GenderAvenger Doesn’t Shut Up When Women Are Shut Out

By Ryan Kost
San Francisco Chronicle

WWR Article Summary (tl;dr) Gina Glantz, former New Jersey Sen. Bill Bradley’s campaign manager is on quest to call out books, institutions and people who are ignoring gender inequality.  Her website, GenderAvenger, is empowering women to be on the lookout for spaces where women have been left out and are ready to say something when they see it. On the site, Glantz and others write blog posts, pass along news stories, and highlight the good and the bad around gender equity.

San Francisco Chronicle

Every presidential election year, in the weeks following election day, Harvard’s Kennedy School puts on a conference for “campaign decision makers.” It’s a sort of election postmortem that ends with a public event at the prestigious Kennedy Forum.

Tiburon’s Gina Glantz knows the conference pretty well; she was former New Jersey Sen. Bill Bradley’s campaign manager in 2000 and sat on one of the panels. During the last conference, in 2012, she noticed something odd, though. All the panelists in the public forum were men, and they were all white. This, of course, was four years after voters had elected Barack Obama as the nation’s first black president and four years after Hillary Clinton had given a speech about the 18 million cracks voters had put in the “highest and hardest glass ceiling.”

“It just sent me around the bend,” Glantz says. She decided to write a quick post on Facebook about how she wouldn’t be going, and almost immediately, the likes and comments rolled in. So did a rebuke from a Kennedy School administrator, who said, “You know, we’re really good at this.” “This,” of course, being gender equity. “Well, no, you’re not,” Glantz thought. The panel was evidence.

After that, everywhere she looked, she saw another example of women being shut out of important conversations, whether it was at other conferences or Esquire’s infamous list of “The 80 Books Every Man Should Read,” which included exactly one female author. “Everywhere I looked, all of the sudden I had increased sensitivity.”

Then something else happened. A book landed at her door, a written review of the ongoing movement to change the Electoral College. “On the cover there were six authors, 19 commentators and one woman.” She knew the co-chair, so she shot off an email. “Did you forget that 54 percent of the electorate are women? You couldn’t find any women to comment on this?” she asked. “Well, his reaction was just the opposite of Harvard. He wrote back and said, ‘I’m so embarrassed.'”

The moment was small, but it was also revelatory. Glantz realized that simply pointing out the absence of women from these spaces might be enough to prompt their inclusion in the future. “I thought ‘Cripes, I better do something.'”

So, Glantz, along with her friend Susan Askew, founded GenderAvenger, a website that acts as a hub for a community of people who are on the lookout for spaces where women have been left out and are ready to say something when they see it. On the site, Glantz and others write blog posts, pass along news stories, and highlight the good and the bad around gender equity. They’ve also created an app for tallying the gender balance on panels at conferences, and they’ve made a pledge for men to sign promising not to sit on a panel that doesn’t include at least one woman.

This election season, GenderAvenger has also teamed up with Rutgers University Center for American Women and Politics and the Women’s Media Center to create Who Talks?, an ongoing survey of gender balance on cable news shows. We sat down with Glantz, who works on GenderAvenger out of her home, to chat with her about the representation of women and whether she feels that she’s making any headway.

Q: Just to start — and maybe this seems obvious — but why is it important to strike a balance, whether on panels or book lists or cable news shows?

A: There are two ends to it. It’s important from the conversation end. People bring different perspectives. And then there’s the other side of it — from the viewers, the attending group — which is, I would feel more welcome if “the people I see who are part of this look like me.” There are many mothers of this saying: “You can’t be it if you can’t see it.” So seeing that there are women on lists of books, on stages of the most talented Internet gurus of 2017 — whatever it is — says, “I can be that.” I think that’s really important.

Q: Were you surprised that others didn’t see this value or, at the very least, didn’t seem to notice women missing?

A: I was flabbergasted that I could be sitting across from or having a conversation with somebody and the response was “Ah! I can’t believe I did that.” Well, believe you did that. And that propelled my need to build this community. If so many people were doing this and not recognizing it, and if by recognizing it I might cause change, then that was a reason to do it.

Q: What’s the reaction generally like when you call somebody out?

A: It ranges. There’s one guy that tweeted back and said, ‘Oh I know, we suck, I’m really working on it.’ Well, good for him. … But there are other reactions. There’s a guy named Jason Calacanis who runs, amongst other things, something called the Launch Festival. He was very snarky and told us that 23 percent (of panelists being women) was really good. Well about six months later … we got together, and he would then tweet things like “GenderAvenger challenged me to get to 40 percent; I’m trying!”

Q: I imagine there’s some excuse-making that happens when you point it out?

A: People will say, “Oh, well I asked and nobody was available.” And you say, “Ask more,” or, “Make your conference more woman-friendly.” Be sure you have a sexual harassment policy. Inform people of child care possibilities. And just ask more.

Q: You base your critique on hard numbers. That’s a nice objective standard, but it also has the potential to be a little superficial. Are there deeper critiques to be made? Do some shows only turn to women commenters for a narrower range of topics, for instance?

A: What powers GenderAvenger’s success is the simplicity of its mission and the ease of taking action, whether with the GenderAvenger tally or through the newsletters, and I think that’s really an important point. We are often asked to do other things, and I always have to say, “You know that’s not what we do,” and hope that others will build on what we do, just as we build on what other organizations do. … Every time there is something which takes it that step further, we promote it very heavily.

Q: What about intersectionality? I imagine women of color are even more underrepresented.

A: I hear this, and it’s so important. It’s really important. We’re in conversation with Color of Change and Race Forward (two groups that focus on racial equity). What we’re talking to them about is giving them our (app coding) so they can adapt the tally to their needs and their purpose, however they want to use it. … When I do get out and talk to groups, I will hear from African American women, in particular, that you can find a lot of African American men onstage, African American men on television, but you rarely see African American women. I have no data, but I bet they are right.

Q: You’ve been involved with these issues for many, many years, even before GenderAvenger. Does the fact that something like this is necessary in 2016 frustrate you?

A: Have I been disappointed over the decades? The answer is yes. But maybe this is the moment. I’ll tell you why: I’ve been very encouraged by the response to GenderAvenger. I mean we have very modest funding, yet have gotten some attention, are now getting more attention. We seem to be having an impact.

We live in a much different world. There are a lot more social media outlets, there are a lot more organizations that are working on this that are known to a lot more people. It used to be, if I had started this even 10 years ago, the exposure would have been much more limited.


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