Gender Matters


Last week I attended a WfI hosted workshop on encouraging women to speaking up at hustings – Gender Matters. It was run by Engender – a non politically aligned Scottish feminist group who “has a vision for a Scotland in which women and men have equal opportunities in life, equal access to resources and power, and are equally safe and secure from harm.”

I like that statement as it highlights that equality works for both genders, that the current system works against men especially when they are told to “man up” etc.  As an aside Bella Caledonia has a great piece Shrieking Privilege on how the removal of privilege can seem like oppression, the article may be about language but it stuck me how much it can be applied to other situations.

The comments during the session about women’s experiences of political debate are very similar to those made during the Women in Media event I attended last year. It appears that the majority of women still feel intimidated by the process, that they feel they need much more preparation before asking a question – that I was at a workshop that shows how much I feel the need to prepare!  It may be the case that we feel our questions may not be relevant or that someone else will ask it better.

The only time I have stood up during a Q&A was at a KILTR debate during the referendum; McTernan’s comments had got me so angry I felt I had to say something (I’d also seen a Vote No Borders ad in the cinema that day so was already irritated) Maggie Kuhn was very apt that day “Speak your mind even if your voice shakes.”  I did and was completely rung out by the end of it my 2 minute ordeal.  But I managed it and that was probably the start of things that got me writing, something else you can blame him for.

The political parties in Scotland are moving towards gender balance (and well done to Labour) so while the panelists at a hustings are more likely to include women, why is it still the case that the majority speaking up in the audience are male?

Source: Women 50:50

I’m sure we’ve all seen it happen “Any questions?” being answered by a sea of male hands followed by the first questioner expanding on his point of view at length before finally tagging a question at the end. How many times have you shouted “Just get on with it?” at Question Time?

There can also be disparity between how many women are perceived to be taking part and the actual number of women as this article shows:

Geena Davis Institute for Gender In Media found that, in crowd scenes, women tend to comprise about 17 percent of any given crowd. She’s argued, based on outside data and her own interpretations, that this imbalance relates to and reinforces the way men perceive the actual number of women in any given room.

“If there’s 17 percent women, the men in the group think it’s 50-50,” she told NPR. “And if there’s 33 percent women, the men perceive that as there being more women in the room than men.”

I’m not saying men can’t have a point of view (Jamie Oliver and breastfeeding being the exception) but instead am suggesting they don’t hog the debate.

It’s so often the case that  women are still only expected to talk on women’s issues, but what are they exactly? I am interested in more than health, education & childcare, I use the infrastructure and utilities, pay council tax, am impacted by the economy. My child won’t join the army but her friends might, I want to know we have an ethical foreign policy.

A quick history lesson next, as this was new to me.

In 1978 National Women’s Liberation Conference in Birmingham finalised The Seven Demands

The women’s liberation movement asserts a woman’s right to define her own sexuality, and demands:

  1. Equal pay for equal work
  2. Equal education and job opportunities
  3. Free contraception
  4. Free 24-hour community-controlled childcare
  5. Legal and financial independence for women
  6. An end to discrimination against lesbians
  7. Freedom for all women from intimidation by the threat or use of male violence. An end to the laws, assumptions and institutions which perpetuate male dominance and men’s aggression towards women.

Eye-opening isn’t it?

Nearly 40 years on Engender has produced a Gender Matters Manifesto 2016 highlighting 20 issues considered important by women and grouped under the following 9 categories:

  • Politics & power
  • Fair economy
  • Care
  • Social security
  • Labour market & employment
  • Education and training
  • Media and culture
  • Violence against women
  • Women’s Rights

As part of the workshop we were meant to put these in order of importance, I found this incredibly difficult as so many are linked. What surprised me was how low Women’s Rights as an issue came down the list for me.  I feel that by having a fairer economy, education system, and social security for all is the baseline to tackle so many equality issues. We should maybe call it a Welfare State, you know all be in it together.

The final part of the session was on how to phrase questions so that they couldn’t be spun into a non-answer and stressing that if we aren’t happy with the answer to say so. Hustings are a great time to get the truth out out of politicians on whether they support policies or if you have a particular cause or issue you wish to promote/highlight; get photos, pledges signed & record their answers. And get them shared. It may not stop them going back on their word, but it can be used to embarrass them regularly, I doubt Nick Clegg will ever forget his tuition fee pledge.

I’m finishing with my favourite quote from the night.

“Opinions are like orgasms: most girls aren’t taught that it is ok to have their own and are only expected to further men’s.”

Too often we still hear “My husband says…”  This isn’t something that can be easily fixed,   young women start off with opinions – my 11 year old has thousands – but where do these confident attitudes go?

Every time I write I think why would anyone want to hear my opinion (stop nodding at the back I don’t make you read this) and then I realise my opinion is as just valid as everyone else’s and I have to set an example if I want my daughter to retain the confidence to speak up that she has as much a right to voice her opinion as her male counterparts.

I can’t keep saying there needs to be more women’s voices heard if I don’t have the courage to stand up and be counted. I’m afraid you will just have to put up with me.



2 thoughts on “Gender Matters

  1. One suggestion I’ve seen elsewhere (for conference Q&As) has been to take some questions via twitter, and others from the floor – people (of whichever gender) who don’t feel empowered to stand up and speak may then contribute questions in this less confrontational manner.


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