Last weekend I attended ‘Podcamp Boston’, a conference dedicated to social media workshops and conversations. The relaxed approach allowed a variety of topics to be discussed in and outside the confines of a conference room. Although all the in-room panels were useful and relevant to my interests, the most thought provoking moment for me stemmed from an informal lunchtime session.
This conversation, entitled ‘Girl power’, was intended to be just that: a meaningful, inspiring conversation about women and technology. Boy was I wrong. Within minutes it transformed from an effort about female empowerment to essentially a conversation about how we need to understate the fact that we are a woman in order to be active participants in the technological world.
The feminist inside of me was sorely disappointed. Surely, there were lots of opinions—spoken and not (I chose to listen versus contribute)—and I do get arguably over-involved with gender issues, but this raised a very important question for me to consider: Could the blogosphere ever be gender neutral? I say no: So much of our personal experiences are shaped by the way we were raised, and we were often raised with techniques based on our gender.
As a woman active in the technological sphere (with an avid interest in gender studies and feminist theories), this question raised several points of note for me.
1. Look in the mirror.
[And for simplicity's sake, let's assume your gender corresponds with your biological components.]
Instead of trying to hide the fact that we are female, maybe we should just accept it and “deal”. It is human nature to initially describe someone based on their gender, we do it on a daily basis without even realizing it. By identifying as female, you are not automatically perpetuating stereotypes or feeding into the patriarchal system. You are not automatically an advocate of women and technology. If people automatically associate stereotypes with you and your blog, that is beyond your control.
2. Writing without a lil personality is boring.
If you’re writing a blog about something technical, then maybe your gender isn’t important to your writing. In every other case though, it should be. You’re writing based on your own perspective. And while your perspective can be based on a whole lot of experiences, surely the fact that you’re female has shaped your life in some way. Surely.
3. I am woman, hear me roar!
Why does being a woman in technology have to have a negative connotation? Why do people have the idea that being a woman will make your message less important? The blogosphere is still a relatively new frontier with new social constructs to be developed. Your message is just as important, and as long as you treat it as such from the beginning it should be interpreted as such.
As with a lot of conversations related to gender constructs on the internet, I do think the overarching topic here is looking at self-identity. Could I ever train myself to not identify myself first as a woman? Probably not. And so more questions arise: What is the difference between being a female blogger versus a blogger? What do we even mean or hope to accomplish by deeming things ‘gender neutral’ as far as writing goes? Discuss.