Today, Patrick McCullough at kata ta biblia reflects on the dearth of women (or female?) bibliobloggers. It’s something that has interested me, too, but I don’t think it’s just a lack of female bibliobloggers – it’s a lack of women in any potentially interactive internet media. I belong to three biblical studies-related email lists as well – Gospel of Thomas (the scholarly one), Christian Origins and Biblical Studies. Very few women post in any of these forums. I’m one of the Gospel of Thomas moderators, so I know there are female members, but I’m the only who posts regularly (and I’ve been pretty irregular over the last couple of months). I could talk about lists as well, but I think this post is long enough just looking at blogs.
So, is it a lack of interest amidst female biblical studies scholars/informed-laypersons? Or a lack of welcome amidst those already in the biblioblogging world? Or something else? Or all of the above?
I think that there is something in all the things suggested by Patrick and the people he quotes:
- women’s uneasiness about telling random strangers what they think
- the fact that there are very few women in the biblical studies field (as opposed to pastoral theology, liturgical studies and even systematic theology, where more women scholars seem to go)
- what Mark Goodacre terms “the nerdy, geeky male electronic world”
I think that women, in general, are less confident about sharing their ideas with others. They have a much stronger need to have their ideas validated by others before they’re prepared to publicise them whereas I think men are happier to put ideas out there to be tested and to get feedback. I think women also tend to wait to be asked before expressing opinions. I wasn’t socialised this way because I was the only girl in a family of boys and the only girl in my neighbourhood, so I spent a huge amount of time playing with boys and I learned to speak up if I wanted to be heard.
I think women tend to have different attitudes to men about computers, too. Amongst my contemporaries, I think a larger percentage of women see computers as enemies than men. Probably not many men my age and older see computers as their friends, exactly, but I think more see them as a useful tool. Both my son and my daughter are extremely computer-literate but they and their friends use computers differently. My son sees his as a tool. When he wants to do a complex calculation, he will write a program to do it and then he can keep doing it with any set of figures he wants. My daughter sees hers as a communication aid. Her hard drive died recently and she is currently sharing with her father, which means that she is significantly out of contact with her friends because her father won’t allow her to install Messenger on his computer.
So, even though the upcoming generation of female biblical scholars are more likely to be comfortable using computers, they probably still aren’t going to get into blogging in the way men do. Biblioblogs are a problem for traditionally socialised women. No-one asks for your opinion, you just have to put it up there. Very few people give you feedback. My blog has had 1,724 views, but there are only 29 comments, and possibly a third of them are me replying to someone else. I notice that April and I are more inclined to reply to comments on our blogs than are most male bibliobloggers, incidentally.
Are women less interested in biblical studies? As an end in itself, probably yes. They are probably more interested in the implications of the results of their research in their everyday lives, which is why they tend not to go into biblical studies in the first place.
Do they feel welcome? Possibly not. Men tend to disagree by saying “you’re wrong, because . . .”. Women tend to disagree by saying “I don’t agree with you because . . .” and read “you’re wrong” as “you’re stupid”. Also, lots of religious-type bibliobloggers self-identify as evangelical. The others are “secular” bibliobloggers – those who do biblical studies from outside a specific faith context. Women are often not welcome as leaders/scholars within the evangelical part of Christianity. When I was training for the ministry, we had a number of visiting scholars who were biblical scholars. All the men were ordained. Most of the women weren’t. For some, ordination hadn’t been an option because they belonged to denominations that didn’t ordain women, but even those who belonged to denominations who did ordain women tended not to be ordained. When I asked them why not, they basically said it was not worth the fight. So I suspect that lots of women scholars and interested lay people don’t feel welcome in an evangelical blogosphere, even though I know that quite a lot of you are not Evangelicals (ie with an uppercase E) and don’t see women as second class citizens. Yet statistics would suggest that more women regularly practise their faith than men and they probably don’t feel comfortable and welcome amongst the bibliobloggers who come from a secular perspective either, because they feel that it’s not OK to blog about faith.
And maybe they have less time. I read an article last week that said that recent research shows that before they get married, women spend about 10% of their time on housework and men about 7%. After marriage, even if both partners have full time jobs, women spend 20% of their time on housework and men 5% and it gets worse when children arrive. Now I know these are statistics and they don’t reflect how every marriage works (I don’t know if this is the same for defacto relationships, incidentally), but they do seem to ring true for many of my female colleagues. I have a partner who only works very part time and does most of the housework, so I probably have a bit more spare time to devote to this kind of thing, but the downside is that we have far less disposable income than most of my contemporaries. I can spend time blogging because we can’t afford to go out anywhere.
So there you are. Lots of sweeping generalisations without anything much in the way of hard facts to back them up.
Update 15 June
Some more comments about this issue can be found over on Bene Diction.