The problem of gender boxes

I was reading today an article on Every Day Feminism, explaining why feminism must be trans-inclusive  I was interested in the arguments, because I do see a conflict between feminism – believing that there is no such thing as “female tasks” or “female abilities” and a movement that says that gender roles are very fixed, and if you want to move outside of one, then you need to move to the other role.

I am disappointed that this discussion has turned in to a “twitter war”.  I think it’s a terrible distraction from the misogyny and the patriarchy.  Rather than campaigning against male violence, we’re campaigning against each other.  So I wanted to understand their point of view.

The crux of their argument on this particular element is this:

The problem is not that the gender binary exists, but rather that gender is assigned non-consensually, and that anyone who steps outside of the culturally-defined boundaries are marginalized and experience systemic oppression and violence. 

And that is where I do have to disagree.  The problem IS that a gender binary exists.  The problem is that one gender (female) is discriminated against.  The problem is that if you are born female, you are more likely to face male violence, sexual assault, lower pay, exclusion from the job market, exclusion from politics.

The idea that if we step outside the boundaries we are punished is, at it’s core, victim-blaming.  Even if we behave perfectly – always dress modestly, never walk down a dark street unaccompanied, never drink, we still experience oppression and violence.  The problem of violence is not triggered by us acting up.  It is male violence, and the blame needs to sit with the patriarchy and perpetrators of violence.

It doesn’t matter whether I display “feminine” traits or not.  It doesn’t matter whether I prefer high heels or trainers, whether I like pink toys or all-the-other-colour toys.  I am put in a box because of my gender.  I don’t want to escape in to another box that is restrictive in different ways.  I want to remove the boxes.


Gin as a feminist drink

Honestly, I mostly love the taste.  But I do feel quite a political passion for gin too.  It’s the connotations for me – the 18th century panic about gin (beautifully illustrated in these Hogarth paintings largely focussed on the way that gin would make women terrible mothers with loose morals.  Then it was part of the desperate history of pre-legal abortions (  Buying any sort of alcohol was pretty much a man’s game, but it must have seemed very eye-brow raising for a woman to be buying gin with such strong connotations of illegality and immorality.

I am hugely privileged by my position in history and today’s world, to not even consider gin as a way to blur poverty or as any kind of desperate contraceptive.  But sitting pretty on my bar stool, with a gin menu in front of me, seems like such a reminder of how far feminism has come.

Or maybe just an excuse for one more G&T.  Cheers!

Is menstrual leave really such a great idea?

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.

Addressing the gender pay gap

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.

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.

Affirmative consent not victim-blaming

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:

The second was a response to the news of a college requiring affirmative consent:’  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.

This is what a feminist looks like

I’m quite well known as a feminist in my office.  Mostly as a bit funny – I’m not dreaming of a white wedding or going gooey over every baby, and don’t like being called a “girl”.

But recently, a couple of comments firstly made me question myself, and then realise that no, this is what a feminist looks like.

The night before our work Christmas party, I was madly rushing to leave the office at 5pm, and said “I have to leave on time tonight, I’ve promised to get home to finish the decorating so that I can party tomorrow”.  And someone said this was really funny – I say I’m a feminist, but then have to get home or get in trouble.
And then other anecdotes started being brought up – that I was wistuflly admiring a colleagues new short hair cut but wouldn’t do it myself as OH really loves my long hair. 
That I love ironing (I know, this is weird, but I find it very zen) and so my OH hasn’t used the iron since we moved in together.
That I often take my OH’s breakfast cereal up to him in bed.
That I do the Christmas cards for his family as well as mine.

So am I a bad feminist – talking the talk but not walking the walk?

I really don’t think so – I think this is what a feminist looks like.

A feminist doesn’t need to be single.  The fact that I’m in a heterosexual relationship, based on give and take really shouldn’t stop be being a feminist. 
Making our own deals over how we split the housework doesn’t make me less feminist. 
I like that he likes my hair.  So what?
I like sending Christmas cards, and I know they’re appreciated by his great aunts and grandma.  So why wouldn’t I send them?
I’m up early, and know he finds it tough to get going in the morning.  Does this make me not feminist?

A feminist doesn’t need to be dungaree-wearing, shaven-headed and living in a woman-only commune. 

I was reminded of the This is What a Feminist Looks Like campaign  from the Fawcett Society.  Feminism isn’t some wacky idea that makes me a little odd.  Feminism is about equality – something that we all should be fighting for.

I am living my life in a feminist way – this is what a feminist looks like.