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!