If you can’t cook why are you in the kitchen?

The Bristol mayoral election has had one consistent line in nearly every article I have read (and written) about it: one female candidate out of 15 for mayor. It sounds dramatic but then what? One answer may be found – ironically, in this case, rather than aptly – in a self-professed feminist’s blog post. Aside from the very useful mention of women’s issues**, she goes on to criticise and decry a male, red-trouser wearing, wealthy candidate and chooses another male candidate for whom to vote.

And you know what, that’s ok. She, Bristol_Jane, can vote for any man she likes. I can choose, if I was a time traveller, to not vote for Margaret Thatcher even though she is a woman.

You vote for what people will do rather than what they look like. It is their policies which are either feminised or masculine – they either support various individuals and practices by balancing out inequality and power relations or they entrench the unbalanced power relations.

That sounds a bit theoretical: in practical terms, individual rights, support for abused people, housing, forests, nature, things that support humanity and empower and energise the world are generally feminised* policies. *not feminist – different kettle of fish

Destruction, growth for growth’s sake, pollution, anger, power centralisation, policies that benefit unequal power relations are seen as masculine. This is not an exhaustive or even uncontested list so share your own thoughts if you would like.

Criticising people for their gender, appearance and status, however, has nothing to do with politics. Judging people on their policies does but George Ferguson doesn’t really have any so @Bristol_Jane’s description of some of his behaviour (however much she projected malice and indifference in it) is probably a little bit useful.

But that statement, of one in 15, isn’t exactly right and it’s been bugging me why. Part of it is because the group are not homogeneous. In a radio broadcast about the exclusion of 10 candidates from the Bristol Culture hustings, Rich Fisher, an independent candidate said ‘well we’re applying for the same kind of job’ or words to that effect.

Job? Accepting responsibility for hundreds of thousands’ of people’s lives and determining their destiny, health and well-being is just a job? It’s not. It’s the biggest thing you can do for other people and some of the candidates are not really showing that they take it seriously (according to their manifestos, or lack thereof).

Daniella Radice, for the Green party, has one of the most detailed manifestos of all the candidates. She has policies, goals and a perspective on how to play her part. She is more than a woman in a group / gaggle of men. She is a serious contender for the mayoral election and there are only four or five others who are the same. One in five serious candidates is a woman. She also happens to be promoting a respectful society with individual care via feminised policies and politics.

Thatcher was a woman too but that does not make her politics anymore feminised. This is all a bit of a precursor to dealing with Zoe William’s spurious link of testosterone politics and one in 15 candidates being a woman. That’s not the only thing wrong with that article but another post will have to do.

**I am being sincere in this point – this is the only blog post I have seen, although I haven’t looked, with a listing of events about women’s issues as part of the election, and not only.

Update 2: I realise I should have quoted her post for evidence. The purpose of her post is as follows:

“As an independent feminist, these are my personal thoughts on why Marvin Rees is the right person for the job… and why a vote for George Ferguson would be a retrograde step for the women of Bristol.”

The comments about Ferguson’s appearance, status and gender are mentioned in the following quotations:

Marvin is a born and bred Bristolian, and doesn’t seem to be using the mayoral election as a springboard to a career in parliament. At 40, Marvin’s comparative youth (compared to some of the other candidates) is also in his favour in my opinion – the last thing Bristol needs is yet another stodgy, middle-aged, over-privileged, out-of-touch, middle-class man in charge. We don’t need or want a wealthy, attention-seeking person in charge – we want someone who is in touch with reality.

My emphasis.

Argh… George relies on novelty trousers to create a personality. We don’t need a showman mayor in a pantomime costume (we could vote for Dave Dobbs from the BirthdayParty if we really want a mayor in a zany suit) – we need someone who puts Bristol first, not their ego.

Again my emphasis.

A successful woman. Well done?

Alan Sugar recently fired one of his apprentices who suggested that their combined new business be a huge call centre that would make them a lot of money. Talk about living the dream. Someone offers you the opportunity to do something with £250,000 and your idea is to do something that most of society finds loathsome.

It was a woman apprentice and I thought of it when I read in the Guardian about a woman running a betting company that made millions. Betting. Gambling. Putting your money to use by placing on games of fortune. How utterly grotesque.

“In recent years, the number of people experiencing problems with gambling has increased due to economic troubles associated with the global recession and an increase in the number of gambling outlets. It is now easier than ever before to gamble”, says the Gambling Addiction website.

There is no mention of any problem with running an online betting shop in the interview with Simon Bowers. There was an attempt to draw out the fact that the person running Bet365 is a woman with contrasts between the “most masculine of messengers” Wayne Rooney and Ray Winstone on the TV ads and the “passionate businesswoman” Denise Coates.

It’s a tenuous link. Coates is a woman but there’s nothing feminine, motherly or womanly – in contrast to masculine, fatherly and manly, that is – about running a betting shop. It’s capitalism at its very best. There is nothing ethical about this way of making money although the article promotes the many jobs which Bet365’s 1900 staff have thanks to Coates.

Even the support of the local football team which could be considered communal has nothing to do with her. It is her father, the Chairman of Bet365, that is involved with supporting the local team.

So where is the feminist angle? There is none. This representative of capitalism simply happens to have two X chromosomes. She advances no cause. I wonder if Lord Sugar would have hired her as his Apprentice.

I have written before about what it means to be a woman and to run a business when I featured the Homemade Mama. For me, that is what feminism is about. Contributing something to society.

Kindness, understanding and compassion make you a feminist

A friend of mine on Twitter posted a quite fun little piece on coming out as a “feminist” – she did not previously self-identify as a feminist but recently she did and now she does. Actually, after an attack on Twitter she may have changed her mind. What I have told her though as that these women who commented on her blog post are not feminists, they are just unpleasantly argumentative. The following is what happened:

I thought the blog post Dear Feminism by @ladycurd summed up what a lot of women thought and it did it in a nice way.

I retweeted that tweet and I said “that about sums it up”.
Another Tweeter, and woman, @MadamJMo also retweeted but she said the following:

Urr. Can anyone bear to discuss this?! *sighs* “@LadyCurd: Dear Feminism, http://wp.me/p2fS6H-g3”

Not so nice; it was more of a call to arms to the “sisterhood” against someone this “sister” thought spoke badly about something they believed they represented – these are self-identifying feminists.

A fellow “feminist” @ClareSquiggle took up the call and the following conversation took place:

@MadamJMo @LadyCurd “If you want to call yourself a feminist you are one’…*proceeds to list silly, stereotypical prerequisites?* Please.

prerequisites were tongue in cheek. Was just some personal musings on why I didn’t nec. want to call myself a feminist

@LadyCurd I understood intention but unfortunately it mostly read as daft and misguided to me, rather than thoughtful/ helpful critique.

@ClareSquiggle nice. Isn’t an evidence based essay though, it is some musings from my head. I find such hostility unnecessary.

@LadyCurd …I had assumed that it was a more serious piece and read it so.

@LadyCurd I wasn’t trying to be hostile. I found the piece offensive in parts and was trying to explain why. With mention of transphobia…
…I had assumed that it was a more serious piece and read it so.

>> The comment “daft and misguided” does not seem very nice and “I found the piece offensive” does not lead to an explanation of how or why.

I had a discussion on Twitter with @MadamJMo

@MadamJMo I think it is truthful and sincere and speaks to a lot of people, what do you mean? @LadyCurd is a wonderful writer #hecklesup

@stillawake @ladycurd Not saying she’s a bad writer. Just think that post is insulting to feminists. Tired misconceptions about feminism.

“that post is insulting to feminists”, there was no mention of how apart from the “tired misconceptions”.

@MadamJMo @ladycurd I think they are relevant to a lot of people – esp those who still think of Germaine Greer as a feminist – did you see

@MadamJMo @ladycurd @ayiasophia s link to the conservative post, yesterday? now that was a funny misconception.Btw, I wasn’t insulted.

@stillawake If it ‘speaks to a lot of people’, that sadly reinforces what feminists know about the opposition we face. (Sorry, @ladycurd).

“we face” as if to suggest that @MadamJMo speaks for feminists or more worryingly for “feminism” as a whole.

I do not identify (often) as a feminist – mainly because I think of gender as trivial, my ultimate goal is for gender to be enjoyed, cherished, respected and ultimately to be seen as trivial compared to the individual.

This has not happened yet and for a large percentage of people it means that gender is a cause for their suffering and can affect quality of life and even length of life – violence against women is not a trivial matter and it is a reality.

Women are not a homogeneous group, however, and their issues are not the same across class, nationality, age and educational background. “We”, whoever “we” is, are not all the same.

Instead, I support equality and compassion and peace and justice for all and I wish for an end to suffering for everyone.

There was no compassion and kindness shown to a fellow woman who chose to write about her experience in the case of this Twitter discussion – there was sarcasm and superiority, unpleasantness, hostility, feigned resignation and rudeness.

If we cannot be nice to each other then who is it going to do it for us? I do not consider these women feminists, no matter what they write in their Twitter biographies. They spotted something they did not like and instead of presenting an articulate and compassionate argument, they attacked and made themselves feel superior.

What a wasted opportunity. They are, of course, welcome to respond on how and why they disagreed with the original post but they have to do it with kindness and compassion. I welcome what they have to say and look forward to learning something new.

For an example of how to deal with conflict when trying to change the world, it might be useful to see how organisations like Medialens, who are fighting against the distortions of the mass media, work. They do it with tolerance, generosity and kindness, rather than anger and hatred..

The Stylist magazine, weighty issues but no dieting?

There is an interview with Stylist magazine’s editor Lisa Smoraski in the Guardian and the free, printed publication is described as having hard-hitting features such as the gender pay gap and women in politics. There are no diets and it wants to talk intelligently to women.

To me, having a magazine suggest that they want to talk to women / about women intelligently when that same magazine has a title which is shallow enough to try to appeal to women by reference to their appearance, is not only an oxymoron but an insulting one at that.

I have never picked up one of these free magazines even though it is distributed in Bristol, mainly because I find it insulting that there is a female and a male set of magazines in the first place. I am surprised they don’t just make one pink and the other blue (sometimes they do). There is also the fact that I have no interest in fashion so the title Stylist does not appeal to me.

The interviewer, Emine Saner, describes some of the content as follows:

As a reader, what I like are features on often weighty issues – it has tackled the gender pay gap and the lack of women in politics – that are given enough space, alongside about the right number of pages (that is, enough but not too many) of fashion and beauty.

Smoraski, for some context on where her penchant for hard hitting and weighty features comes from, worked for Bliss straight after her Journalism degree and was also editor of Smash Hits at 25. She went on to be editor of More as well.

Check out the Stylist website now for such hard-hitting features and ‘weighty issues’ as Kate Middleton’s first public speech. I am not being entirely mean, the Middleton speech is given top banner status while some interesting writing such as ’25 kick ass female heroines’ is much further down the page.

I may start being nicer because there is also a competition for crime writing and I am working on something that fits that description. Let’s see what Stylist is all about then.

Let me know your thoughts if you have read it. Or even if you haven’t read it.

Book giveaway, The Lightbulb Moment

The Lightbulb Moment, edited by Sian Norris, is a collection of writings from people describing the moment they realised they were feminist. This is a curious, diverse and fascinating glimpse into people’s lives.

There is a wide spectrum of articles including creative writing, personal accounts and observations. You can read a review here.

Leave a comment on this blog post to be in with a chance to win. The winning entry will be drawn on January 29, 2012.

Loquax Competitions

The Lightbulb Moment, edited by Sian Norris

Sian Norris writes the blog Sian and Crooked Rib and is the one woman publisher behind Crooked Rib publishing. She invited people to submit a piece about the Lightbulb Moment when the realisation that they were feminist occurred to them. It was a call out to what she herself acknowledges as a self-selected group of individuals but the stories, all 34, are still diverse and varied.

27 year old editor, Norris, published the book through her own publishing company which so far is just for her own work. The work ranges from vague generalisations to detailed tales that provide clear paths to feminism. There seem to be more than a few instances of marginalised individuals finding strength in belonging to such a community, virtual or otherwise. The range of topics include sexualisation, domestic abuse, gender inequality, gender roles, and some brief moments of motherhood.

While I can see why articles by Laurie Penny and Just Women pieces were included by a new editor/author who perhaps would like to import some legitimacy by invoking strength through already published pieces, I think it’s a shame and the pieces seem to weaken the work. The edited blandness of the Just Women pieces, no matter how suitable – one of them is the only piece in the book that talks about the importance of women as mothers in the feminist narrative – contrasts sharply with the raw and powerful original pieces that were submitted.

The Lightbulb Moment didn’t need the artificially polished brusqueness of Laurie Penny talking about Germaine Greer. A piece by Greer would probably have been more useful.

All sorts of paths to feminism are invoked including a personal story by Norris herself and a poem about women’s inequality from a muslim perspective. Creativity blends with short point-form articles. Stories about teenage years shift to a mother’s view point and then to a boyfriend’s and then to an angry city dweller who feels she is working in a city that’s becoming a brothel.

The weaknesses of feminist arguments come through as well with a woman sharing that she had always known that women were disadvantaged but without sharing how she knew this. Another writer, Gillian Coe, says: “I have always believed that women are as valuable and intelligent as men, so when I saw that they were treated as less so, and excluded from all manner of things for no good reason, I naturally thought that this should change”. She doesn’t say from what women are excluded and as a white, educated, middle class woman I can’t even imagine to what she’s referring.

The stronger pieces provide examples that include sexual aggression, sexual objectification, the malignant nature of female and male magazines and the disgusting page 3 culture of the Sun newspaper. Marta Owczarek searches for important women in the local art scene rather than just noting their absence: “countless examples of amazing women and what they did…”.

One of the best pieces is by sports journalist, Carrie Dunn, who took a personal experience of a gender biased passion like football and describes what she experienced as a professional in that field. I found this quite a touching piece especially as my 10 month old daughter already has her first football kit.

Some parts are angry but mostly they are exploratory and creative and a wonderful insight to a part of life that affects us all. A brilliant beginning from Norris.

The Lightbulb Moment is available to buy from Crooked Rib publishing.

Preview: The Lightbulb Moment

I am currently reading The Lightbulb Moment, edited by Sian Norris @sianushka – The stories of why we are feminists.

Sian self-published this book via her independent publishing company Crooked Rib and it contains stories from women and men up and down the country. Women and men with different histories, of different ages, who all identified as feminists in unique and fascinating ways.

Look out for a review very soon.

Feminism, a question of diversity or nudity?

The following statement resonates with me and points to inequality and gender bias:

Do women have to be naked to get into U.S. museums? Less than 3% of the artists in the Met. Museum are women, but 83% of the nudes are female (Observer, January 8, 2012).

The following does not resonate with me as as a complete and legitimate statement of the issue (gender inequality):

The #diversityaudit search term on Twitter – some examples

@hepvintage #diversityaudit @BBCRadio4 panel show The Unbelievable Truth. The sadly believeable truth is 1 host = male and 4 guests = male

Mentions of women so far on #QI: escorts, strippers, an explorer’s wife. I wish I was making this up. #diversityaudit

Can anyone tell me why?

Not laughing at women? you should be

Malcolm Gladwell’s book Blink can be summed up as ‘trust your instinct except when it’s wrong’. Simplistic, certainly, and a description that may not get at the very readable account that Gladwell presents. His point is that experts should rely on their gut instinct and the rest of us would benefit from trying to identify from where we gain our instinctive reactions. If we are not experts then they must necessarily come from biases because we don’t have all the information.

This occurred to me when I saw Dara O’Briain tweet a self-proclaimed feminist, Sianushka, about women in comedy clubs. She asked ‘why don’t Mock The Week hire more female comedians’? He replied along the lines of ‘because that would be positive discrimination’ (I’m paraphrasing). Sianushka went on to say something about weak cultural assumptions, e.g. women = bad drivers and it sounded like the wrong argument.

Are women put off by ‘vague cultural assumptions’ Dara asked? Female comedians he knew would find that insulting.

The argument was all backwards.

It’s like asking a selective university like Oxford or Cambridge why they don’t have more working class students. Most of the time they would answer that those students don’t apply. Those students don’t get the grades to apply to selective institutions. The biggest predictor of going to university is achieving the grades.

I don’t know why there aren’t as many female as male comedians but I am pretty sure that it’s not because the person booking the acts decided not to let women perform. I could be wrong. Perhaps the idea that women comedians aren’t funny is a lot more pervasive than I think.

There have been studies that have tried to prove discrimination in the practices of admissions tutors for entries in higher education. The studies don’t usually do very well at proving bias.

The bigger reason is that students don’t apply. Some think that students don’t apply because of tuition fees. The fees that were introduced in 2006, then the ones that will cost up to £9000 a year from 2012. No matter that the students won’t have to pay up front. That the poorest students who may earn the least will pay the least. That free higher education is also free to those who pay thousands of pounds to secondary school.

The perception of higher education isn’t the same for all people. Some students grow up surrounded by people who have gone to university, who have at least one degree, who have been interviewed, who know what courses to take, what subjects to study, what to do and how to proceed. Then there are other students who know no one who has gone on to tertiary education. People who have never left the area in which they grew up let alone leave home to go to university or even for an interview.

So why did I think of that when the comedian and the feminist were tweeting? Because she made a very weak argument with the bad drivers example. Not because people don’t think it – they may, I don’t know. I guarantee however that insurers don’t think it and when it comes to paying for bad drivers, 18 year old boy drivers are paying huge premiums because of reality rather than rumours.

The professionals know the difference and like Gladwell pointed out – if you’re not an expert then examine your biases. But who are the experts in the comedy world? And why aren’t women better represented? Any ideas? Here’s an article on this subject from the @sianushka. I don’t have an answer but I like the question.

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