Has feminism advanced so far that women’s voices no longer need to be heard? The decision not to invite any female speakers to a forthcoming meeting in Iceland smacked of missing the point
How do you feel about the fact that Iceland planned to hold a conference on gender equality, feminism and sexual violence – without a single female invitee? “It will be the first time at the United Nations that we bring together only men leaders to discuss gender equality,” Iceland’s foreign minister, Gunnar Bragi Sveinsson, announced to the UN last week.
The organisers later backtracked and said women would be involved, although it seems they will be barred from some sessions.
It might sound somewhat counter-intuitive that, so soon after feminism became cool enough for Beyoncé to silhouette herself against the word “feminist” at the MTV Video Music awards, women should be ushered out of the room to let the men talk. My gut says this is, overall, a terrible idea. But has my gut considered the potential pros?
Traditionally (read: stereotypically), feminism was something about which women talked and men rolled their eyes. If male leaders are planning to talk about it among themselves, perhaps the discussion is no longer something women are expected to teach, explain and drag men into. As the journalist Robyn Pennacchia puts it: “The tendency many well-intentioned men have of derailing conversations with easily Google-able questions and then asking: ‘Well, how can I learn feminism if you won’t teach me?’, tends to be frustrating for many of us.”
The writer Leigh Alexander points out the uniquely frustrating issue that stalks online comment boards beneath reports of women experiencing online harassment in a blog entitled, “But what can be done: dos and don’ts to combat online sexism”. Women experiencing online harassment often also have to contend with the question: “But what solutions would you recommend?” She describes this as being “akin to walking up to a person who is on fire and asking them to bring you a bucket of water so that you can ‘help’”.
Perhaps this conference is an encouraging step towards male leaders joining the fight, and well-intentioned men working out where they can source buckets of water as needed.
While in many ways men benefit from a world that values them over women, one of the strongest recent messages in the feminist movement is that misogyny adversely affects men, too. If a dislike, distrust and disgust of the feminine weren’t baked right into the culture, it wouldn’t be shameful to do things deemed “girly” such as talking about emotions and problems before they spiral into the horrifically high rate of male suicide. If it weren’t shameful to be unmanly, the country with the greatest number of gun deaths wouldn’t market guns as a way to demonstrate manliness.
What’s your gut saying so far? Wrong as it often is, mine isn’t fully convinced that removing either gender from a discussion on gender equality is a smart move.
First, it assumes that women are feminists by default, even though some have enough internalised patriarchal teachings to say things such as, “I’m a woman so I can’t drive as well as my husband” without a trace of irony. Second, Emma Watson only just managed to convince many people that men should be involved in the fight for equality before this was quickly followed by the suggestion that men should be the only ones in the room. There would be no doubt that a conference on racism with only white invitees would be inappropriate, unhelpful and more than a little gross, so why are we stroking our chins over whether a conference on gender equality with no female voices is a good idea?
It has taken until 2014 to even get the argument that there is no position between sexist and feminist into mainstream discussion, just as there’s no position between racist and not-racist. Doesn’t an all-male conference on gender equality smack of “We’ll take it from here, sweetheart”?