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Shortly after entering city hall, I invented the expression “meetings of men over 40 who wear ties”. I thought it summed up the type of meeting that would become a part of my life from that point onwards: consortia, boards of directors and management boards. These meetings exemplify something we already knew, but which some of us had never experienced before: that it is men who occupy management positions and spaces of representation and decision-making. There’s a startling gender and age bias that effects how people behave in these meetings. These are the spaces that give meaning to the idea of “feminizing politics”.
This week I’ve attended one of these meetings of men over 40 who wear ties. A meeting of businessmen and public officials. It’s a place I go to regularly. I often arrive just on time. At the first meetings, when I didn’t yet know anybody, I would go straight to my seat, which is marked with a plastic nameplate that says “Gala Pin”. In the second meeting, I arrived a little early, went to my seat and sat with my computer. When the president arrived, he greeted the people who were standing. As he approached me, I began to stand up to shake his hand, but I got stuck in the seat and couldn’t get up quickly enough. The president wanted to greet me and so, without hesitation, he kissed me on the forehead. On the forehead. Gender, age and class bias. He wouldn’t have done the same with any other woman in the room. I didn’t know how to react. Or, rather, I kept my temper. A while ago I learned that my body has a primitive reaction when I get angry (something that used to happen just once or twice a year): the hairs on the back of my neck stand on end. It’s imperceptable to the human eye, but I notice it. At that moment, I felt the hairs stand on end, something I’ve learned to interpret as a sign saying “don’t react viscerally now because later you’ll regret it”. So I was left confused. And frustrated.
This week, a year on, the same man greeted me with a handshake. “Well done, Pin, macho”, I thought to myself. There weren’t many people there but, even so, we women were in a clear minority: four to 12 or 14 men. One of the women was the person taking notes (I’ve still never seen a man take notes). After a few speeches, someone pointed out that there was a new member in the room (a woman, the fourth woman), who had joined the meeting to substitute a former member. I transcribe: “of course, how on earth could I not notice such beauty?!” “We’re delighted to have this beauty here”. Confusion (by which I mean “the hairs on the back of my neck stand on end”). The meeting continued and, what a coincidence, it was my turn to speak. I left my demand that women not be talked about in terms of our physical appearance to the end. My tone was one of condemnation and not a little disgust. “You won’t stop this president, he’s a Donjuan”. Adolescent laughter from men of over 40 who wear ties, companionship. Confusion. Time travel.
It was another man’s turn to speak. At the end of his speech, he took the opportunity to support my demand. The only one who did so. Murmurs. The NewBeautifulWomanMember who, in reality, is the WomanRepresentativeOfAnImportantSectorOfTheCity, felt herself to be the subject of debate. So she shyly spoke up to say she really didn’t mind. Confusion mixed with discomfort. At the end of the meeting the president came to speak to me. He joked that if I had no idea how angry I’d get if I heard the comments he made to his wife.
Meetings of men over 40 who wear ties. If a world of men, through the eyes of men, with the gestures of men, the treatment of men, the deafness of men. We call it heteropatriarchy.
Gala Pin is a Barcelona City Councillor.