Recently I was discussing a new working group that was being set up within the University, and realised that all the members that I had heard named were female. I queried this and was told that that did indeed seem to be the case. This is just as unacceptable as an all male committee. OK, so the working group was going to be looking at a gender-related issue, but the idea that gender equates to female, and is therefore rightfully discussed only by women is wrong on so many counts I simply don’t want to go there. Needless to say, I pointed out the problem that was apparently being created and, I hope by the time the working group is actually convened, it will have an appropriately diverse membership. This is not the first time I have encountered this problem – the last time was when I was invited to join the interview panel for the Equality and Diversity Officer within the university a couple of years ago: again only female names were being proposed until I pointed out how inappropriate this was (and it was indeed rectified).
The whole point about gender equality is it is about equality, and can’t just be seen as ‘women’s issues’ which can be dealt with by women alone. I hope that in my role as University Gender Equality Champion I will be listening to men and women – and where appropriate dealing with issues for those in the LGBT groups too. Nevertheless it is likely to be the case that issues simply relating to women, who after all represent about half of both the student and staff population, may be the most glaringly obvious, and also the ones where there are easiest ‘wins’ to be made quickly.
One of the blogs I read is that of the US FemaleSciencePofessor. Reading her blog indicates much that differs between the US and the UK, so that some of the posts she writes don’t necessarily resonate here. But I was struck by a comment she made recently
‘Sometimes it seems like I could write a blog post about how much I like pistachio ice cream, and I would get comments like “Why do you hate men so much? Why are you always writing about sexism? Why do you always twist things to be about gender?”.’
I hope that is not what goes through readers’ minds when they read my blog – or indeed that of my colleagues within the University when they see me in action as a Champion. Misandry – hatred of men – is not a word that is heard as often as misogyny, but it has the potential to be just as dangerous. And also, I believe that any actions smacking of it are going to be purely counterproductive. Some years ago Sir David Wallace (now Master of Churchill College, at the time Treasurer of the Royal Society and VC of Loughborough University) remarked to me how illuminating he had found it when he had attended some meeting – I suspect about women in science but can no longer remember – and realized he was the only man amidst a large group of women. He said he had suddenly realized the oddness of the sensation to be in that position, and it had made him appreciate what women in science go through much more clearly. So the slightly more mischievous side of me thinks that putting men on committees within my university where they find themselves in a significant minority, may have unexpected upsides!