Tuesday, April 5, 2011

The Gender of Blogger Clout

My dictionary defines clout as “power and influence.”  Synonyms include “pull,” “authority,” “sway,” and “weight.”  In the public sphere, traditionally, clout has been gendered male.  To an overwhelming degree, it still is.
--Deborah Siegel,
"Girl w/ Pen!"

It is likely, anyway, that in the home women in Classical Athens could have a voice and make their feelings heard, but it helped if they had some kind of hold over their husband, especially if they came with a large dowry or from a powerful family....  She did not own her dowry, but it came with her, and that gave her some clout. Women were considered to be closer to beasts than a fully rational man and to have strong appetites for sex, food, and alcohol....[M]arriage was widely acknowledged as his best chance of "taming" a woman.
--Robin Waterfield,
Athens: A History, from Ancient Ideal to Modern City
Some of my blogger friends are noticing, are experiencing, the trouble of clout.  Often, it's the trouble of gender.  In this post, I want to explore that a bit.

In America, the word clout has come to be used informally for power and influence.  The Oxford English Dictionary notes that as "Personal or private influence; power of effective action, weight (esp. in political contexts). slang (orig. U.S.)."  But the more universal and earlier uses of the word have been to suggest "A heavy blow, esp. with the hand."  Men, it seems to me, tend much more to gain their power and influence, their right to be heard above all others, by exercising this heavy blow with their hands.  I'm now using "heavy blow especially with the hand" metaphorically, not literally.  And I want to show how this works, in my view.  We can agree then that women for the most part (and some of us men also) just don't have time for it.  That's not to say that women, and girls, and even female feminists working for the rights of the oppressed, don't use heavy blows of the hands to put others down and to help raise themselves up.  Bullying is not particular to any sex.  And yet the agonistic, the physical taming of the other, tends to be something more of a male-dominant and patriarchal thing, across cultures and through history.  Men can mean to exercise their clout in fun, in jest.  It can be part of the rules of the combatants, as in fight club, where the first rule is to agree to silence.

A recent example among bible bloggers can illustrate.  In the past several days, long-time blogger David Ker decided to make a book of some of his blogposts at lingamish.com.  This morning, at another of his blogs, he writes of his experience and confesses he got the idea from the big boys, Cory Doctorow and Seth Godin.  So, thinking about himself, he asks "but what about the little guy?"  He mentions his various motives, and confesses further:  "My quest wasn't purely academic. I liked the idea of having a book published. David Ker, author. Sounds impressive."  What Ker doesn't chronicle of his experiences is how, right out of the gate, he gets a blow of the hand from John F. Hobbins, a top Bible blogger with considerable clout; Hobbins writes an entire post with a title that mocks the title of Ker's book and also calls out the "little guy" by name.  At issue?  Hobbins remembers how he himself has been "David’s favorite Old Testament whipping boy."  Yep, it's all in fun.  But do notice the agonistic metaphors.  Hobbins uses his own viral metaphors, which Ker has to ask about in comments; Hobbins continues the power rhetoric:  "The deepest strength of your take on the Bible is...."  They end up slapping each other on the back, all in good fun, and the first rule of fight club is....

Another of my blogger friends, Deborah Siegel, looks at the issue of blogger clout, but at her reluctance to play the game.  The context, for Siegel, is quite different from the Bible blogging context, where sometimes the goal is to get the highest rankings by having the most reader votes or the highest Alexa numbers.  The context is, rather, a "Mom's with Clout" contest, the winner of which gets not just fame but an iPad 2. 

Siegel asks herself and us her readers why she was so reluctant.  "And why should we care about clout?"  She has some great answers, not just for women, but for women and men.  Women should care about clout.  Not clout so that there can be a fight club, not for a top-50 reputation of blogger fame, not just to be a published author (which Siegel has been for some time).  Rather women should care about clout, says Siegel, because it is power and influence.  She troubles the notions of collaboration preventing clout, of feeling bad for the other as preventing clout.  She points to "game-changing initiatives like The OpEd Project, where established thought leaders help fellow female experts embrace their expertise and get heard, “clout” is being redefined as something more communally achieved."  So I urge you to read Siegel's post for yourself.  Then hop over to The OpEd Project to see how few women are represented in many many arenas today, but how the clout is changing for women, for all of us, men and women.  If you do come back to this blog, to this blogpost, then I'd like you to notice something else, from yet another of my blogger friends:

Maybe you've already seen Rod's three-blog call.  Now, that's some good clout.  Rod of Alexandria has influenced the powerful top-bible-blogger Joel Watts to ask a woman to join his so-far all-male team of bloggers at Unsettled Christianity.  He's already already solicited from one fellow (i.e., male) blogger the links to "3 great blog’s that are written by passionate women" (noted in the first comment here).  However, Rod is asking women to lend their clout:  " women in seminaries or PhD students or famous authors of books that are popular."  He's asking not just men but more women also "to join the Bibliobloggers." 

Rod's call is very much like the effort of the staff of The OpEd Project.  Here's their work:
Since women currently do not submit op-eds with anywhere near the frequency that men do, we target and train women experts in all fields to write for the op-ed pages of major print and online forums of public discourse.
Rod has even put the call to women to voice their opinions, to join Bible bloggers, out on facebook. One woman has now responded, but with this reluctance:
I'd do it, but I don't understand blogging. I mean, I understand what it is but I don't think anyone would be interested in anything I have to say. Not in a "I have low self esteem" kind of way, just in a who cares what I think kind of way.

So who cares what she thinks?  Is clout just for men?  What will we all miss, men and women, if we only hear from men, and from mainly men with heavy handed clout?

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