A Simple Suggestion to Help Phase Out All-Male Panels at [Church] Conferences

At the Atlantic, Rebecca Rosen offers “A Simple Suggestion to Help Phase Out All-Male Panels at Tech Conferences.” Rosen writes:

Dear Men,

Have you noticed that a lot of the time it just seems like, gosh, there are a lot of dudes speaking at this conference? Perhaps you’ve been on a panel and you’ve looked around and seen man after man after man. Maybe you’ve thought, it’s too bad the organizers didn’t think to balance this out a bit more and ask some women to speak too.

I love that this has bothered you. And I am happy to tell you about a simple step you can take to help change this: Refuse to speak on all male-panels. Just say no.

… The conference organizer is not the only person here with power. If you have been asked to speak on or moderate a panel, make it your business to ensure that this does not happen. We created a simple pledge that our editor Alexis has taken. Feel free to add yourself or make the pledge in your head privately.

Rosen offers a little pledge form to sign and everything. The pledge reads:

I will not speak on or moderate all-male panels at technology and science conferences.

Excellent idea — too good not to steal.

Rosen’s point, and her pledge, seem applicable and desperately needed for the realm of church and theology conferences as well. So let’s adapt and adopt her pledge accordingly:

I will not speak on or moderate all-male panels at church and theology conferences.

But then involving more people means applying more pressure for change. And involving more people also empowers more people to be the kind of people who can bring about change.

So let’s adapt this pledge further to be something that those of us who aren’t the sort of people usually invited to speak on or moderate all-male panels can participate in as well:

I will not speak on or moderate or attend all-male panels at church and theology conferences.

 

  • http://beholdconfusion.wordpress.com/ beholdconfusion

    Or how about, “I will not speak on or moderate or attend all-male panels. Period.”  

    Except for obviously male dominated subjects, “Fatherhood in the Modern World,” or “My Experience with Erectile Dysfunction,” any field ought to have expert women.  It should go the other way too, men should be represented in female dominated fields.  I’d love to hear a man’s experience in early childhood education.  

  • Carstonio

    Good pledge. Perhaps we could expand it to the lineup of witnesses testifying in Congress on contraception.

  • http://twitter.com/mcclure111 mcc

    However this rule is maybe a bit awkward to try to follow if you are yourself a woman

  • Figs

     The letter is explicitly addressed to men.

  • http://twitter.com/cdbaca Christopher Baca

    Not that I’m not a feminist and don’t desire diversity, especially at conferences. However, (and again, not that this would actually happen) doesn’t this logically lead to all-female panels? I value men and women equally as human beings, which means I value diversity and equality, not the non-existence of men in these conversations and conferences.

  • Figs

     How in the world would this lead to all-female panels? If a man says he won’t speak on an all male panel, and then they add a woman, and he agrees, then you’ve still got an almost-all-male panel. I don’t see the mechanism for this leading to FEMALE DOMINATION. Enlighten me.

  • Leum

     How on Earth does this logically lead to all-female panels?

  • http://accidental-historian.typepad.com/ Geds

     Not that I’m not a feminist and don’t desire diversity, especially at
    conferences. However, (and again, not that this would actually happen)
    doesn’t this logically lead to all-female panels? I value men and women
    equally as human beings, which means I value diversity and equality, not
    the non-existence of men in these conversations and conferences.

    Yes.  It leads to all-female panels in exactly the same way that gay marriage leads to the end of straight marriage.

    Or, to be less flip: a “panel discussion” usually has four to six people on it.  Bringing, say, three women into a six-person panel still means that three men are on the panel.

  • http://twitter.com/mcclure111 mcc

    It seems that if all-female panels at tech conferences became commonplace then this would probably be a sign that the “pledge” rule is no longer useful and can be discarded.

    But I don’t think that’s going to happen, so…

  • http://twitter.com/cdbaca Christopher Baca

    Calm down there, Figs.

    I misread the OP, particularly in light of the mess emergence is in with the Phyllis Tickle debacle. I suppose as long as it doesn’t turn into refusal to allow men on panels or men being afraid of participation, then I’m all for it. It just seems like some people who call themselves feminists aren’t actually feminists, they just find any male voice to be non-credible simply because they are male. I’d hate to see that as much as I hate male-dominated discussions now.

  • Figs

    So it’s OK to you to be more inclusive of women, as long as those wily women address your imaginary concern that they’re secretly out to EXCLUDE ALL MEN?

    Seriously?

  • Carstonio

     

    as long as it doesn’t turn into refusal to allow men on panels

    But no one is proposing that, so there’s no valid reason for you to bring it up. Please explain why you think that a push for diversity on such panels would lead to exclusion of men.

  • Becca Stareyes

    I’ve heard of a few male SF authors doing that as well; basically if you want them to do panels at cons, you need to make sure your panels have at least some female authors/artists.  (They may even have suggestions of women to contact.) 

  • Andrew

    Paul Cornell is the SF writer who has promoted this idea http://www.paulcornell.com/2012/02/panel-parity.html 

  • Cathy W

    …and our esteemed host might be able to help in that regard - surely in a list of 1134 women Christian bloggers there’s at least a handful who are a) the particular flavor of Christian any given conference organizer is looking for, and b) willing to participate on panels.

    (Solves the semi-related problem where the same three women end up featured at every conference because they’re the first three names that come to mind to be The Woman On That Panel…)

  • Carstonio

     I thought of Fred’s list as well. Among the men who set up such conferences, many of them might very well believe in the evil teaching from 1 Timothy 2. Others might simply subscribe to a more generic, arteriosclerotic variety of sexism where it doesn’t occur to them that women could be qualified for such a panel. Like the black female doctor I read about who notes that she gets the “Are you really a doctor?” look even from other blacks and other women.

  • rrhersh

    Hmm…  The one conference I attend every year is on 19th century baseball history.  It is a pretty niche interest, and there is a regular group of attendees.  I can think of three women in the group.  The conference includes a panel discussion.  I’m not sure if any of the women have been on it, though some have given other presentations.   I suppose we could make sure to have one of them on the panel each year, but we all have sub-interests, and theirs would be unlikely to match the panel topic every year.  And frankly, the idea smacks of tokenism.

  • http://accidental-historian.typepad.com/ Geds

     I suppose as long as it doesn’t turn into refusal to allow men on panels
    or men being afraid of participation, then I’m all for it. It just
    seems like some people who call themselves feminists aren’t actually
    feminists, they just find any male voice to be non-credible simply
    because they are male. I’d hate to see that as much as I hate
    male-dominated discussions now.

    Careful, there.  Your privilege is showing.  And you shouldn’t get that straw feminist too close to open flame, either.

    Very few people argue in any sort of seriousness that a male voice = not credible by default.  The actual argument is that the male voice is taken as and assumed to be the default.  Organizers of conferences then basically manage to get away with maintaining the status quo by saying, “Welp, we have some guys who are well-known and are big draws at panels all the time, we’re all good.”  They then ignore the bit that if you keep listening to the same voices talking about the same things you’ll always get the same results.

    What the idea of not participating in all-male anything is saying is, “Just shut up and let the women speak for a bit.”  I, as a man, am all for that.  I’ve tried to develop a habit of shutting up and letting women speak.  It turns out that they often have interesting and worthwhile things to say.  It also turns out that they often have interesting and worthwhile things to say about things that I assume aren’t a big deal because they don’t impact my life in any noticeable way.

  • http://musings.northerngrove.com/ JarredH

     It just seems like some people who call themselves feminists aren’t
    actually feminists, they just find any male voice to be non-credible
    simply because they are male.

    I’ve heard many non-feminist and anti-feminist men make that exact same claim, both in general, and about specific feminists.  In my experience, when pushed to defend that perception or claim, they usually come up short.

  • Figs

    It only smacks of tokenism if you assume that there aren’t any women out there qualified to speak on the topics which previously hosted all-male panels. This is faulty, though that should go without saying.

  • LMM22

     I suppose we could make sure to have one of them on the panel each year, but we all have sub-interests, and theirs would be unlikely to match the panel topic every year.  And frankly, the idea smacks of tokenism.

    We — as in, every single genre of con that I’ve seen consider these policies — have had these kinds of conversations. While this may be true in *your* case, the vast majority of conferences have a decent number of women.

    Keep in mind, you don’t have to have an equal number of male and female speakers to get this to work. You just need to make sure a *sixth* of your panelists are female.

  • rrhersh

     So this conference on 19th century baseball history should assume that at least one of those three women present are qualified to speak on any panel topic which might be selected?  It would be astonishing if at least one of any three men from the group filled that criterion.

  • http://musings.northerngrove.com/ JarredH

     Only three women?  How many men attend this conference?  Maybe a bigger question would be why such a small percentage of the attendees are women in the first place?  (As niche a topic as it may be, I’m inclined to believe there are more than three women in the nation who are interested in 19th century baseball history.)

  • http://blog.trenchcoatsoft.com Ross

     I pledge not to read open letters addressed exclusively to men.

  • http://twitter.com/cdbaca Christopher Baca

    Look, I’m sorry if I offended anyone, and I already apologized for my original misreading of the OP.

    I reinforced the idea that I am FOR diversity and equality. I just think that we as HUMANS – regardless of gender, sexuality, etc. – should be careful to not simply try and vie for power one way or the other. All this talk of privilege is good, if it leads to equality. But again, the tendency for these discussions to end up saying the white, straight, male should be silent is rubbish, IMO. (I’m not saying this one is, for the record. Just that we should ALL be careful about the language we use and pushing for equality.)

  • JustoneK

    Then why would a hypothetical one be rubbish?  Why should we all be careful about the language we use?

    Are the consequences for all of us the same?

  • http://twitter.com/cdbaca Christopher Baca

    I’m not sure I understand what you’re asking. 

    If you’re implying that the consequences for females are different for males if we don’t fight for equality, I’d say sure, on the surface.

    Nonetheless, not fighting for total equality (and not the push for one side, be that non-white, non-male, or non-straight) affects us all, regardless of our particular identities.

  • Lurking

     Even if one or two women  are on a six person panel, that still leaves 4-5 dudes on the panel. Even if women are HALF!!! of the panel, that still leaves HALF the panel being dudes. Equality!

    It’s not so much as the straight white guy shout shut up, it’s that the straight white guy should stop talking all over everybody for once and let them speak instead of assuming that when the straight white guy speaks, he speaks for all.

  • LL

    Now if we could only get Congress to do it. I didn’t think I could have more contempt for Congress until I observed the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform hearing on the contraceptive coverage rule last  year. Then, suddenly, I found a deep reserve of contempt I hadn’t realized I possessed.

  • http://twitter.com/cdbaca Christopher Baca

    Point taken. Like I said, I misread the original post, and mistakenly assumed the intent was to no longer have males on any kind of panels. Already issued an apology.

  • JustoneK

    You seem to also have a misunderstanding of proportion and depth.

  • Carstonio

    should be careful to not simply try and vie for power one way or the other

    While t hat may be true, that has nothing to do with the issue that Fred raised. It’s not about men versus women, it’s about exclusion practiced by a specific group of men.

    the tendency for these discussions to end up saying the white, straight, male should be silent

    I’m a straight white man and I’ve never encountered that “tendency” in such discussions. What I have encountered from some other straight white men is a tendency to treat their experiences as normative, to minimize or belittle the experiences of people not like themselves. Not just in discussions but in life.

    Even if some of us were indeed told to be silent, that’s only a taste of what people who aren’t straight, white or male experience all the time. So for one of us to ask for sympathy for being treated that way is very humanly offensive. It’s like someone complaining about having to buy a Chevy Aveo instead of a Cadillac Escalade when the person listening can’t even afford a car.

  • http://twitter.com/cdbaca Christopher Baca

    Nice. Way to be constructive. Instead of responding with something that will help me understand your viewpoint better, you resort to insulting my intelligence. That’s a really effective way of debating.

  • JustoneK

    Taking that as an insult is another example of you being unable to see past the privilege blinders.

  • http://twitter.com/cdbaca Christopher Baca

    Calling my inability to understand proportion and depth a “privilege blinder” is nothing more than masking an insult with a political jargon to make you feel better about what you’re saying. I’m willing and open to have a discussion to help me better understand my own privilege. However, you have no idea who I am or where I come from or my individual story. We can talk about systemic privilege and oppression all day long, but until we talk to individuals about their particular stories, we cannot change the systems we’re trying to deal with. If instead you had tried to respond in a loving manner that still was meant to help me better understand your viewpoint, I would have been inclined to listen. Instead you talk about my perceived misunderstandings and “privilege blinders.”

  • JustoneK

    I am genuinely sorry you perceive my responses as unloving and as insults dressed up in “political” jargon.  But I do not have time to devote atm to a full education that you may feel owed you.

    I can’t change what you read from my responses.  All I can do is try to convey more accurately.

    I am also very genuinely sorry you see a lack of understanding as a direct insult.

  • stardreamer42

     Why is your immediate response to someone pointing out a HUGE LOGICAL HOLE in your argument a patronizing “calm down there”?

  • AnonymousSam

    Yes, this. The assumption that minorities (or underpowered majorities, since “women” is a pretty significant category of people!) don’t actually want equality, they want to dominate over everyone instead, sounds to me a lot like the privilege pie fallacy (“privilege is a pie; when you give privilege to others, that means less pie for everyone else”). Privilege can be shared, and that’s the point of movements like this.

    Edit: Shared without diminishing the whole, that is.

  • http://blog.trenchcoatsoft.com Ross

    My concern with the application of this to church conferences is that it might very quickly lead to panels whose members were Dr. A. St John D. Caldera, professor of theology; Mr. GV Snatori, award-winning author; Professor Bob RF Akrotiri, leading researcher in God-Studies; Mr. LD Ia, pulitzer-winning columnist; and Mrs. R Fredson, homemaker and certified person-with-uterus.

  • Marta L.

    In my academic discipline (philosophy), some academics tried to organize something along these lines after realizing there were a real dearth of female speakers at our events, and female journals in articles. While I appreciate the idea, it made me uncomfortable because it’s entirely too easy to slip into getting a token woman. And speaking as a female grad student that hopes to soon enter the professoriate, when I get a journal article accepted or am invited to speak at a conference, I want this to be because I’ve said something worth listening to. Not because I lack a Y chromosome.

    I think women’s voices (to say nothing of non-white voices, non-heterosexual voices, non-professional theologian voices, etc.) are crucial to the kinds of conversations we want to have. But I wonder whether pledges like this are the best way to go. It’s better, I think, to ask the organizers whether they have considered inviting specific people, and if you notice a trend of only going to white men, then avoid conferences or whatever avoided by that group. But this approach of if there aren’t any women on this particular panel you don’t appear either? I don’t want to be made into a tool to prove the panel is inclusive, and I suspect the audience will miss hearing some good voices that care about these things as well.

  • Rrhersh

     “While this may be true in *your* case,”

    My point precisely.  SF fandom was in its early days massively gender unbalanced.  In those days, shunning a fan because she was a woman would have been dickish, but so would be the response of “Hey!  A woman!  Put her on the panel!”  Those days are long past for SF fandom.  Nowadays it is perfectly reasonable to ask pointedly why a panel is entirely male.  The general principle is not that all panels should be mixed-sex.  It is that they should reflect the audience.  If the audience is mostly male, we might then ask why this is.  Though in the case of 19th century baseball history, I don’t think it should come as any great surprise.

  • rrhersh

     “Only three women?  How many men attend this conference?”

    It fills a smallish auditorium:  perhaps about fifty?  (If you have been to the Baseball Hall of Fame, it is in the auditorium behind the room with the plaques, next to the book shop and research library.)  I don’t swear by that number of three, but it is a pretty tight knit group (mostly via email listserv the rest of the year) and I ran through my mind who among the regular are women.  I don’t find the small number surprising.  Baseball geeks run heavily male, and the 19th century crowd are the people the baseball geeks look askance at.

  • http://www.facebook.com/scott.jamison.9212 Scott Jamison

    It may be worthwhile finding out what specific 19th Century baseball knowledge the three (or so) women who regularly attend the conference have and see if one of them might match the topic of a panel.  It might take two-three years to get the right combination, but the effort would be worth it.

    With regard to religious conferences, there are a few esoteric subjects where there may only be five people in the world qualified for a panel, all of whom are men.  But there are a lot of subjects where this isn’t the case and a qualified woman could be found if the conference organizers shift themselves to look.

    And if you (general you) are the kind of person who gets invited to speak at these conferences, it would be nice if you made a list of your female and/or minority colleagues who are also qualified and you get along with  just in case the organizers need suggestions.

  • http://blog.trenchcoatsoft.com Ross

     The thing about pies is that even without making there be more pie, you can typically share it around to the satisfaction of more people if you cut it with a knife instead of a sledgehammer.

  • http://www.facebook.com/jrandyowens Randy Owens

    Reminds me of one of those Wonka meme pics that’s been making the rounds:
    http://cdn.memegenerator.net/instances/400x/26642605.jpg

  • LouisDoench

    Though in the case of 19th century baseball history, I don’t think it should come as any great surprise.

    Tell that to Christina Karhl… ;)
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Christina_Kahrl

  • stardreamer42

    I’m rather surprised it took this long for the “unqualified women chosen only to fill a quota” argument to appear; usually it shows up in the first 3 responses. Do you realize that what you’re actually saying is that there ARE no women qualified to be on such panels, or at the very least that there will never be any women qualified “enough”?

    Are there no women who teach theology, no women writing about religion, no women doing work in “God-Studies” (whatever the hell that is), no women writing religious columns? (The last of those, of course, is trivially disprovable given Fred’s list of female Christian bloggers.) Or is it just that they are automatically “less qualified” than even the most mediocre of men doing the same work?

    So you might get a woman on a panel who is (by your criteria) less qualified than a man. Do you think every single panel at every conference ever has only the half-dozen most-qualified  men on it? Isn’t it just as bad for a more-qualified man to be passed over in favor of one who is, perhaps, more available or less expensive? Why is it so much worse to think about a woman being chosen instead?

    Indeed, why do you dismiss the possibility that there are women MORE qualified than some of the men on those panels, who are being passed over precisely because they don’t have the Magic Dongle?

    I am goddamn sick and tired of people trotting out the same old bigoted arguments against women that were used to keep black men out of positions of authority for so long. Your “concern” is PART OF THE PROBLEM, and trolling.

  • http://blog.trenchcoatsoft.com Ross

    Yes. That is exactly what I was saying and not at all that the same damned patriarchs who dismiss Rachel Held Evans as “post-evangelical” will just pad their panels with carefully vetted prarie muffins (While the literally thousands of qualified women remain uninvited) and then look shocked, SHOCKED that you’d DARE claim they’re a bunch of mysoginistic pricks, given that, look: We’ve got wimmins right there fore all to see. And even THEY agree that a woman’s place is in the kitchen making the proper church leaders sammiches.

  • Carstonio

    Huh? I thought Ross was attacking the “unqualified” argument, not endorsing it. The scenario Ross offers is about panel organizers treating diversity as an onerous requirement, picking a woman almost at random in an attempt to pacify their critics. From my reading, the message wasn’t that few or no women were qualified for such a panel, but that organizers don’t want such women there.

    And why would the organizers avoid stocking their panels with qualified women? My working theory is that they’re afraid that someone like Rachel Held Evans on the dais would directly challenge what they see as their natural authority, but I defer to any answers Fred would suggest.

  • http://rightcrafttool.blogspot.com/ Sign Ahead

    Fortunately, neither of the two areas mentioned in Fred’s post (Tech and Theology) have that problem. Both of them have plenty of intelligent women with very interesting things to say. They aren’t just tokens. The pledge is a useful way to encourage event organizers to seek them out.

    I suspect that most disciplines are in the same situation. I’m a graduate student too, and last year I helped organize a couple of product design and entrepreneurship panel discussions. Both times, the list of potential speakers started out very male and very white. But once we saw that and took steps to correct it, we found plenty of outstanding women and people of color. In fact, we could have filled several additional panels with all of the people we discovered. We just had to acknowledge our biases and look beyond them.


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