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Sunday, 2 March 2014

This Week for Women

I am going to try and include this post every week (ambitious since my last blog post was months ago!) but this is supposed to be the purpose behind this blog. I'd like it to act as a paperclip pulling together current affairs concerning issues that are important to women; like The Week but for women.

The first article is poignantly penned by Laurie Penny in The Guardian and is a letter addressed to Rebecca Adlington pledging support for her and the way her appearance has been negatively described in the media. Written in response to tabloid reports that Adlington has had cosmetic surgery on her nose, Penny's words expose the unequal treatment of sports men and women, soberly reminding us that 'whatever women and girls achieve, we are nothing if we do not conform to society's demented definitions of beauty'. Despite its depressing contents, it is heartening to read a public pledge of support for a woman wronged.

On Tuesday's Woman's Hour (11 minutes into the programme if you want to catch it on iPlayer), Bea Campbell discussed how she believes equality for women is stalling or maybe even going backwards. She said that change is 'palpable but pitiful' and had some striking statistics to back up her argument: European men have increased their commitment to housework by a paltry 30 minutes over three decades! This equates to an extra minute per day, per year over the last 30 years - not exactly rapid progress. On a brighter note, the Woman's Hour Power List has launched for 2014 with a theme of identifying the top 100 female Game Changers  - get involved on Twitter using #whgamechangers.

Triggered by a statement recently on Radio 4's Open Book programme, Beulah Devaney's post on The Guardian Books Blog, makes for interesting reading on how under-represented women are in the book reviewing press. It is hard to believe the defeatism inherent in a quote in a related statement issued by the editor of The London Review of Books (Mary-Kay Wilmers) who thinks (or thought in 2001) that 'women find it difficult to do their jobs, look after their children, cook dinner and write pieces. They just can't get it all done. And men can.' Clearly this has always been a problem but if there is a female editor of a magazine as influential as the LRB, you would hope that they might be more driven to redress the cause of the imbalance by looking for solutions to the problem, rather than deciding it is probably impossible to even up the gender coverage.

And finally, congratulations and much respect to 17 year old Fahma Mohamed, who has secured a pledge from Michael Gove, the education secretary, to write to schools about female genital mutilation to raise awareness of the terrible reality of young girls being taken abroad in summer to be cut. Read Alexandra Topping's article about it here.

As women, to take on Mary-Kay Wilmer's statement cited above, if we can get some of it done all of the time and all of it done some of the time, then we can still make some great changes to stave off inequality, and that can still have considerable impact on changing the world for the better.


Monday, 27 May 2013

Are We Having a Feminist Spring?


We have had the 'Arab Spring', some in the education world have called for an 'Education Spring' but it seems to me that there is something of a Feminist Spring going on, that will hopefully last well into future seasons. 50 years after the birth of feminism, momentum is mobilising in the media to maintain a movement which many women may not overtly engage in. This blog rounds up some of the discussion that has been going on over the last few weeks. 
First on the list is Janice Turner's article entitled 'Feminism 2.0 is hot, rude and self confident', clearly posits feminism as a topic de jour; demonstrating that feminism thrives and is still crucial to the fight for female equality. Cleverly couching it in terms of a computer software update is fitting, given that much of the current feminist debate occupies cyberspace, galvanising us girls across the globe in a new wave of contemporary co-operation to combat crime against womankind.
While the subject of feminism is a hot topic, it is worth recognising that it is a diverse domain. Feminism is our safety net for when women's rights to equality and meritocracy collapse. This is the starting point but there are many different takes on how it should progress. As Sarah Vine pointed out in a recent Times Weekend supplement, there is a wide spectrum of feminism and this does need to be noted. I don't find all her labels comforting in terms of furthering the cause of equality for women. It is disappointing that, as a woman of reasonably high profile, she confessed to being a Champagne (*or Chablis) feminist - only debating feminist issues after a glass of fizz is missing the point: we shouldn't have to be pissed up to be pissed off by the patriarchy. Her other half has proven how endemic sexist comments are, deriding Nick Clegg for having 'to show a bit of leg' to dissuade dissenters amongst the LibDems. One would hope the Education Secretary had better judgement than to use sexist metaphors to score political points...
Continuing with The Times (I will endeavour to widen the journalistic net in the next paragraph!) Caitlin Moran (comic feminist according to Vine) impressively inverted the iniquitous 'Hollywood's Most Hated' into 'Hollywood's Most Rated'. Deftly dissing the discrimination against the women who, in shunning the limelight, are forced to succumb to the sharp tongues of celebrity commentators. Her article in last Saturday's Times Magazine 'My House of Mouse Boycott', is equally worth reading on Disney's disappointing decision to sexualise their latest reincarnation of their hitherto helpful role model princess, Brave.
Next up in The Observer, Eva Wiseman proffered an interesting perspective on how women are still pilloried for both the presence and absence of make up. Do we really still live in an age were female appearance is more noteworthy than their charitable endeavours?

Finally, another affirmation that feminism is once more on an upwards trajectory is the news that the discontinued publication Spare Rib is making a come back, spearheaded by Charlotte Raven. When asked if the magazine can get feminism back on course she replied,  "Yeah! Absolutely! Without a doubt," ...It will take a while, but it feels like the right moment suddenly. I don't know why. But it feels like there's a wind behind us."
Let's hope that wind keeps blowing.











Tuesday, 23 April 2013

Extreme Sorts - Celebrating Diversity or Creating Division?

I read with interest, Janice Turner's article regarding the rise of alpha females or 'XX women in the Sunday Times Magazine. Whilst it is undoubtably positive to draw attention to high achieving women, is it really necessary to draw up a dichotomy where if you are not x(or xx workaholic in this case), then you must be y (stay at home mum)? I am glad that there are a group of women out there, blazing a trail through the glass ceiling that other women can follow, we need plenty of these role models, but it is important to recognise that if you aren't quite as career driven as members of this emerging elite, it doesn't automatically mean that you are content to devote your entire self to domestic drudgery. I entirely agree that aspects of domesticity are 'thankless', repetitive and boring': I'd have a cleaner straightaway if it was economically viable but I'm not happy to give up the time I personally feel the need to spend with my children as they are growing up. As many other women choose to do, I juggle part time work with family - not necessarily the best of both worlds - but a necessary compromise as far as I see it.

However, gripe aside, the article would have lost it's focus if it set out to examine all points on the female continuum. The best point Turner makes is that women would be more understanding of these extreme positions 'if we recognised we are different but equal beasts'. We should always celebrate high achieving women, it's a social imperative, but we should also be considerate and understanding of women who make different choices. As the article points out 'until just a few generations ago the experience of all women - regardless of wealth or social class - was intrinsically the same...largely domestic'. Today we have choices and rather than standing on opposite sides of the domestic/work divide, we should unite in the shared understanding and relief that we have options. These extremes are not to be derided but shared as examples of the freedom of choice we have gained and must keep pressing for.

I was pleased that in an interview on Channel 4 News last week, Sheryl Sandberg (clearly an archetypal XX woman by Turner's definition) declared that she was a feminist, although had not always been comfortable with that label. Feminism, like career and lifestyle choices, should not be about extremes and immovable dividing lines. It must be all encompassing and accessible, empathetic and empowering. There is always a continuum of opinion and we should not lose sight of this. As Lisa Appignanesi puts it in her contribution to 'Fifty Shades of Feminism' (an excellent read):
'We're at the mercy of our descriptions...For women's lives to change, it was important to take more of that power of description into our own hands. The descriptions would hardly ever be uniform, we would disagree with one another vehemently, but at least they wouldn't all come from our colonizers.' So perhaps the extreme label of 'XX woman' is not so controversial as I first thought, it's intended as a positive descriptor for successful women, and that is never a bad thing.


Monday, 25 February 2013

Wake up Call

Sometimes, whilst happily trundling through what is thankfully a quite a fortunate and happy life for a 21st century woman in the UK, an issue confronts you that presents a rude awakening to something you had a) never considered and b) leaves you feeling disappointed with yourself that you'd been duped into thinking everything was OK. Amongst the most recent cases of this have been poor representation of women on everything from boardrooms to TV panel shows, the rise of labioplasty, the recognition that a man in the western world can believe that a woman's body has ways of 'shutting things down' to prevent pregnancy post rape.

Today's Guardian reported on three separate issues highlighting the lack of prominent women in society, from an inspiring article about Azra Jafari, Afganistan's first female mayor, to Harriet Harman's crusade against ageism and sexism in media organisations, through to Sarah Wollaston's article about the need to recruit more women into politics. Women are fighting for equality on many fronts and I think that because in general, women are not overtly prohibited from many things today, the need to make a bigger difference is often overlooked; there is still a lot of work to be done. The latter article led me to link to the report it was based on: Sex and Power by Counting Women In (CWI), another organisation that works hard on behalf of women that I had never heard of. This reveals just how much women are in the minority in senior positions in nearly all sectors of the working world. One of the most startling observations in relation to politics was that 'at the current rate of progress a child born today will be drawing her pension before she has a chance of being equally represented in the parliament of her country'. Sometimes you forget how slow progress towards equality of the sexes is.

It made me think though who actually reads this report? Hopefully politicians and business leaders but the general female population, probably not. Like the CWI, there is a whole range of organisations working to promote female equality but I wonder if they fly under the radar of too many women in their increasingly busy lives. Linking from the article and googling similar topics, I discovered the websites www.thejobshareproject.com and www.capabilityjane.com. It reminded me to check in on the f word website and then remind myself what the Fawcett Society do for women. What is most worrying is that I only heard about these in my thirties - where do young women get information about how unequal their position really is and what might be done about it? There are snippets here and there in magazines, some newspaper articles, you'd like to think twitter but would they know to follow the vagenda, #twitteryouthfeministarmy or looked at this great blog? http://jellyandlilipop.wordpress.com. We need to work harder to make all this stuff unavoidable reading. Caitlin Moran remarked in her book, on how the onset of the fifth wave feminism should probably be 'an incoming tide'. I hope she's right but we need more young women aware of that wave before it can wash away the obstacles in the path to progress.

Tuesday, 13 November 2012

Having your cake and tweeting it is just the icing on a fest of intelligence and inspiration

 The inaugural Mumsnet Blogfest was my first foray into engaging with other bloggers face to face. My own blog is in its infancy and I have only recently become a regular blog reader. I had a lot to learn both about and from blogging.
Before arriving, I had already recognised a great benefit of the blogging community; there is no need to come to these events feeling like a complete stranger, even if you are. Having already joined a dedicated Twitter list and read the blogs of fellow delegates, it felt like I knew one or two people already and had some means of striking up conversation.

One of the key things that became clear, was that the Mumsnet blogosphere is hugely diverse and cannot be corralled neatly into the kids and cupcakes stereotype. Particularly impressive was the 'Blogging can change the world' session, where the panel of campaigning women impressively outlined how blogging can be an effective tool in achieving political and social change on our doorstep and in distant countries. The day's speeches and discussions offered up relentless proof that blogging is far from being the vacuous naval gazing enterprise some would have us believe. How can it be derided as such when it has been used to help refugee women, to raise awareness of rape, to help miscarriage care, to aid Amnesty International and to further the feminist cause?

Aside from accelerating my appreciation of blogging generally, it was also heartening to realise that motherhood is a great leveller, beautifully summed up by Miriam Gonzalez Durantes's anecdote, describing how she had discovered that she shared much common ground with a mother of boys in Africa, despite being worlds apart in terms of life experience. Her denigration of spurious labels that expose non equivalence between mothers and fathers such as part time or working mum, was equally welcome. It was also good to hear that even women of her position and esteem have an equally turbulent time wrangling with their children through the morning routine and are sometimes glad to shut the door behind them for a while and escape into another world.

Our lives as mothers have become very complicated jigsaw puzzles with ever more pieces vying for a place to fit in. As Justine Roberts said in her opening speech, blogging suits mothers because it is something that can fit around life's other demands. Technology has been a liberating force for women in that it has helped us make our jigsaw more flexible. Blogging, tweeting and social networking are a kind of interstitial writing we can squeeze into gaps that would not admit traditional pen and paper and, like interstitial fluid, works to lubricate the frustrations and problems we all experience, through writing and sharing publicly and receiving feedback from people our own mothers would not have had the opportunity to connect with. Mumsnet Blogfest was a great vindication of this.

The day itself was, as the lives of busy women everywhere, a feat of considerable multi tasking. Where else would you find a programme so diverse, encompassing technical help, social networking expertise, advice from successful journalists, novelists, bloggers, editors, psychologists and a chance to browse clothing, design cars, try out video games and taste cheese? The list seems endless and I know I have missed some things out. So thanks to the Mumsnet team who put on such a fabulous event, all the hard work that must have gone into the planning paid off in ways that will continue to be realised, as all the good ideas and advice sink in and weave their way into the myriad blogs that will be influenced by discussions sparked by this inspiring day.






Tuesday, 6 November 2012

Mumsnet Blogfest - my intro and why I feel these events are so important

Mumsnet Blogfest is nearly here so this my introductory blog to provide a bit of background detail before the event.

As you can see from the blog - I am far from prolific with my posts: it's a work in (gradual) progress. I have always wanted to write but never got round to it. I remember sitting in the university careers library many years ago and deciding that I ought to get a reliable job and write on the side...my plan was to start a career, have children in my late twenties, hit maternity leave and write a book - oh the naivety of youth. Clearly putting all my writing eggs in the maternity leave basket was not wise, needless to say I have been getting round to writing ever since but never setting aside any dedicated time to do so...until now. My children are both at school now and I have a day a week to devote to my literary ambitions, in theory. In practice my life seems to be like an old computer hard drive, desperately in need of defragmenting. I write to do lists and appear quite organised but somehow the days in front of me get clogged with the little jobs that got filed in the wrong place, which I suddenly remember and have to action before getting on with 'the plan'.

Blogging has been a good place to start and can just about slot inbetween the other balls that are being currently juggled (namely a part time job and family), although it does get dropped or suspended quite often. This is why events like Blogfest and the Mumsnet Bloggers Network are so brilliant. For me they are a prod in the ribs to get on with what I want to do, rather than what I have to do. Obviously there is no pressure, but the fact I'm on a network makes me think harder about blogging beccause I have been given a potential audience. Blogfest itself has opened my eyes before I've even got there. I have already heightened my awareness of some great bloggers who have provided me with inspiration and realised there are all kinds of opportunities to be exploited, just by reading the programme of events.

The premise of my blog is to be a kind of one stop shop for current affairs affecting women, bringing the best and most interesting stories of the day to one easily accessible place...hopefully the Blogfest will galvanise me into further action because at the moment the shop is often unattended and the twitter feed is far from up to the minute. So I am looking forward to Saturday, to having a day out in the capital, where although the streets may not be paved with gold, I know that a couple of floors of Millbank Tower will be lined with like minded people, brimming with new ideas and inspiration and just a little bit of fizz. I can't wait - hope to see you there.

Saturday, 22 September 2012

Does EBC Spell Travesty For Gender Equality?

EBC. Elite Boys Club? No, the English Bacculaureate Certificate to replace the repeatedly re-jigged and increasingly maligned GCSE.  This newest political football that Michael Gove is hoping to find the net with, may actually be heading for the crossbar if we consider its potential effect on female students.

Women are frequently reported as not being fairly represented in top positions in the workplace, but many girls outperform their male peers at GCSE level. This is a foundation for future progress which looks set to be eroded. Eradicating coursework completely appears a retrograde step if we consider the progress made in education related to directing learning towards individuals, depending on their particular strengths and weaknesses.  After years of taking into account different learning styles, we are suddenly presented with a one size fits all qualification. Obviously clarity and uniformity of assessment is a principal concern, but surely there is nothing wrong with developing a qualification that plays to different student strengths, not just the ability to produce a good grade from a two hour final exam, on what is usually a hay fever inducing summer's day.

Some students will do better in this system, some will fare less well if they are pressured to produce all of the goods at once in a terminal examination. A system that includes a variety is surely fairer, especially when results indicate that across gender lines, there is a divide: girls tend to be more successful at coursework, whereas boys seem able to perform best in test conditions. Coursework has already been eroded and reinvented as controlled assessment in order to limit plagiarism that is now easier facilitated by Internet essay banks. However, these allow a gradual accrual of marks and hence build confidence and allow children to make mistakes but then learn and develop from them, rather than have all their eggs in one basket in an exam room at the end of their final school year.
It is also disheartening that a more negative picture of the current situation is being presented. This makes students in the current system feel that their work is undervalued. In one article in the Telegraph, it was reported that the new system would bring back essay writing. Students have never stopped writing essays for controlled assessment and exams. The public need a clearer picture of the situation, not a clutch of spurious claims that grab headlines to sell papers and generate confusion.