Published on February 8th, 2016 | by Lux Alptraum26
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!
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.