Since I was admitted as a Weidenfeld-Hoffmann scholar, the activity I have enjoyed the most has been the Robin Hambro Moral Philosophy seminars. During these meetings, I have realized how unaware I have been of the discussions that entangle our relations as human beings and as part of a broader society. I am an engineer, and in this field of knowledge most of the challenges have a ‘right’ answer and a straightforward solution. In contrast, in Moral Philosophy Seminars, I have witnessed how complex the social science discussions are and how communal and individual perspectives can shape a shared knowledge; sometimes finding overlapping agreements and sometimes only disagreement. However, I have never been privy to a discussion with such a rich and honest amount of agreement between a diverse group of males and females from as multifaceted a background as those at the WHT’s Moral Philosophy Seminar on Feminism.
The Seminar on Feminism was moderated by Diana Popescu and led by Nikolas Kirby. The core readings for the seminar involved important feminist thinkers like Mary Wollstonecraft, Simone de Beauvoir, Sojourner Truth and Iris Young. Taking these readings as a base for the discussion, on the first day of March 2019 at Nuffield College, more than 20 scholars from politics, business, environmental sciences and other areas provided me with the tools to understand what feminism is about.
Women’s struggle for equality has been developed by three main movements; sufferage, access to education and equity in the professional world. These are just the beginning of the decades long fight for women’s rights. These ideas represent the so called ‘first wave’ of feminism. With every achievement of women, it has become obvious that the problem is more complex; it has deep roots in society and more subtle forms of discrimination remain. Thus, the surge of the ‘second wave’ of feminism continues the struggle to overcome the public and private oppression of women. We must be concerned by the lack of understanding within patriarchal / male dominated societies that ‘equal rights’ are not enough if women are not able to exercise them effectively.
In my opinion, our collective imagination has been very limited in tackling these problems. There are still forms of direct and indirect discrimination and the idea of women as “The Other” in relation to men still frames them in a secondary role. We need to address these big issues, not only through direct action by women but also the efforts of men. Men need to understand the problem and in addition to all concerns of ‘second wave’ movements, we need to realize and recognize the diversity within the women’s empowerment movement too i.e. the problems of a white women are not necessarily the same as those of a black women. The concerns of women need to be fundamentally understood and acknowledged first and maybe then, our imaginations can really start providing pragmatic and relevant solutions beyond ‘providing’ rights.
During the seminar, many of the comments were related with what Iris Young established as the five faces of oppression. Women are still marginalized, 50% of the world’s population is still deprived of properly participating in social life. They are still exploited, for example, women still have a double work day; combining career and a highly active role in the private/family setting. There is a form of ‘cultural imperialism’ at play and the domination of men has rendered the perspective of women in a secondary role. Additionally, women still lack access to power positions in public and private affairs thus being subjected, in the worst cases, to actions of violence by a dominant group of men.
As a man, having the opportunity to listen to examples and points of view of fellows WHT Scholars, women from all around the world, really piqued my interest in the feminst agenda and significantly enlightened my perspective. It is after participating in this forum that I have come to realize how relevant and necessary it is for men to take concrete actions to avoid another 100 years of women’s struggle for equality. As my dear friend Zamiyat Abubakar from Nigeria said, “men listen to men” and those of us who consider understanding this relevant issue must “call out sexist remarks, encourage men to educate themselves and contribute everyday to make the 50% of population lives better”.