Smelling the Coffee

SMELLING THE COFFEE….Garance Franke-Ruta notes that an all-too-common controversy has broken out over the “Saving Our Democracy” conference, sponsored by The Nation Institute and The New Democracy Project: out of 25 scheduled speakers, only two are women:

It is a source of great perplexity to me that otherwise clear-headed men who are genuinely committed to promoting Democrats or “the progressive movement” should be so blind when it comes to understanding why the Democratic Party and the left even continue to exist. The Democratic Party and left exist because of female voters and volunteers. No ifs, ands, or buts.

As I noted in detail last summer, virtually every left organization that relies on volunteer labor succeeds because of the labor of female volunteers, who comprise the vast bulk of such low-level workers, and when Democrats have won at the national level in the past 40 years, it has been because of their appeal to female voters.

What makes this whole thing even more peculiar is the makeup of the two sponsoring groups. The New Democracy Project has four staff members and four senior fellows, and half of them are women. The Nation Institute is headed by a woman, the editor of The Nation is a woman, and although TNI’s staff isn’t online, its Board of Trustees is about one-third women. So it’s not as if these organizations are just a bunch of good old boys who don’t even realize women exist.

Even so, as Garance suggests, the most likely reaction will be a defensive one:

Controversies like this benefit no one. They make women feel diminished and excluded, and men feel like they’re never going to be able to organize a simple public conversation with their professional friends without getting hit over the head with identity politics. And yet the same sad script keeps playing out, over and over again, until everyone feels like throwing up their hands in despair.

But this shouldn’t be an issue of quotas or identity politics. It should just be a matter of awareness. I always try to get both men and women to guest blog for me when I’m on vacation, and I’ve never had any trouble finding people of either sex willing to do it. Is getting speakers for conferences really that much harder?