I just came back from attending and speaking at the Blogher '11 conference.
I generally enjoy any good gathering of women, but this one had me off-the-charts inspired.
Why? The energy of 3600 women coming together in a positive spirit. The topic: women blogging, which really means women finding their voices, sharing their ideas and creating online spaces for the conversations that matter most to them.
I'll admit it, when a crowd of these women jumped up from lunch one day and starting dancing in a choreographed flash mob, huge grins across their faces, I got a little choked up. When you think about the access to education, technology and political power -- and to each other -- that women in the developed world now possess, it is clear: this is a time like no other for women to write and see their ideas make an impact in the world.
So why the anger? It had to do with what I could see about our culture from the vantage point I had at BlogHer.
At BlogHer, I was suddenly in a different universe, one in which the concerns that are at the center of so many women's lives were put front and center. Most BlogHer attendees write about what would traditionally be considered "women's" or "feminine" topics: parenting, relationships, caring for the wellbeing of their loved ones through food and health and creating a beautiful and functional home. At BlogHer, these topics were given great weight and importance. It felt like seeing a subterranean subculture rise above ground.
Being in that alternate universe for a few days, it became clear to me how marginalized and trivialized these topics are in our mainstream media and in our culture.
They are relegated to women's magazines and TV shows.
They are seen as "light," and frivolous.
Those who write about them are labeled with the patronizing term "mommy-bloggers." I would suggest, "those ensuring we have a kind, decent and wise next generation" as an alternative term.
It was also evident in the lack of presence from the rest of the technology world at the conference. Cereal and makeup companies were there, but somehow, almost none of the tech companies who sell services and software to bloggers saw this as a relevant group to promote to.
Of course, this is about something much larger than BlogHer. It is about the continued devaluing of the feminine in our culture, our delusional collective belief that the domain of heart is less important than the domain of the head, that the public realm is somehow more serious than the domestic one. That talk about business, politics and science are of greater importance than talk about mothering, marriage or creating beautiful moments among family and friends. This is so ingrained in our culture that most of us see this as simply "the way things are," but the truth is -- it could be different.
I can imagine a very different cultural reality -- one in which traditionally feminine topics are given their due importance. When that is happening, here are a few of the radical things we might expect to see:
In Media: The front page of the New York Times will include stories about political and economic news, but also about parenting, relationships and topics related to creating a healthy and nurturing home environment. Personal accounts and opinion pieces will be given more weight, because we'll recognize that so called "objective" journalism was very subjective after all. Publications that focus primarily on feminine topics -- lifestyle, home, relationships, etc. -- will be seen as equal in importance to those covering political and business news. Yep, Elle Décor and Businessweek will be seen as peers in prestige and social value.
In Development, Architecture, and Design: There will be greater attention to beauty and aesthetics everywhere: in our office buildings, on our freeways, in our schools. Beauty will be seen as important in our collective spaces, not only in the home realm. The aesthetic we see in communal spaces, from airports to office parks, will feel as feminine as it does masculine -- in colors, patterns and textures. (Have you noticed now how pretty much everything outside the home and women's boutiques is designed in a very un-feminine aesthetic? Let's think about what that is really about.)
In Politics and Business: The illusion that rationality rules will be busted, and we'll collectively acknowledge how emotions drive business and political decisions. It will be considered obvious that the capacity to understand and manage one's emotional life is the foundation for wise governance and leadership.
In Thought Leadership: The thought leaders and innovators in the fields of design, fashion, cooking, child-rearing, crafting, etc. will be seen as as gifted, visionary and important as those in the fields of business, politics, science.
The American women's movement has focused primarily on fighting for women's access to power, as power has been defined by the patriarchal culture. Those forms of power include access to higher education, access to careers in fields long dominated by men, financial independence and the right to own property, to vote and hold office.
Those are all incredibly important, and the victories that have occurred in these arenas are blessings I am profoundly grateful for. They are important in their own right, and also as strategic first steps that allow women enough political and economic power to fight other fights.
There is a second movement that can now emerge. That movement involves our collective reclamation of all that is feminine: our seeing it as needed, valuable, vital to our wellbeing. It has to do with the feminine taking prominence in the public realm, not just the private one. It has to do with balancing masculine and feminine energies in our society, and seeing feminine concerns, sensibilities, and ways of being as equally valuable to masculine ones.
Because the feminine has been so long and deeply marginalized in our culture, it will take acts of imagination for all of us to conceive of what that means, what it looks like. So, for all of us, it's time to start imagining.