21st century feminism

Saturday, 5 June 2010

Why we should all know the name Anne Lister

Anne Lister was born in 1791 in Halifax. She died in 1840. In her 49 years she managed to live a relatively open lesbian life (granted she had "means" and her social acceptance was mainly down to her powerful position in society rather than ease with her sexuality). This most remarkable story is recorded in detail in an extensive diary of her life and loves, the most controversial bits written in a special code she created. Her story is amazing. The story of her diary is equally amazing, and the fact that it survived terrified relatives and homophobic culture to finally be decoded and published is astonishing. I want to say it's a vital piece of LGBT history, it is that and more. It's a vital tome of history, everybody's history.

The BCC have done a brilliant job of bringing her story to a wider audience in a drama
The Secret Diaries of Miss Anne Lister, complimented by a fact-finding program Revealing Anne Lister. All credit goes to Helena Whitbread, a wonderful woman who dedicated decades to learn the code and translated the massive tome. Her publication is I Know My Own Heart: The Diaries of Anne Lister, 1791-1840.

Saturday, 8 May 2010

Election 2010: so what happened?

Well, I was going to post a rousing speech about voting on polling day, but blogger was playing up so I'll save it for the inevitable next election in a few months time. Until then perhaps you'd like to have a look at the hard stats when it comes to the women MPs who've been elected this time round. Centre for Women and Democracy have put this list together:

142 women MPs - only 22% of the total 649 (there were 126 women MPs - 19.5% of the total).

The number of Conservative women MPs has risen from 18 to 48 - an increase from 9% to 16%.

The number of Labour women MPs has fallen from 94 to 81 - but the fall in the overall number of Labour MPs means that there is a percentage increase of 4% (from 27% to 31%).

The number of Liberal Democrat women MPs has fallen from 9 to 7 - a decrease from 15% to 12%.

The unusually high number of MPs retiring at this election meant that the loss of Labour women in marginal seats was balanced out by 50% of Labour candidates in seats where the Labour MP was retiring being women. Had this not been the case the number of women in the House of Commons would have declined significantly.

In addition to the women elected for the main three parties, there was one woman elected for the Green Party, one for the SNP, one for Sinn Fein, one for the SDLP, one for the Alliance Party, and one Independent.

None of Plaid Cymru's three MPs are women, and none of the DUP's eight.

Tuesday, 4 May 2010

Election 2010: Sit back and enjoy the videos...

Over at Cruella Blog I found a couple of interesting perspectives on the Tory Party...

This is one masterminded by Kate Smurthwaite herself:

And this is one that just needs to be shared...

Monday, 3 May 2010

Election 2010: Dear Radio 1...

Dear Radio 1,

Thank you for your A Glamour Model's Guide to Voting. It was really helpful for me. The pretty girl was lovely to look at and explained things so well. I never would have realised that a big sign saying "Polling Station" was where I needed to go in. Now I will be looking out for them. 

I thought it was a great idea to use a glamour model for this piece. Personally, I liked it because I looked at her and just wanted to be her. My brother liked it too, because he looked at her and just wanted to f*ck her. My 10 year old niece even liked it because now she knows what to do when she grows up and it's her turn. 

I'm looking forward to the other professions you'll be covering too. I wonder what a vet's guide will be like? It was nice to know what Peta's job was because it was really important to the piece of reporting. 

Covering the basics was great. I could have been so confused, what with having to give my address, go in the little booth, put a cross on the paper... Now I'm sure it will be plain sailing. And I'm so grateful you didn't include any of that political mumbo-jumbo, with the long words and complicated policies. That's really hard to understand. I'll just follow your advice and cross the party I want to win. I wouldn't engage in anything as complicated as tactical voting or looking at my local politicians' policies.

So thanks again, this has really helped me get into politics more.


Saturday, 1 May 2010

Blogging Against Disablism Day: Inspiring Women

Today's Blogging Against Disablism Day. Have a look at Diary of a Goldfish for more info. 

For our contribution we want to send you over to a great discussion with two inspiring women here. Francesca Martinez and Victoria Wright deconstruct language and disability with Michael Rosen. 

The language around disability and ablism can be difficult and complicated and people who aren't disabled can feel nervous of getting it wrong. Francesca and Victoria talk openly and honestly about the issues. What I particularly liked was their attitude which moved attention away from actual words, but on to how the words are intended and said. 

Friday, 30 April 2010

Election 2010

Janet Street Porter appeared on Question Time last night. Sat amongst the suits she raised the issue of women in the election. There's a clip here or the full version here. I'm not a fan of Porter, but I admire her for getting stuck in the political debate. The PM debates have been great, but have cut out women in a dramatic way from the public view. No TV channel was even prepared to allow a women to host it: boys and their (new) toys.

Lisa Hallgarten, Director of Education for Choice, blogs over at the F Word about reproductive rights and how the election may affect them. 

Thursday, 29 April 2010

Election 2010: Where are the women and where are the feminists?

There has been some discussion of the upcoming UK Election in the feminist blogosphere, but not as much as I expected. If you are posting about it or know of some good posts that I've missed, please leave a link in the comments. Perhaps as we enter the final week things will hot up! 

In the meantime, here are a few links where I've found feminists commenting on the election...

Fawcett's all women hustings (27th April) featuring Harriet  Harman (Labour), Lynne Featherstone (Lib Dems) and Theresa May (Conservatives) has been a central talking point. You can re-live the experience with the podcast. Or read about what feminists are making of it all at Girl Brain and the F-Word.

I've seen a few pieces supporting all-women shortlists. There is a great article over at the F-Word by Ros Ball. And I never thought I'd find myself agreeing with Janet Street Porter over at the Mail. 

Amelia Gentleman over at the Guardian takes stock of the lack of women MP's prominence in the election campaigns of all the parties. She says:

"The increasingly presidential style of the UK general election campaign has edged senior women politicians out of the forefront of the political debate, shifting focus instead on to the wives of the three party leaders, a number of prominent female Labour MPs conceded today." 

Natasha Walter adds here voice to the debate about the invisibility of women in politics in her article Women have gone missing, and new sexists are dusting off old theories.

The Centre for Women and Democracy are putting on a positive front celebrating Main parties field record number of women candidates, but my blood is boiling at the stat tagged on the end of the piece... 

"There are 11 constituencies where the Conservative, Labour and Liberal Democrat candidates are all women, and 262 in which they are all men."

Holly Dustin over at The New Statesman is asking why violence against women is being left out of the TV debate?

Ruth Sunderland at the Guardian is asking what female voters want beyond the mother/wife stereotype?

Finally Jess McCabe highlights the Campaign against Tory plans for marriage tax breaks

So there we have it. Again, please leave a link for any posts you're writing about the election or any good ones you've read.

Birmingham Council Staff Are Celebrating This Week

If you missed the news, Birmingham Council staff won a significant victory against years of discrimination towards female workers working in what were regarded as less significant "women's" jobs. Individual female workers had been under-payed thousands in a system which systematically favored male workers and seemingly "masculine" work. BBC reports here. Zoe Williams comments here

Wednesday, 28 April 2010

Election 2010: St. Gillian?

Mrs Gillian Duffy. What do you think? She's everywhere. The fall-out from Gordon Brown's comments about her has dominated the election debate all day, not to mention the Prime Minister's every waking thought, and who knows how it will affect the big day. You can watch the full exchange here. For what it's worth here are my 2 moments of feminist clarity about the row.

Thought number 1... I'm gutted that Gordon Brown made the comments, calling her a bigoted woman was BAD, but if you take a look at the conversation he had with her, she's no saint either. "All these Eastern Europeans what are coming in... Where are they flocking from?" If a shaven-haired pierced young man had made the comments I'm not sure the national outrage would have quite been the same. Just because she's a granny, doesn't mean she can't also be bigoted in her opinions. 

Thought number 2... Seeing two male reporters harangue her afterwards, when she clearly wanted to walk away (it can't be easy to process that Gordon Brown has just called you a bigot), was a taste of things to come. She's at the centre of a media storm and all I seem to hear are men trying to use her to make a political point one way or another. Andrew Sparrow's General Election Live Blog makes a couple of choice remarks:

3.27pm... Men in suits are hanging around outside like expectant fathers. It's either going really well in Duffy's front room, or really badly. I bet it's the former. An apology goes a long way to mending hurt feelings.

4.37pm... I've just heard my colleague Jackie Ashley, on the BBC, suggest this would never have happened if Sarah Brown had been with her husband. And what does Sarah think of it all? Heaven knows. 

Will it cost Brown the election? Who knows.

Tuesday, 27 April 2010

Choice. A Dirty Word?

So, I bought Company magazine (May) and the article’s not bad. “What is Feminism in 2010?” it asks and any answer that includes mention of Catherine Redfern, the Fawcett Society, Kat Banyard, Spare Rib magazine, Jessica Valenti… (etc. you get the picture) can’t be too wide of the mark. It’s a great intro for anyone totally unfamiliar with modern feminism and it might even entice them to find out a bit more and form their own opinions. Not to mention the fact that I’m thrilled feminism is being talked about in a glossy mag. But, (there had to be a but…) in places it falls short (picture of a burning bra anyone?). It could have been so much more (it hardly sells the movement). And then there’s the issue of “choice”.

Choice seems to be one of the most divisive debates in feminism at the moment. Choices women make, the liberty to make choices, the implications of those choices for other women, the pursuit of free-choice at all other costs… it can turn two women who claim to be liberated, claim to be independent, claim to be feminist, into arch enemies. And the main thrust of the Company article seems to be promoting it as the central tenet of feminism today. I don’t think Company have got it wrong as such, for many women free choice is what defines feminism, but there is a whole world of feminism out there which doesn’t think that any choice made by a woman is automatically feminist.

Like oil and water, the two camps divide. Personally I find myself panicking in the middle. I procrastinate about choice anyway. I especially hate big choices. I think it’s part of being an academic. You train your mind to look at every angle, to step back, to consider, to realise everyone and everything is subjective in some way or another, to think and think hard. So I’ve been thinking about choice, and women’s choices, and feminism, and the rut the argument can often fall into. If you pushed me I’d be in the camp which maintains some choices women independently make, are just that: independent women’s choices, made independently. They’re not feminist choices. I know that some feminists would disagree and personally I want to keep listening and discussing it, because I’m sure that some people would say some of the things I hold to be feminist, aren’t. It’s not easy, especially when there are such strong feelings involved, people’s lives and people’s very selves. But I can’t help but feel the division over choice indicates something else, something bigger. I don’t have an answer about women’s choices, but perhaps it’s not the choices that are wrong, it’s the question.

And the most important thing of all is what makes that feminist choice possible?

Is choice ever a neutral, independent judgement? Any choice? By anyone? Of course not. We are all affected by our environment, our beliefs, our upbringing, our friends, our education, our experience etc. We don’t think and choose in a vacuum. And so women, (who now, after feminism’s past battles, have more choice than ever before) never make choices in an ideological vacuum, no-one ever does. The task that feminism has is to decide what constitutes feminism now? What is a feminist choice? And the most important thing of all is what makes that feminist choice possible?

For me that’s the big issue and it comes down to the simple and central proposition of feminism: that women are equal to men. I think so much ground has been gained by women entering the public world of men in the 70’s, 80’s, and 90’s but I think there is a long way to go for that world to become a more gender inclusive environment where women feel they can make their choices and remain a valued, equal, and most of all active, member of society.

What does that mean in reality though? Well, I’d like to choose to take my baby into work with me (I’m dreaming dreams here, bear with me) to have facilities available to accommodate that, to be able to undertake some of my work at home in the evenings when my baby’s asleep, to live in a community where that was normal, to have a partner who takes equal weight in domestic and childcare arrangements, to live in a society where fatherhood impacts on work too (beyond 2 weeks) and that’s OK… I could go on. But I can’t make that choice if it’s not available to me. And so the choices I can make are a) get childcare that is away from my work and away from me; or b) don’t work.

For me it modelled something different, a different way of seeing women in the workplace.

I was invited to lecture at an independent college when my son was about 18 months old. It included taking part in a teaching week and I would need to be there 3 nights. They invited me, my son and a carer (his dad came in the end). They provided meals and accommodation for the 3 of us. I was bowled over. Their reasoning? Well, there were women on the course who had children and they did the same for them too, it mean they got my expertise and they felt it was an investment. It paid off not only for me, but also for the women (and men!) on their course, as well as students looking at coming on their courses. What did they get out of it? For a start they got a hugely grateful lecturer, who put 110% into the work she did for them. They got me on board. So I was back the following term doing extra work there. I expect my future working with them will extend well beyond my childbearing years. For me it modelled something different, a different way of seeing women in the workplace. Needless to say it was a rare occurrence.

So, we do need to debate the choices we make as women, not all choices are feminist choices, but as feminists we also need get beyond that and to continue to push the boundaries of the ‘choice’ there is, how women are seen in society and how they are able to play an equal part in it.

To be honest I think I have more questions than answers. I think I need to go and think about it some more…

ps. if you made it to the end you deserve a medal! Normal shorter posts will follow! 

Saturday, 24 April 2010

company magazine

Holly Combe over at the F Word writes a few more reflections on Company Magazine's engagement with contemporary feminism. Apparently they have now taken down the quiz because of criticism on twitter. 

After a bit of poking round on the internet I found out that the quiz was originally in Ellie Levenson's book The Noughtie Girl's Guide to Feminism. She talks about the situation on her blog here. And reposts her quiz here. I've not read Levenson's book, but from a read through the comments on amazon, I'm not sure I'd enjoy it. 

Tuesday, 20 April 2010


There are a few interesting/annoying/hair-raising items that have crossed my radar recently which I thought I'd pass along for your reading pleasure...

An Iranian Cleric has blamed women's promiscuity for earthquakes. Hojatoleslam Kazem Sedighi said, "Many women who do not dress modestly lead young men astray and spread adultery in society which increases earthquakes." This is so ludicrous it is almost laughable. Almost, apart from the fact that 1.) Iran has had a number of devastating earthquakes due to its geographical location, not to mention the capital Tehran is on a fault line. 2.) people believe such things and 3.) they use this kind of rhetoric as a potent patriarchal tool. Natural disaster = opportunity to crack the whip at women who refuse to toe the line.

On a completely different note, I heard a great interview with writer Helen Simpson this morning on Radio 4 Woman's Hour. The subject of her work is the humdrum minutiae of everyday life (usually women's) which she masterfully uses to make comments on big global, social and political issues. You can hear three of her short stories from her new collection In Flight Entertainment on Radio 4 this week. The first is Squirrel.   

David Mitchel writes a great piece about the woeful announcement that Cambridge University Union is offering pole dancing lessons. 

Company Magazine is seeking to engage its readers with feminism. Good? Bad? I don't know. I've yet to read the piece or take the quiz for that matter... 

*edit* Company Magazine withdrew the quiz because of criticism on twitter. 

Monday, 12 April 2010

Jack, James and wasn't there another one...

So disappointed to see Labour's manifesto cartoon. Sadly, it's an advert for gender stereotyping. I could overlook the fact that the little squiggly family has two boys and only one girl (it couldn't possibly be two girls and one boy could it?) if it wasn't for the following:

Joe, the dad, gets introduced by name "that's Joe," Jane gets the tag line "his wife." So, it immediately sets up its male audience: We don't meet Jane and "her husband" Joe. Bear with me it gets worse.

Dad announces he "just wants to take care of his family." Good for him. Lucky family. All being cared for like that. And then he gets to chat to the disembodied voice about a new industrial revolution. "Ambitious."

Mum's not talking about the revolution. She's too busy sorting out "Gran" (who doesn't like her biscuits) and the kids who are snapping round her ankles (for cash). Apparently, she needs "all the help she can get." You bet she does, that's one huge stereotype that she's got to break out of. Oh, but she'll be safer when she's alone in the big-wide-world because she's got all those lovely male policeMEN cycling around.

But the worst bit for me was the kids. James gets to show off his knowledge (what's the capital of peru?), Jack is a radical and is reassured his voice will get heard (save the hedgehogs). Sadly Jill doesn't even get a voice. There's no little vignette of her moment in the spotlight. She's invisible. 

It's not a proud moment to be a Labour supporter who's a feminist.

Wednesday, 7 April 2010

Quotas, Female MPs and Turning Round the Telescope


And they’re off! The election is now everywhere in the UK (May 6th, if you’ve not heard), so I thought I’d bring up an issue I’ve been pondering starting a discussion about for a while: the dearth of female MPs. At the moment the UK parliament is at 19.6% representation of women, 61st in the list of nations. In January a cross-party conference chaired by Speaker John Bercow, recommended that, if the paltry 19.6% stat didn’t improve in the next election compulsory quotas should be introduced, and this is something I would wholeheartedly welcome.

Mandatory quotas are not always popular. Some protest that it’s not about whether an MP is female, male, gay, straight, black, white, vegan, carnivore  … It’s about what their policies are, what their politics are. Others, including feminists and some female MPs, protest that quotas would be unfair. Female MPs don’t want an uneven playing field, they want to win a seat because they’re the best candidate, not because they’re women.

But the last time I looked democratic government was meant to be about people. About the people of a particular country, not about the career of a particular person. We’ve come a long way in the last couple of hundred years. We’ve learnt that it doesn’t just have to be the King/Queen, who rules the country; we even realised it doesn’t just have to be the aristocracy (aka. the King/Queen’s chums); in the end we conceded that everyone, including poor people and women should get a say as to who runs the show, and - on paper - should get a shot at sitting in the velvet seats of power. But, for women, it’s time it was more than a shot.

"the women of this country deserve to be represented in the governance of this country in equal measure to the men"

When we focus on individual MPs, who want it to be ‘fair’ (whatever that means), who want to be sitting in Parliament because they are the best, because they beat everyone, man or woman, to it, we’re looking down the telescope the wrong way, everything is made tiny and individualised to the point where the wider horizon is lost. The wider horizon is that the women of this country deserve to be represented in the governance of this country in equal measure to the men. It is not enough to continue to say that men can sympathise/empathise/represent/politicise/speak/write/govern on behalf of the women. Oh, and the men that are elected must be better than the women they competed against because they won! Women are available, educated, and equally competent to serve as MPs. It is time we were represented equally in the leadership of the nation in our own right. And, if a particular women wants to ‘beat the boys’ there’s a whole world of out there that doesn’t have quotas, but when it comes to democratic government how can we settle for anything less? It’s time to turn round the telescope. What do you think?

For more info about women in the UK general election, have a look at the Fawcett Society’s ‘What About Women?’ campaign. 

Wednesday, 31 March 2010

Feminist Blog Carnival #16 Beauty Edition

Beauty Schooled has put on a great carnival which particularly looks at beauty, the beauty industry and body image (amongst other things). It looks great and is more than enough reading to while away Easter weekend, and, if we're really honest, we're secretly chuffed to have been included too! 

Friday, 26 March 2010

And if you look to your right...

I've just had a link fest. I'm worn out, my eyes have gone a bit crossed and my brain has reached feminist/gender saturation. Anyway, I've started a couple of new link lists. As well as the usual interesting blogs and feminist links, there is now Fancy Studying? and Feminism in Academia. 

The former is pretty self explanatory, it's a list of some of the creme-de-la-creme of British courses in gender and feminism. The Feminism in Academia section may well leave you feeling like I've served you a cardboard sandwich with sawdust filling. Hang in there. Mostly the list is academic journals with a feminist/gender specialism, which have some fascinating articles. Some of them require subscriptions, but most that do have a free sample issue which can while away a rainy sunday afternoon. If you are registered at a University, check with the library provision (Athens and all that stuff), you may well be able to access some for free. If you're a hardcore feminist academic, perhaps you have most of them in your downstairs loo already, for guests to browse, as I do, obviously.    

Thursday, 25 March 2010

Guest Post: Ada Lovelace Day

Yesterday was Ada Lovelace Day, a day for bloggers to celebrate women in technology and the sciences. You can find a list of the blogs that join in here. There is a fantastic little cartoon about Ada Lovelace and the story of the first computer program she developed here

To mark the occasion we're really pleased to welcome Mumsnetter ElephantsAndMiasmas for a special guest post. Mumsnet has recently added a Feminism/Women's rights section to their talkboards.

If you love history, and you are a woman, you probably have – like me – a mental list of the very very few women who are remembered. They dot through history like irregular stepping stones, and their names run through my head, a mantra of women’s worth. Because, even for someone who grew up in the last part of the twentieth century, the insult of misogynists throughout time – where are your female philosophers, your female scientists, poets, artists, mathematicians? – still has the capacity to sting. I shouldn’t have to hold names like HypatiaTheodoraAda LovelaceChristine de Pizan, close to me like a safety blanket to keep out the chilly question of whether women really are capable of great things. But even now, living in a time where nearly every field of study and excellence is theoretically available to women, the litany of great women through time retains its power for me.

Maybe it’s because none of them are exactly household names, being cherished for the most part only by a few academics and the women of every generation who have attempted to trace a history of women as the intellectual equals of men.  Their achievements have been erased, minimised, forgotten and ridiculed over time by succeeding eras of male scholars, haunted by the fear that the recognition of even one woman as a great mind would put a crack in the certainty that only men could or should think, reason, invent and decide.   Their memory feels endangered.


Everything about the way history is recorded helps to erase our female ancestors. With not even a surname to keep with them through life, our grandmothers disappear from the edge of the family tree, subtitled with that saddest of legends: “about whom nothing is known”. Largely absent from the paperwork that forms the skeleton of “recorded” history - electoral records, tax documents, legal agreements - it is almost a clichĂ© to say that women’s history is preserved in the organic, changeable medium of spoken, not written, tales.


But keeping alive the memory of these “great women” is where paper history and oral history meet. Where conventional sources of knowledge – books, school curricula, documentaries – fail, oral history steps in. My mother clips out and sends me the tiny articles or book reviews that she happens across that focus on women in history, an excited loop of highlighter circling the relevant few lines. If the name of a female writer or artist or film-maker or activist turns up in conversation, she will turn to me and give me a 2 minute lecture on that woman’s life and achievements, with the air of one sharing an important confidence. What’s the secret? That women have always achieved against all the odds.


All the little knowledge I hold tight about women’s lives and successes through history has come to me through other women, whether a relative telling me about her grandmother's life in the 1890s, a science teacher refusing to let Rosalind Franklin’s name be missed from our class’s study of DNA, or a female blogger writing with passion about Sojourner Truth’s campaign for equality. Accustomed to a dominant culture where they are not listened to, there is a network of tale-telling between women that passes on the stories of how our foremothers have changed the world. 

"Women’s history should make up half of the plain ordinary history that we learn as we grow up."

But while these stories are precious I do not want to see them remain a secret history in this century. The lives and works of women should be printed loud and proud in textbooks,  and shown large as life in art galleries and museums for everyone, both men and women, to see. Women’s history should make up half of the plain ordinary history that we learn as we grow up. So I’ve made it my resolution and my pleasure to tell the men and boys I know the same stories, to make sure my brother knows that the computer programme he uses every day traces its history to Ada Lovelace’s brainpower, to speak to my friend about the woman running a key part of the Hadron Collider he reads about so avidly. One day, I want to look into their faces as I tell them and see no flash of surprise.


Wednesday, 24 March 2010

Iceland bans profit from nudity

Legislation in Iceland bans stripping. Iceland Review reports,

A legislation banning striptease in Iceland and barring clubs from making profit from the nudity of employees of will take effect on July 1, 2010. The legislation was passed with 31 votes. Two MPs of the Independence Party abstained but no one voted against it. 

Monday, 22 March 2010

Frankly Brilliant #1 Camila Batmanghelidjh

Camila Batmanghelidjh is an amazing woman. She has singlehandedly created the children’s charity Kids Company and helped thousands of disadvantaged children and young people in London.

Her story is well rehearsed. Born into a wealthy Iranian family, as a child she never travelled without two bodyguards. At aged 9 she announced she wanted to start an orphanage. When she reached 11, she was sent over to a private girls’ school in the UK. Tragedy struck when her father, back in Tehran, was imprisoned during the Iranian revolution in 1979. Because of a kind bank manager, her fees were maintained, but she was unable to return home and family were unable to join her. She was left alone, with only her brother, in London. After time her mother arrived, via France, but until University she believed her father had been killed.

Her childhood experiences were formative. Stranded in London, without any income she began to work with children in her school holidays to earn extra money. Slowly she built up her skills and reputation, and ended up offering private problem solving to rich parents who didn’t want their children seen publically in a clinic. During her late twenties, her concern and energy began to be directed at some of the most desperate and poverty-stricken children and families in the UK’s capital. In 1996 she formed Kids Company. 14 years later it provides help and support to 13,500 children. It has a staff of 336 and 5,600 volunteers. 

What is particularly inspirational is Camila’s can-do/will-do form of pragmatism. Faced with dire situations, terrible stories of neglect and abuse, rising youth crime and violence, she continues to believe anything is possible, even change.

In a recent interview in Vogue magazine she states:

“It’s terrible, it’s like being in a warzone. But it’s all fixable. We just need to change the model slightly. We need to help one million children who are at risk. We need to set up street level centres where staff function as surrogate parents, and we need them to be open seven days a week. The kids should know they have a place to go and we should take care of them.”

Her ethos is love. Camila Batmanghelidjh created a new model of social work which she has proven to be overwhelmingly successful. 

For more have a look at...

March 2010 Guardian Debate 

Aug 2009 How to Make a Difference interview

Jan 2009 Independent interview

Frankly Brilliant is a feature I’m starting here at Frankly Feminist. In it I hope to highlight some of the inspirational stories of women who have made a difference, taken a stand, swam against the tide, triumphed in the face of adversity etc etc. You get the picture!

Saturday, 20 March 2010

15th Carnival of Feminists

Shut Up Sit Down has put on a glittering carnival here

Wednesday, 17 March 2010

Thanks Lady Gaga for that triumph of misogyny.

A number of things struck me about *that* video, not least that it does real people no favours whatsoever. Hyper sexualising women, female prisoners, female prison guards and crime, is a negative and dangerous discourse in popular culture which Gaga has capitalised on. 

As the opening credits fade of Lady Gaga and BeyoncĂ©'s Telephone video, you quickly realise that this video is about oppressive sexual fantasy: hot, caged, prisoners with killer (literally?) heels, prison bars make convenient pole dancing substitutes, sexy guards, a brutal strip search… there’s something for every male gaze. Gaga cowers on the bed, and then responds like a caged animal climbing the bars and revealing all. When Papadopoulos recognises that sexual objectifying, pornographic images that eroticize violence against women, are mainstream she means mainstream. Gaga is at the peak of the music industry, recently scooping up 3 Brit awards, including best international female, and there is speculation that the Telephone video is the most important video of the year, the most important video ever, the heir to Michael Jackson's Thriller. Well, as you’ve probably deduced we’re not following the populist crowd here.

So what about those ‘real’ people? Real women inmates (like many male inmates) are often from socially deprived backgrounds with a catalogue of other problems. Violence against women of any background depicted as glamorous helps no one. Papadopoulos states:

Research has shown that adults – including women – who viewed sexually objectifying images of women in the mainstream media were more likely to be accepting of violence. The evidence gathered in the review suggests a clear link between consumption of sexualised images, a tendency to view women as objects and the acceptance of aggressive attitudes and behaviour as the norm. Both the images we consume and the way we consume them are lending credence to the idea that women are there to be used and that men are there to use them.

Real women do no look, dress or act like that. But surely I’m not stupid enough to think Gaga is even trying to depict real women or comment on the US penal system? No, I’m not, it’s art isn’t it, silly? I’m all for art, I even studied it once upon a time, but art which contributes to a normalization of pornographic images and objectifies women, needs to be rejected as such. Art, and Gaga’s bisexuality, can’t be used as a thin veil to excuse her depiction of exploitative violent sexuality.    

In this video all Gaga’s offering is a parody of reality. It’s not girl power by any stretch of the imagination. Just because a woman is producing/performing it, saying she’s liberating female sexuality in the process, doesn’t make it liberating, and certainly does not make it feminist. Sorry Gaga, but you’ve added fuel to the popular fires of misogyny, in this video at least.

I wanted to focus my comments on the gendered aspects of the video, but I need to finally mention the mass murder. A deep contradiction at the heart of popular culture is the acceptance of a glorified depiction of a mass killing incorporated in a pop video (funny/colourful/sexy) and the public grief and outcry when one actually happens, “how could this happen? Who could do this?” (terrible/upsetting/heartbreaking). Those unstable enough to plan and perpetrate them are unstable enough to be encouraged and influenced by a pop video.