Today, we learn about inclusiveness from an act of
exclusion. The University of Houston's College of
Engineering presents this series about the machines
that make our civilization run, and the people
whose ingenuity created them.
In August 1990
primatologists held a conference in Santa Cruz. The
subject was female biology and life history. It
dealt with such matters as gender roles and
menopause in human and ape societies. The two women
organizers read their list of people most likely to
contribute. They were all women.
Then they made a shocking move. They closed the
meeting to men. It was a brazen step by any
measure. It probably violated state laws. It was
guaranteed to stir a big fuss.
They gave their reasons. On one level, it was a
subject-matter issue. Women speak more freely about
questions of their own sexual nature when men
aren't around, they said.
But the more important reason had to do with style
-- with rhetoric. They pointed out, equably enough,
that male posturing and filibustering slows
The male primatologists didn't react at first.
Maybe they were stunned into initial silence.
Afterward, many of them expressed outrage. They
pointed out the obvious. What had happened was
improper, illegal, and just perfectly terrible.
Meanwhile, we'd been given a useful lesson. The
meeting fairly hummed along. The women really did
get a great deal done, by all accounts. One of them
No one was searching for feeble points to attack.
We had discussion without victory or defeat.
Perhaps the most damning attack on the
meeting was inadvertent. One participant wished her
male colleagues could have been there to watch. That
was the Catch-22. Men could not be there.
I doubt this sort of segregation will happen twice.
I also wish the message didn't have to be repeated.
The meeting brings home the flawed way women have
had to enter male workplaces. Working as true
minorities, women have often adapted to a male
world and male values. Many have become more male
than the males around them.
These primatologists have pointed out that it's
time for women to bring the gift of femaleness to
the workplace. We've used combat and disputation to
shape science for centuries. Women offer an
alternative. They offer truth-seeking through a far
more permissive form of discourse.
Do not misunderstand me: I would not eliminate
stereotypical male behavior. I rather like the male
part of my own being. But we must learn to mix male
and female. We must find a hybrid mode of
discourse. It's time to accept the gift women
bring. It's time to learn how to put that gift to
I'm John Lienhard, at the University of Houston,
where we're interested in the way inventive minds