The Wednesday Weigh-In: Are female bloggers more ‘positive’ and ‘happy’?

You may not have heard of him prior to this week, but Felix Salmon is one of the most influential business writers in, well, the biz. He drew ire last week, including from prominent feminists such as Irin Carmon of Salon, for publishing the following comments in an essay on Maria Popova and her “blogonomics” (read: her blog’s business model):

“The consistently positive and upbeat tone to Popova’s blog might generate healthy Amazon income as a side-effect, but it’s also genuine: she’s one of those bloggers – Gina Trapani is another very successful example – who have no time for snark and who naturally look for things to celebrate rather than things to tear down…

To a certain extent, this is a female thing: positive happy bloggers tend to be female, as do their readers. And when someone like Anne-Marie Slaughter supports Maria Popova to the tune of $300 per year, there’s definitely an element there of supporting the sisterhood. Which is a good thing!

But to many male observers, there’s something a bit off there.”

Hmmm. Salmon has apologized for the comments, which he calls “stupid” and “wrong”. Notably, he only uses the word ‘sexist’ once during his entire apology, in a rhetorical question indicating faux-outrage (“How could I be so sexist?”). He presumes that the ridiculousness of such a premise will be apparent to us all, but alas, as a female-identified blogger myself, it is not.

I happen to think there’s a lot for feminists to take issue with in Salmon’s blog post even outside of his “ill-advised detour into gender politics.” (Some questions I have for Mr. Salmon: What’s behind the focus on Popova’s lifestyle and work ethic in addition to her business model? Why not choose to focus on the more interesting and broad question of affiliate links still qualifying sites as “ad-free”? When considering the sustainability models of female-run blogs such as Popova’s why not at least mention some of the deeply embedded systemic barriers to female bloggers achieving institutionalized, mainstream success like you have with Reuters? Too close to home? Is it possible that your criticism of Popova’s “dual-income model” was, in part, influenced by the kind of sexism – intentional or not—that is inherent to the generalization of female bloggers as “happy” and “positive” and therefore less deserving of “serious” financial compensation for their work?)

But today I want to focus in on the assertion that got Salmon in the most trouble: that shirking snark for celebration on the web is a “female thing” and that “positive happy bloggers tend to be female, as do their readers.”

From Salmon’s apology:

“…there’s a line between being plainspoken and being needlessly provocative, and I crossed it. In doing so, I made it far too easy for my readers to miss the precise meaning of ‘most positive happy bloggers are female’, and to read it instead as ‘most female bloggers are positive and happy’, or even ‘most females are positive and happy’.”’

This strikes me as splitting hairs and sort of missing the bigger picture of what went wrong in Salmon’s analysis. I’m curious, though, if at the end of the day, even the most exemplary of feminists (that’s you, dear readers!) might be open to the idea that women have an overall more positive presence on the web — or completely laugh it off the playground. Which leads us to this week’s Wednesday Weigh in:

In your experience, are female bloggers more positive and happy? Are they more likely to write, and are their readers more eager to consume, content that chooses to celebrate rather than tear down? What do you look for in online spaces from your favorite female writers?

You know what to do: leave it in the comments.

Brooklyn, NY

Lori Adelman is Executive Director of Partnerships at Feministing, where she enjoys creating and curating content on gender, race, class, technology, and the media. Lori is also an advocacy and communications professional specializing in sexual and reproductive rights and health, and currently works in the Global Division of Planned Parenthood Federation of America. A graduate of Harvard University, she lives in Brooklyn.

Lori Adelman is an Executive Director of Feministing in charge of Partnerships.

Read more about Lori

Join the Conversation

  • Sam L-L

    Time for some anecdata!

    Here are the bloggers I follow (removing personal friends) in my RSS reader, with their gender, and a subjective positive/negative assessment:

    Charles Stross, male, negative
    Jeff Atwood, male, positive
    Feministing, female, negative
    Greta Christina, female, positive
    Joel Spolsky, male, positive
    Lawrence Lessig, male, positive
    Paul Krugman, male, negative
    Ozy Frantz, non-binary, positive
    Patrick Rothfuss, male, positive
    Fred Clark, male, positive
    Ta-Nehisi Coates, male, positive
    Jo “Spinksville” Ramsay, female, positive

    That’s 1 non-binary positive, 2 female positive, 1 female negative, 5 male positive, and 2 male negative. I’m not exactly rushing out to reject the null hypothesis over here.

  • Anne

    I’m not sure I can speak to whether or not female bloggers are more positive, but what I can say is that I often find that any time there is an attribute in question – positive or negative, funny or not funny, stubborn or meek, anything – it is more likely to be ascribed to women than men. Just in general. Male is the default, no need to describe that category. Women, on the other hand, are an open playing field for generalizations. (I also think this is pretty much the case for any “minority” or “other” identifier.) It would be just as easy for a writer to describe female bloggers as generally angrier than male bloggers, for example. Sometimes there’s some truth to stereotypes and sometimes there isn’t – most of the time it’s just irrelevant.

  • Jacqueline Hentzen

    About the article in general, I’m sorry to be the lone dissenter, but I can’t be offended by Salmon’s position that women bloggers are happier — especially given that most women bloggers that I’ve seen are feminists and activists. After seeing so much shit about how activism and women’s rights has made women ‘unhappy’ (Looking at you, Suzanne Venker and Phyllis Schlafly) I just can’t bring myself to look at someone who dares to say that women blogging might be a positive thing and say ‘How dare you?’


  • Jenny Gonzalez-Blitz

    I’m a sardonic temperamental person by nature, it probably reflects in my blogging. Which is not to say it isn’t good to have a balance between happy and other tones—shouldn’t that depend on the topic you’re writing about at the moment? It’s actually sort of funny that the most recent thing I’ve posted is entitled “Positive Feedback For A Negative Girl”. As for other bloggers, I feel lately I’ve been reading a lot of blogs focused on mental health issues, stigmas, and rights, which aren’t really topics that lend themselves to being all perky and twee and all that.

    I have know some women who have kept all their writing, whether blogging, writing promotion or what have you, with this very light upbeat tone, and who seemed to miss the grammar lesson in school where there were other forms of punctuation than exclamation points. I’m not denying that exists.

    But I do like Felix the Cat.

  • Laura

    I can’t really pin down what irritates me about his comments. Mostly it just seems entirely unnecessary, that there’s no reason to attribute the tone to gender in the first place. If I had to make a list of things that influence writing style, sex/gender would probably be at the bottom (if it made it on at all). And I just don’t grasp why positive writing is somehow inferior to negative writing.

    I’ve had several blogs over the years and the tone is always related to what the topic is. A political blog was very negative and angry; a weight loss site was unendingly positive. It just matched the subject matter. I imagine that’s what most bloggers do.