Sophie Walker took part in a web-chat on Mumsnet this week.
I am a member of WEP, and have been since the very first day membership was available. I acknowledged that it can be problematic – a very “top down” approach to feminism, but I really felt that it was something I wanted to be part of, and that no one organisation could be perfect or tick all the boxes I needed, but that this approach was a vital one
However, the statements made in this webchat in particular are causing me real problems. Sophie Walker said:
“I am old fashioned enough to believe that one is not born a woman but rather becomes one. The process of becoming a woman is a messy one, filled with contradictions and influenced by many different factors”.
And this brings me up short, as it almost feels like victim blaming. I didn’t choose to be a woman, I am one. And the point about the discrimination I face as a result is that it’s not based on my choices. It doesn’t matter that I’m child-free by choice, I am still seen as a “maternity risk” by some potential employers. Discrimination doesn’t start when we declare ourselves to be women; we know that girls also experience discrimination, just take a look at Pink Stinks or the testimonies on Everyday Sexism. We can’t choose whether or not this is the case – the patriarchy is something imposed upon us.
I am really struggling to see what Sophie Walker meant by this statement. What is the point of a Women’s Equality Party that believes women only face discrimination when they choose? What is the point of a Women’s Equality Party that doesn’t really believe that women exist?
I am deeply troubled by these statements. I haven’t made a decision about my membership yet, but I don’t feel that I can avoid that decision much longer.
It’s been a couple of weeks now since my Facebook pals went crazy, raving about this article:
A Bristol company is introducing menstrual leave. During their period, women may not be in a fit state to work, and should be allowed time off. But it works better for companies too, as you’re “synchronising” with your employees, and so will get more from them when they are feeling productive.
I understand why people are raving about this. Especially those of us who have only ever worked in male-dominated offices, a true understanding that certain times of the month can be crap, sounds good on the surface.
But right from the first read, I have a bit of a problem with this. My biggest problem is that periods are normal. We don’t need to be excluded from general population when we’re having a period. It might be coming from a friendly place, but you’re saying exactly the same thing as those men that say women are unclean and need to be locked up during their period.
Then there’s the subtler messages this is sending. In offices up and down the country, still when women get justifiably angry about something, it’s often greeted with an eye roll and a dismissal with “is it that time of the month?”. So an employer actually coming out and saying that women should go home when they’re having their period, hardly helpful. Again, this particular (female) employer isn’t saying it in this way, but the underlying message is the same. Women aren’t as effective during their period, won’t contribute as much. And as it should be quite hard to tell when a woman’s having her period, this pretty much means they’re not as effective and should be treated with suspicion, just in case.
We’ve fought really hard, for many years, to get to a place where legally, we now talk about “parental leave” not “maternity leave”. And one of the drivers for this, has been that many companies routinely discriminate against all women of child-bearing age in order to avoid paying for maternity leave. Introducing another reason why women need time off, will contribute to this further. A forward-thinking company promoting this, will give further excuse to the patriarchal companies that nod along and say “well yes, I’ve always thought that women aren’t really cut out for office life”. Women are perfectly capable of functioning in the work place – whatever the time of the month. I’m not a slave to my hormones.
Perhaps I’m over-simplifying here. I’m lucky that – thanks to lots of medication for many years, and finally a great IUD – I’m not doubled over in pain every month. I do understand that some women are – but that doesn’t mean that every woman is. Treating serious period problems as health issues – both recognised by Doctors and employers – would be a great idea, and a campaign I’d get behind. But that’s not the same argument as saying that all female employees need special treatment.
And however well intentioned you are, asking if it’s that time of the month, is not something I want to hear in the office.
So it’s great news, that 30-something years after equal pay became a legal requirement, the government is actually doing something to enforce this.
You might notice a slight hint of exasperation here, because really. What is the point of legislation that no-one bothers to even check whether it’s being adhered to? So, great step forward.
Except, all it’s requiring is that information is published. Nobody will then actually do anything to firms that are not paying equally – even thought this is the law. So firms will notify the government that they’re not complying with the legislation. And then nothing will happen. *slow handclap*.
The government’s idea is that women can then use their power as employees and consumers to lobby firms, armed with this information. Except, if women had any influence as employees of these firms, surely there wouldn’t be a gender pay gap anyway.
I know this is a difficult issue. It’s very closely linked to representation on Boards and in senior management – because the easiest argument for a different average, is that there are more men in senior positions, dragging the average up, or conversely that there’s more women in the most junior part time roles. And there’s still nothing to address this gender imbalance. I do understand that there’s not a simple answer here. But doing nothing is not an answer either. How about requiring companies who do not meet equality criteria to come up with a plan to address it? Hardly ground-breaking or business-threatening. But it would force employers to at least consider some of the factors contributing to the pay disparity. If they are simply not paying women equally for equal work, their plan would be hard pressed not to address this. But if there are more complicated factors – like a lack of training and promotion for part time staff, or a lack of women in senior positions – then a firm having to at least consider this, would actually be a step forward.
Rather than this measure, which is a great headline to appeal to those pesky women voters. But really doing nothing at all.
I read an excellent article on LinkedIn today, I’m afraid the original text is not in English, but here’s the translation from the LinkedIn post:
Professor Sydney Engelberg, was unfazed when the child of a mother at his lecture on organizational behavior began to cry. The embarrassed mom tried to leave the class, but instead, the father-of-four and grandfather-of-five scooped the kid up and soothed him in his arms – without missing a beat in the lesson. He allows the mothers that attend his masters’ lectures to bring their children and even breastfeed. No mother should have to choose between a child and an education!
And a link to the original blog http://etarjomeh.mihanblog.com/ (not English)
The comments on this, were almost all incredibly positive, praising the professor for his empathy. It seemed such a clear but brilliant idea to me – a real win for everybody, as a noisy child didn’t interrupt the lecture (hardly ideal for anyone attending) but this woman wasn’t excluded either.
I wouldn’t normally blog about childcare, because not having children, I feel rather under-qualified to have an opinion. But, I am a woman in the workplace. I see talented women leaving, or taking jobs significantly below their abilities, in order to get a better fit with the rigours of child care. I hear “jokes” often about “let’s hire a man this time – we’ve enough people on maternity leave at the moment” (ha ha – always funny, because if it wasn’t a joke it would be illegal).
But this one struck me, because also this week, I saw this article by Caroline Criado-Perez in New Statesman http://www.newstatesman.com/politics/feminism/2016/02/companies-are-publish-their-gender-pay-gaps-will-lead-financial-equality about how a more radical approach to closing the gender pay gap is required – citing factors such as part time work which are often directly linked to child care. My one criticism of this article is that it doesn’t go on to say what the more radical approach required is. How can we measure, monitor and then enforce something with so many variables?
Childcare was also something I noticed a lot while in Cambodia recently. Women were working everywhere with their children – whether that was babies in papooses or children working and playing nearby, in fields, in markets, in local industries. In the National Parks, frequently the female rangers were accompanied by their children of pre-school age – and why not? The ranger is there to support tourists and protect the Park, and why can’t they do this with their children nearby? Don’t get me wrong, I’m not offering poverty as a great solution. There are health and safety and education issues. But perhaps there are some ideas to be taken here.
Maybe the answer is that we’re over-complicating this issue. Perhaps the simple answer is the best. Perhaps less division between “work” and “private” lives is the answer? Perhaps moving away from the idea that children should be invisible in our work lives. That career progression shouldn’t be dependent on invisible children – on a “who can best pretend they aren’t a parent” competition. This has previously been dismissed as a very middle class solution – it’s easy for those blackberry-wielding professionals to arrange their schedules how they wish. But maybe it could work in so many more ways?
There was an interview with Camila Batmanghelidjh, founder of Kids Company on Radio 4’s Women’s Hour today. It was a challenging interview, which touched on the racism that was faced by Batmanghelidjh, which is good. But they didn’t touch on the sexism that she faced, which I think was an important factor.
This idea that she “mesmerised” people stinks of old fashioned “witch” accusations. Surely if she’d been a man, she’d have been talked of as charismatic?
The interview touched on her clothes, and the influences from Iran, and the racism that she faced, but didn’t talk about her appearance, and whether a woman receiving “so much tax payer money” was part of the problem.
A man’s appearance can be commented on – I’m thinking here particularly about Boris Johnson – but somehow it’s not seen as indicative of whether he can actually perform his job. Their clothes are seen as an affectation, a vanity, an eccentricity. A reflection if personality perhaps, but not as reflective of their abilities. Whereas I’ve heard more than once that “one look at her and you could tell she shouldn’t have been managing multi-million pound budgets” in reference to Batmanghelidjh.
This is bothering me particularly this week, as I shop for a couple of new outfits to start my new job (I do acknowledge the privilege inherent in this dilemma, but that’s something for another post). One dress in particular, is awesome. It’s black with flashes of bright orange, the skirt will be comfortably below the knee even when I’m sitting, the straps are wide enough to cover my whole shoulder and won’t show bra-straps. So far, so professional. And I love it. But boy, it shows a whole lot of cleavage. If I get impassioned and lean across a table, you could see straight down my top. So I have this nagging feeling “is this how I want to be seen”?. Which is driving me crazy. I know how I’m seen in my profession – I’m capable, well known, full of good ideas. One dress shouldn’t have any impact on my decade-plus in the sector. And yet, I’m still having this persistent thought that people won’t see or hear me if I wear this dress, they won’t see anything but cleavage.
And while sexism is still alive and well, this issue is important. The fact that the more senior people are, the more likely they are to be men influences this. I know that the majority of people I come in to contact with will see an awesome dress. But what about those people that know me less well? Is this the first impression I want to leave them with? Will they hear what I say, or will they just be thinking that I think my boobs are the most important thing?
For now, I’m going to fall back on asking my Mum about this dress. I can count on her to give an honest opinion on whether the dress works, or whether the first thing that she sees is my cleavage. But I wish we lived in a world where this wasn’t such a big deal. Where our clothes are noticed – maybe even commented on – but not seen as a reflection of our ability. A man’s world.
If anyone hasn’t already heard about the UN findings on Assange’s “detention” in the Ecuadorian embassy, here’s the detail by Marina Hyde
There are a lot of people arbitrarily detained in the world, and it’s great that the UN will take up and publicise these cases, putting public pressure on the governments concerned. However, the very fact they reviewed this case at all raises huge questions about what the heck they were trying to achieve.
This is a case which is so not arbitrary, it has been through 8 different legal proceedings, which at every one Assange was represented by a legal team of his own choosing.
This is not even a case of detention, but of someone hiding. Assange can leave at any time he chooses. Of course, if he chooses to leave, he will face the repercussions of breaking his bail conditions in the UK, and needing to be questioned about some serious allegations in Sweden. He is hiding from both of these things, not being detained by anyone.
By taking this case, the UN is completely undermining it’s own ability to talk about arbitrary detention. Because either they are talking rubbish, or the EU is talking rubbish by issuing and enforcing arrest warrants. So any future cases immediately have to ignore pressure from either the UN or the EU. Great move for human rights around the world, very clever.
By giving Assange an advance copy of their findings, allowing him to grand-stand and make ridiculous “poor me” statements, the UN has completely undermined it’s reputation for independence and neutrality.
The UN has also put it’s own arbitrary statute of limitations on rape and violence against women. Women’s rights around the world are a vital part of the UN’s work – whether that’s addressing FGM, rape as a weapon of war, representation of women during peace talks, the UN’s own “he for she” campaign… I could go on. Just today, the UN is trying to draw attention to the massive problem of FGM around the world but this isn’t being spoken about – instead, Julian Assange is headline news, again. This decision by the UN has basically said that it will uphold inconvenience to men over and above the right of women to have allegations of assault properly investigated following due process. Women can no longer trust the UN to be independent and stand up for their rights.
So this decision is not only ridiculous, it is hugely dangerous for women across the world. The UN urgently need to address this, to maintain it’s own reputation for defending human rights – for the sake of those in arbitrary detention, and for the sake of all women around the world.
That Dawkins tweet today has linked a couple of recent articles in my head, and resulted in this post.
The first was a couple of weeks ago, when a retiring judge says that rape conviction rates won’t improve until women stop getting so drunk: http://www.independent.co.uk/news/uk/home-news/former-judge-says-rape-conviction-rates-will-not-improve-until-women-stop-getting-so-drunk-9691911.html
The second was a response to the news of a college requiring affirmative consent: http://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2014/sep/02/-sp-campus-rape-prevention-yes-means-yes’ a commenter actually asked “what am I supposed to do, like ask every 5 minutes?”. This comment has stuck so much in my head, as it seems so blindingly obvious to me that, yeah, when having sex you should be aware of your partner as a participant! How can someone even ask this?
And yet they can, and do, and this is where this comment meets the Dawkins tweet and the Judge’s comments. The problem here isn’t women’s drinking. The problem here is in the sexual education of young men.
30 years ago it was acceptable and fine to get in your car after a few beers and drive home. Yet education and media campaigns have turned this completely ground. We now need the same zero-tolerance high profile campaign about affirmative consent. Posters shouldn’t tell girls not to drink, but tell boys to look for affirmative consent. Sex education in schools should focus on what consent is, what it means, and about continual consent – checking every 5 minutes shouldn’t be a question because you’re continually checking in with your partner.
Juries no longer consider whether they think a drunk driver was really incapacitated, whether they can handle their drink, how many years safe driving they have. The court system realises it is unacceptable to drive drunk. Just as they should recognise it’s unacceptable to have sex without consent.
I am only using this drunk driving analogy to show that perceptions of acceptable and criminal behaviours can be changed.
And that is where the focus needs to be. Not on controlling women’s behaviours, especially not on victim blaming. But on making sure that affirmative consent is the benchmark of acceptable behaviour.