Since the weekend, and the whole feminism/blogfest thing, I’ve read an awful lot of blogposts about that particular session. I’ve seen people upset, and angry that they were misunderstood or misinterpreted, people who were there upset about the reaction of the room, people who weren’t there alleging that the panellists were bullied and misheard.
And I don’t think I’ve seen anyone discussing power and perspective.
I sat on a stage in a different room during that conference, and it was an odd experience. The room below us was dark, and it was difficult to see the faces of people asking us questions. Each time I looked out into the room, I could see various arms waving, but we could only take one question at a time, and I’m sure some people never got the chance to speak. No big deal, perhaps, when all we were discussing was technical issues around blogging, hosting, and so on.
But, go back to the feminism/ mummy blogging panel.
You had a select group on the stage, who presumably were chosen at least in part because they were deemed to have some authority on the topics to be discussed. (Obviously they might also have been chosen to draw a crowd, but I don’t think there was any particularly big name on that panel, unlike the group who kickstarted the day.)
There were two topics – feminism, and mummy blogging.
The panellists mainly didn’t appear to have much knowledge of what they deemed to be mummy blogging – apart from Alison Perry from Not another mummy blog. And the bloggers, and non bloggers in the audience, reacted predictably to being judged and found wanting just by virtue of not being interesting enough to be read.
Their voices were shown on the large screen, scrolling behind the panellists and creating predictable waves of reaction in themselves.
Then someone turned the screen off.
Instantly, what small amount of power and voice the audience had was removed from them.
Now, what happens when you have a power imbalance? Is it ever good? I’ve seen a lot of people saying that the panellists felt bullied and put upon by the audience reaction. And I didn’t like the feeling of the room. But I’m betting the largest number of people in that room were sitting muttering to their neighbours or tweeting, and practically sitting on their hands to stay out of the discussion. We weren’t hissing people. We weren’t booing. We were dismayed that in coming to address an audience of strong opinionated women, there to learn about technology and how to raise their voices, most of the panel hadn’t really bothered to think about who they would be talking to or what their concerns could be.
I do think that staying at home can be a feminist act actually. Because it is expressing my power and choice and not just taking the path chosen for me by anyone else. It’s a struggle, financially, some of the time. I’d be a lot better off if I were in my IT office, but I’d just be in the ratrace, and I wouldn’t be doing anything to change it for anyone. My choices and changes are made by writing here. By, to coin a phrase, commodifying my family life.
I don’t particularly like that either. It feels like selling out this place that started as my over the fence chats with my long distance neighbours. But it really only feels that way *because* other people put their expectations on to my behaviour. And I’m not about to let other people decide how I behave.
I’m sorry that anyone on the panel felt upset or bullied. The majority of the women in that room I suspect to some extent felt sidelined and diminished by some panel members. Does that make us even? It doesn’t. Because for each reader I have here, numbering in the 100s if I’m lucky, thousands will have seen the panellists’ responses in places like the New Statesmen.
It’s always about power and perspective. And I think that some members of the panel, and their online friends with their louder voices and larger audiences are forgetting the very people that perhaps they should be speaking out for and to, when they speak about us.