VI Fight for Your Right to Party
You know, sometimes it seems like we're all at the SFF party, all talking, moving from one bunch of friends to the next. There are a bunch of people over by the table with a tray full of apples--they call it "The Fruit Tray" actually, and if you ask them they'll tell you this party is all about the great fruit you can have and they point to that tray full of apples--anyway, there are men and women hanging out by the apple tray. And whenever someone unfamiliar with the party asks, "So what's that party like?" someone points to that tray of apples with the people crowded around it.
There are women around the apple tray, but somehow, (even, often, within the party itself) when people decide to tell the story of how the party is going and make lists of the best quotes from the party, it's mostly only the men around the apple tray who get mentioned. Even though there's great conversation and wonderful bon mots from every corner of the party.
In fact sometimes it seems like the guys, they think there's no one else at the party but them. Now, I like apples, but I have to go over to the bar to get cantaloupe and pineapple. And conveniently, there's a bunch of women over there, talking about things that matter to them, and that conversation is just one of the excellent conversations that happen at this party. But the apple tray guys don't care. As far as they're concerned, they are the party, and they've cornered the market on fruit.
"But," you might argue, "those guys around the fruit tray..."
"Apple tray," I interrupt. "And there are plenty of women in the group!"
"Fruit, apple, let's not get bogged down in definitions. And I don't care about gender, I just want good stories. Those guys are really the center of the party, aren't they? And the other conversations, they're really on the periphery, not the main action."
Well, maybe. But how are you deciding what the center is? Is it possible to have some sort of completely objective viewpoint that lets you say, "Yes, those apples there are the center"? I would suggest not. I would suggest that where one is standing defines how one sees oneself relative to the rest of the universe. I would suggest that as I walk around the party and listen to different conversations--and occasionally offer my own shy statements--wherever I am seems like the center to me. I suggest that this is also true of the guys at the apple tray--but since they're not walking around much they can easily ignore the possibility of a change in perspective, and easily ignore the possibility that their view of their position in the party is, in fact, only relative.
(The rest of us have a harder time ignoring this. Mainly because the guys around the apple tray keep talking about how they're the center and the rest of us aren't really here.)
I would suggest that making a tray of apples and calling it "the fruit tray" and then suggesting that pears and grapes aren't on it because, well, that tray is for fruit not stuff like pears and grapes is...let us say, charitably, shortsighted. And a lot of those folks aren't just claiming to be the center, they think they're the whole party.
And it's not just them! For some reason people keep forgetting there's anyone at the party but the guys around the apple tray. I don't know why that is, but it means that, for instance, folks assume the women at the party--around the apple tray, over by the bar, wherever, aren't actually there, or that they must just be waitresses or someone's wives or something, and every now and then someone says, "But there aren't any women*** at this party, never have been!" and we all shout in indignation and they go, "Oh, you guys, okay, sorry, forgot about y'all. That's prolly cause you just got here!"**** And then five minutes later someone says, "There aren't any women at this party, never have been! I guess women just aren't interested in this sort of party!" Over and over again. But there's no bias here--it's just that there aren't that many women around this party to begin with!
It's enough to give a person some sort of complex.
****Of course, old photos--because this party has been running a long time--will show you a bunch of women with the guys around the apple tray, and in the other knots of partygoers around the room. And that circle of women, they've been hanging out by the bar for ages and ages. But to hear the guys around the apple tray talk, you'd think it was a freaking monastery till just yesterday.
Part 2 Slush
Part 3 Ann Likes Red
Part 4 Bias Is Inherent in the System
Part 5 Women Write Different Stories From Men?
Part 6 Fight for Your Right to Party
Part 7 Ending on Felicitous Seven
- Wiscon-Related Thoughts pt 6