24 July 2009

Female Role Models

I read something at Matthew Yglesias' blog on Friday that really pissed me off.
I used to think that US Senate Barbara Boxer was an experienced legislator with a solid progressive record on the issues. But then I read this Politico article in which various anonymous people criticize her “abrasive personal style” and “outspoken partisan liberal” demeanor. Big trouble! And then I got to thinking, I recall having read similar critiques of Judge Sonia Sotomayor. And Hillary Clinton as a presidential candidate and now as Secretary of State has been subjected to similar criticism. Nancy Pelosi, too.
If I ever called a reporter friend and said, "gee, Senator Kennedy was really mean to me today - he yelled and everything," I'd get laughed off the phone. The US Senate is the big leagues of American politics. If you feel the need to whine anonymously to the media, just don't show up for work.

But Yglesias touches on a more important point, and it's been happening forever. If a poweful, ambitious and smart man yells or says something mean, he's just trying to get things done. If a powerful, ambitious and smart woman does the same thing, she has an "abrasive personal style" - or much worse.

I thought this was the kind of attitude that led to the establishment of BlogHer - an important and influential organization that advocated for women bloggers. Something about giving those who hadn't really had a voice or a platform to assert their own abilities and form a true community. Helping people find their voice and advocate for themselves has always been the reason I've worked in public service. The stories of people using social media to have real influence on important issues are the stories I want to highlight most here.

And then I read the reactions to this year's BlogHer conference. I read about people throwing elbows -- AND HITTING BABIES -- to get at swag bags, stealing dolls, taking babies to bars, and launching attacks on Twitter when they don't feel they've been appropriately pampered. I read that only 30 people (of 1500 attendees) show up to a panel discussion about international activists with important stories, while a nearby discussion about "writing in the age of Britney" is packed to overflowing.

I think this is what Susan, Liz, Kristen and Julie meant when they started Blog With Integrity. But without being there and not knowing much else, I doubt this is all that happened at BlogHer and I definitely know this isn't what the community for which these four women care so much is all about. The way you restore integrity to a community isn't simply to point to examples of wrongdoing and say "we need to do better" - though that is, of course, important.

The way to restore integrity and this community's credibility is to showcase the examples of women who are using their blogs (and other social media tools) to amplify their voices and make people think. The truth is there are thousands of women (and men) who do this every day. So every so often I'm going to pick a few women - some moms, some not - who are doing this RIGHT. Someone an online mom can show her daughter and say, "See her? See what she's doing? See how she's living in the same world you are, with the same challenges you have, and see how she succeeds? THAT is how you do this. THAT is what I stand for. I want you to be like HER."

So here goes:

Amira Al Hussaini. Amira is the Middle East / North Africa editor for Global Voices Online, one of the world's only truly global aggregators of online news and commentary. She was the editor of Voices Without Votes, a special project of GVO and Reuters that examined what bloggers outside the United States were saying about the US Presidential elections. Amira is an award-winning journalist who has covered the United Nations and any number of geopolitical issues. She is a passionate advocate for free speech across the globe, particularly in the areas of the world she covers for Global Voices. She recently moved back to her native Bahrain from Canada. In my interview with her last September, she told me "I am applying my skills and expertise to help bridge understandings, mend fences, and show that it is a small world - and we are all the same in our hopes, aspirations, fears and dreams for tomorrow."

Sheril Kirshenbaum. Sheril is an associate at Duke University and co-author of Unscientific America: How Scientific Illiteracy Threatens Our Future with Chris Mooney. She has two Masters degrees - one in marine biology, the other in marine policy, from the University of Maine. She was a legislative research fellow for US Senator Bill Nelson (D-Florida). She's also the co-founder of Science Debate 2008, a coalition of groups and individuals that worked to get a presidential debate on science policy. The mainstream media essentially ignored Science Debate 2008 until they decided to go all social media on their asses - they were instrumental in getting a number of detailed policy responses on important science issues from both candidates. Sheril also co-authors a blog with Chris Mooney called The Intersection at Discover Magazine. Her next book, called The Science of Kissing, is due out in Fall 2010. Sheril is one of those people who is working to make careers in science cool for girls, and she's very good at helping to explain how science is important to all of us.

Joanne Bamberger. Yes, PunditMom. Joanne has spent the better part of her career standing up to the old boys' network. She calls herself a "recovering attorney." She was the deputy director of communications for the Securities Exchange Commission - you know, the government entity that regulates the stock markets and things like that. Her professional passion is clearly writing. Her personal passion is motherhood. Anyone who reads her blog knows how important it is to her to be a role model for PunditGirl, and to celebrate those who are role models themselves. She's worked incredibly hard to make her views known in political circles - and believe me, breaking into the DC chattering class isn't easy, particularly when everyone knows you intend to deliver your own dose of reality to that crowd. She achieved real success in this endeavor, with her spots on XM Radio's POTUS '08 among other things. Joanne contributes to BlogHer as a political editor, as well as Huffington Post. Her book, Mothers of Intention, is coming out next year.

Catherine Connors. Just read about her recent roadtrip and you'll see how much Her Bad Mother cares about community, and the people in it. Catherine has the academic credentials that demand respect - she was a member of the political science faculty at the University of Toronto - but she's decided to chart a new course. She's moved into blogging/writing full-time and can be found everywhere - Blog Her, Canada Moms Blog, everywhere - I'm especially impressed that she's on belief.net. Catherine is also the original writer for "The World According To Mom." As it pertains to the monetization vs. "keeping it real" balance, I think Catherine has found it. No one doubts that she gets a lot of traffic and is getting some compensation for her writing. She works with PR flacks like me from time to time. But she's no shill. Her writing is unquestionably authentic and provocative. People may have different opinions about how much she chooses to share. But everyone should respect her.

That's it for now. I may have more - it's not like there's a shortage of role models out there. I'm not a member of the mom community, but I think this is the way "Blogging With Integrity" will really work - show people how it's done.


PunditMom said...

Wow. I'm so honored to included with this amazing group of women. I am getting tired of men in the media writing about opinionated women in the way they have about Boxer, Sotomayor, Hillary Clinton and, yes, Sarah Palin.

Unfortunately, I think we as a society have a long way to go in accepting opinionated women and realizing that it's a good thing when women are not shrinking violets, but feel confident and secure enough in who they are to be able to take on "the big boys."

Hopefully, that wasn't too abrasive! ;)

Julie @ The Mom Slant said...

I criticized Sen Boxer on Twitter for the attitude she took with the Army BG, and I'd have criticized any man for doing the same - and yes, men in the military do that to other men (insist on being called by their rank vs. sir), and I find it just as high-handed as I did Sen Boxer's request.

That said, having been yelled at more than once in Washington DC myself - as a 2Lt at the Pentagon, no less - I don't have any sympathy for the whiners, no matter what their rank or office may be. Suck it up and move on.

But most importantly, thanks for highlighting these great women. There are great women in the community, and great women behind BlogHer. Next year, I'm going to get there and reconnect with them, even if I have to hitchhike.

Her Bad Mother said...

Oh, David, wow. Thank you so much for writing this (much-needed) post, and for including me in it. All of the women mentioned here are role models for ME.

And you, you give men a pretty good name yourself ;)

Sheril Kirshenbaum said...

I'm delighted to be mentioned on this list--and in such excellent and inspiring company...

It's an honor and I agree that you give men a good name too!

Solanasaurus said...

What a cool post, I am so sad to hear the negative bits about BlogHer, and especially that the international session was attended by so few. I've heard similar things from other blogging events (not related to women) that have become so big and sometimes too commercial that they lose a bit of the community feeling. It helps to have a sense of purpose that is shared and fostered by everyone who attends. Maybe the shared trait of being "women" is a bit too broad, just like "bloggers" don't automatically have things in common either by virtue of having blogs.

As for the women featured in this post, I think they're all really wonderful and deserve a lot of admiration for speaking their minds the way that they do.

Daisy said...

Great post! I'm so glad you included PunditMom. She's one of my favorites.

Corina said...

Thank you so much for this post. Highlighting strong, intelligent women with integrity is much needed. As women, we need to recognize those that stand above the fray, find their voice and use it good, including good debate. I have grown weary of the clawing for an ear, the arm waving for recognition.

People need to realize they need to stand on their merits, that they are not entitled to recognition because they have someone's ear. As a former teacher, I know that the sense of entitlement has created a problem in what kids are willing to do. It seems like this has extended to adults. Work, honor, integrity, compassion, intelligence (whether academic or otherwise) a level head and transparency get my attention. These are the women and men that get my respect, my ears, my eyes.

Thank you for highlighting these women. Instead of bitching about what went wrong, we need to focus on those that are right and hold them up as a beacon. We need to raise the bar in ourselves and our community. These women do that. Thank you.

Carrie said...

Well, you know, a lot of us were lured to the "Age of Brittany" panel by Catherine's brilliance. (Personally, I tried to be shallow and go to that one but it was too crowded for my baby stroller, so I went to a bar instead.)

josetteplank.com said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
josetteplank.com said...

I have to agree...I went to the Age of Brittney room to hear Catherine speak. She knocks my socks off and elevates every conversation to one that is worthwhile and valuable.

Although, I do agree. The other sessions I went to on using blogs to support and inspire grassroots activism in our communities, (i.e. not just writing about it, but writing about it and then getting off our butts and shoveling the muck ourselves) and another amazing session run by Catherine Orenstein of the Op-Ed Project was inspirational and empowering and I left the room on my own soap box, preaching the message of women claiming their place in national print and online media (and inspired to begin teaching the lessons I learned to my own daughters.)

So, don't believe all the hype, is all. Bad behavior always sells more newspapers then the good stuff, even though there is way more good stuff to report. I was there, had a few unfortunate moments, but ultimately you'd need a lock and cage to keep me from BlogHer10.

Liz/Mom-101 writes articulately and thoughtfully on the issues that arose at this past BlogHer and her voice is valuable in this; however, the preponderance of other posts out there on "those horrible mommybloggers" has turned any conversation into a dogpile for the sake of a dogpile.

Thanks for highlighting what is good about the Internet. More people should do the same and not reward the bad behaviors with disproportionate air time and attention while complaining that the "good" out there is lost. It's not lost; it's just not as fun to talk about.

josetteplank.com said...

And can I just say that this from Corina

"People need to realize they need to stand on their merits, that they are not entitled to recognition because they have someone's ear."

is more truth than has ever been uttered in one sentence. Exactly. Exactly.

expateek said...

Thanks for the link, and for this excellent post. It's fantastic to learn about other people out there doing this important work.

I especially like how you've taken the commentary about BlogHer one, no, two steps further. The transition from "we should be doing this better" to "Blog with Integrity" to "here are some women doing amazing things" -- well, that was simply lovely. I'm going to go back and explore this post and their blogs in depth.

Kelsey said...

Great post and great women!

On the subject of fantastic, strong, opinionated female role models, I have to recommend this letter by Dr. Pascale Lane. (Thanks to Sheril Kirshenbaum for linking to it a few months ago.)


David said...

Wow, some great comments from everyone here. Thanks so much for the link, Kelsey!

nthmost said...

There are far, far too many people in this world with the free time and wherewithal to attend any given conference for anybody to be setting up such a poorly-defined non-niche such as "women who blog".

That is Lowest-Common-Denominator Disaster by Design.

And I just want to state for the record: as a woman and a blogger, I'd never want to join a club that'd have me as a member.

(...though in other roles I play in this world, that's another story.)

Diana said...

Aside from the slam on the mamapop session - which, by the way, had a lot more to do with feminism in entertainment journalism than Britney Spears, and in which Catherine of HerBadMother was a panelist - wonderful post!

Kami Huyse said...

I am so glad you pointed out this post to me. Thanks for featuring these amazing women.

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