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Iceland has plans to hold a UN conference on gender equality, feminism, and sexual violence, with all of the attendees being men. The event is said to encourage men to talk about feminist issues in male spaces, but critics have taken a different stance in arguing that erasing women from the conference will lead to marginalising women’s issues further, which is the opposite intention of a conference on women’s issues.

This echoes a similar occurrence in the news, whereby Ben Affleck was praised for arguing against Islamaphobia and the persecution of Muslims as ‘extremists’ on Bill Maher’s television programme. While right-wing critics may have derided him, praise from the more leftist news outlets calls into questions why it is those outside of marginalised groups who receive praise, rather than the members fighting themselves.

Of interest to PPE and HSPS students is Latoya Peterson’s piece for the Guardian (http://www.theguardian.com/culture/2014/oct/08/afflect-dicaprio-white-male-celebrity-activist) which discusses the way acclaim and praise is given to celebrities such as Leonardo DiCaprio talking about climate change or this example of Ben Affleck talking about Islam because these are people talking outside of their own experience.

Meanwhile, women and people of colour, she argues, are excluded from praise because they speak from within their own experience. In terms that philosophy students will be familiar with, this is an argument between empiricism (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Empiricism) and rationalism (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Rationalism). Empiricism holds that knowledge and truth comes through sensory experience; that to know what it is to be a woman, for example, one must live and experience the things a woman experiences. Rationalism, meanwhile, posits that knowledge and truth come through reason, and that a rationalised observer not swayed by sensation can report the truth.

Looking at these two philosophical trajectories, we can see that the Icelandic conference confers to rationalism; that men can come together to discuss women’s issues with the idea that women’s issues do not necessarily need women’s input. The heat that the UN has faced following the announcement of the conference, however, suggests critics might be more on the side of empiricism.

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