For many people, a union meeting conjures up images of flat-capped miners around an oil drum full of burning wood. The reality is that our industry primarily contains those who are self-employed on short-term contracts but paid standardised rates – so the political viewpoint swerves wildly depending on what’s going wrong for who. While those with left-of-centre views have always been safe in voicing such views within a traditionally leftist union, there had been no obvious intrusion of identity politics or critical theory until recently, and I’d have only vaguely recognised the terms.
My education in the field began in a function room at a pub off the Old Kent Road in early 2020. I was listening to a woman I’d known for ninety seconds tell me about her gynaecological problems. Still, Miss Overshare was new to the organisation, and as a twenty-year veteran, I wanted to extend the olive branch. Also, she was next to the best-stocked part of the buffet. As I tried not to drop crumbs on my shirt, she complained of dysmenorrhoea and the necessity of breaks every two hours to deal with personal hygiene. I sympathised vaguely between corn chips but found it difficult to stomach any more of the chunky red pepper and tomato dip.
That day, Overshare subjected us to strident and inaccurate diatribes on employment law, arguing with union specialists of tremendous experience who work with the advice of legal professionals. As a junior worker with no specialist expertise, she argued that the union’s failure to adopt her misinterpretation of the law was misogynistic. I was shocked by her vehemence, quickness to anger, and the religious intensity with which she held clearly counterfactual views. I was not alone but left feeling uneasy – not because of what she’d said, but because senior people had failed to control it as they usually would.
Subsequent meetings saw repeat performances and highly charged accusations of misogyny and prejudice. These were never questioned. I was comforted, though, that everyone else seemed to find her as caustic as I did. Privately-expressed opinions included “she’s a f****** nightmare”, “completely poisonous”, and, memorably, “a one-track mind and the train’s late”.
“Caustic,” incidentally, was her proud self-description. “I know I’m caustic, but…”
Inevitably, it came to a head during a discussion of gender representation, in which I asked, “why is fifteen per cent women not enough?”
Such a loaded question was probably a mistake, albeit designed to provoke a useful answer. The most obvious answer would be something we’d known long before Overshare’s arrival. At entry-level, women are better represented, but the numbers free fall as people hit their late twenties. Self-employment rarely provides meaningful holiday or sick pay, let alone maternity or paternity leave, and a who-you-know approach to recruitment makes even a short absence career suicide. Fixing those issues might have helped everyone. New ideas were welcome.
But Overshare didn’t have any new ideas, nor did she mention any of the other several things that might have led to a rational discussion.
She did say that we needed to reject new-entrant men from union events until representation was 50%. When I pointed out that 50% representation would not occur even in a discrimination-free society, and thus risked looking like prejudice by another name, I was told that I was “not capable of listening to women”, that “all women live with the reality of this discrimination every time they go to work”, and that “every woman had watched a less-experienced, younger man be promoted over her”.
In her self-appointed role as spokesperson for all women, Overshare went on like that for ages, as if trying to fulfil a word count of trivially disprovable nonsense. Having never even skimmed the literature, I wasn’t used to someone expecting this stuff to be taken seriously. It felt like arguing with religion. I feel like 15% is probably a bit low, too, but I wouldn’t use what I feel to exclude people of the “wrong” gender. I offered to help research it and was rudely rebuffed; as a man, my research could not be representative. Eventually, I was told I also had “white privilege”.
Ah. The penny finally dropped. This was a religion, or something like it.
We argued; I didn’t swear, and didn’t raise my voice. Overshare called me a “f****** misogynist c***”. I waited confidently for the chairman to intervene.
Head bowed, scarlet-faced, he didn’t. Even after direct appeal.
I could go on, but really, the problem isn’t Overshare. Unpleasant people with unpleasant views exist. The problem is how easily people are cowed by the politics, unwilling to push back against the most blatant misbehaviour if it’s fashionable enough. I’ve since had some deeply heartwarming support, but all in private and prefixed with “just between us…”
Further involvement in an organisation with no respect for simple rationality seemed pointless, and I felt forced out of a near twenty-year membership. Massive effort spent on a couple of initiatives–things that might have helped young new entrants of all genders–will go to waste. Still, if the officials’ support for Overshare is their crime, I’m satisfied her continued presence will also be their punishment.
Nick Lambert is a freelance creative with twenty years of experience in technical and production roles in the UK media industry.