Yesterday I attended PodCamp Boston. Its an interesting conference, lots of planned presentations about social media. I attended one about measurement where the speaker didn’t show up, so someone just jumped up and led the discussion. That was a very interesting discussion too, 3 minutes into no one remembered the speaker didn’t show. I also listened to a discussion about community in the Enterprise, and came away with a couple of pages of notes.
The conference organizers emphasized that some of the best discussions are not in the presentations. I found this to be true as well. I talked a couple of times with John Elder Robison about the fascinating work he is doing at Harvard’s Beth Isreal hospital on how TMS can unravel how autistic brains work. I talked to someone who is getting their Instructional Design degree from UMass.
One conversation changed the whole day for me. I was actually thinking about leaving early, I had seen and talked to John, I was tired of re-hashing the same information about social media, and I think I was just feeling burnt out from the final week of class. Then I started talking to a couple of other ladies about why there were only 5 women speakers. Yes, this conversation was a continuation of the theme that continues to bubble up. However, there was a twist. From what I can tell, it was pretty easy to get on the program at Podcamp Boston. All you had to do was let them know what sort of discussion you wanted to lead. I didn’t sign up to do that because I knew Podcamp was after the last day of finals, and I didn’t want to deal with the stress of preparing and presenting and all that. I just wanted to enjoy.
More importantly, at Podcamp they designate open spaces as a place where you can start a spontaneous discussion. There is a white board, you sign up with your topic, space you want to use, and time. No women had signed up to do that. I had even thought about it, especially since I wasn’t really into any of what I was hearing. I thought about leading a discussion about how social media can be used to help people with Apserger’s (could kick myself now, that would have been really interesting), or about education and podcasting. But I didn’t.
And that is what we discussed at the table. We know that it appears as if conference organizers don’t go out of their comfort zone and known circles to find female speakers, but what about this conference? This conference had a very low bar to jump over to present, why didn’t we step up? Are we holding ourselves back? Do we need to do something to meet conference organizers half-way?
And with that, our gender discussion was born. We signed up on the whiteboard, someone gave it a mega-provocative name that I can’t repeat because it breaks the mama rule (don’t post something online if you would die if your mama saw it). We decided to have the discussion on the lawn, mostly because I wanted to be outside because it was such a gorgeous day.
Lots of things came out of this discussion. Women have various opinions on the state of equality, and I believe this is mostly because we come from different communities. We have our own ideas of what equality means, and what equality looks like. These ideas are most likely based on the experiences we have had in life, and the support we have used to process these experiences.
Men were out there too, and interestingly enough some of the reaction to our conversations were pretty much the same reaction the guys always have. They don’t understand why we are complaining. We should just be “awesome”. They “don’t care what is in between our legs, just what is in between our ears” (yes, that is a direct quote).
This is what bothered me. It has always bothered me. Even if the guys are not as blatantly insensitive as the one I quoted, even if they really want to understand, there is something stopping them from “getting” it. Even my Brian. We have been talking about the male gaze all week, ever since Gail Simone tweeted me. I had to explain to people who Gail is: she is a comic book author. She writes Wonder Woman!! She had a list a few years back wondering why female heroes always ended up dead in a tragic, non-heroic way that mostly served to advance the plot of the male heroes. That list is called Women In Refrigerators.
So my comic book boyfriend decided to explain why the list was flawed. I would defend my view against his superior comic book knowledge (seriously, he can outgeek anyone. NO ONE has ever beat Brian when it comes to comic book knowledge). He would come back in a few hours with a logically thought out answer, to which I would respond with a sociologically based answer that invalidated his theory.
But he said something to me that was interesting – he comes to this discussion we are having from a neutral point of view. He doesn’t care which way is right, he’s neutral about it. I come to it with a female point of view – all of my experiences make me see the issue from a very emotionally charged vantage point.
I think this is the problem. The neutral view. This is why guys who really want to understand what women are saying when we tell them we are being marginalized don’t get it. They are so neutral that they can’t imagine any bad, any emotion. They are neutral, so the problem is available to be solved in a logical Spok-like manner. The neutrality allows them to say emotionally charged things (just be awesome, I don’t care what is between your legs). Things that will shut off future discourse on the topic.
Maybe as women we need to strive to get to the neutral. That means accepting that not all women share our same experience. That means accepting that men really don’t understand, and accepting that they will say things to disrupt our quest to get to neutral.
Now the question is – how to we move to neutral? We need to get guys to understand they play a huge role in this. We need to think about the language being used, is it disruptive to neutrality? We need to fight the urge to stay in the emotionally charged states, and move to neutral. Any other ideas?
We are planning a podcast to continue this discussion, as soon as I have details I’ll post them.
Overall, the discussion was fantastic…best thing I did at Podcamp to be sure.