Food, feminism and assuming the best in people at SXSW

It’s such a relief when South by Southwest is finally over. The 10-day cultural bonanza that SXSW has become (music and film are now considered secondary to the technology festival, which I help cover for the Austin American-Statesman) leaves us all simultaneously exhausted and inspired.

I tried to look back at the past two weeks to find some Feminist Kitchen lessons, but unfortunately, there weren’t that many great food OR feminism panels this year. In fact, it seems there were just as many panels about sex as food at the conference.

The few food panels that I attended (cooking apps, Brooklyn food scene, something called “social food” that doesn’t at all sound like what it should mean) left me a little disappointed, and I only made it to one panel about gender and technology.

“Blogging: Why So Many Women Are Doing It” was a core conversation (read: smaller room, not so formal presentation) in which two fashion bloggers talked about why women are so drawn to the medium. The conversation was a little more focused on the business and branding side of blogging, but those are realities that are worth addressing.

In the same vein, money was the focus of a panel called “Monetizing Mommy,” which featured blogger-turned-cookbook author Erin Chase, who has written “$5 Dinner” books. My daddy blogger colleague Omar Gallaga recapped that panel here.

Statesman freelancer Isadora Vail covered a number of women-in-tech sessions, including one about how Planned Parenthood has used the digital space in the middle of the public fight over women’s health, including the Komen controversy.

Lisa Ling and Susan Orlean were on a panel about how women represent themselves online. “All of this technology is making women more insecure than ever before. We are being bombarded with things at all hours of the day. To me, its all these things we grew up resisting,” Ling said.

SXSW Tech Superwomen

A panel about mentoring called Tech Superwomen apparently had some feel-good messages: Don’t be afraid to fail. Seek out people who inspire you. Own your work.

I’m really bummed I missed this Designing Experiences for Women panel that explored the world beyond “shrink it and pink it” — I shudder at the thought of every website I’ve ever been to that is an example of this — and I’m thrilled that don’t have to deal with the scum that were at the center of a panel called “Pick up artists versus Feminists.”

But the biggest lesson I think I learned came from a panel called “Is Aggregation Theft?,” which was about the ethical dilemmas involved in sharing, linking to and repurposing content.

“Aggregate as you want to be aggregated,” an editor at large at Ad Age said. He was saying it in reference to the term used for condensing and passing along others’ content, but as the week went on, I took it as a reminder of the good old Golden Rule of conducting yourself, both online and off. Talk about others as you want to be talked about. Help as you want to be helped. Assume in others what you want others to assume about you.

I’ll use a personal example here: I felt a little snubbed by Rachael Ray yesterday. For the past three SXSWs, we’ve done a quick little video interview for Austin360. In between festivals, I’ll interview her over the phone about some cookbook or project she’s working on. She always acts like she remembers me and cares about the work I do. Unlike Anthony Bourdain or Paula Deen’s people, her people make an extra effort to connect her with me, which inevitably leads to coverage that benefits their client.

But yesterday, my videographer and I waited and waited and waited for our three minutes one-on-one with her. The two of us and Ray all crossed paths plenty of times during her annual SXSW party at Stubbs, and instead of pulling her away from her husband’s band’s set or some other media interview, she and I just exchanged pleasantries about the party, the weather or the band. But after 3 hours, we decided we had better things to do on a sunny Saturday afternoon (that happened to be Ian’s birthday).

Ray has grown on me over the years, especially after reading the chapter about her in Kim Severson’s “Spoon Fed” in which Ray helps teach Severson to embrace her own weird, flawed self by being authentic, which is always a big buzzword of SXSW.

I was looking forward to asking her about that and catching up about the year behind us and the one ahead. But it just didn’t work out. At first, I took it as a personal affront to my medium. The TV stations, with their polished, practically airbrushed reporters and fancy equipment, sure looked slicker than our online-only set up. Then I started to question this so-called authenticity of hers that I’d started to buy into, but by the end of day, I’d talked myself out of walking away from the situation with a chip on my shoulder. “It’s not about you,” I could almost hear my mom saying. “Don’t assume the worst.”

I thought about all the times I’d left an event early or didn’t respond to an email until a few days too late. I wouldn’t want people to assume that it was because I was snubbing them, and everyone deserves to have the benefit of the doubt, even the almighty Rachael Ray.

6 responses to “Food, feminism and assuming the best in people at SXSW

  1. Well, I would say it was Ms. Ray’s loss. Meeting you was a highlight for me and you were as kind and gracious as could be. There is no way the snub was in anyway “about you.” Hope you get a few well-deserved days of rest after the chaos!

  2. I’m so glad you wrote this-So many times my first reaction is “it’s all about me” then I have to step back and assess the situation. However with that said this may be why I only attended Rachel’s first year sxsw party. After her first year it appeared to become another marketing promo that I just did not have the energy of standing in line with 2000 other people for. At any rate Rachel’s loss, as I agree with SAHMelier you are one of the most gracious “snub free” reporters I know.

  3. If the truth be known, I think Rachel would thank you for those moments of peace you allowed her on that crazy day. I hope she reads this post and realizes how much you respected her time that day.

  4. So I wrote a (great, insightful) response to your post in the wee hours of the morning last night and then screwed up logging in and lost everything. Here was the gist. It never sounds as clever the second time around, but you’ll get the point. : )

    Thank you for all the SXSW coverage of interactive. I’m planning on getting a badge next year, but it’s hardly needed with your posting real-time recaps of so many panels. Really loved all the reads.

    Thanks, too, for your recap of the Lisa Ling and Susan Orlean panel. I’ve never been into FB—too much personal info on display for lots of barely friends. But these past few months, I’ve been getting into LI and Twitter. This social media stuff can take you back to 5th grade, 8th grade, and, god help us, sorority rush (thank god I didn’t get in). It’s good to hear intelligent women remind us that we don’t have to go back to those teenage years. We’ve come a long way from those overly insecure days. No need to backslide into high school at the ripe old age of 40.

    • Thanks for this, Martha! I love the sentiment in your comment. I refuse to play these popularity and power games that also plagued my younger years. It took me 20 years to learn to trust women, and I’m not going to let online pettiness take that away. Hope to see you soon!

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