Wherefore art thou, girl geek?
I'm home from Blogher, the women's blogging meet-up, that happened this past weekend. 750 women bloggers... kind of shocking. We all came out of our cubbyholes.
I've never been to an IT gathering of any kind before. I live on the coast next to Silicon Valley,but I've never been to San Jose except to drive to the airport. I've used Apples since 1983— when I published the first magazine in the world on their desktop publishing software— yet I have never had any relationship with them other than a credit card transaction.
I recorded stories on geek-sex albums like "Cyborgasm," without hobnobbing with anything cyber. I entered virtual erotica without communing to any virtualists. I'm an early-adopter who's rarely rubbed shoulders with my brethren.
I'm emphasizing my naivité here.
I had no idea that a group of female computer nuts, blogging women, were so revolutionary.
Gender Bias, you see, was the elephant in the BlogHer living room. It was the fundamental reason why we all were there, whether it was spoken or not. This wasn't a koffee klatch for girls who like to talk about burping babies and losing weight, which might have surprised Weight Watchers or some of the other promoters at the conference. (I threw the baby bib, sugar substitute, and smelly lotion in the trash).
Few attendees planned to talk about gender bias directly, because the focus of the conference was one of YOU-GO-GIRL entrepreneurship.
But no one would have to say, "You go girl," if others hadn't said, "Shut up and go away, little girl," in the first place.
Hi there, Mr. Elephant.
I didn't realize how bad it is. I should've. I know that women in the sciences have a lot of horror tales. Masculine Sci-nerd chauvinism is so far removed from my life I haven't stared in its hairy eyeball since I was last waved away from the Bunsen burner in junior high school.
I'm expert, like all women, in defensive maneuvers. The computer boho world has been a haven for oddballs, art freaks, and social radicals, outside of corporate kingmaking. I tucked myself in those corners, happily sheltered.
The few females who are involved in the corridors of IT power have barreled over gates like daredevils over Niagara Falls. They are self-taught. I met some of them this past weekend and it was a revelation— my god, they're tough. I felt like I did the first time I met female steelworkers in the 70s.
So I've been living in a cocoon. The men who have helped me along the way, from Matisse and Richard Kadrey at The Well who first got me online, to Ewald Christians who made my first BBS, to Ron Hogan who showed me Movable Type— were all radical individuals with defacto feminist hardwiring. We never talked about it, it was just assumed.
And then there've been the women, completely unsung: Debi Sundhal, the first sex worker to ever make use of a Mac. Camilla DeCarnin, who wrote about faghags and Slash fiction before anyone. Patrizia DiLuccio from the Well—really, all the women on the Well. Laura Miller was my editor at Salon, at its inception, and we knew each other from Good Vibrations. Or Jane Duvall's Demystification School of Adult Entrepreneurship. I could go on and on.
Sometimes my cocoon was rudely disturbed. When I started this blog, and GoogleAdSense turned my application down for lack of "family values," I could've spit. Their correspondence infuriated me. But it was just another formulaic insult.
Since 1996 I've been told repeatedly from major IT businesses and apologists that my site is NSFW, porn, blacklisted, firewalled, etc.— because of its sexuality.
Regular readers of this journal would be hard-pressed to say exactly where all the freaky shit is. I've never used language in this blog you couldn't find in a copy of The New Yorker. The pictures might get a "R" rating. If I had to rate this site as a porno hot spot, I'd give it an "F."
On the other hand, I have written about being a woman, a mother, a bleeder and a breeder, a dyke, someone who's given birth, had an abortion, entered hormone havoc, used every kind of birth control, and was once was a virgin like everyone else.
And it's this: women's physiology— the fact and story of it— that gets me, and every other woman who writes about it, into the most trouble.
Florynce Kennedy, 1973: "If men could get pregnant, abortion would be a sacrament."
Well, if American men today wrote about their reproductive life and sexual mind, their journalism would be treated like the finest prose and argument. "Andrew Sullivan, please accept our Pulitzer for your work on man-o-pause."
Dream on. In the real world, when a woman writes with grace or clarity about her female passage, it's considered obscene or trivial— definitively not safe for work or men's imaginations.
When I produced the first g-spot ejaculation movies with my friends in the 80s, we were told that our videos were "fetish" that could not be legally distributed anywhere in the country.
It's biological female sexual response. Why is a woman's orgasm considered an obscenity?
Why are women nursing their children considered a prelude to a sex panic?
Why is a woman writing anything about abortion politics considered NSFW on the Web?
Remember when AOL shut down the chat room for breast cancer survivors, because they used the word "breast"?
And yes, we watch the news about children being bombed to bits, skin flambeing off their bones, because it's all Absolutely Safe for Work, as long as you don't show any woman's tits.
In our sex blog workshop at Blogher, several women raised their concern of writing about sex publicly, in any context. They were fearful of ridicule, discrimination, and dismissive stereotypes.
That threat is legitimate— and why? Not because of "frightening the horses," but because of gender bias.
Christie Keith, one of the women in our discussion, said, "When gay men post about sex in their otherwise non-sexual blogs, they couldn't care less what anyone thinks."
No gay male blogger would dream of putting a peer down for a bawdy or erotic remark. You could be the most successful gay businessman on the internet, and your colleagues wouldn't think any less of you for admitting your sexual knowledge or maturity.
Open gay men, largely white and middle class, have found the time-honored milieu— a successful world of their own. Nevertheless, their nonchalance about "sex... and so what?" is telling.
Why don't straight men include sexuality in their blog writing— aside from the resolutely anonymous few that sex-blog professionally?
Because outside of the "adult" world, a straight man writing about his sexual life— his erotic self-reflection— is considered feminizing. It would make him a pussy to his peers.
Paul Krugman... wouldn't you love to hear what a great writer like that had to say, every once in a while, about sex and economics? Wouldn't it be great to hear some IT hotshot talk about what they've learned about sex from web life? "Steve Jobs Confidential!"
NEVER NEVER NEVER does this happen, except in the most anonymous forums. It's like risking castration. I wonder how, or if, it even crosses their minds.
Some folks at our panel talked about the risk of hurting loved ones if we blog about our sexual lives. They were concerned with boundaries, respect, and discretion— timeless issues for authors in any era.
Those concerns are about ETHICS.
The far more brutal issue, in women's blogging, isn't whether you have the sense to refrain from advertising your teenager's puberty, or your husband's nose hairs— it's the fact that gender bias will paint you whore-red. It's gender bias that will condemn you for your impudence in speaking on female passage.
I realize I'm talking about "gender bias" as if it was an inanimate object. Of course it's people. It's a prejudice, that unfolds in a myriad of ways.
There were a couple dozen men at Blogher, and few hundred women. Some of the men I met were thrilled to be there. Guy Kawasaki wrote in his journal:
There is a contingent of readers of my blog who do not like it... when I write about non-business, non-tech, non-male subjects. To these readers, I say in advance: “You can never support a mom, much less a mommy blogger, too much, so deal with it.”
A few other men I spoke to, confided to me that they were apprehensive to be in attendance, afraid they might get thrown out on their ear.
"Really? What do you mean?" I asked. I was taken aback.
I know what it's like to be the bizarre minority in a room, the white chick at the Black Islam conference, the lone female member in a labor hall of cigar-chompers, the bisexual plaintiff in a dyke court. I know that sensation of trying to maintain your integrity without setting someone off into a rage.
But Blogher was like a tea party. The women attendees were dying to talk to the IT professional men who showed up— after all, they were largely there because they has some product or service of interest.
So why would the fellows I spoke to be terrified? When I pressed them, in genuine curiosity, they repeated their sense of being under threat. They allowed that yes, everyone had been very, very nice, in fact. No one had been strung up for patriarchal war crimes. Good grief!
I asked my partner Jon at home what he thought of this, if he could help me figure it out. He said, "Well, just imagine if one of those cigar-smoking labor guys came to one of your women's union reform meetings... how would they have reacted?"
I laughed. "They would have been extremely uncomfortable."
"'Cause they would be resentful, sort of guilty— feeling like the world's been turned upside-down and no one gave them the memo. Feminists violate their idea of what their mom and their wife or their daughter is supposed to do. They really do have this idea about women being "different creatures."
"Well, there you have your answer."
"But do you think that's unconscious on their parts, is that why they can't confess it to me?"
Jon shook his head. "No, it's just the opposite... they're hyper-aware of how they've excluded women in the past, and they're terrified that their own tactics will be visited upon them."
"Well, not all of them are terrified," I said, picking up business section of the Mercury News, which ran a story advising "single geek guys" on how "pretty" all the little BlogHer girls were. "That's just condescending."
The conference was astounding for the authority of its women speakers. You can find "pretty" girls anywhere— how often can you find ones who can rewire your whole world?
I went to one workshop on something very technical, that I've been wanting to master. It featured two of the best educators at the conference, who were dazzling, at the top of their game. Pardon me if I don't remember what they were wearing.
The Q&A began... and each time a woman in the audience asked a question, one lone man sitting at a nearby table, rose to answer. He cut off the presenters, he cut off everyone. He had to be the first, and he had to have the last word.
He was blind to the eyes rolling around him. Eye-rolling was all we did— no one said to him, "Dude, shut up already." He was indulged and allowed to sail off without realizing that he had alienated every last person in there. I doubt anyone from his mother on out has ever given him a clue. I feel ashamed of myself for sitting there and writhing in silence.
At this conference, there was a great deal of hand-holding on all fronts, and it wasn't altogether unwelcome. Sometimes I wished the conference had more debate, less esteem-building— but other times, I was glad for the encouragement, especially on a one-to-one basis.
For feminist convention organizers, on ANY TOPIC, one fears there is little space to occupy between Pablum Rah-Rah on one side and Queen Bee Death Match on the other. Women in leadership positions have often complained that they don't want to be sharks, but they don't want to be holding hands and singing lullabies either.
Some argument came up in the Mommy Bloggers colloquium. There are women who chafe at being called "MommyBloggers"— they feel it trivializes their mission.
Others want to reclaim the word, like Dyke or Pussy-- this is what we are; it's the listener's problem if they lack respect for a righteous mother.
The tension once again scratched the toenails of that Elephant I mentioned in the beginning. Blogging IS a feminist issue—and is perhaps its most subversive force.
In the 60s, womens libbers articulated that the personal was political, and that the Double Standard had to go. Every madonna was a whore, and every whore a mother. We wrote it on the walls: "Daddy, I'm Through."
And yet, despite Ms. magazine, despite The Hite Report, despite Billy Jean King, I have never seen the demonstration of personal-is-political, double-standard shredding in action as I have seen it today, practiced on women's blogs.
Every time a woman's blog proclaims her intellect, her sexuality, and her nurture — all on the same page— she has diced the dominant paradigm.
She has motherfucked her way into new consciousness, with the radiant touch of real life, the opposite of all those ridiculous "women's" magazines, TV shows, and celebu-crap.
The hand that blogs the cradle informs the world —this, the blog-her generation, is the crux of women's liberation that I thought had passed its due date. Who's drooling now?
Lots of great photos, eh? There was a blizzard of BlogHer photographers. From top to bottom we have: Ariel with Clits Up! button, Halley Suitt, Susie, Logan Levkoff, and Melissa Gira leading sex panel, Meg Hourihan, Heather Champ, Maggie Mason, Leah Peterson, me (hiding) and Heather Armstrong, as taken by Ms. Cupcake at the Cocktail Reception, Susie and Logan, Susie with Lulu folk: Charlotte, Katie, and Jason, Susie and Halley, Susie and Ariel.
I really did have a lot of fun.