Whether its Baile Zhang’s invisibility cloak, Jamie Oliver’s war on childhood obesity or Arthur Potts Dawson’s efforts to tackle food waste, TED talks have increasingly touched a nerve with the public in our Internet age.
Offering concise, compelling takes on big ideas that matter, the popularity of TED is often pointed to as a refreshing sign that the Internet is not just about cute kitten videos.
Nevertheless, not everyone is convinced that TED is quite the powerhouse of cutting edge ideas that it presents itself to be. As Jason Koebler over at U.S. News & World Reports writes, a new academic study suggests that TED presenters are overwhelmingly male (73 percent), and are largely selected from the upper echelons of the existing scientific and academic establishment. Here Cassidy Sugimoto, author of the study, explains:
“In recruiting speakers, they're getting senior, elite, male academics. I'd question their composition. Do they really have the innovative, cutting-edge people they think they have?" Sugimoto says. "Are they really seeking diversity in their presenters?”
Skeptics of the study might point out that gender bias is alive and well in academia in general. Given that TED relies on the existing scientific establishment to weed out pseudoscience, the imbalance in presenters may be a result of inequalities elsewhere.
Nevertheless, if TED is to pride itself as a place where the big ideas are discovered and disseminated, it makes little sense to under-represent half of the global population.
In the spirit of encouraging more diversity, we thought we’d dig out five of our favorite female TED talks. Here’s hoping there’ll be more of these to come.
Sarah Kay: If I should have a daughter…
When spoken word poet Sarah Kay delivered her poem, "If I should have a daughter," she received two standing ovations. The video of her talk has since received more than 1.5 million views. There’s good reason for that. It’s a great reminder, both of the beauty and challenges of life, and the power of poetry to spread big ideas.
Majora Carter: Greening the ghetto
Majora Carter is accomplished, compelling, insightful, and a far cry from the elite, male-dominated academic world that Sugimoto’s study speaks of. Having been brought up in the Bronx, and having experienced both the violence and environmental neglect of her neighborhood first hand, she decided to do something about it.
Here she makes a powerful case for greening our inner cities, unlocking the potential in marginalized communities, and reminding us that neglect and exclusion don’t simply happen by accident. Somebody, somewhere decides who and what matters. It’s about time, suggests Carter, that we reevaluate our priorities as a society.
This video is worth watching for the challenge she lays out to then Vice President Al Gore and much more.
Sylvia Earle: How to protect the oceans
When legendary ocean researcher Sylvia Earle tells us we’ve lost over 90 percent of the big fish in the oceans, she then corrects herself.
We didn’t lose them. We ate them.
She proceeds to show us some astounding imagery of the magical world under the waves, and pushes TEDsters to do something about saving it. Earle is a TED prize winner for a very good reason. And she’s the living retort to her own satirical question:
“Is there intelligent life among humans?”
Cameron Russell: Looks aren’t everything. Believe me, I’m a model.
When Cameron Russell is asked how she became an underwear model, she normally responds that she was scouted. The truth, however, is a little more sticky: she won a genetic lottery, she was born pretty and she was born white.
She then takes a wry look at a thorny, challenging and in many ways troubling industry. Her juxtaposition of fashion shoots and the “real” Cameron Russell are an eye-opening look at the industry’s power to construct social norms.
Jane Goodall: Helping animals and humans live together…
Jane Goodall needs no introduction to the average nature lover. Her exploration of human and animal co-existence makes the case that, like it or not, we are one with the natural world. It’s time we started acting like it.
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