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In case you missed it, Iceland and the South American country Suriname announced last week a “barbershop” gender conference that intentionally excludes women.

“We want to bring men and boys to the table on gender equality in a positive way,” Iceland’s Foreign Minister Gunnar Bragi said in a speech to the U.N.

If you find that odd, you’re not alone. Erica Buist of The Guardian wonders doubtfully whether “feminism advanced so far that women’s voices no longer need to be heard.”

It might sound somewhat counter-intuitive that, so soon after feminism became cool enough for Beyoncé to silhouette herself against the word “feminist” at the MTV Video Music awards, women should be ushered out of the room to let the men talk. My gut says this is, overall, a terrible idea. But has my gut considered the potential pros?

Traditionally (read: stereotypically), feminism was something about which women talked and men rolled their eyes. If male leaders are planning to talk about it among themselves, perhaps the discussion is no longer something women are expected to teach, explain and drag men into. As the journalist Robyn Pennacchia puts it: “The tendency many well-intentioned men have of derailing conversations with easily Google-able questions and then asking: ‘Well, how can I learn feminism if you won’t teach me?’, tends to be frustrating for many of us.”

The writer Leigh Alexander points out the uniquely frustrating issue that stalks online comment boards beneath reports of women experiencing online harassment in a blog entitled, “But what can be done: dos and don’ts to combat online sexism”. Women experiencing online harassment often also have to contend with the question: “But what solutions would you recommend?” She describes this as being “akin to walking up to a person who is on fire and asking them to bring you a bucket of water so that you can ‘help’”.

Perhaps this conference is an encouraging step towards male leaders joining the fight, and well-intentioned men working out where they can source buckets of water as needed.

So why Suriname? According to The Associated Press, “Iceland and Suriname fall at nearly opposite ends of global rankings on women’s rights.”

— Posted by Peter Z. Scheer

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