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How Not to Bring About Gender Equality: A Note to Evan Thornley

By this stage I’m sure we’ve all heard about technology entrepreneur Evan Thornley’s speech at the Sunrise Startup Conference, held in Sydney on September 19th. Whether or not anyone believes what he has since come out and said in defense of his misogynistic comments; he had hoped to initially get across to his audience that, “gender inequality sucks everywhere but [especially] in tech – I do what I can to combat it”, is an entirely different matter.

Highlighting that, “ The Australian Labor market, and the World Labor market just consistently and amazingly undervalue women in so many roles and particularly in our industry”, is a perfectly fine thing to do. Where it gets a little precarious… to say the least, is in Thornley’s insistence that he’s, “not advocating that inequality should stay, but I’m just saying, there’s an opportunity for forward thinking people”, referencing here the opportunity to hire women “for still often relatively cheap, for what we would have to pay someone less good [of] a different gender”, Thornley may have spoken too soon, when obviously including himself in this group of forward- thinking people. Did he not envisage even some of the backlash he would have invoked; for at best a poorly executed and carelessly considered deliverance, and at worst a speech riddled with sexism and prejudice?

In this same week, Emma Watson, acting as Goodwill Ambassador for UN Women, spoke on behalf of the campaign HeForShe that was launched by the UN. Delivering one one of the most powerful speeches on feminism I’ve ever heard, Emma thanks the “Inadvertent feminists” who shaped her. Her parents who “didn’t love [her] less because [she] was born a daughter”, her school who “ did not limit [her] because she was a girl”, and her mentors who “didn’t assume that [she] would go less far, because [she] might give birth to a child one day”. These were her “gender equality ambassadors… changing the world today”.

Speaking on behalf of women everywhere, Emma stated that she thinks, “it is right that socially [she] is afforded the same respect as men”. I agree with her that this is a human right, one that should not be overlooked or taken for granted.

I apologise to Emma Watson for juxtaposing her great efforts toward gender equality, to Thornley’s steps backwards; having said that, it is difficult not to notice that when Emma asked for men to join the movement, we can be sure that she wasn’t asking men like Thornley to ridicule women, even if their intentions are good. In my opinion, degrading a group of people in hopes of establishing change, if that was indeed his motivation, does nothing to separate you from oppressors of women the worldover.

The irony that Thornley explains was misinterpreted in his speech, was certainly lost on me, as it clearly was to many. To see this unfortunate situation optimistically, we can look to all the people who have come out against what he has said, and be grateful for the resurgence of feminist discussion.

WORDS BY  EMILY  STRANEY

To view videos of each of the speeches, please find the links below:

http://www.smh.com.au/it-pro/business-it/evan-thornley-causes-stir-with-sexist-comments-at-sunrise-startup-conference-20140922-10kiku.html

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Q0Dg226G2Z

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