5 Gender Myths and What Happened at NEMA

gemm-nema-conference-2016-editedAnne Ackerson, Marieke Van Damme and I spoke at the New England Museum Association Wednesday morning at 9 a.m. Our title was Women|Museums: Lessons from the Workplace, and we were among the opening sessions of NEMA’s 2016 meeting in Mystic, CT. We expected to begin our program buoyed by a Clinton victory the night before. We counted on Clinton piercing the proverbial glass ceiling until sometime around midnight when clearly a different choice was underway, a fact confirmed when we woke much too early to the news of a pending Trump presidency.

When we began our program, the mood was somber, as if we’d all partied a bit too hard the night before, which, of course, we hadn’t. After introducing ourselves with a little story telling, we walked the group through five myths of gender in the museum world. Here they are:

  • Feminism is all about women being in power.

  • The contributions of women in museums are self-evident.

  • The salary disparity between male and female museum workers is a thing of the past.

  • There are so many women in the museum field now that gender equity will happen on its own.

  • It’s not about gender anymore; it’s about race, sexual orientation and class.

Then we asked the group to discuss two questions: If they could send a message to their colleagues, institutions, professional associations and graduate programs about gender in the museum workplace, what would it be? And, what is the one thing they are willing to do to make positive change toward gender equity? Each table had postcards for participants to write messages on. There’s a photograph of them at the top of the page, but they also showed up on Twitter, Facebook and various analog spots throughout the meeting.

When the groups reported out, their remarks clustered around some important topics. The hiring process came under discussion as women questioned why they don’t negotiate job offers, and whether that is something that can and should be taught. One respondent pointed out that if you are simply happy to be chosen, you lose all leverage to negotiate.

The road to a museum career also came under fire, particularly the idea that in too many instances students borrow to go to graduate school, and then find themselves working in unpaid internships as part of some additional rite of passage, all so they can earn, at best, a modest salary. One group’s solution: there should be a field-wide refusal to work for nothing. In addition, participants want women to leave graduate programs feeling confident about traditionally male areas of focus like finance. Can’t read a spread sheet from the business office? Grow your skill set.

Sexual harassment in the workplace was also discussed with participants asking where staff at small museums can go when they need help or advice, and what the board’s role is in seemingly condoning workplace sexism. A participant quipped that Boston area museums still have a Brahmin attitude, meaning you’ve been allowed to be part of the boys’ club, now deal with it. And there was also a shout out for not just doing what men do, but finding new solutions to achieve the same end.

And towards the end one woman reminded us all to “Put on our armor and fight like Amazons.” Which brings us to where we were before the election. This fall we created an advocacy group, Gender Equity in Museums Movement, or GEMM. As yet, we have no official affiliation, but we are beginning talks with AAM to see how GEMM can support its equity agenda. If you’re interested in knowing more about our call to action, please read and share our platform paper, A Call for Gender Equity in the Museum WorkplaceIf it speaks to you, join us via email, twitter or Facebook. Let’s make museums the poster child for women’s (and that’s all women, not just white women’s) equity. We’re not giving up and neither should you.

And if you were out of the country, living off the grid or you simply stopped reading post- election, you may want to look at:

What Does President Trump Mean for Feminists

Hillary’s Concession Speech

SNL’s Cold Open Nov. 12

For Women, Glass Ceilings and Glass Walls

Joan Baldwin

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2 Comments on “5 Gender Myths and What Happened at NEMA”

  1. mwinikates says:

    I was really sorry that my NEMA-duties didn’t give me an opening to attend your session, but I appreciate the wrap up, and I heard a lot of people talking about it later in the conference, so congratulations on keeping the conversation vibrant!


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