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Feminist Times: Money and a room of our own

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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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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SHE-form: Art and feminism beyond borders

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

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

*We define woman as anyone who is female-identified

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

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

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

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

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

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

Anna’s website: www.annaols.com
She-form’s website: www.she-form.org

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Howzat? Cricket board stumps women’s pay potential

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Photo: Wikimedia Commons

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Who cares if Jill Abramson was bossy?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Photo: The New Yorker

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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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10 reasons why debt is a feminist issue

Debt is one of those things that few people like to talk about and, like any corrosive, destructive force, it gets worse the longer you ignore it.

Given that the majority of those in debt are women, payday lenders are targetting women more than ever and our wages remain lower on average than mens – it’s worrying that mainstream women’s magazines give this issue so few column inches – it’s time we put debt on the feminist agenda.

1. Over 5 million women are in severe debt

Around two thirds of the 9 million people in severe debt in the UK are women, according to the Government-backed body the Money Advice Service.

2. More women are being declared insolvent

Insolvency Service data and Data Advice Foundation analysis suggest that women accounted for just 30 per cent of personal insolvencies in 2000, but that this rose to almost half in 2011, and  women could soon account for the majority of insolvencies in the UK.

3. Women’s debt is bigger than men’s debt

Women were found to be in £22,418 worth of debt, on average, which is markedly higher than the £14,228 level for men, in the Cooperative Bank’s Modern Families and Household’s report.

4. Women earn less than men

According to the Fawcett Society the mean gender pay gap for all work (excluding overtime) in the private sector is 24.2% and 17.6% in the public sector.  With less income to draw on, it may be harder for many women to pay off problem debt.

5. Households reliant on a woman’s salary have more debt

Households reliant on a woman’s salary typically receive nearly a third less income and have significantly more debt and smaller savings than when a man is the main source of earnings, according to research by the insurer Aviva.

6. ‘Hidden debt’ may be bigger than you think

Recent research by Jo Salter at the think tank Demos highlighted that total arrears, combining rent and council tax, and overdue utility bills come to almost £5 billion and yet this ‘hidden debt’ isn’t included in official debt figures in the UK.  This means the real extent of the debt women face in daily life may be bigger than some of the statistics out there suggest.

7. Debt is high on the harm index

Jo Salter’s recent research asked people to rank their debts in terms of the negative impact.  This ‘Harm Index’ highlighted that debt isn’t just harmful because it is hard to repay, it also has an impact on mental wellbeing and other factors. The research found that the top five most harmful debts were illegal loans, payday loans, council tax arrears, rent arrears and utility bills. The fact that three of the most harmful debts are incurred trying to pay for the basics – somewhere to live, heating and electricity – show that the social and emotional impact of debt should not be underestimated.

8. Debt defines our future

Debt doesn’t just loom large in daily life, it also shapes how many people see their future. Debt was an issue raised by a large number of people in a survey conducted by Survation, when asked what they would like their lives to be like in 2020. Some people spoke about how they would like to have kids, or buy a house, or do up their home, but only once they have become debt free.

A 42-year-old unemployed woman from London said: “I want to be living in another flat/bedsit/room, without bed bugs, that would be clean. I would like to be in a better health condition, and that my debts are reduced.”

9. Payday lenders are targeting women

Some payday loans companies seem to be trying to appeal specifically to women. Commenting on the development, Carl Packman, the author of Loan Sharks: The Rise and Rise of Payday Lending, said:

“Today, with the changing face of debt, payday loans companies have taken to appealing specifically at women. Firms like Cash Lady – famously advertised by Kerry Katona – are able to exploit hard up women and ensure they stay in debt to boost profits. A toxic mix of a cost of living crisis and the fact women are paid worse than their male counterparts, has taken its toll. We need to respond by ensuring financial independence away from problem debt. Government needs to regulate payday firms properly, make progress on a living wage, align the wages of men and women toward greater equality, and boost alternative sources of finance like credit unions”.

More and more people, including campaigners like Sharkstoppers, are trying to challenge the payday loans industry, while others like the movement behind the Bank of Salford are trying to create alternative, community-focussed, sources of finance.

10. Women need to talk about debt

More than 1 in 10 women, surveyed by the Cooperative Bank’s Modern Families and Household’s report, said they hide their debts from their partner, compared with around 1 in 7 men. This could mean around half a million of the 5 million women in severe debt are desperately trying to hide their money worries.

Trying to sweep debt under the carpet never works, which is why it is time to start a conversation about what needs to be done to tackle the growing problem of women’s debt.

Fran O’Leary is a Founder Member of Feminist Times and Director of Strategy and Innovation at Lodestone, writing in a personal capacity. Follow her @FranOLeary

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£500 million Easter indulgence in perspective

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

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

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

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

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

£500 million would pay for…

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

Maria Miller


Annual salaries for 500 of Barclays’ highest paid bankers



Nearly 1,000 overpriced garages in South East London



Paying off the debts of almost 10,000 students



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



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


Main photo: Wikimedia Commons

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Hackney’s Active Citizens

Shoreditch Trust delivers the Active Citizens programme in partnership with the British Council. The programme aims to increase the contribution of community leaders towards improving the environment around them, setting up enterprising initiatives to solve problems and creating sustainable change both locally and globally. They hope to encourage in their participants:

  • A strong sense of your own culture and identity
  • Knowledge and understanding of your local community
  • Project planning, leadership and management skills
  • Responsibility towards sustainable development
  • Recognise value in, and work effectively with, difference

Last month Editor Deborah Coughlin and Deputy Editor Sarah Graham led a workshop for the Active Citizens programme. Our workshop focused on how young people living in Hackney today can make themselves heard – how they can communicate effectively about issues that affect them, whether that be in a newspaper article or in a letter to their local council.

We asked everyone on the programme to think of something they feel passionately about that they would like to change; their concerns ranged from voluntary work while on JSA, to the lack of access to employment in theatre, and the abundance of cheap junk food on sale in their area. We then asked them to go and find one fact or quote on the internet that would back up their argument for change, before presenting it back to the group. The results from the workshop were amazing, with some of the participants feeling they could argue their case effectively for the first time, and we all came away feeling empowered.

We asked Active Citizens if they would allow us to print some of the resulting pieces to see what Feminist Times readers make of their arguments.


Kenneth Grinell, 26 years old, trainee chef


What I care about: support for job seekers on training courses

Recently I have been frustrated with the unemployment figures in the country vs the systems put in place by our government to aid people in finding work. My biggest gripe would have to be that people, like myself, who are attending a training course (non-paid) in order to gain employment in their desired field, are not entitled to get Job Seeker’s Allowance if the course is over 16 hours per week. This catch 22, that a lot of people are caught in, penalises those who are actively looking for work for no good reason. If the benefit is called Job Seeker’s, they should not discourage the public from doing so.

According to FE Week, “The Association of Employment and Learning Providers (AELP) has called for a new look at how the government’s flagship youth unemployment scheme will affect Job Seeker’s Allowance (JSA).” They are also in talks with the DWP regarding the 16 hour rule. Although the various government departments are working together to solve this problem, no deadline has been given for a resolution.

Meanwhile, companies such as CDG (Careers Development Group), who have been hired because of the failing job centres around the country, are sending the unemployed on courses such as, “Employability Skills”, which exceed the 16 hours per week rule and provide you with a qualification that is not exactly sort after. This is only worsened by the fact that George Osborne announced his “work for dole” scheme, as stated by Channel 4 news. This basically means the long term unemployed will have to do 30 hours of community service per week, almost double the allowance for a trainee course. A fact they failed to mention in his party’s manifesto prior to their election. To me this is more of a hypocrisy than a democracy.


Lara Rodriguez, 19 years old, Open School East Student and Active Citizen


What I care about: young people being ignored by the government

Being a young adult in London is extremely difficult. We are not being heard. Danny Dorling (New Statesman 2013) agrees: “If you are young in Britain today you are taken for a ride”.

We are already at risk of growing up and being worse off than the previous generation. The younger generation are not being made aware of changes that are being made that will affect us; personally, I think it’s because the government does not target the younger generation as a voting primary, thereafter we are left in the dark.

Instead they target the older generations, who they know are keeping tabs on current events and are aware that their views matter and need to be heard. In 2010 only 44 per cent of 18-24 year olds voted in the General Election, compared to 76 per cent of those aged 65 and over. Watchdog has also revealed that 56% of voters aged between 17-24 are yet to be registered.

Compulsory voting would help keep away from this biased targeting and, according to the Think Tank IPPR: “Voting should be compulsory for your first election”. Even Shadow Lord Chancellor Sadiq Khan is considering making first time voting compulsory; this would be a very beneficial step to give young people their rightful voice to be heard, especially if the Labour party (if elected) plan to move the voting age to 16.


Marvin Davidson, 26 years old, Engagement and Training Programme Coordinator


What I care about: Black History in education

I believe that it’s unfair to have Black history folded into such a small segment of the UK’s  educational curriculum where it’s all covered in the space  of a month (October). The majority of Black History in most westernised countries is fixated on slavery with little focus on or mention of inventors, leaders, change makers, scientists, freedom  fighters. I believe that there are numerous BME people who have made significant contributions to British history and place shaping – they are either mentioned briefly in Black History month or not at all.

I believe all children should be taught more about BME history and about what happened before and after slavery which hopefully might empower more BME children to see themselves in other positive lights.

I woud also challenge London’s museums and galleries to not only exhibition the work of BME citizens in one month of the year but to integrate this information into permanent collections and museum and gallery policy.

Significant leaders include the founder of Britain’s first black weekly newspaper The Westindian Gazette, Claudia Jones – a feminist, black nationalist, political activist, community leader, communist and journalist.

The Runnymede Trust has developed a Real Histories teaching resource to support and encourage cultural diversity.

According to the Guardian, “one of the recommendations of the 1999 Macpherson Report on the Stephen Lawrence case was a: “National curriculum aimed at valuing cultural diversity and preventing racism,” in order better to reflect the needs of a diverse society. This is something the vast majority of teachers would unreservedly support whatever our views on the new curriculum. Yet we need to be clear that the draft national curriculum for history, if it comes into force, is very likely to set this cause back at least a generation. In fact it is hard to see how the Department for Education can have taken into account its legal obligations with regard to equality when devising it.”


Renalzo Palmer, 24 years old, trainee commi chef


What I care about: youth unemployment

I have recognised the struggle young people have to face in today’s society in order to find work. I believe if there was more opportunity for disadvantaged young people to access apprenticeships and structured volunteering that actually lead to employment or a career our government statistics would be a lot more acceptable.

This is a report from Newlonfusion.org in February 2013 stating that “there are over 954,000 16-24 year old in England who are not in education or employment (NEET) representing 1 in 5 of all young people of those (about 13%) live in London.”

I am a trainee chef at Shoreditch Trust and this is where I recognised the important work that is being done to help deprived young people in London. The Trust opened a restaurant to train young people like me to have the necessary skills needed in the catering and hospitality industry, which has been running successfully for 5 years now.


Trainees on Shoreditch Trust’s Blue Marble Training scheme at Waterhouse Restaurant, Hackney


Samuel Santulu, 25 years old, Assistant Producer/Session Musician


What I care about: youth club closures

I believe that many children and young people in London really benefitted from youth clubs and investment in structured activities including myself. When I was a teen I witnessed a lot of my friends deteriorate when our club got shut down. Street life became a normal thing for them and older people took advantage of the young people.

Is there a link between funding cuts for local authorities and closure of structured youth clubs and activities? Youth clubs could be a safe haven for young people to go to when they want to socialise.


Professor John Pitts, who has researched gang behaviour for more than 40 years, says the “annihilation” of youth services, coupled with academies likely to favour middle-class students over disadvantaged children, could further disconnect young people from society and result in more entrenched gangs. “Services are not just being taken away from young people, they are being taken from poor young people,” he said. (Guardian, July 2011)

Hackney riots: ‘The message when youth clubs close is that no one cares’. Half the borough’s children live in poverty. Missing, too, are the summer courses that kept minds and hands busy. Many youth projects across London’s inner city estates have closed down due to funding cuts. Yet the capital dominates the child poverty statistics, with far higher proportions of poor children than other European cities – 44% of Hackney’s children live in poverty. For Candy, 14, on the Whitmore estate off Hoxton Street, that’s a poverty that sees her sleep each night under a coat on a bare mattress on a bare floor. “Sometimes we have food, and sometimes not much,” she says, opening an old, scratched fridge. Her mother is asleep on a plastic-covered sofa in front of an old TV. “She is not very well, she gets depressed,” explains Candy. Next door three children under nine are home alone. Their mother will feed Candy when she gets back from work for keeping an eye on them.” (Observer, August 2011) 


Timoney James, 23 years old, trainee commi chef


What I care about: immigration

I’m particularly passionate about the balance of fairness and equal rights in obtaining a visa to work in the UK; I believe there is as huge deficit in terms of measuring how many people and family’s lives are being affected as a result of unfair immigration policies.


“The parliamentary group says immigration rules are too restrictive and a review is needed. New financial rules for migrants from outside the European Union are tearing UK families apart and causing anguish, a group of MPs and peers have said. They said thousands of Britons had been unable to bring a non-EU spouse to the UK since July 2012, when minimum earnings requirements were introduced.Children have also been separated from a parent, the parliamentary group said.” (BBC News)

To find out more about any of the projects run by Shoreditch Trust, visit http://www.shoreditchtrust.org.uk or follow @ShoreditchTrust

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Creatures of Adland: collective nouns for advertisers

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

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

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

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

A Burden of Old Timers



A Token of Black Execs



A Miracle of Female Bosses



A Glow of Chairmen



An Ambition of Managing Directors


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#SexIndustryWeek: Manifesto – English Collective of Prostitutes

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

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

What we stand for:

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

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#SexIndustryWeek: Playing The Whore – The Industry

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

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

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

Playing The Whore: The Industry

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Melissa will be speaking about her book in London, Brighton, Bristol, Edinburgh and London. Details can be found here: http://www.versobooks.com/events

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Feminist Toolkit: How to organise a union

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

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

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

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

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

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

So how should you get started?

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

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

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

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

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

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Open letter to journalists: middle class strippers – it’s neo-liberalism, stupid

Every six months for the last three years, the press have got hold of research undertaken by Teela Sanders and I on the apparent proliferation of the stripping industry in the UK.

Despite the multiple angles of the research and the findings that we published, there is a fixation with the idea of middle class women taking their clothes off for money. This is despite the fact that we reported high levels of financial exploitation, mixed feelings about the working conditions in clubs and, in many cases, declining conditions in the industry, and the relationship of labour in this industry to the privatisation of education, declining real wages and a hostile labour market. Clearly the material conditions of women’s working lives do not make for good copy.

See for example:

Devalued, deskilled and diversified: Explained the proliferation of the UK strip industry.

The Regulatory Dance: Lap Dancing in the UK.

In response to these repetitive requests for statements and interviews by journalists who inaccurately plagiarise each other’s stories, leading to dramatic inaccuracies, hyperbole and moral panic, I write this Open Letter:

Dear Journalist,

Thank you for your questions. With regards to why middle class women work in the industry, of course it is money that shapes their decision; how could it not be in a world of wage labour? The point is that it is not solely money.

Middle class women strip for much the same reasons that working class women strip. Most middle class women who sell their labour in the strip industry do so because the UK is an increasingly precarious place in which to live and to sell your labour. Most do not select dancing as a career over others (though some do), but they may strip in order to purchase the credentials they need from a neo-liberalised education system, in order to compete in an increasingly hostile labour market. They sell their labour here, in the short term, to finance long term desires for security in a world in which basic securities are being stripped away, driven by principles that your newspapers often play a large and insidious role in promoting.

Middle class women are selling their labour in the strip industry due to the absence of decent, well-paid part time work in other parts of the labour market. Middle class women are selling their labour in this industry because the UK, and particularly London, is an hourglass economy in which there are high paid, high status jobs at the top and the opposite at the bottom, with little in between. These women are seeking to escape the bottom half of the hourglass and make it into the top, a place increasingly reserved for the existing elite.

The flexibility of stripping enables women to generate an income while undertaking a degree, participating in an internship or topping up their other low wage job. Some middle class women strip because these are what jobs are left for you when when the welfare state retreats – middle class or otherwise. These middle class women strip because when real wages fall to their level of a decade previously, nurses and social workers (those overpaid and greedy public sector workers) have to top up their wages in order to survive.

Some middle class women strip because this is the job they have always wanted to do and they enjoy the sexual attention they receive. Many want to resist the oppressive temporality and austere cultural norms attached to the 9-5 job, preferring instead to engage in work that can be experienced, to some degree, as leisure. Many young people like to work in the night-time economy, which transgresses many of the rules of day time work.

Some women embrace the sense of community they feel, in contrast to the reactionary politics of the office. Some resist the work ethic that increasingly encourages people to be their job, to work until they collapse at the expense of their health, their families and their social well-being, instead preferring to relegate work to a separate sphere of their life which does not define them or consume all of their time and energy.

It is for all of these reasons that middle class women strip. But I wonder whether we are asking the right question. The most incisive question, I feel, is not why middle class women are stripping, but why we are so concerned with middle class women stripping? If stripping is to be condemned – which is the subtext of your question – then why can we accept the idea of working class women stripping, but are horrified when the spectre looms for middle class women?

I hope this helps. Do let me know if you have any other questions.



Dr Kate Hardy.  Feminist, Lecturer in Work and Employment Relations at The University of Leeds.
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Farage, it’s the system that needs changing – not biology

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Photo: Euro Realist Newsletter

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


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

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#IDontBuyIt: UnElfy working conditions under capitalism

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

*Not her real name

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#IDontBuyIt: Profile – Echo

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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#IDontBuyIt: Profile – Buy Nothing Day

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Joanne Dove is a mother of five, a Christian feminist, and a member of Feminist Times.
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‘Who 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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Charlotte Raven

The Allure of PR

I have been having lots of strange conversations in upscale coffee houses with eggs benedict on the menu about monetizing Feminist Times online. A little bit of paid for content from appropriate partners like female recruitment agencies couldn’t hurt, the siren voices say.

PR sirens are better dressed and more reasonable sounding than the evil Nicotine in the anti smoking ads screened in the seventies. But just as dangerous. One bit of paid for content and we’ll be in their grasp.

At the mumsnet blogfest last weekend I met lots of people who had successfully monetized their personal online brand.

I thought mummy bloggers would be obsessed with their children but was clearly behind the times; they are obsessed with vintagey gee gaws, fashion and free holidays, just like all the lifestyle journalists I know.

Is this progress? The earliest mummy blogs I read were all about maternal ambivalence, PND and infidelity. But today’s blogs are as conflicted as woman’s magazines. They started off as one thing – a place where they could talk honestly about the experience of motherhood and reach out for support, and became mercantilist – a clever way of marketing family life back to itself.

Mummys spend a lot of time enthusing, so they are perfectly suited to the role of brand ambassadors. The bloggers are proud of their commercial partners – the real ones hardly feature. Some speak about their kids as if they are soda streams and vice versa. Why wouldn’t they be plied with free stuff? It would take a great deal of concentration not to end up with statement cookware on every surface and a blog full of the cheapest kind of PR.

Of course I empathise. It has never been more expensive to bring up children and I applaud other types of mumpreneurs. I don’t feel superior to the mummy bloggers, as my principles have cost me dear. My refusal to ever contemplate writing for money, rather than for love, has meant that for years my husband has been the main breadwinner. Ironically, I am more dependent than the mummy bloggers, so I envy their pragmatism and commitment to a feminist ideal.

Feminist magazines are less expensive to run than kids; I nearly succumbed to the PR sirens’ logic during these coffee house consultations because the consequences of not doing so were dramatically conveyed. Like many free to access websites, we won’t have any money to grow or develop and the Fem T team will be content slaves working from dawn till midnight to feed the website – a constantly open maw. We will write everything ourselves because we won’t be able to afford (not to) pay anyone else, until we burn out.

We believe we’re right not to have a paywall, but worry that lovely free content might feel like an entitlement. Most websites are free after all, but those that survive usually have multiple income streams, unlike us. We only have one – you.

Crowdfunding is honourable but embarrassing. The ask is personal for one thing, involving a lot of emotions. Will I feel personally slighted if you decide to spend your money on sodastreams rather than Feminist Times? The ligger’s life is easier. I’d rather ask PRs for freebies and heads of recruitment agencies for paid for content than implore you to part with your hard-earned cash for my project.

The fear of being rejected has led me not to appeal to you directly. Unwittingly, Fem T may have given the impression that we/I are loaded. Would that we had family money to invest in the project. My poor father is too ill to even sign up as a member.

It’s a fine line isn’t it? I want to be credible and not desperate and may, in the process, have given the impression that the funding for the project would enable us to buy the little extras like aeron chairs, rather than the basics like paper.

Obviously if I’d been a bit more Bob Geldof about it we would have kept saying, give us your fucking money at the outset. I was backward in coming forward. The jokes on the membership levels were a way to avoid appealing directly.

We have over 500 members but need more of our thousands of signed-up supporters to join as members to sustain us. So now, belatedly, I’m being a bit Bob Geldof and saying we won’t survive for long with no paywall, PR or advertising unless you sign up as a member. If you sign up today you will be invited to our anti-consumerist Christmas celebration in the Conway Hall. As you probably know, the print incarnation of Feminist Times is a members only proposition. Our donations model (plan a) means we will need to keep on asking you proudly and shamelessly for the fucking money. Or plan b will be implemented; next week’s editorial will be brought to you by Nespresso.

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These women are not me

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

If you enjoyed this article and want to meet other feminists like, and unlike, yourself, join Feminist Times as a Member. Join us and support the building of an incredible feminist organisation and resources like this website.

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

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Profile: Mothers at Home Matter

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Equal Pay Day: women working for free

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

Maria MillerWomen and Equalities Minister Maria Miller said:

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

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

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

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

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

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

Natalie BennettGreen Party leader Natalie Bennett said:

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

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

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

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Gambling addiction

A mother’s ruin

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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