Anonymous is still a woman

Dear President Biden,

This morning I was perusing one of the alumna magazines we get quarterly and was dismayed, but not really surprised at all, to see that in the opening photo spread of five snapshots, the two featuring White male students included their names while the three featuring either Asian or Hispanic female students referred to each of them simply as “a student….” It made my stomach churn.

The photo spread actually went on for four pages so I did a tally to get an overall sense of the named and unnamed among those featured in the pictures that had one to three people (i.e., not the bigger socially distanced crowd shots). Overall there were 10 such pictures of people who present as males and half of these pictures included the names of those featured (one picture included three males all of whom were named but I’m counting that one only once). There were 9 pictures of people who present as females and four of them were named. Strikingly, there were no pictures that included an apparent mix of genders.

Digging deeper into this small sample of images, one of the named males was a professor while two of the named females were professors. However, one of those two women wasn’t actually pictured; she was referenced as teaching a brass quintet class where three male-looking people were shown but she was not in the frame. So really, of the non-crowd images, there were 11 with men and 8 with women. This boils down to four pictures of male students with names and two pictures of female students with names, though overall six male students were named and only two female students were named.

It is also noteworthy that all but one of the 17 males shown in the pictures appears to be White (there is one Black male featured), while all but one of the 10 females shown in pictures appears to be BIPOC. So, although I cannot say for certain that I’ve correctly identified everyone’s genders and racial or ethnic identities, what we have here is a preponderance of named White male students alongside a preponderance of unnamed BIPOC female students. Hmm.

And yes, I’m down deep in the weeds, down with the earthworms and pill bugs, even. But sometimes this is what it takes to see the lay of the land.

I’m not naming the university or college because it pretty much doesn’t matter which one it is. Except for the women’s college I attended, all of the institutions of higher learning I’ve ever visited, including quite recently for college visits with our daughter, had overwhelming numbers of grand images of White males gracing the walls as well as overwhelming numbers of male names gracing buildings and wings and outdoor spaces and on and on.

I know some things are changing some, but dang do we need to do better because it starts with who is named and who goes unnamed.

Remember, as Virginia Woolf said: “For most of history, Anonymous was a woman.”

Turns out, Anonymous is still a woman.

May we be safe and seen.
May we be willing to do some tallying to see patterns that might make us squirm.
May we stay strong and keep saying the hard parts out loud.
May we accept that the moral arc of justice still has got quite a ways to go.

Sincerely,
Tracy Simpson

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