I am just back from Austin, where I didn’t pick up a temporary southern accent and use it to tell Republican voters that I enjoy cheese grits. Which I do. A lot. However I did learn a ton of stuff, meet throngs of inspiring people, eat my weight in guacamole, catch up with friends, and enjoy a pedicab ride or two.
As a woman, I kind of wondered what it would be like for me. I’ve heard reports over the years of sexism, frat boy antics, and the rare “token women” speakers.
I experienced none of the sort.
(Well okay, there were a few guys stumbling across 4th Street in a free beer-induced stupor. I take it they made it home safely, or at least to the opposite corner where they may or may not have remained for the night.)
So interestingly, I caught an article in my feed yesterday morning called Where Were the Women at SXSW?
Now I too was at the Beauty Bar, because I was invited to a Women in Mobile lunch, featuring really wonderful speakers like (correction] Rachel Sklar and Erin and Lindsay, founders of Red Stamp, a site and now an app of which I’m a long time fan. But, crazy me–I went for the content, not the nail care.
Not to be dissing manicures. Or pampering. Or girlie activities of supreme girliness, all of which I love with my very girlie heart.
I love that we can be business owners and mimosa-sippers. I love that we can network in environments with pink chairs and fuzzy carpets–and have done it myself and enjoyed it thoroughly. And I love environments filled with smart women. Which is partly why I like Blogher, and partly why I liked the premise of this event.
But–and I say this not without some hesitation–it turns out that a beauty salon is not the best forum for a panel of compelling, expert speakers. In fact, I wanted to hear more from them but they were cut from an hour to barely 30 minutes, because, according to the moderator, “we all want to get back to the manicures.” Oof.
In the future, I’d just gently suggest that when Rachel Sklar is spouting gems like “the smartphone is a convenience machine, not a productivity machine”…ask a follow up question. Then tell the manicurists to keep it down, not the speakers.
In any case, I wanted to mention, should you be wondering, that there were a few other things I saw women doing at SXSW besides shinying up their nails. They were:
-Making business deals.
-Riding the start-up bus
-Cruising the trade show floor to learn about optimized cloud storage solutions.
-Meeting fellow developers.
-Lending their power cords
-Graciously inviting strangers to parties
-Chatting up company founders.
-Inspiring with words like “There’s no shame in failing. It’s worse to be irrelevant than to worry about one person hating you.” (Thanks, Aria Finger.)
-Showing us the future of marketing as we know it.
And for the record, the Girl+Guy Party was a nice mix of both “guys” (as in, Kawasaki) and “girls”–and no make-out room (huh?), despite strange rumors to the contrary. Or maybe I was just too busy shoving my fave in the guacamole and talking to Lynette Young about her chapter in Guy Kawasaki’s book to notice who might have been making out somewhere.
In fact, one of the things that surprised me about SXSW was the total lack of the “token woman” factor, in pretty much every panel, event or party I attended. Perhaps I chose wisely? Or maybe I gravitated to topics and events that weren’t dominated by men?
In any case, one of my favorite panels of the entire weekend was about consumer intent on the social web featuring Edward Boches (who I adore), AV Vaynerchuk, fellow Brooklynite Farrah Bostic, Jeff Janer of Springpad, and Jolie O’Dell of Venture Beat.
It got me so excited about ideas I can bring back to clients, and even use as a blogger. Jolie was a fabulous moderator–beyond fabulous–although I was initially thrown by her bio in which she made it exceedingly clear that SHE WILL NOT BE MAKING ANY PUBLIC APPEARANCES NOR ATTENDING ANY PUBLIC PARTIES. I thought perhaps they had accidentally swapped her bio with Angelina Jolie’s bio,which would be an easy mistake to make except for the fact that Angelina Jolie was not at SXSW.
Although Al Gore was, and he did not have a bio at all.
Note to self: Rethink bio.
But I digress.
The thing that was so fantastic about this panel is that it wasn’t a panel “with two women on it.”
It was a panel of experts.
The people best qualified to talk about the subject. Period.
I felt the same way about the Kids and Technology panel at the Dad 2.0 summit, featuring Kristen Chase of Cool Mom Tech (whoo!) with Ken Denmeade of Wired and Clay Nichols of Dad Labs. The content was so considered, so invaluable, they should totally repeat at SXSW ’13 for an audience of 5000 next year.
I wonder if even 3 years ago, we would have been having discussions about children and technology and considered that as valuable a topic as coding and flash hacks.
I wonder if even 3 years ago a mom would have been not only welcome on that panel, but as knowledgeable as the dudes.
I wonder if a man (Jason Avant) would have been the first one to jump in and defend the presence and contributions of women at the conference when another man questioned it.
It makes me question whether conferences like Blogher need to do what Mom 2.0 has done, and invite the best experts to discuss the issues women care about, whether or not they are women. It also makes me wonder whether we can get a little more church and state with our informational needs and our pampering needs so that we can give our full attention to both.
So I completely understand why the Beauty Bar event was created, especially for those pioneering women have been attending since 2005.
It also reminds me I probably am late to the proverbial SXSW party, as Nate reminded me last week. In a way, of course I am. I totally am.
Let’s just commit to it: Yes. I’m late.
On the other hand, old skoolers (and Nate) will always say that pretty much anything used to be better back in the good ol’ days. Just ask anyone who was at BlogHer 2006.
Case in point: I had a nice, if brief, handshake-moment with Gary Vanyerchuck at the Austin Airport Gift shop, and mentioned that on my virgin voyage, I just loved how open everyone is, and what a great community feeling there is. He explained that it was even more like that before.
And I thought, really? Wow.
And then later I wondered if it was better before for everyone, or mostly just for the men.
Sunday, I sat with the techiest of the male techies at a great TripIt brunch (hi, Shashi B!) and they never once acted that it was silly or marginalizing that I ran a parenting site. They were welcoming, interesting and interested, and we all had a great bonding moment when we talked about how the iPad is helping children with autism, and then they asked me to recommend some good apps for all of their children and nieces and nephews.
(Wurm Jr: Huge hit.)
In fact, that was my experience all weekend. No one was put off by the fact that I publish a parenting blog. (Or if they were, it was totally in hushed whispers behind my back and I missed it completely; which is for the best.) In fact, they were interested in how I can combine that knowledge with what I do in advertising, so we can start reaching parents in more innovative, effective, and uh, less insulting ways.
So maybe this is the time to be at SXSWi.
Maybe this is a great time to be a woman in the interative world after all.
Yes, we can care about design and gardening and fashion and family while running successful businesses and reinventing the purposeful web.
And yes, there is something cool about women who can be powerful while getting their nails done.
But I also think that there’s something cool about women who can be powerful anywhere at all.
I saw so much of that this week.
That’s not the nailpolish fumes talking.