Thursday, October 12, 2006

Gender Politics

Lately, bloggers have been "outing" conferences with particularly gross gender imbalances in their programs. For example, fellow Sivacracy blogger Ann Bartow has used the Web to shine light on academic events in which women are extremely underrepresented or not present at all on speakers' lists. Her targets have included male-dominated videogame conferences and intellectual property law conferences.

This week, the makers of the fabulous street art and urban image compendium The Wooster Collective, known for their global reach and cross-generational appeal, have called Tokion Magazine on the carpet for holding a much vaunted "creativity conference" without any female speakers. Writer and gallery owner Jen Bekman broke the story and began to compile a list of of "Women Speakers to Invite to Your Conference." (I liked seeing Ellen Lupton on the honor roll.) Bekman encourages visitors to her website to nominate people.

You can read the conference organizers' explanations for yourself. Since I've raised this matter of equity, I've heard from female friends who defend the conference organizers. They argue that there may be structural reasons why women who are invited or accepted often choose not to come. Our society still places more domestic obligations and responsibility for child and elder care on women, and thus it may be hard for them to get away, even for a speaking engagement. On the level of class economics, also, women make less money than men. Even if the conference has dollars for honoraria and travel reimbursement, which many impecunious conferences with noble aims don't, there many costs to attending conferences, which many women can't afford.

Personally, I feel much more comfortable with the process of blind peer review, even though my use of buzzwords like "gender" as a category of analysis could still cause some of my research to be excluded. It's like when orchestras began auditioning musicians behind a curtain, so decision-makers could really listen to the technique and interpretation of the music on its merits. This practice has dramatically improved the gender balance of orchestras nationwide, and now I see the analogous practice of blind peer review fostering diversity at conferences.

Update: Apparently Internet whistle-blowing works. The conference speakers list finally has some women, so Wooster is no longer insisting on a boycott.

Many Thanks to Paddy Johnson of Art Fag City for corrections to my history of the debate and to Jen herself for her heads-up about revisions and improvements to the list.

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Blogger Julia Lupton said...

I've followed some of the buzz on this (thanks to personal postings from Liz). The blind audition idea works for some things, but probably not for conferences. I think conference organizers need to strive for diversity of many sorts -- not just gender and race, but also stage in career, topics and interests, even presentation styles. A good panel is one that sparkles with a plurality of persons and perspectives. Different voices make for better theatre.

5:06 PM  

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