saraCathy Colliver, the marketing manager for Actor’s Theatre of Louisville, and I are participants in an executive program on converging media hosted by Bellarmine University. I don’t know Cathy well, but she said something at the first meeting of our course a few weeks ago that struck me as interesting. She said blogging was an inherently feminine activity.

As a follow up, she emailed this:

Concept Linking
I know the link itself is so common now that people don’t even think about it, and that linking keywords or references within articles and blog posts to other blogs/sites is nearly old hat, too. However, the whole process of linking concepts together, and sharing those related ideas with people through the links strikes me as very much in tune with a feminine mode of thought that is traditionally associative. In college I remember talking to a professor about this associative thought process and she likened it to nested folders on computers. I’d go further and say that the way concept links work in blogs is more like vines, sometimes really messy, and sometimes kept pruned back, but each one leads you in a different direction.

Social Networking
Stereotypical though it may be, women do tend to be more social and they like to talk not just to say something, but to share something important or interesting (ideas, dreams, and to be stereotypical again, where they got those shoes.) Although there are many critics of blogging who chalk it up to ego driven dribbles, the best blogs are helmed not by pontificators, but by people who want to talk to other people about interesting ideas. So bloggers are the new culture mavens.

Verbal Modes
And it doesn’t hurt in all of this that women tend to ace verbal exams (and do well in school overall), so they’re very good at parsing ideas. Probably some interesting stats on that, I’m sure.

As you can tell, I’m not the smartest person in our class.

E. E. Maccoby and C.N. Jacklin’s “The Psychology of Sex Differences” (1974) confirms through statistical analysis that boys outperform girls in overall spatial and quantitative abilities, while the later outperform the former in overall verbal ability. Does that ladder up to adulthood and apply 34 years later? I’d bet so.

Yet, the first blogs were run by men. Most of the top blogs in Technorati‘s list are run by men. Nearly 2/3 of the bloggers attending Blogger Social were men and professional blogging tends to be male-dominated. Are the liberal gender roles of the 21st century allowing men to embrace roles not traditionally given to masculinity?

While I believe gender roles to be overly stereotyped in many cultures, including our own, reviewing the entry for femininity in Wikipedia, you’ll see this (Note: Biological references omitted and indicated by elipses. They are unneccessary for the sake of this post.):

The feminine is most often associated with nurturing, life-giving qualities, creativity and an openness to those around. To categorize human characteristics and behaviors into “feminine” or “masculine” is to rely on the current dominant culture of any society, as well as to rely on the essentialist notions of the binary woman/man. Traits that are traditionally considered feminine may be categorized into … psychological and behavioral differences (such as a concern for relationships, empathy, sympathy, better verbal skills) … It is also important to note that femininity is closely related to virtuous or lady-like behavior.

My initial reaction is to say that it’s not just blogging that is feminine in nature, but social media as a whole. Many a social media expert will say boiling social media behavior down to one simple rule would be the Golden one. Doing unto others as you would have done to you is intrinsically aligned with nuturing, life-giving qualities — ones that show concern for relationships, empathy and sympathy. For us to act and react appropriately in social media settings, be it as individuals or brands, the softer approach, one that fosters dialog, community, understanding and openness, is required.

Looking at Janet Saltzman Chafetz’s personal characteristics of masculinity1 – success-oriented, ambitious, aggressive, proud, egotistical; moral, trustworthy; decisive, competitive, uninhibited, adventurous – a striking notion comes into play. Are most of these not similar to terms we would use to describe the behavior of brands and companies violating the community trust by pushing traditional marketing tactics in social media venues? (I resisted removing “moral” and “trustworthy” for effect.)

While generalizations beget ambiguity, if not inaccuracy, is it then not fair to say that appropriate social media behavior is to act with feminine characteristics and that behaving as masculine could spell failure? With apologies to the notion that masculinity can certainly be inclusive of qualities of honor, integrity, honesty and humility, I would think so.

As such, the difference between success and failure in social media is the difference in being virtuous and immoral; empathetic and abrasive; humble and boastful; inclusive and exclusive; flexible and stubborn and of listening and dictating.

Are you a blogger? A social media participant? Do you see these feminine qualities in your approach? Do males in social media have to come to terms with their feminine side to be successful here? Or do gender roles cease to apply in the general openness of the social media model?

Questions abound. Please share your thoughts in the comments.

NOTE: A study entitled, “The Effects of Age and Gender on Blogging,” by Jonathan Schler (Bar-Ilan University), Moshe Koppel and Shlomo Argamon (Illinois Institute of Technology) and James Pennebaker (University of Texas, Austin) was published in 2005 by the American Association for Artificial Intelligence. In it, a sampling of all the bloggers registered on Blogger.com during one day in August of 2004 yielded a demographic profile consisting of 52.2 percent male bloggers and 47.8 percent female (over 71,000 bloggers counted).

1 – Cited on Wikipedia page for “masculinity”; From “Masculine/Feminine Or Human” F. E. Peacock Publishers (1974).

IMAGE:Sara” by lenifuzhed on Flickr.

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About Jason Falls

Jason Falls

Jason Falls is a leading thinker, speaker and strategist in the world of digital marketing and is co-author of two books, No Bullshit Social Media: The All-Business, No-Hype Guide To Social Media Marketing and The Rebel's Guide To Email Marketing. By day, he leads digital strategy for Elasticity, one of the world's most innovative digital marketing and public relations firms. Follow him on Twitter (@JasonFalls).

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Comments Policy

Comments on Social Media Explorer are open to anyone. However, I will remove any comment that is disrespectful and not in the spirit of intelligent discourse. You are welcome to leave links to content relevant to the conversation, but I reserve the right to remove it if I don't see the relevancy. Be nice, have fun. Fair?

  • http://www.stickyfigure.com Steve Woodruff

    Social media allows for a whole range of both masculine and feminine characteristics. It boils down to self-expression – and that’s a human characteristic, not limited to either gender. Whether we blog to express feelings, or advance business, or get an ego boost, or serve others, or (typically) some mix of the above plus many other reasons, the reasons for blogging/Twittering/etc. are far too complex to boil down to yet one more gender stratification.

  • http://www.janequigley.com Jane Quigley

    Jason – great post!

    I found a report (Teens and Social Media, Pew Internet & American Life Project, Dec07) that says that girls (age 15 to 18) are leading their peers in content creation, blogging and social network participation. So maybe that will change.

    BTW – I rarely share where I get my shoes…

  • http://blog.learnedonwomen.com Andrea Learned

    While I am less up on social media, I am studying gender roles, stereotypes and such as they influence marketing. (My work has long been in marketing to women) Anyway – from what I’ve found, blogging – at its essence – does have those more “feminine” characteristics, as your friend Cathy wrote, but that isn’t to say it is a girly thing. In a way, blogging “allows” more people, men and women, to tap their perhaps more feminine, connection-driven traits. But, don’t get stuck on the gender-specificity as much as the idea of right-brain versus left-brain or the two in combination type thinking. Our culture has long rewarded linear thinking, from both men and women – but as Daniel Pink, author of A Whole New Mind, writes – the person who can tap both right and left brains more fluidly, and perhaps lean a bit more on their R-directed traits, will have more opportunity and see more reward in this new age.

  • http://www.actorstheatre.org Cathy Colliver

    I really like your take on the idea that it’s more about the Golden Rule as relates to organic marketing and relationship building via social media, as opposed to predatory, push marketing. Obviously you are now the smartest person in the class.

  • http://msoto.wordpress.com megansoto

    I blogged about this too – only mine was about the femininity of the PR industry.

    check it out
    http://msoto.wordpress.com

  • http://biggsuccess.com Mary-Lynn

    Let me put on my radio DJ hat here. Blogging is about connecting with an audience. Sharing opinions, idea’s, and (for some)zany antics. It’s talking with your keyboard. Look at TALKERS Magazine top 100 radio talk show hosts: http://tinyurl.com/lsd64. The overwhelming majority of hosts featured are male. Think about the greatest TV Talk Show Hosts…all male. Guys have been gabbing for a long time!

  • http://socialhoneycomb.com/just-a-girl-on-the-web Amanda Gravel

    In the fall I took a class about gender sociology and we had some really good discussions about masculinity/femininity and how these concepts relate to media and the Web. I had the class do some Technorati searches for gender-themed keywords to see what words were associated with terms like “girl,” “boy,” “man,” “woman,” “feminine,” “masculine,” etc. Some results were really surprising. When we look at who is creating all this content and how it’s being gendered by its creators, we get a very interesting picture.

    Great post, Jason. The URL I included with my name links back to a post I wrote about gender in the fall. The discussion that ensued was pretty excellent. Check it!

  • http://www.socialmediaexplorer.com Jason Falls

    Steve — I certainly don’t disagree with your assessment. There’s always a lot of factors at play and people have varying degrees of feminine and masculine traits. I appreciate your perspective and thank you for offering it here.

    Jane — Could be, but I think teen males are generally less apt to participate, particularly in touchy-feely or content related areas until they see a real result (i.e. – business reason, profits, etc.). Time will certainly tell.

    Andrea — Excellent point. I’d bet you could swap right-brain/left-brain for masculine/feminine in the piece and it still makes sense. Wonder if we could do it with liberal/conservative, etc.? Thanks for the perspective.

    Cathy — Thanks for the inspiration. And one blog post doesn’t make me smarter than you!

    Megan — I did check it out, commented as well and thank you for leading us to a promising young PR blogger!

    Mary-Lynn — Valid point, certainly. But is that the result of a glass ceiling in the broadcast industry or within listening audiences or because gender roles have little to do with the connection/sharing/talking?

    Amanda — Honored to have you here. I’d love for you to share your results in more detail. Really enjoyed the post, too! Thanks for sharing.

  • http://www.pr-squared.com Todd Defren

    You callin’ me a girly-man?! ;)

    While I tend to agree with central thesis of this post, Jason, there’s one more thing to consider in this conundrum.

    Blogging requires a degree of chutzpah: Broadly speaking, I suspect men are more likely to be comfortable putting themselves out there, subjecting themselves to the slings and arrows that could come in response. When they are criticized, they may be more likely to shrug it off and move forward. Given that these are still the early days of the blogosphere, can we surmise that the pioneers who gained early traction have the “typical” masculine traits of big egos and unwarranted fearlessness?

    Please note that I said BROADLY speaking up there: there are tons of amazing, brilliant, brave women who are blogging, and I suspect that their numbers will ultimately exceed the # of men who create content online. (Certainly the # of amazing, brilliant people out there skew more female than male!)

  • http://www.livingstonbuzz.com/blog Geoff Livingston

    Interesting. If social media is for girls, why are so many of the top marketing bloggers men? Why does a virtual glass ceiling exist? I’d be curious to know your thoughts.

  • http://www.davidlaplante.com David LaPlante

    Excellent post. I spoke about this post with my wife (who’s only interest in social media is to Flickr up photos of the kids to friends and family) about what her resistance is/has been and she summed it up clearly for me:

    “I’m content with the friends I have and not looking to manage any more relationships. Quality is my game, not quantity. Plus there’s just too many freaks out there where masculine can be translated to testosterone.”

    Great post!

  • Suki Fuller

    Interesting & insightful. Thank you for extending the discussion surrounding women in the social media sector.

    In regards to the top blogs being written by men I think maybe one should observe the topics (technology and finance unfortunately generally male dominated fields) of those blogs also and titles. Techmeme, Technorati these are names in my opinion a woman would not choose. Just some thoughts that popped into my head.

    I’d be happy to hear your thoughts on the “virtual glass ceiling” also.

  • http://blog.learnedonwomen.com Andrea Learned

    David – I feel the same as your wife. And, here I am – someone who blogs a lot and is known for it, and so would seem to be the exact social media type. My friends in the blogosphere cannot believe how I seem to be “holding back” from the astounding connection possibilities facebook etc.

    So – no one can assume that women just want to connect via social media, because not all women do. This is where gender stereotypes get so tricky, and men and women both stereotype the opposite gender at times, I know. We can never say ‘all women do this’ or ‘all men are like this’.

    That’d be too easy and give all of us – men and women alike – much less to blog about. ha!

  • http://www.smallfuel.com/blog Natalie M Miller

    Extremely interesting article and one that I haven’t fully processed yet but hope to as time goes on.

    In response to Todd’s comment, I agree that blogging does require a certain ability to put yourself out there and bounce back from negative feedback. I know many women who will not share their thoughts and ideas with people unless they’re in their trust circle-even if this means that they have to ask me to ask where the bathroom is instead of asking themselves.

    I also think that blogging has a technological barrier to break and that some women may see it as too complicated to spend the time on. Of course, this varies greatly depending on the amount of exposure and interest in the subject.

    Thanks for bringing up a topic that can be confrontational and handling it in a very balanced manner.

  • http://www.socialmediaexplorer.com Jason Falls

    Wow … thanks to all for such a vibrant discussion.

    Todd — Yes, you’re a girly man. And you have a very good point that putting yourself (or your ideas) out there for all to feast upon, even critically, plays a role. Natalie illustrates it well with her agreement.

    David and Andrea — There’s certainly something to be said for the quality vs. quantity. Blogging is a lot about how big/influential you are, how many subscribers you have, etc. Women often times want one person to respond and that’s sufficient. They want to be heard and acknowledged whereas men tend to want to be heard by everyone and acknowledged as important. (Stereotyping, certainly, but you get the point.)

    Geoff and Suki — I think Suki answered the question of a glass ceiling well. It’s not that one exists in blogging, it’s that the bloggers are mostly from male-dominated fields. Is that because the business, finance and tech worlds have a glass ceiling? I’m not versed enough to know, but that could have an effect.

    Because of the sheer number of fantastic females out there blogging already, I don’t think there’s a ceiling here. Keep in mind that blog success has a lot to do with traffic, subscribers, visits, etc. And when it’s numbers, not politics or prejudices, that determine outcomes … women are going to win every time.

  • http://thegirlriot.blogspot.com/2008/04/blogging-as-sacred-feminine.html the girl Riot

    My name links to my blog response on this… I gave it a lot of thought, I’d love any feedback or discussion it brings.

  • http://www.socialmediaexplorer.com Jason Falls

    And I’ll strongly endorse you all reading the girl Riot’s post. In fact, here’s the full URL:

    http://thegirlriot.blogspot.com/2008/04/blogging-as-sacred-feminine.html

    It is a thoughtful retort for the notion and well done. Thank you Riot (or whatever your name is) for the continuation.

  • http://zing-solutions.com/blog Roger Bauer

    Both of you have excellent posts on this, and the comments have contributed nicely as well. Good conversation fuel Jason!

    I think establishing relationships and communicating has long been considered a feminine quality (rightly or wrongly), but we men will attempt to exploit things in the name of money and competition which leads us to participate in things we normally wouldn’t such as social media. Once we’re involved though, we find we truly enjoy the activity so we stick to it.

    There is also an undercurrent of competitiveness to social media that attracts us men–number of hits or visits, followers, friends, rankings, etc. so that will keep the man’s man involved. Women would socialize without any competitiveness involved so it makes sense that they’d enjoy social media.

    Bottom line: we’re seeing a shift in attitudes by both genders to where we both take on non-traditional roles, and both of these posts underscore that.

  • http://itsdifferent4girls.com Linda Sherman

    Jason, Glad to see the level of discussion here.
    It was interesting that we both came back from Blogger Social and decided to write about gender differences. Mine focused on women being more concerned about doing well than competing.

    http://itsdifferent4girls.com/blog/2008/04/08/the-thrill-of-competition-and-trying-harder/

    When we talk about differences on-line, it would be interesting to see the percentage of flamers in comments. Some of the most brutal comment threads I have seen are on tech blogs which tend to be male dominated. But I have certainly seen some absurdly obnoxious comments by women on social topic sites as well.

  • http://blog.firebellydigital.com Chad Richards

    I was just having a conversation about this on Twitter tonight. I do agree that women tend to be more social in general. Of course, there are always exceptions. My observation regarding social media is that men tend to make proclamations, whereas women have conversations. @chadrichards

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