Saturday, 26 April 2008

How far have we come?

With thanks to lovely folks on Twitter:

The 1943 Guide to Hiring Women, shared by Alyssa Royse at the Seattle PI Readers' Blog.

LOL! It seems more of a guide against hiring women:

... cantankerous and fussy?
... mentally or physically unfit for the job?
... service is likely to be slowed up?
... bothering the management for instructions every few minutes?

Silvio Berlusconi might agree with much on the list, having declared that the new Spanish government is "too pink" and warned that the Spanish Prime Minister will struggle to control the women in his cabinet: "He will have problems leading them. Now he's asked for it."

Indeed, as Emine Saner explains, the Berlusconi camp seem intent on undermining women at every turn, going as far as to suggest "that they are either too good looking or too ugly to be taken seriously." Media representation of women in politics encourages such a viewpoint; Emine gives a number of examples of women in politics who are often judged for the way they look rather than for their policies.

Catherine Bennett agrees that there is a good deal of inequality when it comes to men and women in politics; unlike male politicians, the criteria of a female politician's appearance is always included in "any thorough assessment of her achievements."

Hmmm. How far have we really come?

Another gem from Twitter:

The Fifties Woman: The Good Wives Guide:

A good wife always knows her place?

A generation of women fought hard for changes, for the right to live our own lives and make our own decisions, to leave the home and go out to work, to communicate with men in our lives on an equal footing, to raise our children as individuals rather than simply as "little teasures ... playing the part."

Yet here we are, a time when public life is more male than at any time since the 1970s, as Jackie Ashley explains: "Those of us interested in politics must reclaim our space."

And shouldn't we all be interested in politics? Surely politics have an effect on each and every one of us (irrelevant of gender) in one way or another?

And perhaps the real question is not, "How far have we come?"

But rather, "How far can we go?"


Thursday, 24 April 2008

A comment on 'Women in Politics'

Well, I'm looking after 'the baby' while Aliqot has a well-deserved break. This is a response to her post about the newly elected Spanish government. I was going to leave a comment on Aliqot's post about how I was interested to note that three of the top four countries (in their levels of representation by women) were Scandinavian. Or rather, Nordic.

Being a curious type, I decided to see if I could find out why! And my comment turned into a post (thanks Aliqot!):

In their discussion of the politics of women in Northern Ireland, Anne Marie Gray and Deirdre Heenan suggest these countries have strived for increased female representation on three main principles:

First is democratic justice- that justice is an important principle, and that it is unjust that women are under-represented on decision-making bodies.

Second is resource utilisation - that valuable human resources are wasted when half the population is not involved in politics.

The third is interest representation - that because of the different experiences of women and men (in relation to economic and social structures) they have different political interests, implying that in politics women will employ a different set of values and pursue different interests from men.

Gray and Heenan also suggest that while women in the UK have the advantage of increased education, theoretically opening both political and professional doors, we remain at a disadvantage:

... entering the labour market has not resulted in a lessening of their domestic responsibilities. To many, the prospect of active involvement in politics must seem little more than a potential additional burden.


... "those elected will be peculiarly skewed to a certain kind of woman who, like the generations of men who went before her, will be a well-educated professional, and devoted to politics full-time". [14] Even in the Nordic countries, greater proportionality has not resulted in equal access for all women. We need to think beyond the numerical and to grasp the wider issue of representation. We need to think about how to encourage a more diverse range of women to put themselves forward, which involves rethinking women's role within the family.

The Fawcett Society concurs on the positive example of Scandinavian (or Nordic) countries but points out that Rwanda have an even higher representation of women in the government:

Women held 48.8% of the seats after last year’s election compared with a world average of 16%

How did this happen? The better question is: How was this achieved? The women of Rwanda collectively used their powers of intelligence, experience and determination to create the world they wanted to live in:

Decide what kind of world you want to live in and act accordingly.
Playing the blame game only does harm to ourselves and society.
Richard L Franklin

Rwandan women lobbied heavily, helped to draft a new constitution and developed voting guidelines that guaranteed seats for women candidates.

There are in fact a growing number of governments in sub-Saharan Africa that are following in Rwandan footseps:

In South Africa and Mozambique, for example, women hold about 30% of the seats in parliament - matching the international target set at the Fourth World Conference on Women, held in Beijing, China, in 1995.

The UK government flounders at 19.5% although the women in Wales and Scotland have had more positive results:

In both Scotland and Wales, women took advantage of the emergent devolved institutions to achieve new heights of political representation, winning 40% of the seats in the Welsh Assembly and almost 39% of those in the Scottish Parliament in the 1999 elections (Brown, 1998; Edwards and McAllister, 2001).

Ian McAllister and Donley T. Studlar, in Women’s Representation in Anglo-American Systems (Journal of Representative Democracy), also consider the political systems of New Zealand, the United States, Canada and Australia.


Wednesday, 16 April 2008

Women in Politics

In Spain, there are now more women than men in the Cabinet - see article in today's Independent .
The article adds statistics about women MPs in Europe.

Women MPs in EU countries
Percentage of women MPs (equivalents) per member state:
Sweden 47.0
Finland 41.5
The Netherlands 39.3
Denmark 38.0
Spain 36.6
Belgium 35.3
Austria 32.8
Germany 31.6
Portugal 28.3
Luxembourg 23.3
Lithuania 22.7
Bulgaria 21.7
Estonia 20.8
Poland 20.4
Latvia 20.0
UK 19.5
Slovakia 19.3
France 18.2
Italy 17.3
Czech Republic 15.5

As of 31 December 2007. Source: Inter-Parliamentary Union

Hmm. Could do better?
Where is Ireland? any other missing countries?

Tuesday, 15 April 2008

Girlification, unequal pay and the F-word

Great article and discussion on girlification and pay gaps in today's Guardian. It also refers to an article from Saturday by Erica Jong lamenting the eclipse of feminism (yes, that F-word) in her own inimitable and witty way.

Virago Books

Virago Modern Classics is 30 years old in May. They are republishing eight of their most popular titles in hardback, with cover designs by textile designers such as Lucienne Day and Celia Birtwell, and with new introductions. Ali Smith has written an introduction to Muriel Spark's A Far Cry From Kensington, Alexander McCall Smith writes on Barbara Pym's Excellent Women, and Jilly Cooper introduces EM Delafield's Diary of a Provincial Lady.
This article by Rachel Cooke examines the history and importance of the imprint.

Monday, 14 April 2008

Me Me Me Feminism Versus Collectivity

The original print version of this caught my attention as I recently spent some time finally filing a huge pile of assorted articles into useful categories. It's from the Guardian Review dated (ahem!) 14th June, 2007:

Take Risks: An Interview with Michèle Roberts by Lucasta Miller

Roberts makes an interesting comment about feminism today: "My sort of feminism was defeated in the Thatcher years, as socialism was. I feel that the feminism that triumphed is the sort I don't like: what I call shoulderpads feminism. It's all about being an individual in a capitalist society. Put on your suit, go to the City, make a lot of money: it's all me, me, me. My sort of feminism is about collectivity."

Perhaps struggling for equality in a capitalist society has led to feminism being expressed in terms of 'things' because sadly (in our society) power, status and success are recognised in the things acquired by money. So a woman (or a man) is seen as successful by what she has: house, car, gadgets, holidays. If she has earned these things for herself, she may also be seen (and think of herself) as a successful feminist, fighting the good cause, proving we can do it for ourselves.

But the problem goes beyond feminism, because feminism today has been influenced not just by capitalism but increasingly by individualism, as has society in general. Huge demographic changes and increased geographic mobility have loosened community bonds, even family bonds in some cases, or at least put them under immense pressure. As women have strived for equality in the professional sphere while also maintaining a hugely important role in the domestic sphere, they have perhaps from necessity had to neglect the social sphere. Many women now go out to work all day, come home to care for loved ones (a partner and/or children and possibly even an elderly relative too), to do all the myriad of endless chores involved in raising a family ... is there any wonder they may have little time for building positive relationships with other, equally stretched women? Is there any wonder that feminism has become a case of, "I can do this on my own!"

Yet surely relationships between women are essential to feminism? Equally important is the fact that a network of female friends provides essential support for women as individuals ... who else will really understand (because they have personally experienced) the difficulties and challenges of being a woman today, or truly recognise the triumphs?

I fear Michèle Roberts may be right about the 'triumph' of "me me me" feminism, but am optimistic to note that collectivity still exists: the support and encouragement shared by the women in the blogging community is inspirational!


Sunday, 13 April 2008

Women and Poetry

In the Guardian blogs there has been a long discussion about women and poetry in response to an article by Frances Leviston headed This great poets list has only one woman. About right, too .

So, how can women who write poetry raise their public profile? Would you accept publication in an anthology of ‘women poets’?

Yes, because...

  • positive discrimination is still needed.
  • women’s poetry is seen as less serious and tends to be left out.
  • women fail to network as well as men .
  • women still tend to minimise their own achievements.
  • women still lack confidence in their own abilities.

No, because...

  • the work should stand on its own merits as good poetry.Gender is irrelevant. Quality is the thing.
  • positive discrimination is another way of ghettoising women so that their poetry doesn't become mainstream.
  • separate anthologies imply that women’s interests differ from men’s.
  • we should be fighting for equal representation in the anthologies that are being made. (Although, aren't quotas just positive discrimination with a different hat?)

Any thoughts about this?

Friday, 4 April 2008

IWD: Past and Present

Just a few links I didn't get chance to post yesterday:

You can find a brief history of the origins of IWD in an (unfortunately unnamed)article from 'Womankind' (March, 1972) which also tells the tale of courageous women in America, campaigning for "Bread and Roses":

The story of American working women is often tokenly recognized by referring to great heroines of the movement Mother Jones, Ella Reeve Bloor, Kate Mullaney, Sojourner Truth, and Elizabeth Gurley Flynn. These were remarkable women and so were their stories. A good cure for depression is to read a chapter of Flynn's autobiography or reread the account of Mother Jones terrorizing scabs and participating in the 1919 steel strike at the age of 90. But it should not be forgotten that these were individual women, and that the bulk of the' organizing, struggling, as well as succeeding and failing, was done by ordinary women whom we willnever know. These were women who, realized the tactical necessity of standing and working together lest they be destroyed individually, women who put to shame the ridiculous theories of "woman's place'," women who in the famous Lawrence textile strike carried picket signs reading "We want Bread and Roses, too", symbolizing their demands for not only a living wage but a decent and human life.

The BBC have some great pictures of women from around the world, taken on International Women's Day, this year (2008.)

Joyce Stevens has put together a History of International Women's Day in Words and Images.

The UN and International Women's Day:

"Increasingly, International Women's Day is a time to reflect on progress made, to call for change and to celebrate acts of courage and determination by ordinary women who have played an extraordinary role in the history of women's rights."

And this is exactly why I feel it's so important to talk about IWD ... wouldn't it be great if every woman in the world was able to celebrate International Women's Day!

Thursday, 3 April 2008

IWD: Origins, Supporters, Stats and Local Events

The Origins

A conference of over 100 women, from more than 17 countries, met in Copenhagen in 1910. A decision was made to establish an international women's day, to honour the movement for women's rights. The first International Women's Day was celebrated on the 19th of March the following year, when more than one million women and men attended rallies in Austria, Germany, Denmark and Switzerland.

Russian women celebrated the day for the first time in 1914 as part of the growing Peace Movement on the eve of the first World War. They were joined the following year by women all over Europe, in rallies to protest against the war and to show solidarity to the sisterhood.

Some Supporting Organisations and Scary Stats

International Women's Day is supported by a number of organisations today, including:

Action Aid

Women count for 70% of those living in poverty around the world.

Amnesty International

At least one out of every three women has been beaten, coerced into sex, or otherwise abused in her lifetime.

Every year, close to 500,000 women are trafficked to Western Europe. It is also estimated that approximately 50,000 women are trafficked to the U.S. every year. This problem also exists in India where almost 200,000 Nepalese women are trafficked into brothels.


Every week at least two women are killed by violent partners or ex-partners.

Women's Aid

Although domestic violence is traditionally an under-reported crime, the Police in the UK receive one call every minute about this issue.


The eradication of poverty cannot succeed without equality and justice for women.

... current international policies rob women of livelihoods, healthcare and other economic rights, while feeding fundamentalist backlash and militarism that deprive women of personal autonomy and choices.

This GCAP Feminist Taskforce webpage has some great ideas for celebrating IWD, by the way, if you fancy organising something yourself next year!

UK Events in 2008

Although aliqot and I found it hard to dig up much information at the time, it seems IWD is indeed celebrated around the world and there were even many events in the UK. So, why do so few women seem to know much (if anything) about it?

Perhaps it's just the women I know who don't know! Because IWD was celebrated this year in various ways in towns, cities and boroughs across the country, including:

Barking and Dagenham - held a day filled with speakers, workshops and presentations, with the theme of 'Shaping Progress.'

Brighton and Hove - have been celebrating IWD for almost 20 years and held a week of events from the 6th to the 12th of March.

Cambridge - celebrated IWD throughout March.

There were plenty of other examples, but none in Scarborough ... I'm working on that for next year, though!

Did you know of (or were you involved in) any International Women's Day celebrations this year?


Politcal correctness gone mad?

From the Guardian April 3 2008 (scroll down to the bottom ;@) )

A leading building firm is banning its brickies from wolf-whistling at women, saying the "outdated" tradition had become a distraction for young househunters. George Wimpey Bristol has outlawed the practice, for fear of putting off "savvy and sophisticated" buyers visiting sites. Sales and marketing director Richard Goad told Bristol staff in a memo that builders could not wolf-whistle on any of the city's six sites from 9am today. He said: "In the 21st century the wolf whistle is out of place. Our buyers know what they want and the general feeling is that women won't stand for being whistled at by builders." Press Association

I'm waiting for the squeals of 'political correctness gone mad'. But hey, either these guys whistle because they think you're attractive, or they don't whistle because they think you are too old, too ugly or too dowdy. What gives them the right? Would they do it if they were on their own? Is it really an inter-male communication, a display of virility? Am I talking rubbish?
I'm old enough not to care which of the three 'undesirable' categories I'm in and I don't worry about walking past building sites now, though I used to hate it. What do other people think?

woolly jumpers and higher geometry and girlie power and ecological awareness and mad Texan housewives all at once

Remember the news about the Great Pacific Garbage Patch - the swirling plastic soup that collects in the North Pacific Gyre, which possibly covers an area twice the size of the continental US. Just for info this is what it is.

'Mr Moore, a former sailor, came across the sea of waste by chance in 1997, while taking a short cut home from a Los Angeles to Hawaii yacht race. He had steered his craft into the "North Pacific gyre" – a vortex where the ocean circulates slowly because of little wind and extreme high pressure systems. Usually sailors avoid it.

He was astonished to find himself surrounded by rubbish, day after day, thousands of miles from land. "Every time I came on deck, there was trash floating by," he said in an interview. "How could we have fouled such a huge area? How could this go on for a week?"'

From an Independent article:

These women, Margaret and Christine Wertheim at the Institute For Figuring in Los Angeles ( - worth visiting), with the help of the worldwide community are trying to make a statement about it through a fascinating mixture of mathematics, art, environmentalism, feminism and craft.

From Margaret and Christine:
“Growing up in Queensland with the Great Barrier Reef, we were always aware of its vulnerability. But with global warming over the past few decades, bleaching events and coral die-off have accelerated to the point where it's now conceivable the whole thing may wiped out. We wanted in some way to respond to that. And now ocean life is also facing the added threat of vast amounts of plastic garbage, which is turning our seas into a toxic stew and literally strangling marine life.

We both grew up sewing and knitting and crocheting - we were making our own clothes through high school, and we both have a deep love of feminine handicrafts, which our mother (Barbara Wertheim) taught us - and taught us to value, from her own experience as a Catholic mother of six and as a feminist activist. The Crochet Reef project was a way to bring all this together. Plus it's based on mathematics, in which we both have a professional interest, and on a discovery made by a woman mathematician, Dr Daina Taimina. People ask: Is it art? Is it craft? Is it math? Is it science? Is it feminism? It's all of the above.

The Crochet Reef itself is very much like a living reef - it grows and "spawns" as more participants get involved - and people are now involved all over the world. Like a living head of coral, the Crochet Reef is a colonial organism in which each individual "polyp" adds to the beauty and scale of the whole. The whole really is much more than the sum of its parts. For us it's not just the beauty of the finished work that matters but the process of its production - it's collective and collaborative and the totality emerges from the energies and imaginations of all the people involved. It’s very much a celebration of traditional feminine craft and a homage to the power of women's labor. And it's absurd.

When most people see the Reef the first thing they do is laugh. It is woolly jumpers and higher geometry and girlie power and ecological awareness and mad Texan housewives all at once.

We welcome you all and assure you that the only rule is there are no rules. We encourage you all to go beserk and can't wait to see what you produce.”

The IFF along with women across the world is bringing into being a 'crocheted invocation' of the Great Pacific Garbage Patch, - one made from yarn and plastic trash.