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Does Feminism Need Rebranding? A Power Shift 2015 Reflection

Imagine you’ve been asked to engage in a debate at the Oxford Union — where some of the most important debates in all of history have taken place.  And you’ve been given a unique challenge: to defend the “brand” of feminism.

This was the task I faced, along with my “teammates,” two leading academics in the field at Oxford’s Said Business School: Susan Rudy and Amanda Poole.

We were pitted against a formidable team of opponents: global expert Sue Lawton and former members of parliament Lynne Featherstone and Mike Thornton.  

Following parliamentary rules, we were to debate the motion: “This house believes that feminism needs rebranding.”  This meant a limited number of minutes for each speaker in a specific order.  At the end, the assembled crowd would vote by choosing which door to walk out.   One would indicate supporting the motion, the other rejecting it.

I’ll admit that, as a man, I initially assumed I should be last to speak on my team.  After all, what message would it send for a debate on feminism to include a man as the first speaker for his team?

That thought, if I may attempt to use a Britishism, was rubbish.  In my work and my book, All In, I focus on gender equality.  Gender of course should not determine the order in which we would speak — instead, the most logical order for our unique arguments should rule the day.

As I looked into the motion, I found that my best argument for defending the “brand” of feminism was to do what I’ve always done as a journalist: get the facts.  So I dug into the meaning of each word, using the Oxford English Dictionary to determine exactly what “rebranding” and “feminism” mean.

What I found: without a doubt, the brand of feminism is gender equality.  

So in my arguments, I would frame the motion, arguing that no one should give feminism a brand other than gender equality.  I’d also put my years of both business and political reporting at CNN to good use by discussing what happens when successful campaigns commit to their core brand.  And I’d explain why I’m so passionate about this — as a father, a U.N. Global Gender Champion, and a proud part of the HeForShe movement.

Plus, I’d get to cite Emma Watson and Malala — and, very differently, Taylor Swift.  

Susan, Amanda and I agreed that my arguments would help pave the way for them to bring in all kinds of research and to refute arguments from the other side.  (To see how this played out, watch the video above.)

And while Sue, Lynne, and Mike did a brilliant job, my team was happy to be victorious!  The news came during the dinner afterward at Hogwarts — well, at an Oxford dining hall that feels straight out of Harry Potter.

A photo posted by Josh Levs (@joshlevs) on Nov 10, 2015 at 2:30pm PST

There I am seated with Linda Scott, creator of the PowerShift Forum and Double X Economy — the woman who designed the debate and assigned the speakers on each side.

An annual part of the forum, these debates are a fantastic exercise, giving us all reason to consider controversial ideas, all with a shared goal: to advance gender equality in the global economy.

Thank you, Linda.  It was an honor.  

– Josh Levs

Author, All In: How Our Work-First Culture Fails Dads, Families and Businesses — And How We Can Fix It Together  

Read the first chapter free here.

More posts from Josh here.


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