarious inequality on the bava, at least until someone calls me on the race, class, and ethnicity of bava commenters…God damn it!!!

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20 Responses to Where are the white women at?

  1. D’Arcy is a girl’s name too…

  2. Barbara says:

    I’ve left fewer than three comments? Shame on me! I think I range widely over the blogosphere and thus leave relatively few comments on any one blog. I also blog my responses to other blogposts. Okay, so I’m trying to rationalize my woeful commenting. I love how you have built a community here around the bava. I always read you; I just don’t have (or take) the time to comment as I could/should/would. Your posts aren’t the kind that invite a quick one-liner. But shame on me–I love the film, culture, life posts. And yo are one of the most generous commenters I know. I’m turning over a new leaf–watch me.

    But seriously, I’m glad you wrote this post. I just recently made an email comment about shifting the gender balance at an event and got sharply nipped at by a friend. It’s not easy talking gender in this part of the world, as Suw Charman has underscored by her launching of Ada Lovelace day. I know I get more talk-invites than I deserve because conferences need more irreverent women to take the stage. It has troubled me for some time.

    I was planning on waiting until March 24 for my big gender post, but you and Laura have me thinking I’ll do it soon.

    Bravo to the bava.


  3. Just made it,huh? Looks like I’m in great company. I’m up for the challenge, Rev.

  4. Andrea_R says:

    Whoooo! I am throwin’ up the rock horns.

  5. Ed Webb says:

    I get to be a crack-baby? Cool. I think.

  6. Leslie M-B says:

    Honestly, I wish I had more time to comment on blogs. But I’m pulled in so many directions by work and family life right now that I just don’t have time to engage in the kind of conversations I’d like. Witness the 127 tabs I have open right now awaiting action of one kind or another. . .

    Thanks for bringing attention to this issue, Jim. I wish I had something intelligent to say, but I fear this problem is too complex for any platitudes I could offer.

    P.S. The links in your post for Laura and me are wrong. . . 🙂

  7. Reverend says:

    “A boy named sue” comes to mind.

    I too could swear you had far more than 3, I need to check that again. But more importantly, I’m very interested in the post you describe here, and much of what you say frames Gardner’s recent response to the original post that start this thread. It hits on so many of the complexities wrapped up in questions like these, and reminds me I’m completely inadequate to deal with them in some meaningful way. Something I totally admit to. So, please, please, please, help me out here 🙂

    Three comments may very well be too many on the bava 🙂

    Let me repeat myself, you rock [I’m throwing rock horns while I write this]

    @Ed Webb:
    I mean that with such affection it is scary 🙂 You are a very, very intense commenter and collaborator. And the number of comments left is remarkable because you have only really got started mid-year.

    Links fixed. Also, I want to say I am not panhandlng for comments here, and there is no real question about whether you comment enough or not. In fact, you are an integral part of network for so many reasons other than comments. So I don;t really think it is an issue at all. As to the questions of complexity, I agree entirely, and I think Gardner’s response to my original post on the Bava Ten goes long way towards dealing with these issues far more intelligently that I ever could. It comes recommended.

  8. I’m going to triple my posts, just to illustrate the inherent problem with these types of statistics. No actual significance tests, no comparative sample statistics, no population comparison…..

    The overt accusation of sexism also gave me pause. It will be interesting to see how it impacts the content of this blog, which is personal, versus a pedagogical blog ,with an entirely different purpose.

    Worst comes to worst, Jim, just make sure you delete the comments in an appropriate way to balance out the numbers!

    Statistics are fun!

    • Reverend says:


      I can’t see how it will change much on the bava given my posts are already so unpredictable and random, and it is a b-blog after all. It always proves the case that whenever I try and plan something in terms of a post or a series of articles, I never get to it. Like most conversations, it is dependent on where groove leads you. And, to some degree, this is why Laura’s point still resonates with me. And while the bava is not about equality and the warm and fuzzy feeling of being correct—in many ways I react to these ideas—I’m keenly aware that I am a product of my culture in so many ways. In fact, this logic fuels one significant part of this blog, which is, indeed, personal. I spend a lot of time tracing the way I interact with all kinds of media I have consumed over the years, and tripping on the way I have come to deal with these experiences, things, memories, ideas, etc. in terms of a kind of nostalgic longing for something else. The comfortable prison house of media has me constantly transfixed, and I can’t help but think that therein lies a whole series of questions of identity that certainly include gender, but also a range of other qualifiers, some of which you list, that suggest the full complexity of identity as a form of some many hetergeneous forces. I’m ill-equipped to deal with the charged questions surrounding gender, I freely admit that, and I agree the bava is no real yardstick for the future of gender online given it’s intensely personal bent. But, that said, I certainly feel it still remains one of the most pressing and difficult issues we, as a culture, have to grapple with. And I wonder if my solipsism is an easy way out of tracing those complexities a bit more closely as Gardner suggests in the links I left behind above? I don’t know. Perhaps, but I also know the bava can;t stop bavaing, because this is not a healthy relationship to ideas I foster here, it is a sick obsession with publishing I have developed. So, to that end, let the insanity continue.

      One last point I too distrust statistics, and I think your questioning of what any of this means makes a lot of sense. Why I give it so much time and thought is because Laura, barbara, Shannon, Andrea, Martha, leslie and so many others aren’t statisitics, they are people I read regularly and respect greatly. So therein lies a whole other side, there are the larger gender questions I am too feeble to truly engage, but then there are the more personal sinews that inform my work and my thinking here. And it is these relationships that are extremely important to me, and deserve my thinking about some issues that might be too quickly dismissed if it were simply a matter of numbers.

      As you might be able to tell, Peter, I leave long comments when uncertainty and larger questions gnaw at my soul 🙂

  9. Rev…I think you hit it with regard to individuality versus statistics….this blog certainly isn’t about numbers and focusing too much on them demonstrates their irrelevance in the “grand scheme”.

    As you have pointed out, when you spend too much time focusing on who comments on what, you’ll conclude [and here we go with another Blazing Saddles reference] “IT’S TWUE! IT’S TWUE!” Not to mention that comments paint a small portrait of your actual audience, which is almost impossible to extrapolate from said comments.

    MST3K had it right when they posited “The right people will get it”.

    keep circulating the links……..

  10. Lsura says:

    I go away for the weekend and all hell breaks loose! Gardner writes comments as long as a post. I get accused of being accusatory. Wow.

    Obviously, gender, especially gender on the internets where nobody knows your a dog, is a really complicated issue. I don’t think Jim or any other identifiable male blogger I read is deliberately sexist. And my original questions/observation comes from my own sensitivity to a gender imbalance in technical arenas of all kinds. And of noticing behavioral differences between genders within those arenas. For example, I’m a big online gamer, and I’ve noted (as have others who do actual research on this) that women play these games differently than men; they have different goals and thus proceed through the game differently. Where that makes a difference, perhaps, is in the design itself. If game makers have tapped their 15-35 yo male market and want to expand into the huge market of 15-35 yo females, they might make adjustments that reward those females based on the way they actually play the game.

    On the blog front, I cringe all the time when I think about the fact that I named my blog “Geeky Mom.” Could I get more gendered than that? I have been pleased, however, that posts that would seemingly only attract women attract a fair number of men and I should probably make more notice of that since those posts tend to be on the topic of work-family balance. Pointing out that that’s an issue men care about as much as women strikes me as something worth noting.

    Will Richardson just said in a blog post that those who publish publicly get to set the debate. I would add to that that those whose publications get linked to are really setting the debate. If your circle of bloggers includes folks only of your own identity, then you might be helping steer the debate in a certain direction, around a certain set of interests important to that group of people. That’s not to say one does that on purpose. Jim and I, and others in this field, tend to link to people in our field and often that means we’re linking to white men and women just because the field slants that way, leaving out a whole host of other perspectives. And then there’s the complicating factor of knowing what someone’s identity is.

    And I’m not saying that the bava or any other blog should necessarily strive for gender or racial or ethnic equity, but we should at least note when certain groups seem to not be participating in conversations around certain topics. What does it mean when that happens and what should we do about it?

    I am still wrestling with much of what Gardner said, especially around the possibility of women consciously (unconsciously?) not participating in certain kinds of conversations. In no way do I have all the answers. But I thank Jim for allowing us to have the conversation on his blog.

  11. Martha says:

    I just want to point out that now that last comment isn’t going to get credited to Laura. It’s going to get credited to “Lsura.” Perhaps the answer to this mystery is that we women are just apt to misspell our name? 😉 Jim, comb through that data! I may have a few “Marhta” comments lurking in there.

    Also, I just want to say that while I may not always comment here in this form, I always comment in my heart. In my heart, Jim. In my heart.

    • Reverend says:

      There is so much here, and I still have to respond to your post, because you again raise some issues I need to think through. And that, at least for me, is the issue, issues as potentially explosive and layered as gender need to be fully thought through, and I think that is one of the things the bava is not, i.e., well thought out.

      Very good point, and my whole feeling on the DTLT crew and comments is that you all have to listen to the posts before they go up. And what usually follows is Jerry saying “maybe you shouldn’t post that.” and you responding “Why not?”

      It’s true in my heart too 🙂

  12. Gardner says:

    Laura writes,

    “And I’m not saying that the bava or any other blog should necessarily strive for gender or racial or ethnic equity, but we should at least note when certain groups seem to not be participating in conversations around certain topics. ”

    And I’m wondering if we *should* always note absences in this way. First, we can’t really know they’re absences–blogs always have more lurkers than commenters, and silence doesn’t necessarily indicate one has been silenced. Second, to note absence, especially in the wake of High Theory, typically implies presence–that is, just to raise the question seems already to point to a concern, if not an answer. I blame Freud, really, as once the cigar isn’t a cigar you can never really go back to the sometimes-it-isn’t without inviting particular scrutiny. “Are you in denial?” “No!” “Ah ha!” etc.

    Now I am really at a loss, as I think these things over, because I’m sure there’s no neutral, let’s-think-about-whether-this-is-worth-thinking-about way to note a gender, ethnicity, or other identity-marker imbalance without skewing the conversation in the direction of “is something wrong?” “what should we do?” And I worry that if there is no neutral way to raise the question, then we’re sunk, because the question can never inspire true exploration and never result in a finding of “no significance.” But I also worry that there is no such thing as a neutral question in anything, which means we’re sunk anyway.

    So many worries, and I’m not even in the office yet!

  13. Laura says:

    Well, I say that blogs shouldn’t strive for equity mostly because I think it’s impossible. First, as Gardner points out, there’s no way of knowing. If there are 10 commenters on this post, there are like 50 lurkers out there who are all now muttering to themselves that we’re crazy. Second, blogs have audiences in much the same way that any publication does and sometimes those publications appeal to niche audiences. And if those audiences don’t look representative, that may be okay. I’m doubting that either Gardner or Jim is going to pick up Cosmo any time soon (neither am I, but I think that’s an age thing). But, unlike print publications, blogs are interactive. There’s a certain invitation to participate and if some people feel that they’re not invited, that may indeed be a problem.

    So I guess my point is that if technical blogs show you a slice of the field as a whole and if those blogs skew a certain way–white and male, for example–then it might be time to look at the field itself because while blogs may be somewhat immaterial*, access to the knowledge and capital of the technical world is not and if women and minorities are left out of that, then some work needs to be done. I’d say there are probably lots of blog categories that one could look at and see this skewing and in many cases, that skewing maps onto a field where the lack of participants from certain groups has real consequences.

    *I’m not sure blogs are immaterial in the technical world as they are one avenue to the field itself, one way of promoting one’s skills or company, for example. But let’s say they are less material than the field itself.

  14. Ed Webb says:

    Also, this: http://techticker.net/2009/02/18/fostering-discussion/

    Blogs don’t work for everyone as a conversational medium. And certainly the distributed conversation happens in different media and at different speeds for different people (are slowbloggers also slowcommenters?) I’m wondering how important it is to foster these skills and habits as part of literacy training. How essential is it that we help students become part of this conversational style?

  15. Pingback: Gender *in* Technology | Gender and Technology Spring 2009

  16. charlie says:

    just cuz I’m a fan of both Blazing Saddles and the study of ebonics, slight correction..it’s “Where ALL the white women at?”

  17. charlie says:

    after reviewing the clip, I stand corrected. (was going from my memory of the movie). My sincerest apologies.

    back to my studies..

    • Reverend says:


      Oddly enough I was under the same impression until I watched the clip again. I remembered it exactly as you did. Isn’t that bizarre? No need to apologize, I’m with you all the way.

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