Michael B. Duff

Lubbock's answer to a question no one asked

The ultimate secret to blogger success? Pretend to be a girl

UPDATE: Jezebel and I seem to be having a bit of a disagreement. The first part of the disagreement seems to be about which ugly, scary libertarian dork I am. I am this one. I am writing about this one.

This isn't the Libertarian guy either
I wasn’t able to find an authoritative picture of my subject, but he described this pic as “closer to the real me.”

I’m afraid some points in my column were a bit vague, making it easy for Megan to misunderstand me. You know all that stuff I wrote last week about ignoring criticism and staying above the fray? I’m about to break my own rules and respond to some of Megan’s points.

1. I know exactly how smart Ana Marie Cox is and would never want to imply that she become popular just because she was hott. Being hott and using “unladylike” language was a big part of her appeal, but she capitalized on it by mixing humor with serious commentary. To dismiss her as “a girl talking dirty about politics” would be a big mistake.

2. There is a difference between being knowledgable about economics and being obsessed. Libertarianism attracts the obsessed. I know this from personal experience and I have $400 worth of economics texts on my shelf to prove it. Want to see some Laffer curve statistics from 1993?

3. My main (perhaps poorly-expressed) point was: Putting up a pretty mugshot can get you some temporary, low-quality hits, but if you want to be taken seriously, you have to back it up with real insight. When I said female bloggers have “come into their own” I was thinking specifically of AMC and Rachel Sklar. Megan’s post makes it sound like I’m denigrating some of the women I was trying to praise and I wanted to clear that up.

4. And of course, Michael Duff IS pictured in the column and my primary subject was not. It’s too late to repair the damage to my self-esteem, but if Jezebel could fix their artwork, I might be able to shave a few weeks off my therapy.

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The ultimate secret to blogger success? Pretend to be a girl

My favorite Internet hoax was executed in 2005, by a Libertarian blogger who was tired of being ignored by his community.

The self-styled “Libertarian Man of Mystery” complained:

“When I had a blog as my real self, no one linked to me, no one left any comments, it was as if the blog existed in a vacuum.”


So, how did this guy rise from obscurity and turn his languishing political site into a vibrant B-list blog? He pretended to be a girl.

Specifically, he turned his Web site pink and put up a photo from a site that connects lonely men with Russian brides. He pretended to be a young girl just out of college and started peppering his posts with references to fashion and frat parties.

But none of this should matter, right? The Internet is the last place on Earth where superficials don’t matter, where writers are judged on merit, without regard to race, culture, creed or gender.

Not quite.

Our Mystery Man continues:

“Things were different for Libertarian Girl. Every day I’d check Technorati and discover new unsolicited links. It was like I had warped into an alternate universe where all the rules had changed. At the rate things were happening, this would have been an A-list blog in a few more months.”

So what does this mean? Is the glass ceiling actually a sun roof? Are Libertarians just a bunch of lonely male geeks?

Our Mystery Man (subsequently abbreviated as MM”) certainly thinks so. From his “coming out” post on Feb. 15, 2005:

“Libertarians tend to be ugly because it’s an anti-majority philosophy. People who are attractive have an easy time going through life and derive far too many advantages from the status quo to ever question it. It’s only outsiders, who are usually ugly, who join up with fringe movements.”

I describe myself as a “Backslidden Libertarian” these days, but in 2005, I considered myself a member of this group and didn’t appreciate being called ugly, even if he did have a point.

I believe libertarianism appeals to men, particularly to male geeks, because it rewards quirkiness, independence and an obsession with economics.

This made libertarianism a good fit for the Internet, to the point where it actually became a cliche. Specificially, it’s called Gordon’s Restatement of Newman’s Corollary to Godwin’s Law, coined in 1991: “Libertarianism is the primordial netnews discussion topic. Anytime the debate shifts somewhere else, it must eventually return to this fuel source.”

So it’s easy to see why the faithful would respond to a hot girl blogger who claimed to be a libertarian. But MM says it goes deeper than that:

“It’s funny how there have been some posts in the blogosphere saying that the political blogosphere was a boys club that discriminated against women, as evidenced by how few politics bloggers were women. Boy were they completely off the mark. It’s ten times easier for a woman’s blog to become popular.”

Nick Denton cashed in on this phenomenon when he called his political blog Wonkette and put a photogenic young woman at the helm. Ana Marie Cox got famous by mixing serious commentary with rude jokes and foul language. Statements that would have sounded simple or vulgar coming from a man somehow became “cute” and “edgy” when they came from her.

It’s hard to dispute the popularity of female bloggers, but popularity isn’t everything. Libertarian Girl got a lot of readers, but not much respect. She was a novelty, a conversation piece and a lightning rod for jerks who like to put down women.

Real women have better luck in the long run, but there’s still a shocking amount of misogyny and condescension on the Web. The Internet really did start as a boy’s club, and the anonymous nature of blog comments allows teenage boys (and way too many adult men) to abuse women online.

Still, I’d say we’ve come a long way since 2005. Women have found their voice on the Net. A medium that was once a geeky kind of boys’ club has become a true mainstream phenomenon. I’m not going to announce a blanket victory over sexism, but blogging is serious business now, and the revolution is well under way.

Many of MM’s commenters didn’t appreciate being revealed as superficial jerks, but most of them got the joke. The programming runs deep, I guess. Male geeks tend to be marginalized by mainstream culture and mainstream women, so you can’t blame them for getting excited when they see a hot girl who speaks their language.

There are plenty of female geeks, of course, but when you do the math, their male counterparts turn out to be just as shallow as the people they make fun of. They all want a woman who looks like Christie Brinkley and writes like Jerry Pournelle.

These women exist, of course, but I think Sarah Meyers just got married.

Most female bloggers wouldn’t want to look like a mail order bride, no matter how many hits it was worth. Women walk a fine line between popularity and credibility, caught in an eternal struggle between beauty and professionalism.

Men have it easy, by comparison. Male writers actually gain credibility when they turn out to be old, ugly and sad. I remember the first time a reader told me I looked like Stephen King.

I thanked him, and then he hit me with his car.

UPDATE: Stephen King is a very attractive man, by the way. He laughs. He smiles. He wears glasses. He wears the gray well. I mean, he’s no Larry Niven, but I could do a lot worse.

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Written by Michael B. Duff

October 17, 2008 at 11:24

Posted in Columns, Culture

3 Responses

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  1. yikes. did you email them to let them know they have the wrong photo up?

    cynthia

    October 17, 2008 at 16:42

  2. […] Michael Duff at the Lubbock-Avalanche Journal wrote about his favorite online hoax: a male political blogger, tired of being ignored on the web, […]

    OMG. OMG. OMFG.

    October 18, 2008 at 19:48

  3. Hi, I didn’t get married. Sarah Austin is my birth name and Sarah Meyers was a stage name. Thanks!

    Sarah Austin

    October 19, 2008 at 00:04


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