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What Is A Girl?

March 12, 2006

When I attended a BlogHer panel today I left really, really frustrated Both the panel and the audience, and perhaps rightly so, seemed to be very “grrrrl.” Everyone seemed to reflect each other both in dress and in speech and it everyone seemed to be just so focused on the pain of women, how women writers need to tag everything they do as “women” and how we need to kick some ass (ours! theirs!) and get angry at not being “equal” or as perceived as smart as men because lord knows we’re better. There was an energy in the room that for me was really uncomfortable. It was as though everyone was just riled up and angry at anything not “grrrl” oriented. In talking to a several people after about it, I wasn’t the only one that picked up on it. But then, none of the people I spoke to were “grrrls” (actually, a lot of them were really hot women who held engineering jobs in Google and Yahoo. Their openness made you want to talk to them. Their brains made you want to listen).

Despite having the word “girl” in many of my site and creating sites based on women and for women, it has never, ever been at the expense of men. I do not feel the need to be “PRO WOMAN” to get ahead. I get along fine with the fella’s, can talk business and smack with the best of them, and am taken seriously too. It’s why with almost every site (even the ones “geared” towards women), my readership is always almost 60% female and 40% male. I tend to do things universal because I just believe we’re all here to connect. And I don’t care if you’re in a dress, pants, blue hair or blonde. It’s what is interesting and useful to me that counts and not defining myself in a small group to try to gain power.

What I took from the BlogHer was that they seemed to think that as a woman you should be kicking mens asses for visibility and breaking down the boys club and to do that you must be all about being serious woman, hear me roar. That you preach to the choir, form a group of only like-minded people and attack that old boys network which is bad (though this is a little amusing considering they’re creating a woman’s only network). They didn’t seem interested, from what I could tell, in engaging people with different opinions or who weren’t like them. Despite wanting something different, they weren’t willing to risk being different. And I don’t think this phenomenon is unique to them.

There’s a lot of women, especially corporate women or women who seek power and certain positions in which they think only men currently have and will only have unless they become some kind of feminist, who think a pretty little thing that laughs and wears a dress isn’t serious and can’t “help the cause.” They see her as a flirt, dumb, and of no value because real women who try to change things are kicking people’s asses, wearing pantsuits and clinging to being a woman in an unfair world. You can’t smile about! If you do you obviously don’t care! This is how I’ve been treated by so many women in the industry and I’m so fucking tired of it. I tell you, a bit of laughter and a smile backed up with brains got me into top level corporate America and it also helped me create a really successful art career. By playing the game, so to speak, I got into places where I could change the rules. I’ve helped women a lot. I understand women run differently and have different challenges but I’ll be damned if I join a woman’s only network and say I’m limited because I’m a woman. There’s no way I want to get somewhere because I was focusing solely on my sex and the sex of others.

I have a lot of really great, smart, powerful women friends, a couple of whom are involved with BlogHer. Because of these women, I felt it would be less “we’re women with issues” and more “let’s connect,” which is why before I left for Austin I shot an email to them. I have a huge network of women that love to connect and thought it would be a great thing for everyone involved. But, I learned that this organization (and a those that are similar) are really not interested in connecting with things outside what they think their agenda is. If someone doesn’t fit their profile or isn’t a minion, there’s no use. Despite being one of, if not the first, female bloggers in 1995, having two SXSW web nominations for best female oriented sites, despite receiving at least 70,000 hits on every site I’ve created and being in the industry for ten years, to a lot of girls in tech especially, a smile, a pretty dress means I don’t know what I’m talking about. Not being angry or “grrrl” centric means I’m not serious. Not having a blog entry about the trials and tribulations of how I suffer means I’m blind to what goes on. The truth is, they want to cling to being a minority and old definitions despite the pretense of wanting to break them down. I think they also cling to things as an excuse for why they’re not where they want to be. “If I was a man I’d have done X. If I was a man I’d have more hits. If I was a man I’d be taken seriously. If I was a man, I’d have more power.” Excuses are never, ever powerful and I don’t participate in that. It’s probably why I have, for lack of a better term, been successful in a mans world. I don’t look at it as a mans world – I see it as mine. Whatever I want to do – I do it. That simple.

In the conference, one woman asked the question “If stereotypes in reality bother you so much, why would you bring them into internet space? Why is it so important to be a woman blogger and not just a blogger? Why would you focus more on tagging your work as “woman” or “lesbian” instead of a woman who blogs or a lesbian who write? Why cling to names?”

The whole panel just skipped this question. When she tried too reiterate her question again, the panel once again ignored her. She didn’t look like anyone on the panel, she wasnt’ mimicking the cheering on of the audience and she had a different point of view that didn’t seem to be heard or addressed. If it was, perhaps they would have gained two allies instead of alienating to. Because after the panel I talked to her about it, saying I thought it was the most challenging question out there and how disappointed I was to not hear them respond. I said I think it scared them because they were so caught up in being rah, rah, rah about being a woman and being heard that they forgot to listen and accept all kinds of women and perhaps didn’t want to acknowledge that they were perhaps hurting their own cause. You don’t convert people to your belief system by attacking them, making them afraid of you or being so glued to your ideas you can’t accept some challenging ones from someone else.

I happened to grow up in a European culture where girls wore dresses and no one thought anything of it – not even in advanced calculus. But here, at this conference and a lot of the time in America, if you don’t have a certain “look” that most women in any given area have other women tend to think you’re not serious. In this case, wearing a dress and having long blond hair makes me stand out and makes it really, really hard to connect sometimes to other women. Men, on the other hand, haven’t ever judged me so harshly as other women and are a lot more open to what I have to say and what I can do. Male bosses have advanced me further up the ladder, mentored me, given me chances when other women wouldn’t because most women bosses had an idea of what a “serious woman” is and if you hire a happy girl in a dress, she might make take women back 50 years! Which is perhaps why I tend to have more male role models who are just about getting things done, creating, and supporting instead of trying to be all about women and competing with them and trying to figure out my rank. A man goes from point a-z without apology. Some women, however, take a long and winding road because they think they have road blocks that if they just didn’t give weight to, wouldn’t be there.

The point is that if you want to wear a dress, go for it. If you want to be butch, go for it. You want to blog, do it. You want to giggle, sure! You want to be powerful and a woman, why not! Do what is in you to do and to be. Don’t cling to an idea of who you think you are or who you think others are. Don’t keep talking about limitations (ones that you self-impose or feel that society has imposed). Try to connect with more than what you know, especially if change is a goal. Because if you don’t, chances are you’ll stay a> bitter b> a minority and c>unsuccessful and d>unhappy. The only way to not feel trapped as a stereotype is to not be one.

{And as a side, I’d like to thank the people (girls & grrls) who have emailed me about this. From those who’ve agreed to the couple that haven’t. It’s good to have the discussion. To see each others sides, to bend a little, to hear. Because being willing to take the risk and talk about one’s experience and perhaps in return hear about an opposite experience or a different view is so much more beneficial to everyone than just getting snarky, childish and stopping conversation on a web site. It’s been unfortunate, for me, that the BlogHer Panel & their minions found this post and decided to just send hate mail instead of conversations. No one benefits that way because this kind of discussion isn’t about being right or getting the last word. It’s about hearing how we’re treating each other and calling each other on it (myself included). If women really want women to get more power, they have to stop keeping each other down instead of blaming men).