Black WomenWhen I think of Dr. Brittney Cooper, Joan Morgan, Dr. Melissa Harris-Perry, Dr. Tanisha Ford, Dr. Treva Lindsey and Dr. Kaila Story, I imagine the intellectual ancestors smiling down on them. These women scholars are progressing public discourse through their academic work. Their scholarship ranges from hip-hop feminism to fashion as political resistance, but their influence within and outside of the confines of the academy makes their research accessible to those without advance-level degrees.

Though the ladies listed are members of a growing chorus of women intellectuals, a study conducted in Canada found male professors outnumber female professors in media coverage and overall reach. Shari Graydon, former president of Media Action – a non-profit organization that encourages gender equity in media – presented her findings at the Worldviews conference in Toronto.

Graydon said there’s a 4-to-1 imbalance within the public intellectual tradition. Researchers examined the male-to-female ratio in major newspapers, radio programs and television talk shows. They found an extensive disparity between the voices represented through these outlets.

The University World News reports:

“On one level that’s not so surprising,” Graydon said. In proportion to their numbers, women academics were underrepresented even in the expert databases of their universities. Furthermore: “They are often unwilling to come forward.” There were also pressures on women’s time, which needed to be divided between work and, for instance, family responsibilities.

But the problem went deeper. What Graydon had been told by journalists – and this had been borne out by interviews with and surveys of 400 female scholars across Canada – was that when approached for comment on an issue, women were far more likely than their male counterparts to say: “I’m really not the best person.”

“The truth is that male scholars may also feel pressures, may not feel that they are the best person to respond to a particular journalist’s question. But a male expert will rarely if ever say the words, ‘I’m not the best person’,” said Graydon.

“Not because he always thinks that he is, but because he knows that he knows more than the majority of readers or listeners or viewers and, yes, he has a PhD, he has 10 years’ experience in the field, and yes, of course he will comment.”

Both male and female scholars were understandably worried about their words being taken out of context, Graydon added. “They are all concerned about not being able to put complex, nuanced issues into quotable sound bites. They are concerned about being seen as not serious, as doing scholarship that is not popular – all of those things affect men as well.”

However, female scholars were subjected to what Graydon called a “gender push-back” that men do not experience. Operating in a space where they are judged against “graphically and surgically enhanced images of women”, women scholars were judged and found wanting, even if only on a subconscious level.

Frequently, the feedback in online comments was “specific and vicious, and often women scholars are just not willing to go there and subject themselves to that kind of attack.”

Graydon’s current initiative, Informed Opinions, aims to lessen this gap by training women intellectuals in media. This will guarantee better opportunities and more exposure for their research.

“We encourage them when they get a phone call from a journalist to start here: ‘I’d be happy to try to help’.”

“Because there is nothing about this statement that says I believe I am the best person; it just opens the door to a conversation in which they may be able to add value.”

The Internet also presents an excellent platform for women scholars. Daniel W. Drezner is a professor of international politics at the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy at Tufts University. He has studied the decline of the public intellectual tradition, but sees a resurgence of brilliance emerging in the digital landscape. Drezner writes:

For academics aspiring to be public intellectuals, weblogs allow networks to develop that cross the disciplinary and hierarchical strictures of the academy – and expand beyond the academy.  Rebecca Goetz observes, “Because I blog I now have contacts, online and offline, with a variety of scholars inside and outside my field. They don’t particularly care that my dissertation is not yet done; the typical hierarchies of the ivory tower break down in the blogosphere so that even graduate students can be public intellectuals of a kind.”

Brad DeLong characterizes scholar-blogging as creating an “invisible college” that includes, “people whose views and opinions I can react to, and who will react to my reasoned and well-thought-out opinions, and to my unreasoned and off-the-cuff ones as well.”   Provided one can write jargon-free prose, a blog can attract readers from all walks of life – including, most importantly, people beyond the ivory tower.  Indeed, citizens will tend to view academic bloggers that they encounter online as more accessible than would be the case in a face-to-face interaction.

Similarly, survey evidence also suggests that academics view blogs as a form of public service and political activism.   This increases the likelihood of fruitful interaction and exchange of views about culture, criticism and politics with individuals that academics might not have otherwise met.

The academics listed in the opening graf exchange ideas freely through blogs and social media platforms, but are we undervaluing the importance of their intellect by culturally offering their male counterparts larger platforms and opportunities?

  • http://twitter.com/danielleamir danielle

    couple things. do you honestly believe that life in the us for the average person of color is not better by some measure than it was in 1963? you can offer me a few dry statistics that do hold some merit, but what of quality of life? what of the life of the whole person? my family has lived here for generations during which time there have been sweeping changes driven by activist movements that have made access to quality education attainable and making a living and being a self actualized human being far more possible than ever before. i do not suggest in any way that the structure of racism has been overthrown, but for my mother, who grew up drinking from moldy water fountains and attending the zoo on “special days” when the animals were feeding, I can guarantee you that much has been accomplished in fifty years. it is an anathema and quite frankly a smack in the face of the African American martyrs and revolutionaries who fought for whatever smidgen of progress we have made to suggest that blacks are “no better off.”

    and again, these changes were the result of not the diversity programs that you speak of but freedom movements. i maintain that you are conflating two unequal concepts. diversity programs grew out of, were the extensions of and again i maintain – the tactical application of many of the broad ideological changes that characterized the past 50 – 75 years. to expect “diversity” to achieve anything as monumental is fruitless. diversity enables this change that you speak of by providing ACCESS to resources, ideas and dreams.

    and, in practical terms, how does one apply this litmus test that you indicate, considering that people change attitudinally many times over their lifetimes?

  • http://twitter.com/danielleamir danielle

    couple things. do you honestly believe that life in the us for the average person of color is not better by some measure than it was in 1963? you can offer me a few dry statistics that do hold some merit, but what of quality of life? what of the life of the whole person? my family has lived here for generations during which time there have been sweeping changes driven by activist movements that have made access to quality education attainable and making a living and being a self actualized human being far more possible than ever before. i do not suggest in any way that the structure of racism has been overthrown, but for my mother, who grew up drinking from moldy water fountains and attending the zoo on “special days” when the animals were feeding, I can guarantee you that much has been accomplished in fifty years. it is an anathema and quite frankly a smack in the face of the African American martyrs and revolutionaries who fought for whatever smidgen of progress we have made to suggest that blacks are “no better off.”

    and again, these changes were the result of not the diversity programs that you speak of but freedom movements. i maintain that you are conflating two unequal concepts. diversity programs grew out of, were the extensions of and again i maintain – the tactical application of many of the broad ideological changes that characterized the past 50 – 75 years. to expect “diversity” to achieve anything as monumental is fruitless. diversity enables this change that you speak of by providing ACCESS to resources, ideas and dreams.

    and, in practical terms, how does one apply this litmus test that you indicate, considering that people change attitudinally many times over their lifetimes?

  • Angelique212

    …FYI, “…Fewer Public Intellectuals”. No biggie, but important.

  • sunkissbliss

    What a fabulous discussion! I enjoyed each and every comment. I understand and relate to various viewpoints. I think about where we are today and while we’ve made tremendous gains, what we have lost in the process is very heart-wrenching! I do look at many of the gains, like bones thrown at us and not real change [of infrastructure], but for a few people. We have almost become too preoccupied or satisfied with tokenism, which is easy to do when we see a black president and first lady, Jay-Z and William Buffet on magazine covers, Oprah, Tyler Perry, BIll Cosby, the sistah, CEO at Walmart – Sam’s Club or at IBM and other senior level executives leaning in. Not to mention all of our black inventors and business pioneers, educators and historically black universities, scientists and prize winners and their undeniable contributions!!! I’ve worked in places that I know there was a time, when the opportunity wouldn’t have been possible. Black ski gophers, skiing in Vail, all the Ivy League and Big Ten graduates, moving to communities where we used to get lynched or burned out, we have progressed and have made some important changes and there is more diversity, externally. But, we have yet to crack the deeply rooted enslavement that maintains the system of class and privilege and leaves the majority of power and influence with white men and women, and the poor (colorless) at the greatest disadvantage. Before racial integration, we were business owners in our own communities, we provided for our supply and demand as Hispanic and Asian communities operate today. Our disconnect is wider, along with the progress of diversity; our group consciousness and value system (communities included) has greatly eroded. It is my belief that our “caring” is very limited, we value what others can do for us, rankings, stats and net worth. Our blind ambition puts us into the same group as oppressors (owners of the infrastructure) because of our interests. Special interests (private agendas) rules this world, from my view! This is GREAT discourse and may it continue to flow! Love Clutch!

More in education
Close