“I believe the meaning of life is other people”, claims Shami Chakrabarti upon launching the Radical Book Fair with her talk ‘On Women’ to a sold-out audience on 16 November.
Such a statement would, from the average person, run the risk of sounding like a vapid cliche, but Chakrabarti – former director of Liberty, a human rights advocacies group – can make the claim with more conviction than most.
Shami, who, in 2015, released On Liberty, a book exploring fundamental rights, returns with new book Of Women, this time about the equally impenetrable topic of gender.
Shami begins the talk by defending her book against accusations of man-hating (something which would feel perhaps overly protective, if it were not almost certain that she has already had cause for defence). Of Women, she claims, is not just about women, but rather about addressing the gender imbalance across the board: “All men are of women, too.” She goes on to describe the gap between rich and poor, austerity as a feminist issue, violence perpetrated by and towards men, and other such pertinent issues.
Sound familiar? It probably is. The feminist dialectic that Chakrabarti professes is nothing new. Bar a more-enthusiastic-than-most stance on affirmative action, Shami doesn’t put forth particularly radical ideas.
Nonetheless, to view this as a failure is to quite largely miss the point. It is the opaqueness of these inequalities at play in our society that Chakrabarti brings to light; she expresses a disbelief that, in 2017, such huge and obvious issues are still such a problem.
Shami is a natural orator. She is charming, engaging and captivating: a joy to watch. Her at-times slightly trite remarks are offset by pithy comments – in a nod to Hughes’ ‘November’, she hopes her talk will be “better than a wet dog”, and refers to Of Women as “her crappy feminist book”.
This offsetting of inspirational quotes is what gives the talk its gusto, and Chakrabarti is not afraid to critique where criticism is due. She presciently looks forward to February 2018 when, inevitably, feminists alike will unite and celebrate 100 years of women in the UK getting the vote.
Chakrabarti is keen to point out the huge number of women that were still left without voting rights after some were granted the vote. She notes the ease with which people partake in what she names a “narrow struggle”, easily giving up the fight once their own battle is won.
Chakrabarti’s appeal then, is a universal one: “All men are of women, too” becomes her refrain – to overcome such a huge societal issue, she claims, we need all hands on deck. Nothing that we haven’t all heard before, admittedly, but coming from Chakrabarti, the sentiment felt refreshingly enlightening.
Shami Chakrabarti’s Of Women, published by Allen Lane, is available to buy now.
The Radical Book Fair is held by Lighthouse Bookshop.