Is becoming a woman a “messy process”?

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.


Why the UN panel is so very wrong about Assange

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.

Goodbye, and thanks

I know that a lot of people I respect cheering goodbye to Thatcher. I know that for those on the left, the damage inflicted was unforgivable  And I know that Thatcher was not a feminist icon – rather than taking the chance to lead the way, she chose instead to argue that women were rubbish, but she was exceptional.

But my life, and my feminism have been hugely affected and inspired by Thatcher, and I’m grateful for that.

I was born just two weeks after Thatcher was elected. I lived my entire childhood with a female Prime Minister. I realised at 11 and a half that my world was going to change. That we were going to have a man as Prime Minister. I remember so clearly, writing in my diary a rationale about all the ways I thought a man as Prime Minister was a really bad idea.

Thatcher was an inspiration. I grew up with a strong belief that I could do anything, be anything. I knew that my Mum had had to make sacrifices to have a family.  But I could do anything – look at Thatcher. I know the reality was different. That actually Thatcher had received the keys to the executive bathroom, but was not only closing the door behind her, she was nailing it shut. But as a child, she represented possibility. A woman on the world stage – as important as Reagan and Gorbachev.

Since then, women have fallen out of sight in British politics. As a child, I looked up to Thatcher – the Iron Lady, the one with the Poll Tax, and Edwina Curry, the one with the eggs. And now for female politicians (if the papers are to be believed) we have the one with the shoes and the one with the cleavage.

How could I have been anything but inspired by the women leading our country, being taken seriously as politicians, being claimed as a product of the finest Universities.

I know that I have some seriously rose-tinted spectacles on here. I know that actually, if I’d been just a little bit older, I would probably have been joining in the cheers at her downfall. But just for now, for me, personally, I want to tip my hat.

To a woman that inspired me, that taught me that I really could do anything, become anything. That there wasn’t an opportunity beyond my reach. That I could not be held back by my gender.

Thank you Mrs Thatcher.

Number 10 support for International Women’s Day

Today, @Number10gov tweeted how much they support International Women’s Day:
From access to justice & healthcare to empowering women in business, the UK gov’t is helping women across the globe #IWD…

And yet…

Empowering women?  This is from the government that is made up of just one sixth female ministers. The government who called on a female MP to “calm down dear”.  The government who has seen the number of women in senior civil service posts decline so much that women are nearly invisible.  The government who has seen an increasing pay-gap between men and women.

Better access to justice?  This is from a government who oversaw the Sapphire Unit – the unit who encouraged rape victims to drop their complaints.  A Justice Secretary who distinguishes between “real rape” and something else that’s not quite rape EXCEPT IT IS.  A government that has removed legal aid from women looking to leave abusive relationships.  A government who couldn’t find a single female candidate to nominate to the supreme court.

Better access to healthcare?  From a government who allowed Nadine Dorries’ bill to severely restrict women’s rights to independent counselling and access to abortion services.   A government that remains committed to reviewing the time-limit on abortions.

To do all this and then add a bland tweet trying to claim support for women is like rubbing salt in a wound.  Don’t try and pretend anything else.  David Cameron, Number 10, and this government are anti-women.

The real danger behind the loud stupidity

Of course I’ve been angry about the stupid comments from George Galloway, Ted Akin and others this week, just as I was with the Ken Clarke comments last year. To me, it’s simple – sex needs to be consensual, anything else is rape. And I’m really not quite sure how that’s a contentious comment.

A lot of great commentators have written about these comments, and so I’m not going to rewrite them here.

These comments were at best misinformed, and people running for office (or sitting on the House of Representatives Science committee FFS) really shouldn’t be so misinformed. I’d go further and say these comments were dangerous – adding justification to any rapists that if they’re not holding a knife to a woman’s throat then what they are doing is ok.

The bit that I find really dangerous is when this kind of speak – from elected representatives – is seen alongside this report about representation in the senior ranks of the Civil Service.  I’ve already spoken a lot about how much our politicians are white and male, and they are now ‘rolling this out’ to the civil service.  While Gus O’Donnell managed to leave a Civil Service with an equal balance of men and women at the top, a lot of the women have moved on recently, and there’s now a real danger that these top posts will go to men again.

I do understand the arguments against affirmative action – that individual merit should be the most important factor.  Except it’s not all about individuals.  It’s about the group of people running the country, and them all looking exactly the same.  If the criteria that they use to recruit is valuing what they are already good at, then they will keep on recruiting people that look like them.  That doesn’t mean that people with different skills are less efficient, it simply means they are different.  And that is the problem with crying “affirmative action isn’t fair”.  It is fair in the wider sense.  It is fair to everyone, rather than just one.  And it’s fair in that it forces people not to look for the person most like them (as most recruitment policies do) but to look for people differently.

Please understand my argument before screaming about all the discriminated against white men out there.  I’m not saying a lesser-woman should get a role over a better-man.  I’m saying that when any organisation becomes so unbalanced that everyone looks the same, they are likely to need to be forced to consider ‘outsiders’.  I’m saying that an organisation that has looked exactly the same for hundreds of years is going to need a little encouragement to change.  It will need to be persuaded that change is needed and desirable.

And put this against the backdrop we are painting – of politicians who so misunderstand biology that they believe women can’t become pregnant from rape.  Of politicians who so misunderstand the law that they claim having sex with a woman who can’t give consent, or proceeding to force someone into another sex act because they’d already agreed to something else, wouldn’t be crimes in the UK.  Jonathan Freedland wrote brilliantly in The Guardian on Friday about how these incidents are part of a wider misogyny amongst politicians.  And if we were to let our other branches of government, including the Civil Service fall further into the hands of this group of privileged men, we are seriously putting human rights at risk.

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.