Has Anyone Seen A Woman? Professor Deb Verhoeven delivers an influential and often humorous speech. She asks why no women were at the podium on the first day of the Digital Humanities Conference in 2015.
Speech: Professor Deb Verhoeven
Congratulations on the film! You must have written ‘Has Anyone Seen A Woman?’ that you delivered at the Digital Humanities conference very quickly. What led you to writing and delivering the speech?
The speech was written overnight after the Opening Day of the conference in which no women appeared on the main stage. The Digital Humanities aspires to do better than this and there are so many great women in this field. Given this, I was flabbergasted by both the lack of women and then also the failure to explicitly address their absence in any way. So I took the opportunity of my appearance on-stage – I was introducing the next day’s keynote speaker – to offer some thoughts on how the field could tackle diversity and inclusion in a practical way.
How is the speech part of a larger problem that women experience in many diverse fields including film and TV, education, health, the law etc?
I think most of the points I was trying to make about the Digital Humanities apply across many fields. I am especially exercised by the generally accepted idea that when equitable participation doesn’t occur it is somehow the responsibility of minorities to “improve” their behaviour. You see this with quotas and affirmative action policies that target minorities to “bring them up to speed” rather than focussing on the behaviours of the beneficiaries of the existing system. Like I said: “Women are not the problem”.
Has the feedback since the conference surprised or challenged your point of view?
I set out to provoke a reaction and I certainly got one. Mostly, people seemed relieved that these issues and ideas were out in the open. But a smaller number of people were offended by my remarks and let me know.
Have there been improvements since you delivered the speech?
There are now a number of initiatives within the Digital Humanities to address diversity and inclusivity at conferences and events. For example the DH Summer Institute has just released a Statement on Ethics and Inclusion: http://www.dhsi.org/events.php#ethics+inclusion
There’s also a really great discussion opening up about the limitations of concepts like “diversity” as well and that’s great too.
5. What are you looking to achieve by having your film more visible on this platform?
Mostly I would like the film to reach a broad audience of people who are just starting out in their careers and perhaps now recognising that they are being marginalised or actively discriminated against. I made the speech mostly for these people – so they would feel validated and understood. And so that they would realise that the battles my generation has been fighting for so long actually need to be waged over and over again.
Lastly, what’s a key question that will help spark a debate about this issue and film?
How exactly do we convince white, straight men to give up their privilege and move aside to let other people in?