Over the past week a rather big deal has been made over the lack of women speakers in the 4th installment of the annual conference organized by Tokion magazine, Creativity Now. A week and a half before the conference was scheduled to begin, Tokion released its much-anticipated list of speakers and, to the “disgust” of some, it included absolutely no women in contrast to the abundance of white males. Jen Bekman from Personism, Sara and Marc Schiller of Wooster Collective and Grace Bonney of design*sponge have been at the forefront of the “scandal”. And, like with any cause, a cadre of supporters — in this case, upset creative bloggers — have joined the fray with veritable outrage. I, for one, find their argument and position upsettingly laughable.
After Bekman noticed the discrepancy, she asked on her blog if it was so “damn hard to find creative women to speak on panels?” To which Ken Miller, editor of Tokion magazine, replied with a list of the creatively prosperous women they had asked to participate but — that for any given reason — were unable to participate at the time and place where Creativity Now was to take place. This response was insufficient and non-pleasing for both Bekman and the Wooster Collective. The latter, wrote an open letter to the conference’s organizers, and urged its speakers and potential attendees to “withhold their participation”. They then suggested to Ken Miller — in a public e-mail exchange where Ken firmly, eloquently and convincingly stated his position on the matter, garnering him an invitation to sushi — that, given the lack of women speakers, they should have postponed the conference to a time where sufficient women speakers had been signed up. This latest position is not only selfish, but absurd, as anyone that has organized an event — in New York, no less — knows that you don’t “postpone” events, having made venue and sponsorship arrangements months, if not a year, in advance. The story, at least on WC’s end, is a happy one as they express how pleased they are that the conference would now include at least four women: Phew…Gender equality achieved! On Bekman’s end, a crusade to show how easy it is to come up with a long list of creative women is ongoing while demonstrating nothing on how to secure women for creative conferences or why it is important to have a balance of male and female speakers.
It is hard for me to fully word an argument without coming across as patronizing to women and, perhaps, insulting to those that have expressed their concern in this matter. But I just can’t understand how, in 2006, we are still having a “where are the women?” argument. It is my perception that we have come a long, long way to a point where we shouldn’t even have to worry about gender or race being equally represented. Aren’t we all equal by now? Or shouldn’t at least act like we are? Why, as women have gained more independence, power and notoriety and have done so in the same way as men — by working their asses off, because there is not other way to do it, really — do we have to come back to an argument that reflects nothing more than a big chip on someone’s shoulder? So what if there are no women? Would the Tokion conference implode in an unprecedented display of testosterone fueled by a bunch of guys scratching their balls, burping and leaving the toilet seat up? Seriously, when it comes to creativity, does it matter who’s it coming from? Should Tokion sacrifice putting the best speakers on stage to satisfy the ransom-like requests of a small group of people that have yet to define how the lack of women affects the outcome of the conference? Now that women serve as successful corporate executives and we have gotten that fight somewhat out of the way (or at least have come to an authoritative list), “creativity” seems to be the next frontier in gender unbalance and discrepancy.
This past March, Creativity magazine — as part of its year-long 20th anniversary celebration — compiled the “Creativity 50”, featuring the most influential creatives of the last two decades. You guessed it: All male. With the exception of Paula Scher being mentioned in the Pentagram entry. Bill Drentell observed that “the editors should be ashamed of themselves for not naming a single woman”. For AIGA it is a consistent concern to have women represented in conferences as well as local chapters and events and I have sat in planning sessions where a great roster of speakers has been proposed only to have someone say “we need women, though”. And when trying to celebrate women, things can easily backfire as STEP magazine found out last year with their “Women of Design” issue. Even we are prone: Three years ago, when we published our first Stop Being Sheep, Rebecca Gimenez, a Speak Up author at the time, questioned why Paula Scher and Debbie Millman were the only women included, while proceeding to question the lack of women overall in this web site. My equally intolerant response then and now, is that no one is stopping women from doing what they want and if no women surface to the top when putting together lists or conferences it is not anyone’s fault, no one is out to deploy the earth of those pesky, know-it-all women so that we men can claim to be the smartest, best-looking and most sweet-smelling. Yes, I have to resort to sarcasm because there is no other way to cope and respond to these pointless allegations of gender neglect.
For any woman ready to say that I have not experienced discrimination for being in the minority please let me point you to the fact that I’m Hispanic (with a thick accent), I am what some doctors might diagnose as overweight and I am not that tall: Word on the street is that tall, good looking, All-American men are bound to be much more successful than I, or you ladies, will ever be. Well, in the words of the Wooster Collective, Fuck that. I do what I need to do to get the good jobs and get my name in those lists and those conferences and represent the underrepresented chubby Hispanic designers; if I am not invited or do not get the job I do not cry foul. I just work harder and smarter. And everyone should worry about that alone and not about what is (or isn’t) between their legs as a limitation of their success and the value they might add to this conference in particular. To think like this is short-sighted.
For those that have publicly blasted Tokion for this gender faux pas I urge to analyze the realities of the world you live in… Yes, in general, there are more men that get the awards, and make the lists and get the big bucks. You can complain about it, write open letters and make lists or you can do something about it that actually enhances the position of women in these situations. And that can’t be achieved — at least in this realm of creativity — without doing, doing, doing and then doing some more, and doing it great and better than anyone else, over and over and again and again. There is no other way. Whether you pee standing up or sitting down.
Dealing with “Women” Part II: The Reckoning, will follow soon.