So that last post about sexist shirts at BlogHer? Should have thought a bit more about what I was biting off before I hit publish on that one. Not that I take back a single word of it--I don't--but I wasn't quite prepared to have so much response.
Reading through the comments, I'm struck by the number of people who are offended that I implied that men shouldn't be at BlogHer at all. I hadn't really considered that opinion to be surprising. That there are a group who prefer that women's spaces are women-only spaces is pretty much a truism in any sort of feminist activity. The debate over whether or to what degree men should participate goes hand in hand with most feminist events. It's an argument that's often just not worth having anymore, because people's minds are made up and everybody just gets pissed off. (If you want to read a bit more about why women-only spaces are needed, there is a pretty good article at Rad Geek People's Daily.) Personally, I am of the opinion that there are some spaces that ought to be reserved for women exclusively, that claims that this is "reverse sexism" ought to be met with nothing more than an eye-roll, and that men who insist that they, too, belong in these spaces are much more interested in their own egos than they are in actually supporting women.
The question remains, however: is BlogHer one of those spaces?
Until this time around, I honestly hadn't thought it was. BlogHer's mission statement is: "To create opportunities for women who blog to pursue exposure, education, community, and economic empowerment." When asked if guys could be at BlogHer, the founders responded resoundingly that that they could. "Gentlemen, if you are interested in learning more about women who blog, please accept our invitation to the greater blogging community to attend BlogHer conferences." That was their ruling, it is their organization, and it made sense to me. Men who were interested in learning more about and supporting female bloggers, are welcome. I'm down with that. It's not a protected, women-only space, but it's a woman-centered one. Women who blog are, put simply, the point.
I met, I think, two men at BlogHer 07. They both seemed to clearly understand that they were there in support of women, not as their own interest group. They weren't second-class citizens in BlogHer's world, but they were aware that they weren't the focus, and they were fine with that.
That is what I saw as changed this year. It wasn't just the t-shirts, which I've already discussed and I don't want to get into again. It was the "noise," for lack of a better word, that the presence of guys this year seemed to make. They had their own panel, which I mentioned, but there was something else, as well. Something a bit less tangible. A friend (who I won't identify in case she doesn't want to be brought into this shit storm) said that it seemed like just showing up with a penis made men at BlogHer special. I got that feeling too. And, for me, at does take away from the mission.
It is telling to me that in their comments on my post about their shirts, neither Adam (Avitable) or Karl (Secondhand Karl) mentioned wanting to support women as being their reason for attending the conference. In mind, that is the essential difference between the men who should be at BlogHer and the ones who shouldn't. And there is no way to keep out the ones who are there for the wrong reasons.
So what to do? Previous to having read the comments on my last post, I would have suggested a woman-only conference policy. Not that it's going to happen, but that would have been my position. Reading through the comments, though, I am realizing that maybe it is me who is in the BlogHer minority. I think of BlogHer as a women's conference. Other people don't. And if you don't think of it that way, of course the idea of making it women-only is ridiculous. Maybe I'm injecting feminism where there simply isn't any.