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Women’s Blogs

We went to see The Post and then stopped at a diner to get fries afterward.  While we were driving to the diner, I checked my email on my phone and saw that VOTY (Voices of the Year, in case you haven’t been to the BlogHer conference) winners had been announced.  I’m not going to BlogHer this year, but I usually have a few friends on the VOTY list.  I wanted to send them congratulations in the morning.

But the list description was confusing.  Gwyneth Paltrow and Chelsea Clinton?  Were they having multiple presenters this year?  (For those who haven’t been to BlogHer, a few years ago, they started having a celebrity presenter at VOTY vs having one of us* present.) I clicked on the list and became even more confused.  The honourees were… celebrities for lack of a better word.

They were organizers of the Women’s March like Linda Sarsour.  Or the founder of #metoo, Tarana Burke.  They were Gwyneth and Chelsea and Jodi Kantor from the New York Times.

They weren’t us*.

I keep using that word — *us — and maybe it’s because it gets to the heart of VOTY.  Voices of the Year was the community keynote.  It was a time in the conference when we didn’t have a celebrity or expert tell us how to live or think or feel.  I mean, those main keynotes were great, but this was OUR keynote, the regular blogger’s keynote, and 20 or so women would get up and read a piece that had been chosen by the judges for inclusion.

It was democratic, and I’ve been on both ends of the process.  I had a piece chosen for the second VOTY.  What you can’t see from the video is that I wore the merry widow-like contraption on the stage, and I hiked up the skirt on the other side of the podium when I got to that point in the story.  I was TERRIFIED, but I knew that every single woman in that room would get it.  So I did it.  I was sharing a funny story, but it was also a very emotional story for me because… it was about not feeling like a woman.  Not being able to do this thing that women do.  And trying to take back one tiny piece of control in that situation.  Hearing the reaction from the audience as I read my story made me feel like I was being cushioned by thousands of other women’s hands.  Held up.

And I was a judge for two other VOTYs.  It was an honour that you sometimes got when you were chosen for VOTY — you turned around and got to invite other people into the community keynote.  I read hundreds of posts and marked my favourites, and then got to attend and listen to them aloud.

The community keynote was always the highlight of BlogHer, a true reflection of my daily work at the BlogHer site.  For nine years, I read every post that came into my section and chose the ones to push to the front page.  Most of the time I didn’t know the woman.  They were chosen because they wrote something great and we wanted more people to read it.  But I got to know them because once they were chosen once, they kept coming back and writing other great things.  I met so many people through BlogHer.

BlogHer was — for women — the site where regular people (us) wrote their reaction to the daily news or life events.  It was honest and raw and confessional and conversational.  And then the Internet flooded with similar sites and everything changed.  But I got to be there for nine years, part of this incredible community of women.

There’s this line in The Post where the men are discussing Katharine Graham, and one of them points out that if a person is told they’re incompetent and their voice doesn’t matter enough times, they’ll believe it and it will inform their actions.  Or something like that.  And when we were watching that part of the movie, I was thinking about how Katharine Graham’s story is really every woman’s story.  Girls receive an outsider message over and over again, and it sometimes becomes the way we view our work and our voice and our words.

But BlogHer was a hugely successful space that took back that narrative and said EVERY WOMAN’S WORDS MATTER.  Not just the ones that bubble up to the top and break the surface, becoming newsworthy.  That every single woman, famous or not, has something to say.  And we should all listen.

So if I cried reading the VOTY news, it was because I was thinking about what was lost.  Those women like Gwyneth Paltrow and Chelsea Clinton will continue to have their voices heard, even if they’re not in VOTY.  They’ve broken the surface and become newsworthy.  If SheKnows, who now owns BlogHer, had called it something else, it wouldn’t have bothered me.  But VOTY was the community keynote, a time to celebrate voices that weren’t heard otherwise.

The same night, I read the Washington Post article about how women’s blogs have become a glossy magazine of perfection and sponsored content.  And, yes, there is some truth in that statement when you think about the early days of the Internet when we wrote just because we wanted to write without any understanding of what blogging could be.  But that article missed the fact that the old style of blogging still exists.  Every day I read blogs that are confessional and conversational, with nary a product placement in site.

At the same time, I don’t blame those women who do write sponsored content.  I celebrate them.  Blogging has been a way to make a living, and I am glad they have found a way to be financially compensated for their work.  Some people write because they want to write.  And some people write because they get paid to write.  And both are valid paths to putting words into the universe.  And sometimes they are one and the same; confessional, conversational, and compensated.

I miss the old community.  I also know that a large chunk of the old community is still alive and well because I see them in my blog feed every day.  And I see new people join us, all the time.  I read stories every day that are confessional and conversational, the same as the early days of blogging.

Thank you for keeping it real.  Thank you for continuing to write.  Getting your voice out there is important.  I promise.

11 comments

1 Leticia { 01.27.18 at 12:51 pm }

I love this! Yes, all of our voices still matter! The VOTY announcement made me sad. I wish there was another way to highlight the important stories that reflect the realness of the space…you know, the one the author of the Post article seems not to find on the internet anymore.

2 Mel { 01.27.18 at 1:06 pm }

Not that you need one more thing on your plate, but I would help you if you wanted to host a real VOTY and I have thoughts on how we could do it.

3 Sharon { 01.27.18 at 1:40 pm }

I miss the old community, too. There were so many bloggers whose posts I read regularly while I was going through infertility, and most of them have quit writing entirely or only write sporadically (myself included).

I’m glad you’re still writing! 🙂

4 torthuil { 01.27.18 at 4:33 pm }

The politics of all that stuff is way out my depth, and will stay that way because I have no interest in it. But I agree with you in general that the point of blogging is to increase the reach of individual voices. Give people a platform (even a leetle one) where they can say their bit. Coelesing around a few celebrity voices goes against the purpose. Obviously some people are going to work harder than others for whatever reason (desire for money, status, ambition, talent, personal drive, whatever) and will get more exposure and publicity. That’s expected. But IMO what makes blogging fun is reading other “regular” people and knowing that even a few of them take an interest in what I write. If that isn’t the purpose then I don’t know what is the purpose, and certainly none of the aforementioned celebritites is going to enlighten me: Bleah!

5 Journeywoman { 01.27.18 at 5:30 pm }

This pisses me off. I mean REALLY gets me mad. I would want a VOTY but I would feel that because I don’t have a platform, I will never get one. This gets me so angry that it would make me less likely to attend a Blog-Her Event in the future.

6 Mali { 01.27.18 at 8:12 pm }

Mel, I’d never seen that video before, and I’ve had to stop to wipe my eyes and compose myself. Yes, I laughed, but then I cried. If that’s what the BlogHer attendees are missing out on, just to listen to people who are already public figures and have their own enormous platforms, then the entire community is worse off.

I had wanted to attend a BlogHer conference. They sounded empowering, a celebration of women like us, and if celebrities were involved, it was to show that they are just like us. But like Journeywoman above, I don’t know if I’d bother if this is the direction they want to take.

And I second you on the blogs. Blogs that are confessional, real, that think, explore new ideas – these are the blogs I want to read, and that I aspire to write. Not the ones where everything is easy. I read travel blogs, and self-help/psychology pieces too, as well as ALI and No Kidding blogs. I find almost completely that the ones that have something to push – books, promoting their own services, or outside advertising – tend to become too simplistic, trite, and completely unhelpful. They are focused on what they want to sell, not what the reader wants to buy. So I don’t go back.

7 Amber { 01.28.18 at 12:09 am }

I miss the old blogging days too, and I was late to getting into the blogging world, having started in 2012. I miss the community. I really miss the ICOMLEAVWE days!! It makes me sad that the BlogHer conference is more of a celebrity show now, instead of giving “regular” people more of a voice. That really is too bad.

8 Parul Thakur { 01.28.18 at 12:32 am }

I remember when the VOTY announcements were made. I was new to blogging then and I wished some day, I will have a chance to speak and be invited. (Dreams, you see!) Then suddenly, things changed. Reading your post tells me why I stopped getting those mails on who was the keynote speaker and where is the event scheduled. Like they say, “Change is the only thing that’s permanent”
Btw – that video was great. You were funny and thoughtful.

9 Lori Lavender Luz { 01.28.18 at 11:15 am }

This post makes my chest hurt with longing for the days of us.

You are spot on, with everything in this post.

#imissus

10 Cristy { 01.28.18 at 6:10 pm }

Joining in about being upset about this. Yes, some bloggers get paid to write and their blogs reflect that. But to completely cut out those who don’t get paid, or in this case, only focus on celebrities? I’m not sorry for joining everyone else in voicing how wrong that is. To me, it means BlogHer isn’t about the community but about the corporations. I’m much more interested in the everyday woman, completely with cellulite and bad hair days, because that is what I can relate to. I have nothing in common with Gwyneth Paltrow or Chelsea Clinton and I don’t see them as speaking for the rest of us.

11 loribeth { 01.28.18 at 6:54 pm }

This is sad. I well remember that post, and your performance/reading of it. 😉 We ordinary bloggers are still out here, but yes, sometimes it does seem the glossy, corporate-sponsored, monetized stuff has taken over. :p It (the old blogosphere) was fun while it lasted…

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