Catriona Robertson

journeys at home and abroad


Here’s a film from the Christian Muslim Forum.  I make a brief appearance, in the company of some remarkable women.

I keep a rough tally (on twitter) of the male-female balance at events I attend – speakers, panels, chairs.  Often male-heavy, sometimes male-only and only very rarely female-only.  Black women (particularly) and Asian women appear even less frequently.

Multifaith occasions aren’t any better or any worse than academic, parliamentary or community gatherings.

With my own events I usually have similar numbers of men & women.  But it’s not easy: men are usually ready and willing to speak, women often need persuading.

Audiences don’t help: the increase in paper shuffling, chair adjustment & sotto voce to neighbours tends to increase when women take the floor.  Everyday sexism takes its toll and we don’t even notice it half the time.

Does it matter?  Yes.  The conversation, the feel of an event, the sensibility are all different when there’s a mix of contributors.  There’s a wider frame of reference, the discussion doesn’t so easily default to a received take on things.  Women are less predictable – partly because we hear from them less often.  If solutions are being sought, don’t leave out half the talent.  If you want a more grounded exchange, include women.

I’m not sure it’s training or tips or technique that’s needed; we don’t need women who sound like men.  It’s not this which deters potential women speakers.

It’s more a hesitancy, a different sense of entitlement, a modesty about the value of her contribution.  Uncertainty as to the reception she’ll get is not so surprising; a woman’s appearance is often considered more interesting than her views.  A woman having something to say in public, being heard, is still – in 2013 Britain – somewhat counter-cultural.

Do men more often speak about themselves and their organisations when speaking in public?  Are women less likely to take the PR route, more likely to address the topic?

Why are women-only events such fun?  How should we conduct ourselves in public?  Should we bother?  Is there a whole new way of engaging in public life which will leave the status quo far behind?

I’ll be exploring all this with women friends – religious and not.  Let me know if you’d like to join us (in London).

A couple of newish places online are @EverydaySexism and (for women in organised religion) Talitha cum! Stand up, Girl!

Save the dates: South Bank’s Women of the World Festival 7-9 March – always a good one.

UPDATE: for London women, we’re meeting at the Southbank Centre on Sunday 6 April 1.30pm – 3pm.  Let me know if you’d like to join us and I’ll send details.


This entry was posted on 7 December 2013 by in London and tagged , , , .
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