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July 21, 2008

Newsflash: BlogHer Supports Women

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Michael Gray gave Google the day off and decided to pick on women instead, or more specifically, BlogHer. Michael claims that the BlogHer conference is guilty of sexual discrimination. He’s offended that there weren’t any male speakers included on the BlogHer agenda and says males who did attend were treated as second class citizens. Cry me a river, Michael. How do you know how men were treated? You didn’t attend.

He’s right that there weren’t any male speakers at BlogHer this weekend. Because, as Michael mocks, BlogHer is a conference designed to create opportunities for women who blog to pursue exposure, education, community, and economic empowerment. For those confused, that means the show is heavily geared and marketed towards women, with lots of women speakers.

Michael asks: “Have you ever been to conference where a panel was made up of all men? How about an entire conference where all of the speakers where only men? Awkward aren’t they?”

You know what, Michael, I have been to a conference where a panel was made up of all men. I’ve been to a lot of them because I work in the technology industry where its male dominated, expected, allowed and the norm. How many people even notice when the male/speaker ratio is 8:1 at a typical gadget show? And if a female were to blog about it, she’d get blasted for being anti-men and playing the victim. Where’s the balance there?

I agree with Michael’s argument that conference organizers should strive for balance, but the truth is, they don’t. I don’t think BlogHer was stronger for having only women speakers. The reason I attended was NOT because I wanted to be surrounded by chicks. I would have liked to hear from strong blogging men that I don’t see on a daily basis. But at the same time, I’m okay with BlogHer being all women. It’s their show and it’s theirs to run.

And if you’re so concerned with balance, why don’t you give up one of your many speaking spots to help promote a woman, Michael? Or tell me why there is not one woman scheduled to speak at The New New Internet conference happening in April? At SMX Advanced, everyone looks forward to the Give It Up session. Where were the women there? (To his credit, Danny called the lack of female presence “bullshit” and said it would be corrected next year.)

I realize Michael’s just trying to get people fired up and I would have ignored his BlogHer rant, but then he trotted even further over the line:

However if you are a man and you want to attend BlogHer, you’re treated like second class citizen, only to be seen and not heard…Do you think Blogher should only have women speakers, what if I told you I was organizing a conference and only men were speaking? The only way women can get in was to pay the full admission price, and go sit quietly in the audience. Have a few choice names you’d like to call me after reading that, then why is it OK for blog her to do the exact same thing, and you’re OK with that, or somehow find that empoering?

Wow, Michael. Is it empowering to throw out blatant lies and pretend they’re facts? Because that’s what you just did.

Let’s get this straight: Men were NOT treated like second class citizens at the event. Though seriously outnumbered, there were men present in every session. There were male speaking their minds at the keynotes, at the parties, on the floor, and everywhere else. I know because I saw them and spoke to them. They were not discriminated against.

For all Michael’s fighting that men should have been speaking, did he nominate any to speak? Did any man want to speak and was rejected because of his gender? He points to the 2005 BlogHer survey as his “proof” that men weren’t invited to speak, but that’s from three years ago and was in reference to the first-ever BlogHer, which I’m sure was a lot more woman-focused. Unless Michael knows of a man that was turned away recently, his rant is just that, a baseless rant that attempts to damage BlogHer.

I’ll be honest with you. As I joked all weekend with Lorna Harris and Matt Cutts (a MAN!), I felt out of place at BlogHer. Walking into the Westin St. Francis and being greeted by a swarm of females was intimidating. Working in a male dominated field, I’m not used to being around women anymore. When I’m at the typical SES or SMX, I don’t even notice how badly I’m outnumbered. My gender has never been an issue for me, probably because I don’t make it one. I don’t classify myself as a “woman in tech” or a “woman in blogging”. I never have. But at the same time, when an opportunity arose for me to spend two days surrounded by people who do what I do but who also have breasts, I jumped at it.

Why is BlogHer needed? Because every time the gender card is played in regards to why women never speak at conferences, the organizers swear up and down that “they tried”. That “they contacted women” and “they didn’t respond”. Maybe BlogHer will help make some of these female faces more visible. Maybe one day we won’t need a wiki to find female conference speakers. Until all that happens, you can’t blame women for seeking out opportunities to connect with one another.

It’s sad that men can’t join in the fight to empower women, but instead cry about their own failure to request an invite to the party. It’s sad that instead of celebrating the success of BlogHer 2008, we’re being forced to defend its right to exist. Shame on me for allowing that to happen.

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11 responses to “Newsflash: BlogHer Supports Women”

  1. Kim Krause Berg writes:

    You stated this well Lisa. I’m used to being in male dominated conferences and work environments too and to be honest, have been treated with high respect because of what I bring to the table, not the rack on my chest.

    Easy to see both viewpoints (yours and Michael’s) but you were there and I enjoyed your perspective.

  2. Susan Esparza writes:

    In my mind, the nice thing about BlogHer is that you don’t have to prove you’ve got a right to be heard in spite of your rack.

  3. Dave writes:

    “Though seriously outnumbered, there were men present in every session.”

    Wow! – It sounds like a slice of heaven for your average, single, male blogger. Where else can a guy find himself in a situation like that?

  4. pat writes:

    I’m glad you wrote this, not cause I agree or don’t agree or something, but more because I like your opinion. Rebecca is like a god to me because of her ability to quickly and off the cuff give her views on a subject with very little mental editing. It is huge valuable to me, and is the main reason I respect her. I don’t always get that from you. It is nice to read this. I will probably write about this and probably get slammed for it, but I am glad you wrote this.

  5. Mike writes:

    Wow, I hope Dave above was kidding. Throwing a sexist comment into a discussion on sexism is certainly not going to win you any brownie points.

    I was on Twitter and noticed Michael’s rant on BlogHer. He rants quite a bit – it’s part of his character and part of the reason he’s so popular.

    That said, I don’t think anything was gained through his rant in this case.

    I certainly understand the motivation to have a conference like this, and I don’t think there’s anything inherently wrong with it. I’m certainly not offended by the idea.

    However, and I realize I’m going out a limb with this one, I don’t think all-women conferences are going to do much to create equality among the sexes (assuming that is at least part of the goal).

    Social equality can only truly exist in the minds of people – men and women whose behaviors are based, or at least informed, by their environment. I would make the case that creating a women-only conference could serve to emphasize segregation between the sexes, which may be counterproductive to the goals of this conference to some degree.

    I also have to be frank in saying that I don’t know of any other social group (if we can call women a social group) that could throw such a conference without drawing negative response. I don’t think I need to cite possible examples on that point.

    That said, I know full well the inequality that still exists in the workplace. I grew up with three sisters, the smartest and most capable people I know, and saw their struggles first-hand with everything from inequality in wage to sexual harassment. I fully support any initiative that would effectively move us towards equality in social and professional environments.

    But I must be frank in saying that when I first learned of BlogHer my reaction, although quite muted, was to think of it as the logical equivalent of a “no girls allowed” SEM conference. The topic is the topic, and all opinions/assertions/observations are welcome (at least in my mind). To exclude a social group for activist reason turns the focus away from the topic at hand and toward the social problem – and for that reason the benefit is tempered.

    But who am I to judge, in all honesty? If it truly helps to have such a conference, I’m all for it. I was not there and I am not a woman, so to a large degree I’m quite removed from the experience.

  6. Jane writes:

    Not entirely sure what to make of this yet, but here’s some initial reactions I have. Some are relevant, others less so.
    1) In the two years I’ve been in SEO, the ratio of men to women has changed. There are way more visible women now, both as SEOs, bloggers and conference speakers / attendees. At my first Pubcon in 2006, there was a far lower percentage of women than there was at, say, SMX Advanced in Seattle last month. An increasing number of commenters on our blog are female. ONLY taking into account female writers our blog and this one, we have: Lisa, Rebecca, Susan, Virginia, Sarah Bird and me.
    2) The debate about why people can stage events targeting some members of society and not others is probably beyond the scope of SEO blogs. It does seem unnecessary that, after years of white people, males, straight people, etc moaning about this, we take it up again here. We won’t uncover the sociological secret as to why we “accept” women-focused events but would frown upon BlogHim. There are sociology students and professors spending their entire lives doing it.
    3) I don’t notice that there are more men than women at tech shows either, not because it’s not obvious, but because I never really notice such things. Unless I’m in the women’s locker room at the pool.
    4) The increased visibility of women may, in fact, be adding to how heated we get about this. Any situation that involves changing dynamics usually comes with some controversy and debate.
    5) Personally, I’d not object to a male version of BlogHer. I’d love to hear what attendees and speakers at such a show discussed. Someone should do it.
    6) Michael should pitch to start contributing to http://www.seo-blokes.com/, as its current collection of writers are lazy gits who’ve not updated it since January :) SEO-Chicks, on the other hand, is doing a roaring trade!

  7. David Temple writes:

    I think if BlogHer didn’t allow men to attend that would be worth a rant, but not having men speakers that’s a different story. Hey Matt Cutts was there, I bet he wasn’t treated like a second class citizen. I mean this is a conference for women bloggers. That would be like letting…say, Jason Calacanis speak at an seo event. Okay that’s not a good analogy but you know what I mean.

    It’s no secret that I prefer the female species, probably because I grew up with 4 sisters but more likely because my wife of 30 years never ceases to amaze and inspire me. My favorite blogs are written by women ;), my favorite seo’s are women and I happen to think they’ve been taken for granted for far too long.

    Okay that ends my ode to women. Go ahead and have a BlogHim. I won’t be there, I’ll be…… somewhere else.

  8. Anthony writes:

    Why does anyone even care what Michael Gray has to say anyway? His blog provides virtually nothing of value at all. Maybe he’s a great guy in person and I guess he has built up a network of friends in the industry that keep him popular… but I just don’t see the appeal of his one trick pony act of crying about anything and everything Google.

  9. Rhea writes:

    …..I think my comment would have me cut from the guest bloggers schedule. It involved anatomy.

    This whole topic seems silly to me. It’s a non-issue since Michael spends a ton of his energy throwing verbal barbs and fashion advice around with the girl crew. This isn’t serious and if it is he needs a good kick to the head, but nothing more than that. Where’s Threadwatch when you need it?

  10. Lisa writes:

    @Anthony: I wouldn’t go that far. Though I don’t agree with Michael on the BlogHer issue, I still think he brings an ENORMOUS amount of value to the industry with his blogging and insight. Unlike a lot of others in this space (myself included), he’s earned the attention that he garners. It’s not a network of friends keeping him anywhere. It’s his smartz.

  11. graywolf writes:

    Ok @anthony I accept your challenge! let me know what topic YOU would like me to talk about or YOU feel would be valuable to the community, and I’ll get on it within a week.



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