The Barbershop Conference
“Men—I would like to take this opportunity to extend your formal invitation. Gender equality is your issue too”. Emma Watson’s speech at the launch of the campaign ‘He for She’ has gained a lot of attention in the last month, and it seems the 24 year old has managed to put the point across.
The point of the campaign is that men should also be involved in the fight for women’s rights, plain and simple. The Gender Equality movement has had women as its main advocates since it started; it is only natural that, as women, we feel more strongly about defending our own rights, I definitely don’t blame the men for their lack of participation.
Only recently, men have started participating in the discourse and played a more active role, but to a very limited extent. It seems like Gender Equality is an issue many men don’t feel they should be talking about: especially those who believe in women’s rights often think that having a strong opinion about it, or an active role in defending them, would be overstepping the ‘one thing’ that women are actually leading. Around me for example, I have not seen a huge interest by the men in my life to actively participate in the fight for ‘Gender Equality”, and I know its not because they don’t believe it is right or have no interest in it at all, but because they think it’s “our thing” and they shouldn’t intervene.
Undoubtedly, this defeats the purpose. If we want equal rights, then we should have equal opportunities to participate in this social and political activity, and we should stop trying to define roles, or place pedestals everywhere. We are all on the ground. I think the idea tackled in the campaign is of great importance, and that men should stand up for this.
Now, this can be taken in two ways. The first is to think that this is an outrageous misinterpretation of the gender equality fight, that it sends the message of excluding women, rather painting a picture of a man telling a woman “I’ll take it from here, sweetheart” as quoted by a journalist in the Guardian. However I think this interpretation simply doesn’t grasp the point.The point has with no doubt been understood, so much that on the 29th of September, the Minister of Foreign Affairs in Iceland, Gunnar Bragi Sveinsson, announced that Iceland will host a ‘Men Only” conference on gender equality, with a special focus on violence on women.
The second way of interpreting this would be to think that this is a delightful way of making sure that men are ‘physically’ introduced in the discourse. They will have to sit in a room and discuss these sorts of issues; there will be no escaping. Moreover, let’s presume that of the people that will attend the conference, many will have to prepare themselves before the event, as gender might not be an area of their expertise (who wants to go to a conference unprepared?). This will mean more men will have more detailed information on the issues that surround gender equality, gender violence and women’s rights, and therefore they will have a fuller understanding of what we women have been talking about all these years. Exposing men so directly to these issues is an important step towards a successful and equal fight towards gender equality.
If this is the case, whether this will be a successful conference all depends on the actual logistics and agenda of the event, my questions for now are: Will women be in the panel? Will there be women giving talks and telling their stories? Will women experts lead the conference on the issues and only have men participate?
I think it’s a great initiative and I hope it will bring men to actually find a true interest in gender issues and to spread the word to other men. This is not just our (women) fight; it is your fight too.