BinderCon, I have a Problem

Exclusion divides and language is of the utmost importance.

Yes, when I saw the YouTube video for BinderCon, I was as excited as a kid with fifty cents in a penny candy store. Finally, a group of women who seem to get it — color, gender identity, and the like are all relevant issues that face women writers. It seemed like a win-win situation until, to my despair, I found LA BinderCon had already been and gone. All hope was not lost, however; I could buy all the sessions and listen to them. Score! Back to being excited all over again, I started reading everything I could on the site.

And reading…

And reading . . . but what I came across in the FAQ section of LA BinderCon turned me off, and I was done with the notion that I was going to attend the next session.

Even though I agreed with most everything I read about BinderCon and the information that I could find on it, I had a bitter taste in my mouth that I couldn’t shake. On the conference FAQ list the question was asked, “Can men attend?”

It seemed like a reasonable enough question, but the answer was absolutely distasteful to me.

How could they use the word allies after they had just alienated men in the preceding sentence? Before you think I’m reaching here, I ask that you wait and read the entire article before forming your opinion. This is a conference for WRITERS — language is what we do, core to who we are, and without it we are nothing. People pay us to be eloquent and to manipulate words, to be savvy and artistic, to convey messages. Here’s the message that answer sends to me:

Hey men, we don’t think you’ll understand what we are doing here. So, while we can’t stop you from buying a ticket legally: don’t come. There isn’t a place for you here. But hey, still friends right?

And to me, that follow-up phrase “male allies” is just a bunch of jargon. The answer is duplicitous at best.

This conference is for women, and I appreciate that. That’s fantastic; I’m 100% for it. Why not include all men and encourage them to attend? Bring them into the discussion and share our point of view as female writers and ask that we stand together for equality? Why the hell not? If we want our voices to be heard about the struggle we face every day and seek change, wouldn’t it be easier together? Feminism isn’t about separation; rather, it’s about equality in all aspects. Despite what you’d like to believe, that core ideology includes men too. What point is there having a discussion about the issues if it isn’t open and honest?

I consider myself a feminist. I would like to believe that as a group, women are past the idea only women can be feminists because we are the only ones who understand the struggle. I’d like to think that in my generation women know that together we stand taller and when we separate ourselves, we create the us and them mentality. Separation never leads to equality — open a history book and refresh your memory of all the horrors of our past if you need to be reminded. As a group with a goal for our fundamental rights to be recognized, shouldn’t we welcome anyone to join the discussion and unite with us?

So no, I won’t be supporting this unless the language here that favors exclusion changes. But I can see now, where the conference is coming from. I believe it’s fine to have closed sessions so that women can be comforted by knowing what they say is taken to heart by other women who want to hear it. I believe that there is room for protection of women that need the space and separation. If it creates a safe space, go for it. Make sure that people feel comfortable but don’t exclude those who are comfortable with a variable audience. Get the message across — spread the word and share it with everyone. Would you exclude a woman that identifies their gender as non-specific or male? No? Then what about men who are curious? Maybe they need the safe space too.

I don’t think that the conference should exclude men from attending or even discourage it. Without understanding a point of view, how can we initiate change? Getting a message second-hand distorts a message; it’s like playing a game of telephone, by the end — the message isn’t the same as the original. You can put out as many promotional videos as you like and as many marketing materials as the internet can handle but that doesn’t change the fact that without inclusion, the message passed along is heresay.

I do have a problem with BinderCon. I want the language of exclusion to be extracted and rewritten. Words are powerful tools and how we use them is just as powerful. So, let’s use the language that so often was used against us as a sword to cut through the opposition, righting ourselves and taking up our place as equal, valuable members of society. It would seem that this is up to us to change it and me, I’ll start by rising above the example set.

After writing this article, I had a friend look over it for me because I wanted a different perspective because to me, this piece is about starting a conversation and looking from different viewpoints. I added the last part of the article after careful thought of what she said. Though I didn’t agree with her totally and her opinion didn’t fall in line with my own, I think it was just what I needed to make this article whole. So thank you Terri, for being awesome and holding your own as you always have. -TS