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Where Do You Keep Track of Women's Presence?
What's measured matters
This week, we cover where you keep track of women’s presence (or absence). And you can still send in your notes on which women in your life expanded your sense of how you could be a woman. I’ll share your responses to that question next Thursday.
Between Amy and Morgan, we had a lot of fields covered for where and who to count.
When watching TV or movies, I do like the Bechdel test (recently while watching a new show with a primarily male cast I commented to my husband, "Hey, they passed in episode 3! That's sooner than I expected!") As a woman in a male-dominated STEM field I look within companies (my own and others) at where women are shown and featured—are they managers? Technical experts? Board members? Executives? This doesn't tell the whole story, but it can be illuminating. Finally, I watch where my alma maters hire from, and who they hire. There wasn't a single female faculty member in my undergraduate department when I graduated, and in my grad program (at a much larger university) my advisor and department chair were both women. When my undergraduate department hired its first tenure-track female in 2012 I was delighted!
The challenge can be figuring out how to reward and encourage good practices once you spot them.
And then Morgan:
I count constantly. I count conference line-ups, panel discussions, book award lists, award list winners, short lists that people post of folks they recommend others follow on Twitter, podcast guests, sources quoted in articles (and if they're interviewed as anecdotes v. experts) and so on and so forth. (I also note when they're spouses of another speaker.) Truthfully, though, I give very little credit to seeing women's names if they're all white women. Because white women often run in the same social circles as white men, I don't actually give too much credit to places that may achieve gender equity but are still overwhelmingly white. Inviting WOC and ensuring they're not tokenized takes real work but it also shows me how much institutions truly care and aren't just trying to do the least/give lip service.
I’ve known some women who refuse to be the only woman on larger panels exactly to avoid this kind of tokenizing. I haven’t ever tried it—we’ll see what happens after covid.
CC mentioned that she finds it’s men who are few and far between for her:
I rarely do the sort of accounting you describe, and I think that is because I've always been drawn to women-dominant spaces professionally: women's magazines, a doctoral program in Victorian literature (with a woman—and a mother—for my dissertation advisor), now high school English teaching and romance novel writing. It is true, however, that in many of these spaces male voices take on outsize authority or importance when they do appear. I've also been pondering the narrative of the Brilliant, Iconoclastic Teacher Who Changed My Life and how he's almost always a dude, while the types for good women teachers are either Cranky Witch Who Nonetheless Taught Me Grammar or Lady I Wish Were My Mom.
My girls decided to count the number of female vs male authors on their shelves after watching the episode [of Inside Pixar about counting lines by gender]. We tipped very, very far on the female side. About one male author on their shelves for every female.
I appreciate CC’s point about what kinds of stories we tell about men and women in the same jobs—especially in my work as a journalist. I grew up thinking about journalism as wresting the truth from someone trying to keep it away from you, and sometimes it is that kind of tussle. But often it feels like the work of hospitality and patient receptiveness.
I have to make a space for someone to be comfortable sharing their story with me, and it’s their story, not mine. I have to be ready to receive what they actually have, not what I imagined or asked for initially. That sounds a lot more like woman-coded work than male-coded scoop-grabbing.
Next week, I’ll be the guest author for Gracy Olmstead’s Granola newsletter. I always look forward to her monthly emails. I also was pleased to join Plough for a conversation about my article on the dignity of dependence. And, finally, I got to review the new Wonder Woman movie for First Things.