You can practice gender awareness all you like, and it will still be incredibly easy to slip back into familiar patterns. But quietly washing your hands of it is not enough, and a dramatic renunciation can backfire.
A few weeks ago, I took part in a discussion after a film screening at the SOAS Israel Society in London. The film concerned the Wannsee Conference, where the “final solution” was planned, and the screening was organised by a member of the society, a barrister doing his PhD at the LSE. Of those present, three were men (myself included), and six were women, including one of the principal organisers of the society, a theater student who, as we remembered much too late, had said before the discussion she’ll want to talk about Holocaust education in Israel; and another principal organiser, a history student, who, among other things, has been exploring issues of complicity and real-time denial by combatants conducting ethnic cleansing in the War of 1948.
The credits rolled, and the barrister made some introductory remarks explaining the political and legal history after the events of the film. He then opened the floor to the rest of the group. Nobody spoke, so I pitched in. The third man, a history PhD student in his forties, picked up, and the moderator rejoined him.
Fifteen minutes into the discussion, it hit me that only we men in the room were talking.
Once I realised I was part of the problem, I contended myself with withdrawing from conversation. I was hoping one of the women present would step into my space, but in reality, all I did was let the two other men seamlessly fill up that space with their own conversation. And while women did join the discussion towards the end, they still spoke considerably more briefly (even if more to the point) than the men. The fact the men were in their thirties to forties, mid-career (myself) or PhDs and most of the women were postgrad or undergrad students under 25, didn’t help either. Whenever the discussion died down and no one would say anything, I would permit myself to pitch in with a comment, assuming that someone has to say something and no one was saying anything, so I might as well. I was usually rejoined by one of the men, followed by the other, and the dynamic cheerfully resumed itself....Read More