December 24th, 2007

Web developer, Southern gal, and self-proclaimed third-wave sex-positive feminist (“If you don’t know what that means, too bad for you”), Amber Rhea is also the head honcho behind this April’s Sex 2.0 conference. Heroine Sheik picks her brain on the origins and goals of this sexy upcoming event:

Heroine Sheik: Why did you decide to put together the conference?

Amber Rhea: The idea first started to form in early 2007. It was born out of frustration. I had been going to a lot of social media/blogging/technology conferences, and there always seemed to be a token “women in _____” (fill in the blank with blogging, podcast, whatever) session. That was annoying enough on its face, the idea that social media as a whole was *not* about women, and we just got one little session “for us.” But what annoyed me even more was that somehow, in all of these sessions, the conversation inevitably would turn to the question of personal vs. professional, and how you “look” online, and people were saying some really disturbing things. The one that pissed me off the most was when a woman who worked for a PR agency said, “If you work nights as a stripper, you deserve to get fired from your day job.”

I just could not handle one more of these 101-level conversations where I would be, often, the sole voice trying to get people to understand that, really, sexuality is a very nuanced subject, and the internet makes it even moreso. I hated the judgments, the name-calling, and (to use a phrase coined by Lux Nightmare and Melissa Gira) the reinforcement of the Pink Ghetto. I wanted to create a space to celebrate all the amazing, awesome stuff women are doing online that isn’t getting nearly enough positive attention.

HS: Why are you using the “unconference” model?

AR: The unconference model ensures that the content and direction of the event is controlled by the people who are there participating, rather than by some ruling body of overlords (benevolent or otherwise). I’ve seen that unconferences are successful because when people feel a sense of ownership, they tend to take a much more active role in making sure that they get something positive out of the event. I’ve participated in several unconferences and have organized one – PodCamp Atlanta 2007 – and I find it difficult now to go to traditional conferences that are mainly one-way interaction, with a hierarchy of expert presenter and passive audience member.

HS: How did you personally get involved in these issues, like sex and the internet, sex positivism, and sex worker rights?

AR: Sex positivity: I’ve been sex-positive for as long as I’ve had any degree of adult sexual awareness, although I didn’t always have a term for it or give it much thought. When I was a teenager I was extremely bugged by the sexual double standard and I used to write about my frustration in my journal (this was pre-blogging!). When it really all came together for me in terms of being able to truly *name* the source of my frustration, as well as finding a niche that embodied what I was trying to express, was when I read Susie Bright’s book Full Exposure. I know it sounds corny to say a book changed your life, but in a way that one did for me.

Sex and the internet: I’ve always been a very sexual person, I’ve always been a nerd, and I’ve never been good at compartmentalizing. The social paradigm that tells us we must compartmentalize our sexuality and present it only in very specific contexts drives me batty. Again and again I see people losing jobs over things like posting nude photos of themselves on the internet. Just recently I found out that a potential client did not want to work with me because she was “uncomfortable” with the fact that I write and speak openly about sex. I refuse to keep hidden away such a large, important part of who I am.

Social media/internet: I organized PodCamp Atlanta 2007, co-founded the Georgia Podcast Network, have been blogging for almost 6 years, have led sessions at several social media conferences (and unconferences!) and am just generally a big geek.

HS: What other sex-related organizations do you work with?

Locally, I just helped organize an open mic and roundtable discussion in observance of International Day to End Violence Against Sex Workers, which was Dec. 17. The other two organizers and I are hoping that as a result of Monday night’s program, people will feel inspired and we can galvanize a more cohesive sex workers rights organization that will agitate for rights at the local level. [In addition] after the first of the year I will be writing a monthly column for Download Squad about the ways in which sexuality and Web 2.0 technologies are influencing each other.

HS: Will you be speaking at the conference? Which talks are you most excited about?

AR: I won’t be speaking, other than to do a general welcome… What am I most excited about? There’s really no way I can choose; I’m excited about all of them. Seriously, they all sound amazing, and I have been thrilled to see people coming up with such great ideas over the past several months…

Anyone who has an idea for a session should feel free to drop me an email and let me know what they want to present, and I will add it to the web site. There’s no long, complicated “call for papers” process. Part of what makes an unconference is the idea that everyone has something to share, everyone is an expert in some way, and everyone can help start a good conversation.

Tags: events, sex

3 Responses to “Five Questions with Amber Rhea”

  1. Being Amber Rhea » Blog Archive » links for 2007-12-25 Says:

    […] Heroine Sheik » Blog Archive » Five Questions with Amber Rhea (tags: sex2.0 interviews me) […]

  2. Anonymoose Says:

    This sounds interesting. I’d like to participate in a discussion about where internet life crosses over into real life. I always hear about employers checking people’s Facebook or MySpace accounts, and potentially getting looked over or fired. I think there are good and bad points to putting yourself on the internet from an employer’s perspective of checking out their employees. If I were an employer, it might be a tough call for me if I had just hired the person, or were considering them, not because of a question of morality. If they were a competent and reliable employee (edit: and law-abiding), and didn’t let their personal life interfere with their work, then who am I to undermine their abilities? For me, it would really be a question of focus (depending on the nature of information that I came upon), where does their focus in life lie? Can I expect a person that might be obsessed with the constant approval and validation of others to excel in the workplace, or can I rely on someone that cannot prioritize?

  3. Bonnie Ruberg Says:

    Speaking of employers etc. looking you up online, you might be interested in this.

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