If you’re serious about diversity, you might want to give Women's Equality Day a miss

I can attest to the fact that repeating a message over and over again – chanting it, with bells and whistles, banners and bazookas – is not the way to win over a critic

Josie Cox
Saturday 26 August 2017 11:11
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Women have marched in the US on numerous occasions against Donald Trump
Women have marched in the US on numerous occasions against Donald Trump

It’s Women’s Equality Day in the US on Saturday and I’d forgive you for thinking that it’s more important than ever for us to mark the occasion.

Stateside, politics’ most powerful person thinks it’s acceptable to refer to women as pigs, slobs, dogs and disgusting animals. And that’s just in public. He regularly launches galling attacks on the appearance, temperament and manner of females. Or simply treats them with such indignity and inappropriateness that I’m sure even some chauvinists cringe.

More fundamentally, there are countries in the world where women can’t drive, can’t serve on the frontline and have no say in whose children they bear. In some places, courts automatically grant custody of children to their fathers. In India, rape laws don’t apply to most married couples.

Far less appalling – but still utterly shameful – data in the UK tells a sorry story of an egregious gender pay gap at the BBC, on the FTSE 100 and at Joe Bloggs’ family-run plumbing firm in Lancashire. Casual bias is rampant from Wall Street to Walthamstow and everywhere in between. Disagree? Let me tell you about the emails I get that are addressed to “Dear Sirs”.

I’m the first to raise my voice when it comes to gender discrimination. I read books by feminists for fun. I enjoy mentoring ambitious young women. Though someone who hates being pigeon-holed, I suspect that I am what some might label a feminist. Despite all this though, the thought of marching or rallying for Women’s Equality Day, doesn’t sit quite right with me.

It all comes down to the question of what we really want to achieve.

Do we want to connect with likeminded people who will pat our backs, hug us and fortify our own opinions? Do we simply want to celebrate the anniversary of the day in 1920 when the 19th Amendment of the US Constitution guaranteed women the right to vote?

If that’s the case, then grab your placards and hit the road.

Or do we actually want to engage those who are hindering our path to equality in a constructive way, encourage them to change their behaviour, understand our perspective and reconsider why we might not all be totally cool with Mad Men?

From personal experience I can attest to the fact that repeating a message over and over again – chanting it, with bells and whistles, banners and bazookas – is not the way to win over a critic. At best they’ll ignore you. At worst your actions will strengthen their resolve to oppose you.

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On the first day of Donald Trump’s presidency, an estimated 5 million people took to the streets in a global Women’s March, to protest his policies on everything from human rights to immigration, healthcare, racial inequality, sexuality, religion and the environment.

I applaud anyone who made the effort and went out that day. It was touching to see such a fierce display of solidarity, especially knowing that an extended spell of deep social division awaits us. But I’m doubtful the event achieved measurable change on any of the issues at hand.

Trump certainly didn’t budge.

In fact, in London – and to my sheer horror – I observed the emergence of a small ground-swell of anti-feminist sentiment that may not have been there before – people who felt alienated because they didn’t agree with those marching. An event that plunges central London into transport chaos is probably not fertile ground for mediation.

There is a time and place for protests and marches. Even I have joined some. We should gather and connect with the likeminded in order to stay motivated to keep fighting for justice and any other cause that we’re passionate about. But it would be wrong to think that trumpeting our opinion is all it takes to get the job done.

Jeremy Corbyn backs BBC women presenters in gender pay gap dispute

Last year, Pulitzer Prize winner Nicholas Kristof wrote poignantly for The New York Times about the liberal outrage at Trump’s presidency and how it might in fact be exacerbating the problem of what he calls liberal echo chambers.

My fear is that flocking to every rally, march and national day for a given cause might lure us into these very echo chambers.

The nuance of Kristof’s piece differentiates it from the point I’m making, but the underlying argument is the same. Whatever our political belief and ideology, inhabiting a bubble blinkers our mind and risks creating a mob mentality. That, of course, is the last thing we need in a world already so marred by social disharmony.

Rather than demonise what we oppose – in this case sexism – by screeching our arguments against it, why not actively engage with those who disagree with us. Being in favour of diversity means hearing out the people who think differently to us. That’s how we can make real progress.

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