Reaction to my all-male panel challenge

I’ve been wondering whether to write this post. After all, most of what I have to say, was said and perhaps this post will be rehashing things. But then I’ve just read this article (it’s in Polish). It is a news story about negative reactions to a panel of 7 men discussing abortion rights, experiences, consequences. Yes, 7 men only discuss, among others, what it means to have an abortion. You just couldn’t make this up! So perhaps there is a point writing this blog.

This post is an account of the reaction I had to the challenge I made to an all-male panel at a Polish conference, which I reported in this blog . Interestingly, my post was reposted on one of the Polish academic blogs I regularly read (the post and the discussion is in Polish). The blogger reposted it  saying that it is ironic that men’s voices count for more in a debate on women’s discrimination.

The discussion in the comments under the blog is very interesting and I want to make an account of it. The discussion concerning the issue of all-male panels consists of about half of 84 comments under the post.

As might have been expected, the discussion on the blog was quite polarising, though the lines of disagreement did not run along the gender lines (as identified in the linguistic form, as the discussants are largely anonymous), at least not entirely.

Let me summarise the arguments agreeing with my position. They were made along the lines I suggested, however, two women offered a number of examples of practices discriminating women in Academia (not only Polish), including a professor who professed during lectures that women should be be offered free higher education as it is a waste of money. Or that reasons for excluding women were relying on the theme of  ‘men supporting families’. You know, the man of the house must be paid because he is the head of the family. Obviously, women’s families do not need cash and if they do, it will come from the husband. Another point was about the male-dominated Academia. Basically, if an invitation comes from a mate with whom you had been drinking all your academic life, then women are unlikely to be invited.

And finally, one of the women asked how often the male discussants get questions about their reproductive plans or, indeed, the condition of their penis. There we no answers.

The arguments against my position were as follows. They relied on the notion of ‘positive discrimination’. We should not show favouritism for a group, because there might be better specialists in the dominant group.

And then came the heavyweight arguments. One was about frustrated 50-year-old career women who suddenly remember that they didn’t have children and it was too late. Then arguments about pregnancy which is generally a burden in being an academic, together with equal opportunity ‘really’ meaning favouring women. And that is it, roughly.

I have a couple of reflections. The discussion was quite similar to the conversation I had with the man challenging me about my challenge. It’s a discussion in which the parties talk about two different things. One party talks about systemic discrimination of a group of academics, the other about this group’s attempts to get better treatment and in the process discriminating another group of people, which in turn will devastate the academic standards. So far, so boring.

But what really worries me is the construction of child-like, feeble-minded women who really don’t know what they do up until the age of 50 when they discover that actually having a baby had all along been their dream and destiny and as they cannot fulfil it, they lash out at all around them. This is a picture of reality which I find offensive (and it would be offensive if made with regard to any groups of academics, but I am yet to hear such a thing about men who don’t have children).

I would, however, like to respond to one more point. Do women ‘deserve’ to be represented on constructed general panels. As I am not an ethicist,  I probably will miss some of the nuance. But my commonsensical answer is: yes. Thinking that only one group of academics can have access to the creation of knowledge is preposterous. But playing it safe,  I should perhaps rephrase the problem. I don’t know whether women deserve to be represented, I do know, however, that men do not deserve to be the only voice of the discipline. That seems very simple and obvious to me.

As I said at the beginning, I decided to write this after I read the news of an all-male panel discussing, among others, experiences of abortion. To all those who still wonder about the points I make here, consider an all-female panel on experiences of taking Viagra, on prostate cancer, or male impotence. You can’t, can you?

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