Women’s minister forced to forego equal pay

by Jess McCabe // 16 May 2005, 9:22 am

The new junior women’s minister, Meg Munn, will have to work unpaid, the Telegraph reports.

Munn will have to forego her junior minister’s salary, leading to very understandable accusations that the Government is not taking women’s rights seriously.

Downing Street denied that Blair “forgot” he needed to appoint a women’s minister, but one way or another this is a worrying sign.

The Conservatives’ shadow women’s minister, Eleanor Laing, said, very aptly: “How can Meg Munn stand up in the House of Commons and argue for equal pay for women when she’s not being paid the same as her ministerial colleagues? This is an insult to women.”

US trade embargo devestating Cuban women

by Jess McCabe // 13 May 2005, 12:40 pm

The US trade-and-travel embargo on Cuba is having a devestating effect on women, Women’s E-News reports today.

Women are bearing the brunt of the sanctions in any number of ways, but mostly involving everyday hardships that make the day-to-day living difficult.

On paper, Cuba is a great place for women to work – there is real equal pay, and more than 65% of technicians and professionals are female. But in reality economic conditions have driven many women to prostitution to feed themselves and their families.

And the average salary for both men and women is only $15 a month.

Marie Stopes Targets Men

by Lynne Miles // , 10:00 am

Coming up the tube escalators this morning I was pleasantly surprised to see a Marie Stopes advertisement (the organisation best known for providing pregnancy advice and abortions) highlighting the role of vasectomy in the family planning canon.

Better still the strapline (from memory) was along the lines of "assume responsibility for contraception" \x96 a very positive message to send out, I think.

Too often contraception is considered a women\x92s issue \x96 in fact to my recollection this is the first commercial advert I have ever seen aimed at men. Whilst ultimate responsibility will always rest with women, as the sex which carries children, any functional, adult couple should consider contraception a joint responsibility. Nice to see some campaigning which reflects this. For more information on Marie Stopes vasectomy services, see here.

‘Barbaric’ Hollywood rejects older women

by Lynne Miles // 12 May 2005, 10:48 am

The Cannes Film Festival opened yesterday with the film’Lemming’, by French director Dominik Moll.

In a press conference after the film, Charlotte Rampling – the 60-year old british female star of the film – described Hollywood’s attitude to older women as ‘barbaric’, saying “If a woman is prepared to age it can be quite beautiful, and having a wrinkle is not a reason to be put away. In Europe they understand that, thank god”. She says she now prefers to work in France, due to the attitude of Americans towards older women, and the paucity of interesting projects in the British film industry.

This year’s festival is notable for its relative lack of British and female directors.

Reach for the Mags, Lads

by Catherine Redfern // 11 May 2005, 10:45 pm

Last week The Guardian reported that Tesco, one of the UK’s most powerful (and scary) supermarkets, plans to move some men’s magazines (Nuts, Zoo, Front, Loaded, Maxim, FHM) higher up the shelves, after having received complaints about the front covers and the content of the mags.

The campaigning group Object have been arguing for this for some time, after having found that “normal” mags like FHM and (cough cough) “newspapers” like the Daily Sport were far more explicit and sexist than Playboy (see “Which is the Porn?”). Playboy of course is usually on the top shelf, whilst rags like the Sport are usually positioned so low down that even passing snails get a lovely eye view of whichever “up the shirt” photo shoot is on the cover that day.

Tesco has previously been accused of censorship late last year when it took the Wal-Martish move of asking publishers (mainly of lad’s mags) to submit their magazines for approval. In this case, however, it’s hard to see how just moving the magazines up the shelves and positioning them so you can only see the masthead (and are therefore spared the air-brushed boobs whilst shopping for groceries) is actually censorship. It sounds like some people just don’t want to be made aware of the fact that they’re buying soft porn. Face it, boys: you’re buying soft porn. At least have the guts to admit it rather than freaking out because you have to reach up to a different shelf to get at it. What do you think women do when they want to buy Scarlet or DIVA (which incidentally have much less sexist and explicit covers)? We reach, dammit.

Come to think of it, if Tesco ever try to censor the content of those mags, I trust Feminists Against Censorship will get on the case pronto. Keep those eyes peeled (but keep the boobs off the front page, will ya?).

By the way, for any non-Brits who haven’t heard of the hugely successful   Nuts magazine, this little brainchild of theirs says it all. Euuwwww.

Spied in Metro today \x96 a review of the increasing popularity in America of Yaoi ("yowee") \x96 a genre of new Japanese manga cartoons containing short fantasy stories focusing on male-on-male *erotic encounters*.

So far, so gay porn.

But the kicker is, these magazines are written by and for women. That\x92s right \x96 female artists, drawing men having sex with each other for the pleasure of other women. And it appears to be getting bigger and bigger (well it must be losing its underground status if it\x92s got a write up in Metro).

I was a bit taken aback by one Yaoi artist\x92s assertion that she "seldom find[s] good female characters" that she likes, relates to, or wants to draw and that she "find[s] male characters more endearing than most female characters". I would have thought the more obvious answer to that problem (for an artist) would be to create female characters that you like, relate to and want to draw.

On the other hand, an editor at Tokyo Pop, an American manga publishing house, describes Yaoi as subverting what is expected of men and women, and that\x92s a concept I\x92m always keen on.

Feminism to end terrorism?

by Jess McCabe // 10 May 2005, 12:15 pm

Is feminism, or at least human rights for women, the answer to an effective anti-terrorism strategy?

Well, that’s what Barbara Ehrenreich thinks. In this article on AlterNet, she calls for the US government to pour resources into education for girls, grant asylum to women fleeing from countries where their human rights are trampled, and a reversal of the country’s anti-abortion aid policy.

An interesting idea, but the US should embrace these values and practices because they are intrinsicly the right thing to do. Although if waving the terrorism bogey-man gets them to change then I’m not going to argue.

She Makes War

by Jess McCabe // 9 May 2005, 2:01 pm

She Makes War could be the next big grrrl band. I caught them last night, supporting Die So Fluid at the Garage for what was only their second gig and was mightily impressed. Think Sleater Kinney.

Londonist today carries a more extensive review, or check out the band’s website to listen to their demo tracks.

Homophobic bullying thrives in schools

by Jess McCabe // , 8:58 am

Lesbian and gay children are being driven out of school by homophobic bullying, the Guardian reports today.

Stonewall has estimated that 60,000 children are the victims of abuse from name-calling to “serious physical and sexual assaults”.

Although teachers are finally beginning to wise up to homophobic bullying, and the Government is focusing on it as part of it’s anti-bulling strategy, experts have called it the “last acceptable form of abuse and intimidation in the classroom”.

From the article:

“‘My IT [information technology] teacher used to think it was funny,’ said Simon, 16, who went to a south London comprehensive. ‘He wouldn’t actually join in but he would encourage the other lads in the class to have a go at me.

‘He knew what was going on but he never did anything to stop it. He used to leave the room for half an hour at a time even though I’d told him what would happen – that they would spit at me and call me names and throw pencils and stuff at me … He often used to laugh about it.'”

Ladies and Gentlemen… presenting, Miss Manchester!

by Barbara Felix // 6 May 2005, 6:42 pm

Organisers of the Miss Manchester beauty contest have been criticised by Object’s Jennifer Drew for treating women as sex objects. The Miss Manchester competition has been in existence for a number of years, according to the Manchester Metro News, but this is the first time it has involved a fashion show, not photos alone. Angela de Frou, of organisers AdF management, stuck up for the event by saying that films such as Miss Congeniality had made beauty contests more popular as well as demonstrating that women could find a rewarding job as well as simply performing charity duties. Jennifer Drew, of Object, argued that the competition feeds into a mens magazine mentality, whereas Angela de Frou, of AdF, argued that the current Miss England, Danielle Jones, had been thanked by charites such as Womens Aid and Refuge for raising the profile of demostic violence.

This report comes a week after another Manchester paper celebrated the success of two local girls in the annual FHM sexiest women poll, and also represents another chapter in the beauty competition wars, along with local debates about the objectification of women, which erupted two years ago with the lad mag style “Girls Of Manchester Universities” calander.

Personally, I have difficulty taking Beauty Contest’s even remotely seriously, possibly because of a book I read when young and impressionable by Gwen Grant, called “One Way Only”, in which two Nottinghamshire girls in the 1950’s are entered in a regional seaside beauty contest. (Sample: “And who would you like to be little girl?” “The Red Baron”)

Whilst the debate over the “Girls Of Manchester Universities” was resolved a year later when the student behind it launched “Boys Of Manchester Universities” to accompany it, it is also worth bearing in mind that Manchester is one of several cities to hold a regional round of the Ms Lesbian U.K competition, which could be seen to be a much more subversive beauty competion in a number of ways than Miss Manchester, if only because you don’t need to be 17 to 24 and over 5ft 7 in height.

Figures on women MPs

by Jess McCabe // , 3:56 pm

OK, Fawcett have published the figures:

125 women MPs have been elected so far, a record number for the House of Commons.

Conservatives:

Number of women MPs up from 14 to 17, or 9% of their party.

At the current rate of change, it would take the Tories 400 years to achieve equal representation.

Liberal Democrats:

Number of women MPs up from 6 to 10, or 16% of their party.

It would take them 40 years to achieve equal representation

Labour:

Number of women MPs up from 94 to 98, or 28% of their party.

It would take them about 20 years to achieve equal representation.

A spokeswoman for the Fawcett Society said: "We warmly welcome the increased numbers of women in parliament. Nonetheless, there is no reason to be complacent yet as all parties still have a long way to go.

"Labour is particularly to be congratulated for increasing its numbers of women MPs even though it lost seats \x96 a clear vindication of its use of all-women shortlists.

"The Lib Dems have done well to almost double their numbers of women, but must not rest on their laurels as their proportion of women MPs is still only 16 per cent.

"The Tories may be celebrating large gains, but there is not much for those of us who believe there should be equal representation to celebrate in their results. They urgently need to address their failure to pick women for winnable seats \x96 or else they will look more and more out-of-touch compared to the other parties.”

Labour elect historic numbers of women MPs

by Jess McCabe // , 2:18 pm

The votes are in: we all know what happened, but what does it mean for women in the House of Commons?

The detailed figures have yet to be worked out (by me at any rate, I’m waiting on the Fawcett society to do the work!) but the Labour party now has 98 women MPs: more women MPs than any party has ever had before, thanks to their all-women short list policy.

However, the question now is how many will end up in the Cabinet. A spokeswoman for the Fawcett Society said: "Now that it is unacceptable to talk about women as ‘the weaker sex’, it is time to acknowledge that women should be in cabinet in equal numbers to men and can be the ‘big hitters’ in government too.

"When the cabinet, like any decision-making body is picked from too narrow a group of people, it lacks the breadth of experience to understand the lives of the electorate and come up with new solutions."

New member states lag behind on gender equality

by Jess McCabe // 5 May 2005, 10:10 am

The new EU member states are lagging behind the rest of Europe on gender equality, a report from Open Society Institute has revealed.

EUobserver.com reports that Bulgaria, Estonia and Slovakia performed the worst, with a 25-30% pay gap between men and women.

Zita Gurmai, a Hungarian vice-chair of the Parliament\x92s Committee on Women’s Rights and Gender Equality, said: “These findings show us that we need to drastically increase our efforts to get legally binding EU instruments addressing gender equality in decision-making”.

Rapist proposes marriage

by Jess McCabe // , 9:36 am

A woman in India has rejected a courtroom plea from her rapist to marry him, the BBC reports today.

Unbelievably, the judge halted sentencing proceedings at the last minute, to allow the man, who had already been found guilty of raping and seriously injuring the 22 year-old nurse, to propose. She sustained a gouged eye and facial scarring during the attack.

The nurse rejected the proposition out of hand: “I will not marry him. It is horrible, audacious… he should be given the severest punishment.

“He should be hanged so that such a horrendous act is not repeated with any other girl.”

Women’s rights campaigners in India have said that the case may set a dangerous precident, with other rapists seeking to evade tough sentences by seeking marriage with their victims. Rape victims are highly stigmatised in India.

Need More Reasons?

by Catherine Redfern // 4 May 2005, 9:33 pm

Need even more inspiration to vote? Check out the women who fought for your right to do so, and the ones still fighting today.

Yeah, we know the system’s not perfect, but at least take some comfort from the fact that we can.

If you’re convinced the system is wrong and have consciously opted out from voting (or even if you are going to vote), then at the very least do something today to help change things. Show your support for the campaign to lower the voting age to 16, or sign the petition at the Electoral Reform Society‘s campaign, “Make My Vote Count“.

Vote!

by Jess McCabe // , 8:15 pm

Only people who have spent the last month on a space station can not know this, but tomorrow is the election.

Anyone who hasn’t made up their mind yet (just taking a minute here to beg you not to vote Tory), here are some nifty tools to help you make the most out of your vote:

How gay-friendly is your MP?

How the parties compare on women’s rights

Don’t know who to vote for, but know you don’t want to vote Tory?

And of course, Why you should vote

Masturbation, sex-ed and US development policy

by Jess McCabe // , 12:04 pm

Betty Dodson, masturbation activist and author of Sex for One is interviewed in AlterNet today.

It’s a really interesting, but short interview, in which talks she about feminism steeling her thunder in bringing back vibrators and the perils of modern day censorship and family values in America.

On the current trend towards abstinance-only sex-ed, she says: “Very few women know anything anyway, but now they are really going to know nothing. It’s a big fat zero. And we are going to have a lot of unplanned pregnancies. I grew up in Kansas. A lot of girls ended up getting married in high school. I think we might see that again.

“The idea that talking to young people about birth control will encourage partner sex is ridiculous. What would help is a discussion of masturbation.”

More seriously, the Guardian today reports that Brazil has refused US funding on HIV/AIDS, because of the restrictive terms that come attached on abortion, prostitution and contraception. Good on Brazil for standing up to the US on this issue, but what a tragedy for the people of Brazil who are losing out on much needed aid.

Nine year maternity pay battle victory

by Jess McCabe // , 9:19 am

A woman won her nine year battle for fair maternity pay yesterday. Woolwich Building Society, now part of Barclays, had calculated her maternity pay too low, basing it on her income before a pay rise.

She finally received the £270 odd that she was owed, a symbolic victory, but one which could benefit thousands of other women. The case also means that it will be easier for women to claim sexual discrimination in maternity pay cases. In the past, such attempts had been scuppered by the need to find a male worker to compare pay.

This is good news, but how can it possibly have taken nine years to resolve?

The Guardian has the full story.

Hot Child in the City

by Catherine Redfern // 3 May 2005, 9:17 pm

Over the weekend The Observer ran a story about a trend for girls as young as 5 being taken by their mothers to salons and spas for facial treatments, manicures, pedicures and makeovers. All together now: BLECCH!

Apparently, “eyebrow shaping is particularly popular with 13 year olds”. Remind you of anyone?

This is just the latest in a string of “girls growing up too soon” stories. A couple of years ago, Bhs and Argos came under fire for selling padded bras and thongs to pre teens (Bhs’s line was called “Little Miss Naughty”).

This brings to mind something Naomi Wolf wrote in The Beauty Myth: “For a contemporary seven year old, to climb onto the [bathroom] scale and to exclaim with horror is as much a ritual of femininity… as my generation’s posing provacatively in high heels in front of mirrors.”

Depressing, isn’t it? I tried to find something positive to link to, but I couldn’t. I just hope there are some organisations out there working to counter all of this.

By the way, if you haven’t read The Beauty Myth yet, you really must. Even Johnny Vegas is a fan. (It’s true! I read it in the Radio Times once. I know that’s not the greatest endorsement in the world, but still…)

Equality under attack in Japan

by Jess McCabe // , 10:48 am

Women’s E-News reports that Japan is set to pass a constitutional amendment that will emphasise family values and undermine strides towards gender equality in government and business.

The story is a bit light on the details of the amendment, but quotes Hisako Motoyama, who is campaigning to stop it going ahead, as saying:

“The government is borrowing family values–which attack women–from the U.S. It’s the same thing, but the only difference is that we don’t use religious language, we use nationalistic language.

“This is an attack on women’s constitutional rights. They want to change the fundamental principles of the constitution..

“There is a backlash against feminism, and the ruling party is campaigning against gender and sex education. They are saying feminism is breaking down our social foundation. They are against gender equality.”

Trainee detectives put in charge of rape cases

by Jess McCabe // 1 May 2005, 8:58 am

Trainee detectives without enough experience for the job are being put in charge of investigating rape cases in London because of a lack of resources, The Observer reports today.

Could this be one of the reasons that rape convictions have hit an all time low? According to the Home Office, only 5.6% of recorded cases of rape end in conviction.

The rules state that only experienced detectives are allowed to serve in the Metropolitan police’s well-regarded Sapphire units, which deal with cases like rape, prostitution and trafficking. However, the Observer quotes one detective “Bob”:

“His first eight-month placement was on one of the busiest inner-city Sapphire units where, within two months, he had to take sole responsibility for highly complex rape investigations.

‘I simply didn’t have the experience and desperately wanted … to get it in a less stressful department before being put in a position of such responsibility,’ he said.”

A longer article in today’s Observer reveals that reforms in the Metropolitan police have not gone far enough, while moving through the criminal justice system remains a traumatic experience for victims.

Myths prevail, such as the majority of rape allegations are false. Only 3% of rape allegations are malicious or false, according to figures quoted in the Observer.

Poor women in the US denied abortions, even after rape, incest

by Jess McCabe // 29 April 2005, 12:33 pm

Poor American women who become pregnant after rape or incest are being denied access to abortion, according to Stephanie Poggi from the Centre for American Progress.

On AlterNet today, Poggi reports that legal protections that should allow women on Medicaid access to abortion in these circumstances are routinely flouted.

She says: “At least 9,100 abortions each year are attributed to pregnancies that occur because of forced sexual intercourse, according to the Alan Guttmacher Institute. Yet, the vast majority of states that only cover abortion under the narrow exceptions report zero payments in any given year. In fiscal year 2001, the most recent year for which we have statistics, the number of abortions paid for by both federal and state Medicaid under the narrow exceptions totaled 81. This figure includes payments in cases of rape/incest, as well as in cases of life endangerment.”

Women fight it out to be Chile’s president

by Jess McCabe // , 12:03 pm

Two Chilian politicians are fighting it out for a chance to become the country’s first ever female president.

Michelle Bachelet and Soledad Alvear are only competing to be the presidential candidate for Chile’s centre-left coalition, but it is widely predicted that whichever woman comes out on top will win the presidency. The conservative opposition candidate is a man, and the party has lost the last three elections.

Women speak out about their abortions

by Jess McCabe // 28 April 2005, 11:15 pm

It’s often said that abortion is not given much in the way of airtime. And certainly not in a way that portrays the complex reasons behind women’s choice to have an abortion.

So, following on from I’m not sorry, the American internet phenomenum that gave women a chance to express the fact that, you guessed it, they’re not sorry they had an abortion, comes a new documentary film.

The Abortion Diaries has a similar premise (via SFist).

On the website, director Penny Lane explains:

“i had an abortion a few years ago. it was really, really hard. i made the right choice, and i am not at all apologetic about it. but the silence almost killed me. when i finally started to tell people what i was going though, something happened. it turned out that there were all these women around me who had had abortions too. all of our experiences were different, but none of our lives were ruined, none of us regretted it, and all of us had somehow made sense of it all.”

Daisy, Daisy ….

by Lynne Miles // , 11:08 am

The Guardian today reports concerns from the Royal College of Nursing (RCN), the newest sexual fad amongst schoolchildren is daisy chaining – the practice of group sex (in a circle, or so the rather romantic name for this decidedly non-romantic practice would have it).

Apparently London teenagers are increasingly notching up a number of sexual partners of an evening even before their parents get home from work.

Now the more mischievous part of me is looking back on my schooldays and wondering whether daisychaining went on back then and I just wasn’t invited. But there is a more serious note, the RCN have expressed concerns that young girls are being persuaded, pressured or even forced into group sex situations as teenage boys emulate the wilder and better publicised night time activities of professional footballers (for a remarkably awful article about that, see here).

In addition to this, there are concerns that the children in question are not adequately protecting themselves from disease and pregnancy – the RCN cites the case of one 14-year old boy who has contracted HIV through sexual activity, believing he was not at risk of catching the virus.

It’s not that young women are incapable of making adult decisions about being sexually active alone, with a partner, or with a group of people. But the mainstreaming of porn in popular culture, amongst other factors, is pressuring young women into behaving in ways they might not otherwise choose to do and blurring the boundaries around consent.

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