Tuesday, August 3, 2010
There's something about this Verizon ad, part of its "Rule the Air" campaign, that strikes me as only a part of the story. It's a story about young women communicating, giving voice to their thoughts and ideas without being discriminated against--the idea being that online, no one can see your race or gender or age, so your ideas can take prominence and the network gives you power.
It's a similar to the theme of "For Women, Social Media is More Than Girl Talk," a post suggesting that those who dismiss women's dominance of social networking as gossip miss the substance going on in those conversations. The author notes women's role in helping to change language throughout history, and their influence as communicators. She's right. The ad's right. Online networking and discussions and sharing are opening up lines of communication for women--and women are taking advantage of them.
But it's largely about the written, not the spoken, word. As the ad suggests, equality of expression may depend, for many women, on not being seen so that they're not discriminated against for age, race or gender. Yes, in 2010, that's a major corporation's message. In that light, women's domination of social networking might be the modern-day version of what happened in other eras when speaking in public was frowned upon or forbidden: When not allowed to speak publicly in person, out loud, women took to writing to express themselves, often anonymously or under pseudonyms--often male names. Even when they could publish under their names, they still may have been forbidden to speak. (If you haven't read Virginia Woolf's pithy discussion of this in A Room of One's Own,--itself based on speeches she gave, by the way--you need that perspective.) And as Librarian by Day points out, a pseudonym has its allure, making it seem possible to say anything without retribution.
Maybe that's why that ad strikes an odd note with me. Why not use it to encourage all levels of expression--not just those in which the women remain hidden behind their thoughts and a cellphone? Power and the ability to "rule the air" shouldn't--doesn't--depend on women being invisible.
This week, I'm attending BlogHer '10, the conference for women bloggers, and I'm eager to see the energy that women create in social media, in real life. I don't doubt for a minute the passion and energy and confidence of my sister attendees, or any woman using social networks to express herself. But I've spent a lot of time mulling why it is that many women who write well and are clearly able to express themselves hesitate to speak in public. Public speaking requires you to literally "put yourself out there," physically present and in view in a way that no written work (or even a video) requires. It's a three-dimensional, in-real-time experience with variables you can't control -- like a live audience, for starters. And I say that as one who began her career writing professionally, and who has written every day since.
That's why I'm curious about one of the preconference offerings from The White House Project. It's a half-day workshop designed to help women interested in blogging "take their leadership one step further" and consider running for public office. I'll be watching for the role that public speaking plays in that transformation, as it's a requirement for candidates and public officials once they're in a governing role. And I'm looking forward to talking to those interested in or curious about running, to find out what kind of barrier public speaking poses to them, if at all.
As usual, I'm also curious about what you think. Do you find writing and publishing and online networking easier than public speaking--or not? Share your perspective in the comments. And if you're in New York for BlogHer, let's find each other and meet. I look forward to that opportunity.