Briskly walking through the huge entrance of the Barbican centre, the echo of my boots fills the gigantic hallways. A huge banner welcomed it guests to the conference; “Battle of Ideas” in huge bold letters, friendly staff standing under a banner which states where certain “battle grounds” are around the centre. Anyway, I finally found “The Pit”; where the first of three debates I would go to see had started, and I found myself in the debate, which essentially reflects my life lately, named “Women vs Feminism”.
I got to my seat to see the highlight of 5 willing women duking on the panel consisting of Hungarian political scientist Eszter Kovats; head of personal investing at Legal and General and founder of the 30 percent club Helen Morrissy; education editor of Spiked Online and author of “Women vs Feminism: Why We All Need Liberating From the Gender War”, Joanna Williams; author of the book “XX Factor: How the Rise of Working Women Has Created a Far Less Equal World” Alison Wolf and was chaired by the co-founder of the Institute of Ideas Sally Millard. I looked around and absorbed comments from each side of the fence; a middle-aged male’s opinion on females within the engineering career sector, and why they’re declining, a young man’s view on what constitutes as a real feminist problem, with issues like ‘manspreading’ being deemed as a real problem, when in different countries, females are being subjected to child marriage and female genital mutilation and can there really be compared? (this comment I clapped a little harder, the sting signifying my solidarity with such an obvious, but overlooked comment); and a middle-aged woman who works for an abortion charity’s thoughts on how the new intersectional feminists are singling out men as the enemy when that clearly isn’t the case and what is this doing to our younger generation of males.
Sitting among such proficient people who share that same opinion comforted me, and reinforced my beliefs that the new wave feminism is ruining our chance for true equality, until of course, when a cocky oldie stood up with a typical “this is not a question, more of a comment”. There’s always one wan**r who makes you question the concept of egalitarianism.
On to the next talk “Diversity: does it matter?” Before we even got into the cinema, there was chaos brewing, with the older, middle class audience members getting a little out of hand and childish when they were made to wait a little too long to get in. Middle class Londoners outside, shouting when ordered to queue, that’s the most revolutionary injustice and oppression they faced in their lifetime. After what almost became a middle class version of a full-blown riot was dealt with, I managed to get in the cinema.
Another diverse field of 4 incredible women; Josie Appleton director, civil liberties group, Manifesto Club; author, Officious: Rise of the Busybody State, blogs at notesonfreedom.com, Amali De Alwis, CEO, Code First: Girls; chair, BIMA Diversity panel; fellow, RSA, Dreda Say Mitchell, author, journalist, broadcaster & campaigner; winner of CWA’s John Creasey Dagger for debut novel, Running Hot; latest novel, Blood Daughter, Cathy Young, US journalist and commentator; weekly columnist, Newsday; author, Ceasefire!: Why Women and Men Must Join Forces to Achieve True Equality and the debate was chaired by Claire Fox, director, Institute of Ideas; panellist, BBC Radio 4’s Moral Maze; author, I Find That Offensive.
This was tricky, the subject of diversity. In the current context, I am always on the outside looking in, feeling I don’t really have a place to say anything as an English white girl; one tends to think diversity is only about race and sex. Dreda talked about the diversity problem within the class system. Dreda’s explanation of her background, it was one very similar to mine, brought up on a council estate within east London, with barely any opportunity to dig your way out of poverty, poor education and difficulty having any kind of ambition because of the stigma of your address and accent, but being amongst a close-knit community who generally care for each other and look out for one another. When she brought up the class system, and how ignored it is in debates and talks like this, when it so obviously has a huge belonging there, she spoke so passionately she had tears in her eyes, making the points more valid and personal.
The room’s atmosphere was full of friction, which highlighted how uncomfortable we are as people to speak about diversity; maybe in case we say something that could be misconstrued into prejudice, maybe because in recent times the liberal left are so quick to jump down your throat if you say something that they don’t agree with, or maybe because there isn’t one solid, defining point to put to bed all the problems diversity have at any point in time.
One of the closing questions was whether we will ever stop having issues with diversity, and the unfortunate answer is no. I left the cinema deflated.
After a pretty mediocre French lunch (the French just cannot nail vegetarian food) I headed to “What’s to be done? Literature and the Russian revolution”. Panallists were Dolan Cummings, author, That Existential Leap: a crime story; associate fellow, Institute of Ideas; co-founder, Manifesto Club, Julie Curtis, professor of Russian literature, University of Oxford, Adam Rawcliffe, director of external affairs, Institute of Ideas, Martin Robinson, educational consultant and teacher; author, Trivium 21c: preparing young people for the future with lessons from the past, and chaired by Emily Hill, writer and journalist; author, Bad Romance; columnist, The Sunday Times Style.
Julie Curtis was almost poetic, and could make even the most uninterested person fall in love with the history of literature through Russian times. Emily Hill, talked about Chekov, Trotsky and how Lenin’s love for literature truly shaped the Russian revolution, things you don’t read or hear people usually talk about. Each member of the panel noted their favourite Russian writer, and it ended on a comedic exclaim by Martin Robinson “Chekov! Chekov! Chekov!”
There was much I wanted to see, but unfortunately, time was not on my side. Despite the comical middle-class rioting, and that one imbecile sharing his profound wisdom much to the bafflement of both the panellists and fellow audience members, I walked out with a slightly different outlook on the world and society we live in; finding out what people class as problems, how highly things are in people’s consciousness and that actually, no matter how much we try, the world just cannot be fixed. We’re all too different. There are too many cracks.
But, the one assurance I left with is that free speech is still alive in this country. And there are people who are there to fight for it.
And I got to meet Joanna Williams in person!