Men at Meetings

In my last post (Confessions of a Former Liberal: Part I) I wrote that I’d been going to a few political meetings. So it turns out, I’m not going to be doing that any more. Why not? Read on…

Last week, a group whose kaupapa/ambitions I support (very liberal, I might add) had a meeting about all the parlous things going on in God Zone…poverty, inequality, mass incarceration, polluted water, suicide and so on.

(I think there’s a separate post in there somewhere about what it means to be constantly immersed in Just How Awful Everything Is, given that, what with climate change, over-population, automation/robotics, etc., it’s all going to get a whole lot worse in the coming years. But I’ll save that uplifting effort for another day.)

I digress. So, anyway, the panel of speakers did their thing. They were mostly interesting and I mostly agreed.  Then came the inevitable Q&A. It’s worth noting that this was not a young crowd at all. Mostly middle aged to older white people. (I need to run with a better class of people, I know!) I counted at least 12 questions only two of which were from women. And the other 10 were not actually questions. You know how it goes…guy gets up and pretends he has a question, but really he just wants to tell us what he thinks about X, Y or Z. He’s not the least bit interested in what anyone else has to say, and doesn’t give a shit about any 2-minute time limit for his “question”.

And they go on and on and on. And on. Men. One after the other after the other. Is anyone else noticing, I wonder? Imagine if the sex break-down was reversed and it was woman after woman after woman leaping to their feet? (There were no Māori represented in the questioners either, I suspect because there weren’t any at the meeting. There’s another post in that, too.) This always seems to happen at these kinds of political meetings. Why, I asked myself later, am I subjecting myself to sitting through all these ranty men when I can usually read what the speakers have to say somewhere online, minus the “Q” and speechifying.

In one sense, it’s a moderator problem. Moderators need to be ruthless. A friend told me about a moderator at a meeting she’d been to who, if the “questioner” didn’t immediately ask an actual question, would insist they sit down, and then move to the next person (man). And some moderators do try to encourage women and other non-dominant types to speak up. Good moderators are brilliant – I know I could never do it. But white men really don’t like to be told to shut up and sit down. I suppose no one does, but they seem to take a particular burn. After all, what they have to say is so terribly terribly important and they’re so very very right about it all.

But, in another much more depressing sense, this is a society problem. That is, the line-up of ‘questioners’ and what they then say perfectly reflects this society, which remains dominated by that very same group. So why wouldn’t they similarly dominate the “Q” & A time? It’s their opinion that counts the most, after all.

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