Why Boing Boing Doesn’t Blog About Housework

Mrs. Whatsit pointed out that Propter Doc has recently written on the topic of blogging under a pseudonym. It’s a very thoughtful post and touches on many of the issues we discussed at the NC Science Blogging Conference. In the middle of the post, Propter Doc says the following:

If you blog about being a scientist then you are probably in a position where you need to take steps to conceal your identity. The world doesn’t need to know what flavor of scientist you are, or even your gender.

Is this really the case? That is, does your gender not matter in science blogging, even (or especially) the pseudonymous variety?


Moonsinger asks on a post of Mrs. Whatsit’s

Do male scientists blog about housework? I can’t remember Boing Boing mentioning housework…

Boing Boing’s inattentiveness to housework does tell us something about the gender of who’s blogging there, even if their names weren’t up there at the top of the page.
According to Tedra Osell

I suspect that the vast majority of pseudonymous writers are exactly who they represent themselves as, at least insofar as gender is concerned.
We all joke that “on the internet, no one knows you’re a dog,” but it seems to me that, in fact, this isn’t true. Even unschooled readers are fairly savvy about generic form, and one of the formal conceits of public discourse is that people whose social identities are marked as “other”-women, in this case-will, when writing personally, draw attention to their persons. Pseudonyms prevent texts from being impersonal, from pretending to objectivity; they draw attention to the author’s role in a way that a straight byline does not. At the same time, though, pseudonyms make a text more fully public: by hiding the author’s identity, the author becomes potentially anyone. Pseudonyms mean something, and one of the things they mean is that the pseudonymous writer has a reason for pseudonymity. When pseudonymity becomes a generic feature, as with essay periodicals and blogs, one of the things that means is that the genre entails risk, that publishing is risky.

Osell did a small survey about pseudonymous blogging, and reports

…92% of pseudonymous women bloggers self-report that their content is clearly gendered (by mentioning pregnancy, husbands, professional concerns as women). This despite the fact that most of their pseudonyms were gender neutral: “Dr. Crazy,” for instance, rather than (say) “Hysterical Woman.” In contrast, only 65% of pseudonymous men said that their content was clearly masculine-but some of those who claimed neutrality also said that they simply had never considered the question and therefore *assumed* their content was neutral, and two of these admitted that they mentioned their wives (one resolved this apparent contradiction by explaining that “nowadays, that doesn’t necessarily mean anything”-one wonders if he really thinks that lesbian bloggers are likely to mention wives, but not lesbianism).

Heh. Gender, and sexual orientation, and race, can come through in your blogging by what you do (or do not) attend to in your posts.
Does the world really not need to know your gender? Study after study has shown that when gender is not explicitly identified or identifiable, most people (men and women) tend to assume the gender is male. In science blogging, I think the world does need to know your gender. There is power in knowing that women like Ms. PhD are exposing the trials and tribulations of the postdoc life, or that men like Drug Monkey and Physioprof are speaking up for the issues of women in science. It challenges notions that women don’t do science, or that gender equity is “just” a women’s issue.
If Boing Boing has never talked about housework, there’s a reason for that, and it has to do with gender- specifically, the male privilege not to see housework as blogworthy. Or just not to see housework at all.
Drug Monkey writes

The father/PI who is seriously concerned about gender equity in science will go out of his way to exhibit his status.

and it matters that a guy is saying this. It matters greatly when a man speaks up and says gender is his issue, too.
I look forward to a day when gender doesn’t matter, in science blogging or science in general, but that day has not yet come.

  1. January 29, 2008 at 1:14 pm

    Great post.

  2. January 29, 2008 at 4:15 pm

    I’m not sure I get the BoingBoing reference, since one of the main bloggers there is Xeni Jardin, who is decidedly female. As far as I can tell, they don’t blog about housework at BoingBoing because that’s not what the blog is about. There are lots of bloggers – both male and female – who say little or nothing about their day-to-day personal lives (including myself).
    It’s true, though, that the bloggers who do write about their home lives seem to be overwhelmingly female. I’ve read through a number of blogs trying to identify gender for by women science bloggers blogroll. Women’s blogs are often identifiable by posts that mention being a mom, a wife or experiences as a woman. I rarely find any information that clearly indicates the blogger is male (e.g., “I was a happy dad today”), and in the absence of any such information there’s no way to tell the blogger’s gender.
    It’s a tricky issue I think, because I don’t believe anyone should be obligated to write about their personal life. And women (such as Kathy Sierra) are disproportionately attacked online just for being female. Unfortunately, there is safety in letting people assume you are male.

  3. iltc
    January 29, 2008 at 8:13 pm

    Exactly, I was thinking Xeni also. Boing Boing is to me, very gender neutral. I’m female and I read it daily, and I never feel like I’m ‘other’ or being demeaned or pandered to. Boing Boing is geeks talking tech, copyright, civil liberties, esoterica, weird stuff. If they talked about housework I wouldn’t read it. They would however surely blog about a steampunk vacuum cleaner if they saw one. Also, are women supposed to talk about housework now on their blogs? I’m missing the message here.

  4. Anna Z
    January 29, 2008 at 8:36 pm

    I hope the Boing Boing reference was a metaphor because I don’t know anyone of any gender who wants to blog about housework. I find it yucky, avoid it in between vermin crises, and wouldn’t want to read much less write about it, and I’m 100%… *checks genitals* Ohmigod! How did THAT get there?

  5. iltc
    January 29, 2008 at 8:54 pm

    Ok, time to call bullshit on this entire post. Did anyone even try to look this up? Boing Boing has in fact blogged about housework.
    Examples:
    Men who do housework are sexier and have better kids
    http://www.boingboing.net/2003/06/11/men-who-do-housework.html
    Shacked-up couples share housework better than marrieds
    http://www.boingboing.net/2007/08/28/shackedup-couples-sh-1.html
    Momspit: cleaning agent with awesome name
    http://www.boingboing.net/2007/10/29/momspit-cleaning-age.html
    Cleaning the Fucking Kitchen for Dummies
    http://www.boingboing.net/2001/10/31/cleaning-the-fucking.html
    Seriously, I just didn’t like the tone of this post at all, and I’m a big fan of this blog. It’s just weak. If we’re going to criticize sexism then we need to check some facts first. You guessed wrong on BoingBoing’s ‘gender’, why, because they never mentioned housework? Well BoingBoing has a prominent female contibutor, AND they’ve made what I would consider some funny/progressive posts on housework. Aren’t we just falling into the same trap again here of deciding what content is ‘female’? Help me out here, I don’t get it.
    Note Added By Zuska: sorry this post was hung up in moderation so long. This will happen any time you have more than one or two links in a post. I check for moderated comments as frequently as possible.

  6. iltc
    January 29, 2008 at 8:57 pm

    Well, my longer comment is now hung up in moderation, but suffice it to say that Boing Boing has actually blogged on housework as well as many other ‘female’ topics. Google it.

  7. January 30, 2008 at 11:49 am

    Is this really the case? That is, does your gender not matter in science blogging, even (or especially) the pseudonymous variety?
    I am sorry the ladies are having a rough go of it! I don’t see prejudice on Science Blogs.com. Woman are just as smart, and let’s face it, a lot prettier than us guys! LOL! Maybe Science blogs.com can be used to help disprove this stereotype. Woman are not only prettier, you guys many times can have insights that didn’t even dawn on us guys!
    Dave Briggs :~)

  8. January 30, 2008 at 1:19 pm

    Well, apparently I didn’t make my points very clearly in my post. I did not say that women ought to start talking about housework on their blogs. It is, however, a fact that women science bloggers (at least the ones I read) have in the past blogged about housework – not about the joys of doing it, but about how hard it is to get everything done, how they choose to leave the house a mess in order to have more time in the lab, about whether or not they should hire someone to do the housework and if so is that exploiting another woman. I do not think that male science bloggers – even the pseudonymous ones – blog about choosing between housework and the lab. Either they are leaving the responsibility to women, in which case they don’t have to worry about, or they just don’t give a damn, in which case they are not worried that it will reflect poorly on them if someone comes over and sees the place a mess. On average, women do worry about housework more than men, because it’s still largely seen as women’s responsibility; and that shows up in blogging, where women science bloggers do talk about it and men science bloggers generally don’t.
    About Boing Boing – the inspiration for this post was Moonsinger’s question on a post Mrs. Whatsit did in which, in fact, she blogged about housework and the need to have a housekeeper in order to spend more time in the lab. You might think of Boing Boing, in my post, as a sort of metaphor for “male science bloggers” – and yes, I know there is one woman blogging on Boing Boing. It isn’t Boing Boing in particular, but the general difference that one sees in who does and does not talk about things like housework. An instance of Boing Boing blogging about a study in which married couples were seen to divide housework more unevenly than cohabitating couples does not negate the larger point I am trying to make here. In a sense, it underscores. The Boing Boing post about housework is about a study about housework, not about how Cory Doctorow struggles to balance housework with his professional life. The latter is what you find here and there on the blogs of women scientists. And that’s the subject of this post – that there are observable gender differences in what science bloggers blog about. Drug Monkey’s post calls attention to the fact that men, on average, do not make public their familial obligations (and I would include housework as a familial obligation) and discusses why it might be important for men to be public about it.

  9. January 30, 2008 at 2:50 pm

    Do you think that overall more male science bloggers choose to completely eliminate their personal lives from their blogging than female science bloggers?

  10. iltc
    January 30, 2008 at 2:56 pm

    “You might think of Boing Boing, in my post, as a sort of metaphor for “male science bloggers”..” except that it’s not a good metaphor in my opinion. It’s a neutral blog, not a male one. The fact that there are no posts “about how Cory Doctorow struggles to balance housework with his professional life” does not make the blog ‘male’. I agree that posts about work life balance, nappies, periods, and general self-flagellation about housework and body issues, more often than not indicate a female blog. But I am not going for the reverse logic here that the absence of those topics is ‘male’. Similarly, certain stripes of argument involving women or society tend to indicate ‘male’ blogs (as we all know from reading this blog 😉 about the crap posted out there) but the absence of those posts also does not indicate a ‘female’ blog.
    “Boing Boing’s inattentiveness to housework does tell us something about the gender of who’s blogging there, even if their names weren’t up there at the top of the page.” Sorry but I’m still hung up on this statement. Slashdot, I would totally be with you on. BoingBoing, no way. I’m female, and I am NEVER going to blog about housework. Similarly, I am not interested in posts about someone’s prostate exam, or how they are balding, or whatever. I am however interested in how males, esp in science and tech, perceive their home lives, or kids, or work/family issues in general, and as for men going out of their way to discuss those issues, I agree, I’m all for that. I’m also all for women discussing those issues in a topical way as well. This however, does not translate into a need by me to read boring drawn out ramblings about baby nappies, or guys balding. There is a quality issue here about how we engage those topics, which is why I am little edgy about this. It’s like how on the one hand I’m glad that a Dept holiday party can include people bringing their kids… as long as I don’t get viewed like a ‘bad female’ for not wanting to have other people’s babies drool on me, because, you know, I’m female and therefore I have to like kids.
    Maybe in my perfect world, if we had to blog on these topics, we’d have posts like men and women talking about what makes their family special to them, and both genders ignoring the @#$@$ housework already. Dunno.

  11. January 30, 2008 at 4:36 pm

    Physioprof, I don’t know. I’d be more confident in saying that male and female science bloggers write in different ways about their home lives, simply because there are gender differences in the way home life, on average, is experienced (I don’t think it’s controversial to say that).
    I think male science bloggers are less likely to see home life as an issue that impacts their careers, and so we are less likely to see them blogging about this in the way that women science bloggers so often do.

  12. January 30, 2008 at 8:44 pm

    I do not think that male science bloggers – even the pseudonymous ones – blog about choosing between housework and the lab. Either they are leaving the responsibility to women, in which case they don’t have to worry about, or they just don’t give a damn, in which case they are not worried that it will reflect poorly on them if someone comes over and sees the place a mess. On average, women do worry about housework more than men, because it’s still largely seen as women’s responsibility; and that shows up in blogging, where women science bloggers do talk about it and men science bloggers generally don’t.

    I wonder if it’s simply that housework and family take up more of women’s time than men’s – I’m not disagreeing that it does, just at whether that’s the only reason. I think some of it has to do with the way men and women are socialized about talking about their personal lives. In my experience it’s more acceptable for a woman to talk about non-work concerns, so it’s not necessarily that men aren’t impacted by having children or having to take care of household chores, it’s that it’s less socially acceptable for a man to talk about it. Correct me if I’m wrong, but I think that’s part of what you and DrugMonkey are getting at – men should try to write about those issues when they are affected by them.
    Also, I’d quibble a little with the idea that “women science bloggers do talk about it” – I’d say that some women science bloggers talk about it (particularly those who are pregnant or have young children), with “some” being a value much greater than the number of male science who talk about it. However, some female bloggers don’t talk about their personal lives at all. And I don’t think anyone should feel obligated to include personal information in their writing. For me that’s where the BoingBoing analogy falls down – it’s a blog that’s mostly about stuff the bloggers think are cool (and Cory’s thoughts on intellectual property), with almost nothing about their day-to-day lives, so it doesn’t make sense that any of the bloggers would talk about their home life.

  13. January 31, 2008 at 6:52 pm

    It might be interesting, for some readers, to spend some time reading Inky Circus and compare it to Boing Boing. Both blogs are catalogs of wonderful geeky things, but Inky Circus includes personal commentary and stories drawn from the bloggers’ lives, more so than what I am familiar with from Boing Boing. Yes, Boing Boing has _a_ female blogger; but the other five bloggers are male.
    I’m just pointing out that there is more than one style of blogging about wonderful geeky things we love. Is Boing Boing’s style gender neutral? Maybe. Or maybe it’s a masculine style of blogging (that even female bloggers can adopt) that we’ve come to see as gender neutral.
    Note: masculine is not an essentialist term.

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