August 3rd, 2005


I spent Saturday surrounded by women. Outspoken, expressive, smart, confident women. Powerful women. I'd be lying if i pretended i wasn't a little afraid walking into it. It's not every day i put myself explicitly in the position of outsider. Every previous conference i've attended has been overwhelmingly male, but none were defined that way. And here i was at an event whose very definition excludes me (yes, i know men were welcome, but the whole point of the event was to be a conference for non-men). What was i thinking? I wasn't there to achieve anything, which is a bit of an unusual feeling for me. Was i there to prove something? Was i there to anthropologize? Mostly i think i went because i was curious. I guess i have a thirst for new situations.

It was uncomfortable at first. I sat down in a room full of people i didn't know who were all talking to each other about things i didn't know. I stayed quiet as a lively discussion blossomed about whether and how women ought to gain a louder voice online. Later i joined a table talking about feminism and politics and introduced myself to the young woman next to me. She turned to me and said with evident disdain, "Hi, male." I mentally raised an eyebrow. "I do have a name," i replied, and went on feeling a little less welcome.

It has never seemed to me that women were automatically less capable of anything in particular, only that there have been frustratingly few of them in many of the circles in which i move. So when i hear about women being patronized, put down, told to shut up, afraid to speak their mind because of their sex, it causes me some cognitive dissonance. And i heard about these things a lot that day. There's a lot of justified anger out there, and sometimes i fear that some of it will be directed at me.

I'm constantly impressed by women. To pick a few at this conference, anyone who can muster the strength and spirit to be funny and prolific and entertaining and provocative and honest 24/7 while coping with the rest of life is damn impressive. I've had to deal with a lot of dissatisfaction and self-doubt lately, and one thing these people are teaching me is the value of cultivating a positive and lighthearted outlook. The only regret i have is that i wasn't quite brave enough to meet any of these five writers in person (and there are many more). I hope to correct that someday.

It was nice to run into people i knew — Liz, Adina, chimerically, danah, Nancy. There was more recording at this conference than anything i've seen — bloggers, cameras, videocameras, and microphones everywhere. I got interviewed briefly by Mini and had a microphone thrust in front of me by Ponzi. The day ended with an extended conversation about feminism with Samantha, S, and A. What they had to say made a lot of sense. It was extremely comforting to be able to express differences of opinion and not feel looked upon as an attacker. I got over some of my fears. I felt i'd made three new friends and wish i had been able to stay for dinner after that.

This description is right on. Regardless of whether it can be attributed to being a "female thing", there was a lot of listening at this conference. I really liked the way the sessions were run — passing microphones around the audience for most of the time, instead of filling slots with presentations and only having a few minutes at the end to squeeze in questions. It meant less lecturing and more sharing of opinions and experiences.

I listened. I learned. I met people. It was worth it.