Whenever I think about connections between women, I remember coming home from school to find my mother drinking coffee at our kitchen table with her friend Rolande. From my first-floor bedroom, I’d hear the low murmur of Rolande’s French-accented English, punctuated by my mom’s musical laugh.
These days we can connect with other women all over the world via email, instant messaging, video chats, and by commenting on each other’s blog posts. Women we’ve never met face to face have become our friends, colleagues, mentors, and students. We talk, argue, and commiserate as we share stories, opinions, successes, and heartbreaks. Yet we still value, and even crave, that old-fashioned face time.
A few weeks ago, in New York City, BlogHer held its eighth annual conference, and those sessions felt like my mom and Rolande’s kitchen-table conversations—on steroids. BlogHer is a both a community and a media company; it was created in partnership with women in social media “to create opportunities for women who blog to pursue exposure, education, community and economic empowerment.”
Both genders are welcome at the conferences, but most of us at BlogHer ’12—more than 5,000 of us—were women. We were gathered there “to talk about everything from pop culture to parenting to politics,” said BlogHer co-founder Lisa Stone in her opening address.
Indeed, among the bloggers that I met during a “speed-dating” session were a dominatrix with an IVF baby; a mommy blogger, LifewithRoozle.com; and a woman who teaches sign language, Sign4Baby.com, to help new moms communicate with their babies
Why do all these different women blog, and what do they have to say?
I started my own blog because, after decades of writing for other people’s publications, I needed something of my own—a place where I could express my own thoughts and opinions in my own voice, and even (gasp) have a bit of fun. These musings go under the moniker Shifting Gears at judithaross.com, and revolve around the theme of “Navigating Middle Age and Beyond.”
The blog has offered me a chance to reflect out loud about the everyday stuff of an almost 30-year marriage and an empty nest, and tie my concerns about climate change to what’s happening in my own backyard.
Casey Carey-Brown, the mommy blogger I mentioned, describes her experience at the conference and explains why she blogs this way:
“I found myself surrounded by thoughtful, vulnerable, honest writers and heard over and over how they are in this because they have to be. Because they love it. For the life that it brings. The life of reflection. Of higher standards for yourself. The struggle and joy of being able to work at your craft and always get better. Always be better.”
Other women I met blog for more concrete, practical reasons. Lori Alper, of Groovy Green Livin, told me in an email that she blogs because it “allows for learning and connecting with an ever-growing fabulous community of like-minded men and women.”
Lori began blogging on the heels of another career. A former lawyer, she started her blog because two of her children were born with life-threatening food allergies.
“After spending a great deal of time educating myself on non-toxic living, my family began experiencing firsthand the benefits of living an organic, non-toxic lifestyle. I knew I needed a larger forum to learn and share. I decided to trade in my attorney suit and follow my passion—and Groovy Green Livin was born as a way to educate myself and others on how to live as naturally and toxin-free as possible.”
Meeting women like Lori, whom I’ve gotten to know online through our mutual work for Moms Clean Air Force, was among my main motivations for attending the conference. I also met and hung out with several other bloggers and staff from Moms Clean Air Force—one of whom, I learned, is a fan of my blog!
I also shared a drink with two women whose blog I had begun to follow only recently: Carrie Tuhy and Mary Lou Floyd from Second Lives Club. These accomplished women post essays about women who are embarking on dramatically different lives than those they lived when they were younger.
Making eye and voice contact, and engaging in a lively back-and-forth with such vibrant, intelligent women has inspired me to dig deeper, focus on what feels authentic, and to be both fearless and passionate when expressing my opinions and ideas.
The conference sessions provided valuable takeaways and motivation for moving forward.
I attended BlogHer sessions on writing; on forming and using online organizations to make change; and how to price and value your services.
Two themes that came through in almost every session I attended were:
- Women have a powerful voice. President Obama’s willingness to open the conference via video is proof positive that what we say and how we vote really does matter. (Mitt Romney, who was also invited, was unable to participate.)
- Bloggers and writers want—and expect—to be valued and paid for their work. This ambition came through loud and clear in almost every session I attended. The writing sessions addressed issues such as transforming blog posts into printable essays (most print publications pay their writers) and how to approach editors at paying sites, such as Women’s Day and Fox News.
There were also keynote sessions featuring Martha Stewart and Katie Couric, and a panel with Soledad O’Brien, Christy Turlington Burns, and Malaak Compton-Rock. For a terrific synopsis and a “shoe’s-eye” view of those sessions, I suggest you read this post by my friend and fellow blogger Ronnie Citron-Fink.
The formal sessions, coupled with many small conversations, helped me clarify my goals. I realized that while my own blog allows me to feed my more creative side and speak my mind, I also want to be part of something bigger than myself. I left the conference even more determined to continue and expand my work for clean air and children’s health.
And while the conversations I had with others at the conference weren’t as personal as the ones between my mom and Rolande those many years ago, the support and friendship I felt as I pushed back my chair and left BlogHer’s enormous kitchen table was every bit as real.