In October of 2007, the Imagining Ourselves project was awarded the Social Impact award from the Anita Borg Institute for Women and Technology. I had the honor of presenting the project (and all of the twists, turns, and challenges we encountered along the way) to a large audience of bright women and men from around the world. At the end of the session, I encouraged the audience to ask tough questions. One young woman stood up and asked the following:
Where are the men in this project? Do you think it's effective to have a dialogue about young women without including young men?
It wasn't the first time I've been asked this question, nor will it be the last.
A few months back, a friend of mine came to visit the offices of the International Museum of Women in San Francisco. I introduced him around to our fantastic team, and then he and I left the office together to grab a cup of coffee. Before we even got to the elevator, he grabbed my elbow.
Paula, he said, with a concerned look on his face, Where are the men in that office?
It's a very important subject, indeed. So important, in fact, that we curated a whole segment in the Imagining Ourselves exhibition on "Young Men." We asked young men to respond to the same question driving the entire Imagining Ourselves project, namely, "What defines your generation (of men)?"
And it's also one of the reasons we made sure to include young men on our advisory committee and as co-curators.
I must admit, this issue is one that still troubles me greatly. There is no doubt in my mind that it is of limited value for women to discuss things only amongst themselves. For the conversation to be sustainable, it has to be inclusive.
I think about this from a personal perspective as well. Like many young women of my generation, I did not grow up thinking of myself as disadvantaged because I was a woman. In fact, the idea of working only with and for women seemed limiting to me. As a young girl, I never would have predicted that I'd spend six plus years working on a project like Imagining Ourselves.
On the other hand, as the Imagining Ourselves exhibition demonstrates, there is power and inspiration when young women have a forum to talk directly to each other about their experiences--sharing challenges, insights, joys-inspiring each other to reach new heights.
Young women today have had more doors opened to them--access to education, employment and travel, for example--than ever before possible for women.
It is a unique moment in history, and we wanted to capitalize on the specificity of the moment. We wanted to encourage young women to take advantage of these opportunities so as to make a difference--whether in their own lives, their communities, or globally. Hence, we created a conversation to inspire this specific audience of young women--on their own terms, in a language and context that made sense to them.
But this can not be a one way conversation--and question of including men remains imperative.
What are your thoughts? Please join the debate!