Five minutes into the Munk Debates on November 15 and I was ready to steal a line from one of the debaters' recent books. In How to be a Woman, Caitlin Moran says, "One doesn't want to be as blunt as to say, 'girls get the f-k off the podium ─ you're letting us all down,' but: Girls, get the f-k off the podium ─ you're letting us all down."
Moran serves up this blow in her book in the context of her first experience watching exotic dancers and how they beleaguer feminism. And here I was wishing the same of four women I've admired for years, onstage debating the "The End of Men: Be it resolved that men are obsolete." Face in my hands, cringing at what these women -- billed as voices of modern feminism -- were saying. Get off the stage, I thought. You're hurting feminism more than you're helping it right now. For the first time in my life, as a proud graduate of York University's Women's Studies program who was raised on Gloria Steinem and Naomi Wolf, I felt anxious identifying as a feminist.
How could, and where did, the debate go so horribly wrong? Arguing the affirmative -- that men are, in fact, obsolete -- was American writer Hanna Rosin and Pulitzer-winning columnist Maureen Dowd. On the con side was British culturist and commentator Caitlin Moran and the celebrated academic Camille Pagila. With four powerhouse women debating such a relevant, charged topic, it was shocking what ensued.
It wasn't a smart, interesting debate. It was a weak, vapid panel discussion at best. The topic of the debate could have been tweaked ever-so-slightly to be more conducive to debate (perhaps, "be it resolved that patriarchy is obsolete", or "be it resolved that the role of the traditional man is obsolete"). Indeed, the four participants' opening and closing statements were used as personal soapboxes to deliver totally off-topic rants on the diminishing respect of traditional labour trades, irrelevant references to film noire and girlish speculation on male grooming.
The moderator's questions were evaded -- sometimes completely ignored -- as evident by Dowd who at one point reached over, picked up notes from her opening statement and began to read them, wildly out of context.
How did four contemporary feminists, and apparent thought leaders, make it through 90 minutes of debate without touching on a single pressing issue? No discussion of shifts in patriarchy, division of household labour, the hijacking of women's sexuality, reproductive rights, wage gaps or systemic rape on the other side of the world. No mention of the names "Malala Yousafzai" or "Jyoti Singh." Just an insipid, irrelevant chat among four privileged women. Arguments were shapeless and ineffective, and worse yet, delivered with far too many valley girl affectations. Thank goodness for Moran's humour and a short video clip of Naomi Wolf─the only reprieves in the evening.
So to the ladies of The Munk Debates: you let us down. You made the matter of modern feminism seem silly and flippant, which is the opposite of what modern feminists seeks to achieve. They want a seat at the table, to articulate their concerns, press for change and ask questions that prompt action. They want to be taken seriously and to use their voices and platforms for progress. So, girls, leave it to the real women to take up the charge. Get the f-k off the podium ─ you're letting us all down.
*This article previously appeared in the National Post.