The Onion called it first. Their satirical article entitled ‘Man Finally Put in Charge of Struggling Feminist Movement’ seems to have been taken as serious political advisory by Iceland’s Foreign Affairs Minister, Gunnar Bragi Sveinsson. He has just announced a UN conference on the topic of women and gender equality – to which only men are invited.
Sveinnson has said this “barbershop conference” will be the “first time at the United Nations that we bring together only men leaders to discuss gender equality,” going on to add that the meeting will have a special focus on violence against women.
This follows on the back of actress Emma Watson’s recent appointment as a UN Goodwill ambassador, and her launch of the #HeForShe campaign. In her address to the UN, and the subsequent millions who shared her speech via social media, she recalled:
“In 1995, Hillary Clinton made a famous speech in Beijing about women’s rights. But what stood out for me the most was that only thirty per cent of her audience were male. How can we affect change in the world when only half of it is invited to feel welcome or participate in the conversation?”
This isn’t a gripe with Emma. I think she is utterly fantastic for using her platform to get people talking about feminism, especially the young people who make up much of her fan base. And it certainly isn’t a gripe with men being active in the fight against Violence against Women and Girls (VAWG). Hell, feminists have been fighting to get male politicians to take serious action against VAWG since the first wave of the movement. We’re not having much luck with it in the UK, where women who have a ‘Panic Room’ in their homes to shelter from abusive partners, are forced to pay for it through the horrifically ill advised bedroom tax.
But as long as we are talking about a significant chunk of the population feeling their voices are unwelcome or their faces are unrepresented in political discussion, then believe me, we should not be talking about men.
Feminism is a movement about the liberation of women from oppression, first and foremost. It is the one place where women’s voices are valued the most highly and where they have the possibilities to organise and discuss for themselves. It is entirely nonsensical for any part of this movement to be put under the charge of men. If men feel excluded from feminism, it is only because women are excluded from society.