Metro Petty Criticism Corner

by Catherine Redfern // 22 May 2005, 3:53 pm

(With apologies to Bitch Magazine‘s “Jane Petty Criticism Corner”).

Ooh, the Metro. Given away free every weekday to stressed out commuters, owned by the Daily Mail / Evening Standard – there’s always some subtle but annoying gender stereotype being perpetuated in its pages.

On Friday I spotted a story about the Vegetarian Society’s attempt to “sex up” the image of vegetarians by producing a “gastro-porn” / “arty short film” showing vegetables being stroked suggestively in “a steam filled kitchen” (the details are at Rude Food if anyone is really interested).

Describing the film (predictably, the article almost filling Page 3 in the paper), the Metro explained: “At the climax white rice shoots into the air and and an asparagus wilts, juice dripping from its head… One of the most erotic shots is a woman’s hand sensually running up and down the length of a banana.” So far, so predictable. The writer continues: “But the naughtiest scene has got to be a man’s finger gently rubbing a pea that has been left in the top of it’s pod. You really have to see it to understand.”

So… asparagus money shots and a woman caressing a banana are “erotic” but a man rubbing a pea is shockingly “naughty”? Oh, please. Talk about double standards. Into the recycling bin with you!

More petty criticism to come, no doubt.

Fighter pilots and bus drivers break new ground

by Jess McCabe // 19 May 2005, 5:22 pm

In Pakistan, the first cohort of women fighter pilots are on course to take to the skies, according to the BBC.

This is the first time women have been able to train as aerospace engineers and fighter pilots, although only 10 have signed on to the flying programme.

In a very traditional, Muslim society it is encouraging to see women taking on these roles traditionally filled by men. Women and men are still kept seperate for large chunks of the training programme, particularly those involving vigerous physical activity, but both genders are reportedly being treated equally.

Meanwhile, in the UK, I noticed the other day an ad encouraging women to take up jobs driving London buses. Apparently only 6% of bus drivers are women, and I can substantiate that by saying my own sightings of female bus drivers have been few and far between.

Sure, it’s not as glamerous as some jobs might be (flying a jet engine?), but at a time when occupational segregation is one of the reasons women are still paid less than men, as they don’t apply for the higher-paying jobs traditionally done by men, it’s got to be a good thing.

Men’s income nearly twice that of women’s

by Jess McCabe // 17 May 2005, 10:31 pm

The gender pay gap is alive and kicking.

The Guardian reports today that men enjoy an income of almost doubt that of their female counterparts, although their incomes are growing at only half the rate of women’s.

The figures, from the Department of Trade and Industry’s Women and Equality Unit, show:

The median weekly income for women was £161 in 2003-04, 53% of men’s median weekly income of £303.

But women’s median weekly income has gone up 31% between 1996-97 and 2003-04, while men’s income has only gone up 13%.

Things are a bit better for younger women, with those in aged 25 to 29 earning £249. Best case senario, this could mean that younger women are finding it easier to succeed at work as society changes to become more egalitarian.

Also, women with children saw the biggest boost to their median incomes over the period the statistics refer to, at 50%. However, 67% of the average family’s total income came from the man, and only 32% came from the woman. In 21% of families, the woman brought in more than 50% of the family income.

So, what do all these statistics mean? Perhaps that efforts to close the gender pay gap are having some effect, but the situation is still horribly unequal.


by Lynne Miles // , 9:51 pm

It has been brought to my attention that I misquoted some statistics in this piece on millionaire females back in April. I stated that a piece of cebr research (reported in The Telegraph) found that in 20 years’ time more women than men would be millionaires.

In fact I confused two separate findings of the report; that in 20 years’ time women would hold 60% of all personal wealth, and that currently two age groups of UK millionaires are more likely to be female than male (18-44 and 65+). This was a genuine error. I nevertheless stand by my wider point that, whilst a handful of women excel, the reality is different for the majority. Apologies for any confusion caused.

Nifty bit of alliteration there, eh?

The Queen\x92s Speech made at the state opening of parliament includes a number of bills aimed at families and finance.

The Parental Rights Bill would extend statutory paid maternity leave from six to nine months for mothers and, innovatively, allow mothers the right to transfer some of the leave to fathers. This is a massive step forward for equal parenting, as it offers real choices to families in how they choose to split the responsibility of caring for infants. The current right to two weeks\x92 statutory paid paternity leave was also passed under the Labour government.

Also proposed today was the Childcare Bill, which would place a new duty on Local Authorities to provide affordable and flexible childcare for under-14s.

Swimwear that flatters your face

by Lynne Miles // , 12:27 pm

Bible-belt America is crying out for products such as these. WholesomeWear are a new clothing company, specialising in \x91a modest line of clothing for "whenever"\x92.

Fortunately for all those water babies out there, this fledgling company have decided to launch their range in swimwear, where "the need for modesty [\x85] is greatest and the supply is almost non-existent".

The modest swimmer can now relax, safe in the knowledge that she can disport herself sea-or-poolside in swimwear which "highlights the face rather than the body". She (note no such modesty-protecting male swimwear) may choose from such desirable items as the Culotte Swimmer, the Skirted Swimmer and (for the fuller figure) the Slimming Swimmer.

If one could be bothered, one could be quite disgusted at the myriad insulting implications \x96 that the female body is to be ashamed of, that if women don\x92t cover themselves men can\x92t be expected to contain their raging hormones, that women are, once again, the gatekeepers of male sexuality \x85

Fortunately for the lazier feminist commentators amongst us, these products mock themselves. Go see. This page ought to have been created by the Landover Baptist Church.

School system is failing our young men …

by Lynne Miles // , 11:27 am

… and the rest of the system is failing our young women.

This is my pet peeve. Some of you may have heard me talk about this at great length before. For those who have, please bear with me whilst I vent.

The exam season is upon us, results season approaches, and last weekend I read the first of those perennial stories about how girls continue to out-perform boys at school, and how the system must be addressed to make doubly sure that boys are allowed to fulfil their potential. Rest assured: more will follow over the summer. They always do.

I should state up front that I don’t think it’s a particularly good thing for young boys to underperform. I think everyone should be encouraged to maximise their potential and (without being an education specialist), I think it’s fair to say that the principle of treating children as individuals and helping them to be the best that they can be should be encouraged at all times.

And here’s the “but”.

I am so unutterably sick of this annual lament, this hand-wringing, this subtext of “look what feminism has done now”. It’s not that the issue doesn’t merit attention by the appropriate professionals; it’s more that the amount of attention it receives is so disproportionate to the problems women face in education and in moving on to the workforce.

Here are the facts: girls do better than boys in school. They have done for several years, in a manner which traverses class and location. This much was reported in last Sunday’s Observer.

Here are some more facts: More girls than boys are accepted to university. More women than men gain first degrees. More of those are top quality degrees.

And yet, despite their demonstrably higher academic achievement, women fall out of the academic field rapidly after graduation, where men flourish. An equal number of women and men go on to achieve higher level degrees, and more men do PhDs.

The world of work treats these high achieving women no better. Despite their better exam results, and despite the fact that more female graduates than male enter the workforce, women are less likely to be managers than hold any other occupation. More women work in (typically) low paid, part time work. Women earn less than men at every skill level – the average full time pay gap is 18%.

So why do we persist in considering female achievement purely through a male lens? Not “isn’t it great that girls do well at school; how can we ensure those achievements are locked in for the rest of their lives?”, but “look how awful it is for boys that girls outperform them; how can we fix this?”

We mustn’t fail any of our children in education, boys or girls. Nobody would consider that a positive thing. But the subtext to all of this is “feminism has gone too far”. The reality is that until women’s achievements in school allow them to gain the positions they deserve in life outside academia, feminism has not gone far enough.

Police hold event to highlight hate crime in London

by Jess McCabe // 16 May 2005, 4:48 pm

Londoners: the Southwark Police Hate Crime Unit is hosting an event in Elephant & Castle meant to improve relations between lesbian and gay locals and the police.

It is taking place at the Elephant & Castle shopping centre (yes, the pink ugly one they want to tear down and turn into the new Covent Garden), between 11am and 4pm this Wednesday.

The event will “promote awareness of hate crimes and attempt to ensure lesbian and gay people feel safer”. It also marks the 10th anniversary of the Southwark Anti Homophobic Forum.

Elephant & Castle is literally just down the road from the Feminist Library if you feel like dropping by. Visits are by appointment only at the moment, though, so make sure you call ahead. The Library is currently looking for volunteers for all types of activities, from cataloguing, contributing to the newsletter and helping out during opening hours to membership of the management committee.

Index on gender puts UK near the top

by Jess McCabe // , 11:56 am

The World Economic Forum today launched a new gender gap index, measuring how countries perform on pay equality, economic opportunity, political empowerment, educational attainment and access to reproductive healthcare.

The good news is that the UK did relatively well, coming eighth after Sweden, Norway, Iceland, Denmark, Finland, New Zealand and Canada.

The US came a shameful 17th on the index, behind Latvia, Lithuania and Estonia.

Pakistan, Turkey and Egypt came last.

However, no country was rated as having total gender equality (on a scale of 1 to 7, Sweden came first with 5.53. The UK scored 4.75), showing just how much work is left to be done, even in egalitarian Scandinavia and Northern Europe.

Check out the full report, here

Women’s minister forced to forego equal pay

by Jess McCabe // , 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.


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


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. 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“.


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

Further Reading

Has The F-Word whet your appetite? Check out our Resources section, for listings of feminist blogs, campaigns, feminist networks in the UK, mailing lists, international and national websites and charities of interest.

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