I spend more time than I should talking about what annoys me, from my neighbours who believe that everyone in our block loves to hear pulsating dance music from 3 to 5am, to people chatting on train quiet carriages I am never short of an irritant but my ire is usually focused on some of the views I encounter at work.
From the dismissal of my role and my work as an add-on to NUS’ real purpose, the tired jokes about feminism, the 100th conversation about why the Miss University pageant isn’t just a “bit of fun” but whilst these things annoy me they’re usually forgotten after a tea and a moan with my housemate, filed away as just part of the job and more often than not solved through dialogue.
But this isn’t a blog about what annoys me; it’s about something that really upsets me, the veneer of feminism in our movement. A sheen that is soon lost when people have to challenge their own cosy political view. When people have to step up and give real support, not just deliver tired platitudes.
The best and perhaps the worst example of this behaviour was the last NUS NEC meeting of this year. You’d be hard pushed to find anyone on the NEC who doesn’t tell you they believe in equal rights for women and I’d wager most members would call themselves feminists (or at least not look ill when you tell them you’re one) but at this meeting actions drowned out words.
The discussion was a simple one, should NUS affiliate to the Stop the War Coalition.
I spoke against the affiliation for a number of reasons particularly focused on STW’s refusal to condemn despotic regimes including Libya under Gaddafi, Syria where the Assad regime is currently engaging is the slaughter of citizens but particularly Iran, where STW have long been apologists for the theocratic government who amongst their various systematic oppressions had, the week before the NEC meeting, executed 4 men for being gay.
The reason I chose to speak against the affiliation however was that STW had organised a rally in support of Wikileaks founder Julian Assange, the rally was specifically to support him in his fight to be extradited to Sweden on charges of sexual assault.
The apologism for Assange on the left has been remarkable, with the women concerned being derided as amongst other things as sluts, CIA agents, sluts and part of a dangerous Swedish feminist agenda but I fully expected that NEC members would stand with me and with the women’s campaign when we said this apologism was a disgrace and something we should not associate ourselves with. It seems I was naïve.
A variety of arguments were laid out against my position as many women members of the NEC looked on in disgust when our male colleagues acted as apologists for those who seek to trivialise sexual assault and rape – it goes without saying that many men on the NEC were supportive of my position but only men spoke for affiliation.
I’ve paraphrased some of the arguments below and I’ll leave you to draw your own conclusions on the quality of them.
“Rape is used as a weapon of war so if we want to stop rape we should support stop the war”
“Other organisations do bad things and have members with bad views”
And post meeting “we couldn’t be sure if what Estelle was saying was right” not only a slight to me but rather troubling if NEC members don’t research organisations before we discuss affiliating to them.
Regardless of what was said the message was clear that my priorities were to come second to dogmatic support of an organisation, support that continued in spite of not because of its actions.
I’m part of a political faction and I know what it is to vote for a pre-arranged line but the sight of so many people blindly voting for a position against their declared politics, in spite of so many proclaiming independence yet refusing to deviate from their default faction simply to hold a position against the imagined “centre” and the sight of liberation representatives on the NEC voting for affiliation or refusing to take a stance by abstaining turned my stomach.
I won the fight but my idealism was mortally wounded. I have never felt so disillusioned by a political meeting in my life.
Even the apologetic tweet from an NEC member afterwards who said he shouldn’t have voted the way he had did little to ease my discomfort. I left the meeting as soon as it ended for the first time in three years not joining my colleagues for a drink afterwards.