Thoughts on feminism & type.
This post was sparked by a Twitter conversation about the lack of women speakers at TypeCon. I found myself needing to organize the threads of topics that came up because this argument — like many of its kind, whenever the public is grappling with gender or race or privilege — always gets sidetracked (frankly) by people who haven’t given it much thought prior to whatever backlash they’re currently witnessing.
I give this subject a lot of thought, and talk and write about it pretty regularly. Many people already know this about me, which is perhaps why my views are seen as incendiary even when I feel I’m making a pretty basic point. Like with race, the conversation tends to be predicated on not hurting dudes’ feelings, and I find that exasperating.
Sexism is pervasive in type, design, and advertising because it is pervasive in everything. For me, that lets our industry off the hook a little. We’re usually not addressing a particular offender; we’re reacting to a widespread observation. It’s society, man. So let’s admit that it’s a problem and move on.
- Except we can’t. This first step is the most maddening because if we can’t even agree that a 15% makeup of women is not due to sexism then we are going nowhere fast. The trouble is that for many, throwing in the word ‘sexism’ is taken as a personal afront. It isn’t. Clearly this is a bias that happens everywhere, all the time, despite good intentions. Despite personal friendships and respect for women you know in the field. If we can move past individuals’ egos to agree that sexism is a thing, then we can move on to figuring out the point at which it’s happening and actually try to fix it.
- So we acknowledge it’s kinda fucked up. But then we still don’t want to ‘go there’. We’re told that Twitter isn’t appropriate. We’re told there are publications and venues and conferences that would love to hear about this, if we’d just submit these thoughts and ideas. The fact that the very medium for our discussion is policed is proof that people don’t want these thoughts to be said out loud, or typed in public. Twitter is about as democratic as a conversation can get in real time, uniting people from across cities and cultures. I don’t know why people think it isn’t ideal — I think it’s great.
- There are already precedents out there of how to fix it. And right away in this conversation, people shared links specifically targeted at making conferences more diverse. These were effectively ignored in favor of going back to Step 1.
- ‘Quotas are a bad, bad thing’, said everyone in the 90s about affirmative action. Actually, setting a goal for 50% participation would be a reflection of the world. If you don’t like the word ‘quota’, then I guess you don’t like Latin, and that’s fine. But it literally means “a proportional part or share”. If you don’t want the type world to be a reflection of the real world, then go directly to jail and do not pass go.
- A meritocracy is a really beautiful idea that is almost never indicative of true merit. And to say that an open call facilitates only the best submissions overlooks many things, particularly that women disproportionally don’t submit proposals unless they’re asked to. It’s a whole thing, sorry. And saying that the final outcome is indicative of the best proposals? Well now you’re just saying that men submit the best proposals. And that’s sexist.
- Outreach is effective. It lets women know that you value their contributions to the field and believe the audience would like to hear their perspectives. Unfortunately, outreach can’t happen if you dedicate efforts to seeming ‘gender blind’.
- Gender blindness is not going to solve your lack of diversity. As stated in #5, meritocracy can only happen when the playing field is level. If you’re at 15% female participation, you’ve got a ways to go ‘til you have the luxury of being post-gender.
- Your lack of diversity is starting with women but it’s not ending there. Feminism borrows a lot of its language and thoughts from writings about racism and vice versa. Same goes for gay rights and transgender awareness. That’s the world we live in, and that’s really beautiful and interesting. It makes the future of this industry super exciting and offers conferences a broad range of appeal when it comes to talk topics.
- Telling women to try harder is so fucking annoying. It’s not their job to work harder than men to achieve the respect and recognition men get.Every woman I’ve met in this industry who’s still going strong works her fucking ass off, many times juggling their careers with motherhood, myself included. Yes, more women need to submit proposals. More women, if they want public recognition, need to ask for it. But you also have to act like this is a welcome discussion and listen instead of getting your panties in a bunch and thinking this is a personal attack. It’s not! We’re friends with you! So be a friend, will ya?
- I plan to help facilitate resources and discussion and am always available for questions. I’ve got 13 years in this business, am a design director, have taught college-level design for 4 years, have given talks and interviews about type and have a degree from Cooper Type. If I’m wondering what more do I need to do to feel included, I can’t imagine what it’s like to enter our field right now.
(originally posted in July, 2015)