Thursday, February 16, 2006
Just ask Lakshmi Chaudhry. The editor-in-chief of In These Times, Chaudhry wrote a cover story that, I think, asks a very sensible question: Can blogging become a legitimate grassroots movement if it's a white male enterprise? And it pretty much is. Check any blogroll, including any liberal blogroll, and you're likely to find far fewer women and non-whites than in the general population. And women are almost completely excluded from the world of online political blogging, which is soaked to the core with febrile machismo.
Liberal blogger Markos Moulitsas Zúniga of DailyKos was singled out in Chaudhry's article. Although she praised him extensively, she did highlight some comments he had made about diversity issues:
Yet when it comes to issues of diversity, A-list bloggers like Moulitsas and Stoller can get defensive, and at times, dismissive ...
Where Stoller openly acknowledges the problem -- describing blogs in one of his posts as "a new national town square for the white progressive base of the Democratic party" -- and the need to take steps to tackle the disparity, Moulitsas is less generous. In his view, it's simply absurd to demand what he sarcastically describes as an "affirmative action of ideas" within an inherently meritocratic medium such as the blogosphere: "I don't see how you can say, 'Well, let's give more voice to African American lesbians.' Create a blog. If there's an audience, great. If there isn't, not so great." Besides, he suggests, if a Salvadoran war refugee -- in his words, a "political nobody" -- like him can make it on the Internet, there's nothing stopping anyone else from doing the same.
As for the relative paucity of top female progressive bloggers, Moulitsas is indifferent: "I haven't given it a lot of thought. I find it totally uninteresting. What I'm interested in is winning elections, and I don't give a #### what you look like." It's an odd and somewhat disingenuous response from an advocate of blogging as the ultimate tool of democratic participation.
Although he defends women's rights, this is not the first time Kos has belittled the concerns of feminists. In an entry defending the reality show Gilligan's Island's idiotic "pie fight" commercial, he criticized what he called the "sanctimonious women's studies set." Several feminist bloggers called him on it, including Mediagirl:
...what I find so offensive here is the sanctimonious diary up at the top of the page that reads, in effect:
"I, as the man, have weighed the concerns of feminists on this matter, and I, as a man, have decided that feminists who take offense at this ad are being sanctimonious."
In other words, the man -- and here, he's The Man -- is attempting to define what are and are not appropriate feminist issues. As if he had any special insight into the matter.
The blanket and prejudicial disregard he expresses here for women, for feminists, for academic feminists is so typically chauvenistic, it's simply a laugh that he attempts to claim that he's sensitive to feminist causes.
Here's a clue, guys: The first step to supporting feminism is shutting up and letting the women speak ... and hearing, really hearing, what we have to say. Every time you overrule -- with prejudice and ad hominem attacks -- what we say about our concerns, you are reinforcing the very thing you claim to oppose.
Kos later revised his blog entry to include an apology for the comment, but what he had to say in his apology told many feminists that he'd completely missed the point:
...I honestly didn't mean to smear anyone who has ever taken a women's studies course, or majored or minored or gotten an advance degree in it. Just what is, to me, a small, extremist set looking for signs of female subjugation under every rock. So yeah, a poor choice of words that cast the net far too wide to cover the people that have, in fact, pissed me off.
So when Chaudhry's article hit newsstands, few were surprised when a defensive Kos condemned it as "Another article with tedious whining about the supposed lack of diversity in the blogosphere." Kos cited the fact that he has had four female guest bloggers, and then named a few blogs run by women (none of them particularly widely-read in the feminist blogging community) as proof that there is, in fact, no problem. Chaudhry tore his argument apart, pointing out that:
...listing a bunch of women bloggers or talking about people you personally read doesn't begin to address the the homogeneity problem. Every report on the blogosphere — penned by blog advocates like Stoller and Bowers or Mike Cornfield — say the blogosphere remains very homogenous, and extremely skewed in terms of traffic. In terms of visibility and attention outside the blogosphere, none of the women bloggers except former Wonkette, Ana Marie Cox, even compare to the men. And this will be a problem as long as blogs continue to depend on traditional media to reach a larger audience, affect national debate etc.
Feminist blogger Bitch Lab makes a similar, but much more aggressive, argument that actually has me feeling sorry for ol' Kos. And she really hits him where it hurts by mentioning the fact that he's raking in some $480,000/year in advertising revenue and should not be presenting himself as if he were leading an Alabama bus boycott. This is a very lucrative career for him, and for him to act like he's just part of a movement seems, well...disingenuous.
Kos has made it pretty clear that he doesn't particularly mind if the blogosophere's demographics don't include very many women, and that he doesn't take seriously the prevailing women's voices on the feminist left. More to the point, he has treated Lakshmi Chaudhry--herself a giant in the online progressive community, with far more traditional-media gravitas than Kos--as if her opinion was completely worthless to him.
So is he a feminist? I don't know the guy; I'm not really qualified to say. But just as black liberals are increasingly becoming aware of social progressives who take them for granted and so-called "moderates" who praise The Bell Curve, the feminist left's longstanding awareness of the fact that there are people on the liberal wing of the culture wars who don't take feminist concerns seriously is beginning to trickle down to the rest of us.
The liberal establishment's answer to the Clinton-Lewinsky scandal should have been my first clue. It didn't matter, legend had it, if Clinton had abused his power to completely dominate, and get sexual favors from, a 20-year-old college-aged employee that he could have fired at any time. The power differential wasn't the problem, and anyone who tried to point it out got dismissed just as quickly as Kos dismissed Chaudhry. The problem was that he'd lied before a grand jury--and the real problem, for those of us on the left, was that "those Republicans" were trying to get rid of "our president."
In retrospect, maybe we should have let them. A left wing that does not at least include and value "the sanctimonious women's studies set," whether its majority entirely agrees with them on policy issues or not, may do more long-term damage to the feminist cause than a right wing that is at least willing to engage them as worthy adversaries. "The opposite of love," Elie Wiesel once said, "is not hate. It's indifference."