Leaving Britain’s Conversation

Late one weekday evening last week, I received an unexpected message via Twitter..

The irony of this appearing only 2 days after my little mouse confession was not lost on me.

My brain cycled through a number of thoughts; ‘This is cool’; ‘This definitely isn’t real; ‘How did they find me? Is it because I have the phrase “gender studies” in my bio?’; ‘Is this some sort of far-right prank?’

Beth and I emailed back and forth a couple of times; she explained that the following morning, on the LBC breakfast show, Nick Ferrari would be talking to people about new research findings from the Fawcett Society, on gender stereotypes. Would I be willing to speak to him, as a “gender expert”, about this? I agreed to do so at 8:35 am the following morning and went to bed.

In the morning, after a restless nights sleep, I messaged my family WhatsApp group and shared the thoughts I was cycling through. When I shared my quite paranoid worry about the far-right prank, my dad’s response was “further right than Nick Ferrari?” which led me to look into him a bit further. After watching some videos and reading his Wikipedia page, I learnt that I am not a fan of Nick Ferrari.

I had a think about how this scenario would play out if I did speak to him. The fantasy version was that I would remain cool and calm, respond to the research and explain my views on why I think gender stereotypes are harmful. I would be so eloquent and convincing and clever that I would convince Nick’s 1.3 million (weekly) listeners of my argument.

The other version was that I would be the flustered, little mouse version of myself and I would get caught in Nick’s inevitable trap that he/his team will have planned. I would convince the listeners that the gender/feminist lefties are even more ridiculous than they already believe, and they would close their ears completely. I would forever ruin the future of understanding gender stereotypes in the UK – and on a more selfish side, simply look stupid.

I quite liked how my sister put it – that callers generally seem to be selected to
a) be in agreement with the host’s point and offering new perspective or information to reinforce the host’s objective point, or
b) be fodder, subject to tearing apart

So, I decided not to do it, feeling ashamed of my reasons. I was being a wimp. I felt like I should do it. Equally as strong was the message ‘stop doing things because you think you should do them – only do them if you want to.’

This got me thinking about talking to people with opposing views. Like a lot of people, I find it much easier explaining my opinions to people who share similar views to me. The further apart we get in terms of viewpoint, the more difficult and uncomfortable I find it to explain what I think. This relates to the previous post I wrote about not wanting to speak up because of the fear of the repercussions. If I disagree and look stupid / do not explain myself eloquently, then this could have negative consequences. These could have implications for me professionally (being seen as unclear, ill-informed, not eloquent) and therefore for my own self-esteem (the disappointment and shame of not being able to explain my opinion).

I want to be very clear – I do not want to keep avoiding conversations with people who I imagine I will clash with. I think that humans need to get better at communicating with one another and therefore work better together despite coming from places of difference. Refusing to speak with people where that is the case will not get us anywhere better than where we are now. I am passionate about encouraging diversity in a meaningful way; diversity of opinion is part of this. I don’t think this will happen if we avoid these conversations, or if it feels impossible to have this kind of dialogue.

Now I know national radio is quite an extreme example of doing this. I don’t need to feel guilty for not speaking to someone who, in my opinion, has particularly toxic viewpoints. I think that in reality, when I stop the fantasy/nightmare scenario-building, I know it is okay that I didn’t speak to him. I know it is alright to stretch myself, rather than put myself into panic mode.

It also helped that Alexia Pepper de Caires, spokesperson for the Women’s Equality Party did speak to Nick at 8:35 am that morning, and she did a great job. (His contribution included accusing Alexia of having a problem with dinosaur t-shirts when she suggested the harm in labeling clothes according to age-old gender stereotypes).

I heard back from Beth, asking if I would like to talk on the show in the future. What would you do in a similar situation – if you were asked to speak in front of a lot of people with someone who you know completely disagrees with you? I still don’t know if there is any point engaging in conversations where you are only there as fodder.

Thank you to Katie and Ruby for proofreading