When I read Lucy Howie’s article Why Are There No Female Politicians In St Andrews?, I was incredibly disappointed. Not only because I felt that – since I am a female – I was being roped into an argument in which my “side” was already confirmed as hers, but also because I knew that if any male students were to even attempt to debate Howie, they would automatically be disqualified on the basis of their gender by so many people. And that is so very wrong.
And so here I am, defending both men and women against this “new sexism” – the socially acceptable discrimination against men so long as women are profiting from it.
It’s something I have had a problem with for a long time.
I will start as most articles on the issue of gender equality do – with a definition of feminism. To me and most people, feminism is the equality of the sexes in terms of equal opportunities in the workforce and in education. Seems a fair enough definition, right?
So how come when I use this definition to support my argument that there should not be compulsory quotas for women in university committees, I receive so much backlash?
Equal opportunity between the genders means that both men and women vying for a spot on university committees are equally considered for the role, with the successful candidate being the one who – regardless of gender – is simply the most qualified for the role in terms of their values, character and skills.
On the other hand, equal representation of the genders is, ironically, more discrimination. To have a necessary quota for female representation on society committees would mean that sometimes a more qualified male student is not elected because of the need for more women on the committee. I’m not saying this will always be the case, but we must acknowledge the fact that to choose a lesser qualified female candidate over a more suitable male one on the basis of her gender – as this policy would not only permit, but condone – would only perpetuate more gender inequality, not solve it. Because this time, the discrimination would be aimed at men.
So which one – equal opportunity or equal representation – seems to you to be more just, more in alignment with classical feminism?
As someone who believes in the equality of opportunity between the genders, I know I would be absolutely humiliated if I was elected onto a societal committee to fill a female quota. How embarrassing to be awarded a position because I am a woman rather than my suitability as a legitimate candidate? And I’m not saying “embarrassing” because I am a woman who naturally feels inferior in the presence of more powerful men (as I am sure some would claim I do), but because I would rather lose an election because of my unsuitability to be a successful committee member than be elected because I am a “female committee member.”
Because I don’t want to be a ‘female committee member.’ I want to be a committee member. And I hope I am not the only one who feels this way.
Sexism does not prevent women from entering politics today, as I am sure it used to. And, I’m sure sexism did not stop a woman from becoming the “Women and Equalities Representative” for the Labour society. But I know that the sexism found within a necessary call for all committees to be comprised of 50% women will permit the exclusion of very qualified male students – male students who – shockingly – I think can represent the views of women as well as men, since I trust they would know what a woman is and what they may want from that society. You know, because they are probably decent human beings who have met a female before.
So call me sexist for disagreeing with Howie. Call me a fake feminist. But know this: If you truly believed in abolishing discrimination, gender inequality, and segregation, then you would not pit men against women. You would treat both like human beings and judge them for their characters, not their genders. For feminism is about everyone getting a ticket for the plane, not giving some priority boarding.
So for those who believe that there needs to be more women in our political societies at St Andrews, then by all means come join them. There is nothing stopping you.