I spend a substantial amount of time trying to privilege female voices in the artisan video interviews. At times, this practice even negatively affects the narrative of the videos, but I still consider it a valuable endeavor.
I do not make this statement seeking congratulations or approval for my work as an ally, but rather to point out how systemic oppression leads to inefficient uses of labor. Likewise, I would argue that my work treats a symptom, and does so insufficiently, instead of going after the root problem.
The root problem is that women, especially lower class, indigenous women, are taught, directly and indirectly, to allow men to do the talking. A group of women will defer to a lone man to answer questions on business, design or fair trade. Such are my experiences in interviews with our artisan partners.
I have interviewed members of 13 out of 16 artisan groups. Of those members, 27 have been women and five have been men. In the three coed group interviews that I conducted, men answered nearly every question, while women stuck to just the basic questions. Of the three coed group interviews, women answered most questions after the men, often leading to answers that fill in the gaps and cannot stand alone in a short video.
This phenomenon intensifies in the more conservative mountains of Peru. In one interview, I pointedly asked the women by name to share their thoughts, but they were still hesitant and consulted the man in Quechua before answering. He may just been clarifying, but it was still highly distressing.
Even when I intentionally interviewed men and women separately with one group, the male president can be heard in the background offering suggestions. Even when he was not present, one of the women was too nervous to string together full sentences, despite speaking near-fluent Spanish.
Of course, Daniela warned me that the women outside of Lima lacked confidence. Especially, those who are more elderly and as a result learned Spanish later in their lives.
There were two situations in which the women seemed to gain confidence. Either they spoke in Quechua for the interview, or they worked in an entirely female group.
Take for example, an artisan from one female group who included in her response on personal growth that “we have all grown in confidence.” When I asked the same question to a member of a coed group, she could not point out any growth in the group. Part of that has to do with the relative economic success of each group, but it is still a notable difference.
These interview patterns are only one manifestation of male-dominance. Men, consciously or not, seek to dominate conversations. In one group, a man answered every question I had with a casual, “Normal!” which is roughly “Fine!” while the women hesitated and gave each other sideways glances. I pushed, somewhat unsuccessfully, to gather majority opinion with that group after I sensed the women’s unspoken discomfort.
I see men given a dominant role and women’s confidence and willingness to engage suffer for it.
I seek to reduce that dominance when I edit my video interviews.
I cut men’s statements short and insert in female voices sharing similar or supporting information that is admittedly superfluous to the central point. At times that slightly derails the narrative or leads to restated information, which I think is a fair tradeoff for more equal representation.
At the same time, this is not truly a solution. I, a man, decides when and where it makes the most sense to include women’s voices. Although my choices always affect the narrative, this is far more frustrating.
I am frustrated because I should be able to pick freely from an equal quantity of voices represented. Instead, I pull everything I can from the small amount that these women do say, knowing that there is much left unsaid in deference to the male voice.
My attempt to balance voices only hides what goes unsaid, which is the truly underlying problem.
Plus, it obscures gender inequity, in an attempt to align with Principle Six of the World Fair Trade Organization: Commitment to Non-Discrimination, Gender Equity and Women’s Economic Empowerment, and Freedom of Association. If men’s voices dominated, our own gender equity practices would be rightfully questioned, but covering that up does not solve the problem.
I have attempted, unsuccessfully, to counter this. I persistently ask women the same question in new ways, hoping to strike whatever nerve will lead to a more comfortable response. Also, I directly ask women by naming them during group interviews. Likewise, I asked one older women to answer in Quechua and found that she did speak at great length.
Through translating Quechua, I am more assured that the words are meaningful. Likewise, I will have the opportunity to more faithfully translate the Quechua, which has proved nearly impossible, during a return visit to Huancavelica this Monday.
Additionally, I will do one of my, if not my final interview with an artisan group. That group is made up of a husband and wife, which is one of the more challenging dynamics to circumvent.
I hope to build on what I have learned in the last 13 interviews to pull as much as I can out of this experience. Likewise, I will be able to dedicate all camera memory and bettery to a single interview, which is a luxury I have not had in the past.
I will ask questions multiple times, but more importantly I will conduct both separate interviews, as well as, a group interview. Likewise, I will ask them to speak in Quechua if it makes them more comfortable. Following that, I will seek a translation into Spanish after the fact while still there. In fact, I really enjoy having the speaker’s influence on the subtitles as they can better ensure that their preferred manner of speaking comes across.
Of course, I am not going to end the patriarchy in one interview. Still I hope by recognizing it in my video editing, and more importantly in my interview process, I can foster a more level and equitable space.
*For the purposes of simplicity in this article I am sticking to a gender binary. I am nearly certain that every artisan I have interviewed identifies as either cismale or cisfemale. The majority reflected on their identity as women. I want to honor that. Also, I believe certain gender-inclusive constructions would unnecessarily distract readers and derail this piece.