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Category: Art and Entertainment, Media

Women Ahead of the (Blog) Curve

| July 24, 2008

Four years ago Lisa Stone, Jory des Jardins and Elisa Camahort Page wanted to settle the annoying question they were constantly hearing: where are the women bloggers? So they put out a call, on their blogs of course, asking women if they would come to a conference, and, as Elisa says, the "response was immediate, passionate and positive.” Today Blogher has exploded from the 300 early attendees to 1,000 women (and a couple of guys) who just spent two days in San Francisco networking, learning and creating community around the act of blogging.

Bloggers at the conference ran the gamut from newbies to old hands; from the technically challenged to technically savvy; from 20 somethings to 60 or 70 somethings. Conference organizers planned for the diversity of women who blog, smartly including a lactation room and child care as well as providing makeovers for your face, your finances and your computer.

With a mission “to create opportunities for women who blog to pursue exposure, education, community, and economic empowerment," Blogher hit the big time last week and announced a $5 million strategic partnership with NBC Universal, especially its women's brands iVillage and Oxygen. The goal of the deal, according to Lisa Stone is "for women to get additional exposure for their blogs" and ad revenue as well. (Disclaimer: my blog Women & Hollywood is part of the Blogher ad network.)

Just to get a sense of the profound growth of women in the blog world, last year Blogher's main site, which now has 15,000 blogs registered and 60 odd editors trolling the blogosphere for what's hot and happening, didn't even register in the Nielsen Net Ratings. This year the site gets 8 million unique visitors a month. Even Michelle Obama got into the act and blogged for the first time at the Blogher site on the eve of the conference. Women may be struggling for recognition in the mainstream media, but in the blogging world they are already influential, desirable and visible: witness the presence at the Blogher weekend of 50-odd mainstream sponsors like GM, Microsoft, Macys and Michelin.

True, not many of the A-list bloggers—the ones making serious money—are women, but women’s blogs have a unique and often feminist appeal. While they write about everything from politics to business to food to technology to kids, it’s the personal approach that draws in readers. You couldn't walk around the conference without hearing the rumor that Heather Armstrong AKA gets a million unique visitors and $40,000 in advertising revenue a month with her site. She lost her job for blogging about it and now is one of the female blogosphere's biggest stars.

But no matter how many mainstream sponsors it attracts, blogging still feels subversive. As Lisa Stone says, blogging "rips the veil off the everyday lives of women that have been hidden for so long."

At a community keynote on the first night of the conference, women read posts they had previously written. The experience brought people's words off the screen into reality, and the evening felt like a consciousness raising meeting for 1,000 people. They tackled intimate, difficult topics—trying to commit suicide when pregnant, post-partum depression, body-image issues, cancer. You couldn't help but look around and see the connection that these bloggers, many of whom sit in isolation at their computers each day, were making with each other.

The conference was planned around several tracks, accommodating for example a discussion of the ever-popular field of mommyblogging and a nuts and bolts session on building traffic. Smaller affinity group discussions on feminism and gender, women of color, and queer issues allowed people to delve deeper into concerns. Additionally, a concurrent conference was held in second life (a virtual world) so people who weren't in the room could participate in real time.

Mommyblogging is the most mainstream, fastest growing and, not surprisingly, most commercial aspect of the female blogosphere. They read each other, talk to each other, and even support each other in a financial crisis, which happened recently when one of their own was diagnosed with a brain tumor. Cindy Samuels, a 62-year-old blogger—and veteran producer over the years for iVillage, NPR and the “Today Show”—believes that blogging gives us "women who have beautiful voices and would have never risen to where anybody would hear them."

In a world where women still don't have parity in Congress, on TV, or in the newspaper columns, it’s a great feeling to know that women are harnessing this new technology to build communities. Who knows, maybe the next feminist revolution is already happening: you just need to go online to find it.