Throughout the centuries when the political project that has resulted in “modern democracy” was developing, women were excluded from decision making processes. The development of “modern democracy” – from ancient Greece to the French Revolution to the Constitutional Convention in the USA – had no meaningful participation of women, and took place in the context of profound gender norms. Therefore, I use quotation marks when referring to “modern democracy” to indicate that it is neither unquestionably democratic nor modern. The existence of differences in gendered behaviour means that the political ideas, practices and structures developed were complementary to dominant gender norms of privilege men- masculinism with an elitist and racist edge. This has resulted in political systems which, although now legally open to women to vote, run for office, etc, are still not a place where most women can thrive because these systems still privilege masculine norms, and gender norms continue to be deeply embedded. Continue reading
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
One of the first steps in fighting oppression is to acknowledge its presence within the institutions we are a part of, yet far too often injustice is outsourced and framed as something that other people do. Racism in our society is distilled down to groups like the BNP, whose ideologies and practices are so indisputably racist- and whose membership is so easy to “other”- that it is not a painful process to identify and publicly disown them as racist. Similarly, the media and mainstream politics finds it easy to locate sexism in “othered” communities such as those which promote practices which clearly hurt women- so-called honour killings, forced marriage and female genital mutilation. While it is important to locate and fight against such examples of oppression, I believe that it is unhelpful and counterproductive to be content with simply declaiming the uncontroversially sexist. Continue reading
Open letter to the Cambridge Union
Why the CUSU Women’s Campaign is no longer participating in the Cambridge Union’s discussion on sexism
It is with disappointment that the CUSU Women’s Campaign is pulling out of the public forum intended to discuss institutional sexism and the Cambridge Union Society. As the CUSU Women’s Officer, I have made this decision in consultation with the Women’s Campaign Committee, because I am no longer confident that the event will serve the original purpose of discussing the concerns that have been raised about the Cambridge Union Society, such as why there are so few female speakers, are pole dancing classes good exercise or objectification, and whether the Union takes sexism and feminism seriously. Ironically, we are pulling out of the event because the Union entirely failed to take the event seriously. Continue reading