Thursday, November 29, 2012

where are the women?

It's so very, very tempting to write a top ten list to answer this.

10. Busy getting shit done, fools.
9. Working hard for the money while you tweet about your awesomeness.
8. Outside propping up the oversized ego that doesn't fit inside the house.
7. In the girls bathroom having a real conversation. (This one's for Lisa, Jen & Erin!)
6. ...yeah, well, you get the picture. Snarky snark snark, etc.

My friend, colleague, ethicist, listener and excellent thinker-with Jimmy McCarty has a beautiful blog post in answer to this question, where are the women?, which has plagued many folks in a variety of public and virtual spaces. The last time I saw this question pop up on an internet forum, it was on the IEET blog, a transhumanist think-space and very male-dominated. And intriguingly, the conversation as I remember tracked pretty closely with the responses on Tony Jones's post at Theoblogy--intriguing, because these two communities are in some ways complete ideological opposites, and yet they are plagued with an identical problem. As virtual extensions of male-dominated spaces (science/technology/academy, church/seminary) women are rarely seen or heard in the comment threads and in the virtual community. Where are we? And why aren't we there along with our bros, when we could be? What's up with that?

Jimmy's blog post advises three simple therapeutic interventions: 1) shut up; 2) listen; 3) collaborate. To which I can only say, amen, amen and amen.

Of course, that's hella difficult to do, especially when 1) you have a lot to say yourself (don't we all!); 2) you're bound to hear some angry shit from people who've been shouting on the margins for years while being ignored and still have to get an official invite to join the "real" conversation--and that's hard to listen to without wanting to defend yourself; 3) collaboration means inviting real transformation and change, in the discourse and in yourself. But: that's the medicine. You want women and other excluded folks in your community? Don't try to convince us why we're wrong about not liking your policy or your tone or whatever. Figure out what it is about your space or your platform that actively excludes us: shut up, listen, and collaborate. In a word, stop mansplaining.

[update: Tony has followed up with this gracious response to yesterday's post and comments.]

Anyhow: Jimmy's got that all wrapped up, I think, so I've been thinking about another way to get at this, and one that has some interesting ramifications for me as a blogger/writer/academic/churchy-type person. I've been thinking about audience: not just in terms of stats and demographics of actual audiences, but in terms of intended audiences. I still tend to write this little personal blog with the sense that my audience (like me) is primarily Church of Christ, either currently or historically, and that affects both how I write (simple things like abbreviations and taken-for-granted CofC shibboleths, the epitome of which is, of course, 728b) and what I write about--simply because it affects what I find interesting or bothersome enough to work out here on the blog. To be sure, I also blog about other things--feminist theology more broadly, or theology and science, or poop in the bathtub, you know, the usual mix--but my CofC identity is pretty much front and center. (Take the Harding University presidential search post below as an example--itself a response to something that happened in the CofC blogosphere. It's parochial.) So...that's not bad or anything. In a lot of ways, it's just me being who I am: a feminist theologian somewhat uncomfortably situated within the Church of Christ, for better or worse.

But what if I imagined my audience as bigger, broader, and more diverse than people who share my ecclesial peculiarity? What if I imagined that some of my former NBTS colleagues or students might read this thing? What if I kept in mind that people with histories of sexual or relational or spiritual abuse might read this blog? What if I kept in mind that friends from China might read something here?

It would change some things. And realizing this, I think that's one potential strategy forward in constructively addressing the question of where all the women are. Who are you writing for? Who are you, as you construct your post, imagining will be reading it? Who's there, and who isn't?

Importantly, this strategy doesn't ask us to be anyone other than who we are or demand that we transpose ourselves from our actual location in the world into someone else's imagined location. It means that, as a feminist theologian uncomfortably at home in the Churches of Christ, I try to speak intelligibly to more than just my own "kind." Not speak for others, but speak for myself to others. It's a small shift, but an important one. Maybe, even, a prerequisite (0), before Jimmy's (1) shut up, (2) listen, (3) collaborate.


Jen said...

And they wonder why we go to the bathroom in groups.

JJT said...

Ha! :) some of the best discussion in my seminars happened in the bathroom during breaks! That's why that one's for my PTS sistahs.