The Great Blog Experiment

This is part of the ‘Girly Girl’ Week here at Cheese-Wearing Theology.

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What would happen if I made myself anonymous on my blog? That was the question I asked myself last fall.

Would people react differently, see read differently, interact differently with posts on Cheese-Wearing Theology if they didn’t know the owner and author was a female?

Everyone knows that there are no women on the internet, especially not ones that write about Star Trek, play World of Warcraft, study theology, and post quirky demotivational posters; so this should be easy.

And thus the Great Blog Experiment was born. For five months, my blog was anonymous. I took my name off the blog. I took my picture off my ‘about’ page. When I made comments at other blogs I chose something suitably anonymous like AMM, or cdntheologianscholar.

I didn’t change the content or topics that I wrote about. If I wanted to write about women in ministry, I wrote about it. If I wanted to write about the Buffy re-boot and how it’s a very bad idea, or about living in Caronport I wrote about it.

From October to February I was anonymous. And then in March I put my name back on my blog. When I commented at other blogs, I used Amanda.

Tracking the trends and numbers wasn’t as easy as just letting WordPress tell me my daily hit count and monthly average. I get quite a bit of ‘search engine’ hits because of my motivational posters. So I excluded those types of hits from my calculations. I also excluded the obviously spam-related hits.

And so after five months as anonymous, and five months as me, here’s what I have learned:

* People were more likely to click on my name in a comment at another blog to check out my blog if I was anonymous. This was especially true at one site in particular. In the five months of being me, the clicks on my name at this one particular blog to get to my blog went from 85 (as anonymous) to 2 (as me).

* Commenting on issues related to women in ministry or the comp/egal debate, as me led to more than one person suggesting that I was letting my emotions get in the way of seeing what Scripture truly says about submission and women in leadership. As anonymous, I didn’t get any comments like that.

* There was a definite shift in readership after I dropped anonymous and went to me. I lost several wordpress and email subscribers when I switched back to me. I have in the last few months, though, gained several new subscribers.

* From a comfort perspective, there were definitely times where it felt easier to contribute to conversations on other blogs by being anonymous; particularly when the conversation was dominated by male voices (and given that I frequent mostly theo/biblio blogs this was usually the case).

* Sometimes I fear that when I post a rant, or a struggle, my thoughts and concerns will be dismissed because I am a woman; that readers will think ‘oh it must be that time of the month’. I find myself being very aware of these fears, and more often than not, the rant/struggle posts are now the ones that I run by Chuck to see if they sound too whiny/bitchy/emotional etc before I post them for the world to see.

* On the other hand, after the experiment, I find myself more confident in posting. Yes, I am Amanda. Yes, I am a Star Trek loving, theology studying, World of Warcraft geek. I am the Cheese-Wearer. This is me. I write my blog because it is fun. If people don’t like it, they don’t have to read it. I don’t blog for profit, fame or cool points. I blog as a way to explore my world, to meet new people, to be creative, and to wrestle through what I’m learning in school. The moment I start writing what I think people want to read, or write what I think will generate the most blog hits, is the moment that I should shut down my blog.

So, after the Great Blog Experiment, all I have to say in conclusion is this:

My name is Amanda MacInnis.
I am a graduate student in theology, at Briercrest College and Seminary.
I have worked in church ministry for nearly a decade (worship, pastoring, preaching, vision planning, youth ministry).
I have been accused, and rightly so, of being both a Trekkie and a Whedonite.
Yes, I have attended Star Trek conventions. No, I do not dress as a “Red Shirt” or a Klingon (or a Ferengi, or a Borg, or a…)
I am Canadian.
I am a gamer.
I am me.

  • Thank God for your voice on the Internet! Kudos.

  • Awesome!

  • Ally

    as one who only stumbled upon your blog AFTER the experiment – I have to say, I would likely have subscribed either way, but for me, I actually was MORE likely to subscribe because I am always looking for good interesting blogs written by women… Sadly though, despite my own reasons, I am not surprised by what you found out… I have wondered whether I ought to try and start a blog about my experiences in my MA in applied theology program (starting this fall) just because there is such a lack of (identified) women bloggers (to a certain extent – don’t want to be accidentally offending the ones I do follow and the ones I haven’t found yet) and I feel like it’s rather bad of me to bemoan the fact and do nothing about it myself. But as I’ve found in my life as a librarian – I love reading blogs – I’m rather horrible at actually writing them…

    • Ally,
      I have found that the more I blog the better my blogging becomes: both in terms of writing and in my desire to write.

      But even if you don’t blog through your program, contributing to other blogs through comments is valuable to the ongoing theo-blog conversations.

  • Ally

    PS should also add that the Trekkie Whedonite bit is only a plus in my book too =D

    • Trekkie Whedonites are the coolest people ever!!!! 🙂

  • First of all, yes, trekkie whedonites are absolutely the coolest people ever! I’m always disappointed more people don’t acknowledge this publicly. (In the spirit of full disclosure I am more of a Firefly whedonite than a Buffy whedonite, and I truly believe Deep Space Nine is woefully underappreciated. Oh, and Diablo has been my game of choice for more years than I care to admit….but I digress.) 🙂
    Like Ally, I only came across your blog after the Great Blog Experiment. Wish I could say I’m surprised by your experience. I appreciate your voice and I appreciate your passion to see the community of Christ followers benefit from the fully employed gifts of women as well as men. I look forward to reading more.
    Grace!

    • Chrystal,
      DS9 is definitely under-appreciated and it’s a shame because I think it’s probably the best of all the Star Treks (and this coming from a die-hard TNG fan).
      Thanks for your encouraging words 🙂

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  • Leila

    Sadly, your experiences don’t surprise me. A few years ago, a friend and I tried a similar experiment, using just initials or male names, never female names. We commented on theology blogs. The dialogue was very different using initials (where they couldn’t identify our gender) or male names than it was female, that was for sure. The substance of our comments was far more likely to be acted upon and not our motives. Initials/male name comments were treated with far more respect. A sad commentary.

  • Amanda,

    I just found your blog. I am, in fact, a women who writes about theology and Buffy the Vampire Slayer, loves Star Trek, and howls out loud at your quirky devotional posters. (Especially the ones that say “Vampires aren’t sparkly.”) I blog too, but I don’t think it’s good internet etiquette to put the link to my blog on yours, so if you want I can email it to you.

    I was astounded at the response to your Great Blog Experiment. I have to admit that it never dawned on me that people are less likely to read my blog if they know I’m female. My blog happens to have a name that does not reveal my gender, but I didn’t plan it that way; I just came up with something I thought was sort of…me…

    It was a fascinating experiment that makes me want to do more research. Unfortunately, I’m an obsessive researcher, so I’ll now be tied to a computer for several days…

    • Hi Leslie, pleased to meet you!
      I have a few more ‘Vampires don’t sparkle’ moti posters to put up when the next Twilight movie comes out. 🙂

      Everybody, check out Leslie’s blog at http://www.theruthlessmonk.blogspot.com/

      • Amanda,

        Just wanted to let you know that I’ve added your site to “Links I Like” on my blog.

        Also, if you haven’t read it, there’s a great book called “Televised Morality: The Case of Buffy the Vampire Slayer” by Gregory Stevenson. (Dumb title, but great read).

  • Sorry to reply two times in a row, but I wanted to let you know that I talk about The Great Blog Experiment in my most recent blog.

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  • Somehow I had missed this back when you posted it. Some of those results are really discouraging. I think we need more female voices! And not just female voices talking about marriage and children and women’s ministry.

    It reminds me of a time in seminary when I was talking with a male friend about how I wish I had more female input into my spiritual walk. Most of my professors were men, most of the theology books I read were by men, etc… He did not get it at all! Just couldn’t see how that might be a problem. ??

    Keep letting your voice be heard, Amanda! You have a unique perspective!

  • LLM

    I recently mentioned your experiment on a facebook debate thread about why women aren’t more of a presence online and aren’t speaking up on women in ministry issues. One person (a man) responded that that was dishonest and not the right thing to do. Sigh. He totally missed the point – of what your experiment revealed. And it is not as though you were claiming to be a man, rather you just made it unclear what your sex was by using initials or some other generic name.

    • CWtheology

      Thanks LLM. Yeah the point wasn’t to be dishonest and pretend to be male, but to just be anonymous.

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