Men smarter than women?!

by Jess McCabe // 27 August 2005, 11:46 am

It takes a certain type of person to dedicate their career to proving one gender is brainier than the other. And, following on from headlines claiming ‘It’s official, men are smarter than women’, now we know exactly what type of person that is.

It turns out that Professor Richard Lynn of Ulster University, one of the scientists behind this claim – published in the British Journal of Psychology – has also done studies trying to ‘prove’ that white people are more intelligent than black people, and even that lighter-skinned black people are cleverer than those with darker skin, The Guardian reveals.

Now, Professor Lynn’s study is based on notoriously biased IQ tests. According to him there are more men than women with very high scores. There are, the study claims, 5.5 men for every woman with a score of 155. And there are two men for every one woman with an IQ of 125, the level supposedly needed for a first class degree.

Which reveals just how shaky the ground is that IQ test scores actually equate to intelligence – at university, indeed, up until PhD level, women vastly outperform men.

But the real question here is why are these – rather pointless and suspiciously motivated – studies being done in the first place? I think Professor Lynn’s own research background answers that question rather aptly.

Women’s rights in China, India

by Jess McCabe // 23 August 2005, 10:12 pm

China is revisiting its 13 year old legislation on gender equality, it emerged today.

While this can only be a good thing in a country which still lacks legal protection against domestic abuse, the wording of this announcement is a little off. Gu Xiulian, a senior Chinese legislator and president of China’s main women’s rights group the All-China Women’s Federation, said that the move towards equal rights was justified by women’s contribution to the modernisation programme.

Silly me for thinking equal rights had something to do with people being inherantly, well, equal.

In India, women have gained equal rights of inheritance. At the same time, feminist texts are being translated into English for the first time.

Meanwhile, in the United States the debate continues over the contraversial appointment of men to key feminist or women’s rights positions, as the oldest shelter in New England advertises for an executive director.

Transition House has already hired a man to fill the post in the short term, and is conducting a “gender-neutral” search for someone to take the role on permanantly.

As well as bringing up the longstanding, contentious issue of the role of men in the women’s movement, this has triggered fresh concerns because of the sensitivity of the post as it goes against the stated aim of the organisation to provide a safe, man-free place for women and children who have experienced violence.

Voyeurism and misuse of office

by Barbara Felix // , 5:49 pm

Four security workers employed by Sefton council have appeared in court on charges of voyeurism and misconduct of office, following allegations that they manipulated security cameras to spy on a woman in her own home.

One man has pleaded guilty to the charge of voyeurism and will be sentenced later, the other three are denying counts of voyeurism and misconduct of public office. The case has been adjourned, and trial will commence on December 5th.

Still a Buerk

by Lynne Miles // 18 August 2005, 4:06 pm

Michael Buerk was on the Today programme this morning, trying to set the record straight on what he actually said. He didn\x92t do much to convince me that he\x92s been misrepresented, to be honest. Listen for yourselves here.

Just to clarify:

He doesn\x92t think women rule the world, just that they set the agenda. He doesn\x92t think it directly affects anyone\x92s sperm count, because that would be silly. But he still thinks there\x92s an alarming trend for women to want to create families without men in which is an unequivocally Bad Thing.

Don\x92t worry, Louise; Zoe\x92s vexed about it too.

Who’s Crying Now?

by Lynne Miles // 17 August 2005, 5:16 pm

Yesterday\x92s T2 covers another story, terribly important and individually upsetting for those concerned, both alleged victim and alleged attacker but horribly familiar to those unconnected with them.

The tale is told from the point of view of a father. His 13-year old boy, Jamie, is alleged to have forced Sarah, the 15-year old girl in question, to perform oral sex on him. Jamie denies this, saying the act was consensual \x96 a drunken teenaged fumble \x96 and that she \x91cried rape\x92 so that the boy she really fancies wouldn\x92t go off her (he did). Sarah has subsequently modified her allegation. Having originally said that she was crying and resisting, she has now said that she didn\x92t know that Jamie didn\x92t know that she was an unwilling participant (although she still maintains she was unwilling). The police, on these grounds, have recorded the incident as \x91no crime\x92.

This is an awful situation whichever way you look at it. My gut reaction is to feel dreadful for the girl, not only the alleged victim of a rape attack, but now accused of \x91crying rape\x92 in a national newspaper (names have been changed \x91to protect identity\x92 but you can bet your life anyone who knows the pair of them realises who the story\x92s talking about). There are several objectionable points in this individual article, but it raises wider questions of the way in which we react to rape within the criminal justice system.

This is a moral minefield. What of this boy? He stands accused of a crime that\x92s notoriously difficult to prove, and equally difficult to disprove. Officially there\x92s been \x91no crime\x92, but he stands under a cloud of \x91no smoke without fire\x92 suspicion and now, thanks to his Dad\x92s article, so does she.

As feminists we realise that countless numbers of women who have genuinely been attacked find themselves unwilling or unable to pursue a prosecution, much less get the courts to secure a conviction. Women discover the process to be so distressing, with such little chance of success, that they routinely modify or withdraw their allegations when they become aware of this depressing fact. Even when they do press on, the conviction rate is woefully low.

The majority of rapes, as we know, do not involve being dragged down a dark alleyway and held at knifepoint by some passing psychopath. Many, many rape cases come down to a question of consent. Her word against his. "He raped me" vs. "She loved it".

There are some shameful court cases which discriminate against women over men, there are juries who still believe that if a woman is a \x91slut\x92, wears \x91tarty\x92 clothes, has slept with someone before, than it\x92s not rape (even if they realise it was against her will). Far, far too many people still believe that women casually make rape allegations out of spite (\x91a woman scorned\x92 syndrome) or out of hungover remorse. This is an abhorrent generalisation and, as feminists, we have challenged this, and will continue to do so.

It is an outrage that in a case where a woman has withdrawn or modified an allegation, or where a court has failed to convict, she risks being accused of \x91crying rape\x92 when we know the numerous other reasons which could explain her change of heart.

But it\x92s equally outrageous that we should assume anyone to be guilty of anything which remains unproven in a court of law. My gut feeling is that a very small percentage of failed prosecutions are actually \x91crying rape\x92. Nevertheless, we cannot assume that women accusing men of rape are telling the truth. This sounds controversial, even anti-feminist, but it isn\x92t. I\x92m a feminist because I care about people’s rights. To consider people \x91guilty until proven innocent\x92 is a violation of a most fundamental human right.

If it\x92s one word against another, what can we reasonably do?

I grapple with this problem all the time. Nobody seems to feel they will receive fair treatment from the law as it stands. Women don\x92t believe they have any chance of securing justice through it. Men who continue to protest their innocence feel that a failed conviction leaves them under permanent suspicion of having \x91got away with it\x92. Both are probably true. On a societal level, I believe men are \x91getting away with it\x92 on an epic scale. I\x92m scandalised that the rape conviction rate is so low. I genuinely believe that countless women are being failed by a criminal justice system which cannot convict the men who we know to be attacking them in their thousands.

But on an individual level, when yet another individual woman fails to get a conviction, it is unthinkable that we should assume that individual man guilty in this greyest of grey areas. Someone who has not been convicted of any crime cannot be allowed to walk around under a permanent cloud of mistrust.

There isn\x92t an easy answer to this question. But I\x92ll continue to groan whenever I see headlines like yesterday\x92s in T2: \x91Our son, a malicious girl, and a rape that never was\x92. Whatever we think about the issue, we know the type of story the media prefer to report. They\x92re sticking safely to the fantasy black and white world of \x91thwarted ex-girlfriend cries rape\x92 and \x91my knife-point stranger-rape hell\x92 when the reality of the average story, I suppose, is somewhere in the complicated, messy, space between the two extremes.

Michael Buerk shows himself as a real….

by Louise Livesey // 16 August 2005, 4:43 pm

Apparently Michael Buerk has filmed a programme for Channel 5 arguing women have taken over the world and the gender balance has shifted too far in their favour (see the BBC for more coverage). Buerk’s accusations include that men now have to live by women’s rules, men are just sperm donors, men are becoming more like women (citing Tim Henman and David Backham) and that jobs now favour women because of the decline in traditionally male occupations such as manufacturing.

Rather than list a few reasons why this is nonsense (oh go on then, its obviously women’s rules that less than 4% of rapes reported to the Police end in conviction, sexual harrassment, prostitution and trafficking are obvious signs of women’s superior power in society and obviously with women in control we’ve created the worldwide decline of manufacturing in favour of service industries (although interesting he claims new jobs demand multitasking skills which apparently women are better at which just smacks of a lack of personal skill in that area). Anyway, rather than list a few reasons why this is nonsense it’s more interesting to reflect on why high-profile men feel the need to make this sort of claim.

Certainly when Buerk was recruited to the BBC the controller of both BBC 1 and Radio 4 were women and both have been replaced by men recently – a certain sign that women are in control and making men obsolete. Is this a personal sign of sour grapes? (The BBC have refused to comment). And more to the point isn’t it a sure sign that women aren’t in control that Buerk is allowed to spout this nonsense on national telly?

The Editors of Bliss Magazine are hypocrites

by Catherine Redfern // 14 August 2005, 11:45 pm

Whilst doing some research on body image amongst girls and teenagers, I found this report on the BBC site from January which states that four in ten teenage girls have considered plastic surgery, only 8% were happy with their bodies and a quarter saying they had suffered from an eating disorder. The survey was undertaken by Bliss magazine.

Editor Chantelle Horton said this was a “21st century tragedy”, and blamed “celebrity pressure”. She is quoted as saying: “The endless parade of thin yet curvy, surgically-enhanced celebrities has made young girls obsessed with their own normal lumpy, bumpy bodies. They also feel tremendous pressure from boys who increasingly expect their girlfriends to resemble the perfect celebrity body model they’ve been fed by a looks-obsessed society.”

Bliss mag ran a similar survey last year with similar results and similar editorial hand-wringing: “Editor Helen Johnson said it is ‘tragic’ so many girls want to be thin.”

Well, I thought I’d check out Bliss’s website to see how they were tackling the issue. Here’s what I found.

On the homepage:

“The UK’s most exciting modelling comp is here!We’re looking for beautiful girls, whatever your look or shape, to win FIVE contracts…PLUS! Check out out top tips for becoming a model!”


“Get your celeb fix every day at! We\x92ve got more hot news, more hot goss and loads more sexy stars\x85” “Celeb-O-Meter: Vote for your fave celeb and tell us who’s hot and who’s not!”

Cover Girl:

“We all dream of being on the cover of our fave magazine… well now you can, right here at! You’ll be in the A-list company of Keira Knightly, Cameron Diaz and Victoria Beckham, not to mention the envy of all your friends! So nominate either yourself or a mate and you’ll get your very own virtual bliss cover, right here. You never know – it could be your first step to stardom!”


“Get Drew’s ‘PERFECT’ LOOK – Transform your look this summer with Wella Shaders & Toners, guaranteed to get you your ‘Perfect Catch’.”

How Sexy Am I?

“Rate these girls on their looks and pull-ability. And if you\x92re brave enough to be judged yourself, send us a photo and you might make it on the list next week. Be nice!”

Yup, Chantelle Horton is right; it is is tragic.

Horton has now left the magazine (Lisa Smosarski is the Editor, and Emma Hoddinott is the online editor), so she can’t be blamed. But the recurrence of the seemingly annual Bliss body image survey (will there be another one next January?) suggests to me that the publishers Emap think they can have their cake (by seeming responsible and concerned once a year) and eat it too (by perpetrating the very superficial celeb-obsessed culture that they claim is behind these girls’ problems).

Surely girls deserve better than this hypocritical pile of utter crap.

Anyone else feeling nostalgic about Bunty?

There’s an interesting article by Harry Mount, in Friday’s Telegraph, about a forthcoming book on the future of men in society. However, despite the synopsis of the book sounding promisingly progressive, Mount’s article unfortunately reveals itself to be just another sly little number with seemingly traditional aims. Apparently, the future for men is that metrosexual is out and “Ubersexual” is in. This twist on the Bring Back Real Men agenda is being peddled by trusted trendspotters, Marian Salzman, Ira Matathia and Amy O’Reilly (Salzman, in particular, has very strong credentials as a voice of influence).

Mount’s article is purely irritating at first glance (appearing to take Salzman’s word for it on the matter of sensitive “Emo boys” and happily adding that chicks obviously “just don’t dig ’em”). However, he does go on to scorn Salzman and co’s convoluted jargon and dubious admiration for Donald Trump. He also criticises their tendency to “look at the crisis of modern man without considering the crisis of modern woman.” The trouble is that he then goes and cops out with his conclusion that it’s time for men to be “a bit more manly again.” Boring.

Along with this, he slags off the kind of man who dares to exfoliate, saying this sort “looks in the mirror more times than he asks anybody a question.” Like so many others, Mount doesn’t seem to care that traditional gender roles encourage women to be vain or uninterested in others. It’s apparently only a problem if men do it. Isn’t it about time we gave the boys a break from this constant pressure to not be seen as passive (i.e the pressure to revolt from what is traditionally viewed as female)? In keeping with the Male-Way-Must-be-Superior-to-Female-Way theme, Salzman herself lovingly promotes her new ideal (the ubersexual) as a man who “likes shopping” but who does it in a focused fashion because, of course, he “has better things to do than hang out at the mall.” Well, haven’t we all but surely that doesn’t mean it isn’t okay to do it sometimes?

Mount presents a tableau of men “on the verge of redundancy” and then makes it seem as if only gender Conservatism could possibly make them feel good again. In doing this he is essentially rehashing a familiar but needlessly bleak picture of men at an extreme crisis point and then lazily holding up a solution that is both disappointingly retrograde and equally extreme. (Incidentally, where does Mount get his ideas from anyway? The official-looking stat about gender differences in length of telephone conversations seems to be plucked from nowhere.)

Along with this, the words of other writers are misrepresented so that they seem to be talking about the sensitive types Salzman views as being so out of fashion. For example, Mount claims Rachel Elder wrote in the New York Observer about how much she loathes “whimpsters” but my research suggests that the quote he selects is actually from an article called Stuff it, Emo Boy by Rachel Donadio, Sheelah Kolhatkar and Anna Schneider-Mayerson (see 21 July 2004 entry in link).

As it happens, Rachel Elder talked about the Whimpster in Bust last year, describing him as the “manipulative asshole in sensitive clothing” and generally criticising the creepy passive-aggressive stalker type who may seem sensitive and deep but is actually domineering, selfish, uptight and predatory and, more to the point, likely to become clingy, possessive and vindictive if you dump him. Crucially, she says that “whimpsters walk a tenuous tightrope between their secreted, terribly warped masculinity and the mainstream manliness that they claim to abhor.” Similarly, the Stuff it, Emo Boy article criticises the sorts who are “actually deeply misogynistic and harbor the most archaic notions of femininity or male-female interaction.” These writers are hardly saying that any man who rejects traditional ideas about masculinity is not to be trusted but if you read Mount’s article you’d think they are.

Salzman and co’s message is nothing new. New Man was kicked into touch in the 80’s and 90’s. Now it’s the Metrosexual’s turn to get in line.

Feminist play re-tells Ramayana

by Jess McCabe // , 12:15 am

Hema Ramakrishna has published a feminist re-telling of the Ramayana, the Times of India reports.

The play, Sanctuary, is in English, but unfortunately I haven’t been able to track down anyone selling it online.

Rama is an avatar, or incarnation, of Vishnu, who was meant to demonstrate the perfect life on Earth. But Ramakrishna’s re-telling of the ancient story seems to revolve around debunking this figure, calling attention to his treatment of women.

The president (and military ruler) of Pakistan, Pervez Musharraf, is not generally known for his commitment to human rights, let alone women’s rights.

So it will be, perhaps, little surprise to anyone that although he reserved a third of all council seats for women from 2001, Musharraf has done little to back this up with protection for female candidates and councillors. In fact, four women councillors have died since 2001, as Declan Walsh reports for the Guardian, interviewing one of the women who is standing in the next set of council elections in the conservative Frontier province.

As well as risking life and limb, 27 year old candidate Shad Begum’s husband’s name and profession will be listed on the ballot.

And if she does win her seat, she shouldn’t hope for much influence:

“Musharraf’s reforms have brought hope for change to women such as Shad. But in reality, electoral success brings little power. Her four-year term as an area councillor was a Pashtun parody of democracy, she admits.

“During the monthly three-hour meetings, the seven female and 34 male councillors sat in separate rooms, joined only by a door that was permanently locked. The men discussed budgets, water problems and town planning; the women drank tea, chatted, and read the minutes of the previous meeting.”

Fat Isn’t Phat

by Barbara Felix // 10 August 2005, 4:27 pm

Sixties style pop band, The Magic Numbers, reputedly walked out of their debut appearance on ‘Top Of The Pops’ after a presenter referred to them as ‘Fat’

Guest presenter Richard Bacon is reported to have introduced the band by saying “What do you get when you put two brothers and sisters in a band? A big fat melting pot of talent.”

The Magic Numbers were unimpressed by his remarks, and issued the following statement through their website. “Due to derogatory, unfunny remarks made during the guest presenter’s introduction to our performance, we felt we had to make a stand and leave,” they added “It was an important day for us and should have been special. We didn’t take this decision lightly but we stand by it.”

The band were replaced on the show by Goldfrapp.

More ‘Stupidity Myth’ news

by Catherine Redfern // 8 August 2005, 10:59 pm

Whilst I’m on the subject of prevailing theories about men, if you heard anything about the University of Sheffield study, which, as The Mirror puts it, proves that “men’s brains simply aren’t designed to listen to women’s voices“, you must read this post from feminist blogger Pandagon. (Feministing also comments on this here.) Pandagon writes:

“In the past, male dominance was asserted as a natural fact because women were considered stupid, lustful, and generally inferior. Now in an effort to obtain female tolerance for lousy behavior, the official line is that men have to be indulged because their bodies make them mean, lustful, and incapable of interacting with their partners. I can’t imagine that men are going to tolerate being told that they are stupid, mean, shallow assholes by nature much longer.”

Hungry for more feminist crtiques of the male “stupidity myth[*]”? Check out One Good Thing’s hilarious post on a recent issue of Oprah’s magazine O which claimed to “forever change the way you look at men.”

As the post explains, one of the lovely comments in the mag about men included the statement: “A male human being is closer to a male chimpanzee than he is to a female human being.” Blogger flea writes:

Actual verbatim quote, page 326, by Russell Banks. A man. A man wrote that, and everybody gets their panties in a twist over Andrea Dworkin? Fifty bucks says you’ll never see this pull quote added to any anti-feminist lists that float around the internet full of statements from feminists “proving” their hatred of men.

Any bloke who’s feeling full of righteous feminist fury should check out XY Online immediately.

[*I think F Word writer Holly Combe coined this phrase. Credit where credit’s due.]

Damned if you do, damned if you don’t

by Catherine Redfern // , 10:18 pm

Gendergeek has an excellent post on recent research on the prevalence of date rape drugs, which found that there were fewer doing the rounds than were originally thought.

The research has sparked comments about women’s “responsiblity” when it comes to somehow preventing being raped in the first place. If women were not drugged, the thinking goes, then that must mean that it’s their fault if they got raped. As Gendergeek’s Emma comments,

“[inherent to this assumption is] that women are responsible for controlling and limiting male violence. It also says quite unpleasant things about men. Implicit in it is the idea that at all times women should be prepared to physically fend off rapacious attacks from the large number of men who will exploit the physical vulnerabilities of any woman who strays across their path.”

In the Guardian, Decca Aitkenhead said:

“If we say that anything less than vigilance is culpably irresponsible in a woman, this means we think all men are rapists. When militant feminists made this suggestion, it was taken as proof of their lunacy. Now, apparently, it is taken for granted. Girls are expected to understand that if they wind up in the pub car park, tights round their ankles and peeing on their high heels, the average man passing by cannot be expected to pass up the chance… Why isn’t everyone asking what kind of man is it who would see her lying there and want to have a go?”

Note that, yet again, it’s the feminists who are questioning the prevailing (yes, man-hating) theory that the average man is naturally predisposed to rape. A theory, incidentally, that so-called men’s rights activists propound relentlessly.

Aitkenhead echos a similarly enlightening comment in the comments in an old post on Avoiding Rape and “Common Sense” at Alas, A Blog. “Neko” writes:

“We can\x92t win. If I exercise caution by not going into an elevator with a man I don\x92t know, by not inviting my date up for coffee at the end of the night, by not allowing a guy to get me a drink (ah, the wonder of date rape drugs), I\x92m a man hater who thinks all men are rapists. If I didn\x92t do these things and something happened, I\x92d be asking for it because I didn\x92t exercise "common sense."

What she said. Anyway – read the Gendergeek post for more on this.

Nick Ferrari Gets Precious About Marriage

by Holly Combe // 7 August 2005, 10:54 pm

Tags: , ,

Liberal views don’t seem to be very fashionable right now. The backlash against so-called “political correctness” continues to give self-righteous shock-jocks a much-needed window of credibility and yet it seems there are some issues where even the most vehement rebels against progress start fudging their words…

LBC radio host Nick Ferrari was on the Heaven and Earth show today, being his usual PC-bashing self. However, when the matter of same-sex marriage came up, he became somewhat more careful, saying that “of course” same-sex partners should have certain legal rights as couples but that he had difficulty with the idea of calling such a commitment a marriage. He then added, somewhat cryptically, “I don’t know why.”

Benedictine monk and Thought of the Day star, Dom Antony Sutch took a similar view, while Coronation Street actor, Shobna Gulati and athlete Dame Tanni Grey-Thompson were more progressive.

It has recently been reported that much of the female brain is deactivated by orgasm. Dr Gert Holstege from the University of Groningen in the Netherlands studied 13 women and 11 men and found that the only element of a woman’s brain activated during the orgasm itself was the part chiefly associated with movement. The parts of the brain connected to emotion (the factor those pop-bio-determinists are so quick to say is more important for women than it is for men) were switched off. The results for male orgasms were inconclusive but thought to be similar.

Holstege has chosen to draw particular attention to the deactivation of the “fear centre” in the brain, saying that this is perhaps the most important factor in having an orgasm:

When you are fearful or have a very high level of anxiety, then it’s hard to have sex because during sex you really have to give yourself and let go.

It has been suggested this need to “let go” could be connected to the aphrodisiac effect of alcohol and Holstege continues:

Alcohol brings down the fear level… Everyone knows if you give alcohol to a woman it makes things easier.

Excuse me? Easier for who? The emphasis on women’s “fear” and the giving of alcohol to make things “easier” as things “everyone” automatically knows sounds pretty creepy to me. It’s as if Holstege thinks sex is not really for women at all and that we’ll only do it if we can be made to forget our fear. And what, exactly, does he think we have to be afraid of during what should surely be mutually agreed anyway? (Not only do Holstege’s words seem incredibly old-fashioned and one-sided but they also seem to stray uncomfortably close to the borders of non-consensual sex.) It also sounds like he views women’s orgasms as mere facilitators for some higher plan and, though he doesn’t say it explicitly, he does rather imply that having sex with a woman is an automatically predatory act.

As is so often the case, it seems to be the interpretation of results and the discussions surrounding them that are the real problem here.

Scarlet too Rude for Newsagents

by Holly Combe // 2 August 2005, 11:07 pm

Tags: , ,

I’m pissed off. The only newsagent in my area to ever stock the women’s sex magazine Scarlet has now permanently taken it off the shelves due to complaints from customers. I’ve been told by the manager that the problem was the explicit nature of the headlines on the cover of the July issue. (I’m unable to comment on this issue at all because, again, I never got to see it.) When I pointed to all the copies of Nuts and Zoo still accessible, she sympathetically admitted that people are used to seeing that stuff and therefore seem to tolerate it more. She then added that there are plans for it to be moved to the top shelf and I said, yes, I have friends who are campaigning for that and I don’t agree with them because I think what they’re doing is counterproductive.

I know Scarlet isn’t perfect but it’s a damn sight lot better than many of the other choices we have available on the local non-specialist newsagent’s shelf. In my view, the shocking double standards on obscenity that were demonstrated to me today just go to prove that we seriously need this mag out there doing its thing. They also show what a dangerous route we go down if we pander to censorship. Guess who suffers in the long run? Clue: it’s not Nuts readers. They just have to reach up to the top shelf.

Men valued more highly in the caring professions

by Lynne Miles // 28 July 2005, 5:41 pm

Researchers have found that men who pursue careers in the caring professions (nursing, teaching and other so-called ‘women’s jobs’) get more respect than women in the same professions. A study recently published by Brunel University, reported in The Guardian, found that women’s contributions to the caring professions were devalued as being ‘natural’ for them, whereas the ’emotional labour’ performed by men is a more unexpected asset.

Interestingly, the same study found that men in the caring professions worried about how their job was perceived in the outside world \x96 some of them even doctor (pun intended) their job titles to make them sound more \x91manly\x92. Dr Simpson of Brunel University says “If we want to encourage man into caring occupations we need to understand some of the difficulties and challenges they face in being seen to be a man in a female role. It’s not easy for them.”

I dare say it isn\x92t. And that\x92s no good for the men individually or for our society which needs the best and most able people to make a positive choice to work in the caring professions that we will all, at some point, benefit from. It behoves us to remember that gender stereotyping negatively impacts on men\x92s lives as well as women\x92s. In fact, it\x92s just another example of how feminists need to be reminding people loud and clear that to break down societal expectation of how people should act, or what they are, on the basis of their sex – arguably feminism\x92s most fundamental aim \x96 will be of benefit to men, and society at large, if we can make it happen.

Man to chair women’s studies department

by Jess McCabe // 26 July 2005, 8:48 pm

Is it appropriate for a man to chair an women’s studies department? The University of Washingston thinks so, because they’ve just appointed David G Allen to exactly that role.

As Inside Higher Ed reports, the move has received a mixed reaction – not least from Allen himself, who considered passing up the promotion.

When he found out he was being considered for the job, he emailed facalty members and graduate students to petition their views on whether he should keep his name in the running. The response was positive enough to pursuade him to go ahead.

And why not? Although this obviously is a counter-intuitive move – in the cut throat, male dominated world of higher education, at least female scholars should expect to be able to win the job of head of women’s studies.

But on the other hand, men can be feminists too. That’s an important message, and a male appointment might break through the – whatever it might be – that means women’s studies students are generally women.

I wonder if we should even be questioning this. But then, as Allen said: “When we have a level playing field, then it will become a non-issue.”

Nancy J. Kenney, an associate professor of women\x92s studies at Washington said: "I think David is a wonderful person and can be a really good administrator. At the same time, I am disappointed that there are no women who are seen as qualified to move into this position. Why not? Where are they?"

Dove "Real Women" ads hit U.S.

by Catherine Redfern // 23 July 2005, 12:07 pm

The Dove “Campaign for Real Beauty” adverts, which have been over here since April 2004 and again more recently have started to incite debate in the U.S. Msmusings has a good summary of the reaction.

When the ads were first released, members of London Third Wave Feminists (L3W) chatted about them online. Some of the discussion, containing many differing opinions, was summarised on the L3W website.

Iraqi women’s rights under threat

by Jess McCabe // 21 July 2005, 9:57 pm

Iraqi women could see their rights stripped away from them by their newly democratically elected government, Ms reports.

Plans to revise the Iraqi constitution would see the stipulation that women hold 25% of seats in the national assembly scrapped, and family law – which governs key areas such as marriage, divorce and inheritance – given over to the jurisdiction of religious courts.

The proposals would mean family law cases would be heard by the local religious sect, and would mean those women in communities that were resistant to egalitarian reform were even more vulnerable.

Women would also only have equal rights in so far as this conformed to sharia law.

So-called “family values” have come to be the byword of social conservatives concerned with pulling back free-ranging social change and returning us to a time when women were women and men were men. And they were married to each other.

In fact, this philosophy seems to be receeding in this country, with even the Conservative party stepping back somewhat from its disasterous ‘back to basics’ campaigns of the past. Instead, this Christmas will see the first civil unions for gay and lesbian couples. Yesterday, Canada became the latest country to legalise gay marriage.

But in many ways this is still a European phenomenon . In the States, (from this side of the Atlantic) there appears to be a cultural war raging, which the right wing crowd may well be winning. Meanwhile, much of the developing world is struggling to combat poverty and disease in a climate of social conservatism that threatens to restrict access to crucial tools – such as a condoms.

So a book which reveals that the ‘traditional’ nuclear family is a relatively recent development in the history of marriage is still potentially powerful. Alternet has interviewed Stephanie Coontz about her contribution to the debate, Marriage, A History: From Obedience to Intimacy, or How Love Conquered Marriage.

She argues that marriage is undergoing, has undergone, a step-change of the magnitude of the industrial revolution, as women and men come to expect more from of their relationships.

The interview ranges from the short history of the love-marriage and how those with strong “family values” are more likely to divorce to how an increasingly egalitarian culture is making marriages that work, work better.

‘Wife fattening farm’ force feeds Mauritanian girls

by Jess McCabe // 20 July 2005, 3:10 pm

Although in the West we are used to one standard of beauty – thin, mostly white – this has not yet spread world-wide. However, as this BBC reports reveals, that does not mean the rest of the world is any more enlightened.

In Mauritania, women have traditionally been seen as more attractive if they were fat, even obese. This is so well-established, that girls as young as seven are still being sent to ‘wife fattening farms’, where they are force fed until they weigh anywhere between 60 and 100 kg.

One woman who runs such a farm told the BBC: “Of course they cry – they scream. We grab them and we force them to eat. If they cry a lot we leave them sometimes for a day or two and then we come back to start again. They get used to it in the end.”

As Western ideas of beauty take hold, this practice has fallen out of favour, so that ‘only’ one in 10 girls are put through this ordeal.

Although some say that this is being replaced by a more “natural” look, one 19 year old man’s comments reveal that this is still defined by men – not be women: “We’re fed up of fat women here. Always fat women! Now we want thin women.”

George Bush has announced that John Roberts is his nomination for Supreme Court Justice, to replace Sandra Day O\x92Connor, who recently announced her retirement.

There has been huge concern among feminists over this nomination (we’ve written about it here and here) \x96 as Dubya himself pointed out, nominating a judge is "one of the most consequential decisions a president takes", as the Supreme Court are the ultimate arbiters of what is legal according to the US Constitution. The American legal system (as far as my sketchy legal knowledge allows me to understand) is based on case law, which means that what is legal in America is basically all about what other judges have decided about its constitutionality (is that a word?) in the past. This is different to the UK where Parliament passes legislation to determine what is and is not legal.

Hence, to take the most obvious example, the right to abortion in the USA was deemed constitutional, and therefore legal, by the Supreme Court in the infamous 1973 Roe vs Wade case.

An appointment to the Supreme Court lasts for life, and Supreme Court justices tend to out-stay individual presidents by some margin (the current membership has been unchanged in 11 years). Depending on retirements and deaths, a president may get to nominate several justices or none at all \x96 it\x92s all about luck of the draw. This is George W. Bush\x92s first nomination \x96 Clinton and Bush Snr both got to nominate two, Regan nominated four (including a Chief Justice), whilst poor old Jimmy Carter didn\x92t get to pick any.

It\x92s well documented that the right to abortion is increasingly under threat in the USA. In 1992, Sandra Day O\x92Connor voted to uphold the right to abortion, a vote which passed the Supreme Court with a margin of two. An anti-abortion replacement for O\x92Connor could, then, be extremely bad news for American women. Several other members of the Supreme Court are old and in ill health, notably Chief Justice William Rehnquist and, if there are other replacements in coming months or years, the face of American law may start to look very different indeed.

But back to John Roberts. Of course, nominating doesn\x92t necessarily mean he\x92s in \x96 Senate have to approve the nomination, and political wrangling will abound. But, if he were to be approved, what of this John Roberts?

Apparently he hasn\x92t left enough of a paper trail to know much about what he thinks. Many were expecting Bush to bow to pressure to appoint a woman, or an ethnic minority which he has not done. Mr Roberts is described as "a conservative but not an outspoken ideologue". On what the Guardian refers to as "the vexed question of abortion" his position is unclear. He has argued an anti-abortion stance in the past but, so he says, merely on the instructions of a client. When quizzed on his opinion, he refers to Roe vs Wade as "the settled law of the land" and said "there\x92s nothing in my personal views that would prevent me from fully and faithfully applying that precedent".

We\x92ll be watching this space.

It’s not feminism

by Catherine Redfern // 19 July 2005, 10:54 pm

Confusing article in the Guardian today entitled “Women getting rich faster than men“. It claims that “women are becoming increasingly more wealthy than men” and “it is estimated that by 2025, women will own 60% of the nation’s personal wealth”.

I’m not an economist so I’m going to leave aside the validity of those conclusions, which seem to be at odds with what most organisations such as the Fawcett Society and the Women and Equality Unit are saying about women and money.

What will really make feminists cringe about this article was the resort to sweeping sexist generalisations by various businesswomen to explain these developments. Veronica Lim said “men will be money-driven initially. But for most women it is their passion for a challenge which drives them – they are more practical.” Nighat Awan said: “women are natural multi-taskers who are used to hard work.” Jacqueline Gold said that “we are better at doing business than men… we work hard, are not agressive – but level-headed. We listen and take advice.” The article concludes with her explanation that “women are more sensible than men”.

Ugh. It’s infuriating that people feel the need to ascribe certain generic human characteristics to one gender or the other to explain success or failure. In this case, the not so subtle implication is that men as a class are naturally lazy, less sensible, less practical, less driven, less passionate, and just generally not as good as women are.

I’m with Andrea Dworkin (may she rest) who spoke out against this kind of complete drivel in her superb essay Biological Superiority: The World’s Most Dangerous and Deadly Idea.

Islamic feminists key to anti-terrorism

by Catherine Redfern // , 10:18 pm

Further to Louise’s post below about the London bombings, on Friday last week Johann Hari took an interesting perspective on this in The Independent, in a comment piece called “The best way to undermine the jihadists is to trigger a rebellion of Muslim women“.

In it, he argues that the key to stopping terrorism is to undermine the ideology behind it, and he explains: “one of the central tenets of this ideology is the inherent inferiority and weakness of women.”

He goes on: “The best way to undermine the confidence and beliefs of jihadists is to trigger a rebellion of Muslim women, their mothers and sisters and daughters. Where Muslim women are free to fight back against jihadists, they are already showing incredible tenacity and intellectual force. … Muslim women are offering the most effective critiques of Islamism.”

“The jihadists themselves know that Islamic feminism is the greatest threat to their future – that’s why, in Iraq, the “resistance” has been systematically hunting down and killing the leaders of Muslim women’s rights organisations. No ideology can survive on terrorising half the population indefinitely. When it comes, the Islamic Reformation will be drenched in oestrogen.”

But, he cautions that the process of undermining an ideology “is a glacially slow, slow fight.” Unfortunately, we feminists can testify to that, being in the Third Wave of feminist activism and still with unfinished business. Nevertheless, if you think about how much dramatic change there has been within living memory due to Western feminism, perhaps there is reason to be hopeful that similar progress can be made in the Islamic world.

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