Trying to finish processing BlogHer06

I’ve spent the past two and a half weeks since BlogHer06 trying to process what I learned and observed at it as well as what’s been discussed in the followup discussions on various blogs.

Second day sessions that worked well

the sex panel with Susie Bright et. al.: the usefulness of this discussion for me was hearing how other women bloggers differentiate between what they’re willing to put out in public and what they will keep private.

women geeks in technology: The facilitators ended up with a large interconnected web of thoughts and bullet points about how women interact with and in technological fields. I spoke briefly about the recent story about the transgendered scientist Dr. Ben Barres at Stanford who spoke out about the pervasive sexism in science and engineering, both what he experienced as a woman in undergraduate and graduate schools and the increased privilege and credibility he’s perceived since he made his transition. I think he’s a hero, and I’m also angered that women in the sciences and engineering still have to put up with the same shit even now. Some fabulous young people from a program for high school students up in SF were there, and the young women say that they still get flack for being geeks (thankfully not from their male colleagues in their program). It was wrong when Barres was an undergraduate, it was wrong when one of my women friends was explicitly told that girls don’t belong in physics when I was in college, and it’s wrong for these kids to hear the same crap yet again. Barres’ story made me wonder about how trans men could make the transition without becoming part of the patriarchal system, but I was having some difficulty formulating my questions. Piny at Feministe has posted
a very interesting entry that has given me lots of food for thought

This also feeds into an ongoing frustration I have with dealing with men in women-focused spaces like BlogHer, WisCon, and WoolfCamp. Some men just cannot figuratively sit on their hands and let women have this space and time to speak honestly. One man at one of the first day’s technical panels managed to monopolize the discussion for a fair amount of time, and I’ve seen this happen at WisCon and at WoolfCamp. Is this a case of male geek answer syndrome or fannish modes of socialization or what? It’s definitely frustrating as all hell.

Liz at Composite pointed me to an essay by Charles Johnson of radgeek where he says men need to respect women’s only spaces, avoid co-opting, and be willing to step aside. Any man who considers himself a feminist ought to take these suggestions to heart; having the ability to allow women to lead and speak freely is one of the strongest ways they can support the struggle.

Then there’s been the ongoing discussions of mommyblogging that I’ve tried to follow. I’m not a mother, and will probably not be one in this lifetime, but I have found a lot of humor and wisdom in reading what some truly gifted women are writing about their experiences of motherhood, and if I avoided them because they’re mommyblogging and I’m not, I’d be missing out on some really good stuff. These mothers are getting something on the internet what I imagine my mother and her friends wanted when they were surrounded by a brood of children and feeling isolated from other adults. We all do some identity blogging, I was walking around with my current scarf in progress draped around me as I went to the Birds of a Feather session with the other knit and craftbloggers as a way to scope out my comrades.

In a previous entry, I wrote about the pervasive presence of commercial sponsorship at BlogHer06. I’ve got this uneasy feeling that the mommybloggers have been tagged as a very desirable demographic for advertising. Will they self-censor so as to not alienate their sponsors? Why do women need to “monetize” our self-expression? Is this the only way we can assign value to our efforts?

I now need to go fill out the post-conference survey to let the planners know what I think. I do not plan to be at next year’s conference in Chicago, but I do want to continue to take part in smaller events like WoolfCamp.


  1. Posted August 16, 2006 at 10:30 am | Permalink

    I think that allowing men into events like WisCon and BlogHer implicitly says to many (probably most) men that their opinions are welcomed and desired, and I think that – short of putting statements in the program books that men should sit down and keep quiet – fighting a battle otherwise is a lost cause.

    There’s a difference between being a “women’s space” and a “women-focused space”.  The former is for women, while the latter is about women (but may well be for both genders).

    I personally have never had the impression that WisCon (the only one of the three events you mention that I’ve been to) is a “women’s space”.  After all, neither feminism nor science fiction are exclusively women’s issues.  Moreover (and maybe more importantly), I think the concom has generally made an effort to welcome all people who are interested in the subjects involved (and specifically has tried to combat the “men aren’t welcome at WisCon” rumors which go around from time to time).  Perhaps you feel differently about WisCon than I do?

    (I realize there may be legal issues in actually barring men from semi-public events like these.  Nonetheless, with the exception of a few specific panels which are advertised as being for a specific group, I have always felt that WisCon is very much for women and men.  I would not attend, otherwise.)

    Personally I find it frustrating when any person monopolizes the discussion on a panel.  If no one else is speaking up on the panel and he’s just speaking to fill dead air, then that’s probably a sign that it’s a bad panel.  If he’s speaking and preventing others from speaking when they want to, then he’s a jerk and/or the moderator isn’t doing his job on the panel.

  2. Posted August 16, 2006 at 3:01 pm | Permalink

    Great, thoughtful post.

    I have to say that there may have just been a jerk dominating that discussion, and his being male was a side-note. I’ve certainly been around my share of loud, domineering, know-it-all women, and the question is: do you think this person would behave the same in a room full of men. I believe so.

    As for this question: “Why do women need to “monetize” our self-expression?”

    Some women feel the need because it pays for a month’s groceries. Which is no small thing for them.

    Some of the disdain for the commercialization of blogs comes from folks who can’t imagine that a few hundred dollars would make a big difference in a budget. Women are spending time blogging…doing something they love and are good at. People always say “do what you love, the money will follow.” Why should it not apply here?

    (All this coming from someone who doesn’t actually advertise on my own blogs…but mostly because I’ve been too lazy.)

    Sorry to hear you won’t be joining us in Chicago, but thank you for coming this year, and for sharing your thoughts here.

  3. Cynthia
    Posted August 16, 2006 at 7:20 pm | Permalink

    Michael: I agree with you that the problem with people monopolizing a panel discussion may best be addressed by active moderation; some pointers on how to manage this issue would be helpful for moderators. As for a dull panel topic causing dead air, WisCon seems to select against those kinds of topics in my experience. Yes, I think WisCon would be a poorer place if there weren’t men there, but I think it also needs to be a woman-focused space and when men are part of that, they do need to watch the dynamics of the interaction so that they don’t drown out the women. It’s extra work for the men, but I also think it is enlightening work well worth the effort.

  4. Cynthia
    Posted August 16, 2006 at 7:36 pm | Permalink

    Elisa, thank you for taking the time to respond to my comments. I will certainly work on my survey responses. There were many useful things I did get out of BlogHer06, and I am glad I got to attend both days, even with the things that frustrated me. My response to Michael may be useful here as well. The facilitators (especially in the technical sessions, I didn’t see the problem as much on the second day) ought to watch for the onset of male geek answer syndrome and nip it in the bud gracefully. Unfortunately, I’ve had many experiences in technical groups where the men just drown out the women. As for jerky know-it-all women, yeah, they exist, and they need to get smacked down as well if they’re rudely monopolizing the discussion.

    It will be useful for the BlogHer community to monitor how ad income is enabling women to have their places in cyberspace and if possible help with the groceries. I’m in a very skeptical mode right now, and having some documentation how this is helpful and not causing self-censorship to avoid offending the sponsors will address many of my questions.

    Next year’s conference also is in conflict with plans I’m making for that part of the summer, and I have a limited amount of vacation time to spread around.

  5. Posted August 16, 2006 at 11:09 pm | Permalink

    A couple of responses:

    @ Michael: Yes, WisCon has gone out of its way to make men feel comfortable attending and participating, and that’s been the philosophy from the start.

    BlogHer wasn’t a fannish event, and it is still a new event, so I approached it as a women’s space, and decided that the best way to participate was to listen during the sessions, and leave the conversation for “the halls.”

    The man Cyn was referring to does have a reputation for talking a lot at conferences, but how to describe it, it felt even more out of place at BlogHer.

    I got the feeling that the organizers were a little surprised by the general quiet from the men attending.

    @ Elisa: you touched on something Mary Tsao said earlier this year after Woolfcamp, that a blog and revenue from ads may be that 500£ and the “room of one’s own” that you need, and I recall one of the BlogHer participants telling a SF Chronicle reporter that the first BlogHer Ad Network check was the first income she’s received since she became a mom. A hundred dollar check may not be much, but it’s an opening.

    But it’s hard for me not to be skeptic about the power differential between the advertisers and the bloggers. The impression I got from some of the sponsor presentations, esp. American Greetings and Johnson & Johnson was “how can we use women bloggers to market our products?” But I’m also skeptical about the idea that most markets are conversations (sorry, Doc.) Your challenge will be to keep the advertisers from taking you for granted, and from trying to divide your network.

  6. Posted August 22, 2006 at 10:31 pm | Permalink

    The $$ from Blogher did make a big difference for me… especially in giving me hope. It meant a lot to me. I am self-censoring a tiny bit on the ad co-op site, but it’s because I’m open about my real name there and I’m okay with my extended family reading it. So, boundaries I draw there are about that – not about fearing to alienate a sponsor. The other side of that coin, though is the Blogburst syndication. They will not syndicate articles with heavy swearing. I haven’t quite figured out what kind of article they want to syndicate or how to write it, but if I do, then hell yeah I’ll write it and see if it spikes the traffic on that blog.

    I hope that everyone at Blogher – women and men – reads radgeek’s guide to being a male feminist ally. It is useful for white people being allies for people of color, with modifications… It is useful for women to think about how to gently point out to men to please reconsider what they’re doing, or saying, or how they’re saying it.

    The conversation between Suzette Haden Elgin and the male panelists at Klingon and Laadan panel is a good example.

    Women need to train themselves, and practice, how to moderate men in discussions, or how to translate across gaps in understanding (the “insecurities share vulnerabilities mode” of establishing trust vs. the “boasting lecturing chest beating” model. )

    Different ideas of what discourse means – even of rudeness and civility- come into play.

  7. Posted August 23, 2006 at 9:50 am | Permalink

    I was sorry to miss the panel with Suzette at Wiscon, is there a place online with a synopsis?

  8. Posted September 11, 2006 at 6:44 pm | Permalink

    There’s a transcript of the Laadan panel on the Feminist SF Wiki.

  9. Cynthia
    Posted September 11, 2006 at 7:56 pm | Permalink

    Excellent. Thanks, darlin’

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