26.3.10

Male Answer Syndrome Defence makes me M.A.D.

In a recent column, Margaret Wente of the Globe and Mail blathered on about all bloggers being men because the compulsion to blog is primarily male as they get off on the thrill of immediate communication.

She was, of course, quickly attacked in the online comments by any number of female bloggers and their readers. So The Globe and Mail, ever one to flog a dead horse to drive up page views decided to host a debate between some of Canada's pre-eminent female bloggers and Margaret Wente.

If they had asked me, I wouldn't have taken part. It's obvious Wente knows nothing about the blogging world and being asked as a female on a panel of all females to defend my role as a blogger just feeds into more gendered mythologies about the "difference" between males and females. Not that I don't agree there are differences. Indeed there are. But these all-encompassing descriptions such as Wente's "Guys seek thrills and speed . . .They want lots of action and instant gratification. That's also why guys like blogging - instant opinions and lots of them." are more apt to be spouted when you have a discussion going on that has already, in the panel itself, lent itself to categorizing.

In fact, the two female bloggers they chose to take on Wente were . . .you guessed it: "Mommy" Bloggers.

And so statements like the following were made:
I think that men and women to some extent use blogging for different purposes. The Mommyblogs are an obvious example -- they create an all-female world of mutual interests. I've noticed that Mommybloggers are extremely sensitive about not being taken seriously (for example, by The New York Times).  Margaret Wente in Response to a statement by PhDinParenting. Female Bloggers Take On Margaret Wente
Now, there's a reason I called my column and this blog Readily A Parent. And it's not just for the cutesy double meaning. When coming up with a name for my column I purposfully avoided any "Mom" reference because I wanted it clear that it was about parenting, not being a mom. There is a difference.

And do you know I'd say my readers are half and half. I get plenty of comments from men who have read my columns. Maybe the blog is a little more female centered as I've discovered a community of women to engage with. But I still have male subscribers. So is this "an all-female world of mutual interests?" Or is it just a place for parents to gather?

I'm not sensitive about being taken seriously. In fact, the only thing I worry about is that I don't take myself seriously enough and sometimes dumb-down what I say in order to not ruffle feathers or come off as a snobbish, smarmy, smarty-pants.

In my column, as I'm paid for it, I do have to consider my readership and audience and try to appeal to a vast range of education levels and interests. But my blog allows me to just be myself and say what I want. I'm just beginning to understand that.

Which brings me to my major argument with Wente. First she stereotypes men, then she dismisses female bloggers entirely and then she decides to back up her statements with a personal observation that she felt that as a woman her opinions were opressed either because of cultural norms or a gender-based difference in desire to express them. Apparently expressing opinions is like have a pissing contest; women don't:
I managed to complete five years of university without raising my hand, and the idea of a dinner party used to make me faint. Several of my female friends tell similar stories. No matter how brilliant they were, they lacked the confidence to express themselves in public.   Margaret Wente, Why Are Bloggers Male
In the debate she goes on to ridiculously clarify her statements. She decides to backtrack and explain that she only meant current-event blogs. And then she brings up this:
There really is a thing called Male Answer Synndrome , which means that men are pretty quick to shoot their mouths off in a very competitive way. Margaret Wente in Response to a statement by BernieBernie. Female Bloggers Take On Margaret Wente
I'm sorry. What. There really is this syndrome? Or is it just a silly phrase that was coined back in the early nineties by another columnist looking for a little attention by spewing sexist views at her readers?

I did a search. I admit it wasn't overly extensive but it was done properly. See, I do love to do my research. I found one psychological journal entry for the term Male Answer Syndrome in the Journal of Educational Psychology. Apparently a study of 70 men and 181 women in three university psychology courses found that the men were overconfident of their answer when incorrect. Not just men, though. Men and women both. But especially men.

I have a few problems with this study, the non-equal samples being one. But let's say it's true. Let's just say that men are sometimes more prone to think they're right even when they're not.

Are you in this mind-frame now? Okay. So even if that's the case it doesn't back up what Wente says about men talking without thinking and women being more reserved with their opinions. It just means men are more confident in their answers.

And then all these grown adults go on to discuss univeristy and how men spoke up in class more than women. This apparently proves that mean are quicker with their opinions and act in a way that opresses female voices. I graduated university 10 years ago. It doesn't define my world any longer. But I can offer a response to that. I too have noticed that men sometimes tend to answer questions or offer opinions without thinking things through as thoroughly as women, sometimes. Only sometimes. And I believe it's because men like to engage in discussion and the back and forth of argument a bit more than women. Women seem to, on the whole, like to win "discussions" and so will hold back and make sure they have a zinger.

So Wente's whole characterization of the competiveness of blogging being a male domain is weakly argued for me. And her idea that blogs are competitive doesn't hold any water either. I read tonnes of blogs: crafting blogs, food blogs, book blogs, author blogs, parenting blogs, news blogs, current events commentary blogs. I don't find them competitively thrashing it out for most page views. I know this does happen and I know that for those trying to make a living blogging things such as page views are very important. But when Wente characterises men as those who send out an opinion and then lurk the follow up comments looking for responses has nothing to do with being a man, it has to everything to do with being a human being raised in an age of narcissism brought into our homes through the domain of the internet.

To Wente (who will probably never read this) I say: presenting Male Answer Syndrome as some kind of real pscyhologically documented syndrome was wrong; marginalising women through your discourse was wrong; stereotyping men and blogs was wrong. And I personally find it hilarious that you stereotype men as being quick to comment and express their opinions in a commentary style column that was obviously written based solely upon your opinions with a sad lack of research. So the natural conclusion is that you were wrong. Admit it and move on. Or are you going to get all man-like on it and try to defend an indefensible position?