25 February 2009 | Draft
Women and the Underside of Meetings
Symptoms of denial in considering strategic options
- / -
Produced in recognition of the under-representation of women in the G20
initiative (London, April 2009) to reform the global economic system. Originally
distributed as a section of Engaging
with Globality through Cognitive Realignment
(2009). The title celebrates
the pioneering initiative of the feminist scholar
Underside of History: a view of women through time
"Mistresses of the Universe"?
Gendered financial trading
Role of women in sustaining dialogue
Sexual behavior at conferences
The following commentary complements the challenges posed by the so-called
of the Universe, notably in relation to the collapse of the financial
system, its economic consequences and their involvement in reforming the economic
system -- with little consideration of the perspective of women. The problems
created by the mindset of the Masters of the Universe are discussed in Engaging
with Globality through Cognitive Realignment (2009) which includes
annexes premised on the assumption that sustainable governance
is necessarily sexy -- and if it is not then it is unlikely to be sustainable.
The nature of the involvement of women in the process of rethinking the future
is considered symptomatic of the inadequacy of the thinking brought to bear
upon the challenges faced by humanity as a whole -- as further discussed in Framing
the Global Future by Ignoring Alternatives: unfreezing categories as a vital
"Mistresses of the Universe"?
curious how little reference is made to the visibly predominant role of males
in international strategic gatherings and bodies -- a reflection of the "glass
ceiling" issue within national contexts.
It has been argued that the financial crisis was primarily triggered by men
in the hothouse environments of financial institutions -- without the merit
of the insights of a complementary cognitive mode -- as "Masters
of the Universe".
This is well-illustrated by the manner in which women are frozen out of considerations
for the G20 Group summit (London, April
2009), framed as vital to respond to the financial crisis (Framing
the Global Future by Ignoring Alternatives: unfreezing categories as a vital
However much it is resented, such references as there are tend to be relatively
unsystematic, as with that of V. M. Moghadam (Gender
and Globalization: representations, realities, resistances, 2005)
-- referring critically to both "Davos Man" and "Porto Alegre
Man". Naomi Klein formulated a challenge for the World Social Forum in
terms of the lengthy speechifying by "big men", as exemplifying what the movement
was seeking to move beyond (Cut
the Strings, Guardian, 1 February 2003). The problem is common
to most international gatherings claiming to respond to the challenges of all
The question was raised on the occasion of Davos 2009 as to whether a more
representative feminine presence would have prevented the financial crisis.
Katrin Bennhold (Where
would we be if women ran Wall Street? International
Herald Tribune, 2 February
2009). notes a consensus there that if women had run Wall Street, they
would have saved the world from the corrosive gambling culture that dominated
many a trading room.
Subsequently commenting on the same discussions as "some
of the most interesting" at Davos, Nicholas D. Kristof (Mistresses
of the Universe, International Herald Tribune, 10 February
2009), noted a consensus that the world would not have been in the same mess
today if it had been "Lehman Brothers and Sisters". He notes that
the male-dominated environment results in "second-rate decision-making".
The high testosterone levels (predictably associated with higher profitability),
according to one study, could lead to greater assumption of risk and inhibit
ability to engage in rational choice -- especially when surrounded by males
of similar status.
Kristof's commentary has elicited further widespread comment, as for example
Voices for Change (Why
Mistresses of the Universe Can't Wait, February
2009). The issues have been discussed in roundtable format by seven leading
business women (Ruth Sunderland, 'We
cannot return to the old macho ways', The
15 February 2009).
Gendered financial trading
than 5% of financial traders are women compared with some 28% in the broader
category of securities and financial services. David L. Swartz and Vera L.
Bourdieu: influence, critique, elaboration,
2005) discuss the implications of the thinking of sociologist Pierre
Bourdieu in relation to this, to the effect that:
The gendered performance of trading further illustrates the need for psychoanalytic
interpretation. The aggressive practical logic of the pit competition as
well as the trading discourse that valorizes and legitimizes it mark the
exchange as a quintessentially male theatre, a natural "context" for
the performance of male excellence, while women are imagined in this very
same context to be naturally unequipped for such activity. Thus, what the
practice of trading reproduces behaviorally, the cultural sphere of trader
talk reproduces discursively, a reciprocally reinforcing dialectical circuit.
The authors comment on research on the use of sexual metaphors in other sectors
(of which strategy meetings would be an example) but suggest the need for further
research on the role of a "SuperTrader" (in effect a "Master
of the Universe").
Traders use this cultural material to make sense of their world as male in
flavour. They argue that:
Such gender performativity
is energized by the ego's structural lack. Given the ego's primary function
as a a systemic defense mechanism, it necessarily and continually strives
towards what is always already impossible: namely to complete itself, to
fill itself in, to defend itself against its own original and always threatening
structural dis-unity.... [which] implies that the ego itself is symptomatic
and that the experience of wholeness is always necessarily a construction
(or illusion), it is agreed that the ego is energetically, structurally driven
to consolidate the experience of reality. (p. 226)
Clearly from such a perspective, understanding of the
promotion and engagement with any form of "globalization" calls
for more sophisticated analysis taking account of subjective factors.
The argument has been developed by Richard Widick (Flesh
and the free market: On taking Bourdieu to the options exchange,
Theory and Society, 32, 2003). Personal experience, as a woman,
is provocatively offered by Cari Lynn (Leg
the Spread: a woman's adventures inside the trillion-dollar boys' club of
commodities trading, 2004).
Financial trading might be fruitfully explored as but one form of a more generic
understanding of "transactions". The collapse of the financial system
might then be understood as exemplifying a degree of collapse in psychosocial
transactions generally. It is in this sense that any dysfunctionality in the
transactions between male and female can be understood as symptomatic of a
profound malaise in transactions between differences, if not complementary "opposites".
It would then be no wonder that society is faced with a "clash of civilizations".
Framed in this way recent indications of the pay gap between men and women
performing the same task within the financial sector can be seen as very significant.
Reporting on research by the Equality and Human Rights Commission,
Haroon Siddique (City's
'shocking' gender pay gap revealed in equality report, The
Guardian, 9 April 2009) notes that:
Women working full-time in the financial sector earn 55% less a year on
average than their male counterparts, with those in some of the most lucrative
areas, such as fund management and futures trading, suffering the greatest
disparities...with full-time female employees receiving 39% less per hour
than men. The pay gap in the finance sector -- already under fire for its
role in the current recession -- is approximately double that for the economy
as a whole, both on an hourly and annual basis. Women working full-time in
so-called auxiliary activities, including fund management, stockbroking and
futures trading, suffer the largest pay gap in the financial services sector,
earning on average 60% a year less than men.
Among the highest earners in the finance sector, full-time female employees
earn 45% less an hour than men, while in the lowest-paid roles women receive
16% less on average.
Role of women in sustaining dialogue
one of the pioneering feminist scholars, Elise
Boulding (The Underside of History: a view of women through time,
1976; Building a Global Civic Culture: education for an interdependent
world, 1988) highlighted the vital role of women throughout history.
Missing however is any exploration of the role of women as the "underside
of meetings" -- especially international gatherings,, namely the issue
of "gendered conferences" and "gendered summits". Irrespective
of the cognitive implications (considered below), it is not as though there
is a lack of hard data indicative of this role, for example:
- characteristic use of women in infrastructure and logistic roles vital
to most meetings
- characteristic use of women as "trophy companions" in an "accompanying
- facilitation of formal interactions, as exemplified by the traditional
social hostess role in facilitating dialogue (Utne Reader, Salons: The
Joy of Conversation, 2000); this role is exceptionally well-recognized
in the arts of the Japanese geisha.
- compensation for inadequacies in the formal processes, or belief
in this role
The lack of analysis of these seemingly widespread phenomena (as with the
pre-crash financial bubble) is indicative of its potential significance at
Sexual behavior at conferences
phenomenon can usefully be seen as an unexplored extension of the widely studied
processes of sexual behaviour in institutions, whether corporations, government
bureaucracies, military bases, religious institutions, intentional communities
or prisons. Clearly this includes tolerable, even welcomed forms, as well as
those associated with sexual harassment. Especially significant for conferences
are the poorly documented (or acknowledged) sexual activities of the leaders
of such bodies, when they are able to take advantage of their position. The
case of Bill Clinton may even represent a norm rather than an extreme -- as
anecdotal evidence regarding other national, regional or global leaders would
seem to suggest (if only subsequently confirmed in biographies).
There would seem to have been no studies of sexual behaviour at international
conferences, notably with respect to such issues as sexual harassment -- in
contrast with a degree of flirtation natural in many cultures. Perhaps it is
for the "Mistresses of the Universe" to ensure its documentation?
Such studies might highlight how sexual behaviour manifests through:
- the characteristic availability of "adult movies" in
conference hotel rooms
- the presence of "sex workers" at significant international gatherings,
whether ensured ("informally") by organizers, conference hotels,
or entrepreneurs -- or on personal initiative. The scope of this phenomenon
is occasionally "alleged" by journalists with respect to summit
gatherings; it has been noted with respect to meetings of European institutions,
particularly in response to the regular parliamentary migration between Brussels
and Strasbourg [more | more].
Representatives of sex workers were however formally invited to the World
Social Forum (2009) [more].
- the manner in which the declared purposes and values
are undermined at
- rendering secondary or irrelevant more than token
progress in formal sessions
- challenging the capacity of organizers to enable such behaviour and to
cover up any embarrassing consequences
Given that "networking" at conferences is now widely valued over
the processes of formal sessions -- especially by participants -- this might
be understood, to a significant degree, in terms of sexual opportunities and
their availability. The extent of such processes may be increased by the recognition,
notably for women, of the unique opportunity they represent for personal career
Curiously, whilst the cognitive role of women
may be in various ways excluded from the conference process, it is to be recognized
in the following:
- the terms "congress" and "intercourse", as applied
in the context of meetings and dialogue, have other (even primary) meanings
directly associated with the integrative process relating male and female
-- through which the future is engendered
- the architectural symbolism of the front of large plenary
meeting rooms typically involves a form of suitably draped proscenium of
pillared archways deriving from traditions of theatre stage design (from
which the dramatis
personae emerge) -- often to be recognized as recalling elements
of female genitalia.
- more controversially, as suggested elsewhere (Dialogue:
policy forums as metaphors), is the body-language
of speakers, especially in relationship to the microphone and any proscenium,
and that of the audience seated in expectation of
stimulation (whether or not they are "turned on" by
the gathering, or the result is considered fruitful). This is a reminder
that unconscious factors may play a determining role in meeting processes.
- staging presentations typically ensures that "stars" enter
through the proscenium into the moment of the "happening" -- a birthing process
(meriting the sense that such events laboriously "give birth").
As an "event",
the transition may be compared to passage through and out of the birth canal
-- being reborn in a new space as the culmination of a process analogous
to a mating ritual. It is this that justifies explicit use of such symbolism
in Wicca and Tantra.
- use of the term seminar, and its derivation dissemination,
to characterize one environment in which participants engage in intercourse
-- and the manner of the distribution of the outcome thereafter; curiously
the possibility of an "ovular" (to receive such
insights through "insemination"?) would be considered
ridiculous, despite frequent use of euphemisms (or the presence of "egg-heads"
at such gatherings!). However extensive use is made of "incubator" in
the form of business
incubators of innovations -- possibly associated with think-tanks --
whether or not "conception" actually occurs.
Potentially even more problematic is the extent to which the presentation
of proposals by
an audience in expectation of possibly being "turned on",
is effectively set up -- given the typically male ("homosexual")
environment -- as "blow jobs
for change" (in the language of the Masters of the Universe).
However, even when the declared purpose of an event may be to facilitate an
integration of contrasting cultures, only indirectly symbolizing male and female,
this is typically a real challenge for the organizers -- as with the events
of the World
Academy of Art and Science (WAAS). The compromise is then to organize entertainment
as a separate part of the conference programme to represent cognitive modalities
typically associated with women or involving them (music, performing arts,
etc), even a dance or a party.
There is never any question of considering how
such different cognitive modalities might be fruitfully integrated (Aesthetics
of Governance in the Year 2490, 1990; Ensuring
Strategic Resilience through Haiku Patterns: reframing the scope of the "martial
arts" in response to strategic threats, 2006; Knowledge
Gardening through Music: patterns of coherence for future African management
as an alternative to Project Logic, 2000).
If sexual behaviour at conferences
is denied to such a degree (although evident to many participants, however
it is appreciated), the question is then whether it is probable (as implied
above in the references to "Mistresses of the Universe") that:
- there are associated cognitive processes inhibiting any integrative
consideration of global issues as they are significant to both men and women?
- consideration of longer-term outcomes, as a consequence
of fruitful intercourse, is inhibited in preference to those which do not
involve significant responsibility?
- assertions as to the "root problems", underlying
issues on the conference table, are systemically incomplete,
most notably in relation to any issues associated with sexual behavior, such
as overpopulation? (Institutionalized
Shunning of Overpopulation Challenge: incommunicability of fundamentally
inconvenient truth, 2008); their systemic completion takes place
in processes "under the table"
- the credibility is severely undermined of those known
or rumoured to be acting in ways inconsistent with the values they publicly
proclaim through their conference participation, especially when an ethical
double standard becomes apparent; this goes to the root of questions of confidence,
trust and solidarity for which leaders notably appeal in times of crisis
Ironically denial regarding sexual behaviour encourages a complicity
in any cognitive "cover-up" of processes that cannot be contained
by convention -- otherwise known as "turning a blind eye". Of particular
interest beyond sexual processes, are those of corruption and torture -- both
with their sexual associations. Any effort to discuss these is then framed
as "unseemly", thereby avoiding any responsibility for addressing them (Global
Strategic Implications of the "Unsaid": from myth-making towards
a "wisdom society", 2003) .
Perhaps the most problematic consequence
of denial, especially regarding sexual behaviour, is the inability to draw
upon metaphors of sexuality to frame healthy (and unhealthy) strategic possibilities,
and to communicate them
to Conceptual and Value Polarities: learnings from sexuality, 1998;
Enhancing the Quality of Knowing through Integration of
2000). Given the worldwide familiarity with the associated processes and their
subtle complexity -- beyond those adequately encompassed by rational discourse
-- a vital vehicle of communication is effectively lost.
To the extent
such behaviour is then recognized in discourse, only the simplest metaphors
are used -- typically in their most primitive, violent form -- as is the case
in corporate environments and in trading on the financial markets. As such
they are fundamental to the language and strategies of the Masters of the Universe
the Future: coherence and conflation of dominant strategic metaphors,
Denial may be significant in other respects,
- "groping": anecdotal evidence suggests a surprising
degree of "groping" by
even the most eminent conference participants. This would seem to echo use
of "groping" towards comprehension and organization of a more
desirable global outcome for the formal event. Given the predominant use
of linear thinking to this end, there may be a degree of irony with regard
to the extent to which curves (and especially the capacity to "handle" them)
are a cognitive preoccupation outside the formal context.
- engagement with globality: inability to engage effectively
with, or engender, more integrative perspectives within conventionally organized
formal gatherings may (whether consciously or unconsciously) displace attention
out" such engagement through sexual behaviour of some form -- especially
in the sense that it may offer the opportunity for more concrete
"proposals" that may give rise to immediate "action".
- "conceptual contraceptives": the learned necessities
of precautious sexual behaviour -- "safe sex" -- may unconsciously
engender analogous precautions in relation to engaging within the formal
meeting processes with more creatively integrative projects involving commitment
or a change of behaviour (and the possibility of outcomes for which unwelcome
responsibility is expected).
To the extent that such cognitive dissociation
does apply, a possibly ironic confirmation (worth exploring in some detail)
is the historically concurrent emergence into global awareness of two seemingly
quite unrelated concepts -- articulated in similar language:
as a principal focus of international gatherings since 1992,
which continues to be framed as the "holy grail" of global strategy
through which (obsessions with) "growth" may be sustained -- effectively
"globalization" with "growth". Remedies to the current
economic crisis around the world are described as vital "stimulus" packages
for flagging industrial sectors and economies
- "viagra": patented
as the drug sildenafil in 1996 (and aggressively marketed worldwide under
various names) to remedy inability
to sustain a satisfactory erection to complete intercourse
-- and associated with (obsession with) a corresponding form of "growth" and
its necessary "stimuli"
It is curious that both may be framed in terms of aspirations and quests
for "globality" -- one understood objectively and the other subjectively,
whatever the psychology of projections and mirrorings between them. To the
extent that similar language is used, there is of course a concern that, if
only unconsciously, cognitive modalities would be unfruitfully constrained
in both cases. There is some probability that the same insights are being brought
to bear in each case. It is unfortunate that the economic growth of the first
case is then to be construed, in the light of the second, as an unconscious
aspiration to a form of "economic priapism".
Needless to say, given the age and predominant sex of global leadership, there
would appear to be a desperate need for some form of "cognitive
to respond to the seeming impotence in sustaining the much needed political
will for change, irrespective of issues of "growth" and getting the
financial system "up" again -- even efforts to "talk it up" (echoing
the efforts of the snake charmers mentioned below). Cognitively, is it
a case of aphrodisiacs for male models beyond their retirement date?
Discourse on Sexual Harassment in Conferences. 1994 [text]
the problem of "overpopulation". Metaphor
Project, 1995 [text]
Harassment of Reality and Grasping Future Possibilities learnings from
sexual harassment as a metaphor. 1996 [text]
- Discovering Richer Patterns of Comprehension
to Reframe Polarization.
- Beyond Sun, Sea and
Sex: conference marketing and communication issues of the future. 1999 [text]
Conference Interfaces: increasing participation value.
- "Human Intercourse": "Intercourse with Nature" and "Intercourse
with the Other". 2007 [text]
- Global Governance
via a Double-breasted Strange Attractor. 2009 [text]