The He For She campaign first hit international headlines in 2014 when Emma Watson launched the initiative with a speech on male participation in the search for gender equality.
Now The University of Nottingham (UoN) has experienced its first campaign as part of the #GetFree university tour. The event took place in Keighton Auditorium on Wednesday 30th September.
The event began with a welcome talk by Sir David Greenaway, Vice-Chancellor of UoN, who discussed the importance of the gender equality agenda at UoN.
He told listeners that he felt the He For She campaign was “absolutely breathtaking in its ambition” to reach one billion males across the planet – 15-18% of the world’s population.
He added that the University is “focused on the agenda [of gender equality] and is making some progress”, noting that the gender split among students is close to 50:50, with only slightly more female students.
Sir Greenaway told of the need for improvement in senior leadership, however, where there are 42% of females and 58% of males in the top positions.
“We have a dream to create a gender equal word and to do that we need your support”
Next to speak was Elizabeth Nyamayaro, Head of UN Women, who spoke of her desire to “serve as a source of inspiration” for those present.
She told listeners: “We have a dream to create a gender equal world and to do that we need your support. What we share is more powerful than what divides us – we all want the same things, but we cannot achieve an equal world with half the team sitting on the bench”.
Elizabeth shared that within three days of the original He For She launch, more than 100,000 men had signed up and 1.2 billion conversations had taken place on social media.
The #GetFree tour, labelled by Elizabeth as a “listening tour” in which speakers “want to learn from students” is to be taken to Africa, the Middle East and South America, where Elizabeth told students that international listeners “want to know what you stand for as well”.
“This is the generation that will go down in history as having ended gender inequality”
She closed her speech by asking for “a world where gender is no longer used as an insult, a world in which we can all explore our own gender identity without the judgemental labels that come with it, and a world where we can talk about our feelings”.
Her final words were: “The freedom to be who we are – it starts today. It is as simple as the words that we choose to use today and moving forward. This is the generation that will go down in history as having ended gender inequality, and no one is equal until we’re all equal”.
Following Elizabeth’s speech was a talk by keynote speaker Emma Barnett, Women’s Editor of The Telegraph.
Emma asked: “If we have all of the laws, why do we still have the Vice-Chancellor of a leading university telling us there are more men than women in leadership positions?”
Her talk focused on ambition and the invisible barriers that women may face in achieving their ambitions.
“Too many women lose custody of their own ambition”
She told listeners: “Too many women lose custody of their own ambition”, before explaining four invisible barriers that women experience: “poisonous presumptions”, “nice guy misogyny”, “dumb denial” and the “imitation game”.
For “poisonous presumption”, Emma cited “subtle second generation bias” perpetrated by both men and women and which is difficult to legislate.
Emma also warned that “nice guy misogynists do not come with a warning”. Using research from 2012, Emma showed that men with stay-at-home wives had positive views of women but were less likely to give them bonuses or promotions in the workplace.
When talking about “dumb denial”, Emma told of her friend’s difficulties in getting female colleagues to recognise and admit to the unequal ratio of male to female employees in her workplace.
Lastly, Emma spoke of the “imitation game”, where she suggested that women are preprogrammed from childhood experiences to feel inadequate if they do not fulfil activities which their mothers have also undertaken.
Emma closed her speech by telling listeners: “Just because you can’t see or hear it sometimes, or because various things are enshrined in law, doesn’t mean it isn’t there”.
Students’ Union Activities Officer, Rob Jennings was next to deliver a speech.
Rob acknowledged that the campaign would meet people who would downplay its importance and argue that feminism is not needed in Britain.
However, he argued that “feminism is relevant and needed in the UK, this city and this university” because in 2013, Nottinghamshire Police answered 10,000 calls about domestic abuse and at UoN “our female students are still met with sexual harrassment in clubs”.
The event closed with a panel discussion featuring speakers Angharad Smith (AS), President of the Students’ Union, Karen Cox (KC), Deputy Vice-Chancellor at UoN, Jessica McGee (JM) from the Social Impact programme and Physics Professor Philip Moriarty.
Q by Philip Moriarty: What do you see as the biggest challenge for your organisation in addressing gender equality?
Karen spoke of “subtle things about our culture” and the need to feel “confident enough to question what we see”. Jessica added the importance of knowing what is meant by “empowerment”, whilst Angharad reflected on the Freshers’ Week 2014 chanting scandal as demonstrating that students “aren’t aware of how their language can hurt people”.
Q: What makes HeForShe different?
Both speakers talked of collectivity, with Karen saying a “collective movement” was required and Angharad noting that the campaign “has brought us all together”.
Q: Why hasn’t there been a lot of recognition for the Feminist society?
AS: We are amazed at what the Feminist society has already done and celebrate their work. However, this is also about people who might not have thought about gender equality before.
Further atendees asked whether Rob Jennings’s speech should have referred to men as “champions” or “allies”, whether the University could do more to target gender inequality at an earlier age and whether sexism could sometimes come from caring environments.
The next event for the #GetFree tour will take place on 7th October in the Hub between 18:30 and 21:30.
Tamsin Parnell and Amy Wilcockson
Image: University of Nottingham Students’ Union Twitter