I went to the BlogHer conference in San Francisco, even though I could have stayed at my home in Austin and gone to the Netroots Nation blogging conference. I wish I could say it was an informed, carefully calculated decision — but the truth is, I registered early for BlogHer and didn’t know about the Netroots dates till it was too late.
Now, all of a sudden, some of the blogosphere is aiming salvos about the merits of the two conferences and which of the two got better press coverage. Both were covered by The New York Times, but the Netroots group was highlighted in the paper’s news section and treated more seriously. The BlogHer conference was only featured in the paper’s Sunday Fashion & Style section in an article (http://www.nytimes.com/2008/07/27/fashion/27blogher.html?scp=1&sq=blogher%20conference&st=cse) that mentioned the mostly female conference’s lactating room and self-affirmation quotes in the restroom stalls.
Netroots was more male, more strictly political. BlogHer was mostly female and wasn’t narrowly focused on any particular issue. Reading articles and comments about the controversy, such as Rebecca Traister’s in Salon (http://www.salon.com/mwt/broadsheet/2008/07/30/blogher_convention/index.html), is confusing. Did female bloggers set themselves up not to be taken as seriously by segregating themselves by sex? Why did the Times limit its BlogHer coverage to its frothiest section? Can mommybloggers get respect? Why, oh, why, did the Times have to mention the lactation room and the self-affirmation quotes? And, finally, what role did the patriarchy play in all of this?
Too many questions. I tend to go into a coma every time somebody mentions the patriarchy, which is probably a sign of exactly how indoctrinated I am in this whole fascist and sexist world. But that’s all right. I’ll live.
But a few observations occur to me.
First, how could anyone not mention the lactation room? (I never saw the self-affirmation quotes in the restroom stalls, but will take their existence on good faith.) But the lactation room was definitely there. I’d never been to a conference with a lactation room before, so what kind of idiot feature writer would fail to mention it?
Second, did the two conferences have anything resembling the same agendas? I went to the BlogHer conference out of curiosity, because I wanted to meet other bloggers, and because if you don’t get out of the house sometimes, you get a little weird. The Netroots conference, as I understand it, was more about the flexing of bloggers’ political heft. And those bloggers tended to be more male than female, even if the conference’s name wasn’t sex-specific.
I liked the BlogHer conference. The women were kind and interesting and supportive of one another. They write about everything from motherhood to health to religion to menopause, and I’m inclined to think that their lack of one-note specificity is more peculiarly female than male. In fact, I see that continuing lack of specificity in my own blog, even though the advice I always get is to find your niche and stay there.
But I don’t have a goddamned niche. And neither, in a way, did the BlogHer conference. Which is perhaps why it got underestimated and under-represented in the press coverage. But isn’t that brouhaha a little strange, too? Throughout the blogging conference, I kept hearing that the mainstream media was so over and moribund. And now we’re complaining because it doesn’t cover us?
(Copyright 2008 by Ruth Pennebaker)