Casual sexism at LabourList

// 23 January 2009

LabourList is a recently-launched blog for “Labour minded people”.

London MEP Mary Honeyball points out on her own blog that LabourList has a startling male-bias:

However, my biggest LabourList bugbear is its casual sexism. I expect it from ConservativeHome but not a Labour product. The Labour Party has striven to increase women’s political representation with all women shortlists and equal gender representation on closed lists. But frighteningly LabourList is taking us a step backwards by appointing just six women out of 34 as contributors on the site. Making up just 17 per cent of contributors, women are better represented in the Commons than they are on this Labour blogsite!

What a sad state of affairs. They’ve managed to gather together a number of current and former Cabinet level minsiters to “blog” for them, but only managed to find six “Labour minded” women.

Comments From You

Deadbeat Dad // Posted 23 January 2009 at 10:17 pm

If I understand correctly, Jess, you are proposing that LabourList should preserve 50% (or thereabouts) of its content for contributors who are women?

Jess McCabe // Posted 25 January 2009 at 9:25 pm

No, because that would be impossible in a blog – everyone posts at different frequencies, etc. However, I do think that they should ensure that around half of contributors are women.

Deadbeat Dad // Posted 26 January 2009 at 6:44 pm

Regardless of the quality of that content?

Jess McCabe // Posted 27 January 2009 at 8:49 am

Why, do you think there are so few women on the left with interesting things to say, that the Labour party can’t persuade a handful to blog for them?

Kez // Posted 27 January 2009 at 9:13 am

No, Deadbeat, obviously not regardless of quality. Astoundingly, there are quite a number of leftish women with both something interesting to say and the ability to express it in writing.

Mind-boggling concept, I know.

Cara // Posted 27 January 2009 at 11:56 am

Ah yes, I do love the way some people assume that roughly half representation could not *possibly* be natural. The underlying assumption is that women are not as capable.

Or of course, some of them say ‘I’m not saying women aren’t as good, teh laydeez just don’t WANT to do MANLY things’ (like be MPs, have successful careers, or, er, blog).

Equally annoying.

The question is: why WOULDN’T we expect women to make up roughly half the numbers in any given sphere?

Deadbeat Dad // Posted 28 January 2009 at 8:26 pm

do you think there are so few women on the left with interesting things to say

Of course, interesting is in the eye of the beholder…

But, since you ask, I am hard-pressed to think of a single one (not that left-wing male bloggers are much better, although they are more numerous). Harriet Harman tried her hand at blogging for a little while a couple of years back, and it simply served to illustrate what an empty-headed ideologue she is.

You see, I come from an academic background in the humanities: I am steeped in the theory of Marx, Nietzsche, Foucault, Althusser, Bourdieu, Said, Eagleton, Haug, and numerous others. Consequently, I seek a certain intellectual rigour and honesty in anything I read, regardless of the race, gender, religion, sexuality or personal politics of the author.

So, Jess (and Kez), perhaps you could point me in the right direction?

I do love the way some people assume that roughly half representation could not *possibly* be natural.

What makes you think I assume that, Cara? (or are you just prey to your own assumptions?)

The underlying assumption is that women are not as capable.

Wrong. My underlying assumption is that women should expect to be selected on the basis of ability. Just as men do.

why WOULDN’T we expect women to make up roughly half the numbers in any given sphere?

I wouldn’t dare to speculate — except to say that I have worked in a wide range of sectors (academia, IT, transport, manufacturing and catering) over the past twenty-five years, and I have very rarely encountered any kind of prejudice; and, where I have done, it has been as much on the part of women towards men (or, indeed, towards other women).

In the real world (i.e. in the commercial sphere), people are judged purely on their professional merit. If anything, though, I would suggest that it is men who are more likely to experience discrimination when it comes to job choices generally.

And what do you do for a living, Cara, if you don’t mind me asking?

Jess McCabe // Posted 29 January 2009 at 10:36 am

Deadbeat Dad, your words speak for themselves.

Frankly, your argument lacks a certain intellectual rigour itself. You list Said, Marx, Foucault, etc*, as your standard, yet we’re talking about a mainstream political blog. I’ve not read any of Harriet Harman’s blogging attempts, but I’m unsurprised that she’s no Foucault. However, which of the bloggers on LabourList – that’s what we’re talking about after all – is? Ed Miliband? Come off it.

There are plenty of Labour-ish women bloggers that I can think of, off the top of my head, with plenty more intellectual rigour than most of the bloggers on LabourList. And as LabourList has apparently some form of backing from the Party itself, therefore plenty of resources available to it that I don’t have.

Certainly they can find some women capable of explaining why it’s a good idea to take part in public consultations, to take one example of a recent post.

I’m not even going to engage with the notion that you’ve never encountered discrimination towards women in the workplace. Because you’ve never noticed it, you think it doesn’t exist? Tell that to the 30,000 women a year who lose their jobs because they get pregnant, to pick one random example.

*More than a little patronisingly, by the way. You think none of us have read Foucault or Nietzsche?

Lesley // Posted 29 January 2009 at 11:17 am

So Deadbeat Dad “In the real world (i.e. in the commercial sphere), people are judged purely on their professional merit.” Come off it!

I work in the commercial sphere and people are judged on a whole range of things that has nothing to do with professional merit. For example, how good they are at sucking up to the boss, how good they are at promoting themselves, how well liked they are by the team they work in, etc.

Indeed I always think one of the most important things for young people coming into the workplace to learn is that life at work is not fair. The people who are best at their jobs are not necessarily the ones that get recognition or promotion.

And I don’t believe for a minute this is only my experience. Scott Adams has made lots of money out of making the same point in Dilbert cartoons.

Flo // Posted 29 January 2009 at 11:54 am

Deadbeat Dad – In the interests of intellectual rigour and honesty, perhaps you could explain how the work of any of the theorists you mention supports 1) your insinuation that the under-representation of women on the LabourList blog is the result of nothing more than women’s lack of merit, 2) your claim that the commercial sector is governed both entirely by merit and discriminates against men. I’d be particularly delighted if you could reflect on how Bourdieu’s book Masculine Domination, in which he examines the subtle means by which women’s subjugation is perpetuated and naturalised, relates to your own responses to Jess’s original post.

I’m also curious to know why you appear to imagine that we pesky feminists would be cowed by your list of Important Academic Men, and why it is that your academic steeping appears to have been devoid of prominent feminist theorists such as Judith Butler, Julia Kristeva or Gayatri Spivak who are generally acknowledged amongst the humanities to have made important contributions to academia. Perhaps these intellectuals do not meet your own supposedly gender-blind standards of intellectual rigour and honesty?

Matthew Cain // Posted 23 February 2009 at 10:13 pm

Newscounter has conducted an initial evaluation of Labourlist and found that the site is outperforming most people’s expectations: http://bacatu.blogspot.com/2009/02/labourlist-on-course-to-be-top.html

Cara // Posted 24 February 2009 at 3:34 pm

Deadbeat Dad:

‘But, since you ask, I am hard-pressed to think of a single one (not that left-wing male bloggers are much better, although they are more numerous). Harriet Harman tried her hand at blogging for a little while a couple of years back, and it simply served to illustrate what an empty-headed ideologue she is.’

And left-wing male bloggers are fantastic? You say yourself they’re no better.

‘You see, I come from an academic background in the humanities: I am steeped in the theory of Marx, Nietzsche, Foucault, Althusser, Bourdieu, Said, Eagleton, Haug, and numerous others. Consequently, I seek a certain intellectual rigour and honesty in anything I read, regardless of the race, gender, religion, sexuality or personal politics of the author.’

Well done. I have a degree and a Masters. I have read lots of stuff, too. I just don’t feel the need to bluster about it. You patronisingly assume no-one here could possibly have read anyone on your list. Maybe they have, *and* ‘numerous others’ who aren’t white men.

Are you saying feminists do not seek intellectual rigour and honesty? What do you mean by ‘regardless of the race, gender, religion ,sexuality or personal politics of the author’ – something which you have not demonstrated here, by the way, given your patronising assumptions about posters and bloggers here.

‘What makes you think I assume that, Cara? (or are you just prey to your own assumptions?)’

What makes you think that comment was directed at you? It was a general observation, as surprisingly, I have been involved in these discussions before, and surprisingly, the same old arguments tend to come up.

‘Wrong. My underlying assumption is that women should expect to be selected on the basis of ability. Just as men do.’

Oh, damn, you think I’m wrong? *Cries*. (/sarcasm). Again, I wasn’t directing that at you personally. The world does not revolve around you.

And of course women should be selected on the basis of ability. That’s all we ask; do you actually think women go around whining ‘please give me special favours, I’m just a woman?’ (Why do I suspect that you do?) A woman who expects to be selected on merit is naïve, because that does not happen. ‘Ability’ is judged in ways that exclude women (and other minorities). The fact is that women have to work harder and be better, to be taken as seriously as men. Because you don’t see it, as your male privilege blinds you to it, doesn’t make that false.

‘I wouldn’t dare to speculate — except to say that I have worked in a wide range of sectors (academia, IT, transport, manufacturing and catering) over the past twenty-five years, and I have very rarely encountered any kind of prejudice; and, where I have done, it has been as much on the part of women towards men (or, indeed, towards other women).’

The point I made was: if women are equal in abilities to men, and if equality of opportunity exists, the genders should be equally represented in any given sphere. They are not. Therefore either a. women aren’t equal to men, b. equality of opportunity doesn’t exist, or c. there is some other explanation. I assume b. Misogynists assume a. You say you don’t want to speculate. So, why not assume b. – it does no harm to ensure everyone has equal opportunities, after all.

Of course, some men don’t want to give up their male privilege.

And see what I said above. That you don’t see discrimination does not mean it doesn’t exist. You claim you have seen women being prejudiced towards men – can you elaborate?

‘In the real world (i.e. in the commercial sphere), people are judged purely on their professional merit. If anything, though, I would suggest that it is men who are more likely to experience discrimination when it comes to job choices generally.’

And there we are. It’s all about THE MENZ! Care to explain how man experience discrimination? With evidence?

‘And what do you do for a living, Cara, if you don’t mind me asking?’

I do mind, given your patronising and wrong assumption that any job not in the commercial sphere is not ‘in the real world’ – give me a break. I will answer, though. I too have worked in various sectors, and I am currently a civil servant. Say what you like, I can take it, but I can assure you it is just as ‘real’ as any work in the private sector.

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