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Despite some causes for celebration this week, the damning revelations emanating from Presidents Club prove we still have a long way to go until gender equality is a reality, says Sara Hyde
I was really heartened by the number of marches last Sunday declaring 'Times Up!' on sexual harassment and inequality. There were some excellent speeches and diverse voices at the march in London, plus in cities across the US and Europe.
When I attended Improbable Theatre’s Devoted and Disgruntled open space last Saturday, I was again cheered to see the volume of discussion around diversity, including gender equality. It made me feel that we might not be on an entirely terrible trajectory.
The excellent Project 3:28 (named after Galatians 3:28) released its annual audit of UK National Christian Conferences, counting male and female speakers, this week too. More good news; there’s been a three per cent shift towards having gender parity of speakers since last year, with some events making significant strides. This all makes my heart glad and, after all, it’s fitting in the year we celebrate centenary of suffrage and some women getting the vote.
All that said, I still expect to hear of or experience vile misogyny on a weekly basis, because that is still the reality of the backdrop - even in 2018, even in the UK, where there has clearly been more progress on this agenda than in some other nations. The most cursory perusal of our domestic abuse statistics still attests to this.
The Presidents Club
Enter stage left: the Presidents Club debacle. This event – although ostensibly set up for charitable means – in its execution managed to contain plenty that Jesus hates: the wrong use and abuse of power, rather than the example his life gives us of self-emptying, of giving away your power to lift others up.
At this event, men used their money and power to act in a reckless way with no care for the impact on others, thus further establishing their dominance and power because, until now, they had been able to act without consequence.
I expect to hear of or experience vile misogyny on a weekly basis
I accept that not everyone there acted in an inappropriate way, but this was clearly an event and atmosphere that encouraged the dehumanisation of women; for women to be viewed as passive objects for admiration or even harassment, while the male guests held the agency and power to use the objects as they wished.
It’s testimony to the moment we are in and the #MeToo movement that the journalist proposed this story in the first place and that so many major news networks ran with it as headlines. Another reason to be cheerful.
Harassment reduces women
Yet in the wake of this follows the report from Unite that nine out of ten hospitality workers have been harassed with 84.7 per cent also having witnessed the sexual harassment of a colleague; and The Stage’s report today that 31 per cent of respondents had been sexually harassed at work.
These statistics cover both men and women, though it’s worth reading in more detail to understand the nuance: for example, seven in ten waiting staff are female.
The sexual objectification of women (and of men), helps no one. It reduces women to two dimensional, passive, mute playthings of those with more power. It encourages men to view women as such. This is why how we see women operate in other spheres of life matters – be it in the film industry or in churches and events.
It is crucial to have diversity in our leadership and events; the moment we are in tells us it is not just a fringe concern. Allowing women to exist in three dimensions and not ascribing limiting tropes of “virgin”, “mother”, “whore”, is a good start. Making a promise to not run events with all-male or majority male panels is another.
God has made us as relational beings, each uniquely gifted and loved and yet made to be part of a greater whole. How can we do that if we marginalise and minimise the voice and agency of over 50 per cent of the population? We all miss out. We miss out on abundant life and the fullness of the image of God, when it’s clear our world needs these more than ever.
Sara Hyde has worked in the criminal justice system for ten years, primarily with women, following a first career in theatre. She goes to her local church in an inner city part of London. She was part of the inaugural Jo Cox Women in Leadership cohort and is vice chair of Fabian Women’s Network.
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