a strawfeminist speaks up a bit

i am laughing at dave winer
Originally uploaded by Liz Henry.

So, to explain a bit why I was incredulous at Dave Winer saying that he wanted to write about feminism, but not get yelled at or criticized… and why I was even more incredulous when he said “I live in fear”. I respect Dave and think he’s nifty for organizing this conference and inviting a bunch of different communities. I give him mad props. And I also like Dave for his ability to talk without a filter and just say whatever. That’s so useful for everyone else! It gets a lot of conversations started! It’s often painful to be that kind of person. And I should know!

But! (I have a big but!)

It’s bogus to think you get a free pass to say whatever you want about women or feminism without getting called on it… just because you are condescending from your position of privilege where you don’t have to think about it, and bothering to think about it, which is so scary! Sorry. There is no free pass! I don’t get one, and neither does Dave! I am interested in what he has to say, though, and will read it and talk to him. For me part of going to conferences like these is that it’s a commmitment to dialogue.

Dialogue does not mean I don’t get to point out stuff that seems messed up to me while I listen to guys saying how afraid they are that women might be offended by their attempts to understand feminism.

So when Dave said “I live in fear” I cracked up and I think I might have heckled him by squawking “oh yeah, because feminists are so powerful and scary!”… If you cannot see the irony I will have to explain it more in another post… I hope this is not fearsome criticism – in case anyone hasn’t noticed, I’m not scary: I’m just a blogging blowhard like everyone else. Anyway, “I live in fear” was so over the top. Perhaps it was a joke… well… that’s not funny. (As the punchline goes.)

This question of fear kept coming up. In fact, later, in the “core values” discussion, the major theme was guys talking about how hurt they were by trolls and people being mean in their comments. And there were some stories of actual scary situations. but mostly, actual physical violence, threats, and stalking was conflated with …. mean comments on your blog. So, I think it’s important to be clear that we are making distinctions between people being rude assholes on the internet, and scary, psychotic stalking.

I would also like to add that stalking and violence, and its threat, is something that every woman lives with even when she is not an A list or a Z list blogger from the age of puberty or earlier. So think about how that sounds, to us, to have Chris Pirillo or Mike Arrington or Dave Winer or Steve Gillmore talking about their blog-comment PTSD. I want to validate their feelings of being hurt, and of feeling the pressure of celebrity and public scrutiny, which I’m sure I can’t imagine since I’m not a bigass famous person, and yet on some level, I have trouble hearing their plaint. Especially when as a woman, when I am offended, hurt, or threatened, and then I say so, my feelings are trivialized and I am told that I’m being too sensitive, and that I shouldn’t be feeling the way I’m feeling, and that in fact (as so often happens) my being annoyed or offended is more harmful to the annoyer than their (non)offense could ever be to me … Oh, you know what I mean. Or do you?

Or is the point of Blogher being invited to Bloggercon, in a way, that some of the big boys are tired of being big boys and not crying? Maybe a little bit! Thus the sessions on emotional life being mostly about guys talking about how it was a new big thing for them to have emotions on their blog and then to talk meta- about their emotions on their blog. And that’s amazing and cool… It reminds me of something really good I was reading on ap_racism on LJ lately, on this post, On being an ally, in a comment by holzman on the stages of cluefulness white people go through when thinking about racism:

# Racism? Didn’t King fix that in the ’60s?
# Wow, racism is still a problem. I hope those minorities fix it soon.
# Gee, racism is my problem, I’d better lead the charge in fixing it.
# Hm, racism is my problem, but my assuming I can lead the charge is part of the problem, so maybe I’d better let those minorities know that I’ll be their ally if they ever get back to doing anything.
# *headdesk* No one was waiting for me to announce I was ready to be the center of attention, and there’s work to be done, and people are doing it, so I’m going to go get involved in helping them do it in a way that is useful for them.

That progression could be useful to many of the intelligent, questioning, sympathetic men at bloggercon.

I passed out that a-zone essay by someone named Mike… in paper handout form… figuring it was a cool men’s lib thing and might be the sort of thing these guys would never read otherwise, just because they’d never come across it. Also, in between the advice on hugging each other and learning to deal with emotions, there was some great stuff about not putting the burden of your emotional work on women to do for you, and also on stepping back, inviting women to take the lead on a project, shutting up, and doing the shit work for them for a change. I know a lot of the men at bloggercon won’t be able to hear this sort of statement for how I mean it, because they were not even at a place where they could hear the statement “Sexism exists” and agree with it. but, anyway, some of them will hear it and go “Oh! hmmm!” Dave clearly has thought about that kind of thing or has listened to someone who has. As SxSWi also did… with great results.

Unlike people who last-minute go “shit, we don’t have any women in our conference… let’s ask a couple of them, except we don’t know anyone good enough, but we’ll ask them anyway. Wonder why they said no?” And then you end up with a panel with 4 expert old men with beards and one bright young woman with no experience or authority, carrying the responsibility to represent for womanhood on her shoulders… so annoying… tokenism… arrrgh.

I should write more about what I leaped up to say about conflict and aggression, but maybe in the morning. In short though… Heated exchanges can be productive. A commenter on my blog can be an asshole, and personally insult me, and yet still have a valid point that it benefits me to listen to, if I can get past the personal reaction. The angry person may not be persuaded, and yet the exposure of the angry exchange can be productive for a community. We don’t have to take abuse, and yet we don’t have to completely dismiss anger and demand (or enforce) civility. I am suspicious of civility and its function: it’s great a lot of the time, but not all of the time, and it can function to suppress legitimate anger. Anger can also be the proper response to a situation, a good response. Finally, and this is unfortunately the part that Mike Arrington cut me off at: We can get angry, but it should be part of our “core values” as bloggers that we can also APOLOGIZE. That is an important part of a commitment to an ongoing conversation, which is what blogging is.

Some thoughts on fanfic and the Tiptree

My personal opinions and not meant to represent the award administrators or be any sort of official statement…

A rambling overthink:

I think “Arcana” and much fanfic should be looked at as an experimental form, or as being like artists’ sketchbooks. Sketches in art are nifty, even if the artist isn’t Davinci. As a reader and critic, I often enjoy raw, ephemeral work and find something of value in it, while I find much “professional-quality” writing to be dull, with all its quirky edges smoothed off by workshops, MFA programs, editors, the standards of market forces, considerations of literary genre, and so forth. I would rather read an ungrammatical unfinished poem of raw power that goes somewhere unusual than I would read a high-falutin’ perfectly crafted New-Yorker-ish sonnet that doesn’t say a damn thing. Both may have literary merit, and ideally, a work has all possible positive qualities (As our Tiptree winner this year, Air, does have.)

Literary standards vary widely. In an award such as the Tiptree, or in a comprehensive anthology, I believe that it is important to represent works that are good by different standards of value. A work is “good”. Good for what purpose? Good for which people?

Of course, you may read all the above and agree with it, and yet still question the jury’s decision to longlist this particular story.

What can I say? I like edge conditions, and I pushed a boundary, and a lot of people disagree with me. So, let’s talk about this and learn whatever can be learned from it, and then move on to talk about the other books and stories on the list. For example, “Little Faces” which is also conveniently online. What’s tiptroid or not about that story? How about the writing style and quality? What do we think of that?

How about “A Brother’s Price” and its gender explorations? I’d be interested to hear from people who feel like it challenged gender roles and those who feel it didn’t.


Objections to the longlisting of “Arcana” that I’ve read in the last couple of days include:

1. it’s fanfic and should not be eligible under the bylaws of this award, or any professional sf award
2. it’s not good fanfic of its type
3. it’s not well-written
4. it’s unfinished
5. it is not tiptroid enough. It does not expand or explore gender, but instead re-ifies traditional gender roles.
6. It is illegal because of copyright laws. The author and the award are in some kind of legal danger.
7. It is plagiarism. (I think the people who use this term are particularly unclear on what “plagiarism means. It is not plagiarism.)
8. The Tiptree jury should have more diligently gone through the body of fanfic to find more, and better, examples of tiptroid fic. IN their copious spare time.
9. It was unethical of the jury to longlist this work, because it might embarrass its author
10. The author should have been contacted and asked if it was okay to longlist her unifinished story. (By the award administrators or the jury, or me in particular.)
11. The Tiptree Award bylaws should be rewritten to exclude poor-quality writing. (I would love to see the subcommittee that writes those bylaws…)
12. Liz Henry has done something moronic. We thought she could not go lower than teh Venom Cock, but, sweet pregnant crack-smoking jesus, she has.
13. The Tiptree award is annoying and run by feminist cranks who should not be taken seriously by any rational human being or writer of Quality. They might have once had a shot at legitimacy in the Real World, but now they’ve blown it. How embarrassing!

Pantryslut, a former Tiptree juror, rolling her eyes at the kerfluffle:

1) You’re allowed not to like things on an awards list. 2) The processes of even awards you like and respect are not without flaw or question. 3) I think there is a misunderstanding of the nature and purpose of the long list happening.

Vito-excalibur and commenters continue to wish that the story were a better representative of fanfic in general.

Matociquala’s journal has an extremely lively discussion. In it, the predominant threads are not questioning the value of fanfic in general, but focus on the Tiptree Award’s process of gathering nominations. Cija comments:

I think the inclusion of fanfic, especially dirty, self-indulgent fanfic, in the Tiptree longlist (or shortlist, or the award itself) is a fine fine idea, although judging from the quotes you provide, this one doesn’t seem to be notably dirty or self-indulgent. Too bad.

In particular, I thought it was interesting that there was a perception of the story being the uninformed choice of a well-meaning outsider to the genre of fanfic… or maybe it would be more accurate to say the fanfic communities. (That earnest yet clueless outsider would be me (according to them… a lot of assumptions about how much of an outsider I am). More about this further down in this post.)

Am I an expert on fanfic? No. Have I ever read it? Yes. I’m not strongly part of any fanfic community, but I’ve read it a little here and there. I have even written it, though mostly badfic. I particularly loved the old “pottersues” community and its hilarious snarkiness. Might there be fanfic out there, mpreg fanfic, that everyone would hail with as Tiptroid and literary enough ? Hell yeah… Please nominate it asap!

About legality: I think this is bunk. I don’t think about whether a story is “illegal” or not when I read it. Do people think that if there were censorship laws, that awards should not consider that kind of illegality? So, “free speech” is one thing when it’s about a nation or a government… but another thing that we should respect when it’s a corporation who “owns” an idea? What are people really worried about here? Last time I checked, fanfic writers were not being sued or thrown in jail… nor were they smashing the state or destroying the idea of intellectual property or sucking away the hard-earned dollars of authors starving in garrets… And the existence of the fanfic doesn’t make people not read or watch the original/”owned” stories. At most, they might be sent a cease and desist letter which they could then put up on the Chilling Effects site which is part of some great legal efforts to fight that kind of atmosphere. About plagiarism: hahaha. Give me a break. Then go look up the dictionary definition of “plagiarism”.

Moving on from there.

Then we get into the nitty gritty of what the story does and whether it’s tiptroid or not (which is hard to talk about, since everyone has a different idea of what “expanding and exploring gender” means.)

Back for a moment to the idea of being Tiptroid, and “good”… Tiptroid for whom?
Am I demanding stuff that expands *my* concept of gender? Or what I think and percieve as “most people’s” ideas of gender, or even “my idea of sf fandom who might be interested in the Tiptree’s ideas of gender?” It turns into a lot of doublethink very quickly. And I wanted very much to avoid any sort of “more genderfuck than thou” chest-beating on the jury.

Okay, so, back on matociquala’s journal, I said:

Once the story gets past the set-up and the rape scene, there’s lots of detail about a macho guy’s response to being pregnant. Nick’s sudden vulnerability, loss of independence, and the changes he goes through were interesting. Snape’s “protective father/husband” responses were really weird because of the (former) macho-ness of Nick.

katallen, cija, and others get quite deep into the issues. Katallen questions whether it’s an mpreg at all, since Nick is “really” a hermaphrodite and has been all along, and knew it, and so did Snape and the Ministry of Magic. (Though I would add that Nick was in denial about it for most of his life.) “The macho image is shown to be a fraud — and so a macho guy’s reaction to being pregnant is never explored.” She adds, “it didn’t feel gender expanding so much as gender conformist… However much Nick hides or denies it, the sex that gets pregnant is there to be made pregnant, to bear children, and (once a feminine side is exposed) will be lusting after sex with their rapist, crying every five minutes because of their hormones, and need a real man to get them safely through pregnancy.”

cija says:

there are ways to wallow in illicit fantasy without making the narrative defend the essential rightness of the false construct, if that makes any sense. I am all for the wallowing, but not so much for the embedded defense. It is tricky to do the one without the other, but vastly preferable.

Yowza, cija, if I were a man, I’d be begging you to let me have your babies. I still disagree, but there you articulated the exact location of the problem and point of disagreement.

and katallen again:

I don’t read a lot of slash fic, but enough to have met dozens of stories where two masculine characters, subsequent to sex or falling in love, gradually morph into a het couple — with the smaller/prettier/smarter of the two men taking up the feminine role (homemaking, sexual jealousy, physical and emotional dependance etc)

Coffeeandink made some cogent remarks and gave a link to thasallia’s post on how distinctive characters are often transformed in fanfic into more conventional roles (wow, I loved this post…):

But, getting back to flipping gender expectations, I can think of several body-swap fics in FS fandom that do a lovely job of this, but I also think there have to be other gen or het fics that do a good job of showing how gender isn’t the easy assumption that we tend to make it. And how are we defining gender roles anyway? How are we coding male and female these days? One of the reasons I rarely read slash is because I have little interest in seeing a masculine character feminized, in more than the subtle construct way (i.e., I don’t want to see John Crichton act like a girl except for in the, “Shit, the whole way I look at the world is suddenly reversed and I’m getting my ass kicked by a girl” kind of way.) I’m not interested in that sort of coding between men, but again, that’s my personal preference. However, again, that whole reversal of gendered expectation is interesting and I wonder (not reading a lot of femslash), if a similar thing happens there. Does one of the women become “the man” in the story?

Katallen says:

…what interested you wasn’t examining how a man would cope with pregnancy but the reactions of a Western middle-class female who is secure in her equality and her personal relationship to her gender (75% of the world’s population are still chopping wood and carrying water by three months and never aren’t met with sexism) having to cope with a new image, that’s imposed both by her own biology and societal reactions to pregnancy and motherhood.

So, the more sophisticated slash and fanfic readers read Brunson’s Nick as a very typical-for-fic manly man who is feminized. Nick’s weepiness and girliness and moments of vulnerability perhaps annoy, because they seem to reify this particular gender stereotype. Now, I don’t like that stereotype either! And yet I know many strong, independent women who get pregnant and then start falling into many stereotypical roles. As I pointed out somewhere on the many-tentacled thread on matociquala’s journal, this is a common theme of mommybloggers. “How did I get here? What’s going on? What the hell just happened? How can I get my life as an independent person back?” Nick seems to me to react similarly. Coded as a man’s reaction, that “wtf!” reaction can be seen as interrupted entitlement. Which exposes the interrupted entitlement that some women, raised to expect some measure of equal rights or gender-blindness, experience. I found that interesting, and I still do! Is that because I’m a United Statesian upper-class mom and housewife? Gosh… um… probably. However, I am not in ignorance of feminism, world politics, women who live in poverty, and class differences in general.

There was also a strand of people saying that I in particular (because I said in public that it was me who pushed to longlist “Arcana”… (and I said it in public because I felt I had to, since half the people reading already suspected it was me and were making coy statements to indicate it, and because of needing to stand up and defend my judgement and the story’s author, and also out of consideration for the tender feelings of my fellow Tiptree jurist, who seems eager to distance themself from the OMG Not Literary Enough works on the list) ummmmm where was I?) People saying that I was an outsider to fanfic. Such as….


…an external advocate who doesn’t appear to be comfortable that they have a grasp of what’s a typical or representative product from the community they’re trying to gain attention for. (Rather like a missionary displaying poor quality domestic pottery when he could, at least, be showing what they trade with the tribe next door.)

and elisem:

What it easily can slip into being is condescending. Not saying the nominator in this case meant to condescend, but the missionary aspects of this…

This seems to me like a valid criticism. Well, since I have no professional status in anything particularly, and no vested interest in pretending that I’m a big expert and infallible, why should I not realize this fairly instantly when it’s pointed out to me, and try to respond? And actually, I think about this kind of issue a lot, since I deal with problems of cultural appropriation both as a feminist and as a translator. I had not thought of being an outsider and of perceived condescension in this context. I did make some effort to learn and ask about fanfic communities, as I also asked around about tiptroid SF in non-English languages, and about other genres like comic books. (I actually nominated the comic book “Y: The Last Man” to that end. ) In retrospect, I did not make ENOUGH of an effort for the ambition to push the award’s parameters a little further out. In my defense, I did put quite a lot of effort into it, and into the Tiptree Award as a whole, and overall, I think we all did a good job. It was an amazing education, the entire process.

(Slightly more defensiveness: I can’t know everything about everything, but you know… I do know a hell of a lot about SF and about literature in general, and… (back to the comment made by katallen about class and feminism and women-chopping-wood) actually I am particularly well read in world literature in general, across a broad time span. This, at least, helps me be confident of my own critical judgement having a *very* broad base to draw upon. People who don’t know me personally might not know this, and I tend to get treated like I’m a ditz, and about 20 years younger than I am, and I have found a generally suspicious attitude from some hard-core SF fans who think I have not been fannish enough, or something, because I did not go to Whatevercon for a bazillion years and don’t get their filk jokes. Er, whatever… blow me… Actually I’ve gotten both the “Britney-Spears-listening teenybopper bubblegum-popping ditz” and the “romance-novel-reading men
opausal crazy cat lady” judgements… make up your minds already… which is it? Oh, nevermind, I am large, I contain multitudes… )

(And a side note about comics: as I continue reading them I have developed a fascination with The Hulk, especially Peter David’s work. And I think The Hulk does some amazing explorations of masculinity. The thought of explaining this to a Tiptree jury gives me hives, frankly… Hahahaha… Grimjack is also very cool. But anyway, I love comics now and am looking forward to a lifetime of reading more of them! )

As for the unfinished-ness and roughness, or rawness, of the story: this seems to me comparable to conversations about blogging. Blogging is its own genre. Its literary standards are not the standards of mainstream literature. I maintain that the rawness is part of it: You can blog as if you’re writing a magazine article,but then you’re just writing a magazine article. The experential quality of a blog is important, and its development, its immediacy. It is the exposure of process. It is a little bit like, it’s part of a very intense conversation. A magazine article is a polished monologue. A blog entry is an offered bit of conversation, offered in a way not always possible in face to face life. (And, it woudl be interesting to explore the idea of intimacy, trust, exposure, intimate conversation and ideas people have about pillow talk, in this context.) People engage with blogs like they do with conversations. Now in some ways we think of all textual interaction as conversation. Intertextuality is the history of conversations. But blogs depend on that idea, and push it further, and we don’t really understand what it’s doing or how it works or what that means yet. Fanfic has something similar going on, and no, I am not super qualified to talk about that, but from my seat over here in a somewhat analogous country, I’m waving in recognition. A group production, a community involvement in the production… and absolute exposure of that as a process.

*deep breath* *realization of giant digression*

*** Oh yeah, and also I should link up to Nick Mamatas and commenters – but I haven’t read any of that yet. I’m sure there’s a lot of meanness but also a lot that’s funny in there. At least he has the grace to make fun of the entire Tiptree award, instead of just one author, or me in particular.

It is kind of tempting to do a close reading and mockery of particular badly-written or quirkily-styled sentences from ALL the other Tiptree winners… because you know, that is something that I could easily do. All of them. I love parody, so why not apply it across the board, to make it less of a cheap shot?


The comments in juliansinger‘s journal are also interesting. I try to look past the “Liz is condescending” bits… which I have tried to answer, defend myself a little bit, and learn from… But you know, as if I need special lessons about queer feminist lit, and otherness? How can I help feeling a bit defensive!


Anyway, as I kept reading thassalia’s commenters… and then branching out into their journals (omg, I love the web…) I came across stuff like alara_r’s analysis:

If the body parts are girly, it isn’t manslash. 🙂 If the characters know they have been switched, I am more likely to describe it as “genderfuck”, because there you get a quasi-slash dynamic where Still Guy A *knows* Former Guy B used to be a guy, but now he’s a girl, so the body parts are het but the minds are slash. However, the femslash was femslash because it was a universe where the characters were born women rather than men, so they had no reference point to understand themselves as men, though we the readers knew.

Can I just say again that I think that the theorizing about gender here is great and fascinating? A tip of the hat? Without being accused of being condescending, can I admire and enjoy this discussion? Can we get thassalia or some of these very knowledgeable people as Tiptree jurors? That would be excellent!

Here is a key thought: In order to *get anywhere deep* in discussing why a work is gender-expanding or exploring, you have to : a) talk about your own gender b) talk about your own sexuality and what makes a work “good” for you… jouissance is in many ways about sex. That is part of why these discussions are difficult for some people, perhaps.

And the goal, as I see it, of the Tiptree, and of many feminist endeavors, is to make space for difficult conversations.

For anyone who has gotten through this rambling brain dump… I don’t have time to make it pretty right now … In the interests of transparency and bloggishness, I’m just trying to be as honest as possible and put some ideas out into the world.

Feel free to trash me and my judgement, and make fun of me some more. *sicilian hand gesture* But lay off of the story’s author, okay?

I should do a close reading of some sections of Arcana, and try to show exactly what it was I liked about it.

I liked this comment on Em’s work, from one of her longtime fans:

I’ve been in fandom for a long time, long before the internet in fact. I was absolutely thrilled to see your name listed on the Tiptree Award long list. I remember having to re-read it several times to be certain that it was really you. You have no idea how thrilled I was to see a fanfic from you listed there. It made my day.

and this one:

i don’t really know what we’re talking about, but there are people in fandom who haven’t heard of em brunson?

And I agree with Schnaucl and her commenters. I hope that Em puts her fic back up, and I look forward to reading more of her stories… the crackfic and also published work if that’s where she goes with it in future. I thought her writing was fabulous, entertaining, funny, and thoughtful, and again, I stand by my longlisting of it. Yes, I know (and knew) it was an in-jokey crackfic in answer to a specific community’s challenge… and I thought that was fucking cool.



People have suggested the following sources for slashy, possibly tiptroid fanfic:

Amanuensis – LJ
We Read Crap So that You Won’t Have To

from cofax7:

There are best of lists all over the net. They’re call recommendations sites. Google “Bright Shiny Objects” or “Polyamorous Recommendations” and you’ll find a ton of worthy fiction, of the slashy and non-slashy kind.

The sidebars of those sites look very intriguing.

partial response to Sour Duck's take on the women's visibility panel

This is in response to Sour Duck’s commentary on SXSWi and specifically on the panel I was on… I commented it on her post but then realized it’s so long I might as well repost it here. And I have a lot more to say later in response to her comments on other panels!


First, I do know that some people got where I was coming from, and got something out of it.

I was trying to avoid having to explain what the patriarchy was or defend the very idea that sexism exists in general or on the web or in tech. Without having to explain that, I knew we could push much further into “So now what.”  I was not there to do Feminism 101 for SXSWi. That would be a different panel…  It might be quite useful to have it, as well as a panel of “And here’s about 8 bazillion examples of evil sexism that I as a woman in tech have experienced.”  Which, actually, all of us on the panel talked about to some extent, but decided was not the point.

I think Jan’s position was to approach the solution by facing down internal barriers women have that make them feel that self-promotion is wrong. Her solution was not just “kick ass 10 times more than the men around you”… but also “and don’t forget to tell the world about it.” What she was saying on the panel was a direct demonstration of that philosophy. Not to wait to be asked, or looked for, but to step up and say “I’m great at my work and here’s why and here’s how to find me.”  I agree with Jan that this is crucial. Diffidence and niceness isn’t going to help fix anything. I think it’s possible to do this without becoming part of the problem – i.e. do it without stepping on anyone else.

I wanted, though, to take a different approach. I suggested a systemic technological fix  — as the furthest thing I could think of from Jan’s solution. (At least, the furthest thing that seems within women’s grasp, and that doesn’t involve violent revolution.)  

I was not suggesting tagging. Instead, two things: an extension to xml, something like xfn, that people could use to mark up their pages to indicate authorship and identity. It could be built in to existing tools, or added to whatever people like Kaliya are doing with identity authentication layers, or be xml… but it would create standards for people to declare their identities or affinities – including gender, but I also mentioned race as an example.   There’s room for discussion of what that would look like.   

The second part of my proposal is that tools be built to use that information.  Currently, we look at a set of all pages (for google or other search engines) or of blogs (for Technorati or whatever other blog-specific search engines.)  so we know by Technorati’s algorithms what blogs are considered the most important by other bloggers. We *can’t* ask the question, “Who are the most important bloggers in the view of all the *women* bloggers?” or “in the view of all the *non-male* bloggers?”

If we had gender identity data we could see if the answer to that question.  What blogs do women rank most highly? What blogs do men rank most highly? What male-identified ( tiny joke…)  blogs do non-males think are most interesting?  etc.   Extend this to race and you might see how it could be both fascinating and useful.  

The mere fact that those answers would all be different means that we should do it and see what the answers ARE.   Also, seeing their differences shows directly how we construct “value” and ranking, and how that value depends on the identity of the constructors.  So what I am suggesting is actually rather radical. I am saying that tech can give us a direct way to take the power of constructing value, and own it, and make it very very transparent.

Of course that data could be used for scary purposes, but…. I guarantee you it already IS… or will be.  So why not build it to be open and used by everyone?

Not everyone would identify themselves, but enough would that we would get interesting data.  It would actually allow us to “name the problem” MORE than we can now with existing vision.

It would make women more visible to each other, and it would also make them more visible to men who cared to look at what women’s standards of aesthetics, usefulness, and value are.  

You might argue that it will not matter if those aesthetics are visible; patriarchy basically guarantees that women’s standards and power will be denigrated, belittled, etc.  In other words what women assert is valuable, patriarchy will devalue *because* women like it. One merely has to breathe a hint that “teenybopper girls” or “housewives” like something for it to become the epitome of unpowerful. Consider romance novels; they *sell*. By all rights their continued existence should change something about what is considered valuable – they have this huge economic power. But… are they Literature? Somehow… (sarcasm) Not.  HOrribly.. I remember this same dynamic being pointed out to me when I first joined the STC in the early 90s – I was warned that because women were succeeding in “infiltrating” tech writing, tech writing was going to become a low-power pink-collar job.  THAT sort of thing.   Anyway, you could argue this against what I’m proposing. And you would be quite right to argue it.  I don’t think it’s a good reason for not DOING it, though.

Tara and Virginia had other things to say, but I thought I’d try to make my own statement a little more clear.

My 2 metaphors, which I just didn’t have time on the panel to go into, and I realized they were too wacky to pass without a lot of explanation… were … well… “radical fuzzy separatism” which just cracked me up as a name… because I’m suggesting a temporary separatism and one with fuzzy boundaries.  The other metaphor is of Maxwell’s Demon. Think of patriarchy, or racism, as being Maxwell’s Demon, i.e. an invisible and imaginary and impossible Agency, a being sitting at the tiny doorway between two chambers and keeping them separate… picking particles out of the air with tiny tweezers, perhaps…    We could shoot the demon maybe; we could point out who’s wearing the demon suit; we could exhort various particles to whiz around faster so they can trick the demon and get through the door; what I was proposing is to recognize the shape of the system itself and, well, drill some new holes between the two chambers. But first you have to know where the walls are.  

Woolf Camp

woolf camp
Originally uploaded by Liz Henry.

Here’s some of the crowd at WoolfCamp, a writing/blogging retreat.

Duuuuude! It was heavenly to hang out with those 30+ women and 5 men, most of them with laptops surgically attached to their bodies. All people who find it normal to listen while typing. In fact, typing during a conversation is a compliment; it means you’re taking notes because the conversation is so cool you want to write it up in realtime.

We had discussions on ideas like:

– Who is your audience, and why do you care?
– Gender, blogging as a genre
– Blogging, business, and feminism
– tagging; thinking about tagging
– memoir

And demos/workshops like

– nifty bloggy techie tools
– art blogging
– videoblogging and podcasting

And there was a poetry reading. I swear, I had no idea people really *wanted* a poetry reading. They did, and lots of people participated.

Grace, Jackie and I wanted to mix up literary, arty, and techie people a bit, and bring together people who love blogging, in an unconferencey, informal way. We had a feminist take on the event, are closely connected with BlogHer and mommyblogging, and wanted to work hard to bring people into the conversation who might usually hang back.

One of my main goals was to bring people together. I was so happy to see everyone making personal connections, and I got to meet a lot of awesome bloggers! Intensity, and people who get excited about ideas, give me energy. I don’t require people to prove themselves as some kind of big technical expert, or a zillionaire, or ask them where they work, before I listen to their ideas and take them seriously! The non-“legitimate” people are often edge-thinkers who don’t just think outside the box, they live outside it. (That automatically includes most mommybloggers, especially the potty-mouthed and dirty minded kind.)

My own favorite conversations were in the “gender and genre” discussion, diva-ed by Amber Hatfield; I also loved the ideas thrown around in “Who’s your audience” diva-ed by Emily!

Personal blogging had many strong voices in the mix. It was a given that personal blogging can be a political and feminist act. I liked what Emily said: “If I like what you write, I want to read everything about everything. Your kids, your job, your bowel movements. So I like it all mashed up, which is how I love to blog.”

Chris Heuer answered with this excellent thought about the importance of categories and tagging in mixy-uppy blogging: “The whole self is very intriguing. But we don’t have enough time to get to know everyone on that deep level.”

It was also a given that blogging was a serious literary or artistic endeavor – or can be. That in itself was interesting and empowering. We were a group of people who share that belief.

I have more to say, and in more detail, but I’ve been flying on one brain cell for the last couple of days, and have a lot going on, for school, writing projects, and friends in crisis.

Can some of the people who took notes in discussions, post them raw?

at the BlogHer launch party

January 2006 068
Originally uploaded by Jo Spanglemonkey.

I’m blogging on Latin America as a contributing editor for Blogher. Karen Walrond of Chookooloonks is also covering the region – she’s taking anything Caribbean and I’m, in theory, linking up with blogging women from the rest of Latin America. The idea is not to cover news, as Global Voices does, but instead, to look at what women are writing.

My hope is that English-speaking and Spanish-speaking women bloggers will become more aware of each other, and will jump into conversation with each other, unmediated by me, on each other’s blogs. Even if they’re monolingual, they can use automated translators like Google Language Tools or Babelfish to read each others’ posts and comments.

I’m hoping to be a good party host, introducing people to each other and facilitating the start of their conversation. Look, there I am in the photo at the BlogHer Launch Party, raising my glass… It’s a GREAT party.

If even a few people become aware of each other, I’ll be so happy! And at the very least, English speaking bloggers will become more aware they aren’t the only ones talking. I hope that I can serve as a translator, though I’ll be an imperfect one, to help make this happen.

My other very strong hope is that someone will step up and “cover” blogging-women’s Brazil, because I’m already overwhelmed and I don’t know Portuguese! There are so many fantastic Brazilian bloggers, I’d go crazy trying to read everything.
Thanks to BlogHer founders Lisa Stone, Elisa Camahort, and Jory Des Jardines for a great site and a fun party!

how long it takes to make connections

I was coalescing vaguely this morning about the length of time in a woman’s life that it takes her to make connections with other women. Because of the ways tokenism works, if you’re sort of “successful” in the male-dominated world then you’re cut off in some ways… the isolations of nuclear families also factor in…

So I notice in feminist utopian fiction the women hit a point later in life where they start connecting. They get into the secret menopause club and all talk to each other. Like in Suzette Haden Elgin’s “Native Tongue”. I could make lists of books that show this pattern.

Maybe that’s what blogs and the net are changing. We find each other earlier in life. We get reinforcement and like-minded ideas, we can go further in thought because we don’t have to keep starting from the beginning in our explanations.