As you are reading this, images from the new tumblr page – All Male Panels – are being shared at warp speeds across social media thanks to the use of clever snark (and David Hasselhoff’s Hoffsome-ness) to highlight a serious issue. The growing-by-the-minute visual feed aims to make inequality visible by documenting the glut of “all male panels” of experts that are still sadly the norm at seminars, conferences, events, etc. hosted all over the world, across all professional fields. While a number of U.S. media outlets have celebrated the brilliant concept, none have celebrated the brilliant women behind it… that’s where we come in.
Meet Dr. Saara Särmä. She’s a feminist academic activist, an artist, the co-founder of the feminist think tank Hattu, and a researcher in International Relations at the University of Tampere in Finland where she received her doctorate in 2014. In an exclusive interview with Women You Should Know this morning, Dr. Särmä shared the origins of her now viral tumblr page that has feminists, like us, rejoicing.
“I’ve seen many situations where qualified women are not hired or their work is dismissed. Even in Finland where we tend to pride ourselves as being the champions of gender equality, the situation seems to get worse and more ‘manly.’” Saara added, “I also had many discussions at the International Studies Association (ISA) annual conference in New Orleans in February with old and new colleagues and friends about both all male and all white panels, and had a sense that we need to really start doing some kind of interventions.”
Ready to take action, Saara had to work out just how to put a giant spotlight on these issues that she’s been noticing for far too long. Having done her doctoral dissertation, Junk Feminism and Nuclear Wannabe – Collaging Parodies of Iran and North Korea, which focused on internet parody images and memes, and developed a unique art-based collage methodology for studying world politics, she knew that for the message to have the greatest impact and reach she would have to package it visually, with a twist of humor.
So at the end of February 2015, Saara started collecting images of these ubiquitous dudes-only expert panels, and posted them to a Facebook album. That archive evolved into the All Male Panels tumblr, and with it came the now beloved punchline – “Congrats, you have an all male panel!” – that snarkily accompanies every photo posted to the page.
In the last two months, Saara, who launched the tumblr with her Hattu co-founder, writer Rosa Meriläinen, has received over 200 submissions to the page, with the crux of those images having flooded in just yesterday and today, compliments of a certain Buzz that helped Feed the social media frenzy. “They’ve come in from Finland, the Netherlands, UK, USA, Mexico, so far. Someone asked if they could start their own for Latin-America and in Spanish, which I think is totally awesome,” Saara told us. In fact, she encourages anyone who wants to start a page to go for it. “I’d really like links to similar sites, to really see the extent of this issue across the globe. As a feminist international relations scholar, I’m, of course, interested in the global dimension, and coming from a field which is quite ‘manly’ in practice has made me sensitive to the issue.”
The feedback surrounding All Male Panels “has been great,” according to Saara. “Doing this kind of serious thing, also academic ones like my dissertation, with a humorous twist has been my way of doing things, and it just seems to resonate with people really well.” But she also makes a concerted effort to avoid reading the comments that post on the press she’s received. “I am sure there are those yelling, ‘what about all women panels’ etc. To that I’d say, go ahead and start documenting them, I’d love to be able to compare notes, but it is not on my agenda.” What IS on her future radar are all white panels. “They are another hugely important issue and I hope we can document those as well.”
In terms of Saara’s plans for All Male Panels, she sees the concept of making inequality visible as the first step in a long road towards a more equal world. “Feminists have been talking about this issue (and many others) long enough; it is time to start expecting more from highly educated and intellectual men (academics, etc.).”
Speaking of intellectual men… that’s sort of a perfect segue back to David Hasselhoff, and how he factors into All Male Panels. By design, Saara and Rosa have made the heyday version of the fallen pop culture icon the tumblr page’s official Seal of Approval, and via their super cool Hoffsomerator, his smug mug can get automatically “stamped” onto any photo a user wants to submit. As Saara, who used Hasselhoff in her dissertation, so perfectly put it, “The Hoff is just simply Hoffsome. As a kid who grew up in the 80s watching Knight Rider, I have a fondness for the Hoff, also he’s the epitome of white masculinity, isn’t he?”
Based on how twisted the view of feminists and notion of feminism have become in the U.S., in closing our conversation with this inspiring feminist activist, we asked her what the Finnish perspective is. “In Finland we like to think that gender equality has already happened, so feminism is often seen as ‘taking this too far’ as if there could be ‘too much gender equality,'” Saara explained. “The same kind of misconstruing and misunderstanding and willful misrepresentation of feminism happens also in Finland as regularly as it does in the U.S. In a way, I hope that through humor we could challenge the misunderstandings, but I might be hoping for too much.”
Lead Image Photo Credit: Tomi Palsa