I am a woman (if the photo wasn’t clear). But I am not a woman blogger.
BlogHer ’08 is going on in San Francisco right now. I know some ladies who are there, and it would’ve been great to be there just to meet a new-and-noteworthy group of people.
But I have to be honest — something about it just doesn’t feel right.
BlogHer is a community for women who blog. Their mission is “to create opportunities for women who blog to pursue exposure, education, community, and economic empowerment.” I am totally in support of anyone with the ambition to get themselves heard, involved, and recognized. I have huge aspirations and it’s great that there’s an organization who wants to help me achieve them.
Let the record show that I have nothing against this organization. Please do not send me hate mail.
The thing I’m struggling with is the woman qualifier. Is a woman blogger someone who writes about women’s issues, or simply someone who has a vagina? I think it’s nonsensical to draw attention to a blogger simply due to the latter. Lots of women can write, read, and think. We don’t need to be congratulated.
I can’t help but wonder if this distinction is actually hurting us; it’s a segregation. How would we feel if there were a BlogHim? (Doesn’t sound as good without the double entendre.) But wouldn’t a bunch of women get up in arms about men trying to distinguish themselves from us by holding their own conference? Isn’t being considered among the men a sign of success?
Now before you get all angry and say that I’m a traitor to my own kind, please hear me out. Of course I recognize that there are many fewer women in technology and we need services/organizations/outreach to support and encourage women in the field. Hell, if a very special teacher hadn’t approached me in the 8th grade and strongly suggest that I sign up for the Computer Science class in high school, I might have ended up a lawyer or a math teacher (thank you, Dan Kramarsky).
Instead I was one of two girls in the course, and ended up taking the same course for all four years of high school because it was the only course they offered. My CS teacher encouraged me to continue my path at Carnegie Mellon and put me in touch with his friend, the Assistant Dean of the School of Computer Science (thank you, Charles Rice).
I was one of 30 women in a freshman class of 135. (The graduating class before I got there had more Daves than women — I shit you not.) Boys frequently came by my dorm room to see if I needed help with the homework. Not because I asked them, but because they assumed I needed it. They were wrong.
I ended up dropping computer science after 3 semesters, but not because I couldn’t hack it. With the exception of a dismal showing in Discrete Math (pure torture), I had all As and Bs. But I was tired of spending my weekends in the computer lab hunting for misplaced semicolons. Instead, I wanted to write — English. So I switched.
Still, if I hadn’t gone to Carnegie Mellon, I might never have been introduced to the term “Human-Computer Interaction” or the exploding field of researchers, practitioners and evangelists behind it (thank you Mark Stehlik, thank you Scott Kaufman, thank you Richard Scheines).
Oh, and if I’d never gotten a degree in HCI, I’m fairly certain I wouldn’t be writing this blog right now. Thank God for that.
My point is: look at all the men who encouraged me along the way. I can say with absolute certainty and sincerity that not one of them ever told me that they expected I’d be a successful woman _______ someday. They just said I’d be successful. No qualifier.
Because no matter how you slice it, a qualifier is a limit. And there is nothing stopping me from playing with the big boys. No need to call attention to my gender because in my mind it has nothing to do with it.
The other day ReadWriteWeb posted their list of favorite “women bloggers.” These are great women, but they deserve recognition for much more than their chromosomes.
I want to see a list of favorite redheaded bloggers, and I better be on it!
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Matthew Oliphant says
I have 2 reactions to this:
1) You are absolutely right. It’s not a distinction that needs to be made.
2) Get in the kitchen and make me a turkey pot pie.
Hey Matthew, I liked the way you reacted to this post!
Vicki Brown says
Agreed! I feel the same way. Thanks for saying it.
> I want to see a list of favorite redheaded bloggers, and I better be on it!
( me too :-)
Steve woodruff says
You’re absolutely on target. More than anything else, we should encourage “BlogUs”
Martha Mihaly says
Whitney, you and I obviously share the same view point on this. Any label/qualifier for *us* is a negative one, one that leads to separation of the ‘whole’ group.
The truth is though that many people still need the labels in order to organize their own place in society. They need to feel like they belong to a specific sub group, a specific club. I suppose that I’ve always likened this to whether someone is a ‘team sport’ player or a loner.
There’s nothing wrong with either approach. We all have to be who we are, and live our lives true to ourselves. We have to be careful to accept every individual on her own merits, and to make assessments of her based on her own merits and accomplishments, rather than on her associations or lack thereof.
Thanks for the thoughtful post.
Rachel Peters says
“Lots of women can write, read, and think. We don’t need to be congratulated.” Well said.
Hey, the guys swinging by your dorm room to “help with homework”? They were trying to flirt with you in a horribly misguided geeky way. Sure, some of ’em were idiots who thought girls couldn’t do math, but most of ’em, they just didn’t know how to talk to a smart lady except as a tutor — the only role they ever had in high school. I know. Caltech had a similar ratio and population draw.
As for my take on BlogHer, I’m torn. I think that BlogHer should be one of many conferences that bloggers attend, not the only one. There’s still need, imho, for a space where women can take tentative steps towards technology without being drooled on by inappropriate clods and also without having a simple difference in communication styles make them feel inadequate.
I think you had an earlier blog post (or it was *someone* in my twitter-sphere) about why there weren’t more women presenters at IASummit, or why women didn’t ask questions at conferences. I feel the hope is that they get their conference chops started at BlogHer or similar conferences, and then they go take over all the other conferences.
And now *I* sound horribly condescending about BlogHer being a “starter conference”. *sigh* I guess I do see it as somewhat marginalizing, although I also see it as necessary. And people who don’t need to be “starter-ed”, they should still go to BlogHer, too. Because mentors are important.
I’ll stop blathering in your comments now.
What makes more sense is qualifying the type of blogging you do. Your blog focuses on user experience so you are a “user experience blogger”. Who cares if you’re a man or a woman? Do women blog about usability so differently that it needs a qualifier?
Jonathan Dingman says
I’m with you on this one Whitney. I do not see a reason why there needs to be a conference just about women bloggers.
It’s been tempting to create a BlogHim conference, but then all the women would think I’m sexist, which I’m not.
I really do not see a reason to actually create the distinction about women and men bloggers, it’s just one big blogosphere family to start with! Com’n people!
But you’re entirely right, Whitney. Your post sums it up well.
Dave McNally says
Answering the call for male perspectives, here are my thoughts on this:
I completely agree with you. The only difference gender makes here is perhaps the perspective in which blog posts are written. A woman may view certain topics different to a male, but even then there will be women who agree with men and vice versa.
It’s definitely unfair to celebrate a bunch of bloggers because of their gender, the content should be all that counts.
Matthew, thanks for the male perspective ;)
Vicki, Steve, Rachel, thank you.
Martha, you make a great point that I failed to mention in my post. It’s extremely important to note that these are only my feelings, my beliefs as a woman, a direct result of the way I was raised and the environment in which I live. I can definitely understand how other women in other generations or from other backgrounds might have had very different life experiences and who may greatly benefit from/emotionally need this type of support system. This in no way is a slight on those people. It’s just not me.
And Sarah, thank you for your comments. It’s not rambling in the slightest and I’m thrilled that you chose this place to lay your thoughts. Like Martha said, there is a relevant purpose to BlogHer for some people, and it may just be that it isn’t the right fit for others of us. I’ve certainly never been intimidated by men (thank you, Mom!) and so I have no apprehension about attending/participating in/speaking at conferences within my industry. I, personally, never needed training wheels or a training bra. But that’s just me.
Like Matt, I only have two statements to make:
1. Labels are overrated, people that willingly label themselves are definitely out of touch with reality, with themselves and with society. Why do I make such a broad statement and how can I support it? Well – I make it because I’m on the internet and I can say (write) whatever I damn want. And how can I support it, you ask? That’s easy – BlogHer is only for women, that – in itself limits you. You’re no longer a blogger at a conference – you’re a woman at a women ONLY blogging conference of sorts.
2. People who label themselves, willingly and can’t understand that we’re so past that stage in life – where you should KNOW that regardless of what people say, you TAKE what you want and when you need it. And that you don’t let anyone keep you down, well then they are plain retarded.
And just for kicks and giggles, and to throw some qualifiers – I comment as a Dominican, dark skinned – most of the time confused as a “black man”, a Computer Engineer, an Artist, a Designer, and a Hispanic, who tries his luck at being a User Experience kinda person.
Samantha and Dave, I’ve asked myself that same question. Do I sound different in the way that I write? Do I bring a female perspective to design and usability? Do I evaluate like a girl?
To Jonathan and other men out there, I’m curious to know if the female distinction actually creates problems for you. Are there networking opportunities where you don’t feel welcome? Have you come up against issues of sexism in all-male gatherings or organizations? What is the male experience like in relation to these women’s issues?
Nate Westheimer says
Ahh the wonders of Identity Politics.
Is the “Woman _______” identifier a political, organizational, practical , socially impressed suffix?
BlogHer is, of course, much more a “moms blog” network than a “woman” blogger network (Parenting is their focus in ad sales materials, you’ll find). Women, then, end up sharing information, stories, etc, of being a mother. And, while mothering is a similar experience to being a father, there are some practical reasons to share information just as mothers (“Which breast pump chafes the least?” is a too easy example).
Now, of course there’s much more to being a woman than the possible designation of “mother,” and BlogHer is there to cover that too (only 58% of their readers are mothers).
But, regardless of the identity and the role they’re playing in society, I generally have no object to coming together in self-identified groups and talking about common issues of that identity.
Would it be a bad idea for Jewish bloggers to meet and talk about Jewish issues? No. Just don’t meet about other stuff and use Judaism to leave people out.
In this sense, BlogHer is a win for me. Women’s issues are discussed by women who self identify as women bloggers. Now, if that energy was direct to other activities (i.e. singling you out for NOT being there — “traitor!”) then I’d feel differently.
But no. BlogHer seems to be largely productive and inclusive. Can’t ask for much more from a group lead, fundamentally, by identity. All too often that’s not the case.
Matthew Knell says
I think that your post provides an objective opinion on the nature of social media in general these days. What modern social media gurus consider the “social graph” really consists of microfractures and fissions of these smaller other networks of people united by causes, beliefs and shared experiences of all kinds. But they ebb and flow, and mutate. The stronger networks are united by numbers, and you end up with factions – and these factions either grow or fail. But that’s sort of the point, isn’t it?
Whether it be “Ice Cream Lovers”, “People who like the OC”, or “woman bloggers”, these factions are what build communities and these communities are where real impact is felt.
As far as the assertion that “women bloggers” is an objectifying term, I instead consider the semantic difference in terms of “women who happen to be bloggers”. This is the way I tend to think of a group like this – is that people should be identified as themselves first, and then by what they can contribute. I think typecasting overall allows for too easy a route to diminishing someone’s opinion. Making someone “too this”, or “too that” makes the whole group suffer.
Short answer – anyone should be allowed to be whatever they want to be, and choosing to associate with people who happen to share their interests and experiences shouldn’t be subjugated because of it. :)
Stephanie Agresta says
Hi Whitney. Thanks for your thought provoking post. I read it early this AM and sent you a few twitters. Let me take a moment to expound on my thoughts (140 characters is definitely not enough for this one).
I just spent the last three days @BlogHer. It was a great experience. I am working on my review in the next day, so be sure to keep an eye out. As you know, I go to many tech conferences, and it was truly unique experience to be at one where the majority of attendees were women, not men. While there are a lot of mommy bloggers in attendance, the event itself spans multiple verticals. In fact, there was a great panel on women without children and how they navigate that identity in the business world and in the blogosphere. While that issues doesn’t come up on InternetGeekGirl.com specifically, I can tell you that as a 37 single woman, it comes up in my personal and professional life BIG TIME. That’s a perfect example of how BlogHer content uniquely spoke to me both as a woman and as a worker (which is a goal of the show imho).
I totally get that your comments are not directly at BlogHer. And my response is not meant to be a defense of the event (or any conference). [NOTE – i’m not affiliated with blogher in any way]. I would merely like to argue for the VALUE of identifying as a women blogger.
“Because no matter how you slice it, a qualifier is a limit.”
Some people find qualifiers to also be the building blocks of community, and I don’t find that limiting. Of course, all communities have their draw backs, but the benefits usually outweigh the costs. Otherwise, why be a member?
My first reaction to your post was sadness. I feel I have let down the younger generation. This conversation we are having (as nate pointed out) is the basics of identity politics. I was deeply involved in that world early in my career. We used to argue about the word feminist. Well, it’s basically the same argument, in a different context.
BTW – I AM A FEMINIST and always will be!
All I can say Whitney is that as woman in business (albeit 13 years older than you), I have seen this issue from all sides. I had many male and female mentors in my life. I do not solely identify myself with any one community, nor does my gender drive my career. I have always done exactly what I’ve wanted to in life, and always will.
For me, the bottom line is that I have benefited much more than I have given to the “cause.” So many women have walked before me in biz and fighting for social justice. I never want to forget those women and I always want to encourage the younger generation of women to keep up the good fight and stick together!
It is great that your mentors pushed you to be the best you can be. No qualifier. I can assure you that if it weren’t for their female colleagues and the way in which they pushed the limits and forged new ground.. you’d have no where to use your fabulous skills.
Women still struggle for equality across the board. Sexism is rampant in the business world. By continuing to identify together and help each other, we can only hope that girls 13 years young than you will have even more opportunity.
Play with the big boys all you want. I do! I love it. But I also know that by embracing the experience of being a woman blogger and sharing knowledge, content and experience with that community, I will play more effectively, and be more likely to achieve success!
As for @dingman’s comment about a BlogHim. We have that already my friend – it’s every other tech conference.
so – hope this makes some sense. I’m sitting in a coffee shop in San Fran and rushing from one big boy meeting to the next. :)
I’m a woman blogger. I’m a woman in business and I damn good at what I do.. regardless of what you call me.
Maxine Appleby says
We are who we are. Red heads with opinions!
The only time it really matters is at concerts — when the lines to the women’s room is over a block long.
Seriously though, I have mentored young women and there are still many who feel inferior and need extra encouragement. Don’t loose site of that, and help when you can. It’s not a sexist thing, it’s just a fact. Be happy you’re strong, and share!
All the best.
Sarah Harrison says
I totally agree with you, Whitney. I also agree with Stephanie, above, to some extent. I think there is a difference in generations with regards to this country’s view on gender, race, etc. issues. I was raised to view everyone as equal, regardless of all that, and now I find people who are 10–15 years older than me insist on perpetuating these distinctions.
The fact that these distinctions (a conference just for female bloggers) exist means that the problems and struggles faced by the earlier generation haven’t gone away, and if that’s the case, I’m in support of anything that helps those struggling to succeed and overcome the challenges.
Certainly, I don’t want people to treat me any differently because I’m a woman. Something about these distinctions make me think people are saying, “That’s a pretty good idea… for a girl.” And that bothers me.
Shelley Greenberg says
First of all, thank you, for a great, well-written, thought-provoking post. I’m sorry I’m late to the party… been meaning to read this for days but am just getting around to it now.
When I first read your post, I agreed with you completely. I did a lot of thinking in college about “equality,” especially in the many African American literature courses I sought out. I have always been of the school of thought that believes that the only true form of equality is when what you call “qualifiers” – sex, age, race, religion – fall away, and people are judged on their merits and skills, rather than their qualifier.
But Steph Agresta’s comment (also very well-put, by the way), really brought home the other side of the argument for me, which is that you can’t separate qualifier from “qualifyee.” These things are part of who we are, and what’s more, they allow us to build communities around shared values and interests. And the fact is, some groups remain discriminated against for their qualifier, and organizing communities around those qualifiers helps offset those discriminations.
So you see, I’m torn. Your view seems like the optimist/idealist’s view. Steph’s seems like the realist’s view. At it’s heart, this argument is very similar to the affirmative action debate.
In the end, I don’t think there is one right answer. You’re both right. But maybe the middle ground is to embrace our qualifiers, while not letting them define us or say anything of our value as bloggers–or as people. And I think you did touch on that in your post.
Thank you again. And I hope to meet in person very soon!
Thanks for this post, Whitney. I love your honesty and the clear, engaging way you write.
It’s an interesting post to read as someone who (like you) never had any limits placed on her access to learning or work… all the possibilities were there. I had to hustle for it, sure (my family wasn’t able to help out, though they believed in my ability to do anything I wanted), but it was there for the taking.
On the other hand, I also know a lot of women (including my contemporaries, mentors I’ve had, and young women I’ve mentored) who didn’t have the same kind of access, either because of cultural traditions, economic restrictions, or the fallout from difficult relationships in their lives.
I guess I was never placed in a situation where I needed to connect with other women specifically for support or comfort or a leg up — I just had great friends of both sexes, and we had our community and our fun and grew up together.
When I started blogging, I also wasn’t part of a particularly female community — I was blogging at Salon, and we had both sexes writing up a storm. Everyone likely would have designated themselves a feminist, but equality was just a given.
But on the other hand, I could also see women popping up across the blogosphere (apologies for using that word) who had never had the opportunity to speak honestly about their lives. Women who had never had solid community and the support of female (or male) friends and colleagues in following their dreams and establishing their careers. Women who were raising families or setting up lives with little or no “village” around them.
Having a public forum was revolutionary for them.
I think something like BlogHer appeals to me because I see how exciting and motivating it is for so, so many women. I think it might not seem integral to me, because I’m aiming my own career at a publishing world that may or may not care about my gender… but mostly cares about my ability to write stuff that sells.
But I think if I wasn’t blessed with fantastic friends and supportive parents, or if I had a career that had a specifically female audience or demographic , or if I’d ever had to crack my head on a ceiling, I’d find it pretty damn irresistible to be there.
I love that it is such an encouraging experience for the women that go — and that’s why, even though I always just think of myself as a blogger and not a BlogHer, I’m intrigued.
The speakers and attendees are some of the smartest, strongest women running around out there, and I’m sure I’d be humbled to learn from them and spend time in their midst. They’ve created and achieved things I’ve never even approached in my own work.
So I might head there in 2009. Along with lots of other conferences. One more perspective and dose of inspiration couldn’t possibly hurt.
There are good, logical arguments to both sides here. However, I personally lean more towards Stephanie’s side; not because I feel like blogging and social media need a feminist push, but because I feel that girls and young women need excellent mentors and role models. That’s part of my impetus behind doing Girls Gone Geek.
I grew up with almost exclusively guy friends, and male teachers in the subjects I enjoyed the most (languages, sciences, and engineering). I don’t feel like I’ve suffered as a result of that; however I also know through outreach programs I’ve been involved with many girls and young women get intimidated by male dominated areas, such as tech and science. So I feel having a conference such as BlogHer allows for the girls and young women of the world to see that is possible to succeed in blogging and on the internet and in social media and be female, that it’s not a male-dominated world. And hopefully, a majority of those women at BlogHer are/will be excellent mentors to those that need them.
Thank you for the thought-provoking post, Whitney!
Ahhh… love the topic.
Way back in the day (“the day” being the late 90s and early oughts), I got to speak at a local Web Grrls meeting on “Flash & Usability”.
Funny thing, too…
I had the worst time getting onto their mailing list, to participate in discussions, even though they had no charter that strictly forbade such a thing.
I never understood why, with the exception of my obvious front-view differences, that it would matter, when I wholly supported their initiatives.
See, I’m okay with “BlogHer” and “WebGrrls” and “Gay Pride” and whatever else you want to throw out there.
Those labels are important to the people who need them and they’re also helping people who may have been / were / are in some sort of minority status (and the status of who / what, etc. that are in minority status these days… blech) and when I throw on my IA hat, well, I’d probably search for something like…
Women on the Web
I don’t know the realities, and frankly, I’m not going to go look them up–but there does seem to be a difference between the number of men and women in the field.
I could be off on that. Maybe it’s my (mis)perception.
But there are a ton of “women/minority-owned business” organizations out there and the events I’ve been to seem to be a little dude-heavy, so you know…
I’m okay with the label–and I’m okay with you not being okay with it.
Some people look for such groups and some people choose a path differently.
Both types of people are cool in my book and I’m glad that both types are able to find something that fits.
Beautiful, well thought out and well put together. I couldn’t agree more!
I’m a woman, white, mixed-European ancestry, middle-class background, college-educated…all of those demographic characteristics influence how I’ve experienced life, how people interact with me and so influence the content of my blog.
YOU are not the label (there is too much diversity among any category) but there is no such thing as an objective, bias-free point of view. No one voice represents the views and interests of any community, there is no “woman’s point of view” any more than there is a “man’s point of view” or a “white point of view”.
Labels suck but they do reflect the categories that strangers put us into. Once people get to know you as an individual, you transcend the demographic categories you are a member of and become unique and dimensional. But to those who don’t know us, we are, to them, what they judge us to be based on our exterior, our words and behavior. Unless you can completely erase your gender, it will be an influence in how you act and how others view you. No one is uninfluenced by gender any more than anyone is aracial.
I’m not saying that what I’m arguing against is the point of view you present in your blog entry, you just raised some challenging questions that have been part of an ongoing debate in gender studies.
Labels ARE artificial constructs but that doesn’t stop the most people from ascribing labels to other people and treating them based on those labels.
The foundation of social interaction online has been about anonymity – identities are only revealed if we so choose. If a blogger chooses to disclose their race, sex, location, etc that is up for them to decide. If who we are defines what we write isn’t creativity lost?
For me, the beauty of the web has always been about the lack of identity and the focus on content. Good content always speaks for itself – it is found, shared and consumed based on what was written not any sort of defining characteristics.
Wow, so many amazing comments. I don’t know where to begin! Thank you all so much for putting your honest thoughts and varying opinions here. It means so much to me to have an open and respectful dialogue about this topic, any topic. Thank you for taking the time to contribute.
Forgive me if I don’t respond to everyone’s post individually.
Many of you talked about how individuals with a shared identity can come together to form a community. I agree, and I have no objection to these “factions,” as Matt put it, coming together to strategize how to become stronger, overcome obstacles, and have greater fulfillment. I think that is wonderful, and I’m glad that BlogHer is providing that for people.
I, personally, have never been much of a joiner. Aside from memberships to professional associations, I have never “belonged” to anything. I never had an interest in joining a sorority, never belonged to Hillel or [email protected]. Instead I wrote for the school paper, raised money for the alumni association and volunteered at a needle exchange program. I also had three part-time jobs: wrote a weekly arts column for City Paper (the free alternative newsweekly), did tech support for the Media department, and designed Flash apps for an online course. For me, my identity has always been based on what I do and not what I was born into.
Both Stephanie and Nate used the term “mommy bloggers,” and I’m glad that they did. The subject of my blog is my career, the subject of some other blogs is parenting. I can’t wait to be a mom someday, but until then, I have nothing in common with these people. My career trajectory is quite different than theirs, and while I’m sure we can connect on a very intimate level on what it means to be a woman, and the career choices one has to make, and the fears associated with being a mother — all of this has zero to do with my blog. So why lump me in the same category of “woman bloggers” as you would them?
Steph, both here in your comments and on Twitter, you said that you worry for my generation and that what I wrote made you really sad to read. I think you’re off base here. What your generation and my mother’s generation of women have done for me is created a world in which I can choose not to self-identify as a woman in the field, but rather as a person. That is a huge accomplishment! I deeply respect the women who have walked before me and I thank them for the bottom of my heart for enabling me to not feel like I have to measure myself against other women. THANK YOU!
Jonathan made the point about BlogHim, and Steph said that that’s just every other tech conference. That has not been my experience. There are a lot of women in UX, and I’m lucky to be in their company. Sure, more men than women are submitting themselves to speak at our conferences, and we’re taking the steps to rectify that. But our presence is there, and it’s very much felt.
The only conference I’ve ever attended that was entirely male was Microsoft’s reMIX conference in Cambridge last October. In fact I was one of ~5 women in a room of 600, but let me tell you, I didn’t mind it one bit.
Maxine, Meg and Melissa all make the point that some people, not just women, need more encouragement than others. I’m thrilled that organizations exist that can provide it. But me, I’ve always been pretty self-motivated. As long as I have the support of my friends and family, I go full steam ahead and I don’t let anything stop me.
Yes, maybe, as Shelley put it, I’m an idealist. Or maybe I’m just lucky enough to have a background that protected me from what other women have experienced. Or maybe I’m just stubborn. Whatever the case may be, I’m proud of who I am and what I’ve accomplished. I feel strongest as an individual and prefer to stay away from labels (even my job description doesn’t fit). Definition isn’t a necessary part of my life. Some people like structure and routine. I don’t. No one should feel sorry for being one way or another. I don’t feel sorry for the women bloggers out there. I’m just not one of them.
Lois Whitman says
I gave birth to Whitney. She was conceived on Halloween 1981. Her father was wearing my wedding gown from my first marriage. Maybe that explains this gender piece.
We love you Whitney
Mom and Dad
Colleen Stone says
Me, I’m more bothered by the use of “woman” as a modifier.
Man blogger. Sounds funny, yes?
Then why is woman blogger OK?
Alas, for some reason, woman is the accepted usage. And William Saffire won’t even back a sister up.
Anyway, BlogHer…well-intentioned but misguided, in my humble female opinion.
“Some people find qualifiers to also be the building blocks of community, and I don’t find that limiting.”
Qualifiers are, indeed, perfectly described as building blocks. But… communities aren’t built with blocks, they’re built with relationships. Now, walls, on the other hand… blocks are perfect for building those. And walls only serve to separate people, not bring them together.
Mark Drapeau says
The qualifier always hurts the cause.
Be awesome, and people will see you as awesome. I cringe when I hear about the “first black astronaut” or “first female CEO” or “first hispanic Rhodes Scholar”. It is awesome enough just to be an astronaut, CEO, or Rhodes Scholar!!
If one wants to blog about women’s issues, or how women fit into the workplace, or motherhood – great. All legit topics. But just do it as a person, not as a woman. Semantics – But everyone outside the qualifier judges it differently.
I read this morning that an article about BlogHer was in a newspaper’s Fashion section. That might say it all. Appearance is the connotation of society.
Rick Calvert says
Great post Whitney and great conversation in the comments.
I wish Jory, Elisa, and Lisa the founders of BlogHer would weigh in here. Maybe they have somewhere else and I can’t find it?
Speaking as a white man, a blogger, and a blogging conference organizer ( I am the founder and CEO of BlogWorld & New Media Expo) I found BlogHer to be fantastic!
It felt to me like community of bloggers who just happened to be women and that it had grown organically. This was a group of people who had a lot in common, had built strong relationships online and wanted to get together in person.
Jory, Elisa and Lisa saw the need for that face to face connection and the business opportunity and created a great event that as an outsider looking in seemed to fill that need quite well.
We have “community tracks” at BlogWorld as well. Not by gender or race but by topic. We have tracks for sports bloggers, political bloggers, milbloggers and godbloggers. This year a group of real estate bloggers has organized a track. Communities are great no matter what their common interest/s may be.
Make no mistake BlogHer is a business. Sponsors like GM, Michelin, Intuit, HP, and Nintendo are evidence of that. To them the demographic represented at BlogHer is a very important one and their attendees influence buying decisions. I see nothing wrong with that either.
Yes they discussed female specific issues, most of the attendees were women probably 90%+ but I never felt intimidated or uncomfortable being there.
I did take my leave from the closing party at Macys when they moved to the Lingerie dept. But more than anything a “shopping party” just doesn’t do it for me as a guy.
I think you nailed it on your response to Stephanie; Whitney, Women like her, and generations before her have made it possible for you to feel exactly the way you do and that is a testament to their hard work and sacrifice.
Two BlogHer stories to close. Opening night during a party at the hotel I had to visit the rest room. I walked past the ladies room and entered the next one. I realized when I came out, it had been converted to a ladies room as well during the conference. Thankfully no one else was using it at the time.
Someone I know attended one of the sessions where the topic was black female bloggers. One of the panelists stated at the beginning of the talk that if you weren’t black, or a woman you might want to leave the room.
Lorrianne Nault says
Hi Whitney! Great post and some well-thought out responses. Sorry I’m so late in the game for adding my 2 cents. I must say that five years ago
I would have written a very different response.
I grew up with five very strong-willed sisters and a dad that was very adamant about us being very capable of doing whatever the hell we wanted- even trained my sister to be a plumber like him.
I had to fight for everything I ever wanted, but it was due to financial reasons. I never felt any limitations because I happened to be female. In fact, I thought being the only woman in the room or the program gave me an advantage. I had the viewpoint that limitations other women felt were fantasy, and only due to their fear of putting themselves out there and trying.
Then I graduated college and got out into the workforce and felt that glass ceiling HARD. I think at that point I was in utter shock that it actually existed. I was a naive 21 year old.
I used to shun “women only” groups as I felt like they were doing themselves a disservice by crying “female!” like it was a weakness. As I got older I realized there are many common challenges and stigmas we face and it was good to have a “safe” forum to discuss these things openly. I did join Women in SCS at CMU and attend Leadership classes for women, and I benefited immensely from these more focused discussions.
I don’t think we’re at the “everyone is equal” stage yet. Sexism is alive and well. We aren’t living in a label-free world, but I do think we can choose which labels to self-identify with. I used to shun “woman”, now I embrace it.
As a side note, being in Germany for the last 6 weeks has made me realize how far we’ve come in the states. Do you realize there are “women only” parking places here (frauparkplatz)- near the door like disabled spots? What kind of message does that send?
separate is never equal.
I did not know Germany was that far behind us in women’s equality. I’m not sure if it’s the schools I chose, or the type of work I do, but I still haven’t felt that limted by my femaleness. Instead I often feel pushed back because I look much younger than I am. People are often surprised by my age and once the reveal is made, their attitude toward me changes and suddenly they treat me as a genius (that’s an exaggeration) instead of a naive novice. It’s like they suddenly start listening when I’m over 30 instead of under 25.
So for me, it’s an agism issue. I’m still not set on wearing suits to look older but wondering if that would help solve the problem or if I should just wear a nametag that says, “Samantha – 32”.
Charles Hope says
This is a very lucid post. Much respect! Unfortunately, so much ignorance and self-contradiction in the comments.
You may recognize me as your former housemate from Beeler house. I found you via Twitter.
[I was one of 30 women in a freshman class of 135. (The graduating class before I got there had more Daves than women — I shit you not.) Boys frequently came by my dorm room to see if I needed help with the homework. Not because I asked them, but because they assumed I needed it. They were wrong.]
Don’t I know it, having been from that same very freshman class as you. I had a male friend accuse me of having finished my homework assignments quicker than him only by batting my eyes at guys to do it for me, when I had completed them on my own. I was so mad that I made him sit in the room while I worked on the next assignment. I finished it in just a few hours. He then took the next two days to finish the same assignment and received the same score as I did.
[The thing I’m struggling with is the woman qualifier. Is a woman blogger someone who writes about women’s issues, or simply someone who has a vagina?]
[I’ve asked myself that same question. Do I sound different in the way that I write? Do I bring a female perspective to design and usability? Do I evaluate like a girl?]
I struggle with this as well. While I agree with you on the first point, for the second point I do think I bring a different perspective as a female. My blog focuses on technology from the point of a female software professional. In almost every professional situation I’ve been in, I have been the only female programmer. At my last code review, I received compliments on my coding style, commenting, and efficiency. The only negative remark I had was on my development environment; I was told I have too many colors in my syntax highlighting, which looks very feminine. You can tell I am a female developer by my choice in tech accessories, the stickers on my Macbook Air, my white iPhone, etc. I do like to emphasize that I’m a female. Just as you were stating, males assume females are not good programmers simply because they’re female. I’m not afraid to admit that I’m female. I don’t want to be one of those people who hides behind their first initial when writing so people don’t automatically discredit them for having a female name.
[I never had an interest in joining a sorority, never belonged to Hillel or [email protected].]
I’m a sorority girl (Alpha Chi Omega), but I found this more of a way to interact socially with females than as a statement of any sort. As you’ve pointed out, most of our class was male. I was tired of complaining about boy troubles to males (who would volunteer to beat them up, but that’s about it). [email protected], on the other hand, I actively disapproved of; advising females to take easier classes to get better grades is completely backwards.
I think where I differ from you is that I like organizations that encourage both males and females to realize that all the negative societal beliefs of inferior females in science and technology are not true, while organizations that are created under the assumption that females are weaker and need to bond together to become stronger and help each other reach the potential of men are completely bollocks (whereas it seems that you disapprove of both types of organizations).
In college, I attended a lecture given by playwright Edward Albee (“Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf”).
During the Q&A, a young man in the audience said, “You're one of the most famous gay playwrights in the world, yet your plays don't deal with gay issues.”
Albee said, “I don't think of myself as a gay playwright. I think of myself as a playwright.”
Whitney Hess says
That's a wonderful quote. Thank you for sharing it.
Lucius Kwok says
There are two items which I think will help illuminate the discussion:
1. The article “HOWTO Encourage Women in Linux”
2. Dr. Ellen Spertus's 1991 paper “Why are There so Few Female Computer Scientists?”
(Use Google to find copies of both.)
While much has gotten better in the past 17 years, much bias remains. The technical conferences I go to tend to be overwhelmingly male. The above articles provide the background to explain why a “womens” conference might still be justified.
Having a conference that focuses on women is still needed because such bias still exists. Whether you choose to participate or not is your choice, but like race issues, the problems still exists even if we don't talk about them.
How do you feel about Gingerbread Men?
Let's turn this argument on its head – I went into a bakery here in Austin many years ago, and asked for said item, and was told that it was a “Gingerbread Person”!
As an aside, noticed that you're coming to Austin. You need to stop by my and see my friends at Conjunctured, our local coworking place.
Whitney Hess says
Gingerbread Person? Come on. If the cookie looks like a man, why make it genderless? Then if you're so inclined, make cookies that look like women, too :) I tend to assign most inanimate objects with a male pronoun, but that's just me and it's usually to be playful. I know most people assign the female pronoun, especially men, and it doesn't offend me in the least.
Ever pick up Maxim magazine? It's topical for men's issues. Same concept. Not a limitation. Just topical relevance.
Kevin Gillespie says
I live in Wales, & I wonder if I am the ONLY Blogger on Earth who is also a Wheelchair User?.