White dudes for change!

A progressive forum is taken to task for its 92 percent male roster.

Published January 18, 2006 8:10PM (EST)

From today's American Prospect online: "The "Saving Our Democracy" conference, sponsored by The Nation Institute and The New Democracy Project and scheduled for Jan. 21, has somehow managed to arrange a forum about the future of democracy in which only two of the 24 scheduled speakers are female -- and in so doing has begun a minor controversy."

Fanning the flames: one of Katha Pollitt's much-feared scathing letters.

"I notice that only two speakers (in 25!) [Broadsheet counted 24] at the upcoming conference are women," Pollitt wrote to organizers. "How does that fit the project of rescuing democracy? Even Congress -- even the Supreme Court! -- has a better male-female ratio than that. Please don't reply that you asked a lot of women and they said no. The world is full of women who are the equals and more of the men in your lineup. There are women who would do credit to every topic you list. Moreover, as things stand, you have no one to specifically address reproductive rights, abortion rights, the rollback of feminist gains, 'family values' as an attack on women, or the specific role of gender politics in the rise of the Christian and Republican right. That topic isn't even on your agenda. I am just disgusted that in 2006 women are still invisible to so-called progressives. Maybe that's one reason they keep losing elections."

Conference organizers also heard from Lisa Jervis, publisher of Bitch magazine: "I am very much in support of your mission to promote 'democratic participation, economic fairness and social justice,' but I'm curious as to how you think you're going to do that without the participation of a diverse range of progressives. The lineup for your Saving Our Democracy event suggests that democracy can be saved by a bunch of white dudes with a few token white women and men of color," she wrote. (To be fair, not every female or person of color in a minority is automatically a "token," but her point is taken.)

This crappy ratio is not unique to this conference, writes the Prospect poster, Garance Franke-Ruta. "And yet, it is a source of great perplexity to me that otherwise clear-headed men who are genuinely committed to promoting Democrats or 'the progressive movement' should be so blind ... The Democratic Party and left exist because of female voters and volunteers ... Virtually every left organization that relies on volunteer labor succeeds because of the labor of female volunteers, who comprise the vast bulk of such low-level workers, and when Democrats have won at the national level in the past 40 years, it has been because of their appeal to female voters." She adds that the progressive base itself is (according to research by the Breakthrough Institute) about 60 percent female.

That's just one of the reasons this 92 percent male event isn't just "one of those small intra-New York left controversies," Franke-Ruta says. There's a ripple effect. Not only do such situations "make women feel diminished and excluded," but they also make "men feel like they're never going to be able to organize a simple public conversation with their professional friends without getting hit over the head with identity politics."

The solution? "For people on the left or center left who run institutions to figure out ways to organize forums as diverse as the left itself," she writes. "After all, living your values is the best way to convince people that you have some."

By Lynn Harris

Award-winning journalist Lynn Harris is author of the comic novel "Death by Chick Lit" and co-creator of BreakupGirl.net. She also writes for the New York Times, Glamour, and many others.

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