The weekend papers made for interesting, if confusing, reading. Prompted by the arrest of Dominique Strauss-Kahn, my French sisters are being applauded for finally speaking out and confronting the ingrained sexism in French society. At the same time, my UK sisters are being criticized for their ‘phony outrage’ at the Justice Secretary’s comments on rape. So what’s the conclusion? That we should speak out and challenge behaviour and language that upsets us… except when we shouldn’t.
My wee brain is somewhat boggled by it all. Apologies if that means this is a somewhat disjointed post. I’m hoping those of you who have more coherent viewpoints will share those in the comments.
I have something of a troubled history with ‘women’s campaigns’. As a student politician, I argued against the introduction of liberation campaigns at Edinburgh University, believing then, as I do now, that many of the issues that would end up in the inbox of the Womens Officer would actually benefit from the perspective and campaign energy of all students, regardless of gender.
That said, when you read the perspectives of individuals at either end of the spectrum – say, for example, this courageous and very personal post from Kate Harris and this pretty offensive post from MEP Roger Helmer – it is clear that there is still a very large gap to be bridged, and perhaps women’s campaigns have a part to play.
I understand the need for what in student politics is called the provision of ‘safe spaces’ – areas where women and minority groups could discuss their concerns and plan their campaigns without fear of judgement or abuse.
The problem for me comes when campaigns attempt to exclude male contributions entirely. Partly because I believe that whatever your beliefs and motivations are, to surround yourself only with those that agree with you is deeply unhealthy. And partly because I believe that the exclusion of male perspectives and spokespeople is detrimental to the cause. One of the most informed and interesting debates I’ve read about feminism recently was prompted by a post on Bright Green Scotland by Adam Ramsay, and I found it sad that someone as well-informed and effective a campaigner as Adam felt the need to essentially ask permission to blog on gender issues.
There is plenty to be angry about, as a woman, right now. This article from the Guardian gives a good overview of the negative ways in which coalition policies are affecting women. But if women are being affected, then so too are husbands, fathers, sons and brothers. Let’s not exclude those men from the debate, or from the activism. With dinosaurs like Roger Helmer still spouting nonsense, we need all the help we can get.