On the 24th January, members of the Durham Union Society voted against the motion "This House Believes Feminists Are All Too Often Sexists In Disguise" after speeches from Mike Buchanan, Swayne O'Pie, Cindy Gallop and Julie Bindel.
In arguing that this house believes feminists are all too often sexists, Mike Buchanan began the debate by calling for self-reflection rather than unquestioning feminism from those who might oppose such a notion. Mike Buchanan is a British writer, publisher, and men's human rights advocate and leader of the political party Justice for Men & Boys. Aside from professional politics, he also practices authorship, having written a book called Feminism: The Ugly Truth. "Feminism attracts little serious opposition in the developed world," the book begins, "which is extraordinary given that it's systematically and progressively assaulting men, women, marriage, the family, government, the legal system, the media, academia, capitalism and much else". After stating that one in four children don't see their fathers due to "malicious mothers" he was heckled from the crowd but later received more sympathetic listening when stating statistics on refuge homes in the united kingdom where there are currently two hundred and six homes for women for every one refuge home for battered men. As he led his speech on to women in politics he claimed that the reason there were not more female politicians was that "far more men than women want a career in politics". His party recently made official complaints to the BBC for biased coverage of domestic violence on Newsnight and was eager to explain to the audience that for every three women victims there are two men unlike the perspective Newsnight portrayed of men only being perpetrators.
Julie Bindel, an English writer, feminist and co-founder of the group Justice For Women, later disputed these claims and put the figures down to men counting mere "nagging" as abuse. She was quick to point out that two women die every week at the hands of violent men, "where are the men in the morgues" she asked the audience.
Speaker Cindy Gallop, advertising CEO and entrepreneur, began the proposition by introducing herself, "I am a feminist and for whoever is interested I'm not wearing a bra". From the outset the members of the society were on her side due to her engaging and humorous speech that touched on ways of "making the world fifty-fifty informed and influenced by men and women", mainly through sex and business. She vocalised her desire to change the way society has been set, for historical reasons, as male-led by default. Her web platform 'MakeLoveNotPorn' aims to change the lack of honest, open conversation about sex. One way of changing the "male-centred construct" of sex was to create a new, less masculine, vocabulary for sex by replacing phrases like "pounding" and "finger-blasting" with less aggressive words like "juicy" and "downtown". This coupled with bringing more female values into the boardroom like "collaboration" and "consensus" would make us all, especially men, a lot happier she promised. Cindy stated that "forcing men into a construct of masculinity that they don't want to subscribe to" was beneficial to no one as, after all, we need to build the world we want together. I am sure I was not the only one who left the debate feeling inspired by Ms Gallop's words of encouragement and enthusiasm about deconstructing male-dominated elements of society.
Swayne O'Pie is the author of 'Why Britain Hates Men' and is an active member of Fathers4Justice he spoke second for the proposition and talked largely on his experiences in sexism with the education system. As the holder of multiple degrees in gender studies he believes that the lack of texts available on men's studies is appalling in UK universities. He explained that Reading University currently have "1,982 books on gender studies & feminism and only 3 on men's studies". A question from the floor, from Josh Bailey, challenged Mr O'Pie on this point and stated that "the synonym for men's studies is...studies. If you want to know the synonym for men's politics its politics. That's why we need feminist history books" which received applause from the audience. Nonetheless Swayne continued to explain that bias was institutionalised by the feminist ideologues who had an agenda to pursue and that this was reflected in the books on their library shelves. Mr O'Pie's point about the sexist nature of the NUS touched student sentiments as he explained that despite there being a "LGBT officer", "women's officer" and "black officer" there is no officer that currently represents men's rights.
Speaking last was Julie Bindel, who began by saying "where do I start" with a sigh. Her quick recall of facts, campaigns and cases made her speech passionate and convincing. I couldn't help but feel the two speakers for the opposition had the advantage of being such naturally engaging speakers. She introduced the topic by explaining that feminism is not, and has never been, about women getting together and picking on men. It was born from necessity. Julie's main expertise comes from her work with the 'Justice for Women' campaign and she spoke extensively on "what women have to endure at hands of the judiciary" and why this must change. Some of the thought-provoking case studies she told about women who had been convicted of murder for retaliating to domestic abuse in comparison to men who had received "sympathy in the courtroom" and been convicted of manslaughter in similar circumstances were especially harrowing.
It was fascinating to see how Durham's students assessed feminisms overall effect as they finally concluded that feminists were not sexists by a general aye. Amongst the fine array of speakers the first debate of Epiphany term enabled Union Society members to visit The Debating Chamber which is situated between the traditional glory of the Castle and Cathedral on Palace Green in the midst of Durham's World Heritage Site. After the debate the society's members were able to join the speakers for drinks and discussion. The Union has always had a taste for controversy when it comes to feminism, in 1914 it pushed for women to have the vote-fourteen years before universal suffrage. The Union has been unafraid to challenge established thinking since and the debates offer students a way to challenge their own preconceptions of the society we all live in.