Last week SUSU Debates brought forward the question ‘is feminism sexist?’ The panel consisted of Uriah Yankey (SUBU Debates Champion), Sophie Bratfield (Democracy and Campaigns Coordinator at SUBU), Bethany Vaughan (SUBU LGBTQ+ Officer, BU FemSoc) and Bisi Alimi (FRESH Speakers, Bisi Alimi Foundation) who provided varied knowledge, opinions and facts throughout.
We needed perhaps a whole day, rather than 2 hours, to discuss feminism since it’s such a huge topic. What feminism is doing for men, ethnic minorities, the pay gap and trans rights was all bought up, among other things. Here is a run down of SUBU’s first debate of 2017.
7th February 2017
The panellists’ views
Members of the panel begin by defining feminism and sharing it’s goals to tackle issues for women, while also looking out for everyobody else. Sophie Bratfield described feminism “an inclusive movement about gender equality.”
Bisi Alimi stated that feminism is not sexist because ”prejudice + power = sexism or racism” so women cannot be sexist and black people cannot be racist because they are not in a position of power. However he is not implying that women could not be prejudiced.
Uriah Yankey admitted he was unsure if feminism is sexist or not. In his opinion, the core principles of feminism are not sexist, but some feminists are. Interestingly, his view changed for him to conclude that feminism is not sexist at the end of the debate.
Throughout the debate people shared family experiences, situations they have been in with their friends and stories of them finding themselves as they grew up.
“Anyone can be a feminist, right?”
What is feminism doing for men?
Here people praised and defended ‘lad culture’ for being a support system for men and questioned why women are not protesting men’s rights like they protest those rights of women.
“‘Lad culture’ has been pretty s*** to women…”
Bisi immesdiately asked “Is it the responsibility of women to organise men to talk about mens issues?!” While feminists do care for these issues that men face, men should be organising to solve their problems, too, just like feminists are organising to solve women’s problems.
Sophie and Bethany recognised that men have issues which are overlooked, some of these being similar to the issues of women.
A member of the audience asked the panel: “Could you please define ‘toxic masculinity’? Because I have no clue.”
Sophie and Bethany described ‘toxic msculinity as how men ‘should’ look, act and feel. It’s their gender stereotype. “It can be anything that pressures someone to be anything other than their authentic self,” Sophie replied. They were not saying that masculinity is bad. Sometimes the expectations society has for men can be toxic.
”prejudice + power = sexism or racism”
When people questioned ‘toxic masculinity’, Bisi added his own view: “Nobody is attacking masculinity. There is a form of masculinity that is toxic, and that is bad. Sometimes I love to wear a dress. That is how I express my masculinity and it is nobody’s place to tell me that my masculinity is not a definition of masculinity. That is when it is toxic.”
The Gender Pay Gap
Paying women and men a different amount for the same job is illegal, so the ‘pay gap’ is often referred to as ‘the wage gap’. The general overall wage that a woman receives in her life is less than that of men. This may be because they haven’t always been given the opportunity to secure higher paid jobs, which is a big issue for Bethany Vaughan. This is only just beginning to change. They may also take time off for maternity leave or to care for their children, which one member of the audience called “a life choice”… *eye roll*.
Bisi instantly replied with “Is that a life choice?!”
From the audience I hear people making jokes about his comment. “Okay, I will just make the life choice to neglect my child, then.”
Contributing factors to the pay gap
The same member of the audience then attempts to “bust the myth of the pay gap”. He said if women didn’t take maternity leave there wouldn’t be a gap. “There are also stats showing that women get paid more straight out of university until they make the decision to leave the work force to bear children, or something like that.”
“Many men identify as feminist.”
Eventually, someone shared some prepared statistics on this. They showed that men are more likely to work longer hours, and women are more likely to take time off for their family. “To say there is a wage gap that isn’t due to choices people make and different factors in people’s lives, and they just happen to be between the sexes is unfair.”
Women in the workplace
Bethany was then asked if it is important for women to be allowed to do blue collar jobs, as well as while collar jobs. “Women should have equal opportunities to any job, no matter what. Women do not need to be in white collar jobs to be powerful. It’s all about having the opportunity to do what they want and nothing stopping them from doing that.”
Housework and ‘stay-at-home-mums’ also came up in this discussion. People argued that these are choices people make and they are not forced to stay at home or do all of the housework. Someone points out “it’s out of love.”
Can men be feminists?
The majority of the room: “Yes.”
Daniel Asaya from SUBU Debates turned his attention to a particular member of the panel. “I’m going to go to Bisi, because he thinks that men cannot be femininists.”
“Feminism is a lived experience, so men cannot operate within this movement. That does not mean that men cannot be allies of feminist issues, because I am.” Bisi states the same for white people standing up for people who face racial prejudice. Men that have come from the position of being sexist who stand up for women’s rights are those who have unlearned their unconscious bias – their innate sexist beliefs.
Lots of the audience disagreed, replying that “many men identify as feminist.” If they identify as a feminist to help women’s rights then that shouldn’t be taken away from them.
Should feminism support LGBTQ+ rights, transgender men and women?
Sophie Bratfield: ‘yes.’
Feminism is about equal rights for all genders. Therefore, in many people’s opinions feminism does support the LBGTQ+ community and their rights. Sophie pointed out that feminism is non-binary and not confined only to the labels of ‘male’ and ‘female’.
Bethany shared that “72% of hate crimes in 2014 were aimed at transgender men and women, so it is important that they are spoken for when they are ignored.”
Someone from the audience makes a simple statement that, while subjective, makes a very good point. “Anyone can be feminist, right? So why can’t trans women and men?” People should be able to be what they want to be.
Finally, another member of the audience points out that “the ‘LGB’ part of ‘LGBT’ is focused on sexuality, so I think it’s important that feminism supports the transgender community.” If feminism is a movement which is inclusive of genders, then it should be inclusive of all genders, not just ‘men’ and ‘women’.
Finally the panellists concluded with their final statements, with all but Uriah sticking to their original thoughts. Uriah decided that feminism is not sexist. The debate allowed me to hear about other views within feminism other than my own and I learnt so much from sitting in on this debate. I do wish that people had prepared statistics and facts before they entered the room, rather than scrolling through the Daily Mail as the debate went on. However, these debates are a way for people to be part of sharing their opinion in a safe space and learn from other people and I can’t wait for the next one!