Earlier this year, Jamie Talbot wrote a Medium post about how it felt to be the minority at a conference titled “Is This What It’s Like For Women At Every Conference?”
My first reaction was ‘It’s not always like that.’
Yes, it’s like that sometimes. Sometimes it’s not. Sometimes it’s better, sometimes it’s worse, sometimes it’s so horrible you leave early. Sometimes you want it to never end. But yes, it can be like that. And I wonder sometimes what’s it like to be a man at a conference? Is everything really catered to them by default? Is it like being a native english speaker at these events? Or a right handed person? Or an average height person? Are those even fair comparisons?
The difficulties for many of us with this topic is discussing it without fear of retribution. Well that’s what it is for me. I worry that what I say will be taken in the worst way possible and I’ll be blasted for it. I worry that when I talk about it, people will dismiss it because I’m too close to the situation, or since I’ve never been assaulted I don’t have the right (1 in 5 women in the US have been, I am incredibly lucky), or I side ‘too much’ with men, or … well it goes on in that vein.
To them, I say this: What happened to me was different. In no way whatsoever will I EVER claim that invalidates what happened to you.
So what’s it like being a woman at a conference and how is it different than being a man? I never forget I’m a woman, and that comes with inherent dangers. I went to WordCamp Boston last month, across the continent from my home, with no friends in my hotel, or close family near by. I’ll be going to Vegas next month. I don’t drink much (if at all) at WordCamps, and especially not when I’m on my own.
“Oh but the WordCampers will never bother you at the after party!”
Probably true. Gosh I hope it’s true. But I still have to get back to my hotel afterwards. What are my options? Most of the time I can walk (I pick hotel locations like that whenever possible), but do I walk alone when I’m tired and a little tipsy? That’s dangerous. Do I go with a man I trust? What mixed messages might I send, even though all the men I trust in WP know (a) I’m married and (b) I’m gay. There’s a possibility there I cannot ignore. And do I say goodbye at the hotel door, or my room? I might get attacked in the hallway (it happens). What about heading back in a group of women? That’s generally a safer idea, though I’ve had cases where women indicated they were worried about sending me a mixed message. After all. I’m gay. If I go sober and alone, am I at less of a risk or more of a risk? I can’t carry mace or pepper spray in all states, so I don’t travel with it, which means I’m at the behest of my own personal ability to defend myself.
I want to stress something. This is the thought process of a woman who has never been assaulted. No one’s ever jumped me. I’ve never had to do more than say “Not interested” (once). I’ve got a lot of good friends in WP, so rarely am I totally, 100%, without nearby contacts. I tend to trade numbers with people at events whom I know aren’t going to get shit faced, so in a crisis, I can call them. I always make sure my family knows where I’m going to be.
It’s far simpler, safer, to go sober no matter what.
This has nothing to do with how much I trust, or don’t trust, the men in WP, and everything to do with the way the world has been set up. It’s not set up to my benefit, and I have to be aware of that. It’s like how I don’t get to be me. I don’t get to be ignorant of the fact that I’m a woman.
Before this posted, I ran into Wells Riley’s post titled “Guys, stop sexualizing women in your mockups” which is a great read. In it he points out the Blurred Lines gender-swap parody makes him massively uncomfortable:
At the same time he rightly notes it’s really not all that different from the original. And this is, alas, the point. It’s not until you are faced with these things in a way that makes you feel bad that you generally understand exactly what it means. What that video clearly shows is what is acceptable in a portrayal of women in today’s media. That then skews people into thinking that behavior is acceptable in the real world. And that is why I don’t get to be ignorant of being a woman. Because a number of people will look at me and see an object, not a person, and generally those people who think that way are larger, stronger, and more numerous than me.
That video doesn’t make me uncomfortable because I’m already accustomed to being objectified simply based on my very gender. But if it makes you feel widgy and like there’s something massively wrong in this world, then I think it served it’s point. I just wish the damn tune wasn’t so catchy.