Silence and sexism at BlogHer 09

I've
tweeted about this a couple of times over the past two days, but I'm
writing about it here, too. I apologize for the redundancy--I guess I'm
more than 140 characters worth of pissed off.

BlogHer is, as far as I know, an organization which considers
promotion of women in blogging to be among its primary goals, if not
its very utmost purpose. The conference, in general, reflects this
goal. There are some missteps, but the atmosphere is, in general, one I
would consider pro-woman.

The attendance, while not 100% female, is very largely so. I haven't
seen more than 20 or 30 male attendees since I've been here.

The first one I saw just after arriving, at a restaurant in the
hotel. I noticed him due to his shirt. It showed a graphic of a woman
with her breasts exposed, her nipples replaced by @ signs. It read
"show me your tweets."

Then, not an hour later, I saw a man sporting a shirt saying
something along the lines of "I love mommy bloggers--they put out." The
next day, the same man attended a party, hosted by an ostensibly
feminist website, sporting a shirt reading "I am having very spiritual
thoughts about your breasts" or some similar nonsense.

This is not OK. It's not just that these shirts are crude and
demeaning, though they are. It's that these men are making a point to
bring these crude and demeaning words and images into what is, or
should be, women's space. They're the visitors here. This is our
culture.

I know who both of the t-shirt wearing bloggers are. Both of them
advertised their blog names on the offensive shirts. Getting that kind
of attention, clearly, was the purpose (and no, I won't be linking to
them). That does nothing towards making it acceptable. Clearly, it is
successful--after all, I hadn't heard of either of them before noticing
their shirts (though it's not like I'm rushing out to add them to my
reader now). But, at the cost of alienating and offending women--the
people for whom this space was created--are a few extra hits on your
site worth it?

The grrl power vibe at BlogHer can get a little bit nauseating at
times. There are lots of people around talking about women as
tastemakers, as marketing targets, and as important, cutting edge users
of new media. Why, if we're such an important and respected cohort, are
we here, in what should be a space in which we make the rules and issue
the invitations, dealing with exactly the same stupid, sexist shit we
face every day everywhere else?

There is a breakout session for men at BlogHer this year. The title
has something to do with being vaginally challenged. Space, it seems,
has been made for the guys who chose to come here. I wonder why? Isn't
every other technical conference in the world space enough? Do we need
to cater to them here, too?

Most of the women to whom I have spoken about these shirts (though
thankfully not all of them, or this would likely be my last BlogHer)
seem willing to roll their eyes, laugh them off, and not think much
more about it. I have no idea whether they really aren't bothered, or
whether it's just easier not to think much about it. It's easier, when
you are a woman and something offends you, to pretend it doesn't, lest
you be labeled a prude or a killjoy.

Well I'm taking a stand on this one. I'm fucking offended. Really
fucking offended. These shirts, in whatever small way, undermine the
whole point of being here for me. If I wanted to hang out with sexist
geek guys, there are lots of other places I could be. Pretty much any
place, actually.

All this rah-rah pro-woman stuff is great. I get as choked up about
the beauty of seeing a ballroom full of girl geeks all deep in
conversation as the next person. But how seriously can I really take it
when, among all those rad women, are a few assholes using their very
bodies to advertise just how little they really respect the people who
created this great space? When, even though we have a numerical
advantage that is well more than overwhelming, nobody approaches them,
nobody calls them out? What is the real message? The one I'm reading is
coming through pretty damn clearly. Even here, in a space made by and
for women, a space focused on the power of our thoughts and
communication, rather than our bodies, we can easily be reduced to
pieces of meat, intended for the pleasure and amusement of even just a
few men. And we let them do it. All these forums to tell our stories
and share our thoughts, and mostly, we'll all be silent.

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