Before last week, it had never occurred to me to attend a bloggers' conference. I'm an author, first and foremost. This blog is a side show, albeit one I enjoy very much. So when the stars aligned (Blogher, a huge gathering of women bloggers, crossed my radar at the same time as R. took off a few days before starting a new job), I left the boys to their own devices, scrambled to devise some business cards and hopped the next train to NYC.
I was blown away by the sheer size of the conference, Blogher12, and by many of the women writers I met at the welcome event. Katie Couric's keynote (more on that below) hit on several important themes.
So I was sorely disappointed, and honestly more than a little peeved, when I ventured into the first break out session. I decided, along with roughly a thousand other women, to attend a panel on something I knew nothing about: blogging and branding.
I walked out ten minutes into the discussion.
Why? This conference was all about promoting women bloggers and their work. It was called BlogHER. And what did they feature? A guy from a household name diaper brand (I'm so annoyed I won't plug the company, though I will say it was NOT Pampers), holding forth on their underwriting of a blog about a stay at home dad who changes diapers because he got laid off from his "real" job!???!!
Um, thanks but no thanks.
In a room packed with mommy bloggers, the panel really had to patronize us by leading off with an ode to a dad parenting his own child? As I was attempting to digest this bitter nugget, it got worse.
The diaper brand evidently designed a whole national ad campaign around dads who parent their own kids. Because obviously they deserve some kind of medal. The underlying message to the assembled women: such men are a rare breed, one to be celebrated. You ladies are a dime for ten dozen. Good luck to you.
R., like many dads I know, is a great, hands on parent. Here I was, operating under the happy delusion that we women had evolved to the point where we expect dads (and most certainly dads who don't work outside the home) to share the duties of parenting, without asking for special recognition, medals, trophies, sky writing, etc...
But no. Big diaper company celebrates the guy for sucking it up and doing what they perceive as "women's work" with a smile. Cue eye roll.
I walked out and attended an excellent panel on blogging about social, economic and political issues. Best take away: A white man approaches life believing he can be an expert on anything. When asked to hold forth on any topic, he's likely to jump at the opportunity. We women too often pigeon hole ourselves to the "lady topics." Lesson learned. Be more assertive, and don't shy from topics that interest you just because some guy says it's his turf.
Katie Couric's speech was a huge highlight of my first conference experience. She lamented the lack of television content for smart women, and said she looks forward to tackling big socio-economic questions in-depth on her new program. Amen, sister. I can't remember the last time I watched TV for a thoughtful discussion of anything, and I'm hopeful she'll be able to deliver.
She took questions, and was immediately asked the big one about work-life balance: "How do you do it all?"
Her answer: Don't look at me for instruction on how to do it all. I'm not a typical American working mom. I have live in help. I, like Anne Marie Slaughter, the tenured Princeton professor with the cover article on working moms in this month's Atlantic, have choices and resources most working women can't even dream of.
I.e. It's not all that constructive to look at how the most successful of the wildly successful "manage."
Indeed, doing so takes oxygen away from the really hard questions, like how to make quality child care available to more middle and low income moms, or how to extend mandatory paid parental leaves.
It's not enough to have women like the amazing Sheryl Sandberg tell us they leave the office at 5:30 every afternoon, come hell or high water. I find Sheryl Sandberg inspiring. She's a vocal positive role model for young women.
But she doesn't need to work another minute of her life if she doesn't want to. She serves as COO of Facebook for the love of the game. Most workers, male or female, cannot dictate their hours to their employers without expecting serious repercussions, including termination.
A fact that should automatically disqualify Ms. Sandberg from dispensing work-life balance advice to those moms living paycheck to paycheck, or even those with a normal mortgage and a modest economic cushion.
Katie Couric nailed that disconnect in her remarks. I hope the 4,500 women in attendance noticed.