Jo Swinson on sexism, making space for learning and how equal power benefits us all

There’s a really good interview with Jo Swinson in online publication The Debrief. She talks about her book, Equal Power, and about how to combat the polarising culture we find ourselves in. Making time for learning is something she has found useful. Perhaps men who feel threatened by feminism might wish to approach the subject the way she approached the issue of racism by reading up and empathising with those who experience it. That, by the way, is something we should all think about in the wake of the Alderdice Review.

In our Twitter age…in this very polarised time where everything is painted in a very extreme light. It’s made to seem as though it’s one thing or its polar opposite but there has to be space for learning’. The truth is that the continuing fight for true equality between men and women is not, as Parris kept suggesting, about ‘winning’. Women’s equality will not be ‘won’ at the expense of men because a truly equal society will benefit us all.

A good example for the benefits of creating space for learning as opposed to polarising opposition, Swinson tells me was the impact of Renni Eddo-Lodge’s book Why I’m No Longer Talking To White People About Race. After reading it, she says she is ‘much more aware of the privilege’ she has ‘as a white skinned person’. Reading the book did not make her defensive or protective of her privilege but instead made her think ‘oh my goodness have I been blind to injustice’. She explains ‘in the same way that I’ve not experienced [racial] discrimination or discrimination about my sexual orientation, I have to listen and learn to people who have and realise that privilege – it’s similar for men – they might get it, or they might not get it, but they want to – we need to speak with them, so they can learn – this is what I suggest in my book – talking to your male friends and colleagues about your experiences’. Even individual conversations within a personal circle of trust can be powerful, she says in helping people to understand power dynamics because ‘when it’s your friend, sister or daughter telling you it’s harder to dismiss and easier to understand.’

I tell Swinson that I have tried to practice this when male friends make rape jokes or try to belittle conversations about sexual harassment. Instead of allowing my anger to boil over, I now ask them whether they’ve ever feared for their safety while walking home or worried about going to a work event because of what a colleague might do after a few drinks? ‘Exactly’ Swinson says ‘when Matthew Parris was talking about the unwanted advances he experienced from a woman [on Today] I wanted to say, “but did you fear for your safety Matthew because women in sexual harassment situations feel vulnerable for their safety”. The problem arises when men try to do the equalising thing’ she says, and suggest that their experience can be directly equated with a woman. What they’re not realising, Swinson points out is that ‘they can rebuff the advances in a way that won’t necessarily lead to violence against their person – but I understand that when men haven’t experienced that they might not be able to put themselves in those shoes.’

You can read the whole interview here. 

* Caron Lindsay is Editor of Liberal Democrat Voice and blogs at Caron's Musings

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