US emergency update

by Jess McCabe // 4 July 2005, 4:16 pm

Ms Magazine have come up with a list of five rights Americans could be set to lose, if Bush elects a hard line right winger to the supreme court.

We all knew about abortion, but did you know that gender discrimination law is also at risk? The way Ms. tells it, the law is dealt out ruling by ruling.

US women face "state of emergency"

by Jess McCabe // 2 July 2005, 10:57 am

Women’s rights are facing a “state of emergency” in the US, NOW president Kim Gandy said yesterday.

She was referring to the retirement of supreme court justice Sandra Day O’Conner – the first woman ever to serve on the supreme court and, as a Republican, a surprise supporter of key women’s rights such as abortion.

It is feared that Bush will seize the opportunity of her retirement to appoint a hard liner, who could swing any vote on abortion.

Read the full story here.

Another week, another eviction. Maxwell and Saskia are up, and you just know that Saskia\x92s going to be for the chop. But why is it that when a woman comes up against a man in a Friday night vote, she\x92s virtually guaranteed to lose? BB enthusiasts, in a little corner of internet/reality TV geekdom* have been debating that question today, and have come out with a bunch of fascinating views on how gender politics plays out on the reality TV stage.

There\x92s a lot of debate about whether or not Saskia actually deserves to win \x96 a lot of opinions along the lines of \x91this isn\x92t a boy/girl thing, it\x92s just that Saskia\x92s hateful\x92. But underneath all the \x91SASKIA IS A SLUT! LOL! ANTHONY TO WIN :) :) :)\x92 rubbish there\x92s a string of fascinating debate about why, indeed, we hate Saskia so much.

Suggestions from the board are that women are labelled \x91manipulative\x92 (Saskia) whilst men \x91have a gameplan\x92 (Victor BB5). Or that, in the black and white world of reality TV, a female engaging in sexual activity is a slapper (Saskia), whilst one who doesn\x92t put out is a pricktease (Saskia again, poor love) \x96 but men are quickly forgiven either way.

But even if we are to accept that this particular eviction battle is all about the personalities and nothing about the gender politics, someone else rightly poses the question – why is it that women are virtually guaranteed to lose against men? In six series of BB, and another three of Celebrity BB, where a woman and a man have been pitted against each other in an eviction battle the woman has prevailed on just four occasions.

In response to this question, \x91Glenshane\x92 says it\x92s down to a combination of five factors \x96 i) the type of women the producers pick, ii) the type of women likely to apply, iii) the type of people who cast a vote, iv) that the women in BB are poor game players (is this as a result of i and ii, or just a natural failing of women?!) and, finally, v) that women don\x92t play to win.

It\x92s possible that all five of these explanations contain a grain of truth, but, with the exception of iii), the blame is firmly on either the women as individuals, or the characteristics of women in general. If a certain type of woman tends to apply, doesn\x92t the same type of man apply? So it must be more about the selection process than the applicants otherwise all the men and women would be of this \x91type\x92 and be winning votes 50:50. It seems to me that the producers must wilfully be picking the type of woman that the public don\x92t want to see win. I\x92m sure it makes great telly – I\x92m just not at all sure whether this says more about the producers or the public.

It\x92s a strange combination of the limitations of the range of female characters and the polarised way in which we react to them. There were quirky characters of both sexes this year – Mary the witch was odd and immediately booted out, yet Kemal gets to be flamboyant. Rather than being assertive, Saskia\x92s a bitch – but Maxwell is a chirpy cockney geezer (instead of a borderline racist, gobby hot-head), and Derek gets to be eccentric and entertaining (rather than patronising, snobbish and hypocritical).

Surely, then, the most fascinating thing about the Big Brother house is not personalities of the housemates busy fighting or fucking inside it, but the way in which the outside world responds to them? So I\x92ll be voting Max later, if only to try and redress the balance, but I bet y\x92all that at 10.05 I\x92ll be watching Saskia being booed all the way to the TV studio.

(thanks to Alastair for drawing this to my attention!)

*yes, yes, maybe I\x92m at home there!

Are there any female superheros? Yes!

by Jess McCabe // , 9:41 am

As Batman Begins hits the screens, Tanya Gold (writing for the Guardian), asks where are all the femal superheros?.

On the big screen, she’s right – they’re few and far between, and unconsciounably drippy. But that doesn’t mean they don’t exist. Of course, Buffy is way up there.

But Gold, and anyone else in the mood for superhero(ine) action should also check out Wikipedia’s comprehensive list of superheroines. Of course, just because you’re a female superhero, doesn’t mean you’re an empowered woman. Here are some edited recommendations:

Tank Girl. The movie was so-so, but the comics are brilliant.

The Authority. Jenny Sparks – the spirit of the 20th century.


Halo Jones


If superheroines are not your thing, then the comic book/graphic novel world features increasing numbers of interesting characters written for and/or by women, such as:

Julie Doucet‘s dark and grimy diary of her time in New York.


Strangers in Paradise by Terry Moore, a love/friendship story about two high school girls.

GPs voted yesterday against a motion to reduce the time limit for legal abortions in the UK, about which I had a proper rant last week.

77% of delegates at the British Medical Association\x92s Annual Conference voted against the motion, saying that whilst late abortions were distressing they were sometimes necessary in cases where pregnancy was deleted late or there were medical complications.

I don\x92t think I need mention how pleased I am at this outcome. Now all we need to do is secure our right to abortion on demand\x85 who\x92s up for it?!

Colombian women face prison for abortion

by Jess McCabe // 27 June 2005, 10:13 pm

Human Rights Watch have called for the Colombian government to repeal legislation which makes abortion – even in cases of rape – punishable by up to four and a half years in prison.

Recent amendments which allow judges to use their discretion in sentencing women in these cases had a sting in its tail – increasing the maximum punishment from three and a half to four and a half years.

Human Rights Watch says this is unconstitutional and contrary to Colombia’s obligations under international human rights agreements.

MOD forced to take action on sexual harassment

by Jess McCabe // 25 June 2005, 10:50 am

One in five female Navy personnel, one in eight Army personnel and nearly one in 10 RAF personel have been subject to sexual harassment, the Equal Opportunities Commission revealed yesterday.

In response to new evidence of the culture of sexual harassment in the Armed Forces, the Ministry of Defence has been forced to sign an agreement with the EOC to take action on the issue, in order to fend off massive, unprecedented legal action under the Sex Discrimination Act.

The agreement, signed by Defence Secretary John Reid, sets out a wide-ranging action plan to tackle the problem, including surveys and discussion groups with service men and women, reform of complaints procedures and increased awareness of sexual harassment and how it can damage operational effectiveness.

Dr Reid said: “We take our responsibility to prevent and deal effectively with sexual harassment extremely seriously and this Agreement demonstrates our commitment.

“A great deal of work has been done to get our diversity and equality policies right, but we recognise that sexual harassment stills exists in the Armed Forces and more needs to be done to embed our policies into Service culture at every level.”

Jenny Watson, acting chair of the EOC, said: “By signing this Agreement, the MOD has recognised the need to urgently and systematically tackle sexual harassment in the Armed Forces. We share a common view that nobody should have to suffer harassment \x96 and if they do, they should have the confidence that their complaints will be dealt with efficiently.

“On the basis of complaints received by the EOC, information supplied by the MOD, and the findings of the Armed Forces’ own surveys, there is clear evidence that, despite the efforts that have been made, significant sexual harassment still exists across the Armed Forces. This would justify a Formal Investigation using our legal powers, however, we have chosen to suspend the Investigation as the MOD has convinced us that they are going to take decisive and immediate action to tackle the problem.

“Creating a culture where everybody is treated fairly and decently, and dealing with complaints properly if they arise, is an essential part of building any successful modern organisation. The MOD is no exception. It needs to build a strong and highly-motivated team if it is to fulfil the commitments we ask of it.

“We are confident that their work over the next three years will improve working conditions for thousands of service women. We look forward to working with the MOD to help them bring about real and long-lasting organisational change.”

Teenagers in the United States could soon face a massive hurdle to accessing contraception, as new proposals would see clinics forced to notify their parents at least five days before writing a prescription.

The Feminist Majority Foundation reports that the “Parents Right to Know” Bill was put before both the Senate and the House of Representatives last Tuesday.

Although parents would not have the right to prevent a clinic writing a contraception prescription, this would in practice surely put teenage girls off trying to get the pill in the first place, leading to an explosion in unprotected sex.

This new attack on contraceptive rights comes only weeks after petitions to make the “morning after” pill available over the counter, as it is in the UK, received a contraversial blow when it was revealed that a vote by the US Food and Drugs Administration may have been swung by an evangelical doctor who “prescribes prayer for PMS”.

The doctor, David Hager, allegedly sexually abused his ex-wife repeatedly during the course of their marriage.

Sappho poem discovered

by Jess McCabe // 24 June 2005, 12:26 pm

A new 101 word poem by the Ancient Greek poet Sappho has been discovered, the Guardian reports today.

The 2.600 year old poem, only the fourth ever recovered, was found in “the cartonnage of an Egyptian mummy, the flexible layer of fibre or papyrus which was moulded while wet into a plaster-like surface around the irregular parts of a mummified wrapped body, so that motifs could be painted on”.

It was found to match up with fragments found in an ancient Egyptian rubbish tip in 1922. The Times Literary Supplement is publishing the full poem, along with a commentary by Martin West, a well respected expert in Greek lyrical poetry.

Chicks and joysticks

by Jess McCabe // 23 June 2005, 12:31 pm

Women are making slow progress integrating into the gaming industry, The Guardian reports today.

The Government has recently started a big push to get more girls interested in IT, in the hope it will lead to a less-male dominated working environment in years to come, but girls are still reluctant to consider it as a career option – or just don’t know what opportunities are out there.

According to Fawcett Society statistics, only 22% of IT A level candidates are female, compared to 95% for home economics A level.

And even if they get that game industry job, they may face discrimination. An Entertainment and Leisure Software Publishers Association report, Chicks and Joysticks, found that “female UK games professionals progress more slowly through the company ranks” than men.

Although some games, notably the Sims, have attracted girls and women, the market is still male-dominated – making it less likely that girls will aspire to develop games as a career.

Fight for your Right to Abortion

by Lynne Miles // 20 June 2005, 6:57 pm

The British Medical Association are expected to vote in favour of reducing the upper time limit on abortions (currently 24 weeks) to 20 weeks, on the grounds that premature babies as young as 22 weeks can be \x96 but are very rarely \x96 viable. The decision will be taken at its Annual Conference, later this month. If the motion is passed, it will be BMA policy to lobby the government for a change in legislation.

Latest figures show that almost 182,000 abortions were carried out in 2003 \x96 17.5 per 1,000 women aged 15-44. 87% of all of these abortions were carried out before 13 weeks. Only 1.6% of all legal abortions were carried out between 20 and 24 weeks \x96 0.8% over 22 weeks. So this is a very small minority of cases we\x92re talking about (for an excellent, medically-focused discussion of the case against restricting late abortion, see here.)

The worry here is not the number of people who would be affected by this ruling \x96 clearly the vast majority of women who want a termination will not be at all affected \x96 but *who* amongst that group will be affected. It seems so unlikely as to be almost impossible that we\x92re talking about a few feckless women who can\x92t be arsed to schedule an abortion until five months because there are so many more pressing concerns in their lives. Late abortions are not an easy option, and they are certainly not a \x91lifestyle option\x92. The women who need late abortions are likely to be the most vulnerable of all.

However it\x92s important not to fall into the trap of thinking that we should only be concerned about women who go through the emotional wringer about having an abortion. As feminists we need to stand behind the theoretical absolute grounds for the right to abortion on request. If we are to make a decent and convincing case to the world at large that women MUST be allowed access to abortion on demand (and, remember, we don\x92t technically have that in the UK \x96 a doctor must "allow" it on medical grounds) the case cannot be emotional \x96 we cannot make it about women "deserving" abortions.

The right to decide what happens to our own bodies is fundamental \x96 to remove that right is to take away our autonomy. We shouldn\x92t be allowing the debate around abortion to centre on who does or doesn\x92t "deserve" an abortion \x96 indeed we should be pushing to extend abortion rights to allow us access to abortion on demand. It is insulting in the extreme that we cannot decide for ourselves whether to continue with a pregnancy, but if we want a boob job we have only to ask. It is demeaning for us to have to find not one but two doctors who will certify that having a baby will be damaging to our mental health. And part of making that case is acknowledging that some women *will* be having what the public consider \x91feckless\x92, \x91lifestyle\x92, \x91wanton\x92 abortions. And that it is their right to do so.

We consider this sort of thing a battle already won, but since Roe vs Wade in 1973 abortion has never been under such threat in the USA as it is now. And if we’re not careful, the UK will follow. We should treat news reports such as yesterday\x92s BMA leak with the utmost gravity \x96 they may appear if not benign then at least insignificant, but they represent the thin end of the wedge, and we cannot afford to let them pass unnoticed.

High Achievers "Look Like Men"

by Lynne Miles // , 5:58 pm

Oliver James in Sunday\x92s Observer Magazine looks into research done by an American psychologist which points to a strong correlation between thinness and professional success \x96 he found that curvaceous women are less likely to be perceived as competent and intelligent than thin women, and that women who expressed a preference for smaller breasts and buttocks were more likely to chose \x91male\x92 careers and excel academically and professionally. The conclusion drawn was that high-achieving women aspire to \x91male\x92 body shapes.

The same academic correlated bust-to-waist ratios of women in magazines with the proportion of women working as professionals over the last century and discovered that in the decades when women pushed hardest to be taken seriously, a thinner female form was more fashionable than at other times.

This all suggests that there\x92s no change to the old \x91it\x92s a man\x92s world\x92 adage \x96 if you want to be a successful woman in it, you need to act, and even look, like a man. As James says, "we still have a long way to before the equation successful = male\x92 ceases to underpin our thinking".

Men Doing Twice As Much Housework \x85

by Lynne Miles // , 3:08 pm

\x85 but then two times nothing is nothing, isn\x92t it?

I jest, of course. But an article on the front page of yesterday\x92s Sunday Times entitled "Hey, Dad, you\x92re an unsung domestic god" rather misleads as to the content of the study on which it reports.

It focuses on a study by Essex University which found that men now do "almost twice as much" housework as they did in the early 1960s (by "almost twice as much", apparently, The Times means "70% more" \x96 the figures they quote are 143 minutes a day as compared with 83).

On closer inspection (and you have to read over the front page into page 2 before this point becomes clear) it is revealed that, whilst men are doing "almost twice as much" domestic labour with the passing of time, women are still doing twice as much as them \x96 their time spent on unpaid work has decreased from 303 minutes daily to 277 ( just 9%). And, as contented in Susan Mauhart\x92s fantastic book, Wifework, men continue to \x91cherry pick\x92 the more interesting, high-recognition-and-reward household tasks, leaving the drudge work to women \x96 the article notes men have tripled the amount of time they spend cooking (from ten to thirty minutes daily), whilst washing and ironing are still female-dominated chores.

Finally, the study shows that whilst women\x92s unpaid work has decreased by 9% this is offset by an increase in paid work. By contrast, the increase in domestic chores undertaken by men is "more than compensated for" by a decrease in office hours.

Progress? But how desperately S-L-O-W.

Girl blogs from Iraq

by Jess McCabe // 18 June 2005, 8:43 pm

The Guardian today features extracts from the blog of “Riverbend”, an Iraqi woman, blowing apart the idea that life is better for women after the war.

Riverbend blogs about the status of women in post-war Iraq: the fear of going to work, walking the streets, going to school, and having a normal life.

There’s also a lot in there about the corrupt way the US are handing out huge contracts to American firms, rather than giving them to Iraqi companies that could do the job for a fraction of the cost.

The blog is set to be published in book form on the 4th of July, as ‘Baghdad Burning: Girl Blog from Iraq’.

Czech textbooks rife with gender bias

by Jess McCabe // 15 June 2005, 11:14 am

Textbooks in Czech schools are rife with gender bias full of “discouraging” role models for girls, Women’s eNews reports today.

This has come to light after a government funded study examined gender in primary school textbooks – one example had girls shown consistant giving the wrong answer to maths problems, and boys correcting them.

But the Czech government is not planning to withdrawn the textbooks, just substitute more girl-friendly textbooks when they would otherwise have been replaced. Women’s eNews points out this is in stark contrast to neighbouring Germany, where a textbook with one egregious image would be instantly withdrawn. But before criticising the Czech Republic too much, it should be remembered that they are obviously in a very different economic situation.

Since 2002, teachers have been taught to identify and avoid gender stereotyping, but the subject is not taken seriously – when the government decided to fund the investigation into textbooks, at $2,000, it was lampooned by the press and even Prague’s Gender Studies Institute published comments on its website calling it into question.

Now Who’s Being Judgemental?

by Catherine Redfern // 14 June 2005, 8:37 pm

Julie Bindel, the generally fabulous and well respected feminist founder of Justice for Women, has caused ructions with her recent Guardian piece “Why I hate Vegetarians“. In a bafflingly vitriolic article, she brands vegetarians (except, for some reason, those who are for religious or cultural reasons) as smug, self-satisfied, pompous, aloof, naive, humourless, judgemental, and bullies.

Her point about the misogynist way PETA run their campaigns is right on the money. But as Carol J Adams pointed out in her books “The Sexual Politics of Meat” and “The Pornography of Meat”, carnivores aren’t exactly innocent on that score either. What’s more, the people who are most disappointed by PETA’s approach and at the forefront of complaining to PETA are often feminist vegetarians.

Bindel is infuriated that people assume she’s veggie because she’s feminist. Sure, it’s important to break those stereotypes and make sure that people realise you don’t have to behave in certain ways to be a feminist. As a veggie, I’ve sometimes annoyingly had people assume I don’t drink alcohol or won’t eat anything unhealthy; but that doesn’t make me hate teetotallers or Mr Kipling. She also argues that vegetarians are wrong to prioritise animal welfare before women’s welfare, but doesn’t explain how the simple personal act of choosing not to eat meat prevents one from entering fully into feminist activism.

Some feminists may agree with her, but I feel it’s a shame that vegetarians and vegans who are trying to act ethically and morally according to their own consciences to make the world a better place – often in difficult circumstances – are viewed with suspicion and hatred by a feminist who is also trying to do the same thing but in another area of life. It’s also disappointing that despite “agreeing in principle with most reasons for giving up meat”, she throws around the same old insulting cliched stereotypes that feminists have always been subjected to: “humourless”, “judgemental”, “self-satisfied”. Both feminists and vegetarians need to be given more credit.

Bar staff face sack if they gain weight

by Jess McCabe // 13 June 2005, 4:01 pm

With tales of Wal-mart woe in the papers every couple of weeks, no-one could say that worker’s rights in the United States are perfect. And this story from USAToday has some real horror stories of employers cracking down on their employees behaviour during their free time, from people getting fired for displaying a political bumper sticker, to getting the sack for drinking a competitor’s beer.

But this one takes the biscuit:

“At the Atlantic City, Borgata Hotel Casino & Spa, bartenders and waitresses can be fired if they gain more than 7% of their body weight. They are first given a 90-day unpaid suspension to lose the weight. Officials say it is a recent clarification to the company’s appearance policy.”

You’ll be glad to know that the 200 cocktail servers and bartenders the policy apply to, called ‘Borgata Babes’, do not have to adhere to the policy if they have gained weight for a ‘legitimate’ medical reason such as pregnancy. However, they still have to lose the weight again within 90 days of returning to work.

So what did the company spokesperson, Michael Facenda, have to say? “We believe the policy in place is not only legal and non-discriminatory, it is also fair.”

Yep, completely delusional. The article doesn’t say what the rest of the company’s ‘appearance policy’ consists of, but from the picture in the article, it’s not hard to guess.

Women at greater risk of contracting HIV

by Jess McCabe // , 11:51 am

Women worldwide are at greater risk than men of contracting HIV, an American scientist has said.

The Times reports that Thomas Quinn, Professor of Infectious Diseases at John Hopkins Hospital in Baltimore, has called for a global strategy to tackle HIV in women.

He said: "If medical progress is to continue on how best to prevent and treat the disease, then developing specific strategies that empower women will be key to its success."

Nearly half of those affected by HIV worldwide are now women, and Professor Quinn said that “hormonal and developmental factors” meant that women were more likely to catch the virus.

Mayan tomb sheds new light on status of women

by Jess McCabe // 12 June 2005, 9:51 am

A new archelogical find has prompted speculation that Mayan women may have had a much more powerful role in their society than previously thought, reports.

A recently opened crypt in Guatemala, the site of the ancient Mayan city of Waka, contained the remains of two murdered women, arranged in a ritual tableau. One was pregnant, and laid face down, with the second woman laid on top.

David Freidel, an archaeologist at Southern Methodist University in Dallas, Texas, who co-directs the excavations at Wak\xE1 said that stingray spines placed near their groins may indicate that they were on the same level as warriors.

Dorie Reents-Budet, a Maya specialist who works for the Smithsonian Institution from North Carolina, said: “This tomb tells us that women were extremely powerful. When there were political disagreements, women were killed.”

On The Radio: Where Have All The Women Gone?

by Barbara Felix // 10 June 2005, 4:22 pm

This weeks Radio Times’ cover story reads “The Top 40: We reveal the most powerful people on radio”, and the cover features the top 4: Jonathan Ross, Terry Wogan, Chris Moyles, and John Humphries. Turn the page over, and editor Gill Hudson, is asking, at the prompting of Andy Kershaw, why is there such a lack of women on the radio? Of the full list of 40, only six are women. Radio 5’s Jane Garvey is at number 9, Radio 4’s Harriet Cass and Fi Glover are at 17 and 18, Radio 4’s Martha Kearney is at 29, Radio 2’s Sarah Kennady is at 28, and Radio 4’s Jenni Murray is at 39. What surprises me, possibly more than the lack of women in the list, is the lack of range of the list. Most of those listed are presenters first and foremost, that is, personalities on legs, like Jonathan Ross, like Chris Moyles. Of the rest, the majority are journalists, and it’s into this second bracket that most of the women listed slot into. Out of the whole list, there are only three what could be termed “specialist” music DJ’s: Zane Lowe, Tim Westwood, and Andy Kershaw. Fair play to Andy Kershaw, but I’ve heard Zane Lowe’s and Tim Westwood’s shows, and they also seemed to be more about front, and personality, than good music, so, the question I ask is: Where are all the good specialist DJ’s? oh yeah, and how come there aren’t any women? Annie Mac on Radio 1 is O.K I suppose… On a related point, I also think Fi Glover should have scored higher, if only because her technique for winding up politicians is so much more entertaining than John Humphries.

Going Down With Advertising Standards

by Barbara Felix // , 3:35 pm

My eye was drawn, in last issue’s Private Eye (issue 1133, 27/5-9/6/05) to the Ad Nauseam column, and to a little piece about the recent Keep Britain Tidy campaign, which is apparently being aimed at 18-24 year olds. The posters are described in the piece thus: “three images of a horny hunk and buxom blondes asking ‘While you’re down there…’ (at which point the eye is drawn to the pay-off line, printed on their crotch) ‘could you put this in the bin for me?'” the ladies in question are holding “items of litter” apparently. Apparently a Manchester agency called Lake Design created the advert, and the Eye conclude that the tiny size of the agency and the budget might have had something to do with the “attention seeking” approach, but they did pose the question “did it have to be quite so inane as to think that sex and refuse collection was a good fit?” apparently the beermats to accompany the campaign feature the same images, leading inevitably, speculate the Eye, to more litter.

Minister for Women sets out priorities

by Lynne Miles // , 2:22 pm

Interviewed in The Guardian yesterday, the new Minister for Women, Meg Munn (the one who\x92s been asked to do the job unpaid as the parliamentary salary budget has been spent elsewhere \x85 ) sets out her priorities for her time in office. These include:

* The Women and Work Commission (looking into job segregation and pay-gap issues);

* Ratification of the Equality Bill (brings together different equality commissions including those for race, disability, gender, into one single body);

* The Work and Families Bill (proposing increased maternity leave, and the possibility of transferring maternity leave allowance to fathers); and

* Flexible working.

She also says she\x92s supportive of all-women shortlists, and is keen to emphasise that measures such as the Work and Families Bill are going to be good for men too. You can have a look at her voting record here. I\x92m looking forward to hearing more from her!

Sexual orientation of a child’s parents is “irrelevant” to their upbringing, new research confirms.

What really matters is whether or not that child has a stable, loving family environment.

The study revealed that: “Teens with same-sex parents were identical to those with opposite-sex parents in almost every area analyzed, from anxiety levels to autonomy, and even grade-point average. It was kids’ relationships with their parents, not the gender of their parents’ partners, that clearly influenced their development. Those with warm, caring family bonds were doing better at home, in school, and in their social lives than those without them. Other studies have also found parental warmth – being a caring, understanding, and accepting parent – to be one of the most powerful forces behind the healthy development of children and adolescents, regardless of race, socioeconomic status, family structure, and sexual orientation. Gay and lesbian parents are just as likely as heterosexual parents to meet – or to fail to meet – their children’s needs for healthy development.”

But children of lesbian or gay parents may also be “freer from rigid gender roles”, says Orson Morrison, a clinical psychologist who has studied adult sons of gay men.

Cherie Blair Should Be Seen and Not Heard

by Lynne Miles // 9 June 2005, 7:03 pm

So all this brouhaha about Cherie Blair is starting to annoy me.

Now I personally don\x92t really care whether she makes a bit of spare cash in the evenings doing after dinner speeches. Frankly, if someone offered me £30k for a fifteen minute talk I\x92d be biting their hand off. Of course they won\x92t. Because I\x92m not married to Tony Blair. And therein lies the problem.

Everyone has their knickers in a knot because Cherie only commands such a fee by virtue of being the PM\x92s wife (her personal career success notwithstanding), and people seem to be saying it\x92s either plain wrong or just a bit unseemly for her to be taking advantage of it.

Now of course this isn\x92t an issue which troubles women in all spheres of life \x96 in showbiz, for example, many an anonymous woman has courted fame and fortune by association with someone better known than themselves \x96 think Abi Titmuss (nurse to Page 3 girl via John Leslie). Indeed, such behaviour is not restricted to women. Fran Cosgrove, anyone?

Cherie argues it\x92s only an issue because she\x92s a woman. On balance I think this doesn\x92t hold much water. The comparison she drew of Dennis Thatcher doesn\x92t really apply because, to the best of my knowledge, Dennis only ever made speeches or appearances directly related to his own professional affairs.

But I do think it\x92s fair to say that, since 1997, the press have vilified Cherie to a degree I find quite perplexing. And I suspect it\x92s because we really aren\x92t that keen on our \x91first ladies\x92 having careers and opinions, earning far in excess of their husbands and generally having a head on their shoulders. I\x92m reminded of an incident early in Bill Clinton\x92s presidency when he appointed Hilary to oversee a healthcare reform committee. Hilary, as most now accept, is a shrewd politician in her own right but at the time the American press reacted with outrage (they can really only tolerate First Ladies running campaigns of the \x91Just Say No\x92 variety, not overseeing important welfare state reform), and Hilary was forced to stand down.

Of course Cherie\x92s made some foolish errors of judgement in her time, and been guilty of some shamefully poor media management but, by and large, she\x92s intelligent, extremely professionally successful and attractive (whilst unfortunately being wildly un-photogenic). She ought to lead the type of life that young girls in this country are taught to aspire to. Yet all our press seem to do is print a series of photos of her caught pulling a silly face, or with visible cellulite, and patronise her career achievements. No wonder our girls want to be glamour models instead.

But A Wrap Skirt Is A Definite No No

by Barbara Felix // 8 June 2005, 9:02 pm

I’ve just been reading Natasha Walters’ article in The Guardian, concerning fiction for pre teen girls. She has noticed a new genre of fiction for this age group, which she dubs chicklet lit (I’m sorry Natasha, but that smacks of incredibly lazy journalism to me) Chicklet lit is exemplified by books such as the recent Daisy Meadows fairies books, according to Walters, and revolves around fairies, designer clothes, looking pretty, etc. Whilst the teenage version of the chick lit novel has been around for a few years now, chicklet lit is comparatively new, and Walters finds it to be a disturbing phenomenon. No wonder boys won’t read books by female authors, she seems to be arguing, look at the trash that’s being published for young girls.

To a degree, I can see her point, but only to a degree. For one thing, I don’t believe it’s fair to dub The Princess Diaries chicklet lit when it’s far more subversive than shopping and frocks. Also, I don’t believe that children’s fiction, whether it’s for boys or girls, is in as woeful a state as Walters believes. Yes, there is some trash out there (Mary Kate and Ashley anyone?) but there has always been trash out there: Sweet Valley High and it’s junior versions, Sweet Valley Twins and Sweet Valley Kids, have been around for years, and show no sign of going away. These kind of books appeal to the inner cheerleader in young girls (and if you have no inner cheerleader, there really is no point in reading these books…) they are Buffy without the satire. But what Natasha Walter appears to have failed to spot is that childrens fiction has a much wider scope than this. To be honest, at the moment, childrens fiction and teenage fiction has a much wider scope than adult fiction. There is more variety and, quite often, the quality is better. Can you really write off completely books such as Meg Rosoff’s How I Live Now, or Geraldine McCraughton’s Six Storey House purely because of Mary Kate and Ashley and some fashion obsessed fairies? If you really want to find some good quality junior fiction for your daughter to read, Natasha, then you could do a lot worse than buy her a book by Anne Fine (a past Children’s Laureate) or by Jacqueline Wilson (the current Children’s Laureate) Look beyond the glossy covers, and the hype, to what’s hiding behind the chicklet lit, neglected on the shelves. Maybe then you’ll find something with a bit more substance.

(Slight update after having slept on the matter)

Here, after much thought, are five books for the pre teen age group (about 7-11, depending upon reading age and parental strictness) and five books for the teenage age group (11+, again, depending upon reading age and parental strictness) that I believe could probably be read by girls and boys equally and which, I would say, are well written, innovative, and are not what Natasha Walter would call chicklet lit. I’ve also tried to list books that were published comparatively recently, though I’ll admit that it’s harder to come up with five teenage books that boys and girls would both read, and one of them (The Sisterhood Of The Travelling Pants) does have a pink cover. Still, Feeling Sorry For Celia has a blue cover, so that probably cancels it out.

Pre-Teen List:

Geraldine McCraughton – Six Storey House (Hodder Children’s Books, 2002)

Gennifer Choldenko – Notes From A Liar And Her Dog (Bloomsbury, 2002)

Hilary McKay – Permanent Rose (Hodder Children’s Books, 2005)

Anne Fine – The More The Merrier (Doubleday, 2003)

Polly Horvath – Everything On A Waffle (Scholastic, 2003)

Teenage List:

Meg Rosoff – How I Live Now (Puffin, 2004)

Jaclyn Moriarty – Feeling Sorry For Celia (Macmillan Children’s Books, 2001)

Tamora Pierce – Trickster’s Choice (Scholastic, 2004)

Sharon Creech – Bloomability (Macmillan Children’s Books, 1998)

Ann Brasheres – The Sisterhood Of The Travelling Pants (Corgi, 2002)

I don’t imagine Natasha Walter is reading this anyway, but I wanted to make my point as I get fed up of being accused of peddling trash to minors.

Further Reading

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