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A FEW months ago I joined legions of other online narcissists and decided to start a Weblog, one of those personal Web sites where people spout their thoughts for the world to read. Within a few days I was browsing through other Weblogs, commonly called blogs, for inspiration. And within a week, it hit me: the sites I was visiting were all run by men.
The bloggers I knew of, to name a few, were Andrew Sullivan, a writer; Scott Rosenberg, the managing editor of Salon.com; Glenn Reynolds, the force behind Instapundit.com; and Jim Romenesko, a monitor of the media. The sites they linked to were also mostly written by men. Articles in mainstream publications, like one that ran in Newsweek last summer, dropped some of the same names, all male. Garry Trudeau even tackled blogging recently in ''Doonesbury,'' and the blogger he created turned out to be a man.
Where were the women?
Over the last few years blogging has become an international pastime, embraced by Web aficionados around the world. Its popularity was spurred by new software that enabled anyone to build a site and post commentary without knowing a lick of Web code. It is impossible to count exactly how many blogs have sprung up (let alone how many have an audience), but Rebecca Blood, the author of ''The Weblog Handbook,'' reports that the number has swelled from a few dozen in early 1999 to hundreds of thousands today.
The allure of blogging lies in the thrill of circumventing the establishment, of being able to publish worldwide without having to be an op-ed columnist or a famous writer. Blogs can be nurtured at all hours of the day and night -- an advantage for anyone juggling work and children. Virginia Postrel, one of the few women who is commonly listed among well-known bloggers, points out that blogging is actually quite friendly to women.
''You don't have to be part of quite literally an old boys network,'' said Ms. Postrel, a former editor of Reason magazine (and a contributor of monthly Economic Scene columns for this newspaper's business section).
Her point made the seeming dearth of women all the more a mystery. Was there really a gender gap in Blogville? The answer, I soon learned, was complicated. And it was wrapped up in knotty issues like the power of celebrity, the male tilt of the computer industry, the grip of sexual stereotypes (women keeping diaries, men droning on about politics) and the preciousness of time -- specifically, the fact that women with children and jobs have almost none to spare.
I, for one, was probably feeling the disparity with hypersensitivity. I became a mother last spring and started my blog to keep up my writing. (The fog of sleep deprivation made me crazy enough to think I would have the free time.) After spending hours dealing with technical glitches and typing with one hand while trying to soothe a colicky baby, I started to assume that women who blog, particularly mothers who blog, were a rarity.
But women are, in fact, blogging in big numbers. Mr. Rosenberg, who keeps an eye out for new bloggers and links to them from his Salon.com blog, estimates that the ratio of women to men is something like 40-60, or perhaps 50-50. Once I dug around, I found plenty of company. Blogs typically publish links, known as blogrolls, to kindred blogs. So whenever I found a woman's blog, I would find links to another handful, which led to another dozen, and so on.
There are even sites designed to showcase female bloggers, like the Blogs by Women home page and Blog Sisters, which has 100 registered female bloggers.
Why didn't I find these sites to start with? Web experts assign some blame to the mainstream media, which has focused its attention on a predominantly male group of bloggers who write about terrorism and Iraq and have come to be known as the warbloggers. Glenn Reynolds of Instapundit, for example, is the one of the most frequently cited warbloggers, and his blogroll is heavily weighted toward men.
Mr. Rosenberg, whose Salon.com site has become a gateway to blogging for many newcomers, keeps a list titled ''Some blogs I read.'' All but one (Virginia Postrel's) are written by men. Many are opinion writers with journalistic backgrounds, a group that is understandably of interest to Mr. Rosenberg, given that he is a journalist himself. (Media types often write about other media types, skewing the sample.) Others are gurus of technology, like Marc Canter, the founder of the software company Macromedia, who is often called a ''founding father of multimedia.'' Mr. Rosenberg conceded that the list needs updating, and he has linked to several new women's sites in the last month.
Ms. Postrel said that the imbalance was probably a holdover from the world of print, where men continue to dominate the opinion pages.
And that is where things get touchy. People who track blogs hate to make generalizations, but many acknowledged that female bloggers often have more of an inward focus, keeping personal diaries about their daily lives.
If that is the case, the Venus-Mars divide has made its way into Blogville. Women want to talk about their personal lives. Men want to talk about anything but. So far the people who have received the most publicity (often courtesy of male journalists) appear to be the latter.
Why men are more likely than women to write about news and politics is a question that existed long before the dawn of the Web, and the answer is rolled up in cultural trends that span centuries. Men's continued dominance in the software industry, where they are apt to fiddle with a new computer art form, stacks the roster too.
But some women see the tables turning.
It was the sense of male blog domination that led to the birth of Blog Sisters, a site where female bloggers come together to support one another, talk about gender issues and spread the word about their existence.
Jeneane Sessum, who has been blogging for a year and who started a blog called Baby Blogger for her daughter, Jenna (now age 5), awoke in the middle of the night with the idea for Blog Sisters last February. ''At that time, I wasn't reading as many women's blogs as I was men's and I wondered, 'Where are all the women like me?''' she said.
Julie Powell, who runs a blog called the Julie/Julia Project, had a similar question. ''When I started, it did seem more like a guy thing,'' she said. Nevertheless, she kept writing. Her site cropped up on Salon.com's list of most-visited blogs this fall. (In it she regales readers with what she calls a ''deranged assignment'' to make every recipe in Julia Child's classic ''Mastering the Art of French Cooking.'' )
Some sites where women are raising their voices do reflect traditional roles. (Blogs about knitting are popping up everywhere.)
But women's blogs about current events are out there too. Leslie Veen writes about politics in California, when she is not musing on baseball. Lisa Reins makes regular postings promoting online freedoms and ways to avoid war with Iraq. Lynne Kiesling writes about economics and energy deregulation. (She also links to a knitting blog.)
Ms. Sessum and Elaine Frankonis, her co-pilot at Blog Sisters, say they are already witnessing some slippage between the stereotypes as both men and women get comfortable in the new medium.
''I think that what's happening is that we're meeting in the middle,'' Ms. Frankonis said. ''The men started by writing about technology and opinion and the women were writing personal diaries. Now the men are putting more of their hearts into their Weblogs and women are talking about the issues.''
Ms. Sessum concurred. ''Men are getting riskier too with what they are telling,'' she said. ''There are many who dare to tell what is going on in their family and their hearts and their everyday lives.''
Ms. Postrel said she had noticed some of that heart-baring too. ''I'm seeing men writing about their kids,'' she said. ''It is something that happens in blogs but does not happen very much in regular journalism.''
As for me, I'm still in awe of anyone -- man or woman -- who has time to blog and be a parent at the same time.
I think of the hours that I have so far spent setting up my blog, learning the software, combing the Web for links, fiddling with graphics. Each minute I have been vaguely conscious of the things I should have been doing instead. I should have been reading Dr. Spock, gazing at my snoozing child, vacuuming the dog hair off the rugs, finding a child-care provider, doing research for work, paying bills, talking to my mother-in-law, writing thank-you notes, washing dishes, making dinner.
Heck, I should have been sleeping.
But the chance to bend sexual stereotypes is all too tempting. And I
can't pass up what is starting to feel like a parallel form of motherhood:
the experience of raising a Web site that I'll soon feel guilty about