I attended a few weeks ago a very interesting interdisciplinary conference on gender, development and textuality at a university near Barcelona. As usual whenever gender is discussed, there were very few men, which is why that particular man soon caught my attention.

Tall, wearing salwar kameez and cap, his face decorated with a longish beard and no moustache there was no way we could miss him. Particularly because he never smiled, which is a feat when you’re surrounded by dozens of chattering, laughing women (and a few equally nice men). As it turned out, he was the brother of a female Pakistani guest speaker with a cosmopolitan academic background –I won’t name her. I first supposed the siblings were joyfully reuniting after a while without seeing each other but soon it became clear to me that he was her ‘official’ chaperon, guardian or worse. To my dismay, although only the sister spoke at the round table to which she had been invited, she credited her brother as the co-author of her paper (“independent analyst,” his affiliation claimed). He didn’t even take part in the ensuing discussion.

When I told one of my colleagues how annoyed I was by the presence of this patriarchal eyesore at the conference, she answered that she herself had managed NOT to see him. I tried, but failed. Another colleague reminded me, much more charitably than I myself felt, that without this man’s surveillance our woman guest couldn’t have delivered her paper. Of course, without her accrediting him as co-author, he could have been prevented at least from entering the premises, but I was told I was beginning to sound really authoritarian. Well, deep breath. It was not MY feminist conference and I don’t know what I would have done in the place of the organizers but it HURT to see how weak our position is as women, so that we have to tolerate out of politeness (or female solidarity?) the imposition of this man’s unwelcome presence among us.

I do wish someone would embarrass me right now by telling me that I had grossly misread it all and he was just enjoying the company of his adored sister. I’ll withdraw this entry at once. Anyway, next time I find myself in a situation like this, I’ll rent (yes) a bulky, spectacular escort –bodyguard or toy boy, I haven’t decided yet– and will parade him all over the conference, stuck to my heels. Maybe he and the unsmiling man will make friends, go sightseeing together, leave us women alone…