Jude Kelly: Equality is not just a "nice to have"

Just how ingrained is our sense of privilege, especially when it comes to key topics like race and gender? Jude Kelly, CBE, theatre director and founder of Women of the World Foundation asked a recent audience at Virgin Management, to consider a recent speech made by the actor and comedian Chris Rock. 

“Chris Rock was recently speaking to several thousand people, and he said: ‘I earn millions of dollars per day, and out of all you white people out there, not one of you would change with me to be black.’ And there was this howl of understanding that rose from the black audience, and you could see all the white people thinking, actually considering this and turning it over.

“So I ask now whether men would be up for changing places with women. And if not, then why not? I think I know the answer. Because maybe if we’re male, if we’re white, we actually like the place we’re in. If we change, then we’d lose our power, or some of our place in the world, in society,” says Kelly. 

Jude Kelly women of the world

“We’ve come so far, not just for women, but for everyone. What’s clear is that humans long for a society where there’s something for everyone, where difference is exciting and marvellous. Given the lack of firm direction, it’s unsurprising that we sometimes find ourselves quite muddled and also embarrassed about-turning on certain subjects.”

It’s important to remember that men want to support us, she adds. Men love women, and women love men. “I love men. And this is where men come in, because men love women and want to work with women to make their lives better too. A lot of human rights have happened together, because men and women thought this is not a world we want to live in and thought, how can we improve it together?” says Kelly.

Kelly points out that now we talk about female equality, and we talk about LGBTQ+ rights, when maybe even 15 years ago that could have been more difficult. Things change, and the way we perceive the world changes. “I started thinking about equality when I was in the playground. I didn’t want to be the heroine who got tied up and then rescued by a knight. Why did the boys get to have all the fun? So I realised if I was going to play out my story, I was going to have to make my own team, and my own games.”

Women's suffragette march

Jude Kelly recently spoke at Virgin Management about diversity, gender equality, and how we need to be aware of our own privilege. 

“It’s a very difficult thing to work towards creating a different type of society when you’ve never experienced it. None of us have ever lived in a world where men and women are equal. That would be a different power distribution. We have no roadmap so we’re having to work it out as we go along.”

She emphasises that gender equality, giving women the same rights as men, and the same power dynamic as men, is absolutely not a quick fix. “What we’re experiencing now is thousands and thousands of years of cultural norms, drilled right into our sense of identity.”

Kelly says she’s incredibly excited that in 100 years maybe people will look back on our age and say “what do you mean there wasn’t equality?” That’s why she founded Women of the World in 2010, 100 years since the first ever International Women’s Day. 

“We’ve come so far, not just for women, but for everyone. What’s clear is that humans long for a society where there’s something for everyone, where difference is exciting and marvellous. Given the lack of firm direction, it’s unsurprising that we sometimes find ourselves quite muddled and also embarrassed about-turning on certain subjects.”

Women march hope not hate

At a certain point, women realised that they needed more than motherhood, or nice clothes or to smile. They needed divorce laws, and they needed to be able to vote and they needed to protect themselves against domestic abuse. The way we can do this is by constantly checking our own entitlement, Kelly explains. “At what point does our own entitlement kick in? [Fighting for equality] is intellectually and emotionally demanding because things happen, and they make you change the way you act and are.”

It’s impossible to say that women have nearly won the battle. Because, explains Jude, when you look at what’s happening all over the world, it’s clear we’re not there yet. “You have to keep reminding yourself how equality is a human right – it’s not a ‘nice to have’. And some societies around the world withhold those rights, so it’s crucial we stand up for those rights, not because we’re nice, but because we have to use our privilege.”

“This is a constant journey. All women wish they didn't have to moan about being a woman, really. If you are a woman, you have to look at what you really need in the eye. No-one wants to be a victim, and powerless, but inequality is systematic and it’s not women’s fault. We’re trapped inside a matrix with a set of rules created by men.” 

Clearly, it’s time to find the way out.

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