Monday, June 17, 2013

Rant: Wine Blog Awards, Sexism & More Questions

Last week's Rant created a stir of discussion, in the comments, on Twitter, Facebook and in emails. I questioned the reason why so few women have been named as finalists in the Wine Blog Award (WBA) category of Best Overall Wine Blog. I hoped to start a discussion and it happened, especially sparked by the hot button issue of sexism, despite the fact that was only one element of many in my post. That topic raised emotions as well as defensiveness, and it overwhelmed the rest of the discussion.

In my prior post, my only conclusion was that there was a disparity between the number of female wine bloggers and the number of women, on their own, who were finalists in the Best Overall Wine Blog. With female wine bloggers constituting roughly 38% of all wine bloggers, yet only 1 woman, on their own, being a finalist in that category, that raised a red flag to me.

As an example, let us consider that the widget field has an annual contest for the Best CEO. Women constitute 38% of the CEOs in this field yet in the last seven years, only 1 of those female CEOs has even been a finalist for this award. You can be sure that people are going to questions the reason for the disparity. And that is all I did, question the reasons for the disparity I noticed in the top WBA category.

Women tended to accept that sexism was involved in the disparity, as well as elsewhere in the wine industry. They mentioned some of the contributions of female wine bloggers and also noted that such sexism extends far beyond wine blogging. To them, it was more a given that required no further evidence. Sexism certainly still exists in many aspects of our society so it would not be surprising to find it in the wine industry. For example, I have been following the huge discussion in the science fiction publishing field over sexism. That doesn't necessarily mean sexism exists in the Wine Blog Awards, but it does mean it is a possibility.

That raises another important issue, even if sexism is not involved in this WBA category, or the awards in general, women still perceive sexism there. Perception is an important issue. Why do many women have this perception about the awards? Is it based on valid grounds? How do you change that perception if it is not accurate? Do you need more women involved in the operation and judging of the awards? Trying to combat that perception should be considered by the WBA organizers.

On the other hand, men were more apt to assume sexism was not involved in the disparity. In fact, a number of them got very defensive about the issue. They wanted concrete evidence before they would accept that sexism existed. Some even seemed disturbed that the question was asked without providing definitive proof. The issue of sexism also clouded the other questions and issues I posed. Many men got stuck on the issue of sexism and looked no further. That might have been partially due to the comments by the women that sexism did exist.

To many men, they saw no problems with the Best Overall Wine Blog category, seeing it as a meritocracy, that the best blogs were nominated. However, that raises another important issue, which underlies such assumptions yet which few men wanted to speak aloud. In essence, the assumption is that best male wine blogs generally have been of higher quality than the best female wine blogs. Maybe that is the case, and it is a question I asked in my original post, though no one wanted to directly address that question.

Some men also offered that the disparity was because there are more male bloggers but there still are 38% female bloggers, and only a tiny fraction of that percentage is represented in the finalists. If it was a meritocracy and the quality of the best female wine blogs was high, then they should be represented far more as finalists, even if there are overall less female wine bloggers than men. If people truly believe that the best male wine blogs generally have been of higher quality than the best female wine blogs, then just come forward and admit it.

I was asked to present the names of female bloggers who were "snubbed." I presented four names of female wine bloggers who I felt were deserving of being finalists in the category. I am sure there are others as well, but I only provided four. These were generally women who also had been nominated in other WBA categories, but not for Best Overall Wine Blog. Though some agreed that a couple of my choices were deserving of being a finalist, they still would not accept that those women had been intentionally "snubbed." I never claimed they were intentionally snubbed, merely that they were deserving of being a finalist yet had not garnered that honor. It could be due to more subconscious biases. No one provided a valid reason why these women were omitted.

A few other possibilities were raised. It was alleged that the WBA are merely a popularity contest, and have little to do with who is actually the best. If true, that would tend to show that male blogs are more popular than female blogs. Why is that the case? Is it a matter of quality or sexism/bias? Do the Wine Blog Awards actually present the "best" wine blogs, or is there something else involved?

Paul Mabray, who has been a judge every year of the WBA, stated that only 30% of the judges this year were women, and "which I am sure can be improved." It is interesting though that in 2012, 9 of the judges were women and 8 were men. Even when women were the majority, a female wine blogger was not chosen as a finalist. Definitely a complicated issue.

We all know sexism still exists in our society. We also know that there is a large disparity in the number of women who have been finalists in the Best Overall Wine Blog category. In addition, there are some women worthy of being finalists who have not been awarded that honor. Finally, there are numerous women who believe sexism is involved in these awards. Each of these elements is a building brick in a wall of evidence. Combined, these elements are still insufficient to prove anything, but they provide enough to warrant a further examination.

Such an examination should start with a deeper investigation of the statistics of nominations, finalist selections and voting for the 7 years of the Awards. Though that of course depends on whether such records were kept and still exist by the WBA organizers. If those records do not exist, it will be far harder to examine this situation. However, at the very least, if nothing is done, if no examination is conducted, the perception of sexism will continue to taint the WBA.

It must be remembered too that the examination I think is warranted should not concentrate solely on sexism. The goal should be to determine the reason for the disparity, whatever that reason may be. It is a topic which garnered much passion and discussion, from both men and women. Let us hope that passion and discussion does not die off.

5 comments:

Anonymous said...

http://www.newrepublic.com/article/113511/can-womens-magazines-do-serious-journalism#

ColoradoWinePress said...

Richard, I don't think Evan or anyone else was being defensive or denying sexism in the comments of your last post. Evan simply was asking for a more thorough look at the issue than a series of questions without any substance posing as a blog post. You may very well be correct in your assessment, but saying something is a lot different than supporting an argument. Did you analyze the list of nominees? That could provide evidence if there was a discrepancy between nominations and finalists. Saying an awards process is a meritocracy should not be that surprising. I'm sure that there are many deserving blogs with female authors, but are they more deserving than those that actually made it to the finalist? Were they even nominated? BTW- did you read Blake Gray's post on sexism that was spurred by your post? Lots of corollaries...

Tom Wark said...

Richard:

The first mistake here is focusing on Best overall blog. The sample size of nominees for this past year or even for all years simply is too small to have any statistical meaning, let alone cultural or social meaning. You are better off looking at all the awards and nominations over the years.

Something else you've failed to examine is this: If 38% of bloggers are female and if 2% of all nominees were female. Would this be cause to raise the issue of potential bias against female bloggers. Let me put it another way, if 36% of all nominees turned out to be female, would this disparity be cause to consider if bias existed?

The point is this, an it hasn't been raised by you or anyone else yet it lies at the heart of your assumptions: What proportion of female nominees would their need to be in order for the question of bias to be dismissed? 100%? 50%? 40%? 38% 35%? 25%? 20%?

Until you have a handle on this question, then you may as well speculate as to whether or not bias against men exists in the Wine Blog Awards.

Finally, there is your list of "building blocks"of evidence that taken together, you say, "provide enough [evidence] to warrant a further examination.

The first is that sexism exists in our society. Yes, but it does not alone or along with any other evidence suggest a further examination of the Wine Blog Awards is needed anymore than it suggests that an examination of the rate at which grass grows deserves further examination.

The disparity in the Overall category has be dispatched above. The samples is too miniscule to provide any meaning.

The fact that there are women bloggers who may deserve to be nominated is a subjective measure. And by that subjective measure we could also say that the fact that no bloggers from Mississippi have been nominated for the Overall category should mean we ought to suspect bias against Mississippi wine bloggers.

As for their being "numerous" women who believe there is bias, well, what counts as "numerous" these days? Three? Four? Five? But also, with these "numerous" women believing there is bias, why has this issue not been raised before?

These are not "building blocks", Richard.

Richard Auffrey said...

Kyle:
It is a matter of perception. In my discussion in the comments, on Twitter, Facebook & emails, I felt that some, not all, men were defensive concerning these issues. I also don't think my original rant was "posing as a blog post." Its intent was to start a discussion on the issues, which it surely did. Not every blog post has to definitively address a controversy.

As I said previously, maybe the female wine bloggers were not more deserving than the male bloggers, but if that is the case, I want to see people step forward and state that is so. No one seems to want to come forward and do that though.

About 28% of the nominees in the Best Overall Wine Blog category were women.

Obviously no one can offer a definitive reason for why women have been so poorly represented in this category. So why don't we investigate this matter? Would there be any harm to such an examination?

I have seen his post and some of the comments, and my main takeaway is that women often perceive sexism in the wine industry. That mirrors that a number of women perceive sexism in regard to the Best Overall Wine blog category. Addressing that perception is another reason we should further examine the reasons for the disparity.

Richard Auffrey said...

Tom:

First, I believe that seven years of the Best Overall Wine Blog category is sufficient information for analysis. How many years do you think would be sufficient for you?

Second, analyzing the rest of the awards will not help analyze the issue I raised about the Best Overall Wine Blog category. As an analogy, I don't care how many women were awarded middle-management positions, I care about how many were awarded CEO positions. From the beginning, my focus has been on the top WBA category because that is where I see the disparity. Looking at all of the other awards won't tell me anything about the top category.

Third, do you still possess documentation of the nominations, judging and voting for the years when you ran the WBA?

Fourth, I think you may be confusing terms, nominee vs finalist. For example, about 28% of the "nominees" in this category this year were women, but none of the "finalists" were a solo female blogger.

Fifth, one doesn't identify a specific percentage as indicative of bias or not. It is a more encompassing examination than that, with the percentages providing more or less evidence of such. You are trying to impose a burden that doesn't exist in analyzing sexism cases. It is all a spectrum.

Sixth, we disagree on the significance of the disparity in this category. How many more years of this award do you think are needed before there is a sufficient sample pool?

Seventh, are 38% of wine bloggers from Mississippi? No, and your analogy does not apply here. Yes, it is subjective, but there was also some agreement with other people that certain women were worthy of being a finalist.

Eighth, why wouldn't women raise this issue previously? Women have actually raised issues of sexism before in not only the wine industry, but also in the realm of wine blogs. However, as their concerns and perceptions often seem to be readily dismissed by men, that stops them from raising the issue all the time they see an issue. They realize their concerns will often be ignored.

Why do you think some women view the WBA as sexist?

Ninth, would be there any harm to examining this matter further? I think it can only be helpful, whether sexism or some other explanation results. It would show women that people are not dismissive of their perceptions. It might reassure women that there is no sexism involved. Or it might show sexism is involved, and thus lead the way to make the WBA better.

Tenth, nothing you have stated here proves that sexism does not exist in the WBA. You may dispute some of the points I raised, but that still doesn't mean sexism is not involved. I think it would be better to examine the matter further, rather than just ignore it.