Since announcing my intention of setting up a group blog for Labour women I've been talking to lots of female friends about why they think so few women blog about politics. We know that women use the internet more than men, so it's not to do with access, and you can find thousands of women on mumsnet and plenty of activity on feminist sites such as the fword. But apart from a few notable exceptions including Nadine Dorries MP on the right, and Sadie's Tavern and Kerry McCarthy MP on the left, it seems that political women have turned their backs on this particular medium.
Partly it's about time as Mary Dejevsky points out - many women have too many other responsibilties to fit in blogging. Others, like Stella Creasy who posted a thoughtful piece on LabourList about the uselessness of blogging for campaigning purposes, would rather focus on making a direct difference offline in their communities. My initial reticence in embracing blogs was partly because of the vicious nature of the comments made by men, and I do think it's true that sites such as Guido's have created a culture which is incredibly offputting for women. Though it's important to point out that this culture exists offline too in the casual sexism which female politicians face day-in day-out, such as the obsession with what female politicians wear. It's just that online, women in politics are faced with misogyny in a way which is magnified tenfold and allows men to hide behind their screens. I expect many men would never say the things they post online if they were face-to-face with the women they are referring to.
Many women are tempted to think that it's best to simply leave the boys to their puerile online games. It's not as if they are affecting much in politics in any case, and if we can get SureStart centres up and running and legislation implementing better maternity and paternity leave through without needing to write a single blog post, we needn't bother wasting valuable time tapping away. I'm not convinced. Blogging and use of new media for political ends is going to become more important, not less, and it strikes me that women's voices will need to be part of that if we are to continue to push for greater political representation in general. It also doesn't really fit with our Labour heritage to turn away from confronting prejudice, even if it is mainly by trolls. Because these trolls are men who we wouldn't tolerate if we heard them muttering sexist abuse in the street. Why should it be excused here?
But the more important reason why Labour women should start blogging more is because it is, and will become increasingly so, a good way of raising their profile. Good postings will get spotted, new policy ideas will get adopted, and women's views in the Labour movement will help to shape the future of the Labour Party. If we are prepared to accept that it is necessary to hold women's policy forums and to submit responses from women's groups within the Party, this is no different.
Finally, I think that one of the reasons why women don't blog is because they simply don't know how it works and need a space to find their own style, or decide it's not for them. I hope that this forum will allow Labour women to experiment, to post stuff and find out what works for them, and to share tips on what makes a good blog and how to create an effective online presence. It may not work, but it's certainly well worth a try.