Sophie van der Ham

To the guy in the front row…

A couple of weeks ago, I thought it was a good idea to sign myself up to debate against the motion “women have achieved equality”. I even helped think of the motion, as the debate was part of the International Womenʼs Day schedule on campus which I helped organise. I now realise that the motion was a bad idea because it tends to bring out the people who donʼt really have a clue about the issue but feel they are entitled to have an opinion on it anyway. This was evidenced when my lovely co-debater and I arrived at the venue and found out that we were debating two men who would be arguing that women have achieved equality, and that one of them had scribbled his five minute speech on a third of a ripped out scrap of paper.

The debate went as you expect these things to go – the proposition argued that women have achieved formal equality which means everything is fine and dandy in Western democracies while we, the opposition argued that lived experiences contradicts that and that there are social and cultural double standards that negatively affect women. The proposition was very respectful of our arguments and even at times seemed to contradict themselves. So far, so good. Then came question time.

A white, middle aged guy with a motor helmet placed firmly next to him said: “The things youʼre talking about – job opportunities, representation of women in the public sphere, wages, are just all so boring. I mean, do you think that feminism is still at all relevant?” Flabbergasted, I muttered something about his privilege as a guy and tried to explain the concept of cisgender/transgender to him in the process to which he answered,  incredulously, that HE had never heard of it, suggesting it was completely invalid. Anyway, it was a mess. I didnʼt get through to him. So this is what I would have liked to have said to him:

“If you believe that fundamental human rights, equal access to job opportunities, equal pay and equal representation of women is boring, then you have just answered your own question. Because I do not see how wanting to have access to a richer, more fulfilling life is boring. It betrays this idea that “womenʼs issues” arenʼt worth caring about, when in reality we are talking about fundamental underpinnings of a good and satisfying life that  shouldnʼt be gendered. Statistically, as a white, middle class guy, you have been able to seize opportunities that a lot of us donʼt get. White middle class women, like me, have the lowest pay gap disparity compared to men. Disabled women, working class women, BME women and transgender women need feminism a lot more than you and I do. So to say that you as a relatively privileged man donʼt see the need for feminism is admitting that you have a severe case of tunnel vision. And yet, I will guarantee you, that if you ask the women in your life if they have ever been followed at night, if they feel they can never be thin enough, or groped during a night out by a stranger, then you would hear a resounding yes to those questions. And if you still find equal opportunities and womenʼs issues boring then I suggest you start working in a feminist field that is severely lacking at the moment, but Iʼll guarantee you is anything but boring: feminist porn.”

2 thoughts on “To the guy in the front row…

  1. I just wish I could reach through this screen and congratulate you personally. This was great, very inspired. This debate would have been wild to see! It really is an issue, yet not one that is even in the public consciousness anymore. We so often take for granted the progress we – as women- have made that it is easy to minimalize or disregard the amount that still remains. Much more so for women than for men, though.

    I love reading this blog; all of the articles are well-articulated and provoke deep thought. It’s wicked!

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