Warning: Very Angry Woman Speaking

Sure, I will write a reflection on Being a Public Intellectual. But before I do so, I need to  do some shouting over an issue which has, pardon my French, pissed me off.

It all started when I was reading a newspaper article on the Dutch version of TEDx. Economist Heleen Mees will speak at the event, which will take place next week. The bruhaha surrounding this in itself not very newsworthy announcement is related to the fact that Mees is currently prosecuted in New York, where she lives, for stalking. Obviously this raises the question whether she should be allowed to speak at an event like TEDx. I will not go into this issue here, even though I will happily do so later on over a drink or two.

Because something else, which has not been commented upon, struck me. Organiser Jim Stolz gave the following reason for the decision to let Mees’s talk take place despite her prosecution: “Interesting female speakers are hard to find.” Yep, he really said it. Look. I had to stop reading to pick my jaw off the floor.

Of course this statement can be explained away as insignificant, a fine example of misquotation, a case of oversensitivity on my part. But I don’t really care whether Jim Stolz actually thinks that interesting speakers are hard to find. What worries me is that he can make the statement without anyone commenting on how ridiculous it is.

I am very suspicious of quota and other measures which are supposed to make women more visible, as I believe they are a form of positive discrimination. This does not mean, obviously, that this comment did not piss me off. For my reason to be against quota is not that I don’t want to see more women in the media but because I think we don’t need help. We are perfectly capable of achieving our goals on our own, thank you very much.

Nevertheless, this little quote has made me think. I did a little exercise and tried to list as many interesting female speakers as I could think of. I immediately came up with fifty names from the top of my head. Obviously some more thinking would have led to more. This exercise proves that interesting female speakers are not hard to find. I didn’t even need to look for them. They are everywhere. In fact, I will take the risk of sounding incredibly arrogant and think of myself as one. For, after all, what is the point of talking to other people if you think you’re boring as hell?

Last time I checked I did not use my genitals for speaking. The fact that I was born without a penis is utterly irrelevant in this context. Individuals can be interesting speakers or they can bore you to death, but their gender does not play a role in all that. Claiming that interesting female speakers are hard to find is stupid at best and – yep, I will use the word – very sexist at worst. It worries me that not a single journalist questioned Stolz’s statement. I hope one will. But to be perfectly honest with you, I’m not very optimistic. They’re probably more interested in Mees’s juicy escapades. It’s just the way it is.

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