How is sexism still a problem in the 21st century, and what can be done about it? That was the question challenging the packed Conway Hall at the inaugural London Thinks event on Thursday 8 October, chaired by Samira Ahmed.
It featured two speakers who have both experienced such pervasive sexism but have also confronted it and run very successful campaigns to combat it. Caroline Criado-Perez made headlines earlier this year when campaigning to have a woman featured on a banknote (and then depressingly again as she received relentless abuse on the internet) and Laura Bates is the founder of the Everyday Sexism project.
Both speakers gave a short talk outlining their perspectives, followed by Samira chairing a discussion and a question and answer session with the audience.
Caroline talked about how the representation of women is a fundamental part of 21st century feminism. She reeled off a litany of depressing statistics, such as for every 5 men there is only 1 woman in parliament and that only 20 out of 107 high court judges are women – putting the UK in the same company as Azerbaijan and Armenia. However, it also extends to popular culture with only 28% of speaking roles in Hollywood films belonging to women. The final, and most staggering statistic being that a woman is killed every 2.38 days in Britain.
Laura opened with the very personal, scary and disheartening story of being sexually assaulted on London transport and despite being surrounded by others, nobody came to her aid. Another incident, happening around the same time, made her stop and reassess why this happens. Asking other people, she found that the same sorts of assault happened to women all the time.
@EverydaySexism has become a force for good, highlighting the pervasive sexism that is at the heart of our culture and the sum total of which seems to be leading towards a real change.
Laura also had depressing statistics: out of 2300 works in the National Gallery only 10 are by women and only 15% of public statues of women. Laura’s take-home message was that sexism needs to be tackled at every level: There’s no point in fixing political representation if the media
keeps portraying women as sex objects and no point in promoting women in Parliament if it results in media coverage talking of ‘The Downing Street Cat-Walk’ (as we saw recently in the Daily Mail).
During the discussion section, Samira raised the issue of class and the intersection with feminism – bringing up the Rotherham scandal and how class-assumptions led to inaction on the part of the authorities.
Contributions from the audience included questioning why ‘feminism’ is perceived as a bad word, even among young women, which political parties are worst for women, Emma Watson’s speech at the United Nations, and the disbanding of the LSE Rugby Club following allegations of sexism.
There was thunderous applause for Samira, Caroline and Laura and many positive tweets following the event. It was a very successful start to what will hopefully be a very interesting and engaging London Thinks season of events.
Report by Liz Lutgendorff
The next event is Leaving Hate Behind and is about Nate Phelp’s very personal story of leaving the Westboro Baptist Church. This event will be on 13 November and will again be chaired by Samira Ahmed. Tickets are £15 for non-members and £5 for members of the Conway Hall Ethical Society.