More women are entering the blogosphere -- satirizing, sharing and reaching a key demographic
October 31, 2007 8:00 AM
Cooper Munroe of Fox Chapel, with her youngest of four children, Grady, 6, and Finn, 3, helped found the Web site www.themotherhood.com.
A self-portrait of Elizabeth Perry, of Friendship, who posts sketches of her daily life on her blog, at www.elizabethperry.com.
By Mackenzie Carpenter Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
They post reviews of the latest Wilco concert at the A.J. Palumbo Center or deconstruct cupcake stores in Shadyside. They complain about Luke Ravenstahl's golf outings and Troy Polamalu's indifferent attitude toward fans.
They can be snarky, satirical, nurturing, idealistic. They can be shy, fiercely guarding their anonymity behind monikers like "PittGirl" or "Agent Ska," or bold, like Justine Ezarki, a k a "iJustine," who, with the help of her camera phone, enables readers to follow her virtually every hour of the day.
Pittsburgh's women bloggers either define themselves through the lens of gender -- as do the members of the Pittsburgh Women's Blogging Society -- or, like PittGirl at the popular The Burgh Blog, as simply bloggers who happen to be women.
When blogs -- cyber-shorthand for "weblogs," or online journals -- began popping up on the Internet in the mid-1990s, their practitioners seemed to be overwhelmingly white and male. But slowly and steadily, women bloggers have been increasing in number, reflecting a national trend in female social networking that has ignited the interest of politicians, companies and the media who see chances to harness the buying and voting power of this well-educated and affluent demographic for profits and proselytizing.
One survey in March, by a blog advertising firm called Blogads, reported that the average consumer of such content is a 29-year-old female with an annual income of $70,000 who taps into five blogs a day and spends four hours a week on them.
It's impossible to know how many women blog -- it's probably in the millions, and at Blogher.com, at least 10,000 women bloggers are listed in all permutations, from food and drink blogs to astrology to sports.
One of the hottest categories is the "mommy blog" -- and the networks that list them, providing one-stop shopping for women looking for information or a shoulder to cry on or just to share laughs.
Other networks include Ladies Who Launch, which targets "mompreneurs," and the newly unveiled Mom Blog Network, which boasts of "a proprietary system of algorithms to reveal what topics, blogs and users are the 'hottest.' "
Locally, there's The Motherhood, a mommy blog network, but with a twist: While allowing mothers to share parenting experiences and information it also provides them with a chance to engage in the wider world, banding together as an online community to support maternal health initiatives or action on Darfur.
"We really are dedicated to mothers finding each other to make a difference in the world, not just 10 points on potty training," said Cooper Munroe, a 41-year-old Fox Chapel mother of four who, along with Emily McKhann, a colleague and business partner who lives in New York, launched the site in July.
The Motherhood gets a couple of thousand hits a day and was named site of the month by Parents magazine in September. Its incubation period dates to 2005, when Hurricane Katrina prompted Ms. Munroe and her friends to organize, through a small online blog they'd started called BeenThere, an 18-wheeler truckload delivery of clothes and food to victims in northern Louisiana.
"It was a real epiphany," she said. "I thought, 'Oh, my God, I can really make a difference with a baby in my lap and a computer.' "
Ms. Munroe then began to think about the Internet's possibilities as a way to bring mothers together "to make the world a better place," while balancing the demands of a family.
"Themotherhood.com is personal, political, kitchen table stuff in a new form," she said. "We call it 'big picture parenting.' We could all use big-picture views of what we want for our kids and ourselves."
Another site, Woolgathering (www.elizabethperry.com/woolgathering), a "sketch" blog by Elizabeth Perry, takes a more miniaturist approach. A technology integration specialist at The Ellis School in Shadyside and a mother of three school-age children, Ms. Perry, 51, of Friendship, learned to draw a few years ago.
"People told me that the way to learn to draw was to draw every day," she said. "So I did."
Ms. Perry hasn't stopped since. Every day, she posts a watercolor or drawing, delicate yet sharply observed, from her life: a glimpse of her feet on an ottoman, a sunflower losing its petals, the Clarion County Courthouse.
"I follow G.K. Chesterton's philosophy, which is, 'If a thing is worth doing, it is worth doing badly,' and this sketch blog is a thing profoundly worth doing, even when I do it badly," she laughs. "I believe that sitting still and simply looking at something allows me to slow down and appreciate my ordinary surroundings in a new way. Drawing daily lets me take chances, make mistakes, and model that process in public."
Politics of blogging
Ms. Perry is one of 15 women bloggers who belong to the Pittsburgh Women's Blogging Society, a generally left-leaning group affiliated with the Thomas Merton Center.
They include 2 Political Junkies, which closely follows, analyzes and satirizes politicians residing from Grant Street to Pennsylvania Avenue; Pittsburgh Lesbian Correspondents, which focuses on gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgendered issues; and Ms. Adventures on the Mon, political satire by Frances Monahan, a 41-year-old Brentwood mother of three and a freelance writer whose work is often found in the City Paper.
While Ms. Monahan admires some local political bloggers, "I look at some of them and say, 'Boy, some of these are really awful.' From the get-go, I wanted to do something different from the diatribes and manifestos, so I try to employ my favorite weapon, which is humor."
With liberal use of videos and photos, Ms. Monongahela attracts "maybe 100 readers one day, other days more than a thousand hits," and has plans to podcast Nov. 14, "when we'll be talking about issues, not Ellen DeGeneres' dog."
Overall, though, it's not clear how many women blog in this region. PghBloggers.org, a social networking site that tries to list every new local blog, holds a Blogfest four times a year so computer-bound members can meet each other face-to-face. At its August meeting, the number of men slightly exceeded women who showed up, said Christina Schulman, one of the site's co-founders.
"But that's probably an unscientific sample, since we held it at a bar on a weeknight, and more men than women are probably going to come out for something like that," she laughed.
A few women bloggers do stand out from the rest of the pack, said Ms. Monahan.
"PittGirl on The Burgh Blog [theburghblog.com] is my favorite, if it truly is written by a woman. People aren't sure, and everyone wants to out her. She's very articulate, well-read and informed, yet she has managed to find that common denominator that appeals to everyone from the yinzers, and I'm not saying that pejoratively, because I am one, to the yuppies."
Despite the growing popularity of BurghBlog, Ms. Monongahela and other female bloggers, true digital diversity in the blogosphere seems still out of reach. At this year's YearlyKos Convention, an annual gathering of bloggers, policy makers and liberal political activists, only a handful of the 100 panels and seminars were aimed at women or minorities.
That's why the addition of more women bloggers can only be a good thing, Ms. Monahan said, given what she says is the slightly seedy reputation of the blogging community as a "bunch of Cheetos-eating guys sitting in their pajamas in their mother's grungy basements."
Women bloggers in Pittsburgh may wear pajamas, too, but they add a different voice to the mix, even if their blogs aren't necessarily well-designed, well-written and therefore worth reading.
"We're just kind of at the beginning stages, and we're still finding our groove," she said. "It's still very much a grass-roots effort. Heck, I don't accept money because my blog is not worth paying for."
Maybe not, but it's still certainly worth doing.
"Blogging is like that secret diary every girl keeps when she's a teenager," Ms. Monahan added. "You kind of want everyone to stumble upon that little journal you've been keeping, you want to share that angst and you do, and then a great weight is lifted and there's some kind of connection and, maybe, the world understands you a little bit better."