We are having an interesting debate on the ins and outs of the Gendered Conference Campaign in this thread. I must confess that I sometimes do not even know where to begin, when I hear for the nth time that “it’s about the quality of the program, not about gender!” and similar arguments; but then I just try to run the usual replies for the nth time the best way I can (along the lines of how implicit biases make it so that judgments of quality are never ‘only’ about quality etc.).
This got me thinking: why do we still encounter so much resistance in some men (and women!) to the idea that something like the Gendered Conference Campaign is important? Two posts that I read today over at the Feministe blog may offer partial answers. The first one is about a study among top managers in the corporate world, and in particular how their private situation at home shapes how they view women in their professional environments: “Men with stay-at-home wives are more likely to be sexist in the workplace”. Here is a passage from the abstract of the article in question (‘traditional marriages’ is defined as marriages where the female spouse does not work outside of the home):
We found that employed husbands in traditional marriages, compared to those in modern marriages, tend to (a) view the presence of women in the workplace unfavorably, (b) perceive that organizations with higher numbers of female employees are operating less smoothly, (c) find organizations with female leaders as relatively unattractive, and (d) deny, more frequently, qualified female employees opportunities for promotion.
The second (very polemic) post is about how stay-at-home wives end up contributing to the perpetuation of the ‘breadwinner & housewife culture’ in the corporate world. This happens because they provide an example to their husbands which is not conducive to the appreciation of the position of women in professional environments (as confirmed by the study mentioned above), but also because they ensure that their male partners be freed from all concerns with the ‘life’ side of the equation. The latter means that these men are able to focus entirely on work, thus making it harder not only for women but also for the men who do participate more actively on the domestic front to make it to the top.
I’ve experienced some of this ‘breadwinner & housewife culture’ myself through my husband, who works for a big multinational. He was twice about to be ‘shipped’ overseas for what to him would represent a big promotion, and twice I said we just weren’t going anywhere, which came as a big surprise to his bosses. The bosses simply thought I’d tag along, assuming that my career and my interests would be seen as secondary. (Happy to report that both times things turned out for the better for his career anyway.) My husband actively seeks to hire women and promote them within the company, not only for idealistic reasons, but also because he thinks that a diverse team is a better team, in all respects. (I take small pride in the thought that at least a partial reason why his starting point is that women can be valuable, competent colleagues is the example that he has back home!)
But anyway, back to the Gendered Conference Campaign. In my experience through the years, the men who are most sympathetic to this and similar initiatives are the men who have female partners who themselves have a career outside of the home (or sometimes, men who have a similar role model in their mothers). I see two obvious reasons for that: one is related to the study mentioned above, i.e. how having a female partner who has a career outside of the home provides a positive example which then makes them more inclined to view women positively in their own workplace. The second one is that, if you have a female partner who’s struggling to succeed in a world where sexism still abounds, you are likely to hear about her experiences on a regular basis, and thus to be sensitive to how hard it still is for women in the professional sphere. Otherwise, how would you know? Being a man, you are quite likely not to notice the thousands of subtle, veiled but very damaging little obstacles that women have to overcome on a regular basis in their careers. (But of course, you can also just go read the ‘What it’s like to be a woman in philosophy’ blog to enlighten yourself.)
So I’m just throwing it out there as a hypothesis, to which I am sure there will be a large number of counterexamples: there may be a correlation between men who oppose initiatives to foster the position of women in philosophy, academia and elsewhere (such as the Gendered Conference Campaign) and the professional status of their female partners. The less career-oriented the female partner is, the more likely it is that the male partner will resist such initiatives. Again, I am sure there will be innumerous counterexamples (men who don’t endorse the GCC and yet have career-oriented female partners; men who have stay-at-home female partners and yet are deeply concerned by gender equality), but on the basis of the study mentioned above, I suspect that there might be a statistically significant correlation.
(I realize that some people may find all this offensive: I apologize in advance, it is not in any way my intention to criticize stay-at-home female partners.)