An Answer to Patrick Schumacher

A few months ago, we were so honored to have Patrick Schumacher‘s visit and comments on the Bartlett/UCL + D-ARCH/ETHZ gross underrepresentation of female speakers in their lecture series.

How unfortunate that his contribution was not encouraging but frankly hostile.

Judge for yourself:

” the results of your gender check is not a slap in the face of these institutions but a slap in the face of the presumption that we should expect equal representation … I wonder what the underlying presumption is here? Is it that these institutions should shift their priority from architectural agenda/content towards the goal of equal gender representation via positive discrimination? (And why should they do this?) Or is the assumption that unequal representation implies a discriminatory bias against women? In either case, the presumption would be questionable and highly controversial.”

1) About the presumption that we should expect equal representation:

I’m going to call to the rescue a quick comparative between women and people of color. Bash me all you want.

Should people of color expect equal representation? Racialicious thinks yes and hopes for a ‘just representation’ and equitable representation in “film, network television, and cable television and not only in front of the camera at all levels, from leading roles to background actors, but also behind the camera, from the writers, to the directors, the producers, and all over the corporate structures that run the studios and networks to even the big money interests that fund them.” I can’t help to see a screaming similarity with the facts that women are underrepresented in the visible events of the architecture world, prizes, professorships, school deaneships , offices leaderships, boards of universities, etc. This inequitable representation of women (and people of color and other marginalized groups) reinforces systemic sexism and other injustices.

My argument is that representation is essential because of the crucial importance of role-models. A woman professor, or speaker at an event can be a role model for other women not only in the same university but also elsewhere. The spillover effect of  a woman talking or depicted in an article influences other women, showing them it is possible to achieve the same. There are excellent surveys on the matter.

So, not expecting, but demanding it!

2) These institutions should shift their priority from architectural agenda/content towards the goal of equal gender representation via positive discrimination?

Why should there be a shift in priority? Is it not possible to achieve excellency in an architectural academic agenda and reach equal gender representation? I tend to believe that if there would be more visible women, there would be less space for mediocre men. Hence, it would appear that males fighting against equal gender representation are scared for their own prestige, and therefore, are mediocre.

3) And why should they do this?

Because a fair world is better for all, including for you, dear Patrick. The 2003 RIBA report argues that a more gender, racially and ethnically diverse architectural profession could have a positive impact on the image of architecture: “The profession does not have a particularly positive image and if it does want to move forward and change this, part of the exercise is to better reflect society rather than appearing arrogant, aloof and unaware of social shifts.”

Since schools of architecture have 50% female students or more, making all the more suspicious the fact that these battalions disappear along the hierarchy ladder and in swamps of architecture subaltern jobs, it is certainly the tasks of these institutions to understand what is happening, and even more so, to fix it. Initiatives at Columbia, MIT and other universities proves some are aware of the problem.

Not everyone believes status quo is the way to go.

4) Is the assumption that unequal representation implies a discriminatory bias against women?

Off course. Unequal representation is the product of rampant sexism, combined with unawareness and laziness. There are plenty of women architects who deserve to be talked about, published about, invited at talks, etc. But they are not, because they are women. The Pritzker case of Denise Scott-Brown is a screaming example of that bias.

US professor of psychology Virginia Valian argues that “success is largely the accumulation of advantage, the parlaying of small gains into larger ones.”1 Women experience small disadvantages that add up, starting with not being invited at podium talks.  We, all, are likely “to overvalue men and undervalue women.” All of these affect “perceptions of competence, the ability of women to benefit from their achievements and to be perceived as leaders.”  We are all participants, no matter how well intentioned, when we assess the lecturers in front of us, our employees, our prospective employees, our teachers, our colleagues, etc.¨

So, yes, unequal representation implies a discriminatory bias against women, and it must be tackled.

5) In either case, the presumption would be questionable and highly controversial.

I second to that, and i invite you to join the fun, controversial, adventurous, forward-looking and activist side of the debate, and to encourage women architects to get their fair share of the spot light, of the credits, and of the prizes, and to pro-actively request institutions to be gender-balanced in their invitations, in their professorships, in their boards, their guest-critics, and their lecture series.

Sisterly yours,

D-A

 

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