Dining across the divide: ‘I told her she was very cunning – in a nice way’

Feminism, the EU and even sex differences in chimps – can these strangers agree on anything?

Sula, 28, London


Occupation Government statistician

Voting record Lib Dem in 2015 and 2017, then Green in 2019

Amuse bouche Is training for a sprint triathlon, having taken it up to overcome her fear of swimming

Tabitha, 45, Cambridge


Occupation Piano teacher

Voting record Has voted Green, Lib Dem, Labour, Tory, Women’s Equality Party. Brexit party in the last European elections – isn’t a fan of rightwing parties, but wanted to leave the EU

Amuse bouche Has homeschooled her teenage son since he was five

For starters

Tabitha She was a bit more reserved than I expected. I felt like the junior partner in terms of maturity. She was more poised and less gushy than me.

Sula I was expecting someone stuffy and conservative, a stiff-upper-lip vibe. It wasn’t like that at all. She was really chatty. There wasn’t any small talk, we were straight in.

Tabitha We ate the same thing, which is a bit naff: pumpkin, grilled radicchio and pistachios, which was divine. Then we had the celeriac and three-cheese cannelloni, but by that point I’d stopped thinking about what we were eating as I was focused on the conversation.

Tabitha and Sula

The big beef

Sula We disagreed most on feminism. I think she is basically feminist, but she didn’t want to use that label. She doesn’t agree with extreme branches of feminism, but I don’t agree with extreme branches either. She said, “If I lived in Iran, I’d be a feminist.” She thinks – which is insane – that the current strand of feminism is about hating men, and men have had to give up so much more: they’re constantly being told their male traits are negative. They’re having to do more of the work to get along with women. She thinks all the men she knows are afraid to be men.

Tabitha She was really unimpressed by my claim not to be a feminist. But I feel the term is carrying around a lot of baggage. I don’t want my son to carry the weight of other men’s failings on his small shoulders. I obviously believe in equality, but in every possible context, women can be openly praised for their typically female qualities – you can say, “We need more women in this, they’d bring x, y and z to the job” – and men can be criticised for their typically male characteristics, but if you did the reverse, you’d get fired.

Tabitha and Sula

Sharing plate

Sula When I was at school, boys could talk about porn and masturbation, but women would have been ashamed to do that. We talked a lot about shame in men and women. I think women are carrying around more shame than men.

Tabitha I disagreed with that. Women carry a lot of shame around their bodies, their appearances and their ability to procreate, but men have shame too – it’s just less frequently physical.

Sula Are these different characteristics in men and women socialised, or biological? She did her psychology thesis on this, so she had a lot of facts.

Tabitha I brought up chimpanzees: they very clearly have differences of behaviour that are biologically determined. Then she said, “Maybe those were socially conditioned, too.” I’ve never heard anyone suggest that sex differences in behaviour in the animal kingdom could be socially conditioned. I was slightly floored by that, because I couldn’t quite work out how to argue against it, even though it didn’t make any sense to me.

Tabitha and Sula

For afters

Sula We disagreed on Brexit, but I was really interested to hear her view. She said the main powers in the EU are Germany and France, and we wouldn’t have a democratic say as UK citizens as to who would be in charge. So if someone who was super-rightwing took power in France, they could make laws which we would have to follow. I said, “Any member state has a veto,” but according to Tabitha that’s not actually true and not always how it works.

Tabitha She was not as nerdy about the EU as I thought she would be. I’d prepared lots of facts and figures to sweep her off her feet, but I had to jettison those. The reason I voted Brexit was because there’s a democratic deficit. And I don’t think it’s a good idea to sign up to being governed by an undemocratic institution.

Tabitha and Sula


Sula I think we left on good terms. She said at one point I was using her arguments against her, and it was very cunning. I don’t think that was a positive.

Tabitha I definitely meant that in a positive way. I was trying to be nice.

Tabitha and Sula

Additional reporting: Kitty Drake

• Sula and Tabitha ate at Quo Vadis, London, W1

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Zoe Williams

The GuardianTramp

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