You may not be aware of this unless you're active on political Twitter, but there's been a heated spat over the last few days about a Yes East Kilbride event that took place last Thursday. David Hooks (aka PoliticsScot) was on the panel, and had spoken in advance about what a big step it was for him to give a presentation in front of an audience, something he had never done before. As you'd expect, there was enormous support and appreciation for him putting himself out there and conquering his fears in aid of the Yes movement...or at least there was until a bunch of radical left zealots came along and told him he was a disgrace for having been part of a "manel" (a thoroughly dehumanising word for all-male panel), and that he should have refused to participate unless there had been female speakers. The organisers pointed out they had approached seventeen women, but every single one had declined to take part in the event. The response from the radical left? The event should have been cancelled.
Not surprisingly, David was extremely upset, and I can't say I blame him. In his shoes, I'd have felt hurt and betrayed. You do something way outside your comfort zone, you do it for no reward, you travel at your own expense...and then you're told that you should have just stayed at home because your presence on that panel was offensive. Nothing to do with the content of what you said - just who you are, your anatomy, made you offensive, and everyone would have been much better off if you hadn't been there. Do the people who come out with this sort of stuff have even an ounce of human empathy? Are they not aware of how directing cruel comments of that sort to someone at a moment of vulnerability can reinforce phobias or a general lack of confidence, and thus cause a lifetime of harm? Or do they know exactly what they're doing and just don't care, because the individual in question happens to be a man?
As for the notion that the event should have been completely called off, or that financial inducements should have been offered to potential female speakers until at least one agreed, it's difficult to know whether to laugh or cry. Local Yes groups are not the BBC - if they can't organise events on a shoestring budget, they can't organise events at all. They can do their level best to achieve diversity, but they've got a right to expect that their level best should be considered good enough. In any case, just how many boxes are they expected to tick before the zealots say it's OK for an event to go ahead? On a panel of five, should at least one person always be gay or bisexual? Should at least one person always be transgender? Should at least one person always be a citizen of another EU country? Should at least one person always be non-white? Should at least one person always be a wheelchair user? Should there always be at least one person with autism? If it's not possible to achieve all of these things all of the time, should no events ever take place? Should Yes campaigning cease completely? This is absolute lunacy.
The controversy reached the pages of the Herald today with an article by Shona Craven suggesting that the real issue is that male Yes activists somehow have an inbuilt funding advantage and are subject to less nastiness than their female counterparts, and that women therefore shouldn't really be asked to put themselves forward for panels without monetary compensation. Here's the key paragraph, which has since been quoted approvingly by the radical left's self-appointed "enforcer" James McEnaney -
"Women in the movement who are prominent in the media – especially if they refuse to toe a pro-SNP line – are regularly accused of using the 2014 referendum to carve out nice little careers for themselves. There's a suggestion this is at best grubby and unseemly, and at worst a cynical ploy by scheming, opportunistic women who refuse to wheesht for indy like good girls. Meanwhile, prominent Yes men rake in thousands via crowdfunding campaigns and are defended to the hilt, even when their behaviour causes embarrassment to the movement as a whole. There is a glaring double standard here, and women notice it."
You don't need me to point out that most of that is based on a false premise. I would guess that "women are regularly accused of using the 2014 referendum to carve out nice little careers for themselves" is at least partly a reference to GA Ponsonby, who has indeed regularly made that criticism of women like Angela Haggerty - but the snag is that he's also regularly made an identical criticism of men like Loki. It's never been an attack based on gender, but rather on his personal belief that for certain individuals of both genders, career advancement within the mainstream media comes before the best interests of the Yes movement. If gender equality means anything, it surely means that women are individuals with the capacity to make free choices and that criticising a specific woman's actions is not synonymous with hating women.
By the same token, it's deeply disingenuous for Shona to imply that only "Yes men" have raked in thousands via crowdfunders for alternative media websites. CommonSpace is edited by a woman, has many female columnists and reporters, and is generously funded by donations from Yes supporters. Bella is edited by a man, but its fundraisers have benefitted both male and female writers. NewsShaft had a mixed gender team when it ran its very successful fundraisers.
What interests me most, though, is this bit: "There is a glaring double standard here, and women notice it."
Well, I'm a bloke, and I've noticed a glaring double-standard in all this. Here it is in pictorial form -
That was posted only a few weeks ago by one of the people who argued that the Yes East Kilbride event should have been cancelled if no female panellist could be found to take part, and that it was the responsibility of the male panellists to pull out if the organisers refused to cancel. So what does she do when faced with an all-female panel? Does she demand cancellation? Does she pressurise the panellists to withdraw? Does she argue that financial inducements should have been offered until at least one man agreed to attend?
Nope, she punches the air in delight.
And, yes, we all know what the excuse is - all-female panels are good because they're a blow against the patriarchy, and all-male panels are bad because they reinforce the patriarchy. But that's Orwellian doublethink, pure and simple. It uses ideological blind faith to deligitimise discussion of a blatant contradiction that everyone knows can't be justified in any rational way.
Put it this way - even if you think that positive discrimination is still needed to advance gender equality, there will surely come a point when the goal has been broadly achieved and these double standards can no longer be defended. At that point, either the celebration of all-female panels will have to be accompanied by the celebration of "manels" - or both all-male and all-female panels will have to be shunned. Which is it to be?