Why aren’t people bored with making old news? Running May 6th-7th, The New Yorker Conference describes itself as a “dynamic conference…of new ideas, forward thinking and eye-opening innovation,” currently defining these words with a list of 24 speakers only 3 of which are women. I don’t believe that women contribute only 12.5 of “forward thinking” ideas, and I doubt The New Yorker shares this sentiment either, but their current list of panelists certainly suggests this.
Having spent some time myself as a curator, and on various review boards, I can tell you that almost without thinking about it, you can find ways to account for the poor representation of women. For example, I commonly hear, “we invited an almost equal proportion of men and women to this conference,” a line that quells the worries of many when faced with depressing statistics. However, anyone who has been on a selection panel knows that the names you start with are rarely the same as the ones you end up with, so unless conference organizers make equal gender representation a priority it’s simply not going to happen.
I say this not because I believe there are less talented women than men working today, but because as individuals we have to work with the awareness that our inherent cultural biases lead us to trumpet male performance over that of females. I’m not going to bother providing lists of statistics we’re all aware of, particularly since this sort of thing leads to comments like “your assertions maybe correct, but you’ll need real evidence to support it not just a headcount.” but I will cite the following example to support this statement: Personism’s List of Women Speakers for Your Conferences, has been linked to on several occasions by Internet celebrities such as Kottke.org, and the Design Observer, in addition to heavy weights such as We Make Money Not Art, Modern Art Notes, Design Sponge, blogher, and yet, despite all this coverage, The New Yorker conference planners either didn’t know about it, or didn’t use it. Now, granted, CNN has not yet linked to the post, but it would seem to be me that largest indicators that these biases exist, reveal themselves when the resources available to correct the problem don’t remain in our consciousness long enough for them to be used. The New Yorker has some time to fix this problem – let’s make sure they do it.
The Tokion Conference Gender Debate (outgoing links to all key players within this post)
CBC News: Where are all the women writers? “When it comes to the magazine business, why is Harper’s so bizarre about women writers?”
The Brooklyn Museum’s Elizabeth A. Sackler Center for Feminist Art now has a blog.