Are quotas and female only shortlists good for women?

Quotas seem wrong. I want to know that I have my job because I was the best candidate.  I’m not in need of a helping hand, I’m good at what I do.  And so the idea of positive discrimination and quotas seems wrong – positive discrimination is still discrimination, and it suggests that women can’t compete on a level playing field.

But, even a generation after the equal pay act and women being supposedly equal in the work place, women aren’t represented at the top of business.  Graham Snowdon concluded in the Guardian in this article recently that this was because women aren’t inspired to succeed.  Only 50% of women under 30 aspire to leadership, compared to two thirds of men.    If the only successful women see are WAGs and celebs, then is it any wonder that’s what they want to be?   Object have found that 63% of young women aspire to be glamour models or lap dancers, and I think this is really scary.

So could quotas be the answer?   This guardian article suggests they could be.  If businesses are forced to make women more visible, then perhaps women will be inspired to emulate them, and in another generation we won’t need quotas.  But let us look at the role models that are visible since the equal pay act was passed.   Women on TV have always been beautiful.  But compare Angela Rippon and Moira Stuart to Holly and Fern.  Angela & Moira were beautiful, but they weren’t in the fashion mags, they weren’t famous for their relationship gossip.  They were professionals.  Even the older women we see on TV today seem to be chosen for their relationships.  Why was Eamon Holmes’ wife chosen to co-present this morning?

The strongest women are still in very female roles.  Kym & Aggie show you how to clean, Jo Frost is Super Nanny.  Carole Vorderman didn’t get the hot seat after Richard Whiteley’s death, instead it went to another older man.  There is definitely a vacuum of professional leaders as role models at the moment and this has been getting worse in the last 25 years, not better.

Growing up, I had a wide range of strong women role models for me to look up to, chosen not for their looks but for their abilities.  I remember it being very scary when Margaret Thatcher was no longer to be Prime Minister.  Whoever was the next PM was going to be a man, and that just seemed like a really bad idea.  But I didn’t want to be Maggie.  For about 6 months I wanted to be Edwina Curry, but mostly I wanted to be Betty Boothroyd.

So maybe women don’t need help from the government in the form of quotas, maybe they need confidence and inspiration.  Perhaps, instead of getting others to act, the government could act themselves.  How about a quota of women in government.  And not buried away, but at the forefront.  We see more of Sam Cam than we do Baroness Farsi.

Perhaps if the men on boards had to approach a female business secretary, or the banks had to report to a female treasury secretary, this would show them that women can be capable.  And insprire women to make achievements themselves.

So before introducing quotas – which could lead to tokenism and suspicion of women in business, why doesn’t the government take action within it’s own circles, and make women visible in British politics.

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Is war reporting too dangerous for women?

Since the assault on Lara Logan in Egypt last week, many commentators have again been suggesting that reporting on conflict is too dangerous for women.  The bbc has reported special safety advice for female journalists.  I don’t want to talk about Lara Logan, but I do want do think about why people are asking this question.

Yes, reporting on conflicts is dangerous.  As is reporting on a number of other issues.  Travelling in small groups, standing out as an obvious foreigner, amongst people who are under huge pressure and trained to be violent.

People could ask if it’s too dangerous for western journalists.  We could rely on local people, but we seem to value our own journalists opinions and way of presenting.  And enough people chose to go to war zones, keen to ensure people’s stories are told around the world.   It’s rarely questioned publicly whether western journalists should report from dangerous zones.  And yet, it is asked whether it’s too dangerous for women.

One of the thing that alarms me most about this question being asked, is where do we stop?   Politics can be hugely dangerous – Benazir Bhutto was assassinated in 2007 – so should we ask if women should be removed from politics.  Then there’s the armed services, police, fire fighters.  How far should we go to protect women?   Long hours can be stressful and take a toll on your health, so should women be protected from careers such as law that demand long hours?  It doesn’t seem a big leap from asking “Is war reporting too dangerous for women” to “a woman’s place is in the home”.

But we all know, that the world isn’t a safe place.  Women’s Aid tells us that on average, two women every week are killed by a current or former partner.  Rape crisis states that 23% of women will face some sort of sexual assault as an adult.  Staying home won’t keep women safe, so why should we look to limit the careers women can choose.

The question also seems to be often confused with “is war reporting too dangerous for parents”.  Not all women are parents, and not all parents are women.  In fact, about half of all parents are men.  So please, let’s ask the right question.  “Is war reporting too dangerous for parents?”  And again, this sets a dangerous present.  Is there an age that children reach when it becomes ok to loose a parent?  And what about people with parents living – knowing your child is in danger as a reporter must be horrible.  Or people in a relationship?  Perhaps war reporting should only be carried out by celibate orphans?

Except the reason we like getting our news from western reporters is that they are able to report the news from our perspective.  They’re able to explain it to us in a way local people can’t, as they understand our previous experience.   Which means we can understand the experiences and events from around the world.

If we want this understanding, we need reporters who are, in some ways at least, “like us”.  We want women reporters.  We want people with relationships and families.   We want people who understand our lives, so they can tell us about other people’s lives in a context we will recognise.

War reporting is dangerous.  We are lucky that people want to do it, to tell stories we wouldn’t otherwise hear.  To put pressure on our politicians to use their influence around the world.  And no, war reporting is not too dangerous for women.


Bill Aitken, misogyny and victim blaming

Bill Aitken, MSP  was questioned by the Sunday Herald about a series of rapes that have been occurring in Glasgow.  This Telegraph article includes a full transcript, as printed in the New Statesman.

There have been many calls for his dismissal (including this one from Burdzeyeview and a Facebook page) following comments in which he managed to be both misogynistic and racist, before asking if he should “toughen it up”.   This was particularly shocking as he wasn’t caught on camera or by an undercover reporter – he was confidently speaking to a journalist on the record.

Mr Aitken starts by saying that these are alleged incidents, rather than actually happening.  And maybe we should reserve outright condemnation on alleged or reported incidents.  I’m not convinced this MSP would have reserved comment if we’d been talking about handbag snatching or shoplifting, but as a principle, we’re ok so far.  But if he’s reserving judgement, why is he implying an accusation towards the victim?  On what other crime do we put this caveat that the victim’s probably lying?  Insurance fraud could be a strong motive for someone falsely reporting a burglary – but are burglary reports taken with a pinch of salt until we know what really happened…?  Hardly.

Then there’s the idea that the victim brought this on herself by being in the wrong area.  The interviewer consistently reminded Aitken that the victim was on Renfield Street and was dragged to Renfrew Lane.  Aitken insists she was in Renfrew Lane – an important distinction for him as this allows him to imply she was a prostitute.  I’d like to know why an MSP is arguing that women should not be allowed in certain areas at night.  If there are no-go areas, why isn’t this outrageous.  And yet Aitken finds this funny.

Aitken bases his whole intereview on the presumption that the victim was a prostitute, and therefore not a victim at all.  According to Aitken, if someone is selling something, anyone can take it at any time and that’s not a real crime.  So by this logic, can we all take cookies from Tesco as they’re also selling them?  Would Aitken’s view be different if we were talking about a boxer being physically assaulted after a night out?  Whatever someone does for a living, whether you approve of it or not, they should be protected from assault.  In the public furore over bankers, would an MSP have publicly condoned physical attacks on bankers?  Bankers knew their profession was unpopular so… <laughs> <shrugs>.

These comments are appalling, and unfortunately the kind of thing we hear far too often.  But from an elected representative?  Who sits on the Scottish Parliament’s justice committee?  Unacceptable.


Abortion debate – what about the men?

Zoe Williams wrote a great article on the Guardian Comment is Free today about the High Court ruling on medical abortion.

We all know that these articles always bring out the trolls.  That there are strong feelings on both sides, and arguments felt perhaps more than on any other topic.

And yet, I was still shocked at the comments that were appearing, and especially that these comments were on CiF.  They weren’t on the Daily Mail, or from middle America, but in my heartland.

One of the strongest arguments seemed to be “but what about the men’s view?”.  So… what about the men?

Firstly, this argument seems to be based on the assumption that there is an army somewhere of men desperate to be fathers if only heartless women would let them.  I’m not convinced.

Secondly, that these uber-ready fathers-in-waiting are “double-bagging” to do everything possible to prevent an unwanted pregnancy (which they secretly want) but are somehow being caught out by careless women.  Not sure how that works.

And thirdly, that all women are making this decision alone.  Actually, I think an unexpected pregnancy is scary.  Few women chose to go through it alone, and they discuss it with a family member, a close friend, or perhaps even their partner.  Yes, many people, even women who have abortions, can sometimes be in responsible adult relationships.  And they can decide together if they want to have children.

Finally, I’m thinking that for every man wishing to let a pregnancy go full term but being over-ruled, there’s a woman wanting to have her baby, but under pressure and threats of “no money from me” feeling she has to abort.  And I’m equally sure that some women who know that they’re really not ready for a baby, or don’t want children at all, or know that they shouldn’t have children with the man they’re with, are bowing to pressure to go on with a pregnancy and have a child.

So, what about the men?  About the same as for the women at a rough guess.  But without the final responsibility, and without the pain and humiliation of either abortion or childbirth.


Making cohabitation legally binding

This article in the Guardian was based on the suggestion by family lawyer Nicholas Wall that co-habiting couples be given legal protection.  Yvonne Roberts goes so far as to say that couples need these rights.

Treating cohabiting couples as legally the same as those that are married seems to take away a number of our personal rights – the right to chose our own partners, to choose when we get married, and choose what kind of relationships we have.

One of the arguments for this is to protect children after a break up.  But children are already the responsibility of both parents – whether married or not, parents are legally required to care for their children.

So who are we trying to protect with this new legislation?  Vulnerable women?

Well, as an unmarried woman, there are lots of ways that I can protect myself.  I can earn my own living, build up my own savings, pay into a pension and ensure that my name is on the mortgage.   I am not vulnerable simply for being a woman.  And I’m not waiting around for my M.R.S. while my boyfriend resists marriage.  We’re a partnership, making decisions together about the way we want to live our lives.

So we’re not talking about all women.  We’re talking about protecting a particular group of vulnerable women, who are in relationships that are in some way abusive – whether this is physical, emotional or financial.  So if we’re talking about victims of domestic violence, lets ensure that we support these women particularly.  Not enact a law that assumes all women are victims.

This law would be such a blunt instrument, that if an abusive partner wanted to they would easily find a way around it.  Whether that’s breaking up for 2 weeks a year, lying on council tax declarations, or keeping a spare bed made up to show the relationship-inspectors.

Which brings me nicely on to the practicalities of this law.  How would it be decided whether I am married or not?   Is it as soon as we live in the same building?  When it’s been one year?  How is it decided whether I’m in a relationship or simply flat-sharing.  Will there be bed checks as well as forms?   Or should I have gotten divorced from my housemate before moving in with my boyfriend?

David Allen Green posted on the New Statesman this week reminding us that marriage is a legal contract with consequences.  So how exactly would a court, or any other branch of state decide for me that I’ve entered a legal contract?  Green suggests that if people were aware of the legal implications of marriage, perhaps less people would be inclined to enter into this state.  And perhaps that’s true.  Perhaps also, if people were universally aware that there is no such thing as a “common law wife”, and co-habiting couples don’t have rights after some vague length of time, they would be more likely to get married.  Either way, I fully support people ensuring that they know their rights, and have taken responsibility for what would happen if their relationship ends by protecting themselves accordingly.

Relationships aren’t all exactly the same.  We all have the right to choose the kind of relationship we want to be in.  And as a society, we have a responsibility to protect vulnerable people – whether they are children or victims of domestic violence.  But lets not try to uphold this responsibility by walking rough shod over our rights.