Wednesday, March 17, 2010

The Old Boys Club

We had a panel discussion on campus last night about negotiating the Catholic heritage of the institution, founded by the Sisters of St. Joseph of Carondolet as a college for women (who still make up the majority of the student body). Most of the audience last night, too, were women. The panel, however, was entirely made up of men. My department chair, Kate, was the first to bring this up at the end, which I applauded. But I was struck by the comment one of the panelists made that, "It's just part of a conversation we [a fellow panelist] have been having for years."

I used to think the "old boy's network" was insidious and deliberate. Some may be, but I learned over the years that largely they're just like that: friendships. At heart it's a good thing: you help out your friends, you work with your friends, you share with your friends. It's a natural enough impulse. That's the way that this kind of thing gets going, for example on Twitter where people like @Glinner and @serafinowicz and @edgarwright all help publicize each other not as a deliberate marketing ploy, but simply because they're pals.

The problem, of course, is that few men are friends with women in the same way. I think it's changing (I hope it is!) and there are always exceptions (I have a lot of male friends), but certainly in the past men were often not comfortable being friends with women because of the potential problem of sex (if he wanted it and she didn't, or he didn't and she did, etc.). In the past -- and in current films -- women existed only as sex and not as people (<-- feminism: the radical notion that women are people). I kind of hope that the very boring trend of "father" centered films is a last gasp of that mind set. Maybe we can move beyond the pervasiveness of the old boy network.

But even if they're not deliberate or insidious, the effects are. I often tell people about my moment at a meeting of the Joint Committee on the Status of Women at the Harvard Medical and Dental Schools, seated at a conference table in Countway Library when our chair asked, "How can we make the atmosphere more welcoming to women?" I looked around the dark paneled room, where we were surrounded by oil paintings of the old patriarchs of the medical school and I just laughed.

What starts as friendship often ends in compromise: as a writer I'm thinking of anthologies filled with stories from drinking buddies even if they're not particularly good. I also think of Comedy Central, where the old boy network reigns supreme, even with very untalented people -- girls are okay if they're pretty. It's difficult to dismantle the system, because it springs from a good thing, friendship. But dismantle it, we must.

C'mon -- let's all be friends!

11 comments:

Jack C. Young said...

So just what was the problem of having women on the panel? It should have been easy enough. Sadly indicative of the mindset though. I'm afraid that until we guys come to appreciate the extreme intelligence of women (without fear of them) Little progess will be made.
Still the effort is worth it. Your Viking ancestors would undoubtedly approve both your determination and your efforts in the fight. LOL.

The Queen said...

I remain floored by the notion that gender still matters, even among friends.

K. A. Laity said...

LOL, Jack -- yeah, I have some strong Finnish ancestors and a tough mom, too.

QoE -- yeah. It's distressing that even among friends pointing out those behaviours is likely to made people get defensive, too.

Todd Mason said...

Jack--I gather you mean until more men appreciate the genius of ingenious women and the worth of even women who are only reasonably intelligent. If we are requiring all women to be extremely intelligent, we're setting rather a high bar for progress...rather the bar set previously for their admission to any sort of authority, that of the Female Man, in fact.

I am often distressed, myself, by those who suggest that such friendships are or remain impossible...perhaps worse, that any sort of attraction brings with it contempt.

Jack C. Young said...

Your right Todd. I should have made that clear. Though I do know several extremely intelligent women--and am proud to counted as one of their friends. Thanks for the correction.

K. A. Laity said...

See? I know such nice men. Thanks, you two, for joining the conversation. It can happen.

K. A. Laity said...

By the by, did anyone look at the guy to the left of the clock in the picture?

And Todd, I forgot to say that I think you're absolutely right to point out that the shame associated with sex contributes to the difficulty men and women often have in being friends. If this culture weren't so uncomfortable about sex, there would be a lot fewer barriers to those friendships.

Todd Mason said...

I think, sadly, it goes beyond shame about sex to an odd sort of hostility toward those one is vulnerable to.

My eyes are deteriorating...but I don't see anything extraordinary about the guy to (our) left of the clock...perhaps it's his identity? I don't recognize him.

Todd Mason said...

Oh, it's Monkey Boy. Wonder if a similar photo of his 2004 opponent, the Behemoth (in the Wollstonecraft Shelley sense)(or just the Karloff?) is floating about.

K. A. Laity said...

Yes, hostility that arises from discomfort with that vulnerability. It's an old story: man blaming women for making them aroused. End result not only rape but harsh laws that denigrate women and their "provocative" bodies. As if men's bodies were not also "provocative" -- and as if sex were not a natural occurrence.

Todd Mason said...

Women also have a similar resentment, in various cases...the unfortunate "acting out" on that resentment is mostly by male miscreats (not exclusively, by any means, but mostly), and certainly the fantasies that men are incapable of controlling their libidos in the presence of women drives too much practice around the world. Women even more often than men apparetnly will sublimate that hostility...including in such ridiculous practices as mutilating their daughters...and all that, on everyone's part, seen locally as Perfectly Natural.