Friday, February 9, 2007

Harvard Soon to Elect First Female President!

I just received some news that made me giddy. Drew Faust, currently dean of Radcliffe and feminist scholar, is likely to be named the first female President of Harvard!

I am thrilled. In my undergraduate involvement with the Radcliffe Union of Students (formerly the student union of Radcliffe, but after the merger of Radcliffe and Harvard, became more a women's / feminist group that tried to encourage dialogue around women's issues at Harvard - of which there were many), I had the opportunity to speak with Dean Faust on several occasions and was always impressed by the way she was thinking about issues on campus.

It's about damn time that we have a female president too. Outsiders might be surprised to know that the legacy of Harvard being an all-male school for hundreds of years has created a true bias against female undergraduates.

This is most salient when it comes to Harvard's real-estate and endowment rich male-only "finals clubs" -- the Harvard version of Princeton's eating clubs. Oh boy could I go into a long post about that, and maybe I will one day...

But it is also apparent in the myriad of student organizations at Harvard. Take a simple example: A capella clubs. The men's a capella club at Harvard (let's take the Dins, for examples) has a long history at Harvard and thus a large endowment. Every summer they go on a huge (expensive) international trip to beautiful locations for singing engagements. Their poorer female counterpart, the Tonics, however don't have the same history i.e., endowment. As a result, they might do a small tour in the Northeast, but nothing in comparison to their rich male counterpart.

I could give dozens of other examples (don't get me started about the rugby team! The men's team was founded 100 years before the women's team, so the women's team is forever the poor, car-pooling cousin of our richer coach-bus male counterparts.)

These might sound like small insignificant trivialities, but when the discrepancy between women and men's organizations is almost an institutional truth, it is all too obvious that there is still a long way to go at Harvard towards gender equality.

Here is the NYTimes article.

Wednesday, February 7, 2007

Girls Gone Wild

Some good discussions happening on the Feminista front this week. I love Alan Shimel’s blog post re: booth babes at the RSA conference. I didn’t go to the RSA conference, but my jaw dropped when I heard that they still have that! Sounds like RSA marketing is trying to be some bad combo between Nascar, Vegas, and a Dungeons and Dragons convention.

But the real feminista front has been in a world far far away from technology conferences: In the past couple of weeks both Sandra Day O’Connor (retired from Supreme Court) and Ruth Bader Ginsburg (currently only woman on Supreme Court) gave interviews that have tickled the ears of feminists (and, as Dahlia Lithwick notes, parodists) – O’Connor shed a little more light on her "choice" to retire and her regret that she was not replaced by another woman, Ginsburg discussed her loneliness and isolation in the Supreme Court as the only woman.

You can read the interview Ginsburg gave to USA Today here, and O’Connor’s interview with Newsweek here. You can also ready a great article by Dahlia Lithwick of Slate, “The female justices begin to reflect on feminism.” (By the way: O’Connor’s interview occurs in an edition of Newsweek that features Paris Hilton and Britney Spears on the cover with the headline “The Girls Gone Wild Effect”. Quite fitting, eh?)

I’m both heartened and awed that they, particularly Ginsburg, are talking out. In general, it is (unfortunately) atypical for women in leadership positions to draw attention to their own gender. But for Ginsburg, I find it especially significant because she is currently a Supreme Court Justice. While O’Connor is trying to continue her career outside of the Supreme Court, Ginsburg will have to deal with any potential backlash while she is still a Supreme Court Justice. The guts necessary for this public moment of what seems like plain ole honestly is apparent if we contrast it with other women in high leadership positions.

Last month for example, I referenced a NYTimes article, “How Suite It Isn’t: A Dearth of Female Bosses.” One salient point mentioned in the article that I did not broach was that the vast majority of the Fortune 500 female chief executives who were contacted for the article “did not want to participate in an article about female C.E.O.’s.” Instead, they preferred to be “acknowledged for their accomplishments, rather than for being women.”

While I can understand where they are coming from –if being a successful woman leader is tantamount in many ways to that woman’s overcoming her “otherness”, calling attention to that “otherness” would be counterproductive– I personally find this mindset itself counterproductive. (In case you couldn’t tell!) If we don't discuss, bring attention, and argue about these points, then the status quo can be accepted and perpetuated all too easily.

One might speculate that it is precisely for this reason that O’Connor and Ginsburg are speaking out. What message are we sending to women entering law school or aspiring to be clerks for the Supreme Court when having a woman on the Supreme Court in in the process of being token-ized, and the best Bush could do in his effort nominate a woman to replace O’Connor was to nominate someone who fit a/[his?] comfortable stereotype of a non-threatening-thank-you-card-writing-“comforter”? I'll echo Lithwick's "Shwaaaa?" with my own "Bleh!!" here.

By the same token, what message are we sending when women working at technology companies (or "checking out" technology companies!) have to see booth babes in skimpy outfits peddling their bodies as a means to peddling the technology company's wares?