Category Archives: Money & Work

Feminist Times: Money and a room of our own

The tweet above was one of my personal highlights of Gender Week – a week that confirmed my long-held suspicion that Twitter is no place for civilised debate. In an effort to keep our own content prominent in the Gender Week hashtag overnight, when conversations online tended to take their most unpleasant turn for the worst, we scheduled a series of tweets to be posted every 30 minutes outside of office hours. When I saw this tweet, the morning after it was sent, I couldn’t help but LOL.

“Here’s how you know a feminist blog is owned and operated by men: they have an office, and keep ‘office hours’ @Feminist_Times #GenderWeek”

I laughed not only because of how ludicrous the suggestion is, but also because of how painfully, excruciatingly ironic it is in the context of Feminist Times.

I remember reading Virginia Woolf’s famous essay A Room of One’s Own as a student and aspiring writer, and thinking “fuck, I’m never going to make it as a writer.” The notion of a room of one’s own is popular in feminist thought around the importance of creating women’s spaces –  take the Rooms of our Own project, aiming to provide a work space in London for women’s businesses and organisations, and the Room of our Own feminist blog network, founded by Feminist Times contributor Louise Pennington – but it’s only half of the statement from which the essay takes its title. Woolf wrote: “A woman must have money and a room of her own if she is to write fiction”, but the same is true of non-fiction and journalism.

Many feminist blogs have neither money nor a room of their own – run by volunteers working remotely in their free time. What Feminist Times set out to do was something radically different – not just a blog, but an online magazine which maintained regular, high-quality output by paying staff and contributors alike; an ad-free haven from commercial women’s magazines, funded instead by a community of members who felt passionate about independent feminist media, and who had the opportunity to meet with each other and the editorial team to help shape the content.

We started out with money – the result of a one-off crowdfunder – but no place of our own. In an effort to keep overheads minimal our first workspace, Charlotte’s kitchen table, was shared with her husband and children and – appropriately for a feminist publication – two cats. Our working day was divided into school time, when it was quiet enough to hold editorial meetings and discuss project ideas, and after-school time, when it wasn’t. We did try it once or twice, resulting in some pretty off the wall ideas being thrown into the mix; 4-year-old John was adamant that We’re on Safari would have made a better name for the website than Feminist Times. Less endearingly, there was also the threat of excitable children running in and out during sensitive interviews with women working in the domestic violence or FGM sectors.

Working out of Charlotte’s home meant the lines between home life and work life were inevitably blurred; like many working mothers, Charlotte had to juggle work with childcare and family life. School holidays meant time off for Charlotte, and temporary eviction to nearby cafes with WiFi for Deborah and I.

But children were not our biggest obstacle to harmonious working hours; while the older of Charlotte’s cats was perfectly content to share her home with us, the younger one objected violently – and I still have the scars to prove it! When he wasn’t attacking us in defence of his territory, this ferocious kitten was getting himself lost or stuck in trees; holding the ladder while Charlotte climbed onto the shed to coax him down very quickly became part of my job description. There were other perils too, from protecting our laptops from the water pistol that 9-year-old Anna was using to train the cat out of his aggressive behaviour, to occasional baked bean or tomato ketchup splatters adorning our notebooks. Never was the expression “never work with children or animals” more relevant.

Eventually Deborah found us some respite, negotiating free use of the basement room below her friend’s knitting shop, iKnit London, one day a week. It was a surreal haven – three women working on a feminist website, surrounded by balls of coloured wool and posters showing different breeds of sheep. Ok, so there was no phone reception or natural light – not ideal for running a new business – but we were thankful for the weekly peace and quiet. Sadly, as with borrowing space from family, favours from mates quickly wear thin, and invading the knitting shop basement was never going to be a long-term solution, though we loved it while it lasted.

Unlike many feminist bloggers, having feminism as both a day job and a passion meant we all struggled to switch off, particularly during those all-consuming first few months when press attention and public anticipation were so high. Ideas were flowing constantly – often in the form of emails sent by iPhone at anti-social hours – and we were quickly beginning to feel burnt out by the intensity of the project.

By the time we started looking for an office – a real place of our own, that would allow us the work-life balance we so desperately needed – it was money we were lacking. Though our number of monthly paying members was growing, it wasn’t growing quickly enough to sustain full-time salaries and contributor fees while also leaving enough left over for desk space. The solution – far from proving our alleged maleness – came in an unexpectedly feminist form when we met Hilary and Sarah from Shoreditch Trust, a charitable organisation that owns a number of shared office spaces in Hackney.

The women in the Shoreditch Trust office had heard Charlotte on Woman’s Hour the morning that Feminist Times launched and were excited not just about the project itself but about the prospect of getting more women into an office space that was, at the time, almost entirely occupied by men working in the creative and tech industries. Because of this, and the fact we were running on a shoestring, they suggested providing us our first three months of desk space through their Echo scheme, which we featured as part of our Christmas anti-consumerism theme week, #IDontBuyIt. Echo, or Economy of Hours, is a marketplace where members trade using time and skills, instead of money. It’s a radical, alternative economy and, as an organisation with anti-consumerist feminism at our core, we loved the concept.

So it was agreed; for three months we would pay for our desks by providing publicity for a number of Shoreditch Trust’s projects, training and workshops for other Echo members and Shoreditch Trust, and free tickets to our events, as well as using their event space to host our January members’ event Is Fat Still a Feminist Issue?

Having our own office was a god-send for getting some work-life balance back and improving our productivity during the working day; we can’t think Hilary and Sarah enough for the opportunity. All of a sudden we had a bookable meeting room in which to plan, discuss, interview and meet contributors uninterrupted, and a lockable cupboard in which to store our accounts and invoices. We had somewhere to leave review copies of the books we were sent without the fear of a cat or a breakfast mishap destroying them, and we celebrated by stocking up on some stationery of our own. I quickly cultivated a stash of teabags, Cup-a-Soups and value instant noodles in my cupboard, in order to get maximum usage out of the instant boiling water machine in the communal kitchen; Deborah was amused by how readily I adapted to our tightened salaries by reverting to the lifestyle of a fresher!

Our time in the office was responsible for almost all of my personal Feminist Times highlights: some brilliant, inspiring meetings with our Contributing Editors, who always left me feeling uplifted, and a marked improvement in the consistency and quality of the content we were commissioning and producing. Even paying back the Echo hours for our desk space provided some incredibly rewarding experiences for Deborah and I, like meeting the women behind Bump Buddies, a peer mentoring project for expectant mothers, and running a workshop for the young people on Hilary’s Active Citizen’s course.

My biggest frustration will always be that during that time, while our content, our readership and our social engagement were going from strength to strength, our funding situation was steadily becoming less and less sustainable, despite the brilliant efforts of our fundraiser Jenna. As Deborah and I gradually reduced both our salaries and our working hours, we were grateful to still have use of the office all week for the freelance work that we took on to supplement our incomes.

In that context, my amusement at the tweet about our office hours was bittersweet. Though clearly a ridiculous assertion, the sentiment underlying it was telling of the way we, even in feminist circles, think about women’s work. So often women’s work is unpaid, a labour of love, that women expect to work for free and, like many others in the digital age, expect online content to be free too. It’s true of almost every feminist website online; in fact, as we were preparing to wrap things up at Feminist Times, Everyday Victim Blaming, a fantastic feminist campaign run entirely by volunteers, tweeted that they were at crisis point and desperately needed funding to continue. Their supporters responded fantastically but, the fact is, beyond one-off donations, funding is so hard to come by for women’s projects.

Although it was a fairly well publicised founding principle, many of our contributors were still surprised to find that we paid for every single piece of content unless the writer was publicising an event, business or campaign. Our small but loyal core of members allowed us to maintain this policy right up until the final week, although ironically some of our most engaged contributors were also Feminist Times members, indirectly paying their own contributor fees!

Not only are women so often expected to work for free but, as the tweet implies, it’s not enough for running a feminist website to be just a full-time job – it should be a 24/7 vocation, like everything else about being a feminist, or even being a woman. How dare we want to shut down Twitter for the evening, after being on it for work from 9.30 till 6, and have some down time? How male of us to want a work-life balance. How dare our small team – two of us shared responsibility for day-to-day management of the website and social media – not moderate comments or respond to tweets immediately? And how dare we ask readers to contribute to the funding of the site, demanded many of the same people who I’m sure would have seen us as selling out had we bowed to commercial pressures and taken advertising for fad diets and lipstick, like virtually every other women’s magazine that isn’t run by volunteers.

In many ways, Feminist Times has been a labour of love like any other. 14 and a half months ago, Charlotte Raven and I took a chance on each other; I entrusted her with my first step on the career ladder, and she entrusted me with playing a key role in acting out her vision. Though it’s not taken quite the path I expected it has been an incredible learning experience and I’ve gained more, personally and professionally, than I can fit on my CV. Thank you, Charlotte, for the opportunity.

I am immensely proud to have been a part of Charlotte’s vision for Feminist Times, and of what Deborah and I have achieved on the website since taking on our new roles at Christmas. It’s been an enormous privilege to interview so many brilliant women – Anne Scargill, Leta Hong Fincher, Dr Louise Irvine, Angela Berners-Wilson, Nimko Ali – and to work with so many more. I hope you’ll all stay in touch. It’s been a real pleasure, but all good things must come to an end – and I need money and a room of my own if I am to continue writing anything at all.

Sarah Graham is a journalist, writer and editor, who has been published by The Telegraph, Guardian, Metro, Press Association, Open Democracy, and more. She has been Deputy Editor of Feminist Times since December 2013, having joined as the founding Editorial Assistant in May 2013. Today she leaves Feminist Times to work freelance, in a room of her own. Follow her @SarahGraham7

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SHE-form: Art and feminism beyond borders

We heard about She-form and asked one of it’s members, Anna Olsson, to tell us more about why women artists need such an organisation.

She-form is a global platform by and for women* in design. Through interviews and our collaborative visual identity, She-form highlights the work of women* designers. It was launched in 2013 as a collaboration between designers Ee-Rang Park and Linnéa Teljas-Puranen, out of a wish for a network of women* designers beyond national boundaries.

*We define woman as anyone who is female-identified

I’m Anna Olsson, a soon to be freelance illustrator, graphic designer, pattern maker, animator and member of She-Form. I met Linnéa Teljas-Puranen at HDK – School of Design and Crafts in Gothenburg, Sweden – three years ago. Both Linnéa and I found it very strange that there are more male than female-identified teachers in our school, because the majority of students here are not men.

I see feminism not only as a question of women’s rights, but the rights of everyone to get the same space and chances in their education. When I speak of feminism, it includes the rights of people of different class, gender, ethnicity, LGBT-persons, and people with different physical capabilities. I think it’s very important for all universities to have a wide diversity of students that are accepted – and art and design schools are no exception.

We need a greater diversity because the ones who are educated are the ones to represent  society. I was truly honored when Linnéa and Ee-Rang asked me to participate in She-form, because it’s just the kind of movement that we need now to tackle this problem. Design is very influenced by the western part of the world, and I think it’s very important that we start to talk about feminism as something that is not only white and upper middle class. Through She-form I have got in touch with several designers in different parts of the world. Networking beyond the borders feels like a very important thing for me as a creator, and nowadays it’s easy to make connections without a physical meeting.

This fall I am traveling to Russia, South Korea, Mongolia and China with a friend to record a documentary film series about different designers and artists. We both realised that in our education we got a lot of inspiration given to us by western world creators, and not so much from other parts of the world. We think it’s very important to point out that the western world is not the centre of the world; there is no centre of the world.

We believe that design and art is invested more in the bigger cities, and we want to show that it’s not all about the area, it’s about the creator and the creators, the art itself.

During this trip we will hopefully meet up with some of the designers involved in She-form and find out more about their perspective on design and art.

Anna’s website:
She-form’s website:

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Howzat? Cricket board stumps women’s pay potential

Whilst male cricketers have for a long time had the opportunity to earn a more than decent living from plying their trade, for women, playing cricket has never really been a viable career option. They earn small sums, mostly in a semi-professional capacity, supplementing their income with schools coaching or ambassadorial roles. We are talking really small sums of money – in no way comparable to the amounts of money that even the least successful male professional cricketers earn playing the game.

The England and Wales Cricket Board (ECB), to their credit, recently announced that for the first time ever 18 female cricketers would be fully paid as professionals. They are the only fully professional female cricketers in the world. The contracts awarded by the ECB vary in amount, with a handful being awarded top tier contracts that are worth over £50,000, and others earning lower tier contracts worth between £30,000 and £50,000.

Women’s cricket, like many other sports women play, faces the huge challenge of securing revenue. It isn’t on its own profitable – it relies on the revenue created by the men’s game – some countries (most notably England and Australia) have, admirably, used some of that revenue from the men’s game to subsidise paying players and developing women and girls. The fact remains though that the women’s game generates relatively little revenue either through advertising, sponsorship, TV or spectators.

In the last few years there has been an explosion of short Twenty20 tournaments which have given male cricketers the opportunity to earn vast sums of money (on top of their normal contracts with their country or club side). Huge six figure contracts are awarded to players for a tournament that lasts no more than six weeks.

It is interesting, therefore, that an independent organisation has set up a proposed short tournament, the ‘Women’s International Cricket League‘ (WICL), has uncovered the sort of money that the women’s game could only dream of, and is offering the chance for around 70 women cricketers to earn up to around £20,000 for 2 weeks work.

When the top handful of international women cricketers (all England players) are only earning £50k a year, these are huge sums of money we are talking about – amounts that women cricketers have never even been close to accessing before. Details of the tournament are still sketchy but for an organisation to have found these sorts of sums of money for women’s cricket is hugely exciting.

There’s a problem though. The ECB (and Cricket Australia) have unequivocally stated that they do not recognise the WICL, they do not support it, and they will not be allowing their contracted players to play in it.

Some nervousness around independently run tournaments is understandable. Twenty20 tournaments are ripe for being targeted by match fixers and corrupters and details of the WICL are, at this stage, still sketchy. Governance and due diligence structures for the tournament aren’t clear and with this comes a number of risks both for the players and reputation of the game.

One can also sympathise to an extent with the ECB’s position – they have put in huge investment and have broken new ground by offering full-time contracts for women for the first time ever and they want to protect their players and protect the sanctity of International Cricket Council-run tournaments.

But whilst some nervousness is understandable, if women’s cricket is to continue to develop players shouldn’t be denied the opportunity to earn where it arises. Bringing money into the women’s game – whether that be from the governing bodies or from private investment – can only be a good thing. Surely the solution in this instance is for cricket’s governing bodies to work in conjunction with the WICL to make this an exciting and successful tournament, rather than a blanket refusal to recognise it.

As it stands, some of the biggest names in women’s cricket – such as Charlotte Edwards, Sarah Taylor, Meg Lanning, Elysse Perry – will not appear at this tournament. These are women who have worked incredibly hard, against all the odds, to get to the top of their game. When England Captain Charlotte Edwards started playing internationally she even had to buy her own England kit, never mind actually being paid. It’s worth noting too, that England have some of the best women cricketers in the world; they are the current Women’s Ashes holders and the T20 World Cup finalists. These are women who are role models to girls wanting to play cricket, they are both hugely successful and hugely inspirational.

The men who are contracted by the ECB or County Cricket Clubs are given permission by their employers to take part in various Twenty20 tournaments around the world and allowed to command the huge salaries that taking part in them affords.

Such a clear statement by the ECB, banning their contracted women players from the WICL, seems on the face of it to be a ludicrous double standard for players of different genders playing within the same sport. It’s highly unlikely, having only just been offered central contracts, that the top English female players would kick up a fuss or try to go against the commands of their employer, but it feels like this is a huge opportunity for women cricketers and the women’s game that could be missed.

Lizzy Ammon is a cricket commentator for the BBC and writes about both men’s and women’s cricket for The Sunday People newspaper and other publications.

Photo: Wikimedia Commons

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Who cares if Jill Abramson was bossy?

“Her style sometimes grated”, The New Yorker reported, “her personality was an issue”. You may think that executive editor Jill Abramson’s dismissal last week from the New York Times doesn’t affect you, but think again. It is significant for all working women and poses questions across the Atlantic too. Why? Language, gender and stereotype in the workplace.

Words like “slut” or “bitch”, gendered speech like “that takes bollocks” to denote courage, and insults like “he throws like a girl” to signal weakness, these are all obviously sexist. But what about the language that goes under the radar in offices up and down the country every day? Nuanced, ambiguous yet incredibly damaging and potent.

“‘Mercurial’ is a word you hear used for her a lot,” one female New York Times reporter commented, implying her former boss was volatile, following the news of Jill Abramson’s sacking. Words such as “stubborn” and “pushy” soon dominated the headlines, quickly followed by the labels “polarising”, “brusque” and “abrupt”. It was a Greek chorus loud enough to drown out the serious accusation for her dismissal: that her axing was due to her reasonable demand to be paid as equally as her male predecessors.

New York Times publisher Arthur Sulzberger has denied any accusation of gender bias yet still issued a stinging takedown of Abramson that could surmise any of her male contemporaries: “arbitrary decision-making, a failure to consult and bring colleagues with her, inadequate communication and the public mistreatment of colleagues.”

Try and forget the pay discrepancy story for a moment and simply concentrate on language and the expectations women placate to exert authority with one foot stepped back. Jill Abramson’s story shows us all what happens when a woman throws her ball like a man. She gets knocked out of the game altogether. She’s told it’s her fault.

Working women are adept at the highly-skilled art of tightrope walking, so much so we do it now without challenge. The exhausting balancing act that asks so much of us, compromising a part of ourselves to achieve success. Assertive? Yes, but never aggressive. Commanding? Certainly, but always with a smile. Behave too professionally and you’re an ice queen, show too much emotion and you’re unstable. Sheryl Sandberg, CEO of Facebook, told us all to Lean In in her best-selling book and that’s what we did – 1.5 million of us to be exact. Abramson has shown us exactly what happens when we lean in too far and without the Geisha manners.

The reality is Sandberg’s empowerment manual expects a lot of compromise from women if they wish to become a success at work. We’ve got to smile even when we don’t feel like it, we’re encouraged to substitute “we” for “I”, and we’ve got to put up with language such as “stroppy”, “difficult” and “mouthy”. It’s a feminist manifesto that accepts an unsettling premise that women must mould themselves around their sexist surrounding, not the other way round. It assumes that landscapes and language can never change.

The #BanBossy campaign learned this the hard way; led by Sheryl Sandberg and backed by Beyonce, their commitment to ban the word sparked question marks. How can banning language rectify the sexism behind its usage? You can burn a book but the ideas still remain – it’s a psychological issue not just a structural obstacle. Jill Abramson’s sacking has shown us all that we have a media-endorsed problem with sexist linguistics. Words such as “pushy” or “condescending” still permeate our language, our offices and our newspapers. When it comes to defining professional women, words still scratch away at confidence.

Look a little closer at gender and confidence in the boardroom and recent statistics may not surprise you. Not only do women make up only 17 per cent of board directors of the FTSE 100 companies, a study by the Fawcett Society found that 51 per cent of women and men from middle management to director level identify stereotyping as the major hurdle facing women at work. More startling, a recent study in the US by global management strategists Strategy& found that over the past decade, 38 per cent of women were forced out of the chief executive role compared to just 27 per cent of men. It doesn’t take a chief strategist to work out a connection between these numbers – the glass ceiling is still pretty sturdy and it’s language that is helping keep it double glazed.

Jill Abramson’s story is our story. Women are still struggling to get promoted and, when they do, their behaviour is often analysed negatively as aggressive or unfriendly. Women are often subjected to unfair emotional judgements based on behaviour: how we are perceived as opposed to how we perform. For Abramson, her leadership was subjected to stereotype and caricature that was ultimately used as evidence of a morale-drained newsroom.

Maybe Abramson was paid as equally as her male predecessors, maybe she wasn’t – no doubt there will be a court case to find out – but what’s equally as important is the language batted around in the press to rationalise her overnight sacking. That language will be used against us too so let’s not gloss over the subtler gender bias, let’s call it out.

Have you experienced gender bias or sexist labels at work? Tweet us your examples @Feminist_Times.

Kat Lister is a Contributing Editor of Feminist Times. She is a freelance writer living in London and can be found tweeting to an empty room @Madame_George. She has contributed to NME, The Telegraph, Grazia, Time Out, Clash magazine and Frankie magazine.

Photo: The New Yorker

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“I break hearts & faces”: Women fighters forced to be sexy

For a long time Mixed Martial Arts (MMA) has been regarded as a predominantly male sport. The full contact combat sport, which includes striking, choking, joint locks, grappling and various other self-defence techniques was brought to the United States by the Gracie family in the 90s with the founding of the Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC), now the largest MMA promotion company in the world. Unsurprisingly, female mixed martial artists were not permitted to fight in the UFC, with the majority of male viewers disagreeing with the very idea of women fighting and Dana White, the President of the UFC, himself stating: “We will NEVER see women in the UFC” in 2011.

But in late 2012, it was announced that Judoka and Strikeforce champion Ronda Rousey would be the first woman to sign with the UFC. Rousey subsequently became the first female UFC champion, the first olympic medallist with a UFC title, and the first woman to defend a UFC title – remaining undefeated. It’s been a long time coming, but the UFC is finally embracing female martial artists and giving them the respect they deserve; it’s also been revealed that this year’s reality TV show The Ultimate Fighter (TUF 20) will feature an all-female cast for the first time in history. 

However, if we take a look at the fight wear that’s currently on offer for women, it’s clear to see that women are still subject to sexism and stereotyping, and not given anywhere near the same amount of choice as their male counterparts. The very few clothing companies that do cater for female fighters, claiming to “empower women”, offer a range of training gear (including “booty pants” – whatever they’re supposed to be!) in primarily baby pink colours, emblazoned with derogatory slogans including “I jump guard on the first date”, “I break hearts and faces”, “Always on top”, “Tap this” and “Sexy as F**k”, to name but a few. Any female fighter who doesn’t wish to subject herself to this humiliating degradation is forced to wear male clothing – which, of course, is not designed to suit a female body and can be extremely uncomfortable to fight in.


It’s truly ridiculous and offensive to women who have dedicated their lives to the sport and trained just as hard as men to then be objectified by companies who claim to “empower” them. There are many young girls who attend martial arts and self-defence classes to feel empowered and safe – some of whom have been victims of sexual assault and want to learn how to protect themselves – who then have to choose between sexualised training gear or menswear.

In light of this, myself and GBR Jujutsu athlete Sophie Newnes have launched our own clothing line which specialises in female fight wear – designed BY women, FOR women. The chart below depicts the number of female participants in Jujutsu, Judo and Brazilian Jiujitsu in the U.K alone – which goes to show what a huge market there is for female fight-wear:


We were convinced we weren’t alone in our dissatisfaction with the current fight wear on offer, and according to the results of our recent survey of female martial artist participants, we were right:

MMA graph

Mere hours after launching our social media pages, we had requests flooding in from female martial artists all over the World: women rightfully demanding Gi’s made for bigger breasted women, comfortable rashguards without the tacky graphics, shorts that AREN’T pink, and clothing in sizes 6-16. We were delighted to find ourselves being retweeted, followed and in receipt of supportive messages from famous female fighters, promoters and event hosts.

WOMMA’s future goals include expanding to releasing a children’s range and developing the WOMMA Foundation – a World Wide self-defence company for women. But right now, our focus is on providing female mixed martial artists with appropriate, stylish fight-wear that they feel 100% comfortable in.

For further information about WOMMA Fightwear, follow @WOMMA_Fightwear on Twitter and Instagram.

Photo: Wikimedia Commons

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The ‘Model Minority’, like the ‘Virgin/Whore’ dichotomy, is man-made

Most East Asian people living in the West are aware that we are considered a “model minority”. Asian children study hard, we are told. They do well in exams. They shine in Maths and Science classes. They go on to be doctors, lawyers, or engineers, excelling in their chosen field and enjoying high levels of success. Racial discrimination? Nonsense — everyone knows that if you work hard enough, there’s nothing stopping you from achieving just as much as white people do.


Well, no. In study after study, the idea that East Asians have somehow managed to rise above racial oppression through hard work and a positive attitude has been debunked. The media may squawk about the achievements of East Asian students yet, when entering the workforce, Asian American women will make 40-50% less than their similarly qualified white classmates. In the UK, East Asians are rendered nearly invisible, with TV and theatre providing extremely limited opportunities for actors, other than painfully stereotyped, minor characters.

Among the Asian American community the poverty rate is 12.1 per cent, compared to the white community’s 9.9 per cent, and rising to 27.4% among specific South-East Asian groups – a fact that is conveniently ignored by those seeking to uphold Asian people as a shining example of success and sprinkle us with empty praise.

So where does the model minority myth come from? As it turns out, it was deliberately and carefully created by politicians in the 1960s, as a direct response to the African-American Civil Rights Movement, which was taking large strides towards combatting racial discrimination and segregation. The message was unambiguous: “As a person of colour, you have only yourself to blame if you do not succeed. The Asian community succeeds through hard work, not by demanding political change. Why don’t you be more like them?”

Sadly, this campaign proved extremely effective and many in the Asian community actually believed in it, leading to the growth of offensive, anti-black sentiments, as in the infamous book The Triple Package by Amy Chua, where she argues that inherent characteristics determine the success of different races, while ignoring structural inequalities.

Being a woman of colour, this tactic of ‘divide and rule’ to uphold oppression is strikingly familiar to me, and is a perfect example of white supremacy taking lessons from the patriarchy. The concept of ‘good minorities’ and ‘bad minorities’ echoes the ‘virgin/whore’ dichotomy, where ‘good girls’ are distinguished from ‘bad girls’, and taught to fear and despise them.

‘Good girls’ do not wear revealing clothing. ‘Good girls’ do not get drunk. ‘Good girls’ do not sleep around. ‘Good girls’ are self-sacrificing and self-effacing. In return, ‘good girls’ are promised the approval of men. Men will respect you, they say. Men won’t hit you, or rape you, or kill you. No, that only happens to ‘bad girls’. ‘Bad girls’ who sleep around, who get drunk, who lead men on. ‘Bad girls’ were asking for it. What did they expect? They have no one to blame but themselves.

When it comes to female success in the workplace, the same tactic rears its ugly head. The figure of the ‘strong, independent woman’ is held up as an example to all women, a promise of what women could achieve, if only we could be more like them. Observe Sheryl Sandberg, witness Marissa Mayer. These women negotiate, they take opportunities, they demand a seat at the table. Countless books have been written about how female leaders can succeed; too many ignore the need to demolish discrimination and barriers that hold back all women, and focus instead on what the individual woman should do to circumvent these obstacles while leaving them perfectly in place for the next woman to navigate.

Needless to say, the concepts of the ‘good girl’ and the ‘strong, independent woman’ are just as flawed as the construct of the model minority. You may be wildly successful in your career, even become the highest paid woman in your field, but what you earn will still be a mere fraction of what your male counterpart does. Similarly, the most certain predictor of rape or male violence occurring lies with the attitudes and decisions of the perpetrator, and is not determined by what the victim is wearing, or how she is behaving.

These lies are an insidious tactic wielded by the white supremacist patriarchy, in an attempt to focus our attention away from structural inequality and towards individual responsibility. It strives to tear asunder the unity of the oppressed classes, encouraging us to blame one another for our own oppression. It fosters antagonism between people of colour, dangles the promise of white acceptance over the heads of East Asians in exchange for their complicity in maintaining anti-black oppression, teaches girls to view their sisters with contempt, and tells successful women that women who do not rise to their level are simply not good enough. And while our attention and blame is focused within, the white supremacist patriarchy continues to thrive without.

The parallels between these tactics are stark and for me show why we cannot compartmentalise sexism and racism, fighting one and then the other as if they were separate and distinct issues. White supremacy and patriarchy are embroiled in a nefarious alliance, feeding off and nourishing each other to uphold oppression. They are unified and, if we wish to combat racial and gender oppression, our efforts and solutions must be too.

Joy Goh-Mah is a feminist writer based in London. She blogs on issues related to feminism and race at Crates and Ribbons, and is a part of Media Diversified. Follow @CratesNRibbons.

Picture source.

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#GenderWeek: What about men? The end of women-only charities?

Click here to read all #GenderWeek articles.

What about men?

As my Irish mother always says: “Don’t let the b******ds grind you down!”

I was approached to write this article because we (Survive) advertised for a post in our local A&E for an IDVA (Independent domestic Violence Advisor), and in our advertisement we stated the post holder must be female using section 7(2) of the Sexual Discrimination Act. As our work primarily supports women and our women are primarily abused by men, we have found it appropriate for them to be supported by a worker who legally identifies as a woman. As an example of how this works on an everyday level, if you visit your GP it is perfectly acceptable to ask for a female practitioner to make you feel more comfortable when dealing with personal subjects such as fertility and sexual health; discussing a traumatic relationship is no different. Makes sense right?

So I find it hard to understand why, when someone makes a statement or publishes an article about violence against women, particularly domestic violence, the reactionary comments are full of people (men and women) asking: “what about the men?” “it’s not just women you know!” Or “just as many men as women experience DVA.” And my favourite: “why should women get all the help and support? Probably more men suffering in silence than women anyway!”

How do they know this? Where is their evidence? And why do they feel the need to attack women and those who help them? Why should it be that if I want to support women and their children I must be against male victims? This is simply not the case; I, like most in the DVA sector, recognise that there are also male victims. It feels to me that whenever women state something is for women only, people feel threatened. It is accepted (although odd in our day and age), that there are golf clubs and Mason meetings which are for men only, but the other way round makes people feel uneasy?

What I suggest to people is to go out there and set up support where you see gaps. That is what the first female voluntary domestic violence support workers did during the 1970s; this work was born out of the feminist movement, by women for women and their children.

The problem with the question “what about men?” is it creates is a world where funders, government and local councils start to demand that the services they fund support all, and support them thoroughly; that services spread and stretch their resources (often using the same if not lower funds), in order to evidence that they will and are supporting both male and female victims.

I work in one of the last organisations which specialises in supporting women and children only and at a grassroots level. I believe we are a dying breed and that as funding requirements change we will have to look at amending the fundamental principles of our constitutions and mission statements in order to keep up with funders’ expectations. So we risk losing our identity as a female only org in order to literally survive.

This change and expansion is clear to see in our new projects and ventures; we now support men off site if they come into our local A&E, and men can now attend our parenting sessions which are also off site. We also have male mentors to support the children living in our refuges and accessing our services, however our direct and main support within refuge, group work and outreach is still for women only.

The possible harm I can see coming from a complete change to support provision, and losing our founding identify, would be the message it would send out; that domestic violence and abuse is not a gender issue, which from my experience and research it still very much is.

  • On average two women a week are killed by a male partner or former partner: this constitutes around one-third of all female homicide victims
  • 42% of all female homicide victims, compared with 4% of male homicide victims, were killed by current or former partners in England and Wales in the year 2000/01. This equates to 102 women, an average of 2 women each week
  • In a study by Shelter, 40% of all homeless women stated that domestic violence was a contributor to their homelessness. Domestic violence was found to be “the single most quoted reason for becoming homeless”

I can already imagine the comments this article will provoke: Men are too ashamed to report, men are less likely to report, and so on… and while I agree there is some truth in these refutes, you can’t argue with these statistics – they are facts.

Out of the 367 male victims of homicide in 2011/12, 17 were killed by partners or ex partners and 124 by strangers. While these 17 deaths may have been prevented by better support from services, the figure for women in that same year is much higher: out of the 127 female homicide victims, 88 were killed by their partner/ex-partner and 25 by a stranger.

I do support the engagement of men in the DVA sector; it has been of great benefit for our younger service users to be supported by male mentors, for them to have a positive experience of non-violent/abusive men. I willingly accept that we will be exploring this area further and looking at the role of male workers supporting DVA victims, but we need to address this without losing our identity as a female led organisation. There are not many working environments where the CE, the management team and administration, as well as front line workers, are all female and this is a fact I am proud of.

Ruth Wood is IDVA & Outreach Services Manager at Survive: Working towards freedom from domestic abuse. Follow her personal Twitter @WoodWoodruthie

If you have been affected by domestic violence, call the national domestic violence helpline on 0808 2000 247. Calls are free and the line is open 24/7.

Support services for men

Photo: Wikimedia

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The forgotten women of Kalamazoo

In 1942 Glenn Miller’s I’ve Got a Gal in Kalamazoo swung its way to the top of the Hit Parade charts for eight weeks. One year earlier, a surprise military strike by the Imperial Japanese Navy at Pearl Harbour had dragged America into war, stealing its men overnight like a hypnagogic hallucination. At the same time an extraordinary group of women walked quietly through the doors of 225 Parsons Street, Kalamazoo, Michigan. Their mission: to build wartime Gibson guitars.

Glenn Miller wasn’t the only one who had a gal in Kalamazoo. During the years 1942-45, Gibson Guitar Corporation had several. As is the case with many a clandestine affair, their existence has long since been deleted and rewritten from the Gibson history books, their fingerprints and handiwork polished away with a J-cloth. As quietly as they entered the Gibson factory in January 1942, they disappeared again.

John Thomas’ personal quest to find the lost Kalamazoo gals is endearingly told in Kalamazoo Gals: A story of Extraordinary Women & Gibson’s “Banner” Guitars of WWII. This is not just one story but many; finally giving these women their voice, to talk about the guitars they made for a manufacturer that denied they ever existed.

Why the cover-up? We never quite find out. The Kalamazoo women produced nearly 25,000 guitars during World War II yet Gibson denied ever building instruments over this period. Their ads in 1945 even welcomed a ‘new world’ where guitars would be ‘available again’. Gibson folklore eradicated their gals from history, claiming only “seasoned craftsmen” too old for war were carrying out repairs. In reality, women such as Jenny Snow, Velura Wood, Mary Jane Dowels and Ruth Stap populated the work benches, creating refined Banner Gibsons from rationed materials. No mean feat.

As the women vanished in 1945, returning to their children, kitchens and marriages, the Banner Gibsons vanished too. These guitars are unequivocally strapped to the women who made them, with the slogan “Only a Gibson is Good Enough” on the golden banners of the guitar headstocks. “There it would reside for four short years, to disappear sometime in 1945, not again to be seen until the Gibson Company produced reissues in the 1990s of the guitars that many players and collectors contend represent Gibson’s zenith.” And this is what makes John Thomas’ book all the more vital; the Kalamazoo Girls created some of the best guitars in Gibson’s history.

This book is their story, their lives, in their modest words. None consider their work extraordinary. Most shrug themselves off the page that frames them, undermining their contribution as unskilled. 84-year-old Jenny Snow who can uncoil and recoil Gibson mona-steel string in a blink of an eye; Velura Wood who inspected every single Banner flattop guitar during the years 1943-46; frail Mary Jane Dowels, now 80, who back in 1944 “did those fancy ones, you know. The L-5s and Super 400s. I could bind 26 or 27 headstocks in a day.” And then there’s Ruth Stap, who inlaid the Gibsons with mother of pearl. Around her neck is a wooden heart she made in the Gibson factory with five mother of pearl stars. Each star represents one of her brothers: “One for each of my brothers who was in the war. I wore it every day of the war and, you know what? All of my brothers made it back.”

What makes each tale bittersweet is their brevity. As one Gibson gal, Delores, sums up for the group: “My husband got out of the service in 1946 and I became a homemaker”. They loved to work. Like most of us, they loved getting paid even more, but when the time came the same modesty that underpinned their talent, underpinned their willingness to leave as quickly as they arrived without complaint or protestation.

All we’re left with is this one sincere testament to their story, told 70 years after both the Banners and their Kalamazoo gals disappeared, just like Glenn Miller, whose aircraft vanished without trace only a few months earlier in 1944 somewhere over the English Channel. Miller himself once declared: “America means freedom and there’s no expression of freedom quite so sincere as music”. How true that was, and will always be, for the extraordinary Banner women of Kalamazoo.


We’re offering Feminist Times members the chance to win a copy of Kalamazoo Gals: A story of Extraordinary Women & Gibson’s “Banner” Guitars of WWII, signed by author John Thomas.

Enter your details here and we’ll select one winner at random at 5pm tomorrow, Thursday 24 April. Please enter the email address you used to sign up as a member; only entries made by current Feminist Times members will be counted. If you are not yet a member, or your membership has expired, click here to join us.

Kat Lister is a Contributing Editor of Feminist Times. She is a freelance writer living in London and can be found tweeting to an empty room @Madame_George. She has contributed to NME, The Telegraph, Grazia, Time Out, Clash magazine and Frankie magazine.

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£500 million Easter indulgence in perspective

A recent episode of the BBC’s Supermarket Secrets saw everyone’s favourite Masterchef judge Gregg Wallace stood in a chocolate factory watching molten Belgian chocolate being sprayed into a plastic owl mould, in what appeared to be an elaborate advert for Waitrose’s brand new Easter range of woodland chocolate animals. You can buy the full set – Spike the hedgehog, Hop the frog, Ollie and Izzy the owls (Izzy comes in pink, of course, for the girls) – for £20.

In good impartial BBC style, we also saw Gregg making hot cross buns in Sainsburys and learning about supermarket psychology in Morrisons – because other supermarkets are available, but only one will provide you with charming chocolate owls and hedgehogs instead of your common or garden Easter bunnies and chicks.

We Brits are expected to spend £500 million on chocolate this Easter and, according to Supermarket Secrets, retailers have seen a 25% increase in sales of chocolatey Easter treats. Basically, we’re all suckers for chocolate moulded into cute animal shapes, and we’re falling for it in our millions – kids, parents and non-parents alike.

Even I, a notorious hater of hollow Easter confectionary, found myself momentarily seduced by Spike the hedgehog, with his cute little chocolate spines and “eat me” eyes. But if we all just stopped scoffing, what else could our £500 million be spent on?

While all the other women’s magazines are full of tips on creating the prettiest yummy mummy Easter egg hunt, we put the cost of Easter indulgence into perspective.

£500 million would pay for…

Mortgage payments for more than 5,000 homes for Maria Miller’s family

Maria Miller


Annual salaries for 500 of Barclays’ highest paid bankers



Nearly 1,000 overpriced garages in South East London



Paying off the debts of almost 10,000 students



More than 16,000 NHS nurses for a year, on an average salary of £30,000pa



A pet hamster for ALL of the 63 million people in the UK – lasts at least a year longer than a chocolate hamster, and much more cuddly


Main photo: Wikimedia Commons

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Womb with a View: Bounty – I’ve got my best “fuck-off face” ready

We asked Bounty for a response and have published it directly below the article. It includes contact details for anyone who has had a difficult experience and for those wanted to take themselves off the Bounty database.

Two weeks to go… or rather, not two weeks to go. I’m 38 weeks pregnant today, and his Highness could plausibly arrive this afternoon. Or tomorrow. Or next week. Or the week after that.

Between the 37-week mark and the 42-week “we’ll try anything” cut-off, a pregnant women is ready to roll, set to go, fully cooked. So what are women like me really thinking about now? The small issue of pushing a baby out between our legs, yes. But also what happens soon after, and who we want to be with us.

This brings me to Bounty, an organisation in the news frequently last summer. A profit-making company that provides “support to families in the transition to parenthood”, their representatives are present on many post-natal wards in the UK. Here, they sell women photographs of their babies hours after they’ve had them, get paid by HMRC to pass on Child Benefit forms (some Bounty reps have told mothers it was the only way to get them) and sign away patients’ details to parent-friendly businesses. Yep, you read that right.

This isn’t the brave new world of the stripped-down NHS either. Bounty has been around in hospitals for over 50 years, although what they do there has changed significantly.

These days, women encounter Bounty very early on in their pregnancies. At my 10-week check – at which the risk of miscarriage is still significant – I was presented with my free Bounty folder. This is a heavyweight plastic bag full of free samples and advertising. No, I’m not averse to a freebie but this didn’t seem the right environment so, after a cursory look through, I chucked the lot in the bin. (One leaflet also offered dietary advice that contradicted NHS guidelines – yes, I can eat stilton, you demons – which I emailed them about and, to their credit, they responded.)

A note on the back of the Bounty bag was more galling, however. “Mum to be tip: baby brain? Keep your maternity notes in here so you know how to find them,” it gushed. There, there, dear, went Bounty, patting our silly little heads. We’d much rather be patronised than supported.

Then I started hearing about other women’s experiences of Bounty. One friend was pressured to sign up by her midwife, before miscarrying, then kept getting information from the company on what would have been her due date. Another had a very poorly baby and kept getting harrassed in intensive care. Another thought the Bounty rep was one of many health professionals at first, before handing over her email to send her away – only to get bombarded with spam emails ever since, selling life insurance, kids’ ISAs and toddlers’ ballet lessons.

The first issue to tackle here is transparency. Why don’t these reps say who they are straightaway? I’m told that, in the hours after giving birth, medical staff pop in constantly; a new mother isn’t necessarily going to be ready to deal with uninvited guests. Also, why are these reps allowed into wards when only a few other family members are, especially given the risk of infection? Are these reps monitored and checked properly? Are they made aware of women’s different medical circumstances? A woman could have had an easy labour or a very traumatic one. Neither kind, from the anecdotes I’ve heard, is spared the sales treatment.

So what do Bounty bring the NHS? In a word: money. Amy Willis’ June 2013 investigation for The Telegraph revealed that 150 NHS hospitals were signed up to cash-for-access contracts. Some hospitals were paid according to the number of babies born, while others got bonus commissions when Bounty managed to take their bloody photographs. Furthermore, as of last summer, HMRC paid Bounty £90,000 a year to distribute child benefit forms – forms that can be picked up in post offices for free or downloaded online.

No change has been reported about this figure yet. It isn’t exactly the best use of taxpayers’ money, whichever way you slice it.

But things are hopefully changing. Last summer, a petition against Bounty attracted over 25,000 signatures. As a result, Parliamentary Under Secretary of State at the Department of Health, Dan Poulter – a medical doctor himself – wrote to the Chief Executives of NHS Trusts expressing his concerns, albeit it, of course, in a very privatisation-friendly way.

“Whilst it is beneficial to have accessible information available to women when they are responsive to messaging”, he wrote – a touch of the “baby brain” schtick there, so thanks for that, Dan – “I am sure you will agree that it is unacceptable for parenting support organisations including Bounty to use this as an opportunity to collect private data and share it without the expressed informed consent of the parents.” Which is all well and good.

This letter was written last June. By July, Poole and Highland NHS Trusts had severed their Bountry contracts. By August, Poulter was saying that the Care Quality Commission would be enabled to take action against maternity wards that “did not ensure the protection of women’s dignity and privacy”. The worry I have now, however, is that this story loses traction. That overworked staff on maternity units forget the complaints that have been made. That the existence of Bounty reps on the wards for so many years makes the issues blend into the background – rather than the practices of individual reps being questioned.

After all, these are some of my friends’ experiences of Bounty, on post-natal wards, since last August. There’s the friend who was having difficulty breastfeeding when the rep appeared – a woman who didn’t take a strongly-worded hint to leave well alone. There’s the friend who was told by an anonymous woman that she needed her details, without being told how these details were going to be used – expressly against the advice recommended by Dan Poulter. A few others had better, hands-off treatment, and I’m hoping for the same – but I have the advantage of being prepared for it, which many women don’t.

Whatever happens in the next four weeks, I’m taking the advice of my friend Ellie. After the birth, whatever happens, I’ll have my best “fuck-off face” ready.

Jude Rogers is a writer, broadcaster, journalist, romantic, Welsh woman and geek. Follow her here @juderogers

Response from Clare Goodrham, Bounty General Manager said: “As a proud partner of the NHS for over 50 years, which sees over 2,000 new mums every day, we have worked to provide free products and important health information to generations of new mothers. We work closely with hospitals to ensure that mums and hospital staff are happy with the service we provide, and 92% of mums say that they love our packs as it gives them free products and money off coupons.

We are proud to give mums such offers and we take a responsible approach to sharing information with our partners. We audit and approve all the communications that our members receive and enforce a strict policy that data is only shared with our partners when a member has given us permission. We understand that some members might change their minds about this, so anyone who does not wish for their data to be shared can be removed from our database within 24 hours and no longer receive correspondence from Bounty or our partners if they wish.

Whilst expecting a baby should be such a joyful event, we know from our long term partnership with Tommy’s the baby charity that for one in four women things can go wrong and they lose a baby in pregnancy or birth. Bounty takes its responsibility seriously and has systems in place so that our members can privately update their membership details on our website or unsubscribe using a link at the bottom of our home page and any of our emails. Additionally, Bounty signposts to the Baby Mailing Preference Service on our website and through our customer services team as the service will ensure that any communications from other sources they may have signed up to are also stopped.

At Bounty, we want 100 % satisfaction with our service and regularly assess all aspects of our practices to ensure that mums continue to get the best experience possible. Our Independent Advisory Board is also in place to provide us with recommendations for how we can continually improve our service and the experience for mums across the country. If anyone has any specific complaints or suggestions for improvement, then please let us know straight away at”

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Creatures of Adland: collective nouns for advertisers

“A murder of crows, a crash of rhinos. Why is it that animals get all the fun collective nouns?” asks Creatures of Adland, a fun new blog project started by advertisers Jana and Adrian.

“The project started as something fun, a way to hold a mirror up the advertising industry and make light of the cliches it cultivates. It’s a very self important industry that benefits from reminding of its absurdity from time to time,” Jana explains.

“Once we started, we found ourselves continually looking out for patterns. This of course led us to some other, not so amusing, observations about the make-up of the industry itself. We’re by no means the first to make these observations, but we thought we should use our time in the glow of the industry’s attention for something a bit more productive than we originally intended. Though it continues to improve, the fact remains that the ad industry doesn’t reflect the society it seeks to influence. It remains very much young, white and male.”

We picked out our Top 5 collective nouns from Creatures of Adland…

A Burden of Old Timers



A Token of Black Execs



A Miracle of Female Bosses



A Glow of Chairmen



An Ambition of Managing Directors


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#SexIndustryWeek: Manifesto – English Collective of Prostitutes

The English Collective of Prostitutes (ECP) is a network of women who work or have worked in different areas of the sex industry campaigning for decriminalisation and safety. We fight against being treated like criminals. We’ve helped women and other sex workers win against charges of soliciting, closure orders, ASBOs, brothel-keeping & controlling – the last two most often used against women who are there to ensure safety. And we fight for housing, higher benefits and wages so that any of us can leave prostitution if and when we want.

We won the first ever rape prosecution taken by women in England and Wales after the authorities refused to prosecute, putting a serial rapist who targeted sex workers, behind bars. In 1982 we occupied a London Church for 12 days to protest police illegality and racism against street workers.

What we stand for:

  • Decriminalization of sex workers – on the street and in premises – as in New Zealand. The laws land us in jail, divide us from families and friends, make us vulnerable to violence, isolate us – separate is never equal. Criminal records trap us in prostitution.
  • Protection from rape and other violence.
  • An end to police brutality, corruption, racism and other illegality. Prosecute police who break the law.
  • No zones, no licensing, no legalized brothels – they are ghettoes and state pimping.
  • Self-determination. Sex workers must decide how we want to work – not the police, local authorities, pimps, madams/managers who profit from our work.
  • An end to racism and other discrimination within the sex industry.
  • Sex workers must have rights like other workers: the right to a pension and to join trade unions. Unions are for workers not for bosses.
  • No criminalization of clients. Consenting sex between adults is not a crime.
  • Free and accessible health services for all: no mandatory health checks or HIV tests.
  • Women’s right to organize independently of men, including of male sex workers.
  • Economic alternatives: no one should be forced into sex by poverty. People who want to leave the sex industry (or any industry) should have access to resources.
  • Shelters and economic resources for children/young people so they don’t have to beg or go into prostitution to survive. Children must be protected not criminalized.
  • No ‘rehabilitation’ schemes which punish us or force us into low-paid jobs.
  • An end to extortionate room rents and other profiteering.
  • The right to freedom of movement within and between countries. Stop using anti-trafficking laws to deport sex workers.

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#SexIndustryWeek: Playing The Whore – The Industry

Playing The WhoreEach weekday throughout our #SexIndustryWeek we’ll be exclusively serialising extracts from ‘Playing The Whore’, by journalist and former sex worker Melissa Gira Grant.

To coincide with these extracts, we’re offering Feminist Times readers FIVE chances to win a copy of the book, signed by Melissa.

To enter today’s competition, simply enter your name and email address here. One winner will be selected at random at the end of the day. 

Playing The Whore: The Industry

Though these are four of the most visible forms of sex work—porn, stripping, domination, and escorting—and each offers a distinct environment, it’s not uncommon for workers to draw their incomes from more than one. It’s about more than maximizing their earning potential; it’s also a way to negotiate the varying degrees of exposure and surveillance that come with each venue. For every escort who would never give up her privacy by working in a strip club, chancing that someone she knew would come in, there’s a stripper who would never give up her privacy by working in porn or having her image posted online, and there’s a porn performer who would never have sex for money outside the context of a porn shoot.

These are also only anecdotes drawn from sex workers I’ve met and worked with over the last ten years, in this first decade of the twenty-first century, and in the United States. Each involves some work online and offline. Each caters to customers in a specific way, and with its own conventions: Web sites sell photo sets and memberships; escort services set up appointments; clubs charge entrance fees and sell drinks; and performers sell stage shows and private dances. Each sell takes its own skills, has its own hustle, its own downsides.

However, as distinct as the work and their environments may be, there is a political usefulness in calling all of this sex work, while also insisting that it varies considerably over time and place. The portrait of street-level prostitution, for example, as it’s on display in media accounts—a woman, most often a woman of color, standing in a short skirt and leaning into a car or pacing toward one—is a powerful yet lazily constructed composite. As the lead character of the prostitute imaginary, she becomes a stand-in for all sex workers, a reduction of their work and lives to one fantasy of a body and its particular and limited performance for public consumption. Sex workers’ bodies are rarely presented or understood as much more than interchangeable symbols— for urban decay, for misogyny, for exploitation—even when propped up so by those who claim some sympathy, who want to question stereotypes, who want to “help.”

The character isn’t even representative of all the street soliciting sex workers she stands in for. When considering the practice of street-based sex work, sociologist Elizabeth Bernstein observes, “It is important to recognize the extent to which the practices and meanings of sexual labor varied in the different prostitution strolls,” even in the same city. Some of this sex work can be more accurately described as trade or barter, Bernstein writes, “self-organized, occasional exchanges that generally took place within women’s own homes and communities.” She distinguishes this from “the sexual labor of ‘career’ streetwalkers,” in which “commercial sexual exchange was conceptualized as ‘work’ that resided in the public display of the body.” You find this echoed in the research of Chicago youth involved in the sex trade conducted by the grassroots group Young Women’s Empowerment Project. They’ve adopted the descriptor “sex trades and street economies” to recognize that, for their community, trading sex for what they need to survive isn’t necessarily understood as their “work,” and that it occurs alongside other informal labor, such as hair braiding or babysitting.

The sex industry is varied and porous throughout. Consider its other most visible outpost in America: the legal brothels of rural Nevada in the few counties where prostitution was never fully criminalized, and where strict regulation and isolation are employed to make it tolerable to the public. There, according to a recent study conducted by Brents, Jackson, and Hausbeck and published in The State of Sex, one third of brothel workers had never done any other kind of sex work before, but rather came to it directly from “non-sexual service work.” Three quarters of those they interviewed move between “straight work” and sex work. “Selling sex,” they write, “is often one form of labor among a variety of jobs.”

When we say that sex work is service work, we don’t say that just to sanitize or elevate the status of sex workers, but also to make plain that the same workers are performing sex work and nonsexual service work. In her study of Rust Belt strippers published in Policing Pleasure: Sex Work, Policy, and the State in Global Perspective, Susan Dewey observed that the vast majority of the dancers—all but one—at one club in upstate New York had worked outside the sex industry, and “many had left intermittently for low-wage, service sector work elsewhere before returning with the recognition that they preferred the topless bar with its possibility of periodic windfalls from customers.” For the dancers who Dewey surveyed, it was the work outside of the sex industry that was “exploitative, exclusionary, and without hope for social mobility or financial stability.”

Opponents, from the European Women’s Lobby to reactionary feminist bloggers, like to claim that sex workers insist it is “a job like any other,” but sex workers do not make this claim—unless by this anti–sex work activists agree with sex workers that the conditions under which sexual services are offered can be as unstable and undesirable as those cutting cuticles, giving colonics, or diapering someone else’s babies.

But that’s not what sex work opponents are referring to when they snap back with a phrase such as “a job like any other.” When they say ‘‘jobs’’ they don’t mean those informal service jobs, but their more elevated labor administering social projects, conducting research, and lobbying. Rescuing sex workers is good work for them. As feminist anarchist Emma Goldman noted in 1910, the prostitution panic “will help to create a few more fat political jobs—parasites who stalk about the world as inspectors, investigators, detectives, and so forth.” The loss of sex workers’ income was their gain.

Opponents even take our jobs when we win. Socialist feminist activist and antiracist campaigner Selma James, in her essay “Hookers in the House of the Lord,” documents the closure of a successful grassroots sex workers’ legal project in London in the eighties, so “feminist lawyers and women from the anti-porn lobby” could create their own without having to actually employ the sex workers who started this advocacy. “What we are witnessing before our very eyes is the process whereby women’s struggle is hidden from history and transformed into an industry,” James writes, “jobs for the girls.”

The message of anti–sex work feminists is, It’s the women working against sex work who are the real hard workers, shattering glass ceilings and elevating womanhood, while the tramps loll about down below. As political theorist Kathi Weeks notes, to call a woman a tramp is to judge the value of a woman’s sexuality and labor. Tramps, she writes in The Problem with Work, are “potentially dangerous figures that could, unless successfully othered, call into question the supposedly indisputable benefits of work”—and home and family, and women’s commitment to all of it. When sex workers are “rescued” by anti–sex work reformers, they are being disciplined, set back into their right role as good women.

This isn’t just the province of large NGOs; one-woman rescue missions have popped up online and in mega churches, projects that claim to support themselves through the sale of candles and jewelry made by rescued sex workers. These jobs may technically exist outside the sex industry, but without a supply of rescued workers, there would be no cheap labor, no candles—and there would be no projects for the rescuers to direct.

These demands on sex workers’ labor, while it is simultaneously devalued, is why we still insist that sex work is work. But this should not be confused with uncritical sentiment, as if sex work is only work if it’s “good” work, if we love to do it. Being expected to perform affection for our jobs might feel familiar to sex workers—management at the unionized peep show the Lusty Lady tried to insert language in their contract that the job was meant to be “fun,” which the dancers refused to accept. To insist that sex workers only deserve rights at work if they have fun, if they love it, if they feel empowered by it is exactly backward. It’s a demand that ensures they never will.

Melissa Gira Grant is the author of Playing the Whore: The Work of Sex Work (Verso, 2014)

Melissa will be speaking about her book in London, Brighton, Bristol, Edinburgh and London. Details can be found here:

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Comeback: I had a duty to challenge Julia Bradbury’s comments

Broadcaster Miriam O’Reilly responds to Lynne Segal’s article: Mild-mannered Countryfile gets ugly: TV, sexism & ageism

There is a fundamental mistake in the copy relating to my response to Julia Bradbury’s attempt to undermine my tribunal win. She did not ‘step into’ my shoes. This is important in relation to the legal aspect of my case. Julia Bradbury replaced John Craven – not me. I was replaced by Jules Hudson.

I responded [to Bradbury’s comments] because it’s important to the older women who saw my win as a turning point for them too. TV shapes opinion and has the power to form prejudices. By excluding older women it contributes to their invisibility in society. This is why I challenged Julia Bradbury, who started this whole thing by dismissing my legal win in The Times last weekend. This was not a ‘bitter’ response. I had a duty to challenge.

Miriam O’Reilly is a writer, journalist and campaigner who successfully sued the BBC for ageism in 2010, two years after being dropped from Countryfile.

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Feminist Toolkit: How to organise a union

As part of our coverage of the 30th anniversary of the miners’ strike, we asked TUC General Secretary Frances O’Grady for her guide to organising a workplace union. Frances became General Secretary of the TUC in 2013 and is the first woman ever to hold the post.

FrancesOgradyIn a world of work dominated by pay cuts, wage freezes, attempts to reduce employment rights, and the threat of redundancy, it’s never been more important for workers to be in a union.

Yet there is a genuine ignorance about unions amongst many workers – especially younger ones, which is understandable when more than half the UK workforce has never been in a union. At best, many employees simply have no idea what unions are or what they do, and at worst, their perceptions are shaped by the distorted stereotypes of unions portrayed in many parts of the media.

It’s hardly surprising that many people think unions are dominated by white middle-aged men, who are either regularly shouting at one another or going out on strike. Of course the reality is very different. Halfway through the second decade of the 21st century, the typical union member is a women, under 40, working in a white collar job.

Each and every day, in workplaces up and down the country, unions work on issues as diverse as lifelong learning, pay, safety, and equality. They provide individual support to workers as well as collective representation to the workforce as a whole. Unions give workers a voice at work and a chance to influence decisions made by employers that have an impact on their lives both in the workplace and beyond.

But to do all this unions need to be organised and this can be a challenge, especially in workplaces where there is no union presence. For many employees, particularly young women, there is simply no union to join at their workplaces.

So how should you get started?

# 1 – The easiest way to get union representation – either individually or collectively with a group of colleagues – is to join the relevant union for your job, company or industry. If you’re not sure which one that is, you can use this online tool on the TUC’s website to help you choose

# 2 – If no-one where you work belongs to a union, you might want to talk to some of your colleagues to see if some of them are interested in getting representation, rather than going it alone. Remember, the more people you can get involved at this early stage, the better. If you don’t feel able to do this just yet, you might want to consider joining a union’s community branch which can offer assistance to people across a wide range of workplaces.

# 3 – Think about what you would like to change in your workplace and the kind of issues you would like to raise with your employer – maybe the hours are too long, the rates of pay too low or perhaps the sick leave is inadequate. Whatever the issue, having a union behind you when the matter is discussed with an employer can make all the difference.

# 4 – If you have found a union that you think is right for you, speak to someone who organises workplaces for that union about how you would like the problem approached. They can advise on the way forward, can speak to your employer and maybe even get the union recognised.

# 5 – Build your local union branch. The more employees in a particular workplace who belong to a union, the more chance an employer will take an issue seriously so it makes sense to get as many colleagues on board as possible. You should be aware that not every employer will be delighted at the news that staff are trying to organise themselves but don’t let this put you off. Unions are used to the anti-union tactics used by some employers and will be able to give you lots of tips and advice. Good luck!

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Comeback: Why the Nordic Model harms women

Independent escort Laura Lee and the English Collective of Prostitutes respond to RadFemUK’s piece on the European Parliament’s vote in favour of adopting the Nordic Model, which criminalises the purchase of sex.

Laura Lee:

The decision by the European Parliament to vote in favour of Mary Honeyball’s paper is a very dark day for human rights and the rights of those of us often shunted to one side: sex workers. Throughout the whole “consultation process”, Ms Honeyball did not listen to the voices of sex workers – surely crucial to a law which will affect our lives so dramatically.

At first glance, it’s hard to see how Ms Honeyball could have reached the conclusions she did, flying in the face of such noted advocates of decriminalisation as the Global Commission on HIV and the Law, and the World Health Organisation to name but two.

From the very beginning, Ms Honeyball refused to recognise that she was conflating prostitution and trafficking, two very separate entities. She claimed that “80% of sex workers are trafficked”, which is hugely erroneous and not helpful to any debate which must be based on hard evidence.

The 80% figure comes from The Big Brothel report, which has been widely debunked by many academics – not least because the method of data collection was, at best, haphazard. Telephoning various brothels to enquire as to the ethnicity of the ladies available is not proof of trafficking, and a distinction must be made between migrant sex workers and those who have been trafficked without their consent.

In a 2009 study, Dr Nic Mai surveyed 100 migrant sex workers and found that only 6% felt they had been “tricked or coerced” into the industry – a far cry from 80%. He went on to say: “The research evidence strongly suggests that current attempts to curb trafficking and exploitation by criminalising clients and closing down commercial sex establishments will not be effective because, as a result, the sex industry will be pushed further underground and people working in it will be further marginalised and vulnerable to exploitation.

“This would discourage both migrants and UK citizens working in the sex industry, as well as clients, from co-operating with the police and sex work support projects in the fight against actual cases of trafficking and exploitation.”

Amnesty International too have recognised that sex workers’ rights are human rights, saying that they “support the decriminalisation of prostitution on the basis that prohibition creates a criminal market that stigmatises and alienates sex workers.”

But aside from the evidence as cited above (and there’s lots more), Ms Honeyball made the massive error of only listening to those who would agree with her, not real sex workers on the front line.

As a sex worker with twenty years experience, I was told I am not representative of the industry. I responded by saying that I have worked in what can reasonably be described as a chicken coop right up to a five star suite, so to refer to me as being in some sort of ivory tower is wrong.

It’s also not helpful when an expert on real sex work (as opposed to the academia behind it) offers an insight and is immediately dismissed. “We know better than you,” is no basis for any law and what will result is the compromise of the safety of many sex workers. Our safety will be in danger until sex work is decriminalised and we can work together; that’s fact.

Rather, Ms Honeyball chose to listen to those who benefit from funding and book sales by their opposition to my choice to work in the sex industry – and it is a choice. The “survivors” used by abolitionists to strengthen their case can wheel out tale after tale of horror and destitution, if it pays them to do so.

I’m not suggesting for one moment that some women don’t have desperate backgrounds or circumstances which lead them into a job they despise, not at all. But they are the women who will suffer the most if the Swedish model is implemented. “We must legislate for the majority,” declared Ms Honeyball. That’s the crux of this debate: I AM the majority.

With the recent deaths of Maria Duque-Tunjano and Mariana Popa, both killed whilst working alone and without any support, it falls to me to ask Ms Honeyball: How many more need to die?

Laura Lee is an independent escort based in Glasgow with twenty years experience in the sex industry. She is a passionate sex workers’ rights advocate and campaigner and an award winning blogger. Mother of one, cat lover and terrible cook. Follow her: @GlasgaeLauraLee

The English Collective of Prostitutes:


Criminalising clients will not stop prostitution, nor will it stop the criminalisation of women.  But it will make it more dangerous and stigmatising for sex workers.

Faced with no benefits, or only the lowest-waged jobs, many women sell sexual services. Are we less degraded when we have to skip meals, beg or stay with a violent partner to keep a roof over our heads?  Those who rage against prostitution have no regard for mothers struggling to feed their families.

Proposals to increase criminalisation are led by an unholy alliance of feminist politicians and homophobic fundamentalist Christians. In the UK, the All-Party Parliamentary Group at the forefront of these proposals chose as its secretariat the homophobic charity CARE.

Claims that prostitution has reduced in Sweden are untrue.* Are women driven underground safer or better paid? Welfare has been cut so that “a quarter of single mothers in Sweden now live in poverty, compared to 10% seven years ago.”

Existing laws already criminalise those who coerce anyone into the sex industry.  Why extend it to consenting sex?  False claims about trafficking are used to justify these proposals. But trafficking law is primarily used to arrest and deport immigrant women; it has done little or nothing to protect victims of trafficking.

Considering that the police more often hound rather than protect sex workers, and their appalling record on investigating rape in general, why call for more police powers? Where was the feminist outrage when 250 police, under the guise of freeing trafficking victims, broke down doors in Soho, central London last December, and dragged handcuffed women in their underwear on to the streets?

New Zealand decriminalised in 2003 with verifiable improvements in sex workers safety Canada’s Supreme Court threw out the prostitution laws for violating women’s right to safety. Why are these examples being ignored?

The English Collective of Prostitutes (ECP) is a network of women who work or have worked in different areas of the sex industry campaigning for decriminalisation and safety. The ECP provides daily support to sex workers on a range of issues including fighting legal cases which challenge discrimination and establish prostitute women’s right to protection against violence.

Contact them:,, 020 7482 2496.

*According to The National Board of Health and Welfare 2008: “It is… difficult to discern any clear trend of development: has the extent of prostitution increased or decreased? We cannot give any unambiguous answer to that question.”

Photo of ECP: msmornington

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Farage, it’s the system that needs changing – not biology

Earlier this month Nigel Farage memorably opined that women were “worth less” than men and do not face discrimination in the City. His comments joined the list of provocative UKIP statements which only the ‘daring’ purple and yellow party are willing to make and which are greeted as ‘refreshingly honest’ by a depressingly large number of people. They shed light on an entrenched attitude which is in fact insulting to both women with and women without children, as well as both mothers who work and those who don’t.

When Women’s Libbers demanded free, community-controlled (and 24 hour) childcare as one of their original seven demands in the 1970s they didn’t differentiate between work in the home and work outside of the home; they wanted the right to access to both. In the forty years between then and now the role of mothering has been diminished (as well as strangely fetishized) along with other caring roles; the cost of living has risen making two incomes almost essential for every family; market forces have been unleashed on childcare making it a low-skill, low-wage job; and state support for dual earner families, both fiscal and linguistic (“hardworking families”) far outweighs support for single earner households. This can’t have been what Second Wave women had in mind.

What Farage said in his speech was that women were not paid less because of discrimination by firms in the financial sector but instead because of the “lifestyle choice” some made by having a baby. He said that he does not believe that there is “any discrimination against women at all” in the City because women who are prepared to remain childless do “as well or better than men”. Not only is this inaccurate (figures released in August indicated a widening gender gap on bonus payments: in 2012, male managers received an average bonus of £6,442 compared with £3,029 for women, according to the Chartered Management Institute) but it is also the kind of lazy thinking shared by a huge number of people who think feminism has done its job because, on paper at least, women have equality. I’m inclined to believe that a society that thinks women should feel grateful to have achieved gender equality, on the proviso that we don’t procreate, is not one which is really listening to women and what they want.

This kind of ‘Choice Feminism’ is limited and limiting because it means that women are expected to suck up the consequences of the choices that they make on the basis that they made those choices ‘freely’. This is disingenuous when so many intersecting issues of gender, age, race and class dictate which choices are available to us and what the consequences of making them are. Once again, women are presented with a smorgasbord of ‘choice’ which has been carefully laid out by the patriarchy, and told to help themselves, but to keep quiet about any consequences they’re not satisfied with.

Changing the underlying structures which put women at a disadvantage when they take time out for their family is one of the tasks for 21st century feminism. Networking forum Citymothers’ survey revealed last year that only 12.5% of women in the City said their employer had taken a proactive role in supporting their maternity transition. Although 77% of respondents had a flexible working arrangement in place, 45% of these felt their path to career progress would be slower as a result, whilst 32% felt it would be unachievable as long as this arrangement was in place. Rather than smashing the glass ceiling only whilst simultaneously crossing our legs and forgoing motherhood, Citymothers say we need to normalise flexible working for women and men, change management perceptions that it is less productive than full time work, and eradicate a culture of presenteeism.

We also need to give proper respect to the work of mothering and recognise that it doesn’t result in complete atrophy of a woman’s brain. Beyond humorous posters which advertise motherhood as a ‘24/7 job with no holiday or pay, requiring the diplomatic skills of Ban Ki Moon’, there needs to be proper recognition that time taken out from employment does not represent a gaping hole which has to be justified or excused, particularly now many of us don’t anticipate retiring until we’re aged 70+; that women are as employable, if not more so, after time spent raising a family as they were before. Similarly, as well as asking women questions about whether the cost of childcare is a barrier to going back to work, we need to remember to also ask them if the high cost of living is a barrier to staying at home when their children are young. The results might be surprising.

Nigel Farage may quip that he “can’t change biology” and carry on swilling his pint while enjoying the workings of a system which favours men, but I say: “No, Nige, but we can change the system.”

Mel Tibbs is a freelance writer and maternal feminist, with 14 years spent at the sharp end of the politics of parenting. Find out more @CrunchyRedApple.

Photo: Euro Realist Newsletter

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#IDontBuyIt: Consuming the Season – gender, debt & credit


Joni Seager, author of the international Atlas of Women, and Graphic Designer Lucia Ricci team up as ThinkAgainGraphics to bring you a brilliant new look at women and spending.

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#IDontBuyIt: The Office Do – slut shaming, strip clubs & dancing girls

Ever been called a whore at your work do? Or been forced to go to a strip club? Are you a young PA and wondering why you’ve been asked to invite your female mates to the work xmas party?

The working woman’s experience of Christmas work dos can no longer be easily summed up in the image of a young female secretary sitting on the lap of her male boss. Yet a party with your work colleagues can still be a pit of sexism.

Even at the most progressive company you can suffer a total assault course of feelings, broken boundaries and just plain awkwardness. But add in booze, a laddish work culture, misogyny and entitlement, and that one night out of the year can be very traumatic.

We asked three women to tell us the story of their sexist Xmas party. They all wanted to remain anonymous.

“I’m not sure how many of the men actually appreciated the fact that the secretarial staff were dancing to spice up their evening.”
Quantative Analyst, an american investment bank

Sometime in December, each manager organised something for the people underneath him as a token of his (or, hypothetically, her) appreciation to the contribution that the little people made to his bonus. The head of our team ordered a takeout from Wagamama for us, his boss took us out to lunch in a restaurant and the head of the department hired a pub for an evening and invited us all to his party.

The problem was that we were a Quantitative Analytics department consisting of mostly science and engineering PhDs whose job is to crunch numbers and write software. About 95% male. There aren’t many jokes that start with “100 geeks go to the pub”.

Inviting partners would have largely solved the gender imbalance problem, but our boss wasn’t, apparently, feeling that generous. Instead, he asked each of the management assistants to bring a female friend and dance to spice up the party. Young women who were hired to do the administrative work of the department became the entertainment, and were requested to pimp their friends as well. The few female PhDs were not recruited for this task. The class system was not disturbed.

So there we were, standing along the walls, watching the admins and their friends dancing at the centre of the room. Nobody joined them; geeks will be geeks. We were just standing there, drinking our beers, talking as much as the music allowed. I’m not sure how many of the men actually appreciated the fact that the secretarial staff were dancing to spice up their evening. The latter, however, were probably too drunk to notice either way. One of them passed out before the evening was over and another showed up the following morning with bruises on her arms, having fallen off her shoes on the way home.

“…we’d talk about personal stuff – which I feel was possibly my downfall.”
Executive Assistant, a multinational finance firm

When I started at the company it was mainly for a stop gap. I’d accumulated a bit of debt after my studies so when I was offered a permanent job with a healthy salary I felt obliged to bite the bullet. The office ‘Aunty’ figure soon took me under her wing; this kind and generous woman was a bit of saving grace as the testosterone flying about the room could get a bit much from time to time – scary, even, if you happened to walk anywhere near the firing line.

Aunty was funny; a hip fairy godmother-type that hung around young blood to keep her in the know. We’d go for drinks and let off steam and she’d tell me the who’s doing what, where’s and how’s, and we’d talk about personal stuff – which I feel was possibly my downfall. In an office environment, being the kind of person that wears their heart on their sleeve, it’s sink or swim with the women you meet – there’s niceties but the venom can flow…

There’s a pub next door to the office and come Christmas time it’s all Crimbo jolly up’s ahoy with tinsel and brandy sauce. Drinking with work colleagues can make tension fly and I’ve even experienced a posh man’s fisty cuffs. The men can be very smarmy, yet generous; they like to run around shouting “Milky Bars are on me”, and the competition of who has the bigger wallet can be quite cringeworthy.

As an assistant to a group of guys, some of my bosses do confide in me a lot and most of the time it goes in one ear and out the next as alcohol can let them loose lips very loose: “Since my wife and I have had children our marriage has lost its passion”, “I never wanted to go to financial school, I wanted to be an actor”, “All I want to do is be a farmer”, etc.

A guy told me that he was really head over heals for one of the beautiful assistants. They’d shared a cheeky kiss here and there and she was really keen but he wouldn’t take it any further because on paper, come bonus time, to be seen with an assistant is not how these testosterone junkies want to perceived. It’s a culture where these things happen and I’ve kissed a couple of frogs at work; one guy ended up staying at my house but there was no sex – nothing has ever gone further.

One night after a Christmas charity event I was sat enjoying the evening and chatting away when Aunty suddenly bellowed at me: “Stop acting like a prostitute.”

I was shocked and hurt as to where this had come from. A friend who was there at the time said that I went from being my usual cheery self to a very deflated shadow. I thought it was maybe time I should go home and took myself to the toilet as I could feel the tears coming. After getting myself together I walked out of the toilet only to come face to face with this woman looking at me with hate and disgust, then those words: “you’re pathetic”.

I couldn’t help but tell her, and quite emotionally, that those comments were unacceptable, completely unjustified and wrong. She was very sorry on the night and admitted she didn’t know why she had said those things. Of course things came out that would never have done in a sober light; alcohol, emotions, work colleagues sometimes don’t gel.

The next day everyone was sober and I was willing to shrug the incident off. Aunty would not talk to me and left work early as she was “so upset”. I was devastated. She moved desks away from us, leaving me questioning whether I the one that was in the wrong.

“…we were each given £10 from my boss, like pocket money for ‘a pound in the pot for the ladies’.”
Production Manager and only woman in a medium-sized production company

Banter is very boisterous in my office; there aren’t many boundaries to be honest, and jokes are very sexist or homophobic. Half the time they make sexist jokes to wind me up, like women can’t make films – they know they get a reaction out of me.

When I first started I said I didn’t like the end of Django, and one of them replied, “it’s because you’re a woman”. I went mental. I thought to myself: “you have no idea what you are talking about or what I have done.” I’ve written a gangster film and worked with one of the most feared gangsters that the UK has seen. After that outburst he apologised and no one has ever said anything sexist seriously again; the rest of the banter is just jokes.

Practical jokes in the office are quite extreme and maybe a little unorthodox, like putting pubes on my desk, drawing cocks on everything, Photoshopping ejaculating cocks onto pictures of my face, etc. But I don’t actually think they mean it in a malicious way, and most of the time it is funny. If I said that something was upsetting me they would stop because they do respect me (plus I manage them, so they can’t get away with everything.)

Then there was an end of year party – I had organised it. We started off wine tasting, which was planned, then went for a curry, which was planned, and then we went to a strip club. That wasn’t planned; I wasn’t consulted about going at all. They were sort of joking about it and I went along with it as I didn’t want to be a spoil sport.

On the door the bloke said: “a pound in the pot for the ladies”, which meant the half-naked strippers wandered around the floor with a pint glass and you have to put a pound in. So before entering we were each given £10 from my boss, like pocket money, for “a pound in the pot for the ladies”.

I had to stand awkwardly with my boss watching a naked woman swing round a pole. I was basically looking at a fanny with my boss. A bit weird. I then got groped by a drunk man and then we all left.

I wasn’t upset, I just think there could have been nicer ways to spend the rest of the night. Another male college also agreed as he was uncomfortable. I’ve since put my foot down and there will be no strip clubs at this year’s Christmas party.

Image copyright jayfish

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#IDontBuyIt: UnElfy working conditions under capitalism

Feminist Times interviewed 19-year-old Annabel*, a whistleblowing Elf, for an insight into life working for Father Christmas at a much-loved festive family attraction.

It’s a busy time of year for Santa’s little helpers so we caught up with Annabel while she was on her way to work in the grotto, on a chilly December morning, to find out what her job entails.

“My role as an elf involves greeting and memorising the names of the children before taking them and their guardians to meet Father Christmas,” she explains.

“On the way I try my best to get them excited about meeting him by asking about their day, what their favourite part was, and what they want for Christmas. It’s really important to involve the adults as well,” she adds, “as they’re also here for the experience, even if it was booked as a treat for the children.”

Annabel does this through “small references to the ‘human world’ – so if the child says their favourite activity that day was ice skating, you can joke that you won the gold bell for ice skating in ‘elf olympics’ 1888, or that you’re so clumsy Father Christmas won’t let you on the ice.”

For her, working with children is the highlight of her job: “What I love is being able to help make children continue to believe in the magic of Christmas for at least another year, and watching their faces light up as they meet the man who brings them so much joy every Christmas day.

“I love it when you get a little girl or boy at around 10 years old, who still deeply believes in Father Christmas and is genuinely wrapped up in the whole experience.”

The second aspect of Annabel’s job is taking photos of the families with Father Christmas, helping hand out and restock the gift throughout the day, and preparing the house for routine evening inspections.

“Photos with Santa aren’t included in the price of the ticket and must be purchased separately,” she tells us. “Filming and photos, other than those taken ‘professionally’, are not allowed within Father Christmas’s house.”

As an actress, Annabel says working as an elf for nine hours a day is a very full-on role: “You must always be prepared with an answer no matter what the question, always be bouncy and full of energy – nobody wants to talk to a grumpy elf.

“You can NEVER break character, even if an adult asks your age or what you do when you’re not ‘elfing’. You can make up any age – I usually say 178 – and you have to act confused: “what do you mean when I’m not at work? We elves are always hard at work making toys for all the good boys and girls all over the world!” and “why, we live here of course! All of us together in this forest – in fact, there are many elves napping nearby because they’ve been so hard at work making toys for you, so we have to be very quiet now so we don’t wake them up!”

In fact, it’s not so far from the truth: “My least favourite part of the job is the hours – roughly 10 hours a day with only two unpaid half hour breaks whilst being on your feet all day, going back and forth,” Annabel says.

She started work with Father Christmas at the end of November, after two days of training, and had a total of four days off before starting a two-week stint of 11am-9pm days, leading up to Christmas. Understandably, she’s exhausted.

“Then there’s the lack of pay,” Annabel adds. “For over 21s it’s an average of £7.07 an hour and for under 21s (like me) it’s roughly £5.54. Being separated by age when both age groups are doing the same job and the same amount of work is extremely frustrating and generally unfair.

“Considering being an elf in these circumstances could fall under the category of immersive theatre, in the opinion of myself and all my co-workers, we are grossly underpaid.” The Independent Theatre Council recommends a minimum salary of £420 a week; even at 9 hours a day (with one hour of unpaid breaks), 7 days a week, Annabel only gets £349.02 gross. Santa how could you?!

Annabel’s biggest disillusionment lies with the management’s capitalistic drive to maximise profits at any cost. “I genuinely believe that the owners started the company with a view to create a magical experience for families and children,” she says.

“But due to the nature of business, various things inevitably falter due to costs and profit margins – the little things can often be lost, like a serious lack of training and employees not being trained to the highest standard.

“A full time worker was asked to cover for an understudy because of so many people quitting due to poor working conditions and then wasn’t trained properly in that area,” she tells us.

“Very long shifts, with so few breaks, in such a physical job can be mentally and physically draining, causing strain on the employees, both among themselves and the managers.”

Although Annabel enjoys the job itself, she reveals that other elves aren’t so lucky: “Elves from other sections of the Christmas experience, whose roles allow less freedom than my own, have all expressed great frustration and stress at the monotonous repetitions that their jobs entail, and are emotionally worn out – often to the point of exhaustion – causing many to either quit or consider quitting.”

And despite the company’s additional charges for photographs with Father Christmas, and a gift shop full of “extremely overpriced gifts”, Annabel says she and many of her co-elves remain “underappreciated as staff and grossly underpaid.”

A kid might think of being an elf as a dream job – even as adults, many of us spend a good afternoon “elfing” ourselves and our colleagues. In reality, the modern workplace offers instability, lack of training and unpaid breaks. For many workers Christmas really means retail prices high, staff wages low, and feeling that you are totally unappreciated. Santa’s grotto is a 3D Christmas metaphor for life under grotty capitalism.

It would be nice to think of Santa’s workshop as being more like a cooperative and less like a sweatshop. Come on Santa, if Christmas is about giving and not receiving, as a boss like many others, you can afford to be a bit more generous…

*Not her real name

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#IDontBuyIt: Profile – Echo

Our economic system is in trouble. Despite an apparent recovery and booming house prices, debt is rising, wages are stagnant and statistics show women are being harder hit.

It’s easy to feel depressed about the spiralling cost of living and growing economic inequality, but since I started working on Echo I’ve been excited to discover that there are alternatives.

Echo is an Economy of Hours, a marketplace without the money. Our members trade the skills, services or resources they have for those they need, using a currency called Echoes. The exchange rate is simple: 1 hour = 1 Echo.

Echo is built on the principles of time banking.  Time banking has been around in the UK for a while, often working with individuals in local community settings. Echo is the first time bank specifically designed to allow businesses and organisations to exchange in this way. We also support a growing network of P2P time banks enabling individuals in local communities to get involved.

I think Echo is exciting because it’s fundamentally challenging the way we place value on things. Time banking asserts there’s more value in the system than just that which is valued by the market. By valuing every skill and resource at an hour for an hour, charities, businesses and individuals are able to participate on an equal footing, and we’re able to give a value to things traditionally de-valued in a market economy – like helping a neighbour, caring for children, etc.

One of my favourite things about my job is bringing people together, sometimes in unexpected ways! Whether that’s enabling local charity the New Hanbury project to earn Echoes by fitting out a Dalston-based photography studio, or the Feminist Times renting desk space for Echoes in a somewhat male-dominated creative workspace in Haggerston, Echo makes interesting things possible without money changing hands. Over the last few months, we’ve used Echo as a tool to facilitate exchange of skills and resources ranging from from barista training to pop-up restaurant space, website design to bike fixing, haircuts to business mentorship.

Since starting work on this project, I’ve been inspired by other initiatives also challenging us to look at the way we manage resources differently. Whether it’s the Meanwhile Project making creative use of empty spaces, or Streetbank helping local people share their stuff, there’s an exciting array of initiatives out there helping people and businesses make better use of resources, and I’m pleased to be a part of that with Echo.

At a time of year when all of us (and I’d argue especially women) are being bombarded with messages to buy more and consume more, I’m really pleased to be working on a project where people and organisations are valued not by their net-worth or economic spending-power, but by their intrinsic value and what they can do for each other.

Echo is currently London-based but we hope to build similar models elsewhere before long. If you’re a Londoner you can join here (either as an organisation, or as an individual, or both). If you’re from elsewhere, google time banks in your local area and get involved!

Sarah Henderson is the broker at Echo, helping individuals and organisations trade their skills and time. She tweets @economyofhours

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#IDontBuyIt: Profile – Buy Nothing Day

Buy Nothing Day was started by the Canadian organisation Adbusters in the 90s and has grown into an international event celebrated in more than 65 countries. It’s a simple idea, which challenges consumer culture by asking us to switch off from shopping for a day. The day is celebrated as a holiday by some, a street party by others; anyone can take part provided they spend a day without spending!

The idea of not shopping for a day (particularly the busiest Saturday before Christmas) seems absurd! But there is a serious side to Buy Nothing Day, which highlights the environmental and ethical consequences of consumerism. The rich western countries – only 20 per cent of the world population is consuming over 80 per cent of the earth’s natural resources, causing a disproportionate level of environmental damage and unfair distribution of wealth.

As consumers we need to question our culture of shopping, especially when people simply shop to feel good or just to impress each other. We all have different needs and ultimately we are all consumers, so will never be able to escape consumerism altogether. But this shouldn’t stop us from questioning the products we buy or challenging the companies who produce them.

The issues connected with Buy Nothing Day are broad and deep, but we focus on promoting ethical and responsible consumerism, recycling and re-using. We want people to become aware that large corporations are exploiting labour conditions in developing countries, using up vital resources because they are cheap, and there aren’t the systems in place to protect workers or the environment like those in the west.

The gap between rich and poor nations is growing in spite of the much-heralded benefits of globalisation. There are still 1.3 billion people world wide who live on less than $1 a day and a similar number of people do not have access to clean water.

Workers’ rights in developing countries are frequently violated, including payment of low wages and long working hours. The lives of workers may also be endangered by poor health and safety provision. Supporters of globalisation offer economic growth as a solution to world poverty; they propose that impoverished nations and individuals can eventually attain a standard of living similar to our own through the ‘trickle down’ of wealth. But the current globalisation model is leading to an increase in world poverty and inequality.

Buy Nothing Day is a non-confrontational campaign – we ask people to have a bit of fun, play a few pranks, use their imagination, and simply escape consumerism for a day. It could be argued that this method of campaigning won’t capture the public’s attention or is laughing in the face of the more important issues, but if people laugh at the ingenuity and genius of Buy Nothing Day, then we’ve got their attention and we are opening the door.

Buy Nothing Day isn’t about changing your lifestyle for just one day – hopefully it becomes a lasting relationship – maybe a life changing experience? Modern consumerism may offer great choice, but this shouldn’t be at the cost of people developing countries or the environment.

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#IDontBuyIt: “I lost everything” – rebuilding after the crash

In 1845, the great black abolitionist and orator Frederick Douglass described these so-called holidays as: “one of the grossest frauds committed upon the down-trodden slave.”

He saw right through the false religious piety to the real economic motive of the celebrations: “I believe them to be among the most effective means in the hands of the slaveholder in keeping down the spirit of insurrection. These holidays serve as …safety-valves, to carry off the rebellious spirit of enslaved humanity.”

Today, no matter what our colour or creed, we are to a large part still enslaved – by debt and consumerism. Media images, through advertising and films, really up the ante for everyone to produce a “perfect” Christmas day, with that fuzzy feeling of family and love.

As women – mothers, aunts and grandmothers – we can choose to influence our children by modelling a different way. This is true of anyone trying to “be part of the solution” and there are many people waking up to just that.

Recent events, like Libor rigging and banking bailouts, have shown Neoclassical economics to be unfit for purpose. In response Economics students at Manchester University have set up a post-crash economics society with 800 members, demanding an end to monolithic neoclassical courses and the introduction of a pluralist curriculum.

Iceland has imprisoned bankers, sacked its government and rewritten its constitution. Instead of bailing out banks, they jailed bankers and wrote down everyone’s personal debt, making far more sense in my view,

Another alternative way is presented by free economist Mark Boyle, founder of the Free Economy website, “just for the love of it”, and author of The Moneyless Man and The Moneyless Manifesto. Mark says: “We are working towards living in a localised gift economy, meeting all of our needs through gifting and growing our own food.”

Sounds like heaven on earth to me – imagine if each local area had a community allotment to grow the village or town veg. Those who are able volunteer and everyone benefits from a local store, where people can take food for free, share and exchange clothes, furniture, skills, tools, childcare, and eco-generated power. The list is endless.

My own personal perspective was formed after I lost everything at the hands of those now charged with fraudulent trading, conspiracy to corrupt and money laundering.

Finding myself on my own with four children under 7, assets stripped, and all support systems gone – husband, nanny, business, colleagues, money – was extremely devastating and life changing at the time.

However, through prayer and drawing close to God, I came to understand that to rebuild my life was to experience a paradigm shift in my priorities and a deep change within me. There really is a better way; like pebbles in the pond we just have to be it and our ripples will affect others.

When I discovered that some of what I was thinking was being expressed by Mark Boyle, through his ideals of free economy living, I decided to register with his Free Economy website.

I hadn’t even written my profile when I received an email sent from a woman living 45 minutes away asking for help with childcare and the use of a sewing machine. I offered and she spent the day at my house using my sewing machine. Her 2-year-old son played with my 3-year-old daughter, and I cooked for them and made drinks.

For me this concept works best where we are all living in community, seeing each other at local venues like churches and schools, being accountable to one another. Inviting unknown people, no matter how openhearted, into your home can lead to problems.

In my case it was the community bit that was missing. I did not know the woman I helped. She arrived with an air of entitlement and I now believe she left with a treasured ring, vanished from my bedroom where she had tried to lay her son to sleep. Despite this, I still believe with wisdom and community we can share all things in common.

In practical ways, we would all benefit from tending to community needs and objectives – enjoying locally grown produce and the community of sharing all things in common, and reducing stress and loneliness.

During this Christian holiday we would do well to remember that even Jesus demonstrated his agreement with Douglas’s sentiments, kicking down the tables of the traders and moneylenders operating in the synagogues. He saw right through the legalistic, false religious piety of excluding the lost, the lonely, the sick and disenfranchised, who he embraced.

So this Christmas, I for one am hoping for a quiet, peaceful and organic revolution. The power is in our hands if only we would wake up and participate.

Joanne Dove is a mother of five, a Christian feminist, and a member of Feminist Times.
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Who runs this place?

Bring back feudalism! This may not be a very populist sentiment, but it would be less confusing to be a peasant grubbing around in the dirt for some inbred overlord than it is to be a citizen today.

These days I’ve no idea at whose carriage to sling dung because most of the people who run the world are nameless and faceless; it would be easier to get a date with Keyser Soze. Power now resides with majority shareholders; lobbyists; distant business leaders; people who run eye-watering investment portfolios, inscrutable banks and insurance companies.

These shadowy few run supranational organisations which have little responsibility to the countries in which they do business – as evidenced by the way many of them use offshore tax havens. They can be opaque, unaccountable and more powerful than elected leaders.

Take Thames Water for example, it’s owned by Kemble Water Holdings whose investors include pension funds, the Macquarie European Infrastructure Fund and institutions from Australia, China, the Middle East, the UK and Canada. Pretty straightforward, then.

It’s a very generous company. In 2010/11 Thames Water paid its shareholders dividends of £271.4m out of a profit of £225.2m and in 2011/12 declared a dividend of £279.5m out of that year’s profit of £247.2m.

So now, having thrown its money around like a drunk trying to make friends in a bar, Thames Water has gone cap-in-hand to Ofwat to ask permission to add a one-off charge of £29 to its customers’ bills to pay for its much-needed super sewer. The drunk has sobered up and doesn’t fancy paying the bar tab. He’d rather you and I pay it. And remember, it’s a regional monopoly, so it’s not as though people who live in the Thames area can decide to get their water from anyone else.

Fortunately its request was denied by Ofwat, so in response Thames Water is proposing to hike bills by about £40 plus inflation by 2020. You have to admire their chutzpah.

And how long has Thames Water known it would have to find funding for a super sewer? Since at least 2010. Enough time to squirrel away some of those profits, you’d think.

A spokeswoman for Thames Water said, “Thames Water is delivering record levels of investment in its treatment works, pipes and sewers, together with improved operational performance and steadily improving customer service while keeping the average household bill the second-lowest in England and Wales. This represents good value for Thames Water customers.” She was also keen to point out that the super sewer is an “Exceptional Government-mandated project … water companies do not decide to build £4bn tunnels – Governments do.”

The Australian Macquarie Group (Macquarie-managed funds hold a 26% investment in Thames Water) is itself head-spinningly vast. It has assets under management of $US 359 billion; they manage more than 3.6 million hectares of land, that’s almost twice the size of Wales (the standard unit of land measurement) and have clients across the globe including China, UAE and Brazil.

It would be moronic to be alarmed by a company by virtue of its size, but let’s look at its potential influence in the UK. This time last year Macquarie raised $500 million to invest in UK infrastructure projects (it already manages funds which own UK assets such as Bristol airport and the M6 toll road). Macquarie itself also holds a 5% shareholding in IGas, which holds the largest number of drilling rights in the UK along with couple of power stations and is now expanding its own power trading business over here too.

And there’s more. Macquarie Capital’s Jonathan Harris sits on the advisory board for David Cameron’s Regeneration Investment Organisation, which according to the PM, “Will act as a one-stop-shop for our major inward investment opportunities – with £100 billion of possible projects on the table”. Don’t get me wrong, you’ve got to love a bit of infrastructure investment but doesn’t it become problematic when ownership of crucial assets is allowed to be so opaque, diffuse and consequently unaccountable?

The now infamous Australian, Lynton Crosby, is David Cameron’s campaign advisor and Crosby’s communications firm, Crosby Textor International, is run by Remo Nogarotto, previously of Macquarie, and who continues to sit on Macquarie Banks European Advisory Board. Guy Robinson, Special Advisor to Environment Secretary Owen Paterson, used to work for Crosby Textor. There’s an enormous amount of cross pollination going on. Like one big happy bee family. It’s really quite sweet.

And last week – not long after Cameron’s recent trade mission to China – the Government announced its National Infrastructure Plan (NIP) which involves the sale of about £375bn of the UK’s assets in energy, transport, communications, and water projects. It’s the sale of the century. Get ready to see your bills and fares rise even further.

I asked Macquarie if they would be taking advantage of the NIP. “Macquarie has a long track record of facilitating investment in infrastructure companies in the UK through its advisory and funds management businesses”, came the inscrutable reply.

So do you know who’s running our utilities, infrastructure or who owns our land? Or who’s about to buy up the UK’s remaining assets? Don’t misunderstand me. I’m a capitalist and I believe the corporation can be a phenomenal power for good. However, I think that dispersed ownership creates a veil of anonymity behind which individuals and institutions are emboldened to act irresponsibly. And I’m frustrated by the oft trotted out argument that many of these shareholders are actually our pension funds so we’d better not complain about it unless we want to spend our dotage in a ditch.

The people who are running their companies responsibly should be lauded as heroes and those who are running them at cross purposes to society’s needs should to be named and shamed. Governments across the globe need to stand together and legislate for greater transparency and regulation.

That’s why I’d rather feel swindled by an old fashioned boot-in-your-face despot. It would be so much easier to storm the castle.

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Progress Report: Feminist Times at 8 weeks


We’ve proved there is a need for a precious space where brands don’t influence content, funded by Members who meet.

We need to convert our ten’s of thousands of readers into members to be sustainable.

We won’t survive unless our membership grows. We need more members so please sign up today from £5 a month by clicking HERE.

We made 5 commitments: PR & ad free website with access for all. Monthly events where members can meet. Local Groups. A Print Magazine. Campaigns. We have achieved the first two already. The next three are coming.

We’ve pulled forward the creation of local groups so our members can meet wherever they are. If you want to be in a local Feminist Times Team click HERE.

We’ve pushed back the print incarnation to 2014 while we continue to build membership to a sustainable level.

More info from our full progress report sent to our Members below:

Progress report for Feminist Times members and supporters.

Feminist Times launched on 3 October. In the 8 weeks since launch, we’ve had more than 80,000 page views from nearly 30,000 unique visitors in 163 countries around the world.

We have risen to the top of Google for ‘feminist times’, page 1 for ‘feminism’ and page 2 for ‘feminist’. Our international appeal has resulted in visitors from 6 continents, all except Antartica!

Following Charlotte Raven’s launch day appearance on BBC Woman’s Hour our server crashed under the weight of traffic and, 2 weeks ago, we had to upgrade our server’s data limit to cope with the demand for the site.

On social media, we have exceeded 4,000 Twitter followers and more than 2,000 Facebook likes, and there are more than 3,000 supporters signed up to our email mailing list.

So far we’ve, amongst other groundbreaking content, profiled the work of the following organisations and campaigns to this audience: Rosa, NEFG, Daughters of Eve, EVAW, White Ribbon Campaign, 16 Days, Without Women Where Would We Be, Mother’s at Home Matter, Southall Black Sisters and Bijli.



We had 247 Founder Members kickstart the project with £100+ each back in the Spring, which provided:

  • 2 full-time staff in Editorial.
  • 1 part-time staff in Editorial and Events.
  • 1 part-time designer.
  • PR expertise.
  • Fundraising expertise.
  • Web builder.
  • Naming ceremony.
  • Restitution Ball.
  • Paid contributors for the website.



Monthly membership launched and 386 members have joined from £5 a month. The average is £6 a month with 2% giving over £42 a month and ¼ giving £11.12.

So far, members’ contributions have helped:

  • Pay towards 4 permanent staff, who have commissioned, edited, written and illustrated 147 stories and counting.
  • Fund 2 members’ events. Our Feminist Fireworks resulted in over 100 feminists meeting, 4 stories being commissioned and more stories being told.
  • Pay over £2000 in fees to writers, including emerging talent and marginalised women.
  • Pay for 2 years hosting at a higher data rate.

We actively negotiate best value for money on everything. We take the responsibility we have to our members seriously and that’s the reason why we waited until we had negotiated pro bono workspace before we took an office.

We’ve proved there’s a need and an appetite for what Feminist Times is offering, and we now have nearly 650 paid-up members of our organisation. We now need more of you to put your money where your mouth is. We need more members.

The Guardian today reported that the total UK spend on advertising is forecast to reach a record £14bn this year.Feminist Times made a conscious, anti-consumerist choice not to bombard our readers with advertising and PR. With no ads and no paywall, we’re dependant on you to keep us sustainable. Web experts keep telling us that our popularity would attract plenty of advertisers to help fund the site but if more people join we can have a precious space where big brands don’t influence content.


The Future.

Phase One

We are currently in Phase One.

We’ve taken professional advice and listened to our members feedback and we have taken the decision to put the print magazine on hold until later on in 2014 and instead bring forward our regional activity and campaigns – all while we continue the success of the website and build the membership together. The faster the membership grows, the quicker we can make the print magazine.

We need each member to sign-up 3 more members to help make us sustainable. Please keep encouraging your friends and relatives to join, and get in touch to speak to us about gift memberships for Christmas.

We know that our members want to meet and have the chance to collaborate on events, content and campaigns, so that’s a priority. We know that a network is important. We feel this is the smartest way to use our resources in Phase One.

So we want to offer you all the chance to get involved at the inception of Feminist Times’ local teams.

You need no experience. You just need to be able to be available for a couple of hours each month for a meeting in your area, which one of us will also attend.

We want each team to have a broad range of skills and people:

  • It would be good to have some people who already have great networks in the area – maybe you belong to a choir, PTA, WI, a local women-in-business org or you’re just really chatty on twitter with people who live near you! If it’s easy for you to let a lot of people in your area know about what we’re doing, that’s perfect.
  • We also need some people on each team who love a spreadsheet and taking notes. If you hate networking but love a spreadsheet, we need you too!
  • We need passionate people. Are you neither of the above put have ideas and get frustrated because you don’t have an outlet for them? We want you too!
  • We want a range of ages from 18 – 118, who identify as a feminist.

Click here to put your name forward and tell us a bit about you.

You will get FREE membership in return, and you will help steer the agenda for Feminist Times.

These local Feminist Times Teams will be women-only, including trans-women. Male members are welcome to join in local activity, but we believe these teams should be led by women.

Campaign process will be announced shortly.

Find out and book for Christmas Event is HERE.

Phase Two

We will update you with progress and welcome your input to help us create a Feminist Times network that is truly member-led.

We will continue to build towards publishing the print magazine.


Below is some of the most touching feedback we have received. See our comments sections on the website for more critique and debate.

“I appreciate you publishing it if it isn’t your politics.  There aren’t many feminist websites which would do that.” Anon, via email.

“Thanks so much for the event on Saturday night.  It was great fun to be involved and it felt like a very friendly, inclusive set up.  One of the things I liked the most was getting to talk with so many interesting people – from ex Greenham Common activists from my Mum’s generation, to young campaigners, artists and all sorts of people.  It feels like you’ve caught the spark of something that is going to grow and sparkle, like a firework, while creating a scene where a wide range of people can have a voice.  Congratulations!” Fran O’Leary via email

A huge thank you to Charlotte And all the Feminist Times team for a truly wonderful launch party. I arrived knowing no one and left with a whole new set of friends and comrades. It was nourishment for my soul to spend an evening with such an interesting and diverse group of women (mostly) and men. Thank you, thank you. Congratulations on a brilliant and much needed publication” Kieran Clifford on Facebook

“So glad there is a place to go to that showcases amazing women for their talent and brains vs exploiting their body parts. Kudos to you and I wish you the best of luck.” via email

“The Feminist Times looks good … and I’m glad it has launched. All power to them, as we need as many outspoken and angry voices as we can. Spare Rib was part of its time but the Feminist Times is unlikely to run out of material.” Rosie Boycott, Guardian

“I watched one episode of Loose Women at the beginning of the week … say no more … I am very excited about Feminist Times and members bringing interesting women to the forefront of all men and womens minds. And at last, no celebrities … Feminist Times you are speaking my language.” Sarah-Jane Summer, Comments.


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Ron Burgundy returns? He never went away

Around two-thirds of women journalists have been victims of abuse in the work place, including intimidation, threats and hacking, a new survey has shown.

As Anchorman 2 comes out with its popular brand of ironic sexism at heart, can we really laugh when 70s sexism hasn’t gone away?

Adam and I thought it would be funny to make fun of the ego and sexism of the ’70s. There was so much of it. We thought it would be good to let the ladies know, ‘Hey, see? It could be worse.’” Will Ferrell on the first Anchorman film.

The International News Safety Institute and the International Women’s Media Foundation conducted the survey to coincide with UN’s Global Forum on Media and Gender. It concluded that the majority of abuse female journalists are subjected to is not when they are out on a location, whether that be a war zone or protest. No, women are most likely to be subjected to harassment and intimidation in their own office – the perpetrators being the people they should be able to turn to for support: their boss or colleagues.

From photographers to presenters, from Africa to Europe, and from 18 to over 75, the most common form of abuse was ‘abuse of power’ by a boss. 46 per cent also said they had suffered sexual harassment, with 10 per cent more incidents occurring in the office than out in the ‘field’. 25 per cent of those who had been victims of sexual violence said the perpetrator was their boss. There were also reports of racist and ageist abuse.

This isn’t just happening in traditional, institutional, dinosaur-infested newsrooms either; the survey results include online media organisations and even the uncovered abuse itself had a digital-age element, with 22 per cent of women having been victims of hacking and online surveillance.

A quick look at The Women’s Room Mediawatch proves that women are still woefully under represented across the British media. Three-quarters of the top jobs are taken by men and only 20 per cent of solo radio broadcasters are women. With these levels of abuse and intimidation, is it any wonder?

It’s hard not to be infected by Ron Burgundy and his crew’s ironic sexism, especially when it comes at the expense of the male characters’ dignity too. (No one comes off well in the clip above.) But Ferrell and those who think this is a thing of the past are very misguided if they believe they are documenting a historical sexism blip. The frustrating reality here in 2013 is that Anchorman is going on everyday, in newsrooms around the globe, and the ladies aren’t laughing.

See survey conclusions here.

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‘Who can afford 50 weeks of unpaid leave?’

This week I went through a life-changing event: the birth of my first child, a little girl we’ve named Marnie Rose Lorette. Obviously to my wife and I she’s the best baby that ever existed. Having spent the bulk of my 20s declaring I would never get married and never have children, this is an unexpected place to find myself, but d’you know what? It’s actually great. Proper great. Even her cries are the best sound in the world. Mind you, we’re only on day four. It’s all still to play for.

With almost perfect timing, this week the government has announced their long-trumpeted, much debated changes to parental leave entitlement. The big headline is that fathers are now able to share up to 50 weeks of leave with their partners. Rather than the current two weeks of paternity versus nine months of maternity leave, from 2015 new parents will theoretically be able to divide their time off into multiple extended breaks between them, subject to the agreement of their employers.

In an interview this morning, Nick Clegg has particularly trumpeted two points – firstly that this creates much-needed flexibility around parental leave arrangements and secondly, it also provides greater equality between the sexes, allowing men to be more involved in childcare.

One of my biggest concerns prior to the nipper’s arrival was the hours I work. I often leave the house at 6.30am and get home after 8pm. Once she settles into a routine and a normal bedtime, I run the risk of never actually seeing my child during the working week, let alone being able to actively contribute to childcare. So when I saw this on the news, I got all excited. As the story unfolded, random thoughts popped into my brain.

“50 weeks off?! AMAZING!”

“Unpaid. Oh.”

“Um, how is that different from a standard unpaid leave request?”

“Who can bloody afford 50 weeks of unpaid leave?” (“Millionaire old Etonians!” Cries the gallery.)

“Oh well.”

Elation turned to a disaffected shrug. There isn’t anything that looks that helpful. Fathers will have the right to attend up to two antenatal appointments unpaid? My work lets me do that already. The rest of it? The employer has the right to decline. So not massively helpful. Why?

Parental leave is described by ‘business leaders’ as a massive pain. I can understand why, but any large block of time away from the job can be planned for. Employees have to inform employers of maternity/paternity leave plans well in advance so businesses can plan cover effectively and arrange handovers to ensure a smooth transition. Even then, there is risk of further disruption.

Our child was early, and I was struck by manflu just before she arrived, so I was not able to provide as much handover as I would have liked. My team are all super-competent, so I’m more than sure they’re covering for me just fine, but does any business want this level of disruption every other month? I can’t help wondering how long-term leave cover would work if my wife and I were to split the time off between us. Where I work, if someone goes on maternity leave for nine months a temporary replacement is found for the full duration. In practice, how would this work if my wife and I were to take every other month off in rotation? Or every couple of months?

It’s worth noting that I’m writing this from the perspective of working for a large, global organisation. Can I see smaller businesses jumping at this one? Even without the disruption and recruitment costs. Advertising, agency fees, interview time. None of this is free.

I also can’t help but think that it’s a shame that the proposed extension from the current two weeks of paternity leave to six weeks didn’t happen. I’m coming to the end of week one of my leave. I have one week left before I’m back to work. Caring for the baby is a big job. My wife has just been through an incredibly traumatic physical experience. There is the pain of the actual birth itself, but then there are 9 months of body changes and unpredictable hormones before that, and then after? More body changes, more unpredictable hormones. Recovery from any complications, difficulty using the toilet due to stitches. So she has just over a week left of me being around to help before I’m back to work, leaving her on her own regardless of her physical state for 13 hours a day alone to look after a needy newborn.

So in theory? Brilliant! Anything that helps us split the childcare is a Good Thing. I can’t see how anyone could complain about that. Personally, I want to be an active participant in bringing my child up. I know lots of other men who would also jump at the chance. We’ll have to wait ‘till 2015 to see how many couples decide to share leave, but from where I’m sitting at the moment, the whole process feels like a logistical headache – great in theory, but far too easy to pick apart once you start thinking about practicalities.

Steve Horry is a resource manager by day, club promoter, freelance illustrator and guitarist in the regenerated Menswe@r by night. He has a website at Follow: @shedsteven

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Engineering for girls: Addressing the image problem

It’s a shocking fact that only six per cent of practising engineers in the UK, and fewer than one in 20 apprentice engineers, are women. With a strong demand for engineering graduates in the UK, the government, industry and educational professionals must work together to attract more girls into engineering careers.

So what’s the issue? Engineering has an image problem. It is often portrayed as a dirty job, not particularly creative, based in factories, and performed by men in boiler suits. Due to these misguided perceptions, it’s not surprising that two thirds of girls report[1] that they don’t fancy a career in engineering.

We need to tackle this ‘not for me’ perception early and show young women that engineering offers a huge range of careers in exciting, rewarding sectors.

Engineers provide creative solutions to tackle problems across an array of industries – from fashion to music, technology to sport, environmental to aerospace. And engineering graduates’ starting salary is 15.7%[2] above the national average.

By capturing girls’ imaginations, and illustrating how engineering feeds into their interests, we can challenge these outdated perceptions. Young people aren’t the only people we need to convince. Parents of daughters hold similar views; three quarters of them haven’t encouraged their daughters to consider engineering as a career option[3].

We must tap into the fact that many young people – both boys and girls – are using engineering-related skills in everyday life. For instance, 72% of 11-14-year-olds love using the latest technology, 58% like designing and creating things and 51% like learning how things work[4]. We need to build on these interests and demonstrate that they can become a life-long passion and a fulfilling career.

Earlier this month, at the launch event for Professor John Perkins’ Review of Engineering Skills and Tomorrow’s Engineers Week – a government and industry campaign to inspire future engineering talent – I was fortunate to meet with a number of female engineers, including Yewande Akinola, IET Young Woman Engineer of the Year 2012 (pictured) and Roma Agrawal, IET Young Woman Engineer finalist 2012.

These talented women defied outdated engineering stereotypes. Yewande has been recognised for her commitment to sustainability and innovation, especially around water supply technology, and Roma is a structural engineer who worked on one of London’s most iconic modern projects, The Shard. These women were aspirational to the young people in the room.

At the event I called upon the media to play their part in ensuring that a wider variety of engineering careers are showcased in the press. Rather than illustrating the latest engineering story with images of production lines and construction sites, I’d love to see the media also focus on music production and software coders behind the latest apps; some of the very things that young people enjoy most.

But the media can’t do it alone. In his Review, Professor Perkins called for action from businesses, professional bodies, educational institutions, and government to ensure that there is a strong flow of talented men and women into engineering.

Tomorrow’s Engineers Week saw government work with over 70 organisations across the engineering community to demonstrate to young people the diversity and opportunities of the engineering industry. And government must continue to work with the industry to position engineering as an aspirational career choice.

Many engineering organisations are already proactive in engaging with schools. But much more can be done. I’d like to see engineering organisations of all sizes, from FTSE 100 to small family firms, empower their staff to go out and speak to young people about engineering careers.

Employers and schools should make use of the free resources available to them, from organisations such as Inspiring the Future and STEMNET whose ambassadors go into schools and colleges to talk about their jobs and sectors. Young people really benefit from hearing about real-life working experiences, so signing up to be an ambassador for engineering careers is particularly valuable.

This is an agenda for everyone with an interest in ensuring that future engineering talent amongst young people – and in particular, young women – is not wasted. Together, we can show teachers, parents and young people that engineering is a modern, creative, high-skill career.

Jo Swinson is Minister for Women and Equalities and Minister for Employment Relations and Consumer Affairs. Follow her on Twitter @joswinson

Image courtesy of the Department of Business, Innovation and Skills (BIS), showing Yewande Akinola, IET Young Woman Engineer of the Year 2012.

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[1] Vision Critical data collected by BIS (October 2013)

[3] Vision Critical data collected by BIS (October 2013)

[4] Vision Critical data collected by BIS (October 2013)

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These women are not me

Women with strong career ambitions are the ones who find themselves in the few positions of power available to them, yet they cannot represent others whose ambitions fit less easily into a patriarchal world.

I once confessed to a friend that I wasn’t very ambitious.  She immediately contradicted me: “Yes you are; you’re ambitious about your life,” she said.  Our concept of what it is to ‘achieve’ or ‘succeed’ has been appropriated by a consumerist system, which operates in a patriarchal framework. To step outside this system in any way you’ll need a very good sense of your goals and how you want to achieve them. My friend’s reassurance has sustained me for a decade

As someone with strong maternal feelings, my objectives have been to look after my children at home and to make sure that, for the fleeting time that they were growing up, I was engaged with and available for them. All hail the feminists who allowed me the freedom to become educated, choose my partner, control my fertility, and have an equal say in how our family was run. Where this freedom is curtailed, however, is in the arena of ‘achievement’ and its equivalence with success in the world of work.

I’ve only ever encountered respect between women whose maternal feelings led them to make differing choices about working and parenting. The so-called ‘Mommy Wars’ are a divisive concept invented by the media to weaken women’s resolve about their choices and it diminishes us all.  What is real, however, is the fact that women in positions of power (and therefore making decisions which affect us all) be they in the board-, the newspaper- , or the cabinet-room are, by the very nature of the fact that they’ve arrived in those positions, likely to have less strong maternal feelings- meaning they’ve delayed or avoided motherhood, and most likely outsource childcare. That’s fine – there’s room for us all – but these women don’t represent all of us. Similarly, to equate full-time parenting with privileged cupcake baking is to dismiss a raft of ambitious, independent women whose strong maternal feelings make them want to invest time in raising their children.

Politically, we’re faced with the choice between childcare minister Liz Truss who accuses two year olds of ‘wandering around aimlessly’ and shadow minister Lucy Powell who depicts caring for children as a ‘barrier to work’; in politics, if you are not a woman in the workforce you simply do not count, and if you’re not a child in childcare you’re unproductive before you’ve even started school. Female politicians who take stances like these progress the furthest in the existing system; it understands and approves of such capitalist concepts, and getting women into work ticks the box marked ‘equality’. This is something Cherie Blair lifted the lid on when she admitted that she was so intent on “beating the men at their own game” that she didn’t take maternity leave. “It is only now looking back that I realise I wasn’t beating the system but reinforcing it,” she wrote.  By contrast Marie Peacock, who campaigns on behalf of full time parents, finds that when she is occasionally present at parliamentary meetings about childcare, introducing concepts of ‘love’ into the discussion is regarded as a weakness at best, an irrelevance at worse. Maternal feelings are not welcome, but why is that?

Sheila Rowbotham has long rejected the commodification of human relationships and maintains that capitalism and sexism are so closely linked that the only way to destroy both is a radical change in our ‘cultural conditioning’. Voices like those of Rowbotham and Ecofeminist Vandana Shiva, who argues that an obsession with growth has eclipsed our concern for sustainability, justice and human dignity, need to be heard if all women are going to be equally represented in public life.

Mel Tibbs is a freelance writer and maternal feminist, with 14 years spent at the sharp end of the politics of parenting. Find out more @CrunchyRedApple.

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Image credits: Theresa May – UK Home Office, Sheryl Sandberg – Drew Alitzer for Financial TimesKarren Brady – John Morris, Elisabeth Murdoch – Nordiske Mediedag

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Austerity Patriots? Pull the other one Dave

David Cameron loves women, especially those of us who’ve started businesses recently. Not only do we make a great photo opportunity, but we’re also going to rebuild our economy and bring Britain back to boom time. Hurrah!

With women-led small businesses already contributing 50 billion to the UK economy annually, Cameron wants to see more “out of work women starting their own businesses” to contribute a further £15 to £21 billion a year.

Cameron speaks about women building recession businesses with a perverse sense of pride. And of course he can take some credit. The reason the number of women registering as self-employed has increased so dramatically since 2008, and continues to rise much faster than men, is because women have been disproportionally affected by the recession.

Thanks to public sector and welfare cuts, many women are starting their own businesses because they have either lost their jobs or their benefits and are in need of an income, or can no longer afford childcare and so need to earn money whilst also staying at home to look after their kids.

Cameron sings the praises of the “entrepreneurial spirit” of those prepared to join the great “global race that’s taking place”. He champions “the chance to go from a very small start-up to a massive business that can take on the world and win”.

Of course his romantic notion of a woman starting a businesses – Sam Cam’ meets Rosie the Riveter – is just not the reality for most.

Most women start businesses at their kitchen table because they need to find a new way to put some food on it – not in a patriotic and heroic attempt to rebuild Britain, but as a strategy for survival.

Though I don’t agree with Cameron’s Enterprise Expert, Lord Young, that recessions are an “excellent time to start a business”, they do force people to become more imaginative and resourceful. They create conditions in which people are desperate enough to try something new.

For most people, the decision to start a business is not the ‘magic moment’ Cameron imagines. It’s the beginning of a long and lonely road, filled with risk and often not much reward – and with very little support.

Despite promises made by the government, banks are still not lending to small businesses. And for women looking for loans – with no business background, no savings, living on a reduced income and/or unwilling or unable to put up their homes as equity – going to a bank is just not an option.

It certainly wasn’t for me.

In the end I managed to get my business off the ground thanks to a patchwork of 25 people prepared to invest in my idea – savers frustrated by low interest rates who each had a small amount of money doing nothing in the bank and were prepared to take a punt.

Patchwork Present has only just launched. We’re a website that lets friends come together to collectively fund one gift that’s really wanted – piece by piece. Like a digital whip round, our purpose is to help people in tough times use gift-giving occasions to get the one thing they really want – and at the same time reduce the amount of money wasted on unwanted gifts that end up in landfill.

We’re certainly not a success story yet, but our site is getting a lot of interest. Most of us are having to do more with less; we’re already becoming more resourceful and we’re prepared to share more so it seems a site like ours just makes sense.

I hope our business succeeds. I hope that all those people starting businesses up and down the country have huge success and make millions. But I hope success doesn’t mean going back to ‘Business as usual’ for Britain.

I hope we learn from a recession caused by criminal bankers and made more painful by tax dodging multi-nationals, corrupt politicians and a system rigged for the rich. With tax-payers bailing out Britain and small businesses now responsible for our economic recovery, true success will be re-building what this government has failed to deliver: “a better, fairer Britain.”

Olivia Knight is a feminist, mother and founder of Patchwork Present. Find out more @projectpatchwrk

Image Jeremy Keith

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Profile: Mothers at Home Matter

When it comes to the word ‘mother’, it’s all too easy to be labelled. Are you a working mother or a stay at home mother (SAHM)? Is that a question about income, professional status or how much time you spend cooking and changing nappies? The question is too black and white and ignores some all-important nuances. In real life, a part-time working, taxpaying mother may have more time available for cooking than her friend down the road described as being a SAHM, whereas some SAHMs may well have a small income from home-based employment and a partner who shares care. Things aren’t always as they appear. Some working mothers may not financially depend on paid work to put food on the table, and others would really rather be at home full-time. Similarly, few stay at home mums could be described as earth mothers and many struggle with care responsibilities due to lack of support and recognition. Most people just get on with life best they can and their actual circumstances do not always reflect their choices, values or whether they feel equal.

Our campaign, Mothers at Home Matter (MAHM), was set up over twenty years ago, not to inadvertently collude in divisive and often misleading stereotypical labelling, but rather to challenge mounting social and economic pressures on all mothers to access uninterrupted paid employment and paid childcare, rather than devote some time to caring for their children at home. We don’t believe it’s possible to measure a person’s worth or contribution only by assessing how long they’ve engaged in economic activity or whether they earn enough to pay tax. We reject the temptation to ‘label’ people, as most parents dip in and out of work, responding to real-life challenges and depending on children’s individual needs – not to mention other pressures such as health, income levels, changing employment opportunities and unexpected events. It’s not what you do at any particular moment in time that matters, but rather what you’ve done looking back over a lifetime, and hopefully that’s involved some work and care, and you’ve been valued and treated equally in both roles.

It’s regrettable that media coverage of women’s issues often divides women rather than bringing them together, often referring to school-gate rivalry, which is merely a distraction from the policies we try to challenge. Within Mothers at Home Matter we know our campaign attracts a wide range of women with different experiences and ideas. We are not affiliated to any political or faith group, and it’s just as well because it wouldn’t reflect the diversity of our membership. Some of us may describe ourselves as ‘feminists’, whilst other people haven’t found time to engage and some reject it outright, perhaps believing that feminism hasn’t been interested in supporting mothers to nurture their children. Motherhood is universal and children’s needs do not change. But it’s a fast-changing society and there’s less and less time for caring. Are we changing the very nature of human beings by denying people time to learn and engage in caring, whether it’s children, the elderly or the neighbour down the road?

One of MAHM’s strength is in our diversity. People who write to us talk about very different backgrounds, experiences, professional lives and household income levels, as well as numbers of children, marital status and work patterns. What brings them together is a belief that mothers’ voices are not being taken seriously and that it’s all too easy to be invisible in the system when caring for dependents at home. They are ignored because what they do doesn’t ‘count’ in GDP, although they know that it’s the one of the most important jobs in the world and if it wasn’t done it would cost the state billions to step in with more formal replacement care. There’s growing unease about the commercialisation of care and an instinct that children deserve a more natural, gentler start to childhood. The language of policy lets mothers down, depicting motherhood as somehow ‘retrograde’, whilst juggling work and family is a ‘progressive’ model. A puzzle then that having a dad at home is deemed by some to be a ‘modern’ choice. Same job, different label; one is celebrated, whilst the other implies you are downtrodden and demoted.

Yet many mothers find motherhood immensely satisfying and liberating. There’s a sense of disbelief that when women’s groups have campaigned for so long for equality, motherhood itself continues to be devalued and sidelined in policy and endless barriers put in the way of nurturing your child. Child benefit is constantly under threat and fiscal policies discriminate against couples with a parent at home so that the ‘one-wage’ family is expected to pay more tax on the same household income than another couple using childcare. There is effectively a penalty on care and family time and the main losers are women. Taxpayer funded subsidies are directed at commercial transactions in childcare but not to support family life. Meanwhile, working women often find employment in the care sector where they continue to be underpaid and undervalued while simultaneously denied the opportunity to care for their own children.

Mothers at Home Matter seeks to provide support for mothers who feel they’re somehow out of step by being at home. Whilst some parents have a voice in policy by virtue of their employment in journalism, research, politics and other professions – where their opinions are regularly sought and valued – their equally hard-working sisters at home find they have no reliable outlet for expressing their views. It’s vital that professional ‘gatekeepers of information’ do not deny other women a voice and the opportunity to campaign for a level playing field where all roles are respected as part of the family life cycle.

We applaud campaigns for decent employment opportunities for women, equal pay, access to education, more part-time work opportunities around the school day and other feminist campaigns in the UK and further afield, but MAHM questions why we can’t also have a more honest debate about motherhood and how much the role of ‘caring’ means to a lot of us. Surely progress, equality, choice and a decent standard of living for all women means an end to mothers at home being ignored, and the same goes for fathers at home. How can it be ‘progress’ if babies as young as three months are increasingly likely to spend most of the day away from both their parents?

A MAHM volunteer recently took part in a live BBC debate about women’s lives, motherhood and equality. They debated these questions: ‘’Is motherhood a barrier to equality?’’ and ‘’Can women escape their biological imperative?’’ As one mother commented: ‘’Actually, economics just needs reforming to ‘include’ motherhood and factor in the time we all need to care for one another, young and old.’’

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Equal Pay Day: women working for free

Today is Equal Pay Day, the point in the year when women will effectively be working the rest of the year for free because of the gender pay gap. According to Fawcett Society statistics, for every £1 a man takes home, a woman takes home only 85p – despite the Equal Pay Act being introduced more than 40 years ago. Maria Miller, Gloria de Piero and Natalie Bennett sent us their responses.

Maria MillerWomen and Equalities Minister Maria Miller said:

“Women are vital in building a stronger economy and we need to make sure we are making full use of their talents. We are making good progress – we have record numbers of women in work and the gender pay gap is closing, but we know there is more to do.

“Transparency is key to this, which is why pay secrecy clauses are now unlawful under the Equality Act and we are encouraging companies to sign up to our voluntary initiative Think, Act, Report, to improve gender equality at work. This approach is working with more than 130 companies signed up. This Government is committed to ensuring there is a cultural change around women in work and that cultural change is happening.”

Labour MP PhotocallShadow Minister for Women and Equalities, Gloria De Piero MP said:

“It is simply not good enough that forty years after the Equal Pay Act women still don’t earn equal pay for equal work, and despite doing better at school and university more women end up in lower skilled and lower paid jobs than men.

“We’ll never close the pay gap until we challenge the stereotypes which lead to gender segregation in occupations and take action to support women progress to the top of their professions, such as affordable childcare and tackling maternity discrimination too.

“But on David Cameron’s watch decades of progress for women is slipping backwards. Women are paying three times more than men to bring down the deficit, and with female unemployment reaching its highest levels for a generation we need a Government that will deliver a recovery not just for a few at the top but one that works for women. Because the whole economy loses when women’s talents and skills are under-valued and under-used.”

Natalie BennettGreen Party leader Natalie Bennett said:

“Equal pay day is a reminder that we still lack the tools to provide for full workplace equality for women. There are two main issues – “women’s work” being attributed lower value, and women having less opportunities to advance in the workplace. To deal with the former, medium and large companies should be obliged to conduct gender pay audits, and joint suits for equal pay made easier.

“In terms of advancement, the Green Party is calling for the highly successful Norwegian system of 40% quotas for the membership of boards of major companies to be instituted here, for greater opportunities for part-time workers, both female and male, and for a shared system of maternity/paternity pay.

“We also need to tackle the broader issue of our low-pay economy. Making the minimum wage a living wage, enforcing the minimum wage (a particularly huge issue for social care workers, of whom more than 80% are female), banning zero-hours contracts and tackling the forced casualisation of jobs, particularly in the retail sector are all essential steps to ensuring that all workers, but particularly lower paid women workers, are paid a fair wage. Saying that a job should pay you enough to live on is not a radical statement.”

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Smoke from the vatican

How do you become… the UK’s first feminist prime minister?

In light of the news that David Cameron is now “a feminist”, we use our regular “How do you become…?” feature to take a look at how he smashed the glass ceiling to become our first feminist prime minister.

Like Sir John, Mr Cameron was privately educated from a young age, before starting at the prestigious Eton College at the age of 13. After acing A-levels in History of Art, History and Economics with Politics, Cameron took a gap yah long before gap yahs were trendy, working as a researcher for Conservative MP Tim Rathbone (his godfather) before spending time in Hong Kong and the Soviet Union.

To fulfil his political destiny, Cameron then moved on to the University of Oxford, where he studied the unlikely choice of Philosophy, Politics and Economics. This is believed to have been a formative time for Cameron’s feminist politics, particularly as a result of lively debates on gender performativity and intersectionality with his Bullingdon Club chum Boris Johnson.

After graduating with a first and a newfound passion for the works of Shulamith Firestone and Mary Woolstonecraft, Cameron began work in the Conservative Research Department. He then worked his way up through the Tory Party ranks, as a party strategist and then a SpAd, before taking a break to briefly turn his hand to the media, working for Carlton Communications.

Following his election as a Conservative MP, Cameron was on the Commons Home Affairs Select Committee, before becoming a Shadow Minister and then the party vice-chairman. Cameron became leader of the Conservative Party in 2005 and, following the 2010 general election, achieved his ambition of prime minister.

A passionate advocate of “equal rights for women”, as we all know, Cameron quickly put his feminist politics into action, pledging that one in three of his Ministers would be women by the end of his first term as Prime Minister. True to his word, Cameron graciously put five women in his first cabinet, alongside 17 men. That’s almost one in three, right?

Having made this promise, Cameron used the 2012 reshuffle to promote two new women – Maria Miller and Theresa Villiers. Admittedly that was only after firing three others, but he wouldn’t want to look too much like a radical feminist. The backbenchers would brouhaha in the streets, and just think of all that womanly hysteria at cabinet meetings. There’s only so many times you can tell your senior ministers to “calm down, dear” – far safer to go for a manageable four out of 22.

Following his shock “I am a feminist” revelation last week, David Cameron used his most recent reshuffle to promote a number of women up the ministerial ladder – not into cabinet minister roles, of course, we’ve still only got four of those. These promotions, generously described as a “move towards more women in cabinet” included Esther McVey, who was promoted from Disabilities Minister to Employment Minister.

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Gambling addiction

A mother’s ruin

“My mum was a feminist in her own way” says Rene, 33, from the South West of the UK.  “She worked very hard in the Civil Services to pay for me to have a good education.”  The primary breadwinner in the family, Rene’s mum Sue managed the family’s finances well, saving to send her only daughter to a private school whilst sacrificing expensive luxuries and holidays.  It was a comfortable lower-middle-class-life.

Knowing her daughter Rene was a single mum with health problems Sue wanted more than anything to leave her daughter with financial security. She dabbled in minor lottery stuff like many of us do and against the odds she actually won. £120,000, £10,000 a month for a year.

To all of the people surrounding her Sue appeared to have achieved her dream; to provide a secure future for her only daughter and grand child. Rene was told trust funds had been set up, the family home would be hers and all would be well. Then as those twelve months came to an end Sue was diagnosed with cancer for the second time.

The cancer had spread from her breast to her lungs and brain and she was told she had months to live. Within weeks Rene became her 24 hour carer and was forced to take power of attorney over her finances. It’s common for relatives of people with brain tumors to take control over the money.  Tumors can effect how a person thinks, they can develop new patterns of behavior and act out of character.

So in early 2013, as her mothers condition worsened, Rene walked into her mother’s bank to deal with the admin of being attorney.  It was only then, in her local branch, that she discovered that her mother had not only spent the entire £120,000, but her late husband’s life insurance and further recent inheritances, all on one bingo website.  Some quarter of a million pounds had been lost by Sue to one of those gambling sites you see advertised in amongst your daytime TV, and no one had known.

Shocked but with more important things than money on her mind Rene went home to her mothers bedside, told her the facts, said what’s done is done. “She felt terrible, she didn’t know how it got so out of control.”

Sue’s spiral began some ten years previous when her husband suddenly died of a brain tumor in the early 2000’s, decades earlier they had married after only 11 days having been so overwhelmingly in love.  Taking early retirement after 35 years impeccable service because of the grief, suddenly Sue found herself alone for the first time in her life, her HR department withdrawing all support once they knew they couldn’t entice her back.  A couple of years later she developed breast cancer for the first time and beat it. But the surgery and experience left her emotionally weaker and physically incapacitated.

During this time she became reliant on the computer.  “It promised access to the rest of the world” says Rene “a lifeline, but really it kept her from building up a real life”.  TV and email adverts eventually led Sue to a well known bingo site which was to cause her financial ruin – and she is not the only isolated, ill and vulnerable woman to find herself on these sites.

 “Bingo” sites are part of the broadband revolution.  In fact the relaxed gambling laws in the UK have led the gambling industry to describe the conditions for them here as the “perfect storm” for a “vibrant” growing industry.  And women, you are very much a priority market for them.

Anna (not her real name) worked for one of the sites like the one Sue used: one of the ones you’d see advertised during morning telly and popping up on your browser every now and again, a household name.  Anna’s job was working as a Social Networker helping engage the “community” on the bingo site. “I was hired to help players chat to each other and try to make them feel like they are part of something… they were all women, hardly any men”.

“Single, divorced, kids in trouble.  There’s a lot of isolated people, people suffering, we would even have them playing and chatting from their hospital beds.  Chat rooms would be flooded with “I’m thinking of you” but of course no one actually knows each other, not even their names, “remember they are calling each other by things like SexySue99”.

“The health problems were shocking, obesity, diabetes, heart problems, smoking related, lots of disability and people would say they were signed off”.  Of course not all Bingo players are the same “I don’t want to paint every user in the same light… lots of course were at work” but nonetheless there was a pattern that made her feel uncomfortable.

Anna looked embarrassed and I asked her how she felt about working for the site, if she told her friends even, why she wanted to be anonymous. “I have a problem with online gambling, it’s preying on vulnerable, lonely people, desperate for communication with the community.  It’s dark as all the time they are losing their money”.  Needless to say Anna doesn’t work for them anymore.

Whose fault is it that the vulnerable and the lonely head to these sites?  “It’s difficult” says Rene, “I understand there’s personal responsibility but what if someone’s not in their right mind? In hindsight, looking back at how sensible and intelligent she was I feel the change in her behavior, the severe risk taking and compulsions were due to the development of tumors in her brain.”

We will never know if that is why her mother gambled away her daughter and only grandchild’s financial security, but what Rene does know for sure is there were no checks, no red lines that if crossed would cause the site or bank to flag up unusual behavior on her account.

“On the 23rd of April last year she paid £5000 into one of these sites and lost it.  Now, after a grand something should click!  They don’t know the circumstances.  There needs to be a mechanism.”  Anyone who’s had their card stopped by their own bank to protect them when they’ve used it abroad should be as aghast as I am that this unusual behavior would go unchecked.  “What about manic episodes, compulsions? It’s exploiting people’s mental health.”

Rene’s mum stopped using the site when she found out she had weeks to live.  “They phoned her and sent her letters when she had stopped because she was dying.  They kept trying to entice her back, one letter even came through with a Red Nose Day logo on it, as if you were letting down a charity by not visiting the site.  They were aggressively pursuing her.”

Sue died in March 2013, leaving Rene not only with a huge personal loss but a heavy financial burden.  “I don’t blame her, I genuinely believe she was exploited by a faceless organisation. In a shop or a Bingo Hall you’d have a person, a bit of humanity.”

Next year Gamblers Anonymous turns 50 in the UK, and we have more gamblers than ever, a billion-pound “vibrant” gambling industry, and more and more women gamblers. Women are losing their hard-earned money at a time when money is harder to come by, and more of them are calling GamCare for help, yet there are so few stories, few warnings, no fuss.

When I was young the message about gambling was simple: you lost, the bookies or the bingo hall won. As the industry is subtly taking the ‘bl’ out of ‘gambling’, to leave the non-toxic ‘gaming’, I wonder if as a country and as a sex we’ve lost sight of the simple truth that we don’t win in this game.  That there is no protective humanity there, despite the social networking, just an industry, that can easily take advantage of us particularly when we’re down, depressed, lonely and ill.

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Power and glory

Power and the glory seekers

Power corrupts, and absolute power corrupts absolutely. So says Lord Acton and anyone who’s ever had a conversation about power since. But is it true? Perhaps power attracts the corruptible? Or maybe it’s only the weak of mind that bathe in solid gold bathtubs and douse children in sarin gas.

“Power is like nuclear energy, it can be used for good or evil,” says Professor Andy Yap, unafraid of melodrama. Yap is Postdoctoral Associate and Lecturer at MIT. He studies power and teaches MBAs to our future great and good. “Power is going to influence you and you won’t even be conscious of it.”

Some of the world’s worst cock-ups could be said to be caused by individuals who allow power to inflate their egos to Hindenburg proportions. Consider the Iraq war, the banking fiasco, Miley Cyrus’s VMA performance. Somewhere in the debris stands at least one swivel-eyed loon whose rampant self belief has caused misery to rain down on countless millions.

Yap has scientific proof that power can distort the way a person views the world. In one of his experiments Yap found that people who were manipulated to feel powerful underestimated the size of those they had met that day, “When someone feels powerful, they tend to perceive others are less powerful than themselves and their expectations of what a powerless person would look like influences how they view others”.

Does this mean Obama imagines he’s tripping over hoards of Borrowers every time he leaves the White House? Perhaps the reason hasn’t closed Gitmo because he thinks it’s an Oompa Loompa colony. It’s the only excuse I’ll accept.

Joe Magee is Associate Professor of Management at NYU. His research revealed that people made to feel powerful were less good at remembering or conceiving information that might stand in the way of their goals.

“It’s not a willful ignorance,” explains Magee, “It’s this idea that there’s an actual change in the way they see the world. That’s what power does to people. Powerful people seem to act as if they don’t have the same constraints on their behaviour as people with less power. They’re freed up to act on their own desires. The consequences are going to depend on what their desires are, and what motivated them to get power in the first place.”  That’s the riddle of Berlusconi solved then.

So the next time you’re marveling at the balls-out courage of a powerful risk-taking friend or colleague, pause to think, it may not be that they’re particularly brave and daring, the poor love might not have noticed the gaping pitfalls that deterred everyone else.

“The scandals that have plagued a number of U.S. politicians, such as being caught in bed with prostitutes, are an example of this,” explains Magee “Their focus is on the reward and they disregard the downsides, such as getting caught. They don’t think it’s going to happen”.

Magee’s research shows that people in power have problems seeing the world from any perspective but their own, “High powered people are less likely to take the perspectives of less powerful people. There’s a negative relationship between power and perspective taking”. In one experiment subjects were asked to draw the letter E on their foreheads. Those who were in positions of power drew the E as though they would be reading it. Those with less power drew the E so that anyone looking at them would be able to read it. A small but telling result.

More alarming is the study that revealed that the most powerful groups in an experiment tended more towards unethical behaviour, such as willingness to exploit others, aggression and dishonesty, along with the group with the least power and fewest options.

Lord David Owen knows a thing or two about power, having held posts such as Navy Minister, Health Minister and Foreign Secretary; he’s now an independent cross bencher in the House of Lords and he has a theory.

“The Hubris Syndrome is an acquired personality change,” says Lord Owen carefully, “I’m interested in people you elect or appoint as leader, CEO or Chairman, who appear normal but once in power, seem to change. This is much more common than people realise. It seems to be driven not by outside factors but from within the individual”.

To have the syndrome a person must present at least three or four out of a group of excruciatingly unflattering symptoms, such as: a narcissistic propensity to see the world as an arena in which they exercise power to seek glory; a predisposition to take actions which cast them in a good light; a disproportionate concern with image so that presentation becomes more important than substance; a messianic manner of talking; a tendency to talk about oneself using the third person, or the royal we; excessive confidence; exaggerated beliefs; a certainty that you’re accountable only to history or even god; the unshakeable belief that  you will be vindicated; restlessness; recklessness and hubristic incompetence. Sound familiar?

Lord Owen reminisces about his dinners with Tony Blair, “It was December ’98 and it was very relaxed, we talked about the Euro and what to do about Iraq, we could discuss almost anything. Then in 2002, when he had made his mind up to go into Iraq, we had another dinner, it was very noticeable that there was not much of an exchange; he was very different. I couldn’t put my finger on it, but driving back in the car my wife said to me, “He’s Messianic,” It was a very accurate description.”

People with the Hubris Syndrome can become dangerous if left unchecked. “These people make very bad decisions, they don’t really care about or bother to find out about the technicalities or the difficulties, they intervene for presentational reasons,” Lord Owen warms to his topic, “That’s the only way to describe why both Bush and Blair landed us all in this appalling mess. The military actually conducted the invasion quite successfully, it was the absence of any planning that for the aftermath, the feeling that they were all going to be treated as heroes or liberators, the refusal to listen to the military who warned them of the dangers of insurrection, who warned them there weren’t enough troops, but they ignored all this because they had a certainty about it. The aftermath was not an accident, it was a feature of their personality.”

David Cameron hasn’t escaped Lord Owen’s keen gaze. “I think he better watch it,” he warns. The fiasco of the Syrian debate – too fast, not heeding warnings, sticking the American agenda – all smack of someone treading the path worn by Blair, “There are warning signs there, but I would say he has not yet got Hubris Syndrome.” Take two doses of humility per day, dear leader, and you might just catch it before it becomes malignant.

Lord Owen, who is also a neuroscientist, thinks chemical changes involving dopamine, serotonin and adrenaline are involved in the syndrome. He’s set up a multi disciplinary initiative, The Daedalus Trust, to raise awareness of the affects of power on those who exercise it.

“Such out of control egos, high risk and reckless behaviour, arrogance and contempt for others have disastrous consequences,” reads the Daedalus Trust website, “Economic value is destroyed, careers are ruined, great ideas and institutions are subverted and lives are lost in unnecessary conflicts”.

Philip Augar used to head up Schroders investment bank and now writes about finance. He’s known many bankers in his time, “There’s a tendency for people in power to want to talk to people who agree with them and consequently they close out radically different voices,” he says, “They like people they feel comfortable with, they don’t really like people who challenge accepted wisdom”.

Joe Magee is in agreement, “If you surround yourself with like-minded people you’re going to reinforce the tendencies that being in power already brings.”

It seems the only way to prevent yourself from becoming a crazed megalomaniac is to surround yourself with dissenting voices and alternative perspectives, in other words, really annoying people you’d give a wide berth in your social life.

Curiously, Lord Owen identifies women as being less likely to develop the syndrome, Margaret Thatcher being one blistering exception. He needs to meet some of my friends.

So, does power corrupt? Hell, yes. But it can be dodged. If you find yourself being carried around the office in a sedan chair, then I suggest you give yourself a slap and hire some fearless souls to tell you it’s not really dignified to wear a crown to the office, that slapping your subordinates in the face with leather gloves could get you into trouble, and that hiring a groom of the stool would probably be frowned upon.


Rachel Salvidge is a freelance journalist specialising in the environment, with a background in book publishing. Find out more @RachSalv.

Illustration by Miranda Sofroniou:

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Smoke from the vatican

How do you become… Lord Chief Justice?

As Sir John Thomas takes up the role of Lord Chief Justice, we take a look at his unusual and surprising route up the career ladder to find out how you too could become Lord Chief Justice.

A public school boy, Sir John was educated at Rugby School before taking the unpredictable step of studying at the University of Cambridge, like his predecessor Baron Judge.

To pursue his legal career Sir John travelled to the University of Chicago where he gained a Juris Doctorate, before being called to the Bar at Gray’s Inn.

A high flyer, Sir John became a Queen’s Counsel in 1984, working his way through the legal ranks as a Recorder and then a High Court Judge. On becoming a High Court Judge he was awarded the customary knighthood and assigned to the Queen’s Bench Division, following in the footsteps of the departing Baron Judge.

Sir John went on to become a Lord Justice of Appeal and (as is customary) was appointed to the Privy Council as one of the Queen’s advisers.

He served as the Senior Presiding Judge in the Court of Appeal, before becoming president of the European Network of Councils for the Judiciary.

Sir John subsequently became Vice-President of the Queen’s Bench Division and Deputy Head of Criminal Justice, before upgrading to President of the Queen’s Bench Division.

After all that hard work, Sir John must have been surprised when, in July this year, he was asked to become Baron Judge’s successor. With 108 men filling the role since the year 1234, he may have been worried that a woman might finally take her turn.

Fear not Sir John, the mighty task of leading our judiciary remains a firmly male domain. We’re sure you’ll settle in very quickly.

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