“Meetings are institutionally sexist”; discuss. (White-knighting by #Manchester #climate bloke)

UPDATE: See excellent list of suggestions from Holly in the comments, and a crucial point about gender constructions….

Wonderful presentation from our guest speaker. Now, any questions?” says the chair of the meeting, usually about 10 or 15 minutes later than they ought.

Up shoot some hands. And those who’ve been to more than one or two meetings know what comes next…

Prepared “questions” that are thinly-or-not-at-all-disguised speeches and hectoring points. And these “questions” are asked by usual suspects, who are usually male.

As the clock runs out (and people drift out), a few female hands tentatively go up. Their owners have realised that their question – the one they’d told themselves wasn’t up to scratch – is actually better than what’s gone before. But, alas, it’s too late; only one or two get asked, and dealt with too quickly. And the meeting finishes, and with it the opportunity for something different.

We’ve all been here, yes?

And some of us have even seen the pattern. And some have even thought “if only women were more confident/if only the patriarchy didn’t teach them to shut up so much.”

It. Doesn’t. Have. To. Be. This. Way. It really doesn’t. And we don’t even have to wait for the overthrow of Entwined Phallocratic Capitalism.

hm3 q and as

It is – you’ll be happy to hear a man validate your concerns – absolutely the case that all-male panels are a problem worthy of dealing with (even boycotting). But it can genuinely be hard to find female speakers on certain issues. Why? Because for historical “legacy” (cough cough) issues, women are still not able to participate in the intellectual life of “the nation”.

What we could do, RIGHT NOW, is fix the Q and A problem. And at the same time, we might make our meetings more energising, more welcoming to other “minorities” (51% and all that), on criteria such as class, confidence, colour and clique. It would be a win-win. (Except for the incumbents – the chairs and their comrades who think time-limits are for the little people. They would lose…)

We are, I think, responsible for the predictable consequences of our own actions. If we organise meetings on the existing format, then we are responsible whenever (and it’s usually the case) the Q and A of a meeting is dominated by a tedious clique of actual-or-metaphorical trots. We can, if we choose, tweak our actions, and have a higher likelihood of a different – even emancipatory – consequence.

Reasons that will be given for not doing this;

  1. We like the current set-up.” Yes. It shows.

  2. It requires change.” Oh, sorry, my bad.

  3. It requires that social movements change the way they do things. Any fule no that all the ills of the world are due to governments/states and corporations, and that social movements activists are pure and perfect. Didn’t you get the memo?” Whatevs/facepalm.

  4. It requires a very high-level of skill to say ‘turn to someone sat next to you or behind you and say hello, and help refine any questions that anyone has.’” Yes, of course it does. You sure you didn’t mean 1) or 2) or 3)?

  5. It takes too much time.” Er, given that two minutes is about the usual length of a single soul-destroying and credibility-sapping fake ‘question’ from one of the mates of the chair, I don’t really see how you can keep a straight face when you use this excuse.

  6. The focus on gender is a bourgeois deviationist individualist tendency. After our party seizes the control of the state (with a withering-away to be scheduled at a later date, naturally), all such problems will be liquidated. Along with those who keep banging on about them, comrade.” You crack me up, you really do. Comrade.

  7. It comes from Marc Hudson and he is atheist/Australian/bitter failure/burnt-out cynic/conflict-junkie/doomster/elitist/feral/Green Party disser/Green Party member/hypocrite/megalomaniac/ratbag/sexist/twunt/undercover cop” (choose any five of the above. NB, two, possibly three, are not factually correct.) Maybe you could try separating where an innovation comes from from the personal characteristics of the person who came up with it? #toohardbasket?

  8. It’s too complicated – just emphasise that women are welcome to contribute.”  Yep, I’ve seen this done, and it usually doesn’t ‘work’. Why? Well, I think because it makes it even MORE stressful for a woman to contribute. She is now not just risking her own credibility, but having to carry the weight for other women. It can have the exact opposite impact to what is sought. And it’s asking individuals to change the system, rather than asking the system to change. Which, I thought, was what activism was all about? Or maybe that’s just me?

  9. It’s patronising and belittling. It’s typical white-knighting by a man-splainer. Women aren’t delicate little flowers, and are perfectly capable of sticking up their hands if/when they want to. They just choose not to.” Finally, a reason that I can respect, if not agree with! But hang on, if women are so strong, and the patriarchy no longer has any impacts, then let’s phone up the Fawcett Society and Riotgrrls and Feministing and tell them they are wasting their time, shall we? That is to say, how come there is still so often the pattern I mentioned at the outset? Either the patriarchy has impacts that (still) need combating or it doesn’t. I – Mr White Knight – don’t see how you can have it both ways. But I could be wrong.

Just to be clear; What I am not saying.
I am not saying that women are intrinsically smarter than men.

I am not saying that all women’s contributions will be all full of emotional intelligence or insight.

I am not saying that women are incapable of drivel and bullshit. They are human. We are all capable of drivel and bullshit. It’s what we do – homo sapiens driveliens….


About manchesterclimatemonthly

Was print format from 2012 to 13. Now web only. All things climate and resilience in (Greater) Manchester.
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9 Responses to “Meetings are institutionally sexist”; discuss. (White-knighting by #Manchester #climate bloke)

  1. Thank you for this insightful contribution. Campaigns around issues such as Page 3, Lads Mags, FGM, the Nordic Model, low pay, sexism in advertising or the media are all evidence of wonderfully loud-mouthed women speaking out about social ills. And it helps to have the support of anti-patriarchal men. As long as girls are socialised to serve and boys to rule this sexist culture will persist and women need to be encouraged to speak out. On the subject of ‘phallocentric capitalism’, socialist feminists did at one time theorize the way capitalism and patriarchy are inextricably interlinked. Sadly, neoliberal capitalism and a shift in feminism towards the cultural has all but killed it off. I keep looking out for signs of revival.

  2. Hi Marc, thanks for alerting me to this article. Yep, I’ve certainly experienced a bunch of those meetings or forums dominated by long winded (predominantly older white) men.
    I agree that a short paired check in makes a big difference to the quality and diversity of questions. I think that’s for a few reasons – it helps people who may be less confident refine their thinking, it helps people who are needy for attention/listening get some one-to-one rather than necessarily from the larger group, and it helps people process what they have heard. As another bonus it helps people feel more connected and like they’ve had a shared experience.
    Some other things I do as a facilitator to promote balance in questions:
    – When opening for Qs I ask everyone who is considering asking a question to raise their hands. I then pick a woman to ask the first Q. This seems to make a difference to how many women go on to ask Qs.
    – Where possible I alternate calling on men and women for Qs.
    – If it’s a large room I see if there are Qs in segments of the room ie ‘does anyone in the front left have a question?’ etc. Breaking the room down seems to encourage unusual suspects, and it also makes it easier to alternate folks without labouring the point.
    As a participant I have interjected when there have been a series of Qs by men to ask the facilitator to call for Qs from women, or to move women up the speaking list.
    I’d be keen to hear from other folks what they have figured out for balancing participation.
    Cheers 🙂

    • Those are bloody brilliant. Gonna steal all of them.

      Other readers, please let Holly hear your tools for balancing participation, via the comments box here. And I’d recommend you visit the plantowin.net.au site, which is full of useful and challenging ideas.

  3. Excellent point made by someone I sent it to-

    “My only comment, having recently been involved in some work with a queer collective largely made up of transgender folk, is that I’m finding binary assumptions of gender (like those I’ve made all my life!) suddenly very problematic. There’s always new layers to the onion……”

    Yes!! These terms I confidently threw around – “men” and “women” – well, I should have at least acknowledged the existence of transgender! http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Transgender

    • I think it is the transgender issue which has recently revived the gender debate: gender as a social construct, aka in the head, sex as a biological given. If children are born without clearly identifiable biological markers some countries take steps to then delay assignation of sex at birth. What they thus delay is the automatic assignation of binary sex-related roles and functions, behaviours, identity, etc. In patriarchy the male sex holds privileged roles and functions (male on male violence or discrimination is not theorized within feminism but socialist feminists in particular often pursue action in support of individual men’s rights). At meetings these relations are played out.

  4. Pingback: Civilising hypocrisies and fundamental questions: on “Emancipatory Transformations | Marc Hudson

  5. Pingback: Feminism and academic practice (Marc) – Feminism & 2 guys

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