Add women and stir!

Ruth Michaelson reflects on the Rebellious Media Conference.

October 17, 2011
5 min read

Preface any question put to a room full of people with the words “let’s have a question from a woman now, shall we?” and you can watch the collective feminine blood pressure of the room rise by about 100 points. Add another 50 if that room is filled with lefty participants in a conference whose purpose is to showcase alternative methods not just of communication but of organisation; every time this sentence was uttered, my heart sunk and my blood pressure started to do an impression of a Nasa rocket launch. It’s not that women don’t want to have their delicate feminine sensibilities offended by anything as impertinent as a question, it’s that none of us want to hear this kind of accompanying song-and-dance to show that (sound the alarm, comrades): female inclusion is happening. It also puts an inordinate amount of pressure on whoever the poor unfortunate is who then asks a question, meaning that their question has to be twice as interesting, witty and inspiring as the one that preceded it, all because they don’t own a penis. When the lucky lady in the room happened to be me, the heady cocktail of my anger at hearing those dreaded words plus said pressure meant that my previously beautifully formulated question on media attention in Bahrain turned into something so stupid that people turned around to glare at me for wasting the room’s time.

The thing is, that sentence was something of a motif of the Rebellious Media Conference, its inception following the keynote address by Noam Chomsky. If the all-male nature of the panel necessitates the syrupy words “as there are no women on the panel, why don’t we take the next three questions from women,” it’s time to reconsider the nature of the panel, not try and palm us off with the equivalent of crumbs from the high table. Even the most eagle-eyed representation-obsessed feminists in the room didn’t seem bothered until we were all suddenly asked to make our presence known by asking the man of the hour something so riveting that it would have knocked his glasses off.

Given that feminists are often chided for being too quick to jump to the moan, this seems the right point to clarify something: this isn’t a gripe about straight-up representation. Female attendees were there in what seemed like force, and the conference featured a fair range of female speakers, including the chance to see what Amira Hass’s face looks like as she vents her frustration at Skype malfunctioning projected onto an entire wall. That alone was worth the entrance fee. The conference also featured a discussion on feminist media and the 21st century, which did provide some worthy talking points but felt rather like a lefty version of a Women’s Institute meeting. Aside from the rather vital inclusion of Laurie Penny and a speaker from Black Feminists UK, it lacked the riot-grrl-style verve and spark needed to keep it feeling fresh and inspiring and safely out of the tea-cosy-zone.

Yet overall the conference had the feel that its pointed moments of representation had been tacked on as an afterthought; the “add women and stir” vibe. This also seemed to be true of some other factors- the unintentional irony of a discussion on “voices from the Global South” was entitled “We are Everywhere”, which is precisely where they weren’t. Inclusivity isn’t just about having workshops whose titles could make a Benetton campaign spontaneously orgasm, it’s about providing a real opportunity for both participants and organisers to reconsider the traditional structure of the conference and how this affects inclusion and participation. We could have spent four hours discussing how to make feminist media more relevant to men, but given that the room was almost entirely female this seemed somewhat futile. Rather than attempting to draw men to the workshop with the scary f-word in the title, it would have been of more benefit to reconsider how women and men were included in the conference, rather than ring-fencing “women’s issues” in order to make a point about female inclusion.

Simply put: if it’s understood that women are really part of the conference because they are a vital part of the anti-corporate media, there is no need to tap dance around their inclusion each time it comes up. Taking women’s inclusion for granted, provided that there is adequate female representation, is the bulls’ eye in the centre of the feminist dartboard. Feminists don’t need a parade each time a woman is allowed to ask a question, it shouldn’t be considered special. Had the conference taken place in Saudi Arabia, the act of a woman asking a question in a crowded lecture theatre would be worthy of praise. But this being London in 2011, it’s about as special as a Che Guevara badge.


✹ Try our new pay-as-you-feel subscription — you choose how much to pay.

Greece’s heavy load
While the UK left is divided over how to respond to Brexit, the people of Greece continue to groan under the burden of EU-backed austerity. Jane Shallice reports

On the narcissism of small differences
In an interview with the TNI's Nick Buxton, social scientist and activist Susan George reflects on the French Presidential Elections.

Why Corbyn’s ‘unpopularity’ is exaggerated: Polls show he’s more popular than most other parties’ leaders – and on the up
Headlines about Jeremy Corbyn’s poor approval ratings in polls don’t tell the whole story, writes Alex Nunns

The media wants to demoralise Corbyn’s supporters – don’t let them succeed
Michael Calderbank looks at the results of yesterday's local elections

In light of Dunkirk: What have we learned from the (lack of) response in Calais?
Amy Corcoran and Sam Walton ask who helps refugees when it matters – and who stands on the sidelines

Osborne’s first day at work – activists to pulp Evening Standards for renewable energy
This isn’t just a stunt. A new worker’s cooperative is set to employ people on a real living wage in a recycling scheme that is heavily trolling George Osborne. Jenny Nelson writes

Red Pepper’s race section: open editorial meeting 24 May
On May 24th, we’ll be holding the third of Red Pepper’s Race Section Open Editorial Meetings.

Our activism will be intersectional, or it will be bullshit…
Reflecting on a year in the environmental and anti-racist movements, Plane Stupid activist, Ali Tamlit, calls for a renewed focus on the dangers of power and privilege and the means to overcome them.

West Yorkshire calls for devolution of politics
When communities feel that power is exercised by a remote elite, anger and alienation will grow. But genuine regional democracy offers a positive alternative, argue the Same Skies Collective

How to resist the exploitation of digital gig workers
For the first time in history, we have a mass migration of labour without an actual migration of workers. Mark Graham and Alex Wood explore the consequences

The Digital Liberties cross-party campaign
Access to the internet should be considered as vital as access to power and water writes Sophia Drakopoulou

#AndABlackWomanAtThat – part III: a discussion of power and privilege
In the final article of a three-part series, Sheri Carr gives a few pointers on how to be a good ally

Event: Take Back Control Croydon
Ken Loach, Dawn Foster & Soweto Kinch to speak in Croydon at the first event of a UK-wide series organised by The World Transformed and local activists

Red Pepper’s race section: open editorial meeting 19 April
On April 19th, we’ll be holding the second of Red Pepper’s Race Section Open Editorial Meetings.

Changing our attitude to Climate Change
Paul Allen of the Centre for Alternative Technology spells out what we need to do to break through the inaction over climate change

Introducing Trump’s Inner Circle
Donald Trump’s key allies are as alarming as the man himself

#AndABlackWomanAtThat – part II: a discussion of power and privilege
In the second article of a three-part series, Sheri Carr reflects on the silencing of black women and the flaws in safe spaces

Joint statement on George Osborne’s appointment to the Evening Standard
'We have come together to denounce this brazen conflict of interest and to champion the growing need for independent, truthful and representative media'

Confronting Brexit
Paul O’Connell and Michael Calderbank consider the conditions that led to the Brexit vote, and how the left in Britain should respond

On the right side of history: an interview with Mijente
Marienna Pope-Weidemann speaks to Reyna Wences, co-founder of Mijente, a radical Latinx and Chincanx organising network

Disrupting the City of London Corporation elections
The City of London Corporation is one of the most secretive and least understood institutions in the world, writes Luke Walter

#AndABlackWomanAtThat: a discussion of power and privilege
In the first article of a three-part series, Sheri Carr reflects on the oppression of her early life and how we must fight it, even in our own movement

Corbyn understands the needs of our communities
Ian Hodson reflects on the Copeland by-election and explains why Corbyn has the full support of The Bakers Food and Allied Workers Union

Red Pepper’s race section: open editorial meeting 15 March
On 15 March, we’ll be holding the first of Red Pepper’s Race Section open editorial meetings.

Social Workers Without Borders
Jenny Nelson speaks to Lauren Wroe about a group combining activism and social work with refugees

Growing up married
Laura Nicholson interviews Dr Eylem Atakav about her new film, Growing Up Married, which tells the stories of Turkey’s child brides

The Migrant Connections Festival: solidarity needs meaningful relationships
On March 4 & 5 Bethnal Green will host a migrant-led festival fostering community and solidarity for people of all backgrounds, writes Sohail Jannesari

Reclaiming Holloway Homes
The government is closing old, inner-city jails. Rebecca Roberts looks at what happens next

Intensification of state violence in the Kurdish provinces of Turkey
Oppression increases in the run up to Turkey’s constitutional referendum, writes Mehmet Ugur from Academics for Peace

Pass the domestic violence bill
Emma Snaith reports on the significance of the new anti-domestic violence bill


15