Writer Moms

Published on February 8th, 2016 | by Lux Alptraum

27

BINDERCON RESPONDS to Jade Sanchez-Ventura’s essay, “My Baby Comes With Me”

MUTHA published an essay by Jade Sanchez-Ventura that talked about how she felt when she was told her baby wasn’t welcome at a writer’s conference for women. We invited the organization to share their response. Lux Alptraum provided this statement. Thank you to Lux and Jade for engaging on this topic–and please, MUTHA readers, join in the comments! 

Lux_Alptraum.JPG

Lux Alptraum – co-founder of Bindercon

In the summer of 2014, I teamed up with another writer, Leigh Stein, to create the conference of our dreams: one where women and gender non-conforming writers from a variety of backgrounds could come together to learn, network, and, most importantly, support each other in their careers. A year and a half and three conferences later, BinderCon and Out of the Binders (the 501c3 nonprofit behind the conference) have welcomed fifteen hundred women and gender non-conforming writers from around the world; a diverse group including many women of color, trans and gender non-conforming writers, novices and accomplished award winners, and, yes, both child-free writers and moms.

Since BinderCon’s founding, our planning team has faced a number of challenges, ranging from fundraising to how to provide comped admission for those with financial need to how to sustain a year-long programming calendar without a salaried staff or office. But no challenge has been more difficult than determining our attendance policy. Over the past year and a half, we’ve wrestled with the question of who BinderCon is for. Should men be allowed to attend? Should attendees be allowed to bring their children? Should talented teenagers be welcomed as attendees? After much discussion, our team – an impressive group of accomplished writers; some child-free, some moms – came to the conclusion that, in order to provide the best BinderCon experience for all our attendees, attendance must be limited to participants only. As a professional development conference focused on advancing the careers of women and gender non-conforming writers, that means attendance is limited to working and aspiring writers above the age of eighteen who identify as women or gender non-conforming. Since last summer, we have prominently displayed this policy on our tickets page, so that anyone considering purchasing a ticket does so with full knowledge of our attendance policy.

There is no question that working mothers face additional challenges; at BinderCon, we do our best to provide assistance to our attendees with children to make possible for them to take full advantage of the conference experience. Since our founding, BinderCon has made a significant effort to amplify the voices of the mothers in our community, with two separate panels devoted to the topic of balancing motherhood and a career, and a number of mothers among our speakers (including keynote speakers Jillian Lauren and Rebecca Walker at our LA conference this March). As part of our ongoing mission to promote a multi-faceted approach to diversity, panel organizers are strongly encouraged to include writers who are mothers on their panels as well; panels that do not include the experience of being a working mother fail to address the needs of many of our community members.

And as Ms. Sanchez-Ventura notes in her essay, we provide a pumping room for nursing mothers (usually an office space or classroom with a nearby refrigerator); we also provide stipends of up to $250 to assist attendees who cannot afford childcare due to financial hardship (three have already been awarded for our spring conference). For many of our attendees, that stipend makes a huge difference: as speaker and stipend recipient Mi’Jan Celie Tho-Biaz wrote after our latest conference, “[The childcare stipend] made a huge difference and supported my attendance. You are such a gift to women writers and creatives, and I am so happy for your happiness and continued success!”

And we are always looking for ways to do better and provide more. For our most recent conference, we looked into the possibility of providing on-site childcare; regrettably, the quotes we received were far outside our budget, and required much more space than our venue could provide us with.

Which is another essential – and rarely discussed – point in the ongoing conversation about young children at professional conferences. As a conference focused on women writers, driven by a feminist mission, we are held to a much higher standard than other conferences, even as we work within an incredibly limited budget. The $175 we charge for two days at BinderCon (a fee which includes some meals and an end of conference happy hour) pales in comparison to other writing conferences. The ASJA conference, also in New York City, charges members $399 for two days of programming. A ticket to the annual AWP writing conference, this year in Los Angeles, costs between $240 and $300 for non-members, with a discount on presenter tickets (BinderCon speakers are not charged for their tickets). We are fortunate to have the support of a few generous sponsors, but even so, we operate under a tight budget.

As we grow – both as a conference and an organization – it is our hope that we will be able to do even more to help the careers of a variety of writers, including more travel stipends for writers outside Los Angeles and New York, increasing the number of live streamed tracks to expand access to our programming, and, yes, providing on-site childcare. If you are passionate about helping Out of the Binders – the only nonprofit of its kind – create a world where all writers, including those with children, receive the support that they need to advance their careers, I encourage you to make a tax-deductible donation today. The more funding we have, the better services we’re able to provide for all our attendees – and the more we can focus on our mission of shattering the glass ceiling that prevents women and gender non-conforming writers from getting ahead.

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About the Author

Lux Alptraum

Lux Alptraum is a writer, sex educator, and consultant. Past projects have included gigs as the editor, publisher, and CEO of Fleshbot, the web’s foremost blog about sexuality and adult entertainment; editor-at-large for Nerve.com and How About We Media; a sex educator at an adolescent pregnancy prevention program; an HIV pretest counselor; and the founder of Boinkology, a blog about sex and culture.

Her writing has appeared in Cosmopolitan, Hustler, FastCompany.com, Salon.com, TheAtlantic.com, Time Out New York, Jezebel.com, SundanceChannel.com, Bizarre Magazine, Jalopnik.com, BlackbookMag.com, GOOD Magazine, and more. She has spoken about sexuality, the internet, and adult entertainment at Harvard University, Brown University, Yale University, NYU, Columbia University, Ohio State University, SXSW, and New York City’s Museum of Sex.



27 Responses to BINDERCON RESPONDS to Jade Sanchez-Ventura’s essay, “My Baby Comes With Me”

  1. Grace Krilanovich says:

    Yes, I can understand why you wouldn’t want a bunch of kids running around at a conference where you’re trying to have a nuanced, in-depth discussion. It would not cross my mind to try to bring my four year old to BinderCon.

    But you need to think about the idea of allowing moms and infants. Babies under one year. That is a whole other story. Then moms who are practicing ecological breastfeeding can attend, and moms whose babies are going through acute separation anxiety can attend (that usually kicks in around month eight). Or moms who for whatever reason don’t want to leave their baby at home can attend. Infants are not “kids” per se. I mean, they don’t even realize they’re separate people until several months in.

    My days with my baby are long and filled with diapers, chew toys and stuffing little sausage arms into onesies, sure, but my mind is still active and thinking about all kinds of things that have nothing to do with parenting. The solitude and monotony of being home with baby can actually be quite conducive to intellectual thought. There are times, stuck in the rocking chair, where you can do little else. This is creative potential that can be tapped, nurtured, networked-with, etc.

  2. I just want to second what that commenter says. I have been involved with local grassroots efforts around childbirth and we sometimes show movies. While the group tries to make most events open to mothers with their kids at any age, sometimes there is a “mothers with babies only” policy. I would strongly encourage the conference to consider this policy as it would not cost them any additional money. I know that when my kids were babies, they were generally not happy to be left with strangers for any length of time anyway, so for some having the childcare option is not enough.

  3. Nina Nina says:

    One of the great things about having small children in my NYC neighborhood is that you meet interesting people on the playground. I was chatting with a mom recently while our boys played on the swings and she mentioned that she was missing out on sitting on a screenwriters panel that very day because her babysitter came down with a cold. The irony was that the panel was on the subject of balancing motherhood with your life as a film industry pro. I understood because the prior year my place of work sent me to a theater conference. I had identified three local nannies in advance so I could attend and know that my 9 month old was in good hands. All three nannies bailed at the last minute. I spent four days in another city with my baby, making funny faces and bouncing on the hotel bed together. I would have been more productive if I had just stayed at home…

    The same theater conference recently announced that it has become kid friendly. After attending for several years before I had kids, their adjustment allows me to continue going now that I have two small children. This conference has impacted my career and I’m glad that I can still enjoy that at this stage of my life. More info here: http://www.tcgcircle.org/2014/04/wait-i-can-bring-my-kid-to-the-tcg-conference/

    I appreciate the first note asking BinderCon to consider allowing those with small babies to attend with them in tow. I bet that once the word gets out there’ll be binders full of women with children who would take up the offer…

  4. Jade Sanchez-Ventura Jade Sanchez-Ventura says:

    I think the above two comments highlight such an important reality; that once new moms get their stride we often do have lots of time and energy–so long as can sling those babes and bring them along.

  5. Brittany says:

    Babes in arms is so much different than “children”. You cannot presume yourself a feminist or a person trying to further the future of working mothers if you do not look in the face the discrimination that nursing mothers have to navigate on the daily.

    You should strongly reconsider this policy to include infants in arms. You really are on the wrong side of the fence, here.

  6. Rhea Wolf says:

    To have panels on balancing motherhood and creative life, but to not allow women to bring their babes-in-arms is indeed ironic. I appreciate what BinderCon is doing in general, but having been excluded from other professional conferences for wanting to bring my breastfeeding, in arms baby, I think it’s time we all do more. Let women with bring their kids. There’s this whole idea about how wonderful it is for mothers to have time away from their children. And that’s what it mostly is: an idea. The reality is that this policy excludes mothers from being able to attend.

  7. Although I appreciate that BinderCon responded, they did so with a great deal of defensiveness and very little apology and without addressing this writer’s difficulty. Perhaps they addressed her directly with more kindness.

    They could’ve said ‘our bad. Of course you should’ve been able to bring your nursing infant. Of course we should’ve thought of that. We are sorry. We are operating on a shoestring and without full-time staff, and this fell through the cracks. Please accept our apology, and a refund. And would you please come and speak about this so that we can highlight the issue?’

    This would’ve been an apology, and acknowledgement of wrongdoing, and an overture to make it right. What Lux offered was none of those things. Please try again.

  8. Jade Sanchez-Ventura Jade Sanchez-Ventura says:

    I’ve been thinking about BinderCon’s response through the day, and I’m with Nanci. I’m struck by their tone and that in fact they didn’t seem to absorb the point of my piece.

    The goal is not to tolerate parents and their children; it is to welcome them, and doing so benefits everyone involved. Furthermore, not welcoming infants-in-arms (not to mention children in general) disproportionately affects women-something a feminist organization should be taking seriously.

    Lux writes, “As a conference focused on women writers, driven by a feminist mission, we are held to a much higher standard than other conferences, even as we work within an incredibly limited budget.”

    But I’m not holding it to an unreachable standard. I’m simply asking it to not fail as so many other organizations do. Welcoming, inviting, wooing, courting, celebrating writers who are also mothers does not cost anything.

    I do expect BinderCon to do better. Because it is already doing better, in so many ways. That’s why their policy is such a disappointment. It’s missing an opportunity here.

    If anyone would like to read more about the importance of creating more space for mothers, and nurturers in general, check out this excellent piece:

    http://www.nytimes.com/2015/09/20/opinion/sunday/a-toxic-work-world.html?_r=0

  9. Inger MacRae says:

    Amen and amen to all the above comments! That BinderCom somehow manages to incorporate a plea for money in their reply was very disrespectful. I can’t say that her comment made me feel very generous. Babies are meant to be with their mothers as much as possible. We are not all fortunate enough to be able to bring our babies to work, but kudos to this who can and do.

  10. heidi says:

    The nursing infant is totally different than having a toddler at a conference. Before 1 year or so, childcare is hard to come by and baby needs to eat all the time. In my experience of birth education, doula trainings, yoga, and other types of bodywork and movement workshops, nursing infants are always welcome. And that makes attending those kinds of things possible for new moms.

    This is a serious issue and until we accept infants out in the larger world, new moms will be held back socially and professionally.

  11. Lauren says:

    That the BinderCon official response involves an invocation to donate is strange to me- primarily given that the infant-in-arms costs *nothing* as an attendee. If anything, a breastfeeding mother is probably not going to drink the given guest quota at the included happy hour, and would be a cheaper conference attendee overall. 😉

    Seminars and speeches about balancing motherhood with life do little good if the women who need to attend them can’t do so because an errant baby might cry out for the ten seconds before he latches to feed. If feminism is about supporting women and holding space for us to be whole, complete individuals, but we leave our sisters out of critical conversations, where does that leave women as a whole? Do we really live in a culture where large groups of women (and gender non-conforming people) find a young baby to be such a sufficient distraction that we can’t permit the baby’s mother to participate and hold space in a place where she otherwise belongs?

    Early motherhood is a time of incredible challenge and unbounded creativity. If we, as a culture, found a way to nurture this rather than keep it stuffed inside the home, women everywhere would benefit.

  12. Ana del Rocío says:

    Sorry, BinderCon. NAGL.

    I so wish that the above women and their brilliant opinions were around four years ago when I was a fumbling new mother in NYC aching for the “professional world” to take me back without needing me to apologize for my baby’s existence.

    Now, we don’t ask. We demand.

  13. Jade SV Jade SV says:

    Yes to all of the above!

  14. I agree with all the comments above. I have been excluded from other writer conferences because of the same issues. An infant in arms policy would be a start. Also, a room with childcare for toddlers and older children would be ideal if funds came available. Often as single moms, we are travelling far distances, and our little ones still need us to check in with them throughout the day; perhaps some mothers are still nursing after their child has begun to walk.

  15. Also, following up on my first comment, the idea that spaces will be compromised by the presence of children is very US centric. In Mexico, I brought my daughter to many events and she was always welcomed. I was invited to read poetry at an event at a university outside of Mexico City, and one of the organizers sat with my daughter, attending her as I read. I wish more events in the US were as welcoming and generous to single mothers and their children.

  16. Angela says:

    I think this is a really disappointing position to take. We women who juggle so much, our work, or family, some with little or no support (by way of family or friends to help with a baby our young child) need to be welcomed as they are with all they can contribute.

    By making this call, and not even giving women the choice (bring children or not) you are upholding a Western Cultural norm that discriminates against women and babies. I cannot believe that the organisers of this kind of conference fails to get this.

    I have attended weekend conferences, which included care for children and welcomed children and family – these organised by women, for women (mostly). I have been involved in organising them (as a mother and parent and a professional) it’s not that big a deal to be inclusive and supportive if you genuinely are inclusive and what to make a change and ACTUALLY support women.

  17. Jill Benson says:

    It really seems like they have no appreciation for the special needs of infants. What an unconscious policy. It is very unfortunate that this is their so-called best answer for professional mothers. Seems (but she didn’t really say, did she) like they exclude infants because they are (wrongly) lumping them in with toddlers and older children, who have different needs and would actually be distracting to other participants. It’s really infuriating when nursing mothers and new mothers (and babies!) are put on the other side of the fence by the very people purporting to be creators of inclusive, feminist spaces. Is it the 1970s all over again?

  18. So basically, you’re there for childless women writers and women writers who are comfortable leaving their infants with someone else for the hours of the conference programming.

    How very feminist of you (NOT.) If you wanted to make an inclusive space for women writers…you should have dealt differently with the issue of children.

    For me, as a woman writer, the experience of being a mother cannot be separated from the experience of being a writer. A serious writer. A professional writer. It is from that point of view–of being a mother in the modern world (and a mother with a developmentally disabled child)–that I came to understand much more about society, culture, and structural biases. And about how mothers are excluded, dissed, blamed, shamed, and policed nonstop, even if their children aren’t disabled. By other women, unfortunately, as often as by the press and men.

    I have been to other conferences where children were not welcome (not until our son was old enough, and his father unemployed, so someone could be with him constantly) and I have been to conferences and conventions where they were welcome. (He interrupted my keynote speech one time…with the impeccable timing of a born comedian, and it was perfect. One’s speech should always be shorter than planned.)

    Your “child-free” policy does not make you seem more professional….it does make you seem less feminist and less woman-friendly. My 27th book will come out next spring; the 28th is about half done now. The notion that mixing child-care and serious writing is impossible, or less “professional” is simply…foolish. The notion that in order to communicate with one another as colleagues–serious writers engaging about writing–women have to be removed from their children–is, to me, incredibly elitist. The old “writer alone in the garret” model is outdated. The richness of women’s writing comes from the complicated, messy, even chaotic lives that women live, the need to compress that experience into those cracks and crevices of time that are all many of us can find, for years on end.

    Consider what you’re losing with this policy. Consider having childcare (including not just a “pumping” room a place to breastfeed) at your next conference. You will gain from the writing experience and the life experience of mothers–and their children will gain as well.

    • Kierstin Gunsberg says:

      Elizabeth Moon has said it all.

      How unfortunate, Lux, that you and the others in charge of BinderCon are okay with further spreading this unhealthy, outdated idea that if a woman pursues professional interests that she/they should be separated from their child.

      My children are an extension of me. I do all of my schooling, writing, and work with them by my side. This is the era I want to nurture, not one of separation, isolation, and exclusion.

  19. Tracy Langkilde says:

    The call for funding for on-site childcare was insensitive. It also inferred that, even if children were allowed to accompany their mothers, they would need to be put in childcare. These are professional women that can make their own decisions. Permitting babes in arms seems logical. Providing on-site childcare would be helpful. And the leave it to the parents.
    I’m a biologist and have attended dozens of professional meetings, some with and some without my child. I have always felt this was my decision. If my child is happy to sit in the audience quietly and read a book, he comes into panels and talks with me. My child will accompany me to the poster sessions, where other biologists talk to him about their work. I will sometimes bring family along for support. They will stay in the general meeting areas while I’m in talks, having conversations with other biologists and their children. I will hang out in hallways with my child. It can be difficult to navigate. But there are lots of opportunities to network, which is a critical benefit of attending these meetings. There are no policies. There is no pressure to handle an accompanying child a certain way. On-site childcare is often provided but not required. They leave it to the parent to decide. And talks are not swarmed with small screaming children. Situations are handled professionally. And students get to see that they can have a family and a career.

  20. I was just at the AWP conference and saw at least two babies attending panels with their mothers. One slept in a stroller alongside his mother at the back of the room. The other was strapped in a sling. As a mother myself, I was impressed by these mothers’ multitasking. I heard one of these babies make a tiny noise, that’s it, and I’m sure the mothers would have left the room if disruptive crying started.

    I also saw infants, as well as toddlers and other slightly older children in carriers and strollers, at the AWP book fair, which requires an entrance ticket to attend. I don’t know what AWP’s official attendance policy is, but it appears to be (ironically) more flexible on this point than Binders was.

    • Also, I met a 16-year-old who was attending AWP. I would have guessed he was in college by the serious intent he brought to the conference and was quite surprised to find out he was still in high school. What an experience it was for him, and only enriching for his fellow attendees.

  21. Megan Rogers says:

    I brought my baby to AWP this year for one day of the conference. He was almost seven months at the time. I wasn’t nervous about it because I’d seen other babies in past years. I sat in the back of the sessions I attended, sometimes with my baby on my lap so he could nurse, sometimes on the floor so he could roll around. When he fussed, I stood in the very back or just outside the door.

    Ironically, one of those sessions I attended was entitled “The Baby Penalty,” and as I sat there, I kept thinking of how challenging it is for mothers with small children, especially if they’re still nursing, to be able to show up and to be welcomed. Sometimes simply being present with my young child feels like a political statement, that I’m making a point that I belong there, that I deserve to be there.

    Trust women. Trust that mothers are making the decision that’s best for their situation and that they know their children well enough to have a sense of how things are going to go.

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