Time to demand no platform for women
Emma Burnell, who puts together conferences and events, is understandably angry that men dominate conference platforms. She offers a challenge:
Find me an all male panel – in fact, find me any topic on which you could reasonably hold an informed public debate – and I’ll give you the names of five women who could hold their own on the panel.
I think it’s the wrong challenge.
The problem is not primarily that men dominate platforms. The primary problem is that there are platforms for them to dominate. Platforms are reflections of patriarchal domination in the first place, and simply reinforce patriarchal power structures.
The real challenge is not to change the gender of who gets to dominate the rest of us from the platform, but to get rid of the platform entirely, and in so doing create the ‘informed public debate’ which is actually so lacking from the usual event format.
I don’t go to many conferences or events. Partly this is because I live miles away from most of them, but mostly it’s because they’re generally shite.
When I do go I quickly get sick of the high-profile types – mostly men – who swan from conference to conference on conference-type fees. Generally, they tell me what I already know and/or agree with, and expect me to sit and listen to their advice on what I/the movement/the party should do next. I might get to ask a polite question which they then answer with varying levels of condescension (or flannel about if they don’t know). Then I get to go home again, none the wiser, but a bit more deflated.
The more radical, power-reversing approach, is not to ask the important people what they think the less important people in the room should think and/or do, but to develop ‘bottom-up’ formats (more here), whereby the less important people can make demands of the more important people, with these demands focused on how the latter can take action themselves in support of the grassroots. Of course the important people should have the freedom to express their opinion based on their expertise in the subject area – that’s why they’re there – but in the end the focus should be on how they can help take the ’cause’ forward.
The Left should therefore seek to alter the structure of political conferences, making the high-profile (remunerated) participants work for their money, by briefing them pre-conference on their obligation to agree actions in support of whatever cause the conference is about. If they fail to deliver on the commitments agreed at the conference (and if they are too onerous they shouldn’t agree to them), they won’t get invited back the next year; the message will soon spread that they are just windbags, who need to be replaced on the circuit.
Then, I suspect, you’ll start to get gender equality amongst paid participants, no longer ‘platform speakers’ in the traditional sense, but something like ‘expert facilitators’. The male windbags (and a few female) will fall off the conference gravy train, to be replaced by women committed not just to the display of their supposed expertise, but to using it for the common good.