Big Legs
Friday Ephemera

The Crushing Patriarchy, Episode 12

I wasn’t going to mention a certain Guardian contributor again so soon, but the fusion of self-regard and obliviousness is strangely compelling. What follows may well include one or two candidates for our ongoing series of classic sentences from the aforementioned newspaper. See if you can spot them. It’ll help us get through this.

The establishment, patriarchy, the mainstream, whatever you want to call it, just doesn’t find women interesting. It makes sure that women are heavily outnumbered from the very beginning by offering us only a fraction of available opportunities, slots, placements, commissions, trips, panel places, star jobs, reviews... It talks down women’s work. It is supported by a false mythology about the weakness, inconsistency, subjectivity and inconsequentiality of women’s creation, experience and perspective.

Readers will no doubt recognise Bidisha’s trademark rigour and understatement. Our favourite “non-white angry political female” has been counting posters in the underground and has deduced that something nefarious is afoot.

It’s all part of my investigation into cultural femicide - the erasure of women from public life. Who are the perpetrators? Events organisers, editors in broadcasting and the media, radio and TV producers, commissioners and jurors. They are male and female, they probably don’t realise they’re doing it, but they don’t mind. They’re fine with a virtually woman-free world.

Yes, I know. Do help yourself to refreshments. A stiff one seems in order.

To witness femicide in action, go to the town of Hay this May. At the same time as the annual book festival is an unrelated philosophy festival called How The Light Gets In. There are 25 debates covering broad themes such as evolution, the urban space, creativity, violence and privacy. All but two of these events are male-dominated... The discrimination is obvious. All you have to do is count.

Because anything but exact gender parity in any given sphere must, simply must, be proof of “cultural femicide” and “the erasure of women from public life.” It’s obvious, see? Thank goodness we can count on Bidisha to fight back.  

I used to power my way through every token-woman appearance on panels in the hope that the shining example of my contribution would change the paradigm through sheer force of presence.


It didn’t happen.

Oh, it gets worse.

I can no longer give my time and attention - and implicitly, my support - to any event, such as the debates at How The Light Gets In, that gives space to five times as many men as women.

The festival’s organiser, Hilary Lawson, responds.  

Women feature throughout the programme but men are dominant in the philosophy discussions.

Dominant, eh? Why, that’s practically a confession. Denounce the patriarch!

Virtually all of the men we approached agreed to speak. Only one in six of the women did.


However, as this is the Guardian, and as Mr Lawson has dutifully internalised the obligatory ideological ticks, there’s also quite a bit of this:

We have an editorial policy that clearly stipulates our dedication to pursuing gender balance.


Why do we find it easier to achieve gender balance in our musical events but struggle to do so in philosophy? Is it that philosophy embeds a male mode of thinking, a phallogocentrism, that discourages women? Is it that the cultural framework frightens women from being involved? Is it that women are put off by male bullishness in debates? Or are academic institutions themselves guilty of inbuilt and defiant sexism? These are important questions some of which we hope to raise in our festival.

Note the assumption that “gender balance” is the natural default in all spheres of activity and thus any deviation from gender parity is evidence of systemic discrimination or some other injustice to be corrected. One wonders, then, what Mr Lawson and Bidisha make of other areas of endeavour, such as elite chess tournaments, where criteria and performance are sharply defined and where men outnumber women by about 100:1. Now it’s possible that unfair discrimination may be a factor among any number of variables, but the existence of such can’t be determined just from the ratio of male and female players. Whether or not meritocratic selection has been achieved can’t be deduced from whether gender parity results, since we have no basis, except ideology, on which to say that gender parity should be the meritocratic outcome. The assumption of a ‘natural’ 1:1 gender ratio in all occupations is itself a prejudice, albeit a modish one. On what basis do we determine that there ought to be a particular ratio of male and female philosophers, or mathematicians, or engineers? At what point and on what basis do we determine that a particular gender is sufficiently “represented” in a given vocation? Perhaps these are also questions a philosopher might ponder.

Apparently Mr Lawson didn’t see fit to ask the women who declined his invitation – the majority - why they did so. Perhaps some of them share Bidisha’s belief that the way to protest about the supposed “imbalance” of male and female participants is to turn down invitations to participate. Or maybe they had better things to do with their time and abilities. Perhaps they found the event and its organisers drearily tendentious, not least in their assumptions of “gender balance” and references to “phallogocentrism” and other Derridean claptrap. To say nothing of the supposed timidity of women. Perhaps some of the ladies didn’t wish to be drawn into a carnival of identity politics and assumed victimhood. Conceivably, some may not wish to endure proximity to Bidisha, a mistress of the unearned conclusion and self-refuting article, and who informs us, based on nothing, that the “sexualisation” of the Olympics has “brutalising” and “devastating” effects on the male psyche.

Thankfully, the Guardian’s reputation is such that readers come from far and wide to marvel at the dramas on display. Some share thoughts that devout Guardianistas would be unlikely to formulate. One puzzled reader asks,

Let me get this straight. You asked Bidisha to speak but she turned you down because you don’t ask enough women to speak?

Another offers this,

Let's put Bidisha’s comments in perspective. This is a public school and Oxford-educated person complaining about how people like her are habitually discriminated against. Strangely, the platforms that she is able to get access to in order to proclaim her exclusion include a national newspaper and BBC Radio 4.

Indeed. Another leftist child of privilege is employed by the paper of the “new establishment” and our state broadcaster to mouth the conceits of the taste-correcting class. Yet Bidisha considers herself a vibrant and formidable counter-cultural force. A point she underlines by denouncing those who disagree as “lazy,” “complacent” and “apolitical.” She is, in her own imaginings, entirely at odds with the current establishment, rather than a routine and rather comical feature of it.

(h/t, Julia)