Geek Feminism has a guest post entitled, “you keep using that word”, which argues, “…a meritocracy is not a real thing. It is a joke.”
(NSFW tag for expletives, including in the quote below. Also p.s. the homepage of Garann Means is pretty spiffy.)
A meritocracy is not a system for locating and rewarding the best of the best. If it were, the “best of the best” in almost every goddamned industry or group on the planet would not be a clump of white men. I’m having trouble finding good stats on this, but white men are something like 8% of the world’s population. When you go to a fucking conference and you look around at all the white dudes, do you really honestly think, “Wow! What a bizarre fucking statistical anomaly it is that basically everyone with the special magic gift of computer programming happened to be born into a teeny tiny little demographic sliver of the population”? Of course you don’t. You don’t think about it. You focus on telling yourself that you’re supposed to be there, because you’re so fucking smart, and if other people were as smart or, if you prefer, they were “technically inclined,” they could be there just as easily.
Obviously the argument is glossing over issues of local demographics, but the point is still interesting even in that respect. When we talk about department or conference demographics, we implicitly understand that there are parameters likes citizenship, age, formal education, etc. that limit the pool of people we are willing to look at.
Also, the experience of viewing something *as* an anomaly is really interesting I remember when I first started reading research in psychology last year and I realized that about 40-60% of the stuff I was reading was written by women. I then glanced over at a stack of philosophy books–ten or so with nine written by men–and for the first time I explicitly thought, “Huh, that’s looks really weird in comparison.” It’s a powerful feeling when something no longer seems normal, but rather skewed. Now when I look at philosophy syllabi where it’s all men, that *looks* weird/skewed to me. It’s interesting though that I still haven’t experienced this kind of visceral weirdness when I’ve walked into a philosophy conference where it’s 80-90% white men. That still feels ‘normal’.