Feminism, Sexism, and Powderpuff Blogging

I once wrote about being a ‘powderpuff’ hydroplane racer a long time ago. A powderpuff race was where all the guys let us girls use their great big boats to race each other, a fun time for us, an anxious time for them. When women started racing all the time, the powderpuff races were eliminated, which was a good thing because the last race run about half the field crashed, with some serious injuries.

Now I realize what a foolish event that was. Think about putting 10 or 12 inexperienced racers together at one time on a course, most going 60MPH or faster on boats made of 1/4 inch plywood on rough waters–all competing for the same spot at the same time.

I was reminded of this recently when it was suggested that a certain weblogging conference feature a session about women and weblogging, and used a lot of terms that pushed some deeply internal buttons. I would link to the event and provide a description of the terms, but the event has been cancelled, supposedly because of the negative feedback. Along with this was the originator’s quickly pulled declaration to never discuss this topic again.

What were the flashpoints for me? That we keep returning to the buzzsheets as the ultimate measure of our worth; that women were referred to as “chicks” and the meeting described using terms such as “pajama party”; that I was originally mentioned in context of this same meeting, making me wonder if the people who mentioned my name have even read me to even remotely consider that I would view a meeting of this nature and with these terms with anything other than chagrin.

Ultimately, though, the strongest flashpoint for me was that we keep boxing women, and by association, men for that matter, into these categories –women only write about personal stuff, men write about politics or technology. I hear sweeping statements made about how personal women are in our writings, how focused on family and friends, and poetry, and maybe even an occasional photo, or two. I hear, again and again, about how warm and nurturing women are, and the reason why we’re not higher up in the buzzsheets is not only because of what we write, but how we write. It’s said that we women aren’t aggressive enough: not only in our writing, but in our intereactions with each other.

However, this annoyance was a turn around for me, because I was one of those that used to talk about ‘women in blogging’ and bringing up the inherent sexist nature of the buzzsheets. How much did I talk about it? You only have to search my previous entries on feminism or sexism and you’ll see plenty of results, many of them related to weblogging.

I don’t regret writing on feminism or rights for women, but I do regret that I differentiated the women webloggers from the men, or women techs from men, because it served no useful purpose other than to classify women as a separate category – creating what was, to all intents and purposes, a powderpuff weblogging class. And just like that race long ago, doing this separation and categorization fosters an atmosphere of competition among the women, while the men sit back and laugh at the cat fights.

If we say that 50 spots on Technorati 100 have to be reserved for women, would all women then race for those spots and crash into each other in the process? What’s the fun of that? I’d rather loose every reader I have, or every weblogger I call friend, than to compete for any of them. There’s not a one that I will compete for–not a one–because I still remember what it felt like getting hit by a boat going 60MPH and having my hip crushed; I have no interest in replicating the event, virtually.

A nice thing about doing a retrospective of your past writing, is recognizing when you were wrong about something, while you still have a chance to rectify some of the damage. I did more harm than good by putting boxes around women webloggers, especially those in the technical field. I remember once, probably close to two years ago, when I pointed out photos showing little beyond white males and pointed out we should actively seek to include both women and men in gatherings of this nature. I was surprised when I had both female and black friends gently push back at my statement, and I couldn’t understand then why they did, but I do now.

By highlighting either a sex or a race, I wasn’t opening doorways to participation – I was highlighting the perceptions of differences.

Women write about personal things and men write about politics. Women are warm and nurturing, while men are more objective. Women communicate differently than men. These stereotypes are bullshit.

The men I read can be objective, political, and delightfully obnoxious, but they can also be sensitive and sensuous, or warm and nurturing when it comes to that. They don’t back down when something matters, and can hold their own. The thing is, the women I read are the same–or I don’t read them.

I’ve never seen Michele from a A Small Victory or Meryl Yourish shrink from a challenge, and Feministe is unflinching in her support for rights for women, world wide–and she gets some pretty nasty comments at time, but she doesn’t stop.

I remember Teresa Nielsen Hayden taking her fine editorial blue pencil to an email that chastized her for being critical of a writer. To his comment that most of the positive responses she gets are from people sucking up to her in her position as editor at Tor, she responded with:

I thought everybody knew by now that sucking up to editors isn�t cost-effective behavior. We can like you perfectly well, indeed love you dearly, without feeling the least obligation to buy your work; and then we�ll turn around and buy a book from a complete stranger, for no better reason than that we loved his book and didn�t love yours. Jim Frenkel was once approached at a convention by an attractive young lady, who said, approximately:

�Golly, Mr. Frenkel, I�d do anything to be a published author.�



�Then write me a good book.�

I loved her response, and I don’t write the type of books Tor publishes, so I’m not sucking up. Honest.

All of these women webloggers write about home and family, but they also write about work and politics and how life sucks at times. They can be warm and nurturing, but they can also blast the top layer of your skin off if you catch them on a bad day with a condescending attitutude.

They aren’t women weblogers. They’re just webloggers – no different than any of the dude webloggers out there, and for me to differentiate as I did in the past was just plain wrong.

Of course, with published hindsight also comes the inevitable responsiblity of admitting error, and I owe, among others, Meg Hourihan an apology for disregarding what she has been saying about women in technology. I can’t remember where she wrote the comment, but she once wrote that she helps women in technology by attending and speaking at technology conferences. I was on a full rant at the time, and blew it off. I can see now that I was wrong, and I owe Meg an apology because I was out of line.

(Lest Meg think I’ve been taken over by the pod people, note that I still disagree with her on many things.)

That’s the key: not only being seen, but being heard. In the upcoming blogging conference, women shouldn’t split off a separate session to talk about women in blogging. They should attend all of the sessions, sit up front, and make themselves heard. That’s worth ten times what we’ve done for women in weblogging with all our writing on the subject.

Julia Lerman has done more by talking about .NET technologies, and Gina and Meg did more by developing Kinja, and Dori Smith does more, and the list goes on, including my own efforts with RSS and Atom, RDF, and weblogging software.

Women webloggers are no different than men webloggers. We don’t need to be treated special; we’re not going to break apart if what we say is criticized, and we give back as good as we get. I don’t have weblog sisters unless I also have weblog brothers and I’m not related to any of you other than through admiration and respect (or acrimony and loathing because I do speak my mind, and note to the acrimonious: get over it).

If women want to differentiate themselves, more power to them. They can call themselves bitch, mother, crone, or babe , and it has nothing to do with the rest of us. Guys have been calling themselves bastards, stud, or grumpy old men for years and we don’t take this as a classification of the gender as a whole.

Time to kill the myth of the powderpuff webloggers–we’re all in the same race, now.

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