The FemQuant organisers and convenors of the Beyond the Binary Variable: Feminist Quantitative Analyses of Gendered Inequalities conference reflect on the planning, challenges and hosting of their online event.
As with all the events we have organised, when we as the FemQuant organising collective decided on the theme and title for the event, we were motivated by a wish to bring together a critical mass of researchers who share an interest in combining feminist research commitments and quantitative approaches or methods in social science to provide a space for discussion. So we framed the theme of the day as broadly and openly as possible, inviting researchers interested in problematising the widespread tendency in quantitative data and analysis to operationalise ‘gender’ as a binary variable with male/female dichotomy represented as fixed and oppositional to bring their interpretation of the theme to the conversation. In this blog post, we summarise some of the key themes of the day and reflect on the ethical responsibilities that come with conference organising in the current context.
Data collection and analysis: beyond the binary
Core themes of the day focused on data collection, as well as analysis and interpretation of gender. Anna Lindqvist kicked off the day with her keynote discussion reviewing options for operationalising gender in data collection and arguing that researchers need to reflect on the concept of gender in their research questions. In the session on Queering census data collection, Christina Pao provided an overview of recent discussions of gender and sexuality questions across censuses in the US, UK, Australia and New Zealand and Kirstie English presented survey question wording developed through focus groups on the representation of trans and/or non-binary people in quantitative data. Lena Wangnerud and Elias Markstedt and Elizabeth Yarrow discussed how survey design affects findings of perceptions of femininity and masculinity and considered some alternative ways to conceptualise gender identity. Turning to analysis and interpretation, Irene Marta Brusini employed the concept of substantive representation in politics while Zuzana Dancikova argued gendered context helps us understand the uptake of the new Slovak leave policy for fathers.
Another salient theme permeating conversations throughout the day related to feminist knowledge production and action. Questions of power in terms of who is involved in research, whose labour is credited and what purpose data collection and research serves were reflected on by presenters in several sessions. Examples include Alexis Henshaw with regards to international relations and Alexia Pretari and Sarah Barakat concerning the development and evaluation of aid programmes, among others. Heather Shattuck-Heidorn presented an important critique of essentialist understandings of sex/gender in much mainstream Covid-19 research which obscures intersectional patterns, while Emma McKenna argued that collecting information about sex workers’ gender and sexuality challenges stereotyping discourses. During our conversation with Catherine D’Ignazio and Lauren Klein, authors of the recent open-access book Data Feminism, we discussed activism as a part of feminism as well as part of data feminism specifically. The authors also mentioned the value of having a value statement as a guiding principle of their book writing specifically and for academic work more generally.
This resonated greatly with us, not only as researchers but also as conference organisers, having recently articulated our feminist commitments to inclusive conference organising. The feminism that we are committed to is an intersectional and inclusive one that recognises the plurality of experiences and identities. Given the theme of our conference, in the current context of feminism in the UK, we wanted to ensure that on the day we upheld a trans-inclusive atmosphere. To conclude this blog post, we, therefore, outline some of the decisions we made in preparation for the event, and our rationale for these. We do not purport to be experts in this or to claim that we got everything right, but we think there is value in making feminist ethos visible and acknowledging that the caring labour that went into making the event a success extended far beyond the organising collective. We also hope that sharing the preparations we undertook might help other organisers reflect on ways to encourage inclusive, constructive spaces for discussion at their events.
Practicalities of an inclusive feminist online conference – our approach
Because the theme of our event had the possibility of attracting attendees planning to disrupt rather than engage in good faith and concerned about the impact this might have on the well-being of our presenters and other attendees, one of our priorities in the run-up to the event was to communicate honestly with all our presenters, outlining our values, commitment to inclusivity and plans for the technical arrangements. We decided to host the day on the Zoom Webinar platform, in part because of the high number of registrations we already had for the event but also because it gave us more control over the day. For example, it meant that non-presenting attendees were unable to enable their microphones or cameras and it allowed us to screen comments and questions from the audience. Although the Webinar mode feels less personal and interactive than a regular Zoom meeting set-up, and could potentially stifle discussion, ensuring that all of our speakers felt safe to share their ongoing research took priority for us. We also invited presenters to share any suggestions and/or concerns so that we could take additional precautions where needed.
On the day we aimed to set the tone by reminding all attendees of the CRASSH code of conduct they had all agreed when registering for the event and by inviting everyone asking questions to engage with the terms and premises of the research being presented. Between chairing sessions, screening questions and monitoring Twitter with pre-drafted responses ready, it was certainly a marathon of a day ‘behind the scenes’. But ultimately, we are happy to have hosted an event that not only met our goals for creating a safe and inclusive space for discussion but was also successfully engaging for the presenters and the audience.
We would like to express our sincere gratitude to Nicki at CRASSH, whose experience and wisdom was a huge source of support both in preparation and on the day, as well as to our discussants who took the time to not only prepare their presentations and extended abstracts but also to read extended abstracts of three other presenters and prepared detailed responses. When we first pitched our event idea to CRASSH the rationale for having discussants had been to bridge or blur the conference/workshop distinction and provide the audience with perspective and insight about how the papers in a session speak to each other. As it turned out, our discussants served a hugely important role of compensating for some of the loss of interaction that the move to Webinar mode entailed, ensuring that each presenter received some considered comments and constructive questions about their research.
This blog was written by the conference convenors & coordinators of FemQuant:
Jenny Chanfreau (UCL Social Research Institute)
Rose Cook (Policy Institute at King’s)
Youngcho Lee (Department of Sociology, University of Cambridge)
Sara Rose Taylor (Framework Convention Alliance for Tobacco Control)
Heini Väisänen (University of Southampton)
View the playlist of conference presentations and the keynote lecture
The views, thoughts and opinions expressed on the CRASSH blog belong solely to the authors and do not necessarily represent the views of CRASSH or the University of Cambridge.