Tag Archives: equality

Companies must end culture of secrecy for the Equal Pay Act to work

The Shadow Minister for Women and Equalities and Labour MP for Ashfield, Gloria De Piero, writes for Feminist Times on the ongoing battle for equal pay, 44 years on from the Equal Pay Act. Find out more about Feminist Times’ Equal Pay campaign with Elle & Mother.

In 1970 Labour’s Barbara Castle passed the Equal Pay Act, declaring:

“We intend to make equal pay for equal work a reality, and, in doing so, to take women workers progressively out of the sweated labour class”. Yet 44 years later, women in Britain still earn on average eighty pence for every pound a man earns.

Whichever region of the country you live in, whatever job you do, one thing is guaranteed: women are being paid less than men for doing the same or equivalent jobs. No matter if you’re an engineer or a chief exec, a hairdresser or work in catering. Even in industries where women dominate, we are still being paid less.

Worse still, in the last four years of Tory/Lib-Dem Government, any progress we were making has disappeared into thin air. The pay gap hasn’t budged by more than 0.1 per cent and last year rose for the first time since 2008.

It’s simply not good enough. Women shouldn’t have to wait another forty four years to expect to be paid the same and valued the same as men.

Eighty pence in a pound is a figure symbolic of the economic disempowerment women face throughout our lives. Whether that’s finding out that the man who’s sat opposite you at work for the last 20 years, doing the same role, is on a higher salary; or being forced to take a pay cut to work part-time because work makes it too hard to juggle being a mum with having a career. The work women do and the roles women perform have always been, and continue to be, underpaid and undervalued.

Workplaces need to change to support more women and men to balance work and family life so that having kids doesn’t mean taking a pay cut. And we won’t deliver equal pay unless we challenge the reasons why jobs which women dominate, such as care, have so often been undervalued. But there’s no getting away from it: plain old pay discrimination happens across every sector and every level too.

It’s a matter of justice, and it can make the difference between making ends meet or slipping through the net. We can talk in the abstract about 80p to the pound but it’s when you hear the stories of women who’ve experienced it first-hand that you realise what delivering Equal Pay means.

Women like the childcare worker for Birmingham City Council who, along with scores of other women working as caterers and carers, won compensation for being paid less than male manual workers. She told me:

“All those years I was in debt to credit card companies, even though I’d been to college for two years. I’d got qualifications, it was a vocation not a job… and I think what would my life have been like if I’d been paid a fair wage?”

The route to ending pay discrimination and delivering equal pay is transparency. Empowering women to challenge discrimination means arming them with the information to use the Equal Pay Act to challenge when they are paid less for work of equal value, and the knowledge to challenge why all the highest paid in their workplace are still men.

True transparency though can’t rely on us as individuals; we need companies to end secrecy around pay, and the Government must lead the way.

Equal pay is a battle cry that’s united women across generations. Let’s not leave it up to our daughters to deliver.

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Eclectica: the project demanding equality

The Eclectica Project launch is two days of live music, DJs and guest speakers – and it’s taking place this August. Launching at Manchester’s Kraak, the project aims to inspire leadership by women and minorities in all industries, starting with the music industry. Daniel Ball spoke to two of the project’s founders Lizzie Hudson and Olivia Mayumi Moss to find out more.

Eclectica Project is highly concerned with gender equality and ethics. How have your personal experiences drawn you to creating a project of this nature?

LIZZIE: Over the last few years since leaving school, coming across different work and social environments, I’ve been frustrated by a lot of challenges that I and women around me have to face, whether that’s discrimination in the workplace, slut-shaming or body image issues. There has to be a point where you think, “No, wait… It’s not okay that I am regularly subjected to street harassment on the way home. It’s not okay that I get asked about boyfriends above my career ambitions.” These issues have a ripple effect into every aspect of our culture, and it’s important to find ways to build communities and create opportunities for those facing discrimination to hear each other out and offer support. That is what the Eclectica Project aims to facilitate.

OLIVIA: If something frustrates me, I need to do something about it. To quote Ani DiFranco, “I was blessed with a birth and a death, and I guess I just want some say in between.” I wouldn’t limit myself to the identity of ‘feminist’ or ‘activist’ although I am essentially both – I would rather call myself ‘active.’ Passivity can be a serious illness. I worked in Tokyo for 12 years. Japan is an uber-conformist world, and that experience changed a lot of things for me – It gave me a strong perspective over what is in fact changeable and what is not. So many aspects of our lives are within our power and require hard work to achieve a high standard, but it’s also important to remain philosophical about areas which aren’t controllable and to find alternative routes. Having an international perspective and access to willing professionals is essential to maintaining the diversity and longevity of this project, so I dug out my business contacts.

What are you hoping to change in the music industry through Eclectica Project?

LIZZIE: The music industry, and every industry for that matter, needs to progress towards accepting women and minorities as complex individuals. If we want to achieve any kind of equality within this industry, we have to for instance stop putting these performers in the position where we hyper-analyse as ‘empowering’ or ‘weak’ but instead regard them as people who impact our world culturally and industrially. Women can be artists, light engineers, managers, producers, drummers, business owners, and they can be at the top of their game, while ethnicity, sexuality and gender should never be a determining factor in hiring somebody or offering opportunities. We should be assessing quality based on commitment and competence, not background or gender. The purpose of the August launch and its spinoff shows is to encourage understanding and respect for female and minority people working in various sectors of the music industry.

OLIVIA:  Every industry needs a severe shake, because the patriarchy is everywhere and affects everyone. The UK music industry is no different: too many controls, too much money in the wrong places, too many wrong people in the wrong jobs, too much fear and naivety from the artists, too many people taking advantage, too many false promises… It’s a mess and the whole thing needs revising. Until everyone is treated fairly in all industries, female and minority professionals must never stop calling people out and fighting for their rights. Things will improve if enough people open their eyes, find courage from within and commit. The panels taking place on the August launch weekend will open up many areas of discussion and solidify the already burgeoning network.

What does the future hold for the project?

LIZZIE:  This project is about women and minorities everywhere. It’d be interesting to explore what’s going on in other industries, because sadly there are so many talented people missing out on opportunities because of prejudice or patriarchal structures. The aim is to keep this community and network growing, to let it have its own life, and hopefully inspire people to speak out, learn from each other and keep fighting the good fight.

OLIVIA: Yes, if you want to save your industry and possibly your career, get involved: don’t think that you can’t make a difference, because you can. This project needs to survive – it needs support from funders, professionals, volunteers… There are many ways to become part of this network. Other than that, the post-launch future is sleep!

The Eclectica Project launch & spinoffs will take place in Manchester and Leeds during July and August. You can find out more information on the project’s Facebook page

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Elizabeth Fremantle: Feminism is…

Elizabeth FremantleName: Elizabeth Fremantle

Age: 51

Location: London

Bio: Novellist

Feminism is the desire for equality: equal opportunity, equal pay, equal respect. It is recalibrating cultural notions of femininity and busting the popular myths of genetic destiny.

Email your response to the question “what is feminism?” (in no more than 200 words) to editorial@feministtimes.com, with your name, age, location, a one-sentence bio and a photo of yourself.

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We need more women in politics.

Following the West Midlands Feminist Times panel and Q&A event “Do we need more women in politics“, we are publishing the speeches of some of the panelists. First we hear from Ruth Jones OBE.

Do we need more women in politics? The answer of course is yes! I would like to think that this is obvious if only on the basis of equality, but even if we had an equal number of men and women in politics this would still not be representative of the population. The 2011 census showed a population of 56.1 million in England and Wales. 27.6 million were male and 28.5 female. This equates to almost a million more women than men in England and Wales and yet these women are overwhelmingly represented by men in politics. The majority are represented by the minority. A UN report of women in global politics launched as part of International Women’s Day 2014 showed that the UK had 650 MPs with 147 (22.6%) being women. This ranks us 65th of 189 countries.

It has been suggested that women do not get involved in politics. I beg to differ. The reality is that few women are elected but many are political and this has always been the case. Take my subject for instance (Gender Based Violence). Women lobbied for over two hundred years to get successive governments to take gender based violence (GBV) seriously. This gradually resulted in changes to legislation, the implementation of policy and more recently to funding for services. Women are political. So why aren’t there more women in politics and why don’t more women vote?

More women are not in politics due to a number of issues that include the structure in which politics operates which is patriarchal in nature and is a public sphere. Political life is structured around unsociable, long hours that don’t make it easy for women with caring responsibilities in a society in which women don’t ‘have it all’ but have to ‘do it all’. Political women also need to feel confident in having a voice. Historian Mary Beard has highlighted how women’s voices have been silenced and/or ridiculed. Recent comments aimed at women by politicians include the patronising ‘sit down dear’ (David Cameron, 2011), the idea that “there is a danger this feminism thing is getting a bit ludicrous” (Douglas Hurd, 2014). Women in politics have to be thick skinned and determined.

When women do get into politics, they have historically been given what is commonly termed ‘soft portfolios’ based on ‘women’s issues’. While I believe (and evidence shows) that such issues would not be addressed without women MPs, I also argue that issues termed ‘women’s issues’ such as GBV are everyone’s issues and every issue is a women’s issue. By separating ‘women’s issues’ we are colluding with discrimination. It is not ‘women’s issues’ that are missing from politics but women’s perspectives on a multitude of issues.

I also argue that women are generally reluctant to vote for male MPs who do not understand the realities of women’s lives, many of which don’t want to as evidenced by the mass exodus of male MPs (and some women) when Yvette Cooper called for a debate on how Coalition government policy is impacting on women. To engage women the political message has to have meaning for women.

Ruth Jones OBE, Director of the National Centre for the Study and Prevention of Violence and Abuse, University of Worcester
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Sexism makes female sexual dysfunction a hidden problem

The first time I had sex, it hurt. A lot. I have vaginismus, which refers to painful intercourse. I’m sure this is a pretty common occurrence for many people, so I just shrugged it off. After all, sex education taught me that pain is something to expect the first few times you have sex, and that if my partner couldn’t get an erection it was ok – it was just nerves. I never once heard that the pain may continue, and I suspect this is the case for a lot of women. When it continued for more than a year, I finally conceded that something must be wrong.

Female Sexual Dysfunction, often abbreviated to FSD, is a catch-all term for a range of different conditions, from painful sex to lack of arousal. Around 43% of women and 31% of men have reported some degree of difficulty in their sex lives. Despite the higher number of women reporting difficulties, Erectile Dysfunction (ED) is more widely recognised in mainstream media and the amount of research into it also far outweighs the research into FSD. Much of the research into both ED and FSD is very Viagra-centric – but scientists are not even sure whether this works for women.

Unsurprisingly, due to the lack of research, doctors are pretty clueless when it comes to FSD. When I first told my doctor that I was unable to have penetrative sex, it was automatically assumed I had a lack of sexual desire due to depression and anxiety. But I have a high sex drive. I was also shouted at and told to relax when the doctor was having a hard time examining me. I didn’t get the diagnosis I expected – in fact, the doctor didn’t even give the condition a name. I was made to feel as if FSD isn’t a common problem.

I was eventually referred to a gynaecologist after waiting 6 months for an appointment. I felt excited that I’d finally have an answer to my problem, completely putting my faith in what I thought was an FSD specialist. Hope started to fade when I didn’t even see myself represented on the posters in the waiting room. It was clear that if I was here, it was for help with post-menopausal dryness or pregnancy problems.

There are a range of treatments available for all types of FSD. These include lubrication, psychosexual therapy, Botox injections, numbing gels and vaginal dilators. Dilators range in size from a tampon to average penis size and are designed to help you relax and get used to the sensation of having sex. I’d heard about these through different forums, and they seemed to work for some women, in conjunction with therapy.

During my appointment, the gynaecologist suggested I try vaginal dilators. I was pretty excited, as I’d heard good things about them. But my excitement was short-lived when the gynaecologist’s assistant didn’t seem to understand what vaginal dilators were, and then told me that the hospital didn’t have any. I asked if I could get them on prescription. They’re a medical aid, so why wouldn’t I be able to? I was advised, however, that I’d probably be better off spending £50 to buy them on eBay. I couldn’t resist making a joke that I’d better make sure I didn’t get a second-hand product. She also advised that maybe, just maybe (but probably not) I’d be able to get them at a local pharmacy. This is completely unacceptable treatment for such a common problem.

I’ve also been given a numbing gel that is supposed to help with the pain, but that option is problematic in itself. What is the point of having sex if you can’t feel it? Am I expected to lie back passively? Yes, I want to remove the pain, but I also want to feel something.

The examination was a painful experience that didn’t answer any questions. I’ve been put on a waiting list for an indeterminate amount of time for various scans and psychosexual therapy. It’s a long process, and only time will tell whether any of these things will work for me – it’s pretty much just ‘suck it and see’. There’s no little blue pill.

The great thing is, dilators and psychosexual therapy work for a lot of people. The problems lie in the diagnostic process, the availability of dilators and other treatment options, the amount of research into FSD, and the general lack of visibility. If you’re suffering and not being heard, keep going back to your doctor and demand that you be taken seriously. Always get a second opinion. FSD needs to be talked about a lot more. It’s not acceptable that women are suffering, ignoring pain and feeling inadequate when there are adverts for Viagra on TV.

Emily Griffith is a freelance writer specialising in at-home activism and mental health. She tweets at @AtHomeActivist and blogs at The Agoraphobic Feminist.

Photo: Huffington Post

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Rachel Williams: Feminism is…

Name: Rachel Williams

Age: 21

Location: Merseyside

Bio:  Politics and Philosophy student at the LSE, with an avid interest in literature and international development. She also likes cats

Feminism is about realising that only 22% of MPs are women. It is about understanding that there are merely 3 female CEOs in the FTSE100. It is about discerning that school days end at 3.30pm because housewives are still a norm and yet unpaid and necessary work in the home is still under appreciated.

Feminism for me has been and continues to be a source of realisation about the position of women in our communities and institutions that I was previously unaware of. I hope that as a feminist I can help others to recognise that too.

Email your response to the question “what is feminism?” (in no more than 200 words) to editorial@feministtimes.com, with your name, age, location, a one-sentence bio and a photo of yourself.

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Forget fascists for a moment as Sweden’s Feminist party make history in the EU

On Sunday, the European elections took a historical turn when voters took a lurch to the right. Press across Europe reported on how nationalist parties gained a stable body of supporters and changed the demographics of the EU through a startling percentage of conservative, right-wing wins.

But European voters did not only vote nationalist, they also voted for a counter-movement: feminism.  A quieter historic moment was taking form. The European Parliament’s first independent feminist party entered the political arena.  Swedish party Feminist Initiative made history, with a final percentage count of 5.3% gaining a chair in the parliament for member Soraya Post.

Feminist Initiative’s journey started in April 2005. Rumour had it that a new feminist party was taking shape on the Swedish political landscape growing around Gudrun Schyman, the former leader of the Left Party. By 2008, the organization was formally a political party that competed in both the Swedish national election of 2010 and the European Parliamentary election of 2009. In the EU election, they gained 2.2% of the vote, but a did not make it into either the European or Swedish parliaments.

The feminist movement seemed defeated. Feminist Initiative disappeared from the political scene, becoming increasingly quiet. Perhaps feminism was not as strong as some may have initially thought – maybe even Sweden was not ready for a feminist political party.

Five years on, and nationalism and racism were taking grip of European politics. In Sweden, the media declared 2014 as the ‘super election year’, with both European elections and general Swedish parliamentary elections taking place in the same year. With this, the battle between the parties began. Who would take the fight against racism and nationalism? Whilst the larger parties began to look increasingly similar, Feminist Initiative was building it’s own agenda, selecting Soraya Post as its first name for the EU election. Her background of a Jewish father and Romani mother gave her a historical name on the election folders – the first Romani topping the lists on a ballot. With this, Feminist Initiative made their agenda clear: they wanted to be the party to fight discrimination, nationalism and racism.

After a threat of extinction, Feminist Initiative was back on the map. A counter movement started to take shape in Sweden that could be seen everywhere: particularly on social and print media. The feminist spring was coming. But the party were not invited to participate in national television debates, and were not taken seriously amongst their political peers. Would a vote for Feminist Initiative be considered a protest vote? Despite the doubts, something had started to simmer. Voters had started to take notice of this flowering movement and wanted to be a part of it. Feminist Initiative’s membership increased from 1500 in October 2013 to around 6000 in February 2014. Two weeks before the election, Feminist Initiative’s membership increased by 200 new members a day, totaling 14000 on the day of the election. In an opinion poll, one in four women were considering voting for the party.

The first election forecasts arrived on Sunday evening. The last three months had been one massive campaign, with the production of a feminist record and the creation of a feminist anthology – all designed to draw artists, writers, authors and journalists into Feminist Initiative’s feminist and anti-racist campaign. Sunday was the peak of the feminist spring, and the party was everywhere. Standing as an MEP candidate, Soraya Post urged people to vote for equality, women’s rights and anti-racism, and she was heard. Feminist Initiative won a seat in European Parliament, gaining 5.3% of the vote. The party made history – not only for being the first independent feminist party ever elected to the European Parliament, but for standing for politics drastically different to the current trend.

Feminist Initiative’s win is a small victory in a bigger battle for women’s rights and equality. Just hours after the election, Soraya Post was included in a list of right wing extremists by The Sun Newspaper, with the headline ‘Neo-Nazis, gun carriers, arsonists…and now MEPs’. But despite Soraya Post’s principally equality focused politics being thrown in amongst a list of extremists, Feminist Initiative’s win represents hope in an otherwise dismal election. There remains a lot to be done, but the confidence of Swedish voters is a big step towards combating attitudes of racism and nationalism. On September the 14th, the date of the next Swedish general election, we will know if Feminist Initiative establish themselves as a party to count on.

Sofia Landström is currently studying an MA in Exhibition Studies at Central Saint Martins College of Art and Design. She researches inequality in the arts and writes about representation and separatism.

Photo: Feminist Initiative

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Erica Böhr: Feminism is…

Erica BohrName: Erica Böhr

Age: 47

Location: Cambridge

Bio: Radical feminist lesbian artist and mother

For me, feminism is:

1. A radical political stance of activism in the face of ongoing inequalities in gender and sexuality

2. Not saying sorry for wanting the same wages; occupying the same personal space as men; challenging homophobia and sexism; not apologising for existing; not buying into and actively resisting patriarchy’s attempts to mind-maim women

3. Wanting a t-shirt that bears the following slogan :This is what a Ball-­‐breaking, Empire-­‐ building, Machiavellian Butch Dyke from Hell looks like

4. A space where the personal is always the political

Email your response to the question “what is feminism?” (in no more than 200 words) to editorial@feministtimes.com, with your name, age, location, a one-sentence bio and a photo of yourself.

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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: Andrea was not transphobic

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When Andrea and I met in 1974 her first book, Woman Hating, was on press. She wrote all her subsequent work in the home where we lived together until 2005, when I and the world lost her.

One passage in Woman Hating changed my life forever:

“The discovery is, of course, that “man” and “woman” are fictions, caricatures, cultural constructs. As models they are reductive, totalitarian, inappropriate to human becoming. As roles they are static, demeaning to the female, dead-ended for male and female both.”

That radical interrogation of gender became a foundational understanding between us. It formed a basis for how we knew and cared about each other. We recognized that we each came from a gendered culture—she as a woman, I as a man—but our best and deepest times together were when that ceased to matter, when it was as if we were communicating simply self to self. Or soul to soul. Or I to Thou.

To this day I don’t fully know why Andrea risked trusting me. I have no doubt, however, why I began to trust her.

I was attracted to and sexually active with men; Andrea always knew that. We were first introduced by a gay male mutual friend at a gay and lesbian gathering, after all. But what I learned from Andrea—first from reading Woman Hating, then from growing more and more to know her—was a wholly new experience to me: what it means to be soul mates beyond gender.

That belief in the possibility of life beyond gender was a core of both her work and mine. A speech I gave within a few months after our meeting was published as Refusing to Be a Man (the title I gave my first book). In a speech of Andrea’s written about a year later she drew a distinction between reality and truth in order to say that:

“while the system of gender polarity is real, it is not true…. [T]he system based on this polar model of existence is absolutely real; but the model itself is not true. We are living imprisoned inside a pernicious delusion, a delusion on which all reality as we know it is predicated.”

I’ve thought back to such passages in Andrea’s work (there are many) as I’ve pondered how she would sort out the current controversies and conflicts among radical feminists who call themselves trans critical and transactivists who call the same feminists trans exclusionary. Andrea wrote of transsexualism (as it was called then) only in Woman Hating, in a prescient section that can accurately be cited as evidence that Andrea was not “transphobic” and was in fact “empathetic to transpeople” (as would come as no surprise to anyone who knew her).

To my knowledge Andrea never wrote any more on the subject. I cannot say for certain why, but I suspect it’s because she already said what she had to say about it—and she was driven to write next what no one had said yet. The topic came up in our conversations, of course, but prior to her death the divisive controversy/conflict had not yet erupted as it has today. I’ll not rehearse those troubling tensions except to acknowledge that I recently came under sharp criticism online after I posted a tweet about an essay I’d written about U.S. Army Private Chelsea Manning (formerly Bradley), in which I referred to the courageous young whistleblower by the female pronoun she now preferred.

To my philosophically inclined mind (now recalling Andrea’s and my talks), the current controversy/conflict turns on an ethical/metaphysical disagreement about the fundamental meaning of gender in the human species. Obviously I cannot know what Andrea would have to say about it, except that I am certain she would not ally herself with any view that furthers “biological superiority,” which she considered “the world’s most dangerous and deadly idea”:

“It is shamefully easy for us [she means here, I believe, so-called female-assigned-at-birth women] to enjoy our own fantasies of biological omnipotence while despising men for enjoying the reality of theirs. And it is dangerous—because genocide begins, however improbably, in the conviction that classes of biological distinction indisputably sanction social and political discrimination. We, who have been devastated by the concrete consequences of this idea, still want to put our faith in it. Nothing offers more proof—sad, irrefutable proof—that we are more like men than either they or we care to believe.”

This was always Andrea’s ethical framework, which I learned from constantly: Moral agency and accountability are true, foundational to our identity as human, and they do not equate with the reality of gender. I was inspired by that ethical framework when I wrote in my essay about Chelsea Manning of:

“my belief that one’s moral agency is not gendered; it is—as it is for Pfc. Manning—a continuity of conscience irrespective of gender expression. I believe that separate and unequal ethical codes for “men” and “women”—which are ubiquitous in conventional wisdom—are erroneous on their face, because the constant core of one’s conscience is human only.”

I confess I did not learn from Andrea’s ethical framework about living beyond gender only conversationally or conceptually or in the abstract. I learned concretely, and I learned humbly the hard way—because episodically in our relationship I learned what it meant to her and us when I fucked up and broke the trust she had in me. I acted like a man. My impulse to assert/defend my gendered social conditioning trumped my intention to be my best self. I did not act like the person Andrea had grown to love and I did not act like the person I had learned to know it was possible to be with her. Happily we got through those hard times. In the last years of her life, even as her health failed, we became closer and dearer to each other than ever before. But the lesson never leaves me: Who I am is not my gender.

Curious, isn’t it, that in English only third-person pronouns are gendered but first- and second-person are not. Do we remain imprisoned in gender because we persistently “third-personise,” or objectify, ourselves and one another; and do we not sufficiently speak to each other as subjects who say I to Thou? Has our language always been telling us that when we speak as ourselves directly to other selves, and when other selves speak directly to us, gender becomes irrelevant?

I enjoy following the favorite quotes of Andrea’s that people post here and there in cyberspace, and the other day this one caught my eye: “When two individuals come together and leave their gender outside the bedroom door, then they make love.”

Andrea got it. Living beyond gender leads to loving beyond gender. And vice versa.

I miss our communion terribly.


John Stoltenberg has explored the distinction between gender identity and moral identity in two books—Refusing to Be a Man: Essays on Sex and Justice and The End of Manhood: Parables on Sex and Selfhood. His many essays include “Living With Andrea Dworkin” (1994) and “Imagining Life Without Andrea” (2005). His novel, GONERZ, projects a radical feminist vision into a post-apocalyptic future. John conceived and creative-directed the acclaimed “My strength is not for hurting” sexual-assault-prevention media campaign, and he continues his communications- and cause-consulting work through media2change. He tweets at @JohnStoltenberg and @media2change.

Photography by John Goetz. Copyright © 2005 by John Goetz and the Estate of Andrea Dworkin.

This article was amended at 4pm on the 28th April at the author’s request.

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It’s feminist to vote in the EU elections

Even for those of us who do not call ourselves Euro sceptics, the EU is hard to love – there is no doubt about that. It’s a bit like maths or entomology. We know it’s there, and it’s probably serving a vaguely useful function, but apart from a narrow proportion of geeks, experts and fanatics among us, in everyday life we rarely find ourselves enthusing about quadratic equations, critters or Directives.

Europe’s decision-making bodies sit far away, with their unfamiliar bureaucrats, strange rituals and opaque processes.

Our apathetic (or downright hostile) media has given up on reporting how and why decisions are being taken in Brussels by our Ministers and our MEPs working with their counterparts from other countries. This has allowed successive UK Governments to blame ‘Brussels’ for tough decisions and to take the whole credit for successful EU initiatives.

I don’t entirely blame editors having to make tough choices in these cash-strapped times: covering the EU story costs money; repeating lazy misconceptions and firing off indignant editorials is far cheaper.

But don’t let them fool you into thinking the coming European Parliament election doesn’t matter, or that a UKIP triumph is inevitable or indeed that it might be a desirable outcome, to shake things up or send some sort of message to complacent Westminster elites. A decisive UKIP win would do nothing to help the UK lead on reforms in Europe, but spell disaster for the cause of gender equality at UK and EU level.

The European Union has been promoting equality between men and women since its inception, enshrining the goal of equal pay for men and women in the 1957 Treaty of Rome. A Directive on Equal Pay was finally passed in 1975 to be followed by dozens of other pieces of EU legislation – against discrimination at work or in accessing services, combating violence, sexual harassment and people trafficking, establishing maternity rights and parental leave.

The EU funds national campaigns against gender-based violence and, in the last 7 years, has spent some €3.2 bn in Structural Funds to provide childcare and promote women’s participation in the labour market in Europe’s most economically depressed areas. The EU further promotes gender equality all over the wold with its humanitarian actions and through its trade agreements.

Now contrast this with UKIP’s view of women and their programme.

Their attitude towards women is often described as reminiscent of the 1950s, although my conservative grandfather would have been horrified by their language and sentiments. Women are sluts, who should be seen (cleaning) and not heard; mothers are worthless to employers. And these are not just retired colonels, old fashioned fogeys – the Twitter trolls who tried to silence Women Against UKIP all last week are the party’s tech-savvy young guns, UKIP’s bullish, bullying future.

But worse than their attitudes is their programme, insofar as they can articulate one. Make no mistake: the biggest advantage Nigel Farage sees in the UK withdrawing from Europe is that it would be able to return to the 1950s, not just culturally but also in the law: no maternity leave or labour protection of any kind for the most vulnerable workers, who are often women; a bonfire of health and safety and anti-harassment legislations. This might resonate with chain-smoking pub landlords, (freedom of smoking is championed, by the way; freedom of movement less so), but it sure scares the hell out of me.

Since the 2009 European Election UKIP’s only two female MEPs, Nikki Sinclaire and Marta Andreasen, have both left the party. Andreason said Farage: “doesn’t try to involve intelligent professional women in positions of responsibility in the party. He thinks women should be in the kitchen or in the bedroom”. Nikki Sinclaire won an Employment Tribunal claim for sex discrimination against the party.

Last week we finally saw UKIP’s leader drop the genial ‘chap down the pub’ act when being questioned about his use of EU expenses. Chummy Nigel turned into Snarling Nigel, railing against the media that so far has idolised him for having the cheek of asking him to account for his actions, like any other politician.

Farage’s confusion about EU money not being, somehow, taxpayers’ money tells a bigger story about what you get when you vote for a UKIP candidate to represent you in Europe. Their goal is to destroy Europe, not reform it or make it work in Britain’s favour.

In practice this means that after 22 May, unless we feminists use our vote, even more UKIP MEPs will be flocking to the European Parliament to get their nose in every possible money trough, whilst disrupting sessions with their cheap stunts and insulting speeches, clogging committees, (including the Gender Equality Committee, where so much of the above legislation is dealt with), not voting, not amending, not doing anything at all, and all at our expense, for the next five years.

I happen to believe in the EU project. But even if I didn’t, as a woman and a feminist I can think of few worse fates than having Farage and his braying chums in charge of or able to influence any policies at all, at home or internationally, as my chances of becoming a chain-smoking pub landlord, unconcerned with maternity leave, anti-trafficking laws and all that – what do they call it? red tape – are vanishingly small.

Paola Buonadonna is Media Director for the pro-EU membership campaign British Influence.

Graphic: Sarah Spickernell is a freelance journalist and Interactive Journalism MA student at City University London. She has written for the Financial Times and The Sunday Times, and has a particular interest in women’s rights in the Middle East. Follow her @Sspickernell

Main Image: Rock Cohen

You need to be on the Electoral Register to exercise your right to vote. The deadline to register to vote in the 22 May European and local elections is 6 May. Please visit:

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Hollywood still male and pale

In November we published an infographic produced by the New York Film Academy on female representation in Hollywood films. Their latest infographic looks at Black film and finds, to the surprise of no one, that Hollywood is not only still very male, it’s also still very white – despite 2013 and 2014 representing strong years for Black filmmakers.

New York Film Academy takes a look at black inequality in film

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Joan Munro: Feminism is…

Name: Joan Munro

Age: 63

Location: London

Bio: Socialist feminist for forty years

Feminism is being able to be who you want, and do what you want to do, to be regardless of your gender.

Email your response to the question “what is feminism?” (in no more than 200 words) to editorial@feministtimes.com, with your name, age, location, a one-sentence bio and a photo of yourself.

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#SexIndustryWeek: We can’t have good sex in an unequal society

How might we envision a future without the sex industry? It is a future that more and more feminists are actively pursuing. To the many more who – though they might fancy the idea of sex industry free society – say that it is so firmly embedded in human history and culture as to render such a vision little more than a pipe dream, I can only say what feminism itself says: that what is constructed in history can be de-constructed in history. And we are not the first generation to say so; there have been many documented attempts to construct and to actually live in sexual utopias.

That the communities who ‘lived the dream’ drew their authority from the Bible might not, on the face of it, appear to be very promising – particularly given the fact that the first and most sustained efforts arose within that contingent of Bible-bashers we are most inclined to despise and distrust: the Puritans.

I should explain that the Puritans from whom I (along with the late great Tony Benn) draw inspiration are the early Puritans – the Levellers and Diggers who stood out against Cromwell’s attempts to restore the very worst aspects of the old patriarchal order after the Civil War in 1649. Their roots lay in the dissenting sects sometimes termed ‘holiness movements’ of the previous century, whose adherents either found themselves (by being poor and illiterate) or had consciously placed themselves as outsiders in the established religious and social structures of their times. Believing that, as promised in Scripture, God’s spirit of prophecy would in future times be poured out on all flesh, rich and poor, “menservants and maidservants”, they and their successors saw themselves as heralds of the new heaven and new earth which was, they believed, coming to birth in their own time.

It would be pushing it to claim direct continuity between the utopian radicalism of the early Puritan’s pre-industrial world and the political movements which have arisen within the modern, secularised West. That said, they offer some useful pointers to those struggling to envision a new order of sexual equality today – all of which spring from the fact that, as countless documents reveal, they put a high value on sex as one of the Creator’s greatest gifts.

My guess is that had they known about it at all, the early Puritans would have opposed the sex industry not because it was immoral but because it was joyless. And for joy to abound there has to be mutual affection between the parties involved… Or as we would say today, they would have to really fancy each other!

The crucial thing about the early Puritans’ sexual idealism was that it was inseparable from their Biblically-derived social egalitarianism. If the nation’s land and resources were “every man and maid’s portion”, as the Diggers proclaimed, then there could be no reason for either “birth nor portion” to “hinder” a match. Thus they resisted the dynastic and/or commercial considerations upon which bourgeois parents were wont to arrange their children’s marriages.

The ideals and ideas embodied in the early Puritan movement have resurfaced again and again over the last 400 years, albeit in different forms and in different language (the words ’socialist’ and ‘feminist’ were not ‘invented’ until the 19th century), but are they alive and well in feminism today?

The Owenite Movement, whose name derives from the Utopian Socialist Robert Owen (1771-1858), had strong roots in the holiness movements of the 17th Century, and the language of their socialist pamphlets drew heavily upon the populist rhetoric of 17th Century dissidence. The movement attracted thousands of followers in the 1820s who, for the next 25 years, attempted to put theory into practice by forming “communities of mutual association” based on collective family life and the sharing of property .

By the middle of the 19th Century, social utopian ends could be more effectively pursued through parliamentary reform. Of all the great feminist reformers of the period it was Josephine Butler, famous for her campaigns on behalf of street prostitutes and her exposure of the growing international trade in underage girls, who was the among the first feminists to see prostitution as a cause and consequence of women’s inequality. Sex for cash was not, in Butler’s terms, an offence against morality but a desecration of women’s bodies and hence an offence against love itself.

Which brings me back to the present and the question of how we might usefully draw upon Butler’s and others’ work to build our own sex-industry free utopia. I think we can safely start from the assumption that the high-hearted men and women I’ve referred to were far less interested in denouncing ‘vice’ or cleaning up the streets than in making a world in which supply and demand would wither away. A tall order, but one which more and more people are pursuing now that the “old Immoral world” of capitalism, as the Owenites termed it, does not appear to serving any of us very well. Least of all the overwhelming majority of those who service today’s sex industry.

So what would a sex trade free world look like?

It’s now clearer than ever that we can’t have good sex in an unequal society; only when we have an equal society can we hope the world will be a sexier place.

Susan Dowell is a freelance journalist, grandmother of 11 and peace activist, who worked in Africa for five years during the 1960s. She is a theologian and co-author, with Linda Hurcombe, of Dispossessed Daughters of Eve (1981).

Photo: Wikimedia Commons

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Lydia Johnson: Feminism is…

Lydia JohnsonName: Lydia Johnson

Age: 21

Location: Worcester

Bio: Reporter at the Hereford Times, loves the odder things in life

Feminism is simply wanting, as a woman, to be treated equally to men. For women to have the same rights (world-wide) as men, to not be looked down upon for how they express themselves sexually whereas men are applauded, and not to be judged on looks alone. I especially don’t want people calling me up at work and asking to “speak to someone more experienced… like a man” – yes, this really happened.

Feminism needs to also be about educating people – educating the men who think it’s okay to cat-call and follow a woman down the street ‘complimenting’ her on her nice figure and hounding her until she gives him her number, and the people who think a woman is only feminine with long hair and make up, and should stay home and look after the kids. And educating the women who say “we don’t need feminism, look how good we’ve got it!”

It’s about making it clear to people that feminism isn’t about man-hating. FEMINISM IS AWESOME!

Email your response to the question “what is feminism?” (in no more than 200 words) to editorial@feministtimes.com, with your name, age, location, a one-sentence bio and a photo of yourself.

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Mild-mannered Countryfile gets ugly: TV, ageism & sexism

There has always been a double standard when it comes to ageing, as Susan Sontag noted over forty years ago. Without exception, all the evidence confirms that women are seen as ‘old’ far sooner than men, overwhelmingly more likely to be rejected as ‘unattractive’ decades earlier then men. Nowhere is this more obvious than in the media. Some feminists have been commenting on this for decades, both from within and outside the media. A decade ago, it was the elegant and stylish Anna Ford who was loudly proclaiming that she was being sidelined on TV because of her age. Yet things have only got worse, not better since.

Just six months ago, the interim report of the Commission on Older Women set up by the Labour Party and chaired by Harriet Harman, provided exhaustive evidence of the continuing invisibility of older women in public life. In the BBC, for instance, 82 per cent of broadcast presenters over the age of 50 are men, only 18 per cent are women. More generally, unemployment amongst women aged 50-64 has increased by 41 per cent in the last two and a half years, compared with one per cent overall.

It is this situation that makes the recent ignorant comments of the broadcaster Julia Bradbury so irritating, when she announced that age had nothing to do with her replacing Miriam O’Reilly, the older woman whose shoes she stepped into when O’Reilly was dispatched from BBC’s Countryfile in 2009. That the male presenter who remained on the programme was himself already 64 only makes Bradbury’s comment all the more frustrating, provoking O’Reilly herself to accuse Bradbury of ‘arselicking’ in her eagerness ‘to ingratiate herself … with the lads, rather than seeing the bigger picture’.

As O’Reilly knows only too well, the bigger picture for women in the media is grim. In 2010 she was the first employee in the UK to successfully sue the BBC for ageism, two years after being dropped from Countryfile at 52. Indeed, her victory even persuaded the then director general at the BBC, Mark Thompson, to acknowledge that there were “too few” older women broadcasters, aware that men, decades older, are still regularly appearing on our screens. O’Reilly’s bitterness is understandable when, despite her victory, she still felt obliged to change career mid-life. She may have won her case, but she could not win the war against gendered ageism in the media.

Over at ITN the following year, it was the lively presenter Samira Ahmed who felt bullied into resigning her job at 42. She had been repeatedly criticised for her appearance, told her hair was ‘messy’, probably due to very slight hair-loss at the front. This, as ever, has proved no problem for her co-presenter then, Jon Snow (still going strong now), over 20 years her senior. One of our feisty female media crusaders, Katherine Whitehorn, has often commented on this ‘lopsided mirror to life’, in which only men are allowed to grow old on screen. The same is true, of course, for actors. Over the years older men’s roles tend to play down signs of physical ageing, while the opposite is true for women.

However, let me say finally that this is a tough battle to win, and the sea change we need to be fighting for is vast. We all know that women are still seen and valued above all for their looks, while men are more easily valued for what can be presented as their authority. What the media loves is for women to struggle with each other over this, to set one generation against the other. However understandable, this is why it doesn’t really help for O’Reilly to denounce Bradley for her obvious disavowal of the fact that it was her more youthful appearance that facilitated her replacement of the older presenter. As I pointed out in my last book, Out of Time: The Pleasures & Perils of Ageing, until we are forced to acknowledge it, and then only partially, we all tend to disavow our own ageing, and the effects it is likely to have on us, not least this incitement to generational warfare.

Bradbury was no doubt put on the spot when a male interviewer asked her what she felt about stepping into the shoes of an older women. In an ideal world, she would have said that all ageism was regrettable, perhaps adding that she have loved to work alongside the more experienced O’Reilly. Still in fantasyland, O’Reilly might have tweeted not to insult Bradbury’s lack of female solidarity, but to instead rage against the culture that encouraged them to see each other as rivals.

Back in the real world, we have to put up with older male presenters such Alan Titchmarsh, adding insult to injury. Only last year he dismissed older women ‘whingeing’ about their invisibility, while expressing sexist contempt for younger women on our screens: “Men in television tend to last a bit longer at the end of their careers, but it is women who make hay at the beginning. They don’t complain in their early days when they are disporting themselves on sports cars”.

Oh yes, some of us do complain, both about sexism and about its pernicious combination with ageism. We just have a long fight on our hands.

Lynne Segal is a feminist writer and activist, and Anniversary Professor of Psychology & Gender Studies at Birkbeck, University of London.

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Profile: Sheroes of History

Sheroes of History is a new blog and podcast which aims to shine a spotlight on history’s heroines, telling their stories and inspiring girls and women today.

Women are hugely underrepresented: remarkably, although the female of the species makes for around 51% of the world’s population, this is still the case in film and media, in business and politics, in art and music, the list goes on.

History too is one area which has always been dominated by the stories of men. To a degree this is perhaps easier to understand; in the past women’s access to education, power, property, and anything resembling independent lives was more restricted than it is today. History has largely been written by men, about men, for men. Google recently admitted that of its 445 Google-doodles honouring historical characters, only 17% were women (they have pledged to equalise this henceforth).

I started Sheroes of History to address this imbalance. Despite the fact that we hear about them far less, there are in fact thousands of stories of incredible women doing incredible things throughout history – often even more inspiring when set against the limitations women have faced in the past.

I’m a feminist and I work in museum education; I care passionately about equality – and I love history! Sheroes of History brings these two strands of my life together.

For a long time I have felt that I wanted to do something to give girls more role models; real life heroines who inspire them to be all they can be. I feel desperate every time a new kids film is released, or a new children’s TV show airs – and yet again the main protagonist is male (conversely, I probably get a little too overexcited when strong female characters do emerge: see Katniss Everdeen.)

As young girls grow up, the stories – be they real or fictional – of women who take centre stage are few and far between. More often than not the story belongs to the male character, with female characters rarely having their own narratives.

Working in a museum, I sometimes feel the same way; when I tell stories of the past to the schoolchildren who visit I’m conscious of the sometimes passive roles of women in these stories, and make pains to emphasise the ones where women show agency and attitude.

Sheroes of History will be an ongoing blog and, soon to launch, podcast, which tell the untold stories of women whose lives we may not have heard of and whose actions will inspire girls and women today. In the future I hope that by collecting these stories I will be able to develop them into further resources that can be used with young girls.

I hope that the blog will feel collectively owned; contributions can be submitted by women who have their own ‘Shero of history’ they want to tell the world about. There are three words which encompass my aims for the Sheroes of History project; ever the fan of alliteration, these are: Inspiring, Inclusive & Informative.

Alongside the blog will be a monthly podcast that will feature short profiles of selected Sheroes of History, as well as the opportunity to nominate a Shero of Today – I am keen not to overlook the fact that there are tonnes of awe inspiring women and girls blazing a Shero’s trail in the world today also.

Please check out the blog over at Sheroesofhistory.wordpress.com

You can like on Facebook – www.facebook.com/Sheroesofhistory

And follow on Twitter @SheroesHistory

If you would like to contribute to the blog please send an email to sheroesofhistory@gmail.com

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Janet Veitch: Feminism is…

Name: Janet Veitch

Age: 58

Location: London

Bio: Women’s rights campaigner and former civil servant, now on Board of End Violence against Women Coalition

Feminism is securing gender equality. The UN says women’s rights are human rights. Until girls grow  up in a world where they can truly claim equal rights, we’ll continue to see women excluded from decision making, more impoverished, exploited. Somebody once said if you’re not at the table, you’re on the menu. Throughout history,women have been ‘done to’ – with violence against women being the most extreme, but everyday, manifestation of women’s inequality. Feminism is about women taking their place, their voice, and their rights as equal members of the human race.

Email your response to the question “what is feminism?” (in no more than 200 words) to editorial@feministtimes.com, with your name, age, location, a one-sentence bio and a photo of yourself.

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LONG READ: Chav is a feminist issue

Feminist Times Contributing Editor Reni Eddo-Lodge took part in the Manchester Met feminist conference last week. She heard this speech by Rhian E Jones and came back to the Fem T office wide-eyed and excited about it. With kind permission from Rhian, we publish the speech below.

Intersectional Feminism, Class, and Austerity

Last week I went to a conference at Manchester Met to speak (broadly) on intersectional feminism, alongside the excellent Reni Eddo-Lodge. The event had some useful and interesting contributions, given in an atmosphere notable for constructive and supportive discussion, and for critiquing work done previously rather than seeking to reinvent the feminist wheel. Below is a transcription of the talk I gave. It works as both a synthesis of things I’ve written previously on feminism and class, and as a step towards articulating how my own type of feminism developed (clue: this year it’s thirty years since the Miners’ Strike). It also, in a personal best, contains only one use of ‘autodidact’, none of ‘hegemony’, and no mention of the Manic Street Preachers.


The concept of intersectionality has a long history, and has informed the political work of women from Sojourner Truth in 1851 to Selma James’s 1975 pamphlet ‘Sex, Race and Class’. In 1989 Kimberlé Crenshaw’s use of the term emphasised how women of colour experience multiple systems of oppression, and how their experiences and voices are frequently marginalised or erased, even within feminist or anti-racist discourses which aim at justice or liberation. Intersectionality has been the subject of much recent discussion within feminism, some of which has dismissed the concept on the grounds of its supposed academic obscurity and irrelevance to ‘ordinary’ people. I will dispute this dismissal.

The aspect of intersectionality I’ve written most about is the tension between class politics and some of the ways in which contemporary UK feminism is expressed. I’m not suggesting that class is the only dimension of oppression, or the only one worth exploring, but I do see class as something fundamental, and as something which intersects significantly with both race and gender.

These interactions are particularly visible in the debate on ‘chavs’, which I see as a point at which class prejudice crosses over with several others. I will look at that debate and at the surrounding context of neoliberalism and austerity in which it takes place. I will then look at how responses to this debate, in attempting to rehabilitate working-class identity, have instead constructed exclusionary models of class based around the idea of the white male worker. I will then finally talk about how the calls for feminism to make itself accessible beyond white and middle-class women, has tended to involve negative or condescending assumptions about working-class women and their capacity for education, political consciousness and organisation.

‘Chav’ is a feminist issue

Over the past few decades, despite insultingly obvious and deepening socioeconomic divides, official political discourse has continued to insist that we live in a meritocracy. From this, it follows that anyone unable to gain a sufficient share in the wealth – since they cannot be structurally disadvantaged – must simply not be trying hard enough. In order to reconcile this almost charmingly insincere idea with the recent manifest reality of life under imposed austerity, with its falling wages, rising prices, and flatlining standards of living, we have seen the reanimation of Victorian and Edwardian ideas of the undeserving poor. In politics, media, and popular culture, class is increasingly identified by moral rather than economic or occupational indicators, with class-inflected ideas of ‘respectability’ the means by which morality is made publicly visible.

This approach, a rhetorical and material triumph for the forces of neoliberalism, seeks to justify political attacks on the recipients of state welfare by subsuming them all into an underclass characterised as ‘cheats’, ‘scroungers’, ‘workshy’ and ‘feckless’, despite the fact that a majority of welfare recipients are in work and still struggling with lower wages, higher rents and increased costs of living. In this remaking of the working class, the despised, mocked and hated figure of the ‘chav’ has been instrumental, as a class stereotype externally imposed upon what is a more complex and heterogeneous working class, to the exclusion of alternative identities. Significantly, this figure is very often female. The uses made of the female ‘chav’ in political and media discourse illustrate vividly how abstract meanings are articulated through images of women, and the particular strain of misogyny which ‘chav’-hatred can contain.

Over the past decade or so, the British ‘underclass’ has been presented in a heavily gendered and sexualised way, with images of pram-pushing and pregnant teenage girls, or slovenly and self-absorbed single mothers, used to express ideas of poverty, deprivation and dysfunction. These images crop up not only in the right-wing press but also across popular culture, and particularly in comedy, where they tend to be self-conscious or pastiche performances by those not identifying as a permanent part of the subculture – the prime example of this being Little Britain’s Vicky Pollard character. In a rant by James Delingpole, in the Times in 2006, Vicky Pollard is made to embody:

… several of the great scourges of contemporary Britain: aggressive female gangs of embittered, hormonal, drunken teenagers; gym-slip mums who choose to get pregnant as a career option; pasty-faced, lard-gutted slappers who’ll drop their knickers in the blink of an eye…

This kind of anti-‘chav’ rhetoric serves as a very thin veil for the perpetuation of damaging stereotypes of working-class women and girls – presenting them as sexually precocious and promiscuous, and their childbearing choices as the result of irresponsibility or scheming material greed. It also contains a tacit disapproval of the behaviour of women who exist outside traditional roles, deriving their support from the state rather than a male breadwinner. Alongside this cultural stereotyping, government rhetoric insistently seeks to validate its reduction or removal of state support from benefits claimants by playing on the stereotype of the idle and recklessly promiscuous single mother, and the moral decline, sexual depravity, and social disintegration her lifestyle choices are held to represent.

Anti-‘chav’ commentators in media and politics are often disquietingly obsessed with describing the presumed licentiousness of working-class women, whose irresponsibility, lack of deference, and refusal of traditional family and community hierarchies, must be politically penalised. All this happens with barely a glance at context or circumstance, with the working-class ‘bad girl’ understood not in terms of poverty or social exclusion but in neoliberal terms of individual moral degeneracy. The perceived inadequacies of single mothers or comprehensive schoolgirls are viewed as purely individual failings or pathology, rather than related to their demoralising circumstances or lack of financial and material resources.

The female ‘chav’ is further used in narratives of slut-shaming and taste-policing, where she represents unladylike promiscuity, lack of restraint, and vulgarity in dress, speech and behaviour. These qualities, already heavily class-inflected, are held to be especially objectionable in women, with sexual excess in particular seen as a central signifier of ‘disrespectable’ femininity. Intersections like this make explicit several implications of the discourse around the female ‘chav’, not least the conflation of sexuality and class to invoke the Victorian and Edwardian spectre of working-class women, with their hazardous lack of morality, taste and discrimination, and their unregulated sex drives, spawning hundreds of equally depraved and financially burdensome children. This trope also continues the historical representation of working-class women via their ‘deviant’ sexuality, as opposed to what the sociologist Beverley Skeggs has observed as the possibilities for ‘rebellion, heroism and authenticity’ which the working-class identity has historically held for men.

Exclusionary definitions of ‘working class’

In the left and liberal media there has been both recognition and confronting of the ‘chav’ stereotype as a method of class demonization. However, much of this has not paid sufficient attention to the gendered and raced dimensions of the term, and has sought to redress the idea of ‘chav’ by proposing equally inadequate and exclusionary models of working-class identity. These tend to either draw heavily on the historical figure of the noble and oppressed worker, who is invariably white and male – or to present the ‘white working class’ as an oppressed and neglected ethnic group on whom ‘chav’ is a slur. Within these parameters, the ‘chav’ becomes a figure of ‘borderline whiteness’ invoked in what Imogen Tyler identifies as ‘an attempt to differentiate between respectable and non-respectable forms of whiteness’. In the same way that anti-‘chav’ rhetoric can become a cover for misogyny, it can also work as an excuse to propagate racist or anti-immigration narratives. The ‘chav’ also appears as a modernised version of Marx’s lumpenproletariat – implicitly feminised by dint of being unable to express the securely masculine identity that comes with being a ‘respectably’ employed breadwinner.

These obviously dubious arguments, then, present whiteness and maleness as signifiers of what it is to be ‘authentically’ working class. In the short-lived Blue Labour project a few years back, Maurice Glasman presented the Labour Party’s history after 1945 as an emasculating ‘cross-class marriage’ of a put-upon working-class husband and a domineering middle-class wife. Similar sentiments informed the speech made in 2011 by the Conservative David Willetts, in which he attempted to portray feminism’s achievements, in enabling larger numbers of women to enter higher education and employment, as a process which had displaced and weakened working-class men. This kind of disingenuous dog-whistling criticises women’s emancipation while offering nothing to address the very real disadvantages and anxieties of working-class men. It also postulates some disciplined army of empowered middle-class feminists against an incoherently resentful horde of disenfranchised working-class men – while, in these scenarios, the existence of working-class women appears to go entirely unacknowledged.

The debate on ‘chavs’ is a significant arena in which working-class women are granted political visibility – only to then be discussed negatively through disingenuous stereotypes, and have their social and sexual conduct policed. But this gendered dimension to the debate has been surprisingly neglected by a mainstream liberal feminism which can fail to take account of other axes of privilege and oppression. Acknowledging that the discourse around ‘chavs’ can provide a cover for denigrating the social agency and sexual autonomy of working-class women, as well as for wider political attacks on the unemployed and working poor, would significantly enrich mainstream feminism and challenge the perception of it as irrelevant outside an academic and metropolitan elite.

Neglected traditions of working-class feminism

I will now contrast these presentations of feminism and of class with some aspects of my own experience. I grew up a feminist as well as a socialist, and both of these identities were rooted in my consciousness of class. Feminism and socialism seemed to go hand-in-hand when I considered things like the legacy of the 1984-5 Miners’ Strike and the support groups formed by miners’ wives, partners and other women in communities like my own. Although such groups were primarily set up to distribute food and cash donations to the families of striking male breadwinners, as the strike progressed their female members increasingly found themselves taking more explicitly political roles as part of fundraising and outreach work, and becoming public figures and community leaders in what had traditionally been a male-dominated political sphere. Through these networks of mutual support and solidarity, working-class women, while on the one hand acting in support of what might be seen as a macho and patriarchal industrial culture, on the other hand gradually challenged the chauvinism in which this culture could be steeped.

Similarly, factory work, despite its immediate associations with industrial masculinity, has historically also been a potential hub of female working-class solidarity. This unfashionable species of feminism stretches from incidents like the 1888 strike by women and girls at the Bryant and May match factory to the 1968 strike by sewing machinists at Ford’s Dagenham car plant. The Ford Dagenham strike saw female workers take on their male bosses over sexual discrimination, with several becoming radicalised in the process, and its success eventually resulted in the 1970 Equal Pay Act.

Awareness of histories like these can help to break down overly essentialist and unhelpfully narrow ideas of class identity, present on the left as well as the right, which characterise ‘the working class’, or even just its politically organised sections, as composed only of white, male, urban industrial workers. This latter concept of class, and its decreasing relevance, is frequently used to deny that ‘working-class’ is still a viable contemporary political identity, despite the continued existence of class relations and class inequality. These perspectives neglect the fact that over the past thirty years, deindustrialisation, structural unemployment, and the loss of skilled factory jobs have not only destroyed a former source of masculine status and self-respect, but also weakened what could be a source of political and social empowerment and consciousness-raising for women.

Today, the face of mainstream feminism is likely to be turned away from the bleak financial and employment futures facing women under austerity, and towards symbolically financial issues like the campaign to put Jane Austen on a banknote, or the low number of women attending this year’s World Economic Forum. It is instructive to compare the attention given to these issues – or to even more peripheral concerns – and the lack of attention given to, for instance, the current campaign by single mothers in East London to draw attention to their impending eviction following their local authority’s austerity-driven decision to reduce single-parent housing. The mainstream media’s preoccupation with ‘lifestyle’ or ‘Lean In’ feminism does little to engage with the material pressures experienced by a growing majority of women, or to draw meaningfully on previous industrial traditions of working-class feminism.

The trouble with ‘rebranding feminism’

Beyond the mainstream, a number of feminists on- and offline have made welcome attempts to integrate class into their analyses, and much of the revolutionary left has engaged positively with feminism as an expression of class struggle. However, there remains a tendency for working-class women themselves to appear in some feminist discourse as objects to be seen rather than heard, expected to rely on middle-class activists to articulate demands on their behalf but considered too inarticulate or otherwise ‘rough’ to be directly engaged with. The closest we seem to have come to attempts to alter this has been the recent debate on the need to ‘rebrand’ feminism as more inclusive, particularly of women who fall outside of its supposed white and middle-class power-base. Within these debates on how to make feminism ‘accessible’ to ordinary women, however, otherwise well-meaning feminist analysis has been vulnerable to reductive, stereotyping and patronising uses of the term ‘working-class’.

The idea of a divide between academic and populist ways of promoting progressive politics is not unique to feminism; a similar debate periodically engulfs much of the left. How can ‘ordinary women’, or indeed ‘ordinary people’, be appealed to in language which will resonate with their everyday concerns and not alienate them by using words of more than two syllables? The trouble with this question is that the first half doesn’t automatically imply the second. Being ‘ordinary’ doesn’t mean being stupid. A feminist politics predicated on this false dichotomy, of ‘high theory’ middle-class feminist activists and disenfranchised, politically unconscious working-class women, risks buying into narratives which see working-class parents, schools and communities as unable to impart education or instil political consciousness in the same way as their middle-class counterparts, and which present working-class girls in particular as the helpless inhabitants of some kind of neo-Victorian netherworld.

The ‘chav’, crucially, is represented as uneducated and often actively hostile to the idea of education, negating the possibility of self-improvement. But the idea that there are no grey areas, no available identities, between the volubly ignorant Vicky Pollard and an empowered and educated middle-class feminist leads to the double-bind whereby political engagement and consciousness raising is seen as automatically conferring class privilege and upward mobility upon an individual, thereby barring them from identifying with or being categorised as ‘working-class’.

In reality, not only have many university-educated feminists come from working-class backgrounds, but working-class feminists form part of the long line of working-class autodidacts whose attraction to ideologies of emancipation partly results from the desire to articulate and analyse their own experiences. Women’s Studies, at least in the UK, was rooted to a large extent in attempts by women of generally less privileged backgrounds to question and critique the privileges of existing academia, and to draw attention to neglected perspectives and experiences, including those marginalised by virtue of class, race, age, ability or sexuality. The fact that feminism within academia can now be considered to be middle-class and irrelevant says more about the squeezing out of attention to and discussion of class-based analysis within it; as well as the erosion of empowering traditions of adult education and of self-education through libraries and community colleges; and the pricing out of poorer students, than it does about education’s intrinsic appeal to, and suitability for, anyone outside the bourgeoisie.

Conclusion: women, austerity and intersectionality

Advocating that feminism be ‘rebranded’ in simple words, however well-intentioned the argument, can entail falsely assuming that ‘ordinary women’ are unable to understand theoretical ideas like intersectionality – when, in fact, the lives of working-class women offer many practical examples of multiple systems of oppression, most obviously including, but not limited to, those based on race, gender and class. Under austerity, we are seeing the driving down of wages, living standards and working conditions; closures and funding cuts to women’s refuges and childcare services; the sale of council housing and removal of housing, child, and disability benefit. Where this erosion of the welfare state impacts on women, it does so from several intersecting angles: women are affected not simply as women, but as women of colour, as disabled women, as mothers, as carers, as low earners or unemployed – very often, several of these at once. These identities are mutually reinforcing and cumulative, not zero-sum. The problems of the ‘ordinary’ working class are inherently intersectional: material disadvantage amplifies, and is amplified by, racism, sexism, homophobia, and ageism, all experienced as real and immediate issues enforced by existing structures of power. Women’s grassroots organisations and actions, which analyse and oppose the impact of austerity, will be informed by an awareness of how gender and race impacts on class, and how class impacts on race and gender. This is intersectionality experienced and practiced as a day-to-day reality – not intersectionality as it is often caricatured, as a distant and alien theory into which one chooses to opt. The past and present experience of working-class women offers a real-life, intuitive and logical application of the ideas and concepts that are apparently considered too complex for the likes of them.

Speech originally published on Rhian’s own site The Velvet Coalmine.

Rhian E Jones works in retail and writes on politics, history, popular culture and the places where they intersect. She is the author of Clampdown: Pop-Cultural Wars on Class and Gender and a co-editor at New Left Project. Blog: http://velvetcoalmine.wordpress.com, Twitter: @RhianEJones

Photo: Ben Sutherland

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A guide to being a woman in 21st century Israel

David Cameron today makes his first trip to Israel since becoming UK prime minister has backed peace talks between Israel and Palestine. To mark his visit, Israeli blogger, feminist and social activist Hila Beyovits-Hoffman writes for us about her view on the state of Israel for women today.

Mazel Tov, you’re 18! For a young Jewish Israeli this means it’s time for military service. You will be drafted to the Israeli Defense Forces or face prison, as a conscientious objector or defector. So blow out the candles and it’s off to boot camp, young lady.

Like all Israeli children, you were taught since preschool that military service is the essence of your civic duty as an Israeli patriot. State schools taught you about the Goyim constantly killing Jews; about how the Holocaust wiped out six million Jews; about how Israel was established as a sanctuary for the persecuted Jews.

Israeli education is meticulously designed to imprint students with an overwhelming sense of persecution and righteous indignation at the historical wrongdoings toward Jews. We grow up with a constant, unrelenting fear for our lives, paranoia on a national scale. The army must be held sacred and protected at all costs because, we are constantly told, it is the only thing standing between us and total annihilation.

Thus indoctrinated, you join the army proudly.

And it’s a necessary step on your career path! Most of Israel’s political leaders were high-ranking officers, going directly from the IDF to the Knesset; employers often seek specific military training, reflected on a resume. On a personal and national level, this service is important for your future.

Alas… When you do join the army, you quickly discover that it’s a man’s game. Positions and career paths are only open to men. Men can become high-ranking officers. Men will call the shots; you will serve their coffee.

Moreover, women in the army are constantly exposed to sexual harassment and abuse. Countless cases of abuse or rape by senior officers are met with a cover up, or a wrist slap for perpetrators.

Conventional sexual harassment exists alongside religious discrimination. Formerly more secular, the IDF increasingly adheres to rabbinical strictures. According to Halacha, the Jewish religious code of law, women should be neither seen nor heard. Want to train troops? Military rabbis say you may not give out orders to men, because it is “immodest”. Want to be a combat soldier, alongside the men? The rabbis shudder and say any touching is forbidden. Want to sing to the soldiers in special events or holidays, as military entertainment? “Gewalt!” say the rabbis, “a woman must only sing for her husband, or it’s prostitution!”

Both religious and secular male-dominated institutions work to deny you an equal place in Israeli society. Military service won’t buy you equality.

*                *                *

But let’s look at the other side of the Shekel. What if you resist the draft?

You’re an 18 year old Jewish woman in 21st century Israel, which has become an apartheid state. You believe that the occupation of the Gaza strip and the West Bank is illegal and immoral. You see the corruption that this occupation causes, the violence, the ruthlessness, the hopelessness. You believe your country can and should become a morally superior place, an example of coexistence and peace, a true “light unto the nations”.

Rather than cooperating with the “Israel Offensive Forces” you avoid being drafted, working instead with a leftist, anarchist movement. You protest the unjust occupation and the brutality of the soldiers towards the civilian Palestinian population at demonstrations.

But then, male peers ask you not to wear T-shirts or shorts, “because the locals consider it immodest; it’s against their religion”. You swallow your pride and defer to the greater goal, dress “modestly” and show up at the demonstration, where you are sexually harassed by the locals, by your fellow leftist protesters, and of course, by Israeli soldiers, who already consider you to be a traitor. Thus, the pecking order is preserved, same as in the army. So much for deferring for the greater good.

*                *                *

From its very inception, the feminist movement has suffered from CDD – Constant Deferral Disorder. Women have constantly been asked to put their dignity, their rights, their very lives aside, defer them for “the greater cause”. Feminism in Israel is no different. Many people would say that “surely, the problem of women’s rights in Israel pales in comparison to the occupation!”

I contend that women’s issues should never take the back seat. I contend that allowing 51% of the population to always be seen as lesser human beings is precisely what leads to the philosophy and mindset that allows, even encourages, one nation to believe it has a right to control and oppress another.

And yes, Palestinian woman have it even worse, because they’re doubly oppressed, but notice what this system does even to the so-called privileged Jewish woman. Treating one group of people as inferior and denying its members equal rights, while fighting for the equal rights of the members of another group, such behavior does not stand the test of reason, nor of ethics.

While we allow this injustice to keep happening in the name of “the greater good”, Israel will never be able to function as a democracy. One form of oppression does not and cannot justify another. If women are never equal, we can have no significant influence on foreign policy, the occupation, the peace process, or social issues. We will always lag several steps behind, and with us will lag the dreams and hopes for a better future for all people living in Israel and Palestine.

Hila Beyovits-Hoffman is an Israeli blogger, feminist and social activist, writing on social and political issues, the LGBT community and gender issues. Follow her on Twitter: @vandersister

Photo: Wikimedia Commons

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20 years of women priests, but still no women bishops

“The Church should be the first place to recognise the equality of all God’s children, not the last,” insists Angela Berners-Wilson, who is widely credited as the first woman to be ordained as a Church of England priest.

20 years ago today, on 12 March 1994, Angela and 31 other women joined the priesthood. Although she was first in line alphabetically, Angela is at pains to point out that all 32 women were ordained together, on the final “Amen” of the ceremony.

By that time, Angela had been campaigning for the ordination of women priests for more than 15 years, having felt a calling to become a priest while on her gap year in Australia during the 70s.

“I went out for a meal with a group of random people in Brisbane and I remember having a long conversation with this guy who was an atheist, and he was saying: ‘why don’t you want to be a priest, rather than a Parish worker?’” she recalls.

“That’s all that was open to women in those days – to be a Parish worker and then to go on to be a Deaconess after several years. Later we were on a coach, and the guys were endlessly playing Elvis tapes because he’d just died, and I remember thinking: ‘yes, it is a priest that I feel called to be’.”

The Movement for the Ordination of Women was founded while Angela was a student at theological college. “I went to the initial meeting at St Martin-in-the-Fields in 1978, so right from the beginning I was campaigning for change,” she says. “I think to be honest at that stage I thought it might take longer [than 16 years].“

When the first women priests were ordained in 1994, Bishop Barry Rogerson, who officiated the service in Bristol Cathedral, told a press conference that he believed it would be ten years before the first women bishops were appointed. Twenty years later, as the debate on women bishops continues to rumble on, Angela laughs when I ask about his comments.

“I was at the press conference when he said that,” she says. “There must have been about 50 journalists there or more, and when he said that I thought ‘you’re being very optimistic’ – we knew it would take longer than that! I think we hoped at that stage it would be within 20 years; we’re not quite going to make that but hopefully nearly.”

As part of the first cohort of women priests, Angela knew the process would be a long one because she felt the pressure on all women priests to prove themselves: “We had to be doubly good – or do our job doubly well – because those who are against it are always looking for things to find fault with,” she says.

“First of all we’ve got to be accepted as priests, then women had to have enough experience to be able to be bishops because obviously we were all completely new – you can’t have someone who’s new to being a priest suddenly being a bishop.”

So have 20 years been enough for the Church to accept women priests and move forward to women bishops? On the whole, Angela thinks so, though she’s careful not to sound complacent: “There are certain pockets where we’re not and of course there’s groups within the Church that don’t agree with it, but we’re much more accepted than we were. There’s still room for improvement – I don’t think the battle’s all won yet.”

Now Chaplain at the University of Bath, Angela was similarly guarded when questioned by the press ahead of the Church of England’s previous, unsuccessful vote on women bishops in November 2012. A year and a half on, she says: “We lost a huge amount of credibility – we really had egg on our faces that day. I got rung up by about five journalists within five minutes of leaving the General Synod.

“My bishop went into the House of Lords the next day and he got absolutely lambasted by members of the Lords saying ‘what’s going on?’ People don’t understand our slightly strange ways – the two-thirds majority thing.”

Angela herself obviously shares that frustration with the system: “the way the Synodical process works is that you have to have a two-thirds majority in all three houses in General Synod.

“When the vote for women bishops came to General Synod in November 2012, 42 out of 44 dioceses voted overwhelmingly in favour, but when it came to the final vote back in Synod, we missed the two-thirds majority in the House of Laity by just six votes.

“Because of the way it works, that’s always going to be a problem. To me – well, to many of us – it’s wrong that six lay people have thwarted the will of 42 out of 44 dioceses, but we believe in democracy so we have to go along with the rules.”

A self-described Christian feminist, Angela knows the Church of England has a long way to go on gender equality: “I can understand why people think that the two are incompatible – the Church has been patriarchal for centuries, but it is changing,” she says.

“Feminism is not all about having women at the top but I think once you have cracked that glass ceiling and got women at the top of the Church then it’s going to make a huge difference symbolically.

“One of the few good things that came out the vote in November 2012 was that the House of Bishops agreed that, until there are six women bishops, there will be eight senior women sitting at every House of Bishops meeting,” she adds.

“They can’t vote because they’re not bishops, but eight senior women were elected by their peers to represent women in the House of Bishops. That’s been an enormous step forward.

“I think once you’ve got women actually at the top they’re going to impact on how the bishops think and that will open up the Church to be evermore friendly to women.“

Although cautious, Angela does appear to have a renewed optimism about the way things are moving. “The new Archbishop Justin Welby has worked very hard with reconcilers from outside the Church to bring people together, and that’s why we’re going forward now,” she says.

“It’s very tied in with tradition and it takes a long time for people to change their minds. If you think how far we’ve come in the last 20 years and in the last 50, we’re getting there – slower than one would like, but we are getting there.

“The vote [last month] has reached the next stage, now it’s got to go down the dioceses again, and hopefully it will come back by November for the final assent… I wouldn’t like to say yes, but I hope 2015 will see the first women bishops in the Church of England – we’ve got them in Ireland now. I’m cautiously optimistic.”

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#LGBTMarryMe: Feminist Times & Fox Problem Debate

As part of LGBT History Month, The Fox Problem hosted the Feminist Times debate:

“Is same sex marriage just a distraction?”

Insightful points and a highly charged debate on the issues surrounding same-sex marriage and what it means to the LGBT community, hosted by broadcaster Ruth Barnes.

Listen here to LGBT campaigner Peter Tatchell; trans woman, novelist, poet, critic and activist Roz Kaveney; currently blogging their wedding plans for Stylist magazine, Gemma Rolls-Bentley & Danielle Wilde; feminist blogger Zoe Stavri; and television and radio personality Georgie Okell discuss whether same-sex marriage is just a distraction.



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Profile: West London Fawcett

Following a turbulent summer of life-changing illness, a brand new perspective and, ironically, a new lease of life after suffering a stroke at just 27 years old, I set out to enrich my life and concentrate the energy I had been left with on things that I really believe in.

Since last August I have joined a befriending programme for Age UK, got a place on the board of trustees for WAND UK (Women’s Association for African Networking and Development) and, finally, helped to set up the West London branch of The Fawcett Society – the women’s rights organisation founded by Millicent Fawcett in 1866.

Equality has always been something I have strived for but only really at a personal level; the West London Fawcett Society has provided a platform to take my feminism to the next level. After one summer of spreading the word, one autumn of auditing interest and commitment to a winter of women, work and research, we are hoping that spring will see some real change and engagement blossom within the West London political community.

Just a few meetings in and we’ve already set up a colourful committee and drafted our first report, ‘Vote4Women’, to examine the economic impact of political decision-making on women. The report is not only a respectful nod to the suffragettes and their infamous slogan; it also neatly paves the way for the 4 pillars of the campaign.

In their entirety, the report and campaign aim to highlight and, more importantly, end the disproportionate impact of budget cuts, spending and other political decisions on women… but how? The main ways we aim to achieve this are to lobby across all West London boroughs to:

1. Increase the number of female representatives in politics and local councils to achieve a 50 per cent gender split

2. Influence a change in working practices to be more inclusive to women councillors

3. Drive policies that address economic inequality – e.g. housing, sport, sure start, equal pay

4. Drive policies that impact women’s safety – e.g. refuges, rape conviction rates, domestic violence

It is our belief that without equality at Government and local council level, we will struggle to ever see equality throughout society or women’s needs placed on a level playing field.

The report is still a work in progress but from humble settings (a freezing cold, empty room on the top floor of a Hammersmith pub), and thanks to the hard work of several brilliant minds, big ideas are brewing!

Individual research on all West London boroughs is now complete, the first discovery being an average of 33% female council members across a seven-borough region. Admittedly, this is a step up from the dismal figures of private sector boards and organisations as a whole – women account for just 13.2% of FTSE 250 board directors – but there is still a lot of work to be done!

If you’d like to get involved or contribute to the report, please do get in touch at westlondonfawcet@gmail.com. Follow us @njambler and @wlfawcett or join our Facebook group – just search West London Fawcett Society!

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From Beliebers to broadcasters, noisy women are powerful

Today at 11.30am on Radio 4, Ruth Barnes and I will host a documentary we put together, which Eleanor McDowall produced. It’s about teenage female fandom and it’s called Mad About The Boy – a title that has its tongue firmly placed in its cheek. It’s about how young girls are criticised as silly, crazy or hysterical for expressing their feelings for pop stars, and explores the dubious ideas that prop up those criticisms. Society’s dislike of girls expressing themselves above a whisper – check. Society’s fear of girls fantasising about distant figures that parents can’t monitor – check. Above all, society’s fear of nascent female sexuality – check.

Female pop fandom has interested me since 2010, when I was dragged along to a New Kids On The Block concert (wait…come back!) by a good friend. Having been a music journalist for five years at that time, I was wearing the spoils of my cynicism proudly. I knew that the music machine around this boy band was as naff as Old Spice, and they definitely didn’t mean as much to me, snoot snoot, as R.E.M., Kraftwerk, Joy Division and The Smiths.

A verse into the first New Kids song, I realised something strange was happening. My mouth was open wide and singing, and my heart was racing in my chest. No, I didn’t want to leap up onto the stage and twerk against Jordan Knight. Instead, I was looking emotionally at the women around me – us all remembering what it was like to be at that pivotal stage between childhood and adulthood, recognising the power we all had.

Being a young female fan is a fantastic thing. It’s about creating your own world, exploring your imagination, and finding out about your sexual self. It’s also about bonding with other girls, and celebrating being together. You wouldn’t know that from the footage the media focuses on, the sobbing and weeping extremes of the crowd. Every mass mob event has extreme emotions in it – the football crowd for example – but only women’s experiences are pathologised this way.

History is full of this sort of sexism, of course. The ancient Greeks blamed the “wandering womb” (or as Aretaeus called it, “the animal within the animal”) for making women want to shout and scream. Then there were the Salem witch trials, the psychoanalytic machinations of Freud… countless examples of Western society silencing women expressing themselves.

But by the middle of the 20th century, things started to change. It wasn’t a coincidence that female fandom found its voice after the Second World War, after women’s roles in society had been strengthened in wartime, only to be sidelined again. Young girls wanted more room to explore their imaginations and social selves too, so much so that by 1963 they were considered a threat to themselves… and to society’s repressive framework, which is what their (male) critics were really frightened about.

Here were young women fighting against policemen and silencing their favourite bands – The Beatles even stopped touring because they couldn’t hear themselves any more. In our show, I quote Barbara Ehrenreich‘s great work on this topic, which I first read back in 2010. “Young women had plenty to riot against,” she writes in essay, Screams Heard Around The World. “To abandon control – to scream, faint, dash about in mobs – was to protest the sexual repressiveness of culture. [This] was the first and most dramatic uprising of women’s sexual revolution.” I believe this solidly, too. Expressing rebellion in a way that concerns a pretty boy that you desire can be the start of something personally enriching, and ultimately very empowering.

Ruth and I could have made an hour-long documentary about this subject, really. So much was left unsaid: about how Western girls aren’t allowed a celebratory rite of passage (“girls are just given a sanitary towel and left to get on with it”, Ruth once said to me, memorably), and about how men’s obsessions aren’t classed as frivolous and silly, but geeky and intellectual.

What makes me particularly proud, though, is that our show is stuffed with female voices. We interview my mother-in-law, Lillian Adams, about her Beatlemania days (five years after charging against policemen in Liverpool she was protesting the Vietnam War in Grosvenor Square). Columnist and novelist Allison Pearson tells us how fandom liberated her from her dull teenage life (pop music made her interested in lyrics and imaginative worlds, and got her into writing), and we speak to Fiona Bevan about her songwriting for One Direction, in which she builds her own experiences into that dialogue between artist and fan. The only male voice we have is East 17’s Tony Mortimer, who brilliantly confirms that female fans aren’t really mad at all.

Then there’s the thing about which I’m proudest of all: here’s a documentary on the air presented by two women. Last year, Sound Women (a campaigning network of over 1,000 people working in audio) proved how rare this was in a week of pioneering research. Only 4% of radio programmes over those seven days were co-presented by females, their study showed, a statistic I wasn’t surprised about at all. Two-headed shows usually conform to one of two templates, after all: Two Blokes Down The Pub, or Bantz-Spouting Man meets Giggly Girl.

A few months later, Mishal Husain co-presented Radio 4’s Today programme for the first time with Sue McGregor, but this high-profile exception to the norm shouldn’t be seen as a victory in and of itself. Instead, it should be seen as a torchpaper to light up other women’s opportunities, just as I hope our documentary will do the same work. In Mad About The Boy, women are behind the controls and the microphones, giving voice to a subject often silenced in heart, soul and mind. I don’t think there’s anything crazy about that.

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

Mad About The Boy is on Radio 4 at 11.30am on Tuesday 28 January, and will be repeated on Saturday 1st February at 15.30. Listen to a clip from the show here.

Photo: Hendrik Dacquin

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VIDEO: The World After Men

Since when did it seem fair to pit two brilliant radical feminists against one lone young Tory MP? Watch what happened when the Institute of Art and Ideas did just that on the provocative topic of “The World After Men”…

Katie Derham invites former Osborne chief of staff Matthew Hancock, eminent American feminist Carol Gilligan and radical feminist Finn Mackay to dispute the merits of matriarchy.

Video courtesy of the Institute of Art and Ideas. Find out more at www.iai.tv or follow @iai_TV.

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Rebecca O’Connor: Feminism is…

Name: Rebecca O’Connor

Age: 47

Location: Maidenhead

Bio: Full-time manager at Channel 4. Two teenage children. Husband at home.

Sharing the stress and responsibility of bringing up children 50:50 with their father – all else follows from that.

Email your response to the question “what is feminism?” (in no more than 200 words) to editorial@feministtimes.com, with your name, age, location, a one-sentence bio and a photo of yourself.

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Chi Onwurah: Feminism is…

ChiName: Chi Onwurah

Location: Newcastle Upon Tyne

Bio: Labour Party member of parliament for Newcastle Central, Shadow Cabinet Office Minister and Chartered Engineer

Feminism is for me the expression of a  fundamental law of the universe, like Newton’s first law of motion, that all human beings are of equal value and equal worth and deserve an equal opportunity to fulfil their full potential whatever that is.

I remember hearing on the radio that the Sex Discrimination Act had been passed. It was 1974 and I was nine. I was amazed and extremely angry  – I couldn’t believe that I had lived nine years in a world where it was legal to discriminate against me because of my gender.

Of course, just like fundamental laws, its application can be complicated and we are certainly some way from a unified theory of social justice. Feminism is not a solution, in and of itself, but it should inform how we work towards solutions for the many challenges we face.

It is both obvious and inspiring and those who object or disagree have failed to grasp one of the fundamental principles on which the universe is based.

Email your response to the question “what is feminism?” (in no more than 200 words) to editorial@feministtimes.com, with your name, age, location, a one-sentence bio and a photo of yourself.

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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: TV this Christmas is one big sausage fest

It’s that time of year again: you settle down in front of the TV, stuffed full of turkey and resentment towards your close family, to watch a TV schedule rammed full of repeats – and men.

Seriously – this year’s Christmas TV is all about men, performed by men, written by men and presented by men. Dr Who has regenerated into another white guy (sigh), Sherlock and Dr Watson dominate the schedules, Mrs Browns Boys is still mysteriously popular and over on C4, Bear Grylls is going off on a big old boys adventure with Stephen Fry. There may be women in Downton Abbey but, what with it being set in 1922, they aren’t exactly repping it for fourth-wavers.

So where can we find women on TV this Christmas? Weirdly, over on Strictly Come Dancing at the staid old BBC. It’s an oestrogen filled all-female celebrity final this year so, although model turned WAG turned ballroom dancer Abbey Clancy probably won’t be topping any feminist polls, she’s actually one of the few women your kids will see succeeding on telly in the next couple of weeks.

The show also features the only female presenting duo outside of The Great British Bake Off, in the form of Tess Daly and Claudia Winkleman. But that’s only when Bruce Forsyth is having a week off for old age.

Fearne Cotton presents Christmas Top Of The Pops, but despite the fact that pop in 2013 has been dominated by women (Lady Gaga, Beyonce, Lily Allen, Katy Perry) it features performances from John Newman, One Republic, Tom Odell, Chase & Status, Rizzle Kicks, Rudimental, James Blunt, Naughty Boy and way-too-old-for-it-now boyband Boyzone. At least Fearne won’t have to queue for the ladies’ loos.

And here’s an early warning, just in case you fall asleep on the sofa and worry you’ve woken up in 1940: the women who ARE allowed their own shows are cooking. Or crafting. Literally, that’s it. We’re ‘treated toThe Great British Sewing Bee Christmas, The Great British Bake Off, and Kirstie Allsopp continues her remarkably twee campaign to put us all back 50 years in Kirstie’s Crafty Christmas. Can’t we have women heading a show like “The Great British Website Design” or “Kirstie’s Draughty Christmas”, where Kirstie goes round an entire house insulating it to the recommended 270mm of mineral wool?

The TV “classic’s” schedule is a British tradition and a gender crisis. Given that past Christmas Specials – Only Fools And Horses, The Office, Top Gear – are now considered ‘festive classics’, they get repeated year after year after year, so it looks like we’ll be stuck with this male-dominated line-up for a while. A scary thought: will we still be being forced to watch middle-aged men driving expensive cars and making jokes about ‘bloody foreigners’ in 2080?

Repeats from the ‘good old days’, these ghosts of Christmas past, aren’t good for women because women weren’t there. Stats this year show that the schedules of the four main channels (BBC1, 2, ITV1 and C4) will be made up of 49.5% repeats – with three quarters of BBC2’s content being a repeat, 28% of ITV1’s shows having been seen before and C4 will be made up of 59% repeated material. Only BBC1 have thought that maybe, just maybe, it should make new TV shows: it’s 90% new material. Which is a relief until you realise that part of that new content is bringing back dinosaurs like Open All Hours. Oh.

Let’s look at all the amazing female comics and writers around: Victoria Wood, Caroline Aherne, Jennifer Saunders, Jo Brand, Miranda Hart, Bridget Christie, Josie Long. Surely, with laddy comedy Not Going Out making another appearance, there must be a funny woman getting an Xmas special too? Er, no. Miranda will appear in the (David Walliams-written) Gangsta Granny, and everything else is written by men: Downton Abbey, Jack Whitehall’s Bad Education, Lucan… the best the BBC can do is a historical look at Morcambe and Wise’s female sidekicks. Which they’ve patronizingly dubbed ‘Leading Ladies’. Oh, thanks SO much, BBC.

So what on earth is the TV industry thinking? The revolution may well not be televised, but we certainly need a revolution in television. If you can’t be what you can’t see, the majority of what we are seeing is crafts, sidekicks and sequins. Whatever gender you are, if you want to watch a well-balanced, broad range of women on telly this season, fingers crossed you got a boxed set of DVDs under the tree.

Issy Sampson writes for The Guardian Guide, Look, Heat, NME and The Mirror. For more, follow her on Twitter @isssssy

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Eleanor Jones: Feminism is…

Eleanor JonesName: Eleanor Jones

Age: 23

Location: London

Bio: Lifestyle writer and editor

Feminism is ultimately something that shouldn’t need to exist. The belief that men and women can have the same rights, the same opportunities and the same interests is a concept that shouldn’t need a campaign – we are all human and all have the same potential to be brave, beautiful, smart, successful, kind and all other wonderful qualities, regardless of the gender we were born with or the gender we eventually choose. However, the need for feminism is more prevalent than ever in the contemporary world, and I will to continue to support it until we’re all members of a society that treats us as people, not as collective members of an inferior sex.

Email your response to the question “what is feminism?” (in no more than 200 words) to editorial@feministtimes.com, with your name, age, location, a one-sentence bio and a photo of yourself.

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Kiera Senst: Feminism is…

kiera senstName: Kiera Senst

Age: 26

Location: Berlin

Bio: Between jobs expat in Berlin

Feminism is the pursuit of a reality where gender, race, class, sexuality, or any combination does not influence an individual’s ability to live their life. It is both and at one time an argument at odds with society and a discussion about it. It is a dynamic and continuing analysis of culture and human nature as a whole. It is a continuing fight born out of years of struggle – one that will inevitably evolve relative to trends, be they interconnectivity or conflict.

Email your response to the question “what is feminism?” (in no more than 200 words) to editorial@feministtimes.com, with your name, age, location, a one-sentence bio and a photo of yourself.

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Annette Rimmer: Feminism is…

Annette RimmerName: Annette Rimmer

Age: middle-aged

Location: Salford/Manchester border

Bio: Freelance radio producer, youth worker and lecturer – hater of the bedroom tax

Feminism is very simply believing that we are all equal (women, men, black, white, mixed, disabled, gay, straight, young, old, etc.) and very simply challenging those who think they are superior, especially the rich and abusers of power. Being a feminist means we are always ready to fight for equality. It’s simple. As bell hooks, my hero, says: “feminism is for everybody.”

Email your response to the question “what is feminism?” (in no more than 200 words) to editorial@feministtimes.com, with your name, age, location, a one-sentence bio and a photo of yourself.

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Cass Wedd: Feminism is…

CassWeddName: Cass Wedd

Age: 63

Location: UK

Bio: I came to feminism in the early 1970s; it has been one of the defining frameworks in my life, leading me to set up and work on projects with, and for, women; and live a life with feminism at its core.

Feminism is about standing up for women’s rights in a world created according to patriarchal values, where women’s work is under-valued and under-paid and doesn’t acknowledge women’s role as mothers.

It is about making sure women’s voices are heard, women are treated with respect, and about working towards societies where women have a full half share in constructing how we live our lives.

Email your response to the question “what is feminism?” (in no more than 200 words) to editorial@feministtimes.com, with your name, age, location, a one-sentence bio and a photo of yourself.

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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 http://www.mrstevenhorrythesecond.com Follow: @shedsteven

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Linda Odd: Feminism is…

Linda OddName: Linda Odd

Age: 57

Location: Ross-shire, Highland

Bio: Counsellor, Mental Health Worker, Laughter Trainer

Feminism is all the people in our communities working together to challenge inequality and discrimination against women.

Email your response to the question “what is feminism?” (in no more than 200 words) to editorial@feministtimes.com, with your name, age, location, a one-sentence bio and a photo of yourself.

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Hollywood still likes its women naked and silent

Well we always knew it, right? A whole one third of female characters, and the actors that play them, are shown partially naked on screen and only a third of speaking characters at the movies will be female. Women it seems are, like children, to be seen and not heard, and yet we make up 50% of the cinema ticket buying public.

New York Film Academy’s audit revelations are stark but not surprising. For an alternative, go see the London Feminist Film Festival, on now.

How many of the five most influential women in film have you heard of?

New York Film Academy takes a look at gender inequality in film

Courtesy of: New York Film Academy

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Esra Gurkan: Feminism is…

Esra GurkanName: Esra Gurkan

Age: 20

Location: Hometown: Leicester/University: Keele 

Bio: I am a half-Turkish, Leicester born and bred, English and American Literature student at Keele University who has only very recently been properly introduced and educated on the topic of feminism

Feminism is about equal political, social and economic rights for women. Why then do a lot of females shy away from feminism? Has the word become so tarnished by the media that celebrities and women in high positions now recoil in horror when associated with the word? Surely we should all want to be in support of equal rights and opportunities. What is more absurd than the negative connotations that this word holds is that we are in the year 2013 and are still having to fight tooth and nail for equality and the right to be thought of as important as men. We should no longer be deemed inferior. We should also not be scrutinised for our fashion choices or body sizes but instead on our capabilities. The word does not make us men-hating and bra-burning; it also does not mean that we love men any less. I vouch for and love women everywhere and want to fight for the recognition of our equal rights. We should not be afraid to admit that we are feminists. I am a feminist and I believe in equal rights.

Email your response to the question “what is feminism?” (in no more than 200 words) to editorial@feministtimes.com, with your name, age, location, a one-sentence bio and a photo of yourself.

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Garry Mulholland

#ManWeek: How to be a man – Mid-Life Crisis

The most loved television show of the last few years was not, in the final analysis, about crystal meth, cancer or severed human heads on turtles. Breaking Bad resonated because it was about a middle-aged man who had failed as a provider, and therefore, in his eyes, as a man. Walter White took somewhat extreme measures in his attempts to regain control of his recession-hit world. But take away the drug money and elaborate violence and you’re left with a familiar story in the 21st century western world: an impotent 50-something trying to relocate his penis in an unimpressed world.

My mid-life crisis hit ten years earlier than Walt’s. If I’d been outstanding at chemistry maybe I would have considered becoming a drug kingpin, but a key part of my meltdown was an overpowering feeling that I wasn’t outstanding at anything. This meant that the popular, almost jocular view of mid-life crisis – you know, middle-aged bloke confronts mortality, buys sports car, pulls young hottie with Daddy issues, starts running half-marathons – didn’t have a great deal to do with my nightmarish 40th year. I contemplated mounting debts and failing career, and crashed. I drank too much, ran up more debts, became depressed, contemplated suicide, had a complete nervous breakdown, and bottomed out, not in some dramatically resonant crack house or dark alley, but at A&E in a hospital in Chichester, with my sister-in-law holding my hand while I gibbered and sobbed to the duty psychiatrist. He offered me happy pills or sectioning. I opted for something dreamy in pink. And so began a ten-year climb back to the point where I can actually write about this without shaking and clinging on to a small cardboard security blanket with Mirtazapine written on it. I’m winning like Charlie Sheen.

So… what is my magic formula for a successful journey from 40 – worst year of my life – to 50, one of the best? Again, you may be underwhelmed. I took the medication for six years. I went into therapy for two years. And I clung on to my happy marriage for dear life. That last one was the pathway to what I actually needed to do, rather than distract myself with chasing teen-twenty totty or taking up skateboarding. I needed to get real.

As my 40th birthday slump hardened into something darker, I increasingly convinced myself that I was the worst man living. Working-class men are supposed to be salt-of-the-earth providers, and I was a very bright working-class man so, by the age of 40, I should have been wealthy, famous, universally respected and able to lavish my wife, son and mother with holiday homes in Cancun while bankrolling their own successful businesses. Instead, I was a failed and anonymous writer with mounting debts, living in fear of bailiffs and – and I want to stress that this was the depression-induced paranoia talking – the rest of the media world pointing and laughing at the ghetto brat who had dared to share space with the Oxbridge set. One of the horrors of depression is its narcissism. The media world was far too busy to notice me, never mind collude in collective Garry-taunting.

So, in the spirit of getting real, I took the therapy seriously and realized that the black hole sucking me in used money as its most potent magnet, but was actually made of the same kind of childhood issues that everyone else had. I’d repressed them for so long that I’d developed them into shadowy beasts with loud voices, loud enough to drown out all the real voices around me, like my wife’s, when she would tell me how much she loved and admired me. She must be lying, the beasts roared, and I believed them and took my self-loathing from there.

The therapy didn’t cure me, exactly, but it introduced my self-image to my real self, made us some tea and sandwiches, encouraged us to hang out to see if we got along. Ten years down the line, and we get along pretty well. I still don’t trust the notion of loving oneself – sounds like megalomaniac kinda business to me – but I began to realise, a few years ago, that I quite like real Garry, with his fear of failure, uselessness with money, tendency towards solipsism, but also decent amounts of intelligence and talent, loyalty to his loved ones, ability to open up and be open. Garry’s alright. And now he’s past medication and suicidal impulses, and managed it without abandoning his marriage or his family, he’s a little more alright.

So, eventually, I got my penis back. I’d missed him, funny little fella. Whether Walter White would see my crime and cash-free recovery as possession of a truly thick and meaty Heisenberg, I doubt. But I related much more to his apprentice Jesse Pinkman anyway. Young and pretty (some self-images die harder than others) and buffeted hither and thither by powerful forces he’ll never control. His future is uncertain. But at least he’s alive.

Garry Mulholland is a journalist, author and broadcaster. He has written four books on music and film published by Orion Books, including This Is Uncool: The 500 Greatest Singles Since Punk And Disco. Find out more @GarryMulholland

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#ManWeek: What about my Man Day?

It’s International Men’s Day! Hooray, said hardly anyone, ever, as millions of people around the globe have literally no idea it’s going on. While around half of the ones that do, including many feminists, just roll their eyes and say ‘every day’s international men’s day’. And quite.

Men. That famously oppressed group. I’ll park the sarcasm there.

Have you ever tried to explain International Women’s Day to a drunk and very annoying middle aged man? If so, I’ve been there: ‘What’s that then, a day for talking about periods? Pfft, and what about Man day? Where’s my Man Day?” To those of us scarred by such experiences, IMD appears to be the answer to that question, and that’s just one reason why it comes across as ridiculous as that old lush.

It’s galling that the one day that women have to address a historical global imbalance is mimicked by those many consider to be the perpetrators. Like white supremisists who claim to be victims of racism, or a straight pride. It feels at total odds with reality where women are 70% of those who live inpoverty and violence against women is at pandemic proportions.

It’s obvious then why many feminists and women find it hard to engage with International Men’s Day when one is repelled. But what if we start with the idea that men also suffer, that men are victims of patriarchy too – can it ever make sense?

International Men’s Day was founded by Dr. Jerome Teelucksingh in Trinidad and Tobago in 1999. You can see Dr Teelucksingh explaining his reasoning on the video below: Too many families with absent fathers. Too many men in prison. Men failing at education and losing their identity as the ‘breadwinner’.

The ‘family unit is under attack’, he felt, back then. ‘Society needs to strongly condemn certain trends like multiple partners…. these deviant family patterns influenced by North American media… These project the wrong image of men which we tend to copy, we tend to mimic, we are mimic men, and we see that men are being less responsible.’ He goes on to explain that they need ‘better quality men’, ‘high calibre, trustworthy’ role models.

The men behind IMD are not just the white privileged few. IMD comes from a place where the men admit they are irresponsible, where their brothers are wasting their lives in prison, where they miss out on fulfilling relationships with the women and children in their lives. Fourteen years later in the UK IMD focuses on some of the same issues:

The six ‘pillars’ of International Men’s Day in 2013.
To promote positive male role models.
To celebrate men’s positive contributions.
To focus on men’s health and wellbeing.
To highlight discrimination against males.
To improve gender relations and promote gender equality.
To create a safer, better world.

Some men, the minority involved in IMD, feel misrepresented, some feel discriminated against. The similarities between International Women’s and Men’s Days are that they both seek to express what they feel is misunderstood about their gender and bring to light issues their gender face.

In the light, not every day is fun times for all the boys, which is probably why the younger ones are the highest suicide-risk group. The pressure to fulfill stereotypes with a lack of diverse and ‘quality’ role models. Stereotypes that lead to abuse of women. The pressure to succeed in a world they are supposed to have built, with rules that are supposed to work for them, when really they are in a system that only allows the few to succeed. Shining light on both these issues can change life for the better for women too.

But IMD has the danger of being highjacked. By men who hate women. By the guys who think we’ve got too many rights, and that our rights are discriminatory towards them. By that drunk guy who just wants a day too. We should be wary of him.

Every day is a Man’s Day, but International Men’s Day is a chance to have a different kind of Man day, where gender stereotypes can be challenged – imagine if that happened every day.

Photo: Martin Abegglen


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#ManWeek: The Bad Boy of Feminism on how to be a good male feminist

I have a confession to make about the birth of my son three months ago. My wife and I had decided that we would not find out the sex of the baby but I had been hoping for a girl because we already have a three year old boy and it’s always nice to have the full set. Especially when you are a proud male feminist, as I am. When the beautiful little boy was delivered and I saw his gender, I was surprised to discover that I felt a huge sense of relief surge through me. I realised that I was, in fact, enormously glad that I was not going to have a girl after all.

Let me be clear. This was not because of the old cliché that with two boys you only have two dicks to worry about but with girls you have every dick to worry about. No, I was relieved because I would not want to bring a woman into a world where she would be oppressed, marginalised and discriminated against from the moment she was born.

Given a pink robe moments after birth, told she would be a certain way as a teenager, knowing that she would be destined to earn less than men, be ogled by men and almost certainly at some point in her life be abused mentally or physically in everyday life by misogynists who roam undetected and unchecked by the patriarchal society we live in.

The lack of concern about women’s issues in society is just staggering. Women make up half the world and every single woman suffers persecution in one way or another every day but it is not considered a ‘fashionable’ cause to support. Why? It’s half the world! Whether it be genital mutilation, smaller salaries or sexual abuse on the tube, every woman is affected but so many otherwise intelligent but grossly misguided people on the street and in the public eye claim feminism is no longer necessary.

Put simply, how fucking dare they.

So what can I do as a male feminist do to help? Well for starters, I can make my two boys grow up to be good feminists. Treat women with the respect they deserve but also encourage others to fight for it. And stand up and speak when they see something they know to be wrong.

And to ensure this, I need to lead by example. And I do try to live my life as a good feminist. I would like to think I treat all women with respect and as equals (or superiors – which they generally are) but while also being a gentleman. The two are not mutually exclusive. Do I always hold doors open for women, let them take my seat on the tube and insist on paying for their drinks? Yes I do but that’s being gentlemanly. You can be a gentleman and a feminist. The two are not mutually exclusive.

But I am not perfect. I have done and do things I am hugely ashamed of that I hope my sons never do. Have I been known to ogle women? Yes I have. Granted, I have never been a brute hanging out of a white van shouting obscenities at a woman presumably on the misguided belief that she is going to turn around and offer herself sexually to these abusive oafs. But I have been known to turn my head to get a better look at a woman as she walks past me. And it’s wrong. Shockingly so. She didn’t dress up nicely that morning to have my disgusting face turning to ogle her and undress her with my eyes. But sometimes I can’t help myself and it’s wrong. I truly believe this to be a violation of all women that while not as affecting as rape, it is in the same ballpark. My natural instinct is to ogle. I wish it wasn’t so I fight it. And I’ve got better lately. It is possible for men to curb this instinct just as it is possible for them not to use pornography. Every time they do so it is a choice to exploit and demean all women. Which is why I have stopped. For now. It’s an every day struggle.

Men (and some women) argue it’s a natural instinct but so is rage but that does not make violence towards women acceptable. It may not be easy but you just need to recondition yourself. For example I have had a small piece of glass embedded in my foot for the past few weeks. I broke a glass and stepped in it. My natural instinct is to walk as I always have done. But I can’t because the glass there in painful so I have learned to walk on the side of my foot to avoid the painful area. And I remember that every time a woman catches my eye. I can avoid turning my head and I must. Because every time I do I am violating her.

And anyway, where does this desire come from. Is it from within? Are men born with it as many claim? Or is it society conditioning us with sexual images and making us believe all women are there to be ogled? I am not smart enough to answer these questions but I suspect it is a bit of both.

But stopping ogling and using pornography is only the beginning. The civil rights movement didn’t succeed because people decided to just ignore racism. No, we have to speak up. The most important thing for male feminists to do is to say when they disapprove of something. It is an unfortunate fact that thirty years ago at a dinner table if someone made a racist comment we may have ignored it if we disapproved. Twenty years ago homophobic comments would go uncorrected. But thankfully now, on the whole, right-minded people will now object when they hear such utterances. What men can do is start doing the same for misogyny. When a friend or colleague is boasting of a sexual conquest and describing the women in misogynistic terms, we need to speak up. Not laugh, or stay silent. But say: ‘This is not ok. I find that offensive.’ Just as we would if we hear someone making a racist or homophobic comment.

That’s the way forward. Make those who speak of women in derogatory ways as outcasted as those who express racist or homophobic views.

It is time to speak up and repeat after me. This is not ok. This is not ok. This is not ok.

And if my sons can do this, then hopefully when they have children in thirty years or so, things will have changed enough that they can rejoice the birth of their daughters into a world where they will be treated with the decency they deserve.

James Mullinger will be performing his stand up show about his life as a male feminist The Bad Boy Of Feminism as part of the Bath Literary Festival 8th March 2014 Follow @jamesmullinger

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#ManWeek: Son Preference… ‘where girls vanish with no trace’


son pref4_ec

Reprinted from The Atlas of Women in the World by Joni Seager. We are delighted to be able to offer Feminist Times subscribers a 20% discount: please order here quoting code MRJ81. This offer is valid until the end of December 2013.

Joni Seager is Professor & Chair of Global Studies at Bentley Uni, a Global Policy Expert & Feminist.

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#ManWeek: 18th – 25th November

To coincide with International Men’s Day on the 19th and the UN Day to Eliminate VAWG 25th Nov Feminist Times uncovers what the real problem with men is, if men can be feminists and how we can work together. #ManWeek

“It’s provocative to have a Man Week for a new feminist publication, but in a post-Lad world we believe analysing and identifying the new masculine archetype is an important issue for feminism.” Charlotte Raven, Editor.

Deborah Owhin, Violence Against Women & Girls Specialist, former Domestic Homicide Review Lead, explains how abuse and death can be prevented by improving relationships between fathers and daughters

Joni Seagar, Professor & Chair of Global Studies at Bentley Uni, Boston, Global Policy Expert & Feminist, presents an extract from her Atlas of Women on Son Preference across the globe

James Mullinger, comedian and self-appointed “Bad Boy of Feminism” explains why men are capable of being feminists

White Ribbon Campaign Profile: Why we need men to join us in fighting for the safety of women

Garry Muholland, journalist, author and broadcaster, describes his mid-life-crisis

But What About Men’s Day? Where did International Men’s Day Come From?

Taboo Corner from a Radical Feminist

Domestic Violence and the psychoanalysis of men who beat

Psychoanalytical Toolkit

Charlotte Raven on the masculine archetype of The Survivalist

Teaching Men to be Feminist book review

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Lucy Davies: Feminism is…


Name: Lucy Davies

Age: 39

Location: Rural Essex

Bio: Politically minded, if not always politically active, mother, PhD researcher, citizen, runner.

Feminism is the belief that people should be free to make the life choices they want without being judged based on gender. Being free to be how they are, or want to be, not how society’s perception of gender denotes they should or shouldn’t be. And being respected and valued in those choices as a human being. Feminism is according the same freedoms, value and respect to all women and men.

Email your response to the question “what is feminism?” (in no more than 200 words) to editorial@feministtimes.com, with your name, age, location, a one-sentence bio and a photo of yourself.

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India’s Forgotten Children

Last Thursday saw the launch of India’s Forgotten Children, a powerful documentary film exposing the trafficking and oppression of some of India’s poorest children, from the 250 million strong Dalit community.

Feminist Times was invited to the premiere, at Leicester Square’s Vue cinema, by Dalit Freedom Network, one of three charities that partnered on the making of the film.

The Dalit people, formerly known as Untouchables, are victims of India’s ancient caste system: outcast, destitute and oppressed. The one-hour film made by Pipe Village Trust, a human rights filmmaking charity, examines the scale of trafficking and exploitation that Dalit children face daily.

What the film lacks in production values, it makes up for in harrowing, rarely told stories from some incredibly marginalised people. Filmed in villages around Bengaluru, Lucknow and Hyderabad, filmmaker Michael Lawson interviews boys in bonded labour, working gruelling jobs to pay off their parents’ debts, and a 13-year-old runaway who was abused by her father and uncle.

Later we see a young woman manual scavenging – cleaning out human excrement by hand. The footage shows human waste, teeming with maggots, being mixed with ash, as the woman takes a pill to “numb my brain, so I don’t vomit.”

Pipe Village Trust presents the modern-day slavery of Dalit children as threefold: trafficking into bonded labour, organ harvesting, and the sex trade – an industry that exploits millions of young girls, and increasingly boys.

Much is made of India’s status as a rising global power; to those campaigning on behalf of the Dalit community, this oppression is part of India’s dark secret.

There are laws in place to protect Dalits from discrimination but, according to Lawson’s interviewees, the Indian government largely turns a blind eye to the reality, and the Dalits’ plight is all but unheard of in the West.

The film has a broader scope than I expected and, as well as focusing on children, much time is dedicated to the double oppression experienced by Dalit women and girls – exploited and outcast not just because of discrimination against Dalits, but also affected by deeply entrenched gender discrimination.

One interview is with an older woman – a ‘Jogini’ or ‘Devadasi’ prostitute, sold into ritualised sex slavery at the age of nine – explaining the lifelong impact of being trafficked as a child. Her story begins with superstitious parents dedicating their young daughter to a goddess, a tradition that leads to forced prostitution and a devastating lifetime of abuse and exploitation.

The statistics set alongside these stories are equally shocking: every day four Dalit women are raped and eight children under the age of fourteen commit suicide.

Following these poignant encounters the film ends, somewhat inevitably, on a note of optimism and redemption, highlighting what is already being done by NGOs to change the future for India’s Dalits.

Indian women’s activists Cynthian Stephen and Jeevaline Kumar explain how services like the Tarika Women’s Training Centre empower Dalit women by giving them a trade to escape from exploitation.

Similarly, the film suggests English-language schools set up by NGOs across the country offer India’s forgotten children a future – a way out of child labour, an education leading to a career, and the confidence that so many would otherwise lack.

The Dalit children we see at the end of the film are smiley and confident, well fed on their school dinner, smartly dressed in school uniform, and describing their ambitions to be a doctor, a cricketer, and a police officer. They are a far cry from Mariam – a 16-year-old girl interviewed earlier in the film who, following a failed suicide attempt, has faced persistent threats of death and violence from family members and is too scared for her life to be shown on film.

Kumar Swamy, the South India Director of Dalit Freedom Network, features heavily in the documentary and spoke in the post-film discussion about his experiences growing up as a Dalit child. He is evangelical about the transformative power of English-medium education, but is clear that much more remains to be done at all levels of Indian society.

To find out more or get involved in campaigning on behalf of Dalit women and children, visit Pipe Village Trust, Dalit Freedom Network, Free a Dalit Child or Red International.

Image copyright Michael Lawson.

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Tania Shew: Feminism is…

Tania ShewName: Tania Shew

Age: 18

Location: London

Bio: Student, Feminist Times Ed Board member, ex-member of Camden School for Girls Feminist Club.

Feminism is an understanding that men and women still aren’t equal and a lust to change this status quo. Feminism is the view that patriarchy – which has negative effects on the lives of both men and women – must and can be overcome.

Email your response to the question “what is feminism?” (in no more than 200 words) to editorial@feministtimes.com, with your name, age, location, a one-sentence bio and a photo of yourself.

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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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Liberty Guthrie: Feminism is…

Liberty GuthrieName: Liberty Guthrie

Age: 19

Location: Brighton

Bio: A happy, sushi-loving woman who is unhappy with some of the accepted norms of today

Feminism is accepting that men and women are equal but not the same. Feminism is feeling that as a woman your voice is just as loud. And feminism is knowing it’s your choice to swallow the pill or shave your pits!

Email your response to the question “what is feminism?” (in no more than 200 words) to editorial@feministtimes.com, with your name, age, location, a one-sentence bio and a photo of yourself.

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Susan Dowell: Feminism is…

Susan DowellName: Susan Dowell

Age: 71 (or 17, I’m dyslexic when asked for my age – take your pick!)

Location: Rural South-West Shropshire (back ass of nowhere)

Bio: I’ve done lots of things including living and working in Africa (Ethiopia and Zambia) for 5 years, having four children, and most importantly finding feminism which has been the focus of my writing and thinking over many years.

Feminism is A Dangerous Delight (the title of a 1991 book by Monica Furlong who died 20 years ago this year).

Dangerous, lethally so, for so many women throughout history and across the world today who struggle to be recognised as equal human beings with the same rights and dignity as men.

Delightful because feminism offers those of us who live in the prosperous secular West a solidarity in their struggle which, when we take care to ensure it is neither self-seeking nor self-aggrandising, heals the world.

Email your response to the question “what is feminism?” (in no more than 200 words) to editorial@feministtimes.com, with your name, age, location, a one-sentence bio and a photo of yourself.

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Flo Forster: Feminism is…

Flo ForsterName: Flo Forster

Age: 19

Location: Leamington Spa

Bio: I’m a student at Warwick Uni, studying politics, philosophy and economics

Feminism is super easy. If you believe that all human beings are equal, and you believe that women are human beings, then you’re a feminist!

Email your response to the question “what is feminism?” (in no more than 200 words) to editorial@feministtimes.com, with your name, age, location, a one-sentence bio and a photo of yourself.

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Natalie Bennett

Green Party leader criticises lack of women in cabinet

Green Party leader Natalie Bennett has criticised Prime Minister David Cameron following this week’s reshuffle, pointing out that he is a long way off fulfilling his pledge that a third of ministers will be women by 2015.

Bennett said: “There are many angles to the problem of the lack of diversity in our government, with our cabinet of millionaires with a curiously large number of men who attended expensive public schools, but the lack of women in top leadership roles is telling, particularly given Mr Cameron’s pledge.”

Only five of the 32 people who attend Cabinet are women and the Quad – the coalition’s main decision-making body – is entirely male.

In the Labour Party reshuffle, 11 of Ed Miliband’s 27 full shadow cabinet members are women and 14 of the 32 politicians who attend shadow cabinet are women.

“Both leaders are handicapped by the fact that their parties have failed to move effectively to increase the representation of women in parliament,” Bennett added.

“I am proud of the wide range of Green Party policies that seek to advance the position of women in society, from following the ‘Norwegian model’ of a minimum quota of 40 per cent women on major company boards, to insisting large companies conduct and publish pay audits so that gender and other discrepancies are exposed.”

She pointed out the Green Party has 15 women on its list of 27 Official Spokespeople, including herself, Green MP Caroline Lucas and Green peer Jenny Jones, saying the party has a “long-standing commitment to supporting the advancement of women in politics.”

Referring to the political response to our recent Equal Pay campaign with Elle magazine and Mother, Bennett said: “The Lib Dem equalities minister, Jo Swinson, in saying women should have to ask their male workmates what they are paid is getting the responsibility entirely the wrong way around. It is up to companies to pay all of their staff fairly, and to show that they are doing so.”

At the time of publication, No.10 had not responded to our request for a comment.

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