Wednesday, June 9, 2010

Book Blogging and the Gender Gap, Redux

A couple of things related to a previous post about gender and  book-blogging caught our attention recently, so we thought we'd take a moment to consider what, if any, help they might be.

First, Ed Champion, in breaking down Michiko Kakutani's apparent distaste for fiction, provided a list of the most negative (mainstream) book reviewers working today. That discussion is interesting in itself, but what we noticed was the gender-spread, or rather, the relative lack of one; of the sixteen reviewers listed, ten are men.

Along the same lines, we came across  More Intelligent Life's 2008 list of best book reviewers. Of the ten reviewers mentioned, eight are men. It also seems worth noting that one of the female reviewers was Jessica Crispin of Bookslut, who works primarily online. (The other, not surprisingly, is Kakutani).

We noted these the gender paradigms of these lists but were having a hard time relating it to the dominance of women in book blogging circles until Girl from the Ghetto made a remark in a discussion the Ape started on the Book Blog Ning: "Niche bloggers aka male (and all other kinds) bloggers don't fit into the existing molds. I believe until someone breaks the book blogging mold, it is going to stay exactly the same."

Though her astute remark was about book blogging, it came to us that we might consider the make-up of book bloggers as being itself a reaction to the male-dominated mainstream book reviewing establishment. Here's what we wrote in respose: "I mean, can it be a coincidence that the most books most discussed online (YA/romance/chick lit/scifi/paranormal) are precisely the kinds of books that would have a damn near impossible time being included in the NY Times, The Washington Post, etc? This might help explain why so few men blog about books--male-oriented book discussion already HAS a venue."

Does it seem reasonable to think that as mainstream reviewing is more and more an online practice that the gender disparity among book bloggers will change? Or has the die for book blogging largely been cast?


  1. I might be totally wrong, but I think the gender gap in book blogging is more down to circumstance than anything else.

    Like many bloggers I am a stay-at-home mum. I blog to keep my brain active whilst looking after small children. Most men have full time jobs and so don't have the time to dedicate to blogging.

    Most bloggers don't get paid and so it is natural for those with plenty of spare time to take to it. If you look at bloggers who make big money you will find that the majority are men.

    The gender gap in print medium is harder to understand, as I would have expected a more even split.

  2. Farmlane-
    I actually don't think that explains it. Men blog just as much a women do, but they tend to blog mostly about sports, politics, and technology. Men choose to blog about things other than books and that's the thing I'm interested in.

  3. I think the reason is this: the majority of book bloggers are teen readers. The majority of teen readers are girls.

    And THAT is because most publishers publish mainly chic-lit, romance, and paranormal. Because the majority of readers are girls. Not to say there aren't guy readers. I'm a guy book blogger, myself.

  4. When I first started blogging, and found other book bloggers, I assumed that I mostly found females because the kind of books I read tend to have more female readers-like being drawn to like, if you will. But now I'm wondering if the responder above who mentions the great number of teen and young adult bloggers isn't on to something. While I realize that blogging as been around for a while, there are still an awful lot of adults I know who do not read or really understand blogging. However, all of the teenage members of my church youth group blog, chat, IM, do social networking, glog, and otherwise avail themselves of Web 2.0 media all the time. Given the gender gap in readers at that age, it seems natural that there would be more blogs by girls about books than about video games or skating.

    I don't know about other adult book bloggers, but I started blogging as a way to think and write creatively about one of my passions-books. I never really considered that book reviewers in mainstream publications are mostly men and mostly book snobs, but I'm sure that's a variable in this gender equation as well.

  5. Hmm, I don’t buy this. Except for a few cultural theorists who believe that social reality is constructed ex nihilo, women are generally more susceptible to the pleasures of gabbing about imaginary worlds, analyzing characters with obscure motives, and sharing their thoughts, feelings, and reactions with others. So it’s not surprising that women gravitate toward blogging & book clubs, and not mainstream book reviewing, which after all is a very solitary pursuit, comparatively speaking.

  6. I really hope that the die has not been cast. There is plenty of room for growth.

    I gravitated toward book blogging, in part, because the books that I wanted to read were not being reviewed in the traditional outlets that I came into contact with. Sure if I wanted a diatribe on Stieg Larsson's last book or a rehashing on Eat, Pray, Love, I can read my local paper, but for the books that are great, but just don't have the publicity budget of the bigwigs, I had to go online.

    The bonus is that with a book blogger, 9 times out of 10, you get an honest opinion about the actual book. There are times that I read the NYT Book Review and am bored stiff with the critic trying to show me more about how smart he or she is and less about the book.

  7. I think the gender gap has more to do with the fact that women buy more books and read more than men do than it does with anything else. It just makes sense that the people who enjoy reading as a hobby are the sames that are going to be most likely to start a blog about said hobby.

    Yes, professional book reviewing in traditional print media is male-dominated, but as bloggers gain legitimacy within the industry, the gender gap will shift because people will begin to see bloggers (maybe not all bloggers, but some of them) as the same kind of reviewers they see in print media. And since most book bloggers are women, do the math.

  8. Brent-
    I didn't find that to be true. To be sure, there are a lot of teen book bloggers, but nowhere near "majority" status. And if you look at best-seller lists, even of fiction, there are many titles that don't fit into the YA/romance/chick lit/paranormal complex.

    Heather- I read a statistic recently that said that 80% of blog readers are 21-55, so I'm not sure how that fits with your experience. Here's the link if you're interested:

    Interpolations- Yes, it some of my previous posts and comments I argued that there is a connection between socializing and reading for women that just doesn't seem to be there for men. Perhaps it is the case that those kinds of interactions are just now possible in a public way, hence the explosion in online reading clubs, challenges and communities. Perhaps the genre(s) being talked about are correlative, then, rather than causal.

    Gwen- Diversity of coverage certainly has been key, and I agree that the tenor of online discussion seems to encourage frank, personal reaction.

    In the couple of previous posts I did on the topic I noted that women tend to read, on average, just about twice as many books/plays/short stories as men, yet female book bloggers outnumber male book bloggers by 10-1. So of course you are right that the difference in book consumption is a primary factor, though given the scale of the bloggin discrepancy, it doesn't seem to me to be the whole story.

    And we'll certainly see--will the infusion of mainstream reviewing online determine who is doing the reviewing? Or will it be determined by who is doing the online reviewing already?

  9. There is a wonderful irony in Ed Champion writing about negative reviewers, and of that obvious irony I have nothing more to say at this point because those who follow Champion will understand.

    With respect to gender and book blogging, do you not suspect that all the evidence (such as it is) is anecdotal, which means any conclusions must be accepted with a bit of skepticism. Thorough empirical studies, if possible, might be useful. In the meantime, without those studies, I am not sure what to think about the question.

  10. RT-
    Champion himself acknowledged it, which I guess evaporates the irony.

    Some of the evidence is anecdotal, but the 10-1 ratio I found in my informal online survey was certainly corroborated by the attendees at the Book Blogger Convention. It's not ready for Scientific American, but I think it's quite a bit more evidenced than thinking it seems like there are more women blogging about books than men.

  11. I started my blog because of the gender disparity. Of the (few) classical literature blogs I found, most of them were written by men, and that bothers me. The other blogs I stumbled upon in the blogosphere were mainly written by women about ya/paranormal/whatever. I do think the gender disparity will evaporate as book reviewing becomes more democratic through the web.

  12. TA . . . Good points! Thanks for the added info.

  13. I dont know that this really adds to the discussion, but I recently found a blog called The Literate Man, which a book book blog by men for men. Obviously I am not a man, but I was impressed because of how few men blog, and because of how few men read (as far as I know anyway). Here is the link if anyone wants to check it out

  14. The whole gender gap thing is a bit of a mystery to me too, because I went through all my favorite book blogs (about 50, none being teen bloggers) and while the vast majority are women writing them, my favorites are men's blogs. Maybe that's because my previous job was male-dominated (architecture) or simply because I like the male voice better.

    While I am a female blogger, I can't stand some women who simply regurgitate the book blurb and then say something inane. I find that men seem to explain more WHY they feel the way they do.
    Example: Greg at the New Dork Review of Books and Chad Post of Three Percent: both are articulate and thorough without being pretentious.

    That said, I don't mean to diss women bloggers...there are so many fantastic ones. I do find that many of the least interesting ones are usually the ones with the wildest graphics and lots of visual noise, little cutesy graphics, memes, etc. And advertisements! Seriously, one blogger had an ad for maxi pads on her blog! Um, no.

    As far as men not reading, I don't know how that is....all the men I know read regularly.

  15. Jane- I'm not sure if I've written about this or not, but I feel like diversity matters in any niche, so I take your point.

    Becky- Ah, interesting find. Definitely will be checking out that blog. Though something about the "by men for men" phrase seems kinda strange.

    Amy- That's quite an interesting point. I do think the men who do blog about books tend to have a different tone/approach than women do (I realize that is a general statement and not true of anyone, but we're talking about general trends). And that translates to the aesthetics of the blog too. I would guess that most people reading my blog would be able to figure out, based on visual style, that I am a guy.

  16. Maybe women just have a desperate need to let everyone know their opinions!

    I've definitely noticed the huge number of female book bloggers and to be honest, I'd love to find more male ones. As I've said before on your other posts on this topic, I prefer the books that my male friends read. I find myself hugely disinterested in a large amount of book reviews writen by women.

  17. I also read The Literate Man, and quite enjoy it.

  18. This comment is to Jane Doe. I read many, many classics-focused book review blogs and every single one of them is written by women. Perhaps you're just unfamiliar with them?

  19. You know, I've been blogging for a couple of years, and I've found the book blogging world to be remarkably diverse. True, I probably find more blogs by women for whatever reason, but the blogs that I do know cover all kinds of books, geared toward many different tastes, and they review books in many different kinds of ways. It just takes time to find them.

    I wouldn't say that because the book blogosphere (or the slice of it that I've seen) is mostly made up of women that it is also mostly made up of parannormal, YA, or romance. I don't read those kinds of books much, and most of the blogs I read don't cover them extensively.

  20. "women are generally more susceptible to the pleasures of gabbing about imaginary worlds, analyzing characters with obscure motives, and sharing their thoughts, feelings, and reactions with others"

    My ladybrain created this imaginary world where for the last 6000 years since the written word was invented, men have been the almost totality of writers, theologists, philosophers and general storytellers, then, and put it inside books with History on the cover.
    (Not that I'm saying that men are more prone to fiction and literary analysis than women, I just think they've always had more outlets to do it and be taken seriously, while the comment above seems to imply when women do it it's daydreaming and fandom wank instead.)

  21. Bethany- Maybe that's true, but men give their opinions online about so many things, that I don't chalk it up to women "needing" to share their opinons more. Looks at sports, tech, politics blogs and you'll find men giving their opinions ad infinitum. So I'm trying to think about something more related to the relationship between gender and reading and blogging.

    Teresa- I agree, it does seem like virtually all genres are covered in the blogosphere. And to be frank, I'm not even sure that the gender spread in book blogging "matters" (is either good or bad for the general health of reading), but as a reader/teacher/fan, this topic interests me a great deal. And the point of my random survey in the earlier post about book blogging was meant to get rid of selection bias in order to get a snapshot of the general trends of book blogging. If that survey was even close to representative, then your (and my) personal blog reading habits are not representative of what is going on out there.

    Lily- Right on the mark as far as I see it.