BlogHer as women's space

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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.

10 Comments

Have you brought your concerns/feelings to the attention of the organizers of BlogHer? It certainly doesn’t seem congruent with the mission statement of BlogHer for you to feel less welcome at the conference than a couple of sexist retards in stupid t-shirts. (and one need look no further than the pictures on Karl’s blog to dismiss his apologists who insist that he isn’t sexist, or a retard)
If you think the vibe/direction of the conference is heading away from women’s empowerment and the original spirit of the event, I’m sure the organizers would want to hear about it. Maybe they can consider changes that would facilitate a more positive experience for all, or maybe at the very least they will be more selective about what is acceptable attire for attendees.
Then again, maybe they wouldn’t do anything different at all, but at least you would have spoken your mind, and if BlogHer chooses to alienate some women to cater to a few men, then you’ll know its not the conference for you.

I haven't been to BlogHer, but in everything that I read about it, I assumed that it was a woman-only environment.

That was uncool of me to use that word (and to put them in the same category as Karl)
Sorry on both counts.

I have problems with men being at BlogHer. I am related to someone who is a Free Mason (which is a secret male fraternity). I bet anything the Masons would push any female away if they dared to ask to be a part of their society.

Why is it that females have to share their territory, but yet fraternal male societies do not?

Sorry that is my personal rant. Not that I ever would want to be a Free Mason but I think that events that are designed to promote women, should stay for women.

Stopping by for an ICLW visit...
No. 95: The Unfair Struggle (male-factor infertility, good friends, neighborhood rumblings)

Its too bad the discussion of this topic seems to bring out the vitriolic commenters. Everyone has a right to their opinion and everyone has a right to disagree.

~ICLW

I once dared ask a big BH blogger about men and BH and was rewarded with a virtual visit from BH founders to tell me why I was a bad, evil sexist woman. Kind of like watching a grown woman call mommy to defend her, because she wouldn't deal with me directly - and this was electrons on a screen, not a person in an offensive shirt who seems to have thralls waiting to defend his every asshat move.

Same sort of apologist bullshit as you have seen. Maybe it is because I am old enough to recognize that sexism is still wrong, even if you snicker at the pun, but I see yet another group that will go down in flames because they let guys like this trash the safety of the space.

I applaud you for bringing this up. Watching ElisaC and others making excuses for BH on twitter is more amusing than the conference must have been. Besides, I found a few new bloggers, like you, and I'll be back. Probably using my real name...but not this time, just don't need the hate.

I've been reading your blog with a great deal of interest as of late. I applaud that you were willing to express what you felt, and I tend to agree that those shirts really had no business being at BlogHer (or the bodies that filled the shirts).

That said, I find it is always a fine line between equality and exclusivity. I went to a women's college, and I had men in all my classes except for our freshman required courses. I liked this because it gave me an opportunity to see what types of reactions men had in a mostly female environment. And they varied--most were supportive and collaborative. Some were just obviously curious. And a remote few were boneheaded punks who clearly just had something to prove and were probably compensating. :) A little microcosm of the world at large, no?

I'm generally against categories like "women bloggers," "women composers," "women whatever." It implies separate but separate. While there is no question that men and women are different, there is enough variety within each gender that I think we start to make dangerous assumptions about what constitute "women's issues" or "men's issues" when we try to create these broad categories.

Lastly, to address the Free Masons example given above. I think a secret fraternal order (which does, actually have a female counterpart: Eastern Star/ Job's Daughters) is a little different than a conference of bloggers. Blogging, by its very nature, is out there, for all to see. And I think if you are willing to partake in such a public medium, you've got to recognize that it really can't be an exclusive club.

Men are a part of a woman blogger's audience, and in a conference that is designed to help women learn about blogging and grow their blog while developing their writing skills, ignoring that part of the audience wouldn't make sense.

I wasn't there to support women. Women bloggers have plenty of support - they're the majority among personal/life bloggers. I was there to provide my perspective on women blogging, which is a valuable one.

If BlogHer's statement was "A community by women, of women, where women can be safe and open up without the pressure of the opposite sex", I would never have gone to the conference.

And, once again, I respected the conference itself by not wearing my T-shirt anywhere except two parties afterwards. I also volunteered at the reception desk for six full hours during the conference. I'd prefer that my actions speak for themselves.

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