According to the reports and my first-hand experience, the 700 and some women bloggers who attended Blogher06 were a diverse bunch. It wasn’t so much because of diversity in race, sexual orientation, or age. People who attended Blogher05 say that if anything this year’s conference seemed somewhat more “heteronormative” (they also say that Blogher can be as diverse as we all can make it; we just have to speak up). Blogher06 got itself in trouble because it pulled together people with more different backgrounds, skills, interests, and goals than your average conference.
There were women geeks, technology-centric gals (but fewer than in true hi-tech conferences, some complained); there were women writers (people who talked of “copy” referring to online content); there were many mommy bloggers. There were those who wanted to make the world a better place, trigger social change, and build communities; there were those who wanted to make their blog into a business that could pay their bills.
There was overlap, of course. Many mommy bloggers were writers. Many geeks had children. Some moms were geeks. Many writers wanted to change the world. And yet—among the love, hugs, kisses, and squeals—there was also a palpable sense of discomfort in meeting other sectors of the female blogging world that “didn’t look or feel anything like us.” Somebody felt a clique-y athmosphere, although hardly impenetrable if you had the guts to jump in (I did not always have the guts).
Although outside the conference some strong words were written and debated, I don’t think the discomfort towards people “different from us” ever became true intolerance at the conference. It did express at times as surprise, reflection, exclusion, distance, or indifference.
Even within myself, my multiple identities pulled me in opposite directions. Should I go to the sessions on blogging for political and social change? Or should I rather learn more about making money with my blog? Most of the times I choose the former over the latter (I even left the session From here to autonomy with Heather Armstrong and Arieanna Foley midway to join the Community Assistance session with Betty Sullivan, Sara Ford, Grace Davis, and Dina Mehta). But I wonder if it was more because of guilt than passionate conviction.
Let’s make one thing clear. Anything that allows women (mommies or not mommies) to reach financial independence is a radical and political act. Women still tend earn less money; they save less, live longer, and are more at risk for poverty, especially as they get older. So, the ability of women to create wealth for themselves and their families through blogging is a good thing.
I suspect that our discomfort in dealing with sponsors, advertising and money talk comes from the way blogs make money.
Most blogs make money through advertising. Advertising is pushy, unpleasant, slightly stinky, and not easy to control. Unless one is really famous and has a killer traffic, one usually doesn’t have full control on who can advertise on one’s site. Deep inside, we feel that advertising is a parasite way to make money.
Let’s say that you decide to advertise and don’t have control on who pops up on your site. Can you live at ease with yourself when you are promoting a company whose work practices, environmental practices, competitive practices may make the world a worse place? And if we decide that we don’t want to do it, how do we feel about fellow women bloggers who choose to do it anyway? How do we feel about people who express a behavior we don’t agree with and, worse, may hurt our cause or go against our beliefs?
Add to all this that making enough money to support yourself with your blog is not easy. Even the divine Heather Armstrong said that blogging for money generates anxiety and can consume your life.
Some of the discomfort with the money talk at Blogher (at least for me) reveals the conflict between narrowing our field of view around ourselves and our family or thinking about the greater good: should we save ourselves or should we save the world?
And the answer is: we need to find a way to save both. There is not us without the world (and between global warming, energy crisis, and violent conflicts this has never been more true than today). But I don’t think we are ready yet to play saint and martyr either.
I think that Blogher, in its imperfect, brave, and endearing way, tried to do just that: discuss our own salvation as well as the world salvation. Let’s be grateful for the attempt.