Female commentators, boys clubs and quotas

It’s not news that women are hugely under-represented when it comes to news commentary, professional panels and conferences – anything where expertise is valued. The excuse so commonly given is that the organisers just don’t know any women who are experts in x,y or z.  Which is why I am so thrilled to hear about @theWomensRoomUK, who are setting up a database to ensure that the media can always find a female expert.  Getting rid of the easiest excuse – that they just can’t find a woman – ensures that at the very least, organisers are left with just two options: to come out and admit to their misogyny, or to admit their complete lack of knowledge of their subject.

Which is exactly what happened to the organisers of a fundraising summit recently.  Fundraising has a good track record, with many incredible women achieving great things, and heading up well-known organisations.  So when challenged about why organisers couldn’t find women to speak at their summit, Giles Pegram stated it was because women weren’t the “thinkers” in Fundraising.  Which shows a brilliant lack of knowledge about the fundraising sector, along with a healthy dose of misogyny.  Is it any surprise that the event had to be cancelled – or did Mr Pegram really think that female fundraising directors would take a break from their tea-making-duties to come along to listen to what the men thought of their profession?

I have a feeling that the reaction will be written off as “hysterical” women and a problem with social media rather than fundraising.  But I do hope it gives pause to the next organisers of a conference.  Not “believing” in quotas is an easy thing to say when you’re represented.  It’s not so easy when you’re on the outside.  It can be very hard to know when you’re part of a club.  You may think of yourself as an outgoing and approachable person.  But if this cancellation can encourage organisers to look around at their panels, perhaps they will start to see that they are looking at the same faces over and over again.   Maybe when they realise this, they will look for a practical and simple solution – such as that offered by @theWomensRoomUK.

So I’m singing the praises of The Women’s Room in two different ways.  Removing the easy excuse, which will hopefully prevent laziness.  And making it easy for those that want to challenge a boys club to find a way to do it.  What a brilliant idea.


Where courts won’t step, media happily leaps

Today, the tragic case of a murdered family has been in the news as the trial opens.

Rzeszowski is accused of stabbing his wife, their two children, his wife’s friend and her daughter, and his father-in-law. He tried to enter a plea of manslaughter due to diminished responsibility, which was refuted by the prosecution, and rejected by the court.

And yet, the media seem quite happy to blame his wife and imply that this wasn’t really his fault. Has anyone seen a report which doesn’t include either “driven to”, “couldn’t cope with” or “as a result of”?  Has anyone seen a report which doesn’t mention that his wife had told him she’d had an affair?  Or a report that doesn’t state the actions were as a result of “domestic problems”?

People wonder why so few are willing to report or press charges in cases of domestic violence.  Well here’s a clue.  Even in this extreme case of a mass-murder, there are strong hints from the media that this was her fault.  This mess could all have been avoided if she’d been a better wife.

Even when the courts are pursuing a murder charge and rejecting the plea of diminished responsibility, the media are there to argue “yeah but…”.  This reporting is something I’ve mentioned before, and really isn’t a surprise.  But it needs to be stated again.  Victim blaming isn’t acceptable.  Whether Rzeszowski was in control or not, responsible or not is to be determined by the court.  But whoever was responsible – it wasn’t the victims.

Diversity or best for the job?

This week, Marketing Week had me bashing my head on my desk over this article – an inconvenient brand truth.

They took a survey which shows that having diverse boards will improve business performance, then looked at Super-Brand Apple with only white middle-class men on the board, and leapt to a whole bunch of stupid conclusions.
Here are the two reasons they are stupid.

One – an anecdote isn’t evidence. Just because Apple is doing well with an un-diverse board doesn’t mean diverse boards don’t work.  It’s not like they took two Steve Jobs,  gave one a company with a diverse board, and one a company with a board that looked just like him, and studied the results.  You cannot use one anecdote to refute a survey.

And Two – diversity isn’t something you do because “women bring different skills”. You do it because that way you get the best.  The whine-y comments underneath that it’s not fair on white middle-class men as the poor scraps can’t get a job any more only underlined this. Once you force boards to look for more diverse candidates, they suddenly realise that actually, people who don’t look like them can be even better candidates than those that do.

Diversity doesn’t penalise white men. Diversity creates a level playing feel, and then, what a surprise, it’s not always white men that come out top.

I’m not refuting the article’s conclusion that Apple is an exceptional brand, that has always operated in an exceptional way.  But why is this prompted by a survey about equality?  This article could have focussed on innovation, doing things differently, standing out from the crowd.  By choosing to focus on equality and diversity, the author reduced himself to simply being a white, middle class man moaning “what about teh menz” and completely missing his own point.  Poor journalism, based on the idea that a cave-man rally cry will get extra headlines.  Why couldn’t the article on equality have prompted Marketing Week to look at itself and the industry more widely?  Maybe start introducing a diversity audit for it’s own panel discussions and events?  Or have a think about why all their columnists are white middle class men?

This is the inconvenient truth – that pedalling and celebrating old stereotypes isn’t what drives anything forward.

The witch hunt for Rebekah Brooks

Private Eye have an awesome front cover this week, calling Rebekah Brooks to the Salem Witch Trials, following her arrest as part of the hacking investigation.

(Thanks for the image @SuperRetroid)

Now, I wouldn’t comment on a trial whilst it’s in progress, and so I’m not placing an opinion at all on the particular issues she’s charged with.  What I’m commenting on is the way that the media in particular have gone after her.

There were a lot of people that have been called to the Leveson enquiry.  And most of the ones that have caught the media attention have been men.  Andy Coulson, Jeremy Hunt, James Murdoch, Rupert Murdoch.  All of them have been called with an eager glee that is not about justice, but is about finally getting a chance to talk negatively about this powerful group of people.  And the fact that a woman dared to join this power group – shock horror!  How very dare she!

The way that the media attack Rebekah Brooks is different to the way they attack others.  Rupert Murdoch is attacked because of his age – the crazy old coot.  James Murdoch is attacked because he has a wealthy father who gave him a job.  Rebekah Brooks is attacked because she is a woman.  The men dress “sombrely” for court, Rebecca Brooks dresses in an “almost puritan style” although with her hair still loose.

The media so quickly forgive Chris Brown and Gazza, and yet no interview or comment about Rebekah Brooks is free from a mention of her arrest for assaulting her partner.  This was even brought up in the Leveson enquiry for Gods sake – did she remember the night snigger snigger.  I’m not saying that we should forget this instance of domestic violence because the victim was a man.  I’m saying lets have some consistency here people!

I’m not saying that Rebekah Brooks is in some way a victim of the men around her.  I’m saying that she’s been their equal, and the media can’t stand it.

The way that Brooks has been condemned and patronised by the media from the first second available, is a condemnation of all women who aim for powerful positions.  And that is why the Private Eye cover is so apt.  The witch trials burnt through areas affecting many women at a time.  Once one woman is accused and found guilty, it’s “proof” that there are more out there.  The way the media and politicians are baying for Brooks’ blood is a danger to all women who want to join the power-circles.  You’re not welcome here.  If you dare put a foot through our door you are fair game and expendable.

Women not supporting women?

Another day, another list of top tweeters that pretty much ignores women.  And then this genius at the Independent decided that this must be because women are bitchy and unsupportive of each other.  And she concluded this because the stats don’t lie – this was scientifically analysed and so cannot be accused of gender bias.

Except – you can’t exclude gender bias by simply ignoring it.  How did they account for the bias within mainstream media and politics?  How did they account for the exclusion of women from politics, comedy and commentary?  They didn’t – and this is where the study was hugely gender-biased.  We also all know how much misogyny exists within twitter – how did they exclude this when deciding how much women were heard?  This study wasn’t gender-neutral, it took the gender bias from society and replicated it.

So of course, her conclusion that “we’re wary of other women’s success” is completely without grounds.

One of the things that so many people love about twitter is that it removes the bias we experience in the mainstream media and politics.  We can find other people who think like we do (or challenge us) and are not constrained by what is deemed by upper class white men to be important.  It’s been an absolute revelation for me to find sites like Womens Views on News that unearth important stories about women.  To find journalists like @Sianushka to offer a feminist commentary on news of the day.  To find campaigners like @theNatFantastic who are changing the world.  I don’t live or work in a town with a big feminist presence, and so to find out that my views aren’t quirky or extreme has been an incredible boost to my confidence.

Other women have supported me too.  I wouldn’t have learnt to tweet without the awesome @Trishie_D setting a great example and tweeting with me.  I certainly wouldn’t have started my blog without encouragement from @PitandPendulum.  I am also inspired by the support that women offer each other – for example when the #unilad scandal really broke, the women who were particularly targeted by offensive misogynists were, I know, overwhelmed by the messages of support that flew their way over twitter.

I could concede that perhaps men and women use twitter differently somtimes.  As much as it sticks in my throat to say this, hundreds of years of conditioning can still mean that men and women communicate differently.  And because of this (as well as the media bias I mentioned above) it’s vital that any study of influential tweeters considers these factors if they want to really look at who is influencing people. 

I’m going to finish with an anecdote – that’s all it is, I’m not claiming scientific objectivity.  Stephen Fry often comes out high in these influential tweeter polls, and I’ve heard charities say that one tweet from him, plugging their cause is worth about £10,000.  I’m never sure how they calculate this, but it seems to have become some kind of lore.  The other day, Sue Perkins made a real change in the world by calling a schoolgirl on a homophobic tweet, and contacting her headmaster to offer to go to the school and take an assembly.  Which person is really having the most influence on the world here?  And this is the crux of my point.  If you conduct a study, rewarding male styles of communicating, in a male-dominated society, of course more men are going to come out on top.

Please don’t then blame women for this.  Blame society, blame the study.  Blame yourself and go looking for more women if you don’t feel that your timeline has enough strong women in it – there’s plenty of them out there.

Twitter is full of AWESOME women, and I really do feel that they’re chipping away at society to make a real difference.  And twitter has enabled me to become a tiny part of that.

Ethical Advertising – and where we draw the line

Not sure if I’ve mentioned this before, but I work in marketing.  Direct Marketing actually – so a big part of my day is working out how to target my best prospects, based on profiling.  I’m often profiling on age and gender, as well as income, media consumption and purchasing history.  So far, so creepy to many I’m sure.  And as an advertiser, I’m always being offered more and more insightful ways to target.  But I am starting to wonder now where we draw the line.

Facebook has clearly crossed a line.  I can’t target people based on their race, but just about everything else is up for grabs. And not just information you’ve volunteered, but also information you’ve looked at, or topics you’ve talked about.  The issues this raises for privacy concerns are huge, and are not being addressed by Facebook, who seem to take the view that it’s up to individual users (even children) to work out how to opt out.  Take the story from earlier this year of the young man who was outed by Facebook Ads targeting him as gay – even though this was information he’d hoped to keep private (the story originally ran in Privacy International, who have now taken it down due to privacy concerns).

This attitude that it’s up to us to opt in or opt out is increasing.  Marks and Spencer’s Valentines campaign – purportedly “helping men choose the perfect gift” was actually “dress this model any way you like”.  Like a real-life barbie doll on the screen in front of you.  Any concerns over the sexism in this campaign (ignoring the ubiquitous ‘men spend money / woman will have sex with you as a given) – that having a model that you can choose the underwear of is exploitative – were brushed aside with the answer “well, you had to stand in a certain spot, and choose to use your phone to access this content”.  It’s up to us to opt out.

And this week, the controversial face-recognition advert from Plan UK – that will scan your face, decide if you are male or female, and then show you gendered content.  A really interesting use of technology.  But seemingly without considering that this could make many people uncomfortable, or worse cause real damage – outing transgender people and leading to bullying of teenagers as just two examples.  Plan used the same  answer as Facebook and M&S – that you had to opt in to see this content by standing in a certain spot, so it was ok.

Targeted advertising is always an attractive proposition to a marketer.  We don’t waste money sending information to people who won’t be interested, we cut waste paper, and we avoid annoying people.  New technology changes this game somewhat – as the wastage becomes less and less of a problem.  But that doesn’t absolve us of trying to not annoy people – and especially of trying not to cause offence.   Just because people can opt out, doesn’t mean they should have to opt out.  Just because we can target people in intrusive ways, doesn’t mean we should.

I’m especially concerned at the type of organisations using this now.  We don’t expect much from Facebook given it’s roots, but M&S should surely be thinking about how women will feel about their advertising content?  And Plan UK – their current campaign is all about encouraging women to support them.  So why be so happy to look the other way when and use the “opt out if you don’t like it” excuse?  It feels like they’re saying “well, if you can’t take a joke…” when a woman complains that “banter” is hugely offensive.

It’s not up to us to avoid content that is offensive, and to live our lives opting out.  Opting out isn’t a choice, it’s a way to exclude people, make them feel prudish for complaining.  This is choice that’s not really a choice, and is actually turning a blind eye.  Just like many women’s groups will continue to complain about top-shelf content – even if it’s on the top shelf and not in our line of sight – we should continue to complain about this kind of advertising, even if we can opt out.

A great Christmas for women on TV

What a great Christmas for women on TV.

In Dr Who, Steven Moffat managed to change the gun-carrying, space-ship-driving female character into simply a womb, suitable for carrying life.   If Dr Who can really no longer save races from destruction as he doesn’t have a woman’s strength, this hopefully means we can look forward to a female Dr Who?  I doubt it somehow.

Then Michael McIntyre’s BBC special couldn’t find a single woman to say something funny.  Kylie and Pixie looked fetching in their pretty dresses.  And the usually-brilliant Miranda Hart played a simpering romantic fool – which was funny, because she doesn’t look like Barbie and …  Oh wait, that was it.  Not one funny word from anyone who wasn’t male and white.  And that much-hyped return of Rob Brydon to stand-up – oh it was funny.  He threatened Carol Vorderman with sexual violence, and then – the laughter – reduced Holly Valance to a couple of holes.

To top it off on the BBC, Sherlock then reduced Irene Adler – one of the great early-feminist pop-characters – to a pawn in the men’s game.  (If you want to read more about this, I recommend this post on Another Angry Woman and won’t try to rewrite this as it’s brilliant).

Over on ITV in Downton Abbey, Lady Mary suddenly went off her equal-match Sir Richard (who the writers had to make extra-mean as everyone realised he was much more fun than simpering Matthew) to become a loving-wife to Matthew.  Gone was her chance to build something, to enter a partnership.  She instead chose true-love, which should be enough of an aim on it’s own for any woman of course.

What has happened to women on TV?  Was this a recession-Christmas-nostalgia thing – back to the good old days when women high-kicked behind the male-stars?  Whatever it was, I really hope it is a Christmas-thing.

I hope when Dr Who replaces Amy this year, they find another strong side-kick not just a walking-womb.  I hope that the BBC starts to think about diversity on it’s prime-time panel shows.  I hope drama-writers can think of one or two genuinely interesting and well-developed female characters.  But I have a horrible feeling these are dreams rather than new years resolutions.