On January 26th, 2016, Jenni Russell – a columnist for The Times, The Sunday Times, and the Evening Standard, chaired a debate entitled ‘What next for feminism?’ at the Emmanuel Centre in West London. The panel consisted of international lawyer and political scientist Anne-Marie Slaughter, feminist historian and author Amanda Foreman, Darwinian Philosopher Helena Cronin, Neuroscientist and director of the science gallery at Kings College London, Daniel Glazier, and journalist and Editor Afua Hirsh.
Jenni Russel’s opening speech described her disappointment and amazement at still having to fight for the feminist cause after all these years. She thought the whole issue of women’s rights would be ‘done and dusted’ by now. She recounts the sexism she encountered in her public (private) school and during her time at Cambridge University. Then smugly, she mentioned how even today in her high ranking job, some of the meetings and conferences she chairs are still predominantly men… [I mean, how dare men exist eh?] Following a standard moan about representation of women in parliament and among FTSE100 CEOs, she introduced Anne-Marie Slaughter with much pomp and adulation.
Anne-Marie Slaughter’s main thesis was that feminism is now being renewed and redefined. Feminism needs to be renewed by the current generation because despite being told growing up that women can do what they want with their lives, and despite women now surpassing boys at every stage in education, women are still stuck at 5-20% representation in industries. She even qualified this wobbly viewpoint with an anecdote about how her sons “assume it’s the natural state of the world that girls are smarter than them in school, which the feminist in me loves but the mother in me does not” to awkward laughter. [To reiterate, the feminist in Anne-Marie Slaughter loves her son’s underachievement in school]. She continued; this renewed version of feminism calls for is a kind of confidence feminism – that “teaches women how to act like men”, ask for what they want and push themselves forward. But Slaughter is also trying to redefine feminism by suggesting that to get to full equality, “we have to focus less on advancing women into top jobs and more on valuing work that women have traditionally done” [a somewhat traditionalist concept – I mean, some feminists would have us believe that women reluctantly do what they’ve traditionally done under patriarchal duress. I was genuinely nervous for her at this point]. She then theorised that the work of parenting and care needs as much investment as is currently placed in the traditionally male sphere of economic competition. Wrapping up her speech, she suggested that we need to value women for what they do to be like men in the office and also value men for doing what needs to be done in the home [like women?]; garnering some more awkward applause. [I got the distinct impression that Slaughter was struggling with her allegiance to the sisterhood. It felt like she was really trying to say something sensible].
Following Anne-Marie Slaugther was Amanda Foreman who presented a historic perspective on patriarchy. She started her speech with a cringeworthy joke (“how many feminists does it take to change a light bulb? None, because it’s not the lightbulb that needs changing;”) which was met with some uncomfortable chuckles [probably because it doesn’t make any fucking sense]. With a brief history lesson about an egalitarian small village in Turkey in 8000 BC (Çatalhöyük), she suggested that patriarchy is ‘the new kid on the block’. Çatalhöyük had about 10,000 inhabitants and men and women were treated equally in terms of diet, burial, and work. With this factoid, she concluded that patriarchy is human-made and what is made can be unmade [or imagined].
To be fair to Cronin, Çatalhöyük and many other Palaeolithic societies were generally egalitarian. Other traits of this era include, bone tools, stone tools, and small communities that subsisted through vegetable gathering and scavenging for wild animals. Make of that what you will.
Next up. Helena Cronin a Darwinian philosopher at LSE, rattled the cage in the feminist echo chamber with some hard facts about innate gender differences. She asked why in medicine, law, and the professions as a whole, men and women make slightly different career choices. She stated that although the answer according to modern feminism is anti-female bias but that this is not the whole story. A more complete story includes 1) The science of sex differences – evolved male differences in interests and temperaments giving rise to different priorities (e.g. people vs things and planability vs risk) and 2) organisational analysis of the professions intrinsically dictating different needs (e.g. if you prioritise family life over career advancement, some jobs will not be right for you).
She concluded with evidence from an international study that showed that in more liberal and civilized countries, the gender differences in career choices widened further, suggesting that when free to do so, women are even more likely to make different choices to men. Bravely, she ended with a suggestion that feminism should take science seriously.
Through gritted teeth, Jenni Russel, the chair, barked “Thank you for that challenge to feminism”. She then gave the shortest intro of the event to the one male panellist, Daniel Glazier, a neuroscientist. Who quickly quipped about being the only male on the panel and therefore the pantomime villain. [Apparently he hadn’t received the memo about not making self-deprecating jokes in a room full of rabid feminists]. Glazier opened with a demonstration of the McGurk effect – a cognitive illusion where sound and vision influence each other. Then tediously, he linked this illusion to inherent sexism in the perception of women in leadership roles. He then completed his self-castration by heaping praise on a feminist article about the ways women would have had to say famous quotes in order to be taken seriously, before basking in the rapturous applause reserved for duplicitous white knights.
“Men. Aren’t they clever?” trilled Jenni Russel when the applause died down. [She really is the personification of female chauvinism].
Finally, Afua Hirsh, received a comprehensive introduction like her female counterparts and very much in contrast to the one good man. She started by pointing out her prior difficulty in calling herself a feminist… before quickly supplementing this heresy with “but I’m a feminist now.” Her gripe with feminism started in school where the one book about feminism included white women and one caricature of a black woman. The entirety of her speech was one long rambling moan about black women and feminism, including an anecdote about the mothers group in her upper class neighbourhood of Wimbledon in London including mostly white women.
During the Q and A, predictably, the one factual feminist, Helena Cronin, was forced to defend her blasphemy about innate differences between the sexes from an irate audience member with a voice trembling with contempt for Cronin’s deviation from the party line. Cronin confidently responded by pointing out that males and females have different priorities and make different decisions; reiterating the fact that men and women were least alike in the least sexist, most liberal, and most democratic countries and that women were generally less competitive and ambitious than men. Panellists shifted in their seats and failed to mask their disdain for Cronin. Anne-Marie Slaughter retorted by stating that she was more ambitious than her husband, and pointed out that women are often shut out of work. Apparently, when she was younger, she was told that women were naturally nurturing and was warned against defeating men in tennis. Amanda Foreman followed with another anecdote about another egalitarian community in history, and then Daniel Glazier mansplained about how “there are gender differences but the differences are not ‘soluble’ into gender” – [Bloated, pseudo-intellectual bullshit of course but predictably, it went down a treat with the audience].
Another audience member questioned why feminism doesn’t rebrand itself into equalism to attract more men to the cause. Anne-Marie retorted with an aimless rant about maternity leave, and then the resident white knight gave an impassioned speech about how much of a good man he is.
To finish, the chair asked the panel how people can be persuaded to sign up to feminism for their own good. First up, Helena Cronin heroically reiterated the science behind gender differences in priorities and closed with the fact that we don’t try to build planes without understanding aerodynamics, therefore feminism shouldn’t try to tackle gender issues without understanding gender differences. Unsubtly, Jenni Russel interrupted her to introduce Afua Hirsh who once again rambled off with an aimless speech about nothing in particular before the one good man opined that we all need feminism to make us better human beings. Amanda Foreman used another tedious historical link to assert that only women in power can bring about genuine equality. Finally, Anne-Marie Slaughter insisted we stop talking about ‘mothers’ and start talking about ‘parents’. Then she stumbled over whether the word ‘egalitarianism’ is better than the F word, before closing off with an emotive plea for everyone to… well, to be completely honest I had lost the will to live at this point so I couldn’t tell you.
What is evident from this discussion is that feminism is nothing but a quasi-religious exercise in passive-aggressive contempt for males – so much so that a mother can joke about loving her son’s deference to academic underachievement. Pseudo-intellectualism is also a crucial facet of feminism. In feminist-speak, if it sounds clever, and makes you feel morally superior, then it’s probably true, even if it’s utter nonsense. And if it makes you feel a little bit guilty for being cis-gendered or white, even better. From cringeworthy jokes to passive-aggressive smears at those who failed to toe the line, the entire event was shrouded in palp able awkwardness from the pressure on speakers to say only what was allowed to be said, lest they be passively aggressed with condescending grumbles, or worse, unenthusiastic applause. The only time there was genuine excitement from the audience was at the mention of the impending feminist political party in the UK, the Women’s Equality Party – which of course was chastised by Afua Hirsh for its poor representation of women of colour.
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- Caitlin Moran’s 12 nonsensical ramblings for a male-feminist recruitment drive - March 24, 2016
- EDF energy faces backlash after ill-advised egalitarian approach to encouraging children into STEM - February 29, 2016