TEDWomen: Brilliant or Belittling?
I grew up in Texas. (It’s no secret if you hear me talk). Forget the podcasts, my relaxed language is tinged with y’alls and drawls. And yes, y’all has both plural and possessive form in case you were curious. I do a pretty good job of keeping it on the down low at work, but there’s always that occasional “fixin’ to” that gives me away. Well, the thing about being a girl growing up in a rough-and-tumble state is that you’re taught to be one tough little cookie. I was playing baseball (the hardball sort) when I was 7 or 8, riding my PawPaw’s horses at 4 or 5, and roughing up the neighborhood boys during tackle football games.
I don’t think I realized I was a girl until at least 14.
My first brush with discovering my X-chromosome origins came when I was about 6 years old. I inadvertently discovered that boys and girls are different after taking my shirt off while outside on a scorching summer day.
While my mom was out getting some much-needed sanity, I was at the baby-sitter sweltering in the sun playing hide-and-seek with the neighborhood kids. So as the boys started taking off their sweat-soaked shirts, I, of course, thought it was okay for me to do the same.
Imagine my surprise when I was sternly grabbed by an arm and whisked off to hastily locate my top.
“BUT HEEEEEEEEE DID IT?!” I’m sure I wailed.
“WHY CAN’T AYYYYYYYE???”
I had just been unceremoniously introduced to the concept that “life isn’t fair.” Especially for girls.
So when I came across TEDWomen this week, it was a mix of excitement and reservation. On the one hand, I soak up TED Talks like some people soak up Appletinis. Gotta have my daily fix, and watching TEDs over lunch is becoming habit-forming. My podcasts always feature my latest favorite Talk, and some weeks it’s hard to decide which one to choose.
There are so many incredible people and TED knows how to find them. TED rocks. (There’s a concert idea in that).
But at the same time, since my sunny days as a rabble-rousing girls-libber in the Lone Star State, I’ve always been firmly against segregation or propping up. Singling out specific segments of the population in veiled (or blatant) coddling efforts does more harm than good.
Making special allowances is the equivalent of saying one group isn’t as able, isn’t as driven, isn’t as intelligent, and therefore needs a hand up.
I can feel that 6 year-old seething inside.
While it may improve things in the short-term (and there’s no arguing that Affirmative Action has helped a lot of people and you can’t paint everything with the same brush), in the long-term it generally reinforces the negative perception that created the disparity in the first place. I’m against discrimination and strongly believe pointing out differences in an effort to make compensation only perpetuates the behavior or attitudes you want to discourage.
It seems women haven’t made it as far as we’d thought. Reading from the TEDWomen web page, I felt us go slipping backward about 30 years.
“Over the last several years, our ideas about women have changed. A new lens reveals women as powerful change agents in the areas of economic growth, public health, political stability and beyond. TEDWomen will bring them into focus.”
Was that written in 1975 or in 2010?
And then there was this line on the website that felt like it was either catering to a right-brain/left-brain stereotype, or the ambitious, competitive, testosterone-fueled hunter male vs. the communicative, nurturing, berry-gathering female. Do we really need to go back there?
“TEDWomen will also reveal how women and men, in concert with one another, orchestrate different but complementary approaches to ideas worth spreading.”
I thought that’s what the original TED was about, except for the part about focusing on women being different. Every speaker on TED is different and unique… different nationalities, different ages, different educations, different genders. In past events have women’s speeches been less innovative and dynamic? Is women’s thinking less relevant to the broader audience?
Now my inner 6 year-old is really wound up.
Or maybe TED just wants to create a venue where women can talk about “womany” issues like poverty, sickness, art, and motherhood. If they’re truly ideas worth spreading, why wouldn’t they be integrated into TED? Or create topic-driven events like TEDBusiness, TEDSocial, TEDCulture, or hey, TEDucation.
TED is about bringing together a wide variety of perspectives and influence, and until TEDWomen, I thought it was also free of borders and conventional boundaries. It always felt like TED was about great ideas rising to the top, no matter where or who they came from. Now that there’s a separate event, it’s only going to encourage further segregation, and ultimately a watering down of the TED brand.
Or worse, the original TED will be viewed as the pinnacle event, with presenters at the top of the thinking in their fields, and TEDWomen being viewed as the also-rans.
I’m sure it seemed like a good idea at the time, but the way to honor and highlight women isn’t by separating them. It’s by deeper inclusion. And considering TED is all about ideas, there was bound to be a better one for achieving it.
Join the Conversation…
Will women resent having to choose between attending a TED conference and a TEDWomen conference?
Will female presenters feel they’re being slighted by being invited to TEDWomen instead of TED?
Will male presenters be invited to TEDWomen?
What are some ideas that would have highlighted women thinkers in TED without segregating them?