Women get their blog on

Oakland Tribune – July 26, 2006

It’s a Tuesday in July, and Alice Bradley’s Bloomfield, N.J., house seems to be melting.

“It’s 98,000 degrees in here,” she said.

Bradley is the woman behind Finslippy, a blog dedicated to documenting her personal adventures raising a son. This afternoon, Henry, now 4, interrupts her phone conversation to ask for a snack.

“Want a yogurt?” Bradley asks him. “What kind? Vanilla?”

Finslippy ranks among the most popular of the “mommy blogs,” but female bloggers have struggled to shake the stigma that the only things a woman can write about are motherhood, knitting and cats.

“Women are blogging about everything,” said BlogHer co-founder Elisa Camahort, a 42-year-old San Jose marketing consultant. `’Many women are blogging about everything at once.”

BlogHer is many things to many women. It’s a community, a conference, and since May, it’s an advertising network. The second edition of the conference will be Friday and Saturday in San Jose. Camahort said Friday’s sessions are sold out, and organizers are expecting at least 700 on Saturday, more than double last year’s turnout.

Both men and women are welcome, but only women will take the stage as speakers, panelists or discussion leaders.

“We’re focusing on what women are accomplishing,” Camahort said.

BlogHer was born in early 2005, when Camahort and co-founders Lisa Stone and Jory des Jardins got fed up with males in the blogosphere asking “Where are all the women bloggers?”

The question became a rallying cry.

The answer? They were everywhere, but it wasn’t always that easy to find them.

Des Jardins, 34, an Oakland media consultant, said BlogHer was intended to call attention to women who were blogging and provide resources to women who wanted to start a blog but didn’t know where to begin.

“That’s why we’re a dot-org,” she said. “We saw it as a nonprofit way of establishing a community.”

Day one of this year’s BlogHer conference is all about getting women acquainted with blogging software and helping them improve their skills in areas like Web design, digital photography and podcasting.

Des Jardins said demystifying the technical side of blogging gets easier as software evolves.

“My mother is blogging now because she can,” she said. “She couldn’t have three years ago.”

The developers of blogging software, mostly men, didn’t make it easy for newcomers to break into the tight-knit network of popular bloggers at first. “They built the technology for themselves and linked to each other,” des Jardins said.

If the upper echelon of the blogosphere has a measuring stick, it’s the Technorati Top 100. The San Francisco-based blog search engine tracks the number of incoming links to a blog and ranks it accordingly. The BlogHer site itself has been linked to by 1,856 different blogs, placing it at 301 in the rankings.

Currently, the Top 100 includes only 12 blogs with a woman as the primary author. BlogHer panelist Arianna Huffington’s site, which posts entries on political topics written by dozens of bloggers, ranks eighth, while conservative commentator Michelle Malkin comes in thirteenth.

Men occupy about two-thirds of the Top 100.

But if the blogosphere is supposed to be a meritocracy, where the most interesting people gain influence and popularity on their way to the top, then why has it been especially difficult for women to get their fair share of attention?

“I think a lot of the people who got in early are traditional early adopters — white men interested in technology,” said Amanda Lenhart, senior research specialist for the Pew Internet & American Life Project.

A Pew study released last week found the blogosphere to be equally divided between men and women who write mostly about their own lives, despite the stereotypical images of bloggers as caffeine-addled male alpha geeks or rabid political partisans bent on the destruction of the mainstream media.

According to the study, 37 percent of bloggers counted “my life and experiences” as one of their main topics, while only 11 percent said the same about politics.

On Saturday, the conference will host discussions about everything from craft blogs to blogging in academia to entrepreneurship in the blogosphere.

Maria Niles, 44, an Oakland marking consultant, will lead a discussion on “Identity and Obligation.” She blogs about personal finance for the BlogHer community.

She said the panel will ask whether or not bloggers of a particular gender, age or ethnicity should feel responsible to be the voice of their entire peer group.

“Just because I’m a woman, I don’t feel like I have to represent all womankind,” she said. “Some people think it’s very important to stand up and identify yourself.”

Des Jardins will talk with her “Next Level Naked” panel about how much it’s safe — or smart — for bloggers to share about their personal lives.

“To write so candidly is really tough when you know employers are going to be looking at your personal views,” she said. “Being the most naked is not always the best thing.”

Meanwhile, Finslippy author Alice Bradley sends her 4-year-old son, the subject of most of her blogging, off to the room where the air conditioning works a little better. “We just moved to Jersey,” she said. “I thought it would be more comfortable out here.”

Bradley has been blogging about moving from Brooklyn to the suburbs, including all the painful details. When a song that reminded young Henry of friends from the old neighborhood started playing on his iPod, Bradley wrote in a June 29 entry, he turned to her in tears and said “You have to turn this off. My heart is closing down.”

At last year’s conference, as the story goes, one faction of bloggers was batting around the idea that women should write about important political issues to try and change the world.

“Mommy-blogging is a radical act,” Bradley famously responded. Her thesis is that one mother can get far more out of another mother’s personal experiences than she can out of “the stuff that’s neat and tidy and can be sold,” she said. “We talk about the little things.”

Bradley will be back at BlogHer Friday and Saturday to share her experiences as a mother and a blogger.

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