Recently, while revisiting and updating my blogroll for the move to this url, I decided to add a category I called “academics I sort of stalk.” I imagined this as the place where I would make public, and publicly follow, the thinkers whose work matters most to my scholarship.*
Problem: my “academics I sort of stalk” category is disproportionately loaded up with men.
I work in the field of Digital Media and Learning, and I’m interested in the work of geeky education folks and learning-focused media studies folks. And while loads of these folks are women, online activity focusing on these categories is overwhelmingly dominated by men–primarily by white men. Female (and/or queer and/or nonwhite) researchers are doing lots of important thinking in these areas, but for the most part they’re not doing it online–or, at least, they’re not doing it online as actively, or as persistently, as male academics are. I tried really hard to diversify my portfolio: I scoured my twitter community. I pored over the most recent AERA program. I searched the Cambridge Handbook of the Learning Sciences. I searched through other people’s blogrolls. Lots of female academics have blogs; and lots of those blogs haven’t been updated in months and months.
(And just to head you off at the pass: Yes, I know about danah boyd. Now give me the name of a second woman who is approximately as prominent as boyd; and tell me how long it took you to think of that second woman.)
There are at least four reasons for the continued online dominance of men.
1. Women have to deal with a lot of guff. You may remember Clay Shirky’s “rant about women,” wherein Shirky suggested women who want to advance their careers try to behave more like men. There’s this assertion that bringing more women into the Linux community makes said community not more productive, not more creative, not more dynamic, but more sexy. (Read rebuttals here and here.)
2. Guyspeak (still) dominates. The internet was built by men. The spaces that dominate our online experiences–Twitter, Facebook, Google, Digg, Slashdot, the concept of blogging–were designed by men. The fact that many of these spaces are occupied by equal amounts men and women does not change the fact that male Discourse is the default in these spaces; it’s built right into the very fabric of their designs. To successfully participate, women need to understand the Discourse of those spaces; to maintain a presence in those spaces, women need to engage with and leverage elements of male Discourse themselves. It’s not a coincidence that female social media users tend to be white, well educated, and wealthy–it’s not just a male Discourse, after all; it’s a Discourse that also privileges middle class white people. (See this Pew study of minority use of the internet; this study of internet use patterns among women; and this fantastic piece [.pdf] by Nicole Zillien & Eszter Hargittai on status-specific types of internet usage.)
3. It’s hard to be respected as a female academic. According to this AAUP report, women are less likely than men to be granted tenure; less likely than men to even be hired for a tenure-track position; less likely than men to achieve the rank of full professor; and likely to earn less pay than men once they attain a faculty position. Digital participation does not count toward a person’s tenure status; most tenure committees won’t acknowledge material published online as scholarly work.
It’s probably not much of a coincidence, then, that danah boyd, the one well-known academic who maintains a persistent online presence, is employed not by a university but by Microsoft.
4. It’s hard to be respected as a female academic. The other problem is that the category of “prominent academic” is populated by and large by men. “You could be the female Jim Gee.” “She’s the female antidote to Clay Shirky.” “She’s the female version of Seymour Papert.” How often do you hear: “He’s like a male danah boyd.” “Seymour Papert was like a male Sherry Turkle.” Never, that’s how often.
Even people (like me!) who are actively seeking female academics to stalk struggle to break out of a belief system that values men’s voices over women’s voices. I follow the work of far more men than I do women, and I believe I’m less likely to recognize and value an innovative female academic than I am an innovative male academic. I’m a product of my culture, after all.
So I’d like your help. Who am I missing? Which female, queer, nonwhite thinkers working in Digital Media and Learning belong on my list of academics to stalk? You can, by the way, nominate yourself.
* I am, by the way, fully open to the possibility that the name for this category is offensive to some readers, and I am willing to change it if you would like me to.