Sisterhood Blog

Calling on Men To Boycott Homogenous Panel Discussions

By Debra Nussbaum Cohen

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It’s time for male leaders in the Jewish community to step up and boycott invitations to participate in conferences and panel discussions when women are not part of the main lineup.

Nathan Guttman’s recent Sisterhood post details the absence of women from the main stage at AIPAC’s recent annual policy conference, and even suggests which pro-Israel female political heavyweights could have been invited to speak during plenary sessions. Rabbi Joanna Samuels made a similar point last year; her post also mentions the absence of female speakers at the previous year’s AIPAC conference.

The magazine Good points to the same problematic issue, calling on the white men, who most often populate these panels, to boycott them until they become more diverse. The Good story focuses on an upcoming panel discussion on “The Future of Media,” which is being conducted under the auspices of the website “I Want Media.” On that panel there is but one woman, The New York Observer’s editor in chief Elizabeth Spiers, speaking along with half a dozen men.

It’s not just a Jewish problem, but it is still an embarrassment that any big players in Jewish organizational life remain so out of step with current — as well as correct — values. The excuse is often made that there are not enough women who are at the highest rungs of the ladder to invite to speak. Yet it is a self-perpetuating problem. To advance to the most senior positions women must be seen as experts in their field — a reputation made, in part, by being invited to speak on the topic at hand.

It’s long overdue for women to be appropriately represented among speakers on panel discussions and other platforms at Jewish organizations. A key to making that happen is for men, who are almost invariably the first to be invited to speak on anything but “women’s issues,” to insist that it does.


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