BLOG: FEMINISM...FEMINISM...FEMINISM... WHO OWNS THE SPACE TO DISCUSS THIS CRITICAL TOPIC IN EVALUATION?

Dear "Gender and Evaluation" Colleagues, 

I decided to write this blog (and sharing with you an interesting resource) after having a quick and engaging conversation with some evaluation colleagues in the US yesterday. The discussion took place after I posted the following message on my LinkedIn account nearly a week ago:

"I was particularly intrigued by a message that I saw on @Twitter earlier today. Followers reading the message were encouraged to retweet it if they considered themselves #feminist and proud. Although I am sure that many found the idea cute, I could not resist and had to comment on it. In my opinion,  in order to be a #feminist, claiming that you are one (e.g. on Facebook or Twitter) is a bit too simplistic and does not do justice to the meaning of the word. #Feminism is both a mindset and a continued political engagement to ensure that #empowerment, #social justice, #participation & #equity not be labels or values but concrete and realistic objectives to contribute to and attain on a daily basis. #Actions_Not_Labels @FeministEval @IDEASEval @BetterEval @UNWomen @UNFPA @evalgender".

Here is the rest of the story:

After reading my LinkedIn post, some colleagues shared an interesting comment with me. They liked the post but they also added that, despite my remarks being spot-on, my message would either not get retweeted or receive as many "likes" as some of my other posts since I am a man and "feminism" is a sort of territory which every man should be very careful to venture into.

Perhaps I am a bit naive in my way of looking at things but I was a bit surprised to hear that. After all, I conduct gender and #evaluation training  as well as #gender-transformative evaluations around the world and I always try to be mindful of the "societally gifted privileges" that I have as a white caucasian man. In particular, I always try to make my "ignorance" acceptable to others (what I mean by ignorance here is the lack of a direct experience of the pain and injustice that other human beings - some of whom are expected to benefit from the projects that I evaluate- need to deal with on a daily basis because of gender norms prevailing in the contexts where the work and/or live). Otherwise said, I witness and report those injustices in my evaluation reports but I do not have to cope with it directly in my everyday life. That notwithstanding, I always try to be tactful and respectful in the way I address gender and feminist issues in my work.

Therefore, in light of all my good intentions, dedication to work and my political engagement, I never thought that having a man "speak up" on such issues as gender and feminism would be even remotely interpreted as a "stretch" or an "inconvenient" act by some. 

So, let me go back to why I wrote this blog:

As I believe that learning is part of our daily life and I am part of this community to learn from all of you, I would be very interested in learning more about what other colleagues within our evaluation community think about this topic. For example, who could legitimately participate in the discourse on feminism (including in evaluation) and who could advocate for it? Would being a man or a woman entail different roles and responsibilities, beyond the understandable need for everyone to situate themselves vis-a-vis the historical and current #power asymmetries that characterize(d) the context where they come from or where they happen to live and/or work? If so, what would these roles and responsibilities be?

Interesting resource for you: 

I would also like to share with all of you an interesting blog that a colleague working on masculinity and gender issues (Michael Flood - @MichaelGLFlood) recently shared on Twitter. The blog is a list of 35 frequently asked question on how men (yes, men!) could further what the author (Pamela Clarks) refers to as the "feminist Revolution".

To view the blog (you will be ridirected to Pamela Clarks' blog), click here 

If you find the blog of any utility or interest, please share it with your colleagues, both within and outside of the evaluation circle. 

In conclusion:

Thank you very much for having taken the time to have read my whole message!  I look forward to hearing back from you on my earlier questions (on men's involvement in the discourse on feminist issues) as well as on the other issues discussed in the blog. In particular, which one of the 35 answers you find the most relevant to our evaluation work?

All the best, 

Michele  (Twitter: MiEval_TuEval) 

P.S. The sunrise picture above is symbolic: My hope is that this conversation could bring some more light in the course of my (as well as other colleagues') professional and personal journey towards more just and equitable societies!

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Comment by Michele Tarsilla on May 7, 2018 at 5:34

Dear Cheryl,

Thanks so much for your kind words. However, I honestly do not feel that I deserve all this praise. In my opinion, following-up on a posted blog is just a matter of integrity and intellectual honesty. After all, in starting an online discussion on such a "delicate" theme as feminism in evaluation, one has no other choice than to take on a number of responsibilities, including the following:

-the responsibility to read other people's comments in a timely fashion;

-the responsibility to follow up on the comments received and respond to those who took the time from their busy schedule to provide their feedback;

-the responsibility to internalize the learning spurred by the online exchanges held with other peers and colleagues;

-the responsibility to incorporate the lessons learned from such engaging conversations into one's own practice;

-the responsibility to share the outcomes of the discussion with the public at several points in time;

-the responsibility to keep humble and yet use one's own propensity to question certainties (one's own as well as those of many other actors who operate within the system where one lives and works) as an inspiration to others.

In this vein, I strongly hope that I am carrying out all such responsibilities in a more-than-decent fashion and that other peers are benefiting from this.

Once again, I appreciate your very generous feedback. Let's all ensure that such deconstructing constructivism continue on a more regular basis, both within and outside of our wonderful Community of Practice. 

All the best,

Michele

Comment by Cheryl J. Dalziel on May 6, 2018 at 19:37

Dear Michele, 

I wish to commend you for your thoughtful and intelligent response to each and every comment that you receive on this blog post. Your ability to distill the thoughts, feelings and substance of each person commenting shows that you indeed excel at your work. 

As I have read your responses I see someone who is capable of looking both critically at their own perceptions and reactions; and someone who can more than adequately validate contributors perceptions.  Your intent to challenge, listen, validate and discuss shows someone very capable of legitimately participating in the discourse of feminism. I hope that the responses you have received to your thought provoking blog post have strengthen your resolve to stand tall and continue to wade in where the real work is achieved. 

All the best, Cheryl 

Comment by Michele Tarsilla on May 3, 2018 at 0:23

Dear Margerit,

Thanks so much for your powerful and well-articulated message! I particularly appreciate that you took the time to share with us more details on the walk of life that brought you here. That confirms, in my opinion, what I have observed in the interactions held with other colleagues and peers on this issue over the last few years: any discussion on feminism is quite visceral.

First, it pushes us to look within ourselves (only then we could position ourselves in front of a theme which willy-nilly permeates all of our lives).

Second, it leads us, as evaluators, to look in the mirror and ask ourselves whether we are really walking the "feminist talk" or not and whether we are making a true difference in the lives of other people.

I also found very interesting what you said about:

"CREATING SPACE" first (by the way, kudos for not saying that "we should give THEM voice"...something that unfortunately could still be heard in some of those privileged circles which you hinted at in your messages)

AND

"STEP TO THE SIDE" once that space has been created and is fully functional. It is somehow in line with what I wrote in one of my comments to the thread spurred by this blog on LinkedIn (click here to read it), that is, men may want to advocate for making the feminist discourse more visible and acted upon in evaluation but then they should leave at some point.

However, what I found particularly intriguing about you reflection is that women, too, could perpetuate some of those power asymmetries (normally ascribed to patriarchal systems), by the virtue of their own power and privileges. Therefore, my immediate reflection is that we should really focus on is not so much "the cisgender of the person who talks about feminism (male or female)"  but a rather a variety of other factors. These include: the tone and content of the messages being conveyed on feminism; the degree of awareness of one's own privileges among the people that "speak up" in favor of feminism in evaluation; and the readiness to "step to the side" whenever the redundancy of the person (speaking up) becomes apparent. 

By reading your blog, I also started reflecting upon the use of the word "discourse" that privileged white male Ph.D. like me like so much (being ironic here as it is important to also not to lose one's sense of humor when discussing such difficult topics). In particular, what becomes clearer from this two-week discussion is the need for acknowledging the existence of multiple discourses (some of which are more or less explicit or more or less well-known). I guess that if we started using more regularly the term discourse instead of "voice" when we talk about what's going on in those places where we conduct our "fieldwork", we may end up recognizing the due legitimacy of the positions, ideas and aspiration of those very same people who escape "our inquiry and evaluations" because of the limited metrics we often use.

Furthermore, recognizing the latitude and multi-level nature of the feminist discourse would do justice to the etymological origin of the word "discourse": from Latin discursus (“the act of running about/back and forth”); dis (“apart/away”) + currō (“run”).

Well, this has been a great discussion so for and I strongly hope that more people will provide their feedback on this topic. Overall, I feel honored to be part of such a thoughtful community of practice that really cares about the world. 

Best,

-Michele 

Comment by Margerit Roger on May 2, 2018 at 17:53

Hello, 

This is a very important discussion, although I'm conflicted on how to solve some of the imbalances in and through evaluation. I wrote a report once called "We See What We Measure and We Measure What We See", because it was so apparent that the power-players in the situation (middle-class white educated cisgender female government employee) were determining the core indicators of success for a particular literacy program (for socially-marginalized, low-income Indigenous cisgender women). As a result, the true social impact of the program had remained invisible and hence unreported. If the ticky-box didn't exist on the government form, the impact simply didn't exist. And because they didn't measure certain things, they never thought to look for them.

Applying a "feminist" lens (looking for power dynamics and oppressive structures that might be silencing different discourses and definitions of value) meant that different questions could be asked and therefore different ideas about e-value-ation emerged, and the definitions of success shifted. An "absence" in math class (when one student had a difficult month in a crack house) became a celebration when she returned to continue her studies. Not only evaluation but program planning changed.

Unfortunately, some of this feminism/evaluation discussion is therefore about who gets to call the shots and privileged perspectives and dominant discourses ... and those have tended to be patriarchal and hence defined by well-off, "power-full", white, well-educated, cisgender men because that's where so much of the power (money) has resided. 

However, if wisdom or "work for the common good" were our currency, things might look different and very different people in our society would be considered "rich" and "power-full". As a result, I see it as my responsibility as a feminist, white, immigrant to Canada, well-educated, lesbian, middle-class, labour-supporting, cisgender evaluator to use my privilege to create space for the less powerful and less-frequently-heard voices, whatever gender they may be. Sadly, those are predominantly female or queer voices. And, being ever-so slightly outside the mainstream (being an immigrant and having come out at age 45), I have a tiny understanding of what being an outsider, or being "unseen" and "unheard" means. I imagine myself to be one or two steps farther removed from privilege and hence one or two steps closer to the voices I'm trying to create space for. I hope I'm not just kidding myself, but it's part of why the discussion about men in feminism is so complicated. The predominant voices MUST be the silenced ones, whatever they're being silenced for (culture, geographic location, socio-economic status, ability, and the list goes on and on). People with power and privilege - whatever gender - need to use their privilege to create space and then to step aside more often. "Nothing about us without us." Without making sure that the silenced voices are heard, we'll never know as a society what we're missing. 

So, kudos to you Michele, for wading into a complicated topic. It's about far more than gender and, as evaluators, we need to really think about this so we don't perpetuate existing power dynamics with the work we do.

~ Margerit

Comment by Michele Tarsilla on April 30, 2018 at 19:14

Dear Gurpreet,

Thanks so much for your kind follow-up. I particularly appreciate that you commented on the provocative title of my original post. As a matter of fact, as explained in my blog, some colleagues warned me a few weeks ago not to be too vocal about the issue of feminism in evaluation since I am not a woman. That is exactly what spurred by post. My intention, though, was not so much to claim back some kind of "lost space" but rather to better understand how to move within that space. Then, through the exchange on LinkedIn, it became clearer that there is something more universal and "NOT defined in biological terms" about this whole issue. Something that was confirmed by your comment and that my message with a even more provocative title "Fifty Shaded of Feminism in Evaluation" hinted at. By the way, if you have not had the opportunity to read the thread of comments (parallel to the one exchanged on GenderEval), please click on this LINK to access it.

Once again, thanks so much for taking the time and share your thoughts and experience!

-Michele 

Comment by Gurpreet Kaur on April 30, 2018 at 18:04

Dear Michele

Thank you for your post. 

I would suggest that we look at the complexity of the political movement that 'feminism' has carried over a long struggle to where it stands today. Perhaps then the question of "who owns the space to talk about feminism" becomes somewhat redundant for me. The important question I feel is to ask "what does the space of feminism mean" today in the contemporary context for both women and men. When we ask the question of 'owning', we revert back to the biological claiming of a space because of being men and women. And as if 'feminism' or feminist work becomes a guaranteer of women's rights and space. Perhaps we need to think beyond this essentialism.

We need to perhaps attend to subject positions that are 'feminine' and 'masculine', which can be in both men and women. Also perhaps as men, we need to be more attuned to and sensitive to the nuances of 'difference'. Being vary of one's privilege and reporting gender injustice, is perhaps one step towards the feminist cause. Feminism is then according to me about an 'ethics' of practicing and living life, in always working towards and reaching justice (being cognizant of one's own power). 

-Gurpreet 

Comment by Paramita Banerjee on April 27, 2018 at 19:26

Dear Michele,

Dear Michele,

Thanks a lot for your response. Since I work with young people, women and men in very marginalised communities - the fact that you find the examples I use there spot-on and thought provoking is encouraging, indeed. It renews my belief in a more inclusive, socially just world.

Hope to keep engaging in similar conversations on gender justice with you and all other colleagues in this online community. No amount of conversation is ever enough on the multifarious ways and layers in which gender keeps acting out in our everyday lives!

In solidarity,

Paramita

Comment by Michele Tarsilla on April 26, 2018 at 7:29

Dear Minal and Paramita, thanks so much for your previous comments.

Minal: I really appreciate your time and interest in this issue as well as your positive note on men's involvement in the discussion. 

Paramita: your two examples were spot-on and very thought-provoking. In retrospect, I reflected upon the fact that my own mother was a better feminist than what I had ever thought-- she never imposed any specific agenda onto me when it came to buying me the toy I wanted. Overall, I really liked your ideas and will make sure to build on those during future conversations on feminism and gender (and yes, they are not the same - I am glad that you hinted at that in your post).

All the best to both of you, 

Michele

Comment by Michele Tarsilla on April 26, 2018 at 7:21

Dear Cheryl, 

Thanks so much for your kind follow-up. Please read my response to your comment by going directly to my original blog on LinkedIn. Here is the link: 

https://www.linkedin.com/pulse/feminism-evaluation-who-owns-space-d...

All the best, 

Michele 

Comment by Michele Tarsilla on April 26, 2018 at 7:19

Dear John, 

Thank you very much for your kind follow-up. I really liked what you said about men having to find the right dances and movements of mutuality with all other women (both within and outside of our professional sphere) towards a more sustainable planet. 

Let's keep in touch and thanks for your encouragement!

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