A friend of mine sent me this link to a report attempting to help improve the quality of communication at conferences, entitled Fifteen Obstacles to Dialogue and written by Mark Gerzon.
I have an obvious bias here, so please take that into account, but I honestly can’t quite believe my eyes:
The gender trap, while much more subtle, is double-edged. On the one hand, a conference with a series of all-male panels undercuts itself, particularly if it is otherwise progressive. When conferences repeat the importance of “participation” or “the role of women in development” but then have less than 10% female participation, charges of hypocrisy are in the air, even if not spoken.
On the other hand, if women are placed on panels or in roles precisely to counteract the male dominance, this can also backfire. A series of panels with a single woman, while perhaps better than all-male ones, begs the question of why the single woman was included. One should either be serious about equitable female representation, or let the chips fall where they may. Better honest male chauvinism than manipulative tokenism.
Let’s start with that last sentence, shall we? It seems to me that male chauvinism is mentioned in the context of blind partiality for male participants, and tokenism is mentioned in the context of blind partiality for female participants. I love how blind partiality for men is described as honest, while blind partiality for women is described as manipulative. I suppose that it was too complicated to simply advocate against any kind of partiality based on gender.
I’m sad as well about the statement made by this author that the inclusion of one female on a panel begs the question of why that woman was included. The implication seems to be that it is better to avoid the appearance of tokenism than to let that lone female participate. The implication also seems to be that people would naturally assume that a woman is unqualified and a “token” before they would believe that the woman is as qualified as her co-panelists. Otherwise, presence of a single woman on a panel wouldn’t “beg” anything.
Lastly, it can only be assumed that equitable female representation is an onerous burden. Given the author’s unstated assumption that people assume tokenism before qualification for women panelists & presenters, I’m not sure why “equitable” female representation would result in a more positive audience impression than representation by one female in a panel. If anything, according to the author’s logic, the likelihood of attendees accusing organizers of tokenism would grow as the number of women grow – after all, the more women involved, the greater the likelihood that some of them are unqualified, right?
A trap indeed.