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