Binders Full of Men

Reposted, with edits, from Facebook. The Times’ panel did not respond to questions from readers who wanted to know why they chose an all-male panel, and editorial board (and panel) member Jonathan Martin referred my questions to Times editorial page editor Kate Riley.

Days after an election in which Seattle elected the first majority-female city council since the 1990s, the Seattle Times and Crosscut are each holding all-male panels to analyze and discuss the election. Crosscut’s panel consists of three white guys–Christian Sinderman, John Wyble, and Charley Royer. The Times’ consists of one man of color, Sandeep Kaushik, and two white guys, Jonathan Martin and Danny Westneat.

Item No. 7304. City Council Inspection Tour on Kinnear Park Lawn, 1900. (Record Series 8200-13)
Seattle City Archives.

I wish I didn’t have to say this again so soon after the Times held an all-white-male panel to discuss the region’s transportation issues, and justified it by saying that they were looking for diversity of opinions, not diversity diversity, but here goes again: Actual diversity matters, not just “diversity of opinions.”

When panel planners say “we just got the best possible people available,” I think immediately of all the boys’ clubs from which I and women like me are excluded, not because we don’t have something to say but because we aren’t a friend of the guy who guards the door to the clubhouse. Blogs link blogs by their friends, public intellectuals and politicians and pundits signal boost for people they already know and just feel “comfortable” with, and the media give a boost to those who are already in power. When media gatekeepers say they just couldn’t find any women or people of color who were “qualified” to talk about an issue, I can almost without exception spout off a dozen examples of people outside the professional pundit class to prove them wrong. The only difference is that the middle-age white guys who always get picked have sat on those stages many times before, and are therefore the first people that come to mind for lazy panel planners.

Yes, it takes two seconds to think of and reach out to people who aren’t your default idea of “panelist.”

Yes, it’s easier to just ask the likes of Charley Royer, Christian Sinderman, and John Wyble to sit on the same stage they’ve sat on dozens of times before and offer their perspectives.

But let’s not forget that there are many, many women, including consultants and pundits, who actively participated in and commented these elections who are more than capable of sitting on a panel and offering their opinions and analysis–and that, importantly, their analysis will be qualitatively different because they are women.

In the comments, the Times’ Martin and an editorial member who moderated the all-male panel I wrote about previously, Thanh Tan, said that they had to throw the panel together at the last minute (why? the election date was no surprise), that, as Tan put it, “These guys are strong allies of women,” and that moderating a discussion by other people is just as important as actually expressing opinions or appearing as an expert on a subject. The two Times editorial board members also did backflips to note that the Times has women in leadership, that the moderator, Caitlyn Moran, is a woman, and that some of their previous “Livewire” discussions have included women. (Actually, the two panels that did have two or more women were about education and affordable housing, while panels on “hard” subjects like China were reserved exclusively for men.)


I hope it’s clear that whether some of their best friends are women or not, there is no excuse for an all-male panel in 2015, especially on this election. And frankly, I don’t care if your moderator is a woman. Facilitation, in contrast to speaking, has always been a traditionally female role, and while facilitating the discussions of others is important, it is not at all the same as being the one on stage who gets to express their perspective and opinions.  As Lauren Burgeson pointed out when I wrote about the Times’ all-male transportation panel, you can’t be what you can’t see, and hidebound institutions like the Seattle Times and Crosscut (whose writing staff, unlike the Times, actually consists entirely of white men, and which just hired another white man as editor) to inspire women to enter public spaces (and run for office) when the only examples you elevate are the same old white dudes who get pushed onstage every election.

It’s 2015. Let’s end this. It’s time for the Seattle Times, Crosscut, and other power-wielding institutions to stop making excuses and start elevating women, people of color, and other marginalized populations. If you haven’t done so on Facebook already, or even if you have, please help me out by naming some folks you would suggest for panels in the future, in the hope that they’ll listen and amplify voices that actually represent the Seattle of today, not the Seattle of 150 years ago.

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