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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 and 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? 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.