That charming sentence was supposedly added to old maps when the map reached an area that nobody had any knowledge about. I love the idea! To leave off the technical work of putting in mountains and rivers and lakes and just to draw some fantastic dragons in the blind spots!
Sadly, "here be the dragons" was also my first reaction to reading Katherine Q. Seelye's recent NYT piece "Women, Politics and Internet." The idea behind the piece was a clever one: Seelye asked her readers to give her opinions on whether indeed there are fewer women than men discussing politics on the net and if this is so, what might be the reason. This is clever, because I can imagine an ancient mapmaker going to the local inn and interviewing travelers about what they may have seen in some far distant place, looking for something to put in place of those dragon pictures.
But it has the same problems as a strategy. What you get is individual opinions. A sample:
I asked our readers if they thought more men were engaged online in politics than women, and if so, why.
Many said yes, guessing that perhaps twice as many men as women, maybe even three times as many men are involved, at least on the traditional politics-oriented sites.
As for why, readers offered lots of reasons, including this newsflash: women are just too busy, often with the household chores that men choose to ignore in favor of going on the computer.
Other thoughts from readers:
* For men, elections are like sports and they love the horse race. C Ray (gender unknown) put it this way: "I think men are more interested in the competitive nature of the election. It's like a sport — who will win or lose, who has the best strategy, who is on offense, who is on defense? Men are interested more in the minutiae of the game." He/she added: "I think women could care less and are more focused on the big picture."
* Men "like to show off more, like to force quasi-muscular opinions more on the unseen multitudes that they think are eager to hear them, want recognition more," wrote another reader.
* Many readers note, sadly, that if a woman makes her opinion known, she opens herself up to abuse, thanks to the anonymity and rancor of the blogosphere. One poster who said she is a woman said she posts under fake male names because women "are routinely attacked." (Along these lines, Jay Rosen, a journalism professor at New York University and a blogger, reminded us about the recent coming out of Digby, a highly respected progressive political blogger whom many had assumed was a man but turned out to be a woman.)
* Abe asked this: "Is it women who aren't interested in politics or politics that isn't interested in women?"
* Men and women communicate differently. Sarah writes: "This is a generalization, of course, but much has been written about how men tend toward more problem-solving and direct point-to-point repartee whereas women like to sit down and discuss more details and come to consensus."
The piece ends with some ideas about how politicians could reach women in unexpected places on the internet, such as on mommy blogs. But it's a useful corrective to remember that women vote in larger numbers than men do. For some odd reason we don't do long pieces wondering why men don't vote more and asking people to propose reasons for that.
I suffer from a certain amount of burnout whenever this topic crops up again, because I have written on it several times in the past and I do run what I modestly think of as a political blog. But the main reason for my frustration is this whole image I get of women as the mysterious ones, the ones who need to be analyzed, chased and trapped, the forgotten ones. The dragons.
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