AFTER Nicola Sturgeon’s speech on Monday announcing plans for another independence referendum, she took various questions from journalists present. In the middle of the Q&A section a male journalist asked a question that was barely audible to a TV viewer but went on for an inordinately long time. Eventually Sturgeon interrupted and said: “Peter, it is customary for the journalist not to both ask and answer the question.
"To be clear, the usual form at these events is that you ask and I get to answer, but if you want to answer all my questions for me, that is absolutely fine.”
There is not a woman alive who has ever been on a stage or in an audience at any kind of event – be it a literary or film festival, a political rally or a corporate conference – who has not witnessed a man who, like the above journalist, was evidently off school all the days the teacher was teaching the basics of asking questions. Oblivious to the the needs of the moment, all they want to do is get their voice heard – and moderators and chairs at events, often afflicted by over-politeness, let them drone on until a member of the audience asks them to stop or someone on the panel starts laughing.
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I have spoken to more than one woman current affairs writer who is increasingly unwilling to attend panel events with Q&As as she is tired of constantly being told by men she is wrong, what she wrote was wrong and how she should have written it instead.
Rebecca Solynit’s book Men Explain Things To Me was a lifeline for women on both sides of the Atlantic, as too often women think their treatment by men is some kind of personal failing on their part. In fact, far too many men just think that asking and answering a question they are addressing to a woman, or telling a woman she is doing it wrong, writing it wrong or even thinking it wrong is normal and acceptable behaviour. The other acceptable behaviour it to assume a man is behind it, like Monday afternoon’s secret briefings saying Alex Salmond had made Nicola Sturgeon announce the referendum, which assumed a substantial number of people were eager to believe that a woman was incapable of making a decision like that herself.
If the next independence referendum is to be won, women are more than 50 per cent of the audience that need to be converted. Women need to be persuaded that the risks of becoming a small country that runs its own affairs – as part of a wider world and as part of a large trading organisation – are less than the near certainty of becoming a declining provincial back water, and a rural retirement home for those who can no longer afford to live in sunnier places. Women need to feel they can express their opinion, their doubts and their uncertainties about independence without being shouted down by Men Explaining Things. And not just in the private sphere.
I moved back up to Scotland to write a book and have stayed post-Brexit vote, and the one thing that has appalled me is the shocking lack of women discussing politics in the public arena. From down south, seeing Scotland’s three biggest parties being led by women, it was easy to put on some thick rosey glasses and congratulate Scotland on leaving sexism and old misogynist ways behind. I have been disabused of this notion by The Scotsmen Who Tell Me I Am Wrong On Twitter every single day, the ones who attack women for writing pieces they don’t agree with, and the below-the-line comments in Scottish newspapers from men determined to trash anything a woman writes – not just because they disagree, but far too often because she has the temerity to be a woman with an opinion.
For Scotland to become an independent country there is a desperate need for indy-supporting men to develop listening skills. This is not 2014. Many reluctant Nos – the ones who were frightened of being outside of the EU, of losing their pension, those unsure that Scotland could afford to be independent – will now be wary of the changes coming their way with Brexit. More than 50 per cent of these people are women and to win, the indy side needs to support and push women, of all ages and classes, to the forefront of their movement. They will have to listen to organisations like Women for Independence, actively listen, and then act upon what they say to encourage enough women to vote for independence in the next referendum.
Otherwise Scotland really will be lost.