At BlogHer, when Jocelyn Harmon from Marketing for Nonprofits stood up during the keynote panel to ask Carol Jenkins how we can make stories, and news, and politics, more complicated around race, gender, and class, there were women cheering all over the room.
Now, we didn’t get deep into that subject but I also didn’t hear what usually happens when you say that in a room full of white folks, which is someone stands up and goes “But shouldn’t we all just be colorblind? I don’t see race.” (If you are thinking “what’s wrong with that?” you can start at Angry Black Woman’s post, Things you need to understand #5: Color Blindness.) So I was really, really happy that at BlogHer, we could raise the issue without an immediate defensive racist backlash. Instead a somewhat diverse room full of women *listened* to two women of color talk with each other about the difficulties of everyday racism in media. About not wanting to have to choose a side, or choose an identity. That was a good moment!
Then at the cocktail party I was sitting across from this dude. And hey, it’s a cocktail party and we’re all drinking Cosmos and talking smack. I believe I was outlining a new world order in which we would all get to take turns having sex with Jon Stewart. (Would he satirize the sex during the sex? Or wait till after?) But we were also talking about the rise of mom blogging, the way we love it that people mix up their “topics” and blog about their lives and eclectic interests AND politics. That in the mainstream media story, you are a soccer mom or whatever, and that’s that. But in our world in the blogosphere, we know, more and more, that we have many roles in life. We’re moms or daughters or sisters or knitters or we love to shop for shoes or talk about marketing, but we ALSO have valid political opinions. We are black or white or Latina or Jewish or multiracial, AND we are women, AND we have all these interests and roles and jobs and experiences. In our world, we acknowledge the multifacted nature of ourselves and of all the people we might meet. For me, I don’t even sit across from another middle aged lady on the bus without assuming they have a complicated identity. Sometimes I like to imagine the blog-identity, the internal world and speaking voice, of all the people but especially the women, around me in daily life.
In this middle of this conversation, our intrepid BlogHim, one of the 5 guys at a conference of 300 women, got me all prickled up. He wanted to question the mere fact of having a BlogHer conference, a tech conference meant for women. He warned us he was about to be non-politically correct, in other words, he wanted to try to piss us off. “So, ladies, what about the men? And what about the white men? What I’m saying here is that I can’t be hiring someone and say to my managers, “I really want to hire this white man because he brings a unique and diverse perspective to our product group.” I can’t say that. And that’s just not fair.” There was a sort of pause around the table as we all assessed our level of ability to Deal with this asshattery in the moment, pushing our Cosmotinis out of mind and whipping up some serious coherence, without causing a Scene. I understood that the guy was just trying to get a rise. He was trolling us. And he was doing it with a layer of faux irony and friendliness, so getting mad in response was socially difficult. Yet it was such a stunning example of male privilege and white privilege that I can’t let it pass.
So, I told Mr. What-About-The-Menz a brief story. Here it is.
When I was a kid, about 10 or 11 probably, I remember asking my mom, “There’s Mothers’ Day, and Fathers’ Day, and even Grandparents’ Day. How come there’s no Kids’ Day? It’s not fair!” My mom shot me a really dirty go-to-hell-you-idiot look and went, “EVERY DAY IS KIDS’ DAY.”
Here is the bit of the story I didn’t mention:
I remember suddenly getting what my mom meant, and thinking about everything she did for me and my sister, and how her life basically revolved around listening to us, playing with us, taking care of us, feeding us, supporting us and planning for our future, getting us to school, taking us to the library and piano lessons; our comfort and well-being. A hot flush of shame came over me as I thought about how all the things that were done for me, I was not really appreciating, but took for granted. Like, that wasn’t enough? I want a tiara and a pony too on top of it? Ouch. My mom’s moment of sarcasm and snark was a good educational moment for me. I GOT IT.
I think that telling the first part of that story was an okay response. It quickly made my point which is that he is blind to his everyday white male privilege.
And as described very well in the article I linked to above on male privilege — the instant that men are not the center of attention and the norm, they feel like it’s an *attack*.
The other thing I did was not look at the guy. I continued with all my body language to focus on my sister bloggers at the table. And that helped us to shift the conversation off of the guy, and back onto what we wanted to talk about. Doing this was a conscious effort. I recommend it highly for those moments when your conversation with a group of women is hijacked by a braying jackass who assumes that women owe him every second of their respect and attention. Pay attention to the women. Pay attention to the women in the microcosm of conversation, and in the bigger picture of the blogosphere.
Then, a bunch of us told the guy that he was really lucky to be in a context where he got to experience not being the default normal. He gets to hear conversations and interactions he wouldn’t hear otherwise. What do techy, writerly, blogging women talk about when they’re framing the conversation themselves and not being told what’s important by an array of expert men? What’s it like to be at a tech conference where you’re one of 5 of your gender there, and it’s very noticeable? That’s a rare experience for guys in social media. A bunch of us said that. With a helpful smile.
In short, a table full of women told him, very politely and obliquely, to shut up and listen. If only for one day. I don’t think he got it.
As is so often true, I saw a bunch of women soft-pedal their responses to a guy. And then immediately afterwards (and in fact a day later over IM with others) they all went “OMG, what a jackass.” Again, I felt sorry for guys who are that way, because they don’t have any reality check. I’m calling out the behavior, and point it out, not to be mean to this one dude. In fact, I give him credit for coming to a women’s conference and giving it a shot. I don’t expect him to learn and process every bit of it at once. On the other hand, I can’t let those kinds of statement pass without a mention.
I had no wish to get into a giant discussion of the idea of affirmative action at that moment. But I could do it on this blog.
What would you have said to hi
m “in the moment”? What would you say now, online, with time to think it over and express yourself clearly, to a guy who described his wish to hire white men for their diverse perspective?