Jun 152007

Darren had a post praising the idea of Single-Gender Groups. I find that very problematic, and here’s why.

Darren’s main point is that women and men communicate differently. Personally I’ve found more differences in communication style in different countries; I’ve lived in (in chronological order, and only counting places I’ve lived in for more than five years and where I’ve spoken the local language fluently) New Zealand, Australia, Germany, and Canada. For example, Germans in my experience are relatively direct, both men and women. Canadians often aren’t. Australians are often also direct, New Zealanders often aren’t. I tend to be more direct than lots of people, which caused a certain number of problems for me when I was growing up.

One other reason I have problems with that attitude is due to the fact that I studied physics at university, and was often the only woman in the room. Obviously the few women studying related subjects often became friends, but most of my friends were men. Single-gender clubs would mean that I wouldn’t be able to take part in activities that the rest of my friends could take part in. Obviously sports clubs pose a set of issues that often result in the segregation of those taking part, but not for all sports and not necessarily for the social aspects of those clubs.

You could say the answer to that is having more women study physics or maths, but that’s the answer to a different question. My ideal is not that there are lots of single-gender groups and everyone finds them ok, but that both men and women can take part in groups where they find the intellectual stimulation or entertainment that they are looking for, not restricted by people’s expectations based on their gender, or indeed their name (another one of Darren’s posts). There are men who knit, you know, even if not very many.

  5 Responses to “Single-Gender Groups”

  1. Maybe I didn’t make my point as clearly as I might’ve liked. Our society currently seems extremely opposed to the idea of single-gender groups of any kind, in any circumstance.

    Even if there were a thousand mixed-gender knitting groups, men or women would still catch flack for starting one that was exclusive to one gender.

    Ideally, we need a world where there enough groups for everything that people can simply choose the makeup of the group they want to participate in. This, of course, becomes problematic in today’s outlying gender zones like physics classes. Some day, hopefully, that won’t be an issue.

  2. I’m no fan of single-gender clubs. While my inclination is to leave them in peace, I’m aware that it’s hard to find any argument supporting them that couldn’t also be used to support a club that bars, say, blacks or Catholics.

  3. There is no end to this particular discussion and no one way that is right all of the time. Avoid Chinese handcuffs as a rule. If two ends pull against the middle, one can’t get out of the trap. To me, groups like n-only clubs are Chinese handcuffs put there by a third party interested in the power of creating the relationships. It doesn’t mean that social networks based on gender don’t have a place, but the policy or value for creating one formally should be examined for the value it returns (value of values).

    Hurt feelings are, IMO, not a good value for selecting other values including creating, joining, leaving or dis’ing a club. OTOH, in 1980, I was a charter member of the Women’s Political Caucus of North Alabama. There was no rule that excluded men, but I was quickly made aware that by reason of my gender, I wasn’t welcome. Then it became obvious that power was the value and separation was the means. I’m probably still on the list, but I don’t attend. My feelings weren’t hurt, but at some point, I’m sure it would have come to that; so maybe I simply accept that a club or list where I derive no value I don’t stay past the comfort zone, and if I do, I remain clear about the value I am taking away and don’t expect or ask for more. I suspect some number of devChix make a good case for belonging to other lists.

  4. Yup, sometimes these discussions feel like they should be held over a pint in the local pub. I’ve certainly been given a bit to think about, including the fact that blogs are better than nothing, but not an ideal way to debate some of these issues. For me, anyway; for others it might be easier to write than speak and read than listen.

  5. Sorry to answer you here. Tim’s comment form still doesn’t work here (Vista).

    This evolves into a ‘question the source’ debate. There isn’t one answer and possibly none matter other than each individual picks their involvements and has to be responsible for their transactions. If they don’t and it is affected by a group policy, that policy must be clear and enforced blindly or there is no policy.

    But in my experience, where issues of gender are involved, most organizations are incapable of doing that well except at the extremes.

    Because in my experience there are plenty of women around me in this business, I don’t question that. When I fail to see them on lists, I usually accept they have no interests there. If they are there, I treat them as others are treated on the list unless it violates my personal values. A list or organization that violates my values, I leave. A list or organization that provides value for value is a question of values, not orientation.

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