When Your Heroes Let You Down is it Time to Wave Goodbye?

This article was originally published on TheVine on 8th January, 2015.

Recently, I attended the exclusive, two-day, $800 Blogcademy workshop in Melbourne, hosted by blogging extraordinaires Gala Darling, Shauna Haider of Nubby Twiglet and Rock N Roll Bride Kat Williams, who have turned their almost unprecedented success as bloggers into an international business. For that amount of money and time, my fellow attendees and I were expecting to come away bursting with fresh inspiration and tools to turn our blogs into mini success stories in the vein of the Headmistresses own blogs. What we emerged with, however, was an hours-long lesson in taking the perfect selfie and disappointment in our former entrepreneurial role models.

Before I turned my hand to the blogosphere, I fantasised about becoming a high-powered magazine editrix the likes of former mag hag turned web impressario, Mia Freedman. Ever since I cracked the glossy spine of my first Cosmo as a teenager, I wanted to be Freedman, so much so I even named my dog after her.

But, as with the Blogcademy Headmistresses, in recent years I’ve been forced to stop gazing adoringly at Freedman and acknowledge the stray, misguided comments coming out of her mouth.

For example, in April 2013, Freedman appeared on Q&A on an all-women panel with former sex worker and author of the book-turned-TV-series Belle de Jour: Diary of a London Call Girl, Dr. Brooke Magnanti, where Freedman stumbled over the use of this preferred term—sex worker—and said she would be “disturbed” if her daughter grew up wanting to work in the sex trade. In May that year, Freedman wrote on her website MamaMia in defence of Tony Abbott’s classist comments about “women of calibre” taking advantage of his paid parental leave scheme. Two Octobers ago she victim-blamed women who are assaulted whilst drinking. Freedman tweeted in April last year that she agreed with Joe Hildebrand’s attack on Rosie Batty whose son was murdered by her ex-husband in a domestic violence incident in February 2014, in which Hildebrand essentially blamed Rosie for her son’s death for not escaping her violent partner on Channel Ten’s morning show, Studio 10. And late last year Freedman came under fire for comparing gay sexual orientation to pedophilia. To her credit, though, Freedman immediately owned up to her mistake on The Project, admitting she was “mortified” that she caused offence to a community she’d so long been a champion of.

Freedman herself is no stranger to the disenchantment that comes when your icons speak out of turn. She confronted Australia’s once-patron saint of feminism, Germaine Greer, who was also a panelist on the abovementioned episode of Q&A, about those comments she made about Julia Gillard’s body and fashion sense. Freedman further lamented that Greer had “stayed too long at the party”. The most recent example of this has been Greer’s remarks about Duchess Kate’s pregnant body.

Another woman I look up to in the publishing industry is author of the forthcoming book The Sex Myth, Rachel Hills. She wrote about a similar phenomenon when her former feminist role model Naomi Wolf, author of The Beauty Myth and, more recently, Vagina: A New Biography, equated rape charges against WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange, who is still evading extradition on said charges in the Ecuadorian embassy in London four years later, with “honey trapping”.

When I spoke to Hills about how she felt about Wolf proving herself to be out of touch with rape culture she had this to say:

“My initial dismay over Naomi Wolf’s Julian Assange comments weren’t so much about what she said, as the way she responded when people criticised her for it. Why was this person I admired being so pigheaded and insensitive to the criticisms of people who were on her side? That was the moment when the Naomi Wolf gloss started to wear off for me.”

Likewise, my memories of the glossy pages of a Freedman-helmed Cosmo, with its Body Love campaign and articles on sexual assault and reproductive rights, have become disillusioned by Freedman’s continued tendency to put her foot in her mouth. But, as with many public figures we insist on asking for their opinions on any and all topics (ie. asking young female celebrities if they’re feminists), they’re “damning [themselves] to irrelevancy if [they] don’t stay up to date”, Hills says. (See Wolf’s ignorance of the term “cisgender”.)

We’re all human and, in the case of Freedman, Greer, Wolf et al. and their feminist faux pas, it’s not to say that they should be foisted out of the feminist club for being “bad feminists”, as Roxane Gay might put it. When an idol or hero has shaped so many of your formative years, whether positively or negatively, you can’t just turn their influence off as easily as a switch. We all say and do things we shouldn’t at times but a reluctance to appear vulnerable or ill informed shouldn’t prevent us from using those moments for growth. Failing that, we can start looking to other influences in our lives that are perhaps a little more positive and progressive and strive to be those influences ourselves.

Related: The Blogcademy Melbourne.

Elsewhere: [The Blogcademy] 

[Gala Darling]

[Nubby Twiglet]

[Rock N Roll Bride]

[Hello Tillie] Six Things I Learnt at The Blogcademy.

[Happy Hotline] Why I Don’t Have Idols. Anymore.

[ABC] Q&A—The F Word, 8th April, 2013.

[MamaMia] In Defence of Tony Abbott.

[MamaMia] This Isn’t Victim-Blaming. This is Common Sense.

[MamaMia] A Statement from Mia Freedman.

[MamaMia] Germaine Greer, You’ve Lost Me…

[Newsweek] The Duchess of Cambridge: How Britain Stopped Believing in the Royal Fairytale.

[Musings of an Inappropriate Woman] Naomi Wolf & Me, Or Why Heroes Are Only for the Young. 

[Jezebel] Feminist Gathering Sadly Lacking in Matricide.

Event: The Blogcademy Melbourne.

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This year has been one of professional development. I’ve completed two unpaid internships at Meanjin and The Lifted Brow, I’m working for Outback Championship Wrestling as their TV show’s host (which I have no idea how to do!) and I’ve spent my fair share of dosh on both in-person and online workshops, the most expensive of which was the Blogcademy, at upwards of $AU800.

That event took place last week at the Establishment Studios on Grattan Street in Prahan and was hosted by darlings of the blogging world Gala Darling, Shauna Haider and Kat Williams. I’d secured my place earlier in the year before I’d done many of the other workshops I mentioned above so by the time last week rolled around I was feeling about as professionally developed as I’m going to get so I wasn’t as excited as some of the other Blogcadettes seemed to be. Another factor that contributed to my stillness was that I’ve long stopped trying to monetise my blog, and instead I’m focusing on my freelance career (more to come on that soon).

Having said that, though, what I was most looking forward to was being around successful businesswomen who I hoped would inspire me going into the New Year.

While I certainly felt galvanised by Gala, Shauna and Kat and their stories, I felt that the workshop was a bit “Blogging 101” and that anyone who already had a blog, as was the case with all but one or two of the attendees, would already be familiar with much of the content.

I told some of the Blogcadettes at lunch on the first day what I was hoping to get out of the class, and that watching the Headmistresses divide the modules that make up the Blogcademy amongst themselves based on who was best equipped to teach them impressed me. As someone who really values their time and will not work for free anymore, I really respect the three women’s routine and that they were also able to work on their own businesses and blogs in the downtime between teaching modules. (What impressed me less was that the handful of volunteers assisting over the course of the two days were unpaid.)

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Putting to use my newfound Instagram skills after abusing the photobooth.

As the second day wore on, it became clear to many of the Blogcadettes that we perhaps weren’t going to get our $800 worth of blogging wisdom. The first half of the day consisted of taking the perfect Instagram picture, which is all well and good for those who rely heavily on that mode of social media such as Gala, Shauna and Kat, but I really hoped to get something more out of the social media component than how to take the perfect selfie. We then proceeded on to a one hour and fifty minute lunch before starting back on how to monetise your blog. By that point all the attendees had had a chat about the Blogcademy not living up to our expectations and that disillusionment could be felt in the Establishment Studios.

I’d told one of the other Blogcadettes my admiration for Gala, Shauna and Kat’s time management skills and she agreed but added that it could be construed as boredom, disinterest and concern with what was happening on their Twitter and Instagram than being engaged with us. It really hammered home that they’re businesswomen looking to make money from us; they’re not our friends as much as they may make us feel that way when reading their blogs (which could perhaps be the benchmark for successful blogging).

A couple of other people said that the bulk of the notes they made whilst in the workshop were of how they would better facilitate it, which is a pretty damning testament. Many others were disappointed at the lack of engagement and one-on-one time; “was anyone addressed by name over the two days?” someone wondered. (The consensus was mixed on the use of nametags, which I think could have been helpful.)

I’m making the Blogcademy sound like a painful, not al all valuable chore of a workshop and it was anything but. I got some good feedback on my blog, and somewhat of the kick up the ass I needed to implement changes to it. I probably wouldn’t recommend it, and I would encourage anyone looking to help out the next time the Blogcademy rolls into town to ask for payment; with 150 attendees in 2014, there should surely be some funds left over to support other budding businesswomen. (What’s that they say about women who don’t support other women…?) But the most invaluable aspect of the workshop was meeting the awesome women in the blogging community that travelled from interstate and overseas to attend, which I really respect and admire. Those who live in Melbourne are some kick-ass ladies I’m really looking forward to meeting up with again.

Failing that, at least I’ll be able to claim the Blogcademy back on tax!