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Posts Tagged ‘women’

One of the arguments in favor of affirmative action is that the pool of talented individuals is large enough to accommodate fairly wide variations in how one defines “the best” and still get a good leadership cadre, freshman class, etc. Put differently, if Harvard, instead of admitting the 5.9 percent that they do admit, admitted the next 5.9 percent — the ones who “just missed the cut,” they would still probably be fine.

With the release of the Pitchfork “People Power” list, Jody Rosen at Slate has skewered Pitchfork’s readership for its selection of mostly white, overwhelmingly male, indie rockers. At the very least, it’s boring and predictable. Unsurprisingly, all the albums on the Top Ten got good reviews in Pitchfork.

So, OK, what happened? One is that women didn’t make a lot of lists, but I think that may have to do with a distaste for the kind of listmaking mania that often captivates music nerds and snobs. (See, for example, High Fidelity‘s “Top Five” obsession.) Additionally, there may be less consensus on female artists than on male ones, and the nature of averaging out lists ends up yielding fewer women. (This may be giving Pitchforkers too much credit.) Similarly, there may simply be fewer female artists regularly making music; there are probably a variety of reasons for that, but if we were to take a random sample of rock bands, I bet we would find a low rate of female participation. This may be the result of choice, prejudice, or some combination thereof, but it probably exists nonetheless. This is purely a hypothesis, of course, so no evidence exists one way or the other.

Because all list-making is arbitrary by nature, I’m going to pick an alternate canon of Top Ten albums that could theoretically have been in Pitchfork’s Top Ten (that is to say, they fit within the Pitchfork ethos, got good Pitchfork reviews, and are listened to by mostly indie rock nerds), but that represent a more female list. Much like those next 5.9 percent of Harvard rejects, this is a set of albums that I think Pitchforkers could reasonably say are as good as any of the albums in the Top Ten. I am generally a fan of quotas, because I think people don’t embrace diversity in almost any setting unless they are forced to. So here goes:

  1. Lauryn Hill – Miseducation of Lauryn Hill
  2. Yeah Yeah Yeahs – Fever to Tell (It’s Blitz could probably go here too)
  3. M.I.A. – Arular
  4. Neko Case – Fox Confessor Brings the Flood
  5. Janelle Monae – The ArchAndroid
  6. Aimee Mann – Bachelor No. 2 (or, the last remains of the dodo)
  7. Fiona Apple – Extraordinary Machine
  8. Robyn – Body Talk
  9. PJ Harvey – Stories from the City, Stories from the Sea
  10. Loretta Lynn – Van Lear Rose

Other alternates: Any number of Sleater Kinney albums; I’m not a huge Bjork fan, but any number of Bjork albums could go too.

Because all lists are inherently arbitrary, without a requirement for some other characteristics than “what’s good,” a bunch of mostly white male rock nerds inevitably pick a bunch of mostly white male rock music to be “the best.” Take a look at any compendium of “best ever” albums lists and you’ll see the skew in effect.

But if that were my Top Ten list from the 1996-2011 time period, I’d be pretty happy.

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Whenever the law school has an event explaining to us how to “get ahead” in the corporate or legal fields, the speaker always makes steam come out of my ears. For Asian-Americans, the problem at law firms is increasingly obvious, as Asian-American associates bill more hours and earn more money for the firm, only to be passed up when bonus and promotion time comes around. (For more see here.) To combat this, the speaker will often say that Asian-Americans need to develop their “people skills” or need to step away from cultural norms of deference to authority by speaking up more, etc. This strikes me as fundamentally wrong-headed and moronic; why should a disadvantaged group conform to views of privileged white leadership, instead of pointing out the dangers of implicit bias and fundamentally changing the way we view leadership?

The cult of “leadership” has largely grown up around features already viewed as “leaderly” in the dominant society — features that tend to be prevalent among patrician white men. Yet, when these features are exhibited by other groups, they are still perceived as un-leaderly. Consider the first identified “glass ceiling” group, women. When women exhibit stereotypically “female” characteristics and gender roles, they are viewed as unsuitable for leadership. Yet, when women exhibit stereotypically “male” leadership characteristics, they are rated poorly for their incongruity with the traditional gender role! (See Eagly and Karau for more: http://web.pdx.edu/~mev/pdf/PS471_Readings_2012/Eagley_Karau.pdf). Women are caught in a Catch-22: Behave in a “female gender role” and get passed over, or behave in a “male gender role” and get slammed for being a “bitch” or “difficult to work with.”

Perhaps we need to fundamentally reconsider what good leadership looks like. Stereotypically white male leadership skills often lead people astray; for example, leaders who merely talk first and talk often are more convincing, even when they have the wrong answer. Maybe we should stop listening to these guys, particularly if they’re incompetent! This is one of those problems with the Presidency — you only get to be President if you want to be President, and frankly, wanting to be President requires a lot of ego and dangerous amounts of self-confidence. Rather than getting competent leaders, we get persuasive ones, even if they persuade us to do things fundamentally against our self-interest.

Instead of conforming to the view of leadership as defined by a white male hierarchy, we should be moving people towards a different view of what a good leader entails. Good leaders can be focused on competency rather than politicking, listen to others’ ideas before speaking, build consensus, hear out minority opinions, and be willing to change their minds. A leadership cadre of blowhards, regardless of their race or gender, does not particularly appeal to me.

http://web.pdx.edu/~mev/pdf/PS471_Readings_2012/Eagley_Karau.pdf

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