Shami Chakrabarti talking at Mitchell Library, part of Aye Write! Festival (17th March)
In her book Of Women Shami Chakrabarti aims to talk about the role of women in the 21st Century across the globe. I don’t think I need to emphasise what a difficult topic this is to challenge. Not just the choice of topics, or the countless different experiences to include, but also the tone is crucial. Yet in her appearance as part of the Aye Write! festival, she manages to hit just the right note.
In a calm and relatively soft tone, she reads from her book to create the atmosphere for the rest of the event. She asks us to go along with her, and to imagine what it must be like for a sex-less alien travelling to Earth to discover that half of the population is discriminated against, regardless of the specific location where they land. She makes a strong claim to the overt nature in which this discrimination occurs, which she backs up through statistics and stories throughout her book.
What struck me was the way in which she managed to emphasise that regardless of class, urban or rural location, country, race, or any other category you could think of, gendered discrimination was an underlying experience. Similarly, the discussion that followed her reading from the book covered a diverse number of issues from #metoo, austerity measures, the need for anger, and the role of technology in this day and age. Her conclusion is that, for a limited time period, affirmative action is necessary.
Yet Shami Chakrabarti can in no way be claimed to be an oversimplifying, one-sided, man-hating woman. She was open to questions and differing opinions, made sure to emphasise that this was her personal approach to feminism and made no attempts to disqualify other approaches. Her reasoning for the need for affirmative action, and to try and ensure equality amongst genders, was that it would benefit all humans.
When looking back at the event, what I most remember is that it was an enjoyable evening that managed to combine serious and emotional topics with humour. It was a night of appreciative nods, thoughtful silences, and laughter. As Shami Chakrabarti says herself, what she loves about cultural and literary events is that ‘you’re still talking about politics, but it’s just not horrible!’