“She breasted boobiliy to the stairs, and titted downwards” my voice in the gendered paradigm – Weeks 4 & 5

The main quote of this blog is inspired by the twitter sensation this week which sparked the prompt: #describe yourself the way a male author would.

The origin of this topic was a male author’s claim that he had proven that ‘it’s possible for a male author to write an authentic female protagonist’. What was shared on twitter this week by his peer reviewer was a sample of his work with a female protagonist voice which was anything but authentically female (even from my white, male perspective). I believe that men can write a well rounded female character, just as a woman can write a well rounded male character, furthermore, I worry about the delineation that is naturally caused by this debate. It leads me to ask the following questions:

  • What is ‘female’ and what is ‘male’ and how can we recognise it without lowering ourselves to well trodden stereotypes?
  • Should we appreciate our differences or aspire to a blurring of boundaries between gender, ethnicity, sexuality and disability, after all, we are all people aren’t we?
  • Why do we limit our understanding of each other’s consciousness to base labels of gender or other protected characteristics?
  • How can we hope to understand each other if we immediately draw upon conscious and unconscious biases of what defines each others’ character? 

In terms of leadership, I believe it is important that we evaluate leaders according to what we view as common attributes and values. A recent Harvard Business Review student surveyed ‘195 leaders in 15 countries over 30 global organizations’ to ask for their top 15 leadership competencies.

W160302_GILES_TOPTEN1-1200x800 HBR Leadership competencies

We can see from this list that none of these ‘competencies’ should be viewed as exclusive to men, women, ethnic groups, LGBTQ or disabled people. These are recognisable qualities that I agree with, though I may reconsider the order of priority for some. What was not considered with this study was whether respondents were envisaging a model leader when describing competencies and this unconscious bias may have affected the choices made.

Unconscious bias can have a major impact, as I have previously alluded to, in terms of the ‘leaky pipeline’ for female academia. A recent CIPD, People Management article discussed it’s impact across a range of protected characteristics:

 

What is worrying from these statistics is that Academia features prominently in gender, ethnicity and disability bias. It certainly feeds into my underlying assumptions that there is a culture of sameness (white male) that pervades academic institutions. It concerns me that places of learning and academic development, where we espouse noble values and promote our leadership role within our communities, cannot lead in our approach to equitable career progression and bias.  I do not want to tarnish all institutions in this way, but I also do not feel the observations and the discussions I have had are unique and limited to one organisation. We all have a part to play in changing this and the Equality Challenge Unit and the Athena SWAN charter is a great step in the right direction.

A test that I have taken recently on the recommendation of my supervisor is the Harvard Implicit Bias test: https://implicit.harvard.edu/implicit/ Using a word association method, this test is rally illuminating as a means of uncovering your unconscious associations for gender and other characteristics and careers etc. Before we can act collectively, we must assess and become aware of our own individual biases and mitigate for them.

Certainly, the naive male author quoted on twitter had succumbed to imposing his unconsciously biased version of the female voice without consideration of each individuals’ independent consciousness. It is an absolute failure of characterisation to impose your perceptions of a character’s individuality (be that gender, ethnicity, sexuality, disability etc.) without serious and dedicated time and effort to engage with, interrogate and understand what it is to be that person. I expect this author has attempted to embody someone (and a gender) he thinks he knows and has focused on the external projected personality he has observed without contemplating the internal, intrinsic personality he has neglected.

My reading over the last two weeks has centred on my sociological alignment, or where I see myself relative to theoretical schools of thought. As I have alluded to in previous posts, I am focused on my contribution working to disrupt the gender imbalance in organisational reality I personally perceive and encountered through discussions with peers. From my exploration of the four paradigms, I have placed myself within the Radical Humanism quadrant which is formulated on my belief in subjective truth, not objective certainty, conscious individual freedom and a desire to enact change. I am critical of the systems and structures that are in place and the effect they have upon individual liberty and our conscious selves. I am particularly critical of organisations which promote collective values (granted these may be consulted with its employees), but are ultimately imposed as core to the operation of the organisation and with a range of influences including market forces.

The diagram below is taken from Burrell, G., & Morgan, G. (2017) and shows a range of theoretical stances within the Radical Humanism paradigm. I am exploring French Existentialism as a possible fit to my approach. I have identified Jean-Paul Sartre as a potentially useful theorist and thinker. His three concepts of being ‘in-itself’, ‘for self’ and ‘for others’ identifies the intersection of and concept of  ‘nothingness’ where the gap between the real world and the consciousness of individuals enables the space for individual liberty, freedom and creativity. I am excited by this concept as it aligns with my proposed use of fiction and dystopia to disturb the reality and raise the consciousness of my readers to new possibilities and the nightmarish reality that we may all be inhabiting already.

 

Sociological Paradigms

When considering the other options, and having read about solipsism, I cannot find myself in this ultra subjective theoretical framework. I believe that humans have conscious, subjective selves, but our actions and perceptions of reality have a real and tangible impact on what I see as out shared reality. For me this shared reality includes community and our environment (global sustainability and shared responsibility). Conversely, the functionalist and structuralist quadrants strike me as too dependent on a predominant assumption of shared understanding of objective reality and the ability of actions to uniformly work within this framework; grounded in a reality that is independent of subjective differences. In my view subjective truth can be recognised and appreciated and by respecting each other’s truths we can find common ground for meaningful understanding.

There is one question has been nagging at me as I have started to position myself and it is something I need to spend a lot more time to figure out:

How can I be credible as a privileged, white male within the paradigm of gendered leadership I wish to disrupt?

I believe, and share this view with others, that we cannot achieve any meaningful change if we work in silos (be that gendered or other interest groups). If we invert the imbalance, we create a new problem and a new conflict, not a joint solution. I believe I can position myself as a self aware and humble practitioner within the gender movement, but I hope I will not be as naive as the male author quoted on twitter. I know my task will be challenging and I am sure I will encounter sceptical views from my peers. I accepts this reality, strive to unburden myself of latent biases that may taint my authorial voice and continue on my journey to learn more, respect my subject and value each individual as a conscious and free person.

References

Burrell, G., & Morgan, G. (2017). Sociological paradigms and organisational analysis: Elements of the sociology of corporate life. Routledge.

https://www.ecu.ac.uk/

https://hbr.org/2016/03/the-most-important-leadership-competencies-according-to-leaders-around-the-world

https://www.peoplemanagement.co.uk/long-reads/articles/beyond-bias

 

 

Legally Blonde paradigms and dystopian inspirations: Resilience and identity in Gendered Leadership: – Week two

My eye was drawn to the BBC article this week relaying an encounter between a film journalist and Legally Blonde star, Reese Witherspoon. On the surface, this encounter described a wonderful opportunity for a fan to share something meaningful and inspirational with an iconic female star who inspired her. The fact that her dissertation was enthusiastically received is also a positive angle that we can all appreciate and dream for with our icons. Looking deeper, the themes of female identity and resilience are admired qualities present in the film and its lead and these qualities appear frequently in dystopia.

Theoretical readings of Dystopia and Young Adult Dystopia have often returned to the idea of resilience and the ability to take action (Mallan, 2017) as a critical contributor to success. We can look to the example of Katniss Everdene in ‘The Hunger Games’ (Collins, 2013) and countless others who transcend their reality to walk a new path. The idea of resilience conjures up thoughts of strong characters who ‘bounce back’ despite a series of potentially detrimental circumstances. It is sometimes predicated on a context whereby oppressed actors are unable to express themselves fully and must therefore exhibit resilience to cope with the challenges of these negative forces to retain their purpose and identity. In the case of Elle Woods, her resilience is founded in an unerring desire to practice law in her way in spite of a tirade of judgemental and conservative principles which exclude her ‘type’ from participation in such noble professions. It is her personalised approach, coupled with some required conformity to the learning practices of her Law school, that enables her to achieve the respect and admiration of her peers in academic and legal practice. In organisations, two of the phenomena I am interested in are conformity and resilience for female leaders. One of the questions I want to explore is how do women succeed in this masculine paradigm with rules created by and for masculine leaders?

It could be argued that they succeed through conformity to this paradigm, compromising their own identity to align with the expectations of the organisation and the broader perceptions of what a leader is.  Alternatively, it could be said that women channel remarkable reserves of resilience against wave after wave of mansplaining, hepeating and unequal reward. What we need to consider is how we channel this powerful resilience to harness the power of the repressed and take responsibility for change as per the young adult protagonists combating the adult power of their dystopias (Mallan, 2017). Certainly ‘collective unity’ (thanks to John Mabillard) and solidarity in pursuit of our cause are vital. My supervisor promotes the role of the ally in providing support for female (or minority) ideas that may otherwise be marginalised or re-framed by a dominant actor in the room without recognition for the originator. We can all become allies in our workplaces and lives by standing together on issues that we agree are important.

One damaging influence upon the goal of collective unity is trust. In our increasingly individualistic and fearful society, the circle of trust we can draw upon becomes smaller and smaller. If we are unable to open ourselves to the benefits of a wider network of trust, we may be fatally flawed in our journey towards equity. Power, in dystopia and reality, seeks to disrupt collective movements and dismantle collective unity. Beware the spectre of fear that drives a chasm into the collective visions we aspire to; it breeds distrust, betrayal and individualism – the enemies of collective unity.

Finally, I have been considering my philosophical approach in addressing my research question. One of the primary problems I face concerns the dominant paradigm of masculine power which has defined the business world and therefore the gender dynamics, rules and behaviour norms of organisations. As I have engaged with the scientific methodological approaches of Thomas Kuhn and Karl Popper, I have begun to consider the problem of trying to answer a problem when the rules of the world you are trying to understand are stacked significantly in favour of the men who predominantly receive the lion’s share of the benefits.

It is human nature to protect what we have and to maintain our position of power when we achieve it. I am beginning to consider the falsification principle of Popper’s ‘refutation’, the subjectivity of knowledge and the absence of certainties in science as more philosophically aligned to my radical approach of disrupting the gendered organisational paradigm via dystopian trope analysis.  This challenges the Kuhnian approach of working within the paradigms to confirm and expand existing theories. I conceptualise the gender movement, at present, as constricted within the prevailing paradigm of masculinity. To achieve equity and parity for women and minority groups based on current rules, it is necessary to work within the system, not create a new system outside the existing parameters. If we live as hermits, we only impact our own lives, we don’t things for the better.

I am not dismissing Kuhn’s conceptualisation of scientific method as he also points to new paradigms as historical realities within scientific reasoning and methodology. I  argue that my research goals are centred on demonstrating a critical and robust argument against the current system and showing the ways to a new paradigm inspired by the lessons of dystopia. Popper’s insistence on validity of scientific theories only if they are refutable by testing to the degree of falsification may present a challenge to my approach. To build falsification measures into my paradigm for progressive action may weaken my argument for the inspirational influence of subjective hope which drives collective agency and is found in the Dystopian subversions of power.

I am concerned with highlighting the inherent flaws of the system and ‘breaking the box’ to create a space and opportunity to explore a new paradigm where the rules and principles are based in equitable shares in prosperity. If we can take inspiration from Elle Woods and her journey to ‘break the box’, we can see her resilience, identity and integrity never wavered. A character who has inspired millions should be taken seriously. She is an icon of female empowerment and someone whose approach subverted the dominant paradigm and redefined the rules of success. Progressive gender movements must draw strength and inspiration from these icons and remember their identity, resilience and power.

References

http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/entertainment-arts-43399961

http://www.bbc.co.uk/bbcthree/article/ab1eaf4a-c794-420a-929f-253695ede704

Collins, S. (2013). The Hunger Games Complete Trilogy. Scholastic UK.

https://www.theguardian.com/business/2018/mar/15/hsbc-pay-gap-reveals-men-being-paid-twice-as-much-as-women

Kuhn, T. S. (2012). The structure of scientific revolutions. University of Chicago press.

Mallan, K. (2017). Dystopian fiction for young people: Instructive tales of resilience. Psychoanalytic Inquiry37(1), 16-24.

Popper, K. (2014). Conjectures and refutations: The growth of scientific knowledge. routledge.

Utopian Visions, Dystopian Nightmares and Inclusion Riders – Week 1 – March 5th 2018

We start this blog together at a time of exciting possibilities with #metoo (Tarana Burke, 2006), #timesup (https://www.timesupnow.com/) and ‘inclusion riders‘ (Stacey Smith, 2016), yet I will be exploring the dystopic underbelly of our experiences. Let’s start with reality. Based on current statistics, only 6% of UK FTSE 100 CEOs, 22% of MPs and 24% of UK University Professors are women. These are stark figures that point to a fundamental imbalance in the seats of power and influence within our society. We may be told that things are changing and progress takes time, but when you review those figures and consider your workplace reality, you may begin to reevaluate the positivist narrative you are being fed. The question becomes, who is feeding me this narrative and why are they doing it?

Why is this dystopian exploration important and why does it matter?

Dystopia explores the worst in us, the nightmarish possibilities inspired by our contemporary experiences. To understand what we are capable of gives us insights into what we may be perpetrating today, perhaps less conspicuously than in famous dystopian canon, but often just as devastatingly effective in its oppressive and controlling influence on our lives. This blog will explore the question of what we can learn from fictional dystopian examples and apply these lessons to our reality. The purpose is to shock you and raise your awareness of what is happening under our very noses. In our hypernormalised reality (Alexei Yurchak, 2006; Adam Curtis, 2016) we conform to the gender normative systems that provide stability, traditions and purpose to our lives. We conform, mostly willingly, and often in the unconscious or conscious knowledge that what we experience is not fair or just or right, yet the scale of the problem is so vast and pervasive we struggle to conceive of a way out. We are waiting for the solution, the leader to show us the way, but perhaps the solution is within us.

The second area of exploration in this blog will consider and promote examples of dissidence, subversion and rebellion in Dystopia and contemporary working life. We see pockets of activism across all walks of society, but what can we learn from dystopian protagonists and their struggles against oppressive systems? How does subversion succeed and how does it fail? To start with, using #timesup as an example, we see that high-level buy-in of powerful voices in Hollywood has lended credence and power to this critical movement. You may have noticed that the ‘Inclusion Rider’ concept was coined in 2016, yet only gains wide recognition this week. Such a terrific concept deserved to be shared as soon as it was conceived, yet we rely so much on the voices of those with platforms. Here is the battle ground, the first allies have spoken, what we need now is momentum. Just look at the remarkable transformation in Jeremy Corbyn’s fortunes, from the brink of political extinction, derided and dismissed, to the spokesperson for the many, not the few. How was this possible, well Momentum (excuse the pun) and the collective power of thousands of people pulling in one direction was a vital ingredient. That story is not over yet and neither is ours, not by a long way.

I conclude this opening blog, which has been meant as an introduction and taster, with the horrific, iconic image created by George Orwell, ‘If you want a vision of the future, imagine a boot stamping on a human face – forever’ (1984). To avoid this fate, we must fight for what we believe in and resist the tyranny of concentrated power.