Half of voters will not have the option of voting for a woman

by Jess McCabe // 27 April 2005, 11:28 am

Just under half of voters in next weeks general election will be denied the opportunity to vote for a woman, the Fawcett Society said today.

None of the parties are doing that well, then, but Labour seems to do the best:

Conservatives – only 12% of its candidates in its most winnable seats are women

Lib Dems – only 34% of its candidates in winnable seats are women

Labour – 64% of candidates in winnable seats are women

This means that if no seats changed hands, there would still be 19 more female Labour MPs, while the Lib Dems and the Tories would have less women in the House of Commons. This is down to Labour’s use of all-women shortlists.

Dr Katherine Rake, Director of the Fawcett Society, said in a press release: “Increasing the proportion of women in parliament should not depend, as it currently does, on the electoral fortunes of one party It is the responsibility of all parties to play a part.”

A new shelter is being set up for elderly survivors of the sex trade in Mexico City, the Guardian reports today.

The site of the shelter is a grand, abandoned sports museums, which the local authorities are providing rent free. It’s being developed by a coalition of NGOs and local feminists, who have taken on the project as a personal cause.

Jo Tuckman interviewed some of the 120 elderly women who work the district, including Marilú Torres.

‘”This year is my golden anniversary as a sex worker,” laughed Marilú, who became a prostitute as a young widow with no other means of feeding her three children. “I’m not complaining, I’ve learned a lot about life in this job. But the old bones are turning to dust like the mummies, and it would be nice to be able to stop soon.”‘

Embroideries

by Jess McCabe // 26 April 2005, 11:39 pm

Nerve is running a really interesting interview with Iranian comic book artist/writer Marjane Satrapi, about her latest comic Embroideries.

The comic documents Satrapi and her female friends and relatives talking (mostly about sex) over tea one afternoon. From her comments in the interview and the snippets of the comic, it seems like she is working to counter-act the view of women in Iran as purely victims, showing them forging their own alternative space.

Despire the well known oppression of women in Iran, things are changing, she says. From the Thousand and One Nights (“it’s full of sex”) to the Shi’a (a form of temporary marriage), she portrays a far more progressive side of Iranian culture than we have got used to hearing about.

She also has some words of wisdom about the Western world’s contradictory attitude to sex and old age, as well as nudity, which she says women use as a way of “veiling who they are”.

Robert Downey Junior "compliments" Lorraine Kelly

by Louise Livesey // , 6:58 pm

Viewers of morning TV were apparently concerned by Robert Downey Junior’s “compliment” to presenter Lorraine Kelly on This Morning. Downey, in response to Kelly saying how well he looked, passed remark on Kelly’s “tits”. The outrage, obviously, is that he used the word “tits” at breakfast time rather than the perversity that he felt it OK to issue such a statement at any time.

Kelly has been praised for her handling of the situation in which, despite embarrassment, she thanked him for the compliment.

Maybe next time that twerp on the tube embarrasses us into silence we should rebuke him just in case he becomes another work famous Hollywood actor!

Be heard

by Jess McCabe // , 6:09 pm

Women in London have set up a sister site to provide a forum for women to express their views on political issues ahead of the general election.

The website, Women and e-democracy is pretty sparse, but includes an online survey.

Hopefully they will use the results to encourage politicians to think more about issues that affect and interest women.

Women to play golf alongside men

by Jess McCabe // , 2:41 pm

Women may compete alongside men for the first time at a prestigious golf tournament, the Open at St Andrews.

The tournament\x92s organisers have said that American teenager Michelle Wie willbe allowed to play if she qualifies this year.

Maybe this is just the first step towards women competing directly against men in sport, something that might well be what\x92s needed to end the ghettoisation of women\x92s sport.

Tick, Tock

by Catherine Redfern // 25 April 2005, 10:25 pm

So, the best age for women to start a family is apparently 34. You have to take all these soundbite generalisations with a pinch of salt of course, but at least it’s more refreshing than those doom laden, backlash inspired, panic inducing “oh-my-god I was so selfish in having an education and a career that I forgot that my only purpose in life is to breed” stories we’ve been hearing for the last, ooh… ten years?

“The social and economic benefits of delaying parenthood more than compensate for the ageing reproductive system,” said Prof Mirowsky, who led the research. You’d have thought it was obvious, really.

But what about men, I hear you cry? Well, men’s fertility starts to deteriorate at around age 35, apparently. No cause for panic, obviously, but isn’t it interesting how closely those ages match? Please let this be the end of biological clock scaremongering aimed solely at women.

But seriously, when is the best time to have a child? Whenever you choose to, if at all. Which brings me on to another recent story: a 20 year old Scottish woman, who had an abortion when she was 16, is suing a hospital trust because the procedure failed, leaving her with one child to care for but also to financially support. She had decided almost immediately not to go through with the pregnancy, and the abortion took place at 6 weeks. Incidentally, at this stage, the embryo/foetus is the size of a baked bean. Just thought I’d mention it.

Do it yourself teenage sex offending

by Barbara Felix // , 5:49 pm

Alistair Gillespie, of the governments net task force, is calling for a re-think on how we deal with underage sex offenders after the case was dropped against a teenage girl who had taken topless photos of her friends and posted them on the internet. As the law currently stand, had she been found guilty, she would have been put on the sex offenders register and possibly received a jail sentence.

Whilst this story explored the legal rammifications, it neatly sidestepped the social ones. This story reminds me of another story I read, a year or so back, about page 3 birthday girls in The Express. Since these girls were appearing topless in the newspaper on their sixteenth birthdays, surely this meant that the photo’s had been taken when they were fifteen or younger? the implication being that either the paper was breaking the law by printing the pix, or it was lying to it’s readers. I was more interested in why the girls involved in the above case had stuck their pix up on the net. Was it naivete? or was it a bid to advertise themselves?

Hidden army of girls uncovered

by Jess McCabe // , 10:23 am

Girls around the world are being abducted and forced to work in the army, as soldiers, porters, cooks and cleaners, according to a report by Save the Children. Most of them are also forced to serve as sex slaves or ‘wives’.

According to the report, 6,500 girls serve in Uganda’s rebel Lord Resistance Army. That’s 33% of the total army.

In the Democractic Republic of Congo, an estimated 12,000 girls are still associated with the armed forces

And in Tsunami torn Sri Lanka, 21,500 girls are considered to be associated with armed conflict (43% of all the children fighting).

Mike Aaronson, Director General for Save the Children said: “When people picture conflict they think of men in bloody combat, but it\x92s horrifyingly girls who are the hidden face of war. This report reveals a shocking and inhumane life for thousands of girls around the world who are failed by the international community.But our purpose is to do more than shock. We aim to change the system and ensure there is proper funding to help these girls so they can – with dignity – regain some sense of normal life. This appalling abuse of girl’s rights demands urgent action. Its time to stop the war on children.”

London women win recognition

by Jess McCabe // 24 April 2005, 8:41 pm

Southwark Council are giving the public a chance to vote for who should be the recipients (both people and places) of the next round of blue plaques, commemorating the history of the area.

There a couple of interesting ones, including the Cross Bones Graveyard where it is thought that Winchester Geese (prostitutes) were buried in medieval times.

You can also vote for Octavia Hill, the woman who founded the National Trust in 1895. Before that she worked at the Ladies’ Guild, a co-operative association, and was involved in giving classes to women at the Working Men’s College. She was also heavily involved in efforts to house poor people in the local area.

Other people up for recognition include the woman behind the A-Z and Connie Smith (an American music hall performer and one of Britain’s most famous black actresses). There’s even a chance to vote for yet more plaques to William Blake, the truly brilliant and visionary poet given to revolutionary verse and visions. He was a very early exponent of free love.

Fairytales are bad for you, it’s (kind of) official

by Jess McCabe // 23 April 2005, 12:26 pm

An American psychotherapist is to present a paper next month that suggests reading too many fairytales featuring submissive role models is bad for girls.

As reported in the Guardian, Susan Darker-Smith found that women who were stuck in abusive relationships identified more than other women with the female characters in Beauty and the Beast and Cinderella, who rely on men to come and save them.

These fairytales also push the message that women can transform their ‘prince’.

Darker-Smith based her theory on interviews with women in abusive relationships and a control group of those that were not.

Whether or not it’s overplaying it to say that fairytales open up girls for abuse later in life, there’s surely an argument for more of the Buffy, less of the Rapunzel. Darker-Smith suggests reading Pocahontas and Paddington Bear to girls instead. I say this is all very well and good, but maybe the same rule should be applied to boys.

If girls can be influenced not to put up with abuse through fiction, maybe boys can be influenced not to be abusive, or at least not to see women as pathetic, weak figures in continual need of rescuing.

(UPDATE: It should be added, of course, that fairytales have been a favourite subject of feminists for quite some time. Here is an interesting discussion thread on the subject, which would be a good starting point for anyone wanting to find out more.)

Selfridges Boob?

by Catherine Redfern // , 11:57 am

The window displays at Selfridges, Oxford Street, London are “legendary” and “groundbreaking”; they also seem to have somewhat of an obsession with stripping and sex work. A few years ago, in collaboration with Stringfellows, the windows contained live pole dancers; later, supermodel Elle Macpherson stripped off in the window. This time they’ve gone for the neon variety of pole dancer, as part of the Vegas Supernova themed shopping experience.

The window display, celebrating “Sin City”, has been produced by celebrity photographer David LaChapelle, and features the aforementioned neon moving pole dancers, a neon stripper, and even more perturbingly, a window full of around 8 disembodied giant, pink inflatable boobs which inflate and deflate at regular intervals. These sit next to windows containing neon dollar signs, inflatable hot dogs and burgers, and flashing XXX signs.

The Evening Standard explains that “the Vegas showgirl look is enjoying something of a fashion moment this season … at Versace, skintight cocktail dresses and high showgirl hair looked like a deluxe take on hooker chic.”

Hm… so, what to conclude from all this? Could the inflatable boob window display be a satirical comment on the fake, superficial, plastic surgery culture? Why not check out some of the images on LaChapelle’s website, and draw your own conclusions about his attitude towards  women. (Fans of Moby may be advised to brace yourselves before doing this. Don’t say you weren’t warned.)

Vagina badge sparks contraversy

by Jess McCabe // , 11:44 am

Here is a story (via Boing Boing)which is interesting on a couple of levels.

A teenager in the US has been banned from wearing an ‘I (heart) my vagina’ badge, the Winona Daily News reports.

In most UK schools, wearing anything other than the regulation uniform is strictly forbidden. But in the US context, yes, it’s not on that you should be able to wear badges as a rule, but not an ‘I (heart) my vagina’ one.

But this doesn’t seem as simple as the evil, oppressive school system coming down on free expression. The principle’s response to why she banned the badge is complex and contradictory. She said: “I believe in freedom of speech, and I believe in women’s rights. But I also believe this could be construed as offensive or harassment.”

How is wearing a badge saying ‘I (heart) my vagina’ in any way shape or form ‘harassment’? It makes no sense. Who is she harassing, exactly? Only people who hate or are mortally offended by vaginas. The principle has asked the girl involved to set up a group on women’s issues instead. Apparently some staff members complained, saying that girls should be proud of their brains, over and above their vaginas. Which, I can kind of see the point of. But that’s not what it’s about. It seems to be a completely automatic response, viscerally rejecting the word vagina.

Pilot wins sex discrimination case

by Jess McCabe // , 11:17 am

A pilot who flies for British Airways has won her landmark sex discrimination case.

Jessica Starmer, who has a young child, found it difficult to cope with the long and irregular hours of a full-time pilot, and asked to work part time. BA refused her request, only letting her reduce her hours to 75% (rather than the 50% she wanted).

Quoted in the Scotsman, she said: “I am delighted with this result and that I will now be able to spend more time with Beth and balance caring for her with the responsibilities of my job. Being both a professional airline pilot and mother should in no way be incompatible.”

Too right. BA, though, are appealling the decision. There are only 400 women pilots in the UK (or 2.9% of the workforce). BA itself has been trying to attract more women to fly for them. No wonder their numbers remain so low, if they have such an inflexible attitude to working hours.

Musical doctors

by Jess McCabe // 22 April 2005, 2:11 pm

The life of Elizabeth Garrett Anderson, the first female doctor in the UK, is to be turned into a musical.

According to this local news story, it is to be funded by the Camden Central Partnership, which exists to promote social cohesion through the arts.

It’s being done by Rob Inglis, who has already done something similar with the life of Father Basil Jellicoe and his efforts on slum housing.

Inglis says the play will draw parallels between the plight of women doctors in the past, and how migrant doctors are treated today.

Ball Breaking Millionaire Females

by Lynne Miles // , 1:59 pm

Thoroughly objectionable article in The Telegraph today \x96 a new report published today by the Centre for Economic and Business Research for the Liverpool Victoria Friendly Society indicates that in 20 years\x92 time there will be more female millionaires than male.

Of course that may be true, but detracts attention from the real issue, which is that women are still paid far less than men, predominantly because they tend to be concentrated in part time, lower skilled \x91women\x92s\x92 jobs. That a handful of women are able to excel is good news but it certainly doesn\x92t mean the battle is won.

Worse is the tone the article takes. Having begun by saying what canny financial and business skills this new millionaire female breed possess, it continues by pointing out that "women are increasingly using their business wiles to gain financial rewards from their private lives" \x96 and goes on to categorise these as Boomers (inherited their husbands\x92 wealth) and SARAHS (Single And Rich And Happy – "who have made their cash through clever wrangling in the divorce courts”).

So more demonising of women who gain divorce settlements, characterising them as ball-breaking man-hating money grabbers. The reality, of course is not at all like these caricatured situations. The vast majority of women end up significantly financially worse off after a divorce than they were before it and that, in this country at least, the chances of gaining maintenance payments from an errant husband or father are increasingly slim.

Sexism in the FT

by Jess McCabe // , 11:19 am

It is annoying to find outdated, sexist sentiments, where-ever you find them. But it is even more annoying when you find sexism in the headline of a newspaper article that is purporting to highlight an example of discrimination against women.

So when I saw that William Hall’s Financial Times article about how it is easier for women to get started as entrepreneurs in the south than in the north, I thought: Great. An institution of the business world talking about the very real problem of industry sexism.

But the tag line was: ‘The fragrant world of female entrepreneurs’.

As though we were back in the 19th century, amid bonnets and a conception of women as sensitive things that float through the world. Completely undermining the purported sentiment of the article with retrograde and condescending stereotyping.

Is this a lot to read into one tag line, in one column? Maybe it is, but I’m sure it’s not the kind of thing that would get passed the Guardian’s sub editors, for example.

"Moulin Rouge meets Chicks on Speed"

by Lynne Miles // , 10:46 am

Immodesty Blaize, \x91queen of British burlesque\x92 starts a run at the Arts Theatre on 20th April. The show is billed as "a seductive blend of hot charm and high camp" and was featured in the Sunday Times Magazine last weekend, which said "the show looks like cabaret, but with a twist. The primary attraction is the sex, but it’s a sexiness that doesn’t alienate people. It’s erotic, not blue; suggestive rather than explicit".

The focus of the show is on Victorian-style glitz, glamour and entertainment, and also features Immodesty\x92s cabaret partner Walter. The content promises to be rather more subversive than your average strip show \x96 Immodesty herself is all over-the-top Moulin Rouge glamour and doesn\x92t conform to many of your standard stripper stereotypes. Indeed one of her routines is a reverse strip-tease (where she puts her clothes on rather than taking them off). They also once performed at the Annual Conference of the British Sexual Freedom Coalition.

For the curious among you, get a sneak preview of the routines here, and find out more booking information here. I\x92ll be in the second row with a bucket of popcorn and a wide-eyed stare.

We Love A Wife Beater, We Do

by Lynne Miles // 21 April 2005, 1:23 pm

So apparently it\x92s okay to hit your wife, as long as you\x92re a lovable rogue with it. And, let\x92s face it, if you write a book about it afterwards saying how terribly remorseful you are, we\x92ll probably even shower you with plaudits.

G8, the wife-beater-formerly-known-as-Gazza (and now variously known as \x91brave\x92 and/or \x91troubled\x92) has won the prize for Sports Book of the Year at the British Book Awards. He broke down in tears when accepting the reward last night.

The book, which was ghost written by football writer Hunter Davies, is apparently heavy on the self-flagellation over his battle-with-drink-and-drugs, his erratic on and off pitch antics and his traumatic childhood, but is described by one reviewer as "shamefully" glossing over his beating of his then-wife, Sheryl.

My Name is Rachel Corrie

by Jess McCabe // 20 April 2005, 1:58 pm

Guardian journalist Katherine Viner and the stupendous actor Alan Rickman have co-written a play about Rachel Corrie, the American activist who was killed by an Israeli bulldozer when she was protesting the destruction of Palestinian homes.

My Name is Rachel Corrie is based on her own diaries and emails.

Reuters has a good round up of how the critics saw the play.

Women’s votes?

by Jess McCabe // , 11:54 am

For anyone agonising over how to vote in the upcoming elections, the Fawcett Society has put together a neat booklet comparing the main parties’ policies on issues of concern to women.

The news is good (a bit), with all of the parties offering some policies aimed at addressing women’s concerns. However, only one party makes any mention of violence against women (Labour), and no party mentions cutting women’s poverty. Also, no party has pledged support of compulsory equal pay audits for all employers.

So, the white smoke has puffed out of the holy chimney, the bells have rung, and the world’s 1 billion Catholics have a new pope.

I for one am already worried. The German Joseph Ratzinger is a hardline right winger, so we should expect more of the same when it comes to contraception and abortion. The last pope was an obstacle to efforts to tackle the spread of HIV/AIDS in Africa, something which increasilyaffects women more than men.

And now a nun has come forward to say that the new pope has a ‘limited’ understanding of women.

Apparently: ‘He thinks of feminists as man-hating and as seeking division between men and women rather than full equality between men and women.’

Further assault on reproductive rights of US women

by Lynne Miles // 19 April 2005, 6:29 pm

Pursuant to recent attempts by the evangelical Christian right in America to outlaw abortion, reports have been coming through recently of pharmacists refusing to complete prescriptions for the Morning After Pill (MAP), and even the contraceptive pill where it “goes against their religious and moral convictions”.

There are reported incidences of pharmacists refusing to return a pill prescription, preventing women from obtaining the pill elsewhere.

The growing controversy is prompting state legislatures to consider whether pharmacists should be compelled to supply the MAP when presented with a doctor’s prescription. Arizona has recently legislated in favour of ‘the pharmacist’s right to choose’, whilst Illinois has ordered pharmacists to dispense prescriptions “immediately and without question”.

Unlike in Britain where over-the-counter sales of Levonelle (the morning after pill) have been legalised, in America a doctor’s prescription is still required, limiting the impact of individual pharmacists’ actions. However, if pressure to allow on-demand provision of the MAP is successful, pharmacists may have significantly more scope to impede women’s access to emergency contraception.

This story has rolled on for a very long time now (there were similar reports last year during the US Presidential elections) but I find it deeply worrying that the issue is gaining increasing momentum in Middle America – and maybe even Middle England.

Opponents of the MAP argue variously that, as it is can cause a very early chemical abortion, it is immoral, or that it encourages reckless behaviour by women. In the UK, 55% of Daily Mail readers polled online believe that the MAP “encourages casual, unprotected sex”.

This is an issue to watch with concern in America, and we should pay particular attention to rumblings in this country along similar lines. Where America leads we are all too frequently swift to follow. For better or for worse.

Woman attempts gruelling army training

by Jess McCabe // , 9:01 am

A 23 year-old from Birmingham is to attempt one of the most gruelling training regimes in the world, in a bid to become the army\x92s first female Para.

Lieutenant Jenny Hands said in the Scotsman “I am looking forward to it in a perverse sort of way. I hope I do myself justice.”

Apparently, ‘Among the punishing trials ahead of her are a frantic one-minute boxing match known as “milling”, an aerial obstacle course and a 20-mile forced march in five hours carrying a 35lb pack and rifle.’

Unbelievably, having proved herself by living through all that, she will still not be able to serve as a Para.

Today’s Gender Transgressors

by Catherine Redfern // 18 April 2005, 11:39 pm

I just realised why I stopped reading the METRO; it’s guaranteed to make any commute more infuriating. For starters, Page 3 of today’s issue highlighted the apparently newsworthy fact that at the Bafta TV Awards, David Walliams from Little Britain was wearing nail polish. The headline read: “Of course I wear nail varnish, I’m a laydee”. According to the METRO, this made him look “as if he had just steppped off the set as ‘laydee’ transvestite Emily Howard.” In actual fact, he’s wearing a smart black suit and just happens to be wearing black nail polish too. Hardly Dame Edna Everage. But he’s a man! Shock! Horror! Well, this the beginning of the post-Beckham backlash, I guess.

More seriously, later on in the paper there was an example of their subtle juxtapositioning of news items to make some kind of point. There was a story about poverty-striken women in Eastern Europe being paid to give up their aborted foetuses to be used in beauty salons as a treatment for wrinkles (?! I know…); next to this just happened to be a box about how “increasing numbers of British women want ‘buttock augementation'” (?! I know, I know!). They do this a lot: they always seem to put scare-mongering articles about abortion next to ones about how fulfilling having babies is.

To change the subject completely: Paula Radcliffe won the London Marathan. I don’t know what’s more astounding: the media giving so much attention to the fact that she peed; or the fact that she peed in front of the nation. Wow!

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