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.
The Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) continues to witness devastating political violence, but the world refuses to act. Ishiaba Kasonga and Serge Egola Angbakodolo ask why?
When fire safety has become a privilege for the rich, it’s time to stop austerity and fund emergency mass works to raise standards immediately, writes Jane Shallice
The election result has irreversibly changed political discourse in the UK, writes James Fox
In commemoration of the 30th anniversary of Bernie Grant's election to parliament, Ayo Wallace explores the life and legacy of his radical representation of Tottenham's black communities.
Across Britain, hundreds of thousands of people have now taken part in mass rallies for Corbyn's Labour. Eli Regan soaks up the atmosphere in Warrington
The under-30s could be decisive in the general election. Frances Grahl meets young people hit by Tory austerity and looks at what's driving their support for Labour
“To them it’s just another number, someone else being sent back. But when you’ve got three children being left without their dad … it’s quite major,” writes Rebecca Omonira-Okeykanmi.
Hundreds of people surrounded the fences this weekend. Hera Lorandos spoke to women who have suffered inside.
Grassroots posters giving an alternative take on the general election
Laying out the case for Labour's leadership of a Progressive Alliance, Jeremy Gilbert argues that far from posing a threat to the Left, the Progressive Alliance offers a golden opportunity to end Tory rule and build a 21st century government committed to social justice
The government played the public for fools, and lost
The High Court has ruled that the government cannot veto local council investment decisions. This is a victory for local democracy and the BDS movement, and shows what can happen when we stand together, writes War on Want’s Ross Hemingway.
An ‘obscure’ party? I’m amazed at how little people in Britain know about the DUP
After the Tories' deal with the Democratic Unionists, Denis Burke asks why people in Britain weren't a bit more curious about Northern Ireland before now
The Tories’ deal with the DUP is outright bribery – but this government won’t last
Theresa May’s £1.5 billion bung to the DUP is the last nail in the coffin of the austerity myth, writes Louis Mendee
Brexit, Corbyn and beyond
Clarity of analysis can help the left avoid practical traps, argues Paul O'Connell
Paul Mason vs Progress: ‘Decide whether you want to be part of this party’ – full report
Broadcaster and Corbyn supporter Paul Mason tells the Blairites' annual conference some home truths
Contagion: how the crisis spread
Following on from his essay, How Empire Struck Back, Walden Bello speaks to TNI's Nick Buxton about how the financial crisis spread from the USA to Europe
How empire struck back
Walden Bello dissects the failure of Barack Obama's 'technocratic Keynesianism' and explains why this led to Donald Trump winning the US presidency
Empire en vogue
Nadine El-Enany examines the imperial pretensions of Britain's post-Brexit foreign affairs and trade strategy
Grenfell Tower residents evicted from hotel with just hours’ notice
An urgent call for support from the Radical Housing Network
Jeremy Corbyn is no longer the leader of the opposition – he has become the People’s Prime Minister
While Theresa May hides away, Corbyn stands with the people in our hours of need, writes Tom Walker
In the aftermath of this disaster, we must fight to restore respect and democracy for council tenants
Glyn Robbins says it's time to put residents, not private firms, back at the centre of decision-making over their housing
After Grenfell: ending the murderous war on our protections
Under cover of 'cutting red tape', the government has been slashing safety standards. It's time for it to stop, writes Christine Berry
Why the Grenfell Tower fire means everything must change
The fire was a man-made atrocity, says Faiza Shaheen – we must redesign our economic system so it can never happen again
Forcing MPs to take an oath of allegiance to the monarchy undermines democracy
As long as being an MP means pledging loyalty to an unelected head of state, our parliamentary system will remain undemocratic, writes Kate Flood
7 reasons why Labour can win the next election
From the rise of Grime for Corbyn to the reduced power of the tabloids, Will Murray looks at the reasons to be optimistic for Labour's chances next time
Red Pepper’s race section: open editorial meeting 25 June
On June 25th, the fourth of Red Pepper Race Section's Open Editorial Meetings will celebrate the launch of our new black writers' issue - Empire Will Eat Itself.
After two years of attacks on Corbyn supporters, where are the apologies?
In the aftermath of this spectacular election result, some issues in the Labour Party need addressing, argues Seema Chandwani
If Corbyn’s Labour wins, it will be Attlee v Churchill all over again
Jack Witek argues that a Labour victory is no longer unthinkable – and it would mean the biggest shake-up since 1945
On the life of Robin Murray, visionary economist
Hilary Wainwright pays tribute to the life and legacy of Robin Murray, one of the key figures of the New Left whose vision of a modern socialism lies at the heart of the Labour manifesto.
Letter from the US: Dear rest of the world, I’m just as confused as you are
Kate Harveston apologises for the rise of Trump, but promises to make it up to us somehow
The myth of ‘stability’ with Theresa May
Settit Beyene looks at the truth behind the prime minister's favourite soundbite
Civic strike paralyses Colombia’s principle pacific port
An alliance of community organisations are fighting ’to live with dignity’ in the face of military repression. Patrick Kane and Seb Ordoñez report.
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
Job vacancy: Red Pepper is looking for a political organiser
Closing date for applications: postponed, see below
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.