Where Are All the Women?

I recently discovered what has now become one of my all-time favorite Tumblrs: Congrats, you have an all male panel! The site compiles photos and flyers of “all male panels, seminars, events, and various other things featuring all male experts” from all over the world and gives each a David Hasselhoff stamp of approval. The result is a hilarious and profound commentary on the global lack of gender diversity among so-called “experts” in a wide range of fields.

This Tumblr provides a powerful reminder that we need greater representation of women in academic and professional conferences. And the problem of underrepresentation extends far beyond these contexts. As Soraya Chemaly recently pointed out:

  • Of the 5,193 public, outdoor statues in the United States, a whopping 394 are women.
  • In Congress’ National Statuary Hall there are 100 statues, 99 of whom are men.
  • Between 2000-2009, 206 people were honored on postage stamps, less than 25%, women.
  • Not one national public holiday is named for a woman or recognizes a significant event tied to women’s equality or revolutionary acts.

Of course, underrepresentation is not unique to women and the numbers are even starker among people of color and other minorities. Vox recently covered a survey of all cartoons featured in The New Yorker in 2014 and found that over 70% of the cartoon people in the magazine were male and almost 95% were white. Similarly, the #toylikeme campaign highlights the utter lack of positive disability representation in children’s toys.

One of the many consequences associated with underrepresentation is the lack of accessible role models for women. Role models, whether we realize it or not, play an important role in our success. A 2012 study published in the Journal of Experimental Social Psychology found that exposing women to female role models such as Hillary Clinton and Angela Merkel led to more empowered behavior, including both stronger self-evaluations and higher ratings from others. Earlier this month, The New York Times covered the educational, economic, and social benefits of having a professional role model in the home: mothers. According to “a new study of 50,000 adults in 25 countries, daughters of working mothers completed more years of education, were more likely to be employed and in supervisory roles and earned higher incomes.”

It seems like a bit of a self-perpetuating problem: to balance gender representation, we need more successful women but to get more successful women, we need to give them more visible role models. But the growing dialogue about this issue will hopefully quicken the pace of change. After all, we now have David Hasselhoff stamps to mock disparities, a strong push to get a woman on the twenty dollar bill, and a presidential candidate who is busy making pint glasses out of 100% shattered glass ceilings. I’ll drink to that.

Lila Miller

Lila Miller is a former contributor to Shattering the Ceiling.

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