Panels for women, sure, but a toolbar for women?

Ulla-Maaria Mutanen at the crafts/tech blog Hobby Princess has pointed things to say about ghettoizing women at conferences:

If you want to make sure that you include the “female perspective” to your program, just invite women to speak about the things they’re doing. Putting smart people to discuss under a separate “women & technology” category is not doing the job.

I can see her point, but I was just at SXSW Interactive where the organizers significantly improved the gender imbalances of recent years in part by inviting BlogHer to program a series of panels. The panels were not a “women and technology” ghetto. Many of the BlogHer-organized panels were on topics of interest to the BlogHer community not strictly related to gender, for example an excellent panel on what happens when you mix personal blogging and professional life. At the same time, part of what BlogHer does is point out sexism in the blogosphere (e.g., the dismissal of “mommybloggers” by people who think it’s dandy for boys to blog about their toys), so some of the BlogHer panels did address those issues. One was entitled “Increasing Women’s Visibility on the Web: Whose Butt Should We Be Kicking?” Works for me!

But speaking of ghettoizing, can somebody explain to me what’s gender-specific about this toolbar?

Girlawhirl toolbar

That’s the Girlawhirl toolbar, advertised through AdSense as:

Toolbar for Women: Better Web Search Toolbar. Stop pop-ups and more

Like men don’t use Google or block pop-ups?

I get the joke when somebody ironically skins a gender-neutral tool in pink and says it’s for women, like the pink laptops and hard drives at Shiny Shiny, or for that matter Shiny Shiny itself. But the Girlawhirl toolbar appears to be entirely unironic. The idea seems to be that women are afraid to download a toolbar from a tech site but will do so from a fashion site with a violet logo. That’s what I call a ghetto.

Regarding gender and gadgets, I found Hobby Princess through another great panel at SXSW, the one on DIY media. As represented on this panel, the hacker and crafts movements are at work on a grand fusion of traditionally male and female approaches to gadgets and technology. Craft blogs and Make magazine (which is planning a special crafts issue for the fall) are the cutting edge of this fusion. That’s what I call an anti-ghetto.

2 thoughts on “Panels for women, sure, but a toolbar for women?

  1. 1.

    I think you’re reading the toolbar issue all wrong, my friend, other than the fact that Girlawhirl is indeed completely unironic about the toolbar. Which is as it should be. What’s ironic about offering a customer a free sample? That’s what this ad is about: giving a shopper a reason to set foot in a store. That’s what this situation is all about: shopping. And that’s why you don’t quite get it. I find it pretty funny that you think that women are afraid to go to a tech site to download a toolbar. Women aren’t afraid of it; it’s just not what most of them are doing online. Yes, if you polled them, they might express fear or hesitation in the face of a tech site, but they probably express no fear when it comes to Bluefly or Girlawhirl. And what you call a ghetto, I call a store.

  2. Here’s a geeky web 2.0 site targeted primarily at women that actually makes sense: themintpages. That’s because it doesn’t claim to be “tagging for women!” as though women couldn’t use tagging elsewhere. Rather, it offers tagging, reviews and discussion of personal care products, a logical topic around which to build a community which is mainly (though not exclusively) of interest to women.

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