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Speak Up: Where's the Diversity in the EU Referendum Debate?

16/06/2016 16:56

young voter

I've already written about the EU referendum, in particular about how I'm going to vote and why. But when I did, I wasn't prepared for the responses.

Of course, I always knew there'd be trolls. People who call me stupid things for no reason. To the guy who implied that sexism wouldn't exist if I had a boyfriend; spoiler alert, I've got a boyfriend and it's still there. But then two things surprised me concerning the replies and comments.

Firstly, people are hella angry. Like I'm surprised we've not had some sort of EU referendum riot yet. Don't get me wrong, I completely understand that it's obviously an issue which is going to encourage passion, but what I saw was beyond that. People would post their opinions, but in such a disrespectful and often offensive way. I really mean it when I say that only a teeny, tiny, minority of comments were in a healthy debate tone. I don't reply to comments which are rude, but I always make the effort otherwise, because that's the whole point of opinion journalism: to spark debate. But debate does not consist of ending your angry comment with 'shame on you!'.

At this point, I harked back to that saying 'agree to disagree'. No one will agree with everyone, but you can still go about challenging other people's views in an appropriate way which is very helpful to democracy. I myself have been respectfully challenged on my comments which has helped me reflect on certain aspects of the debate that I hadn't considered. I'm very grateful for that. But most of my commenter's can't accept that others will disagree and so they resort to offence.

Is this reaction caused by social media and online articles? Or rather was it always there but now it has a mechanism to be noticed? Either way, I was really surprised about the prevalence of it, and quite disappointed.

Which leads me to my second observation: where are all the women? I say this a lot generally, but in this case I refer to the almost complete lack of women on my comment feed as well as likes and shares etc. Not only that, but where's the diversity generally? On my most recent Facebook post of my previous EU referendum article EVERY SINGLE commenter was a white male.

I believe I'm very well versed in the effects of patriarchy (see my other articles) but I wasn't expecting this. Or rather I was surprised when it happened. I racked my brain for a while trying to come to some conclusion as to why this is.

My first guess, is that it's linked to a historical social construct that politics is for men, and women shouldn't worry their 'pretty little heads' about it (excuse my while I vomit). Systematically, politics isn't made for women to engage or make meaningful contributions to. Or any contributions actually, there wasn't even an offensive unhelpful argument from a woman in my comments. This would also be a good point to link to the lack of female representation in politics. Subconsciously, the fact that most of the people we see on TV talking about the EU referendum are old white men doesn't exactly scream encouragement for alternate voices.

This particular reason probably has a hand in any other reason also. This issue will be underlying in every political debate, but if it was the sole or main reason for my lack of women commenters then, jeez, that really sucks for feminism.

My second thought was about nature vs nurture. I can be a bit of an existentialist, so I'm all for nurture, but I had to challenge myself on this. Was it that women were just not as argumentative? Was it that women did care as much but aren't as prone to sharing it on a random Facebook comment? I feel this would be a great dissertation topic for any politics students, so if this takes your fancy let me know, I'd want to be the first to read it!

At this point, I wasn't convinced about this second issue, so I left that one behind and went on. I realised that I was a woman. And I wrote the article. Well not just then, I've known it all along but I was just reminded of that fact. Is this issue related to the fact that the article was written by a female author? Let's delve deeper.

I think by now we can safely say that there's a lack of female voices on political matters but in particular regarding the EU referendum campaign, so it's interesting to make a connection between a female author getting many male responses. It could be suggested that men feel more comfortable in commenting on an article written by a woman and this is what has led to the disproportionate results. I wouldn't be surprised if there was some link between men being more likely to challenge women on their views online than other men, that seems easy to believe but again, more research would be needed to figure out whether this was an actual theme. However, for this article, I do think it's relevant to have dwelled upon.

Now you may be thinking, well this is all very interesting but what's your point? Wait no longer, here it is; get talking women! I understand that there's a lot of other ways to have a voice on this issue as well as others, not just commenting on a Facebook post or article. But still, we need to see diversity on all levels of the debate. And also, as this isn't just a gender issue, we need to see way more people of colour represented and, I imagine (pure speculation), more LGBT+ voices too.

There's more to the world than Facebook comments of course, but there's also so many voices not being heard too. And if you don't speak out, then you won't get listened too, continuing the cycle of decisions made by and for white men.

HuffPost UK Young Voices is running a month-long focus on the EU Referendum, examining what is at stake for Britain's young people on 23 June and why it's imperative you register to vote and have your say. If you want to have your say and blog on our platform around this topic, email ukblogteam@huffingtonpost.com. Register to vote here.

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