Last week’s “Is the work of feminism just beginning” debate at the Cambridge Union deeply resonated with me – not necessarily because of *what* was being discussed, but *how* it was being discussed. The unspoken rules of the prestigious Cambridge Union were turned on their head, put to the side, and made obsolete. Ignoring the offensive and inane contributions of the Fathers 4 Justice speaker, the rest of the speakers – on both sides – engaged in something that was more of a conversation than a debate.
Rather than engaging in a rapid-fire of snide, sarcastic and hostile banter, the women speakers would pause to ask questions of each other, to clear up misunderstandings rather than wilfully create them, and to acknowledge personal experience in the formation of truths. The three speakers arguing that feminism’s work is not just beginning were quite divided in their arguments, making it easy for the debate to meander into a more meaningful and nuanced discussion rather than a black and white debate format. Yet in similar situations where the opposing battlegrounds were not so clearly defined, I have seen many Union debates degenerate into rhetorical sparring, ignoring the substance of the debate for the technicalities of the motion. I found it exciting that Zohra Moosa invited a response from her “opponent” after she addressed her point- smiling at her rather than sneering. Bonnie Greer expressed her respect for Erin Pizzey “regardless of what side of the debate she was on”, and Erin asked Zohra, Bonnie and Sarah to clarify what they meant by feminism, and what they meant by patriarchy. I had never really seen anything like it in any of the debates I have attended at the Union- firm disagreement and strong ideas, but without the need for sarcasm or machismo. Continue reading