Christine Egger pointed me to a very thought-provoking post today that I want to stop and noodle on a bit with you.

Venessa Miemis discusses “How to be a Woman in a Man’s World” – picking up initially on a recent post from Clay Shirky, titled “A Rant About Women.”  Shirky’s post, or rant, claims women “aren’t just bad at behaving like arrogant self-aggrandizing jerks. They are bad at behaving like self-promoting narcissists, anti-social obsessives, or pompous blowhards, even a little bit, even temporarily, even when it would be in their best interests to do so.”  Some of this sentiment has been shared before in the blogosphere, especially in the conversations (debates?) about the lack of women on the presenting line up at conferences or other high-profile settings (especially in the tech sector).

In response to the comment danah boyd left on Clay’s post, Venessa poses the question: “What are the expectations for women (or what should they be) as we progress into an increasingly interdependent global society?”

Venessa ends her post with this great passage:

I think we’re seeing a shift in the values we find commendable in society, and it’s not about men or women being better. It’s about being co-designers of a healthy, equitable society. It’s about keeping an eye on the big picture, and trying to live up to a standard that’s captures the essence of what it means to be human. And I don’t think that’s going to be accomplished through acting like anti-social obsessives or pompous blowhards. It’s going to be through empathy, altruism, and collaboration.

You can read the full post, How to be a Woman in a Man’s World, here.

My comment to Venessa:

Hi Venessa –

I have been blogging for a few years (professionally – personal blogs for many years) and have reached enough people that I do feel I have a community of readers, though no where near your 30,000.  When I tried to contact Clay I received a response within the hour.  But unlike any of your methods, I emailed him.  I have never gotten a response from him on Twitter or elsewhere. And reading your introduction about your trials of making contact despite all your other accomplishments and accolades juxtaposed with mine, made me think:

Maybe I simply went where he was, or where he was comfortable, or where he wanted to connect.

As I read the rest of your post (incredibly thought-provoking!), I started to think about how my reaction to the first part, actually came back to me over and over again.

Maybe it’s because I’m a “Millennial” and we have as a generation rethought or redesigned so many aspects of public and “private” identity, but I think less about if the person I am trying to connect with, the community I am trying to serve (I work in the nonprofit sector), or the audience I’m trying to reach is a man or a woman, or if they are arrogant or shy.  I ask myself where do they want to go? How do they want me to connect with them?

This could very easily turn into a post of its own and maybe I’ll write something up – but, mostly, thank you for continuing to explore in this public place and inviting us to explore with you.

I know that my focus probably starts to wander from where Venessa originally intended the meat of her post to focus, but I’m curious what you think.

Is it really about gender?

Or is it about place, process, voice, or something else?  Looking forward to your ideas!

Is it really about gender?
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  • I totally agree.
    My standpoint is that as long as you’re not making it be about gender, it turns out to really not be about gender at all. I’m of the opinion that, apart from the obvious physical differences, men and women are just two of a kind. (Which has granted me quite a few confused reactions.)

    I think that as long as you’re not making it be about where people want to go or how they want to connect, it’s really not about that either. But making it be about those topics makes for a far more inspiring world than continuing to defend and separate your own gender from the other half of the human population.

    • Thanks so much for joining the conversation, Robert-Jon!

      I’m really glad you did. I would never be one to say that as a global community we are moving past gender differences, inequalities, or unbalanced expectations. But, like you’ve said below, if we don’t make the way we do our work or do our communication hinge on gender, we can create a much more compelling environment.

      Thanks again.

  • Hi Amy!

    Wow, a post about Gender and social media? How can I not respond?
    🙂 I majored in literature and gender studies, not social media and gender studies, but since I’ve been blogging since 1999, and using social media at work since 2007, I want to take a stab at answering this.

    I have often wondered why so many women do not seem to be able to get as much “popularity” or “backing” as men in the social media field (where’s the female Seth Godin, for instance?) or other fields (such as publishing). Why are so many women not represented on panels?

    It seems that some exceptional women are allowed to be that, exceptions, but overall, women’s voices, even if they have incredible things to say, are muffled or ignored. Look at BlogHer, and She’s Geeky. We wouldn’t need these conferences and resources if there weren’t a deep imbalance of women in tech. Look at the epidemic of 100 million missing women around the world (From India to China to Africa) (As NYT columnist Nicolas Kristof and Cheryl WuDunn have catalogued in their book, “Half the Sky”, and numerous NYTimes Magazine features.). In their words, women’s issues are seen as a “soft” issue, one that doesn’t have the “urgency” of, say, a massive earthquake in Haiti. Yet the inequity of women kills more women and girls every year than all of those who died in Tianamen Square.

    So in short, few women presenting at conferences has nothing to do with women not being able to talk like pompous, self-aggrandizing blowhards. I’ve heard women talk that way. And I’ve also lived overseas in Korea and Indonesia, and seen firsthand what women’s lives are like in Asia. The glass ceiling is more of a steel one. Women are devalued to the point of becoming mere objects. And just because we’re speaking from the comfort of our first world countries doesn’t mean we don’t have this as our cultural subtext as well. We just hide it better. (See Chris Hedges’ “The Empire of Illusion, The Illusion of Love” chapter in particular here.) Or go to Sociological Images.org.

    In short, women aren’t represented at conferences because of classism, misogyny, gender oppression, less opportunity, less belief in self, lack of positive and loud female social media role models with the REACH of male ones, and a devaluation of female intellectual inquiry, generally.

    If anyone disagrees with me here, I’d love to hear counter-examples.

    • Thank you, Mazarine, for sharing so deeply here! I think the cultural subtext you bring up is an important part of the gender conversation and think that even within our “comfortable first world countries” we have to be aware of the subcultures and the differences in social behavior.

      I’m really interested to see what others think here!

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