Wrapping words in flannel

Recovered from the Wayback Machine.

I wrote in a previous post, To Keep Burningbird or Not:

One issue I’ve been debating off and of about with myself is whether to keep the Burningbird weblog. I’ve splintered off so many interests into different weblogs, and the main reason I do so is there is there is an assumption that everything I write is somehow a ‘flame’ and what I write then becomes seen in this manner. I’ve become hesitant about even making comments in other weblogs because of this.

Yes, I am a passionate writer, and yes, I can have a temper. But I’m also capable of calm reason, instances of beauty, thoughtfulness, generosity, and even playfulness. I am growing very concerned that my writing is perceived surrounded by a faint ghostly lick of flame; I wonder how much of it is truly being seen, read in its own regard, or just dismissed as so much ‘Burningbird’ burning.

My last posting was negative of President Bush, but I’m pretty sure he’ll survive. However, the issue of negative commentary, or perceived negative commentary has taken up a great deal of my thought tonight. The focus of it, unlike President Bush, is much closer to me.

Recently I’ve been making comments at, based on several very interesting statements made by one of the writers, Danah Boyd, that were hard for me to disregard. One such wasWhy are bloggers mostly straight white men. In this post, Danah asked the question:

Why do you think bloggers are mostly straight white men?

Well, that question pre-supposes a lot of assumptions. It’s a fairly strong statement that is going to generate a lot of discussion.

The other posting was one I talked about earlier, and was on Defining and Categorizing Weblogs. In it, Danah outlined a plan she and Liz derived to begin a conversation on categorizing weblogs. She listed four steps:

Plot 1: Bring the interested Etech folks together to have an interesting conversation. Although i realize that this will be dominated by a particular kind of blogger, hopefully we can get folks thinking outside of the box for a bit.

Plot 2: Hold a workshop at a conference where we can attract a more diverse segment of bloggers/journalers.

Plot 3: Do a bit of ethnography as necessary

Plot 4: Publish our findings.

Since folks here are obviously interested in this discussion, we’d like to encourage you to engage with us on this venture. Join us at Etech if this is feasible for you!

As I wrote previously, I am hesitant about any form of weblog categorization. But I originally commented in the post that I was equally concerned about the fact that the conversation was starting within a expensive tech conference that was US based, and would be rather limited in participation. My comments are on the post, you’re free to read them if you want.

I was surprised when Liz responded, both in comments and in her weblog about the hostile nature of my comment and that of another person. I thought I had taken great pains to not be seen as hostile, and the other person’s comments, while strong, didn’t seem hostile. Or at least, not to my perception.

Liz did apologize, and I thought we had moved on, but then tonight I was stunned when I read the following at her blog:

There hasn�t been a lot of posting lately on I suspect that the unrelenting negative tone of the comments have a lot to do with that. It�s discouraging for those of us writing there. And what�s most discouraging is that the most negative and meanspirited comments on the site seem to come consistently from other women.

The comments on misbehaving led danah to write about her sense that blogs aren�t a safe space. And they�ve led me to seriously consider shutting comments down on Trackbacks would allow people to comment remotely from their own bully pulpits. The point of the site was to celebrate and highlight women in technology, not create a online catfight club. The original purpose is becoming obscured by negativity, and at the moment it just doesn�t seem worth it.

This is not about unwillingness to hear criticism. I have no problem with disagreement. It�s about unwillingness to tolerate meanspirited personal attacks. And if people can�t tell the difference between the two�well, I think that says a lot about them.

How does one respond to this argument? I am, must be, one of the women being accused of being meanspirited, but I don’t see that my responses have been that way. But then, according to the second part of the argument, if I don’t see my own ‘meanspirited’ behavior, then that says a lot about me?

What does it say about me? That I am basically mean? That I am disrupting the value of the weblog? That my participation is of no value? Or worse, a negative value?

Such a broad brush, and such devastating paint to use against another, one of the same women in technology that forms the focus of the site.

Liz also points to Danah’s personal post labeled “Why Blogs aren’t a safe space”. In it, Danah wrote:

While i may feel attacked here, in my own digital home, i feel outright demolished at misbehaving. Unlike many group blogs, this one has an identity. It’s a blog about women and tech. It’s a blog by women involved in tech. It’s a blog by thinking women who think, say, and create far more than a few posts a month on the site. There is an unspoken context. These are things that i take for granted. I try to keep posts short, but in doing so, i fail to lay out the framework and thus i’m attacked both for what i say and what i don’t say. Instead of creative suggestions, “perhaps you forgot this,” i usually see you’re wrong/foolish/inappropriate. Sometimes i wonder if we created misbehaving as a tool to increase our masochistic lashings. It’s certainly not a forum for interesting conversation in a safe space.

…interesting conversation in a safe place Can one have an interesting conversation in a safe place? Isn’t there an inherent risk in all communication between unlike people?

(I also commented at Danah’s, you can read the comments there. I don’t think it did any good.)

I have seen some pretty ugly stuff said by men over at misbehaving, in particular a man named Julian who is about as bad as they come. However, most of the discussion that has been classified by both Liz and Danah to be so ‘ugly’ has come from the same women in technology they say they’re highlighting.

I think in some ways that’s the issue – they say they’re highlighting us, but they really aren’t. They are highlighting the cream of the crop, the most successful, the most well known – the epitomy of women in tech, and mostly with an academic edge.

But women in tech come from such different backgrounds, with so many different concerns and interests. For many of us, ’success’ is measured by still having a job when the dot-com era imploded. As for attending conferences, well, there is a reason that most tech conferences have ten percent female attendance…or less. We are different – sharing sex and profession is not enough of a common platform to ensure agreement, or even passionless conversation.

Highlighting women who have made a difference or broken the barriers is a goodness that few of us would disagree with. It benefits us all to demonstrate that women in technology do exist, and can actually do good things. But not all the posts at misbehaving are on what this woman has achieved or that woman has done. Many are focused on the members own views and opinions, and if there’s one thing I’ve learned from weblogging it’s that when you express your views and opinions, you’re going to generate discussion, and not all of it is going to be positive.

Negative, positive, and the purpose of All good topics, but not really the point anymore, not for me. I will never comment at again, that’s a given. Nor any of Danah’s, another given.

But I will also find it difficult to comment at Liz’s weblog, or most weblogs I read on a daily basis that she and I share in common. It’s hard to just ignore being labeled ‘meanspirited’ when it’s given by people who are respected by most of the people you know.

Something I have to think about.

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