Gender equality for schoolboys

I woke up this morning to my husband asking me what the Women’s Equality Party intended on doing about the gender gap in higher education (that he’d just heard about on the radio).

His sudden interest in Women’s Equality Party policy is due to said gender gap being in favour of girls, and widening. More girls are going into higher education (they’re now over 30 percent more likely to enter HE), and it would seem the boys are getting left behind as early on as at primary level. Does the party give a crap about that inequality? He wants to know. Well, I’m hardly its official spokesperson, but as a paid up member, I thought I ought to familiarise myself with the policy.

First, lets look at the problem. The feminisation of education in the UK made a few headlines back in 2006, with calls for a system that encompasses more adventure (a male thing), and less sitting still and being conscientious (a female thing).

While I’d prefer us to get past the gendered behaviour expectations, (liberating girls to be adventurous and restless, and boys to be quiet and conscientious), I could absolutely get on board with the concept of an education system that better embraces both. Regardless of gender, a system that only caters for and rewards a very narrow view of success must be letting down a lot bright kids (currently mainly boys) who don’t conform.

Perhaps addressing the shortage of male teachers (especially at Primary level) would be a step in the right direction. Role models can make a big impact. If they can see it, they can be it. If they can’t, well… there was a period of time in Britain when little boys would ask their parents if a man could ever be Prime Minister. It’s that powerful, having somebody of your own gender to blaze a trail for you.  As it happens, this does tie in with a WEP policy, to increase the number of men teaching in primary schools.

Also, let’s not forget that a university education is not the be all and end all of career paths. Somehow, apprenticeships, once highly regarded and the only way to learn a trade, have ended up often presented as a second best option, for those who weren’t very good at school (mostly boys). Meanwhile, kids who fit into the academic pigeon hole of ‘bright’ (mostly girls) are often discouraged from taking them up. Unsurprising then, that they flood the universities. When they do take up apprenticeships, girls do so overwhelmingly in the lower paid sectors (contributing to that gender pay gap). That caring is less valued and worse paid than construction is a discussion in its own right, but girls aren’t being encouraged into those higher paid apprenticeships, in typically male fields. This complicated picture of which gender is losing out where, and how, is somewhat migraine inducing and I personally could now do with a lie down. It’s a bit wonky all round, but I’m fairly confident that gender roles play a key role or two.

So, yes, let’s try and create an education system that includes those who don’t flourish on being quiet and still. Lets get more role models for our boys throughout their education. Perhaps lets widen our view of career success, to see non academic paths as equally valuable.  Most importantly, though, lets drop those gender roles and just create great opportunities for all children, be them quiet, cerebral, practical, restless…

In answer to my husbands question, WEP is barely off the starting blocks as a party, but it does plan to address the lack of male teachers. There’s currently no policy directly addressing the focus on being still and quiet (perhaps in second policy document?) but there’s plenty to make that less of a male problem, by producing children that fit less neatly with those gendered behaviours, and that is a pretty damn vital piece of the puzzle.

Feminazis: they’re not a thing

My husband, always the mischievous antagonist, decided to chuck the ‘feminazi’ grenade into one of our debates the other day. He pretty much got the reaction he wanted. I lost my debating cool and gave him the upper hand. I never regained that lost ground. I couldn’t quite articulate everything that makes me inwardly (and a bit outwardly) shudder about that word. So I’m going to try and articulate it now.

I asked my cheeky husband (after the debate dust had settled) what he considers a feminazi to be. He gave it some thought and offered two answers.

The first; it’s just a funny word you can use to irritate feminists (wife included), when they’re getting all up in your grill. Like ‘Bridezilla’, I guess. It’s a clever compound. It’s got a good ring to it. He appreciates that.

The thing with funny insults is, they’re usually only funny to those not on the other end of them. Their aim is to undermine with humour. If you don’t like being undermined, well, then you lack humour. It’s that tried and tested playground bully tactic; ‘what, can’t you take a joke?’

This becomes even more irksome when the word gets chucked about very casually. ‘Feminazi’ implies somebody getting reeeeally militant about their feminism, right? Using it when anybody dares to flag an inequality, reduces them to an overreacting shouty Hitler type, and undermines their objections, however valid they may be. Much the same as I’m sure many a fiancee has been unfairly labelled ‘bridezilla’ to undermine entirely reasonable requests. In fact, I got branded a bridezilla by a colleague, for the fairly standard practice of keeping a wedding spreadsheet to track costs, which completely baffled me.

Hubby’s second response was that if he was to imagine a valid use of the word feminazi, it would be somebody taking feminism too far. Now, taking equality too far seems logistically impossible, so after some further enquiry, we worked out that he was referring to misandry, posing as feminism.

Now, I can absolutely see why he might have a problem with misandry, and why wouldn’t he want an amusing insult to chuck at it? And, although somewhat disproportionate (therein lies the humour), the Nazi element of the word is much better aligned with some sort of hate or discrimination than it is with a desire for equality.

It’s just a shame that it had to get attached to feminism, implying that misandry is a shade of feminism, when it’s in fact an opposing idea. Aligning feminism (a campaign for gender equality, benefitting everybody) with a hate or discrimination of half the population does it such a massive disservice. Feminism is as much to do with misandry as it is to do with misogyny, and not many feminists get accused of that.

To recap. Feminists (yes, even the militant ones) flagging up inequality aren’t Nazi’s (they’re the opposite end of the political spectrum). Misandrists aren’t Nazi’s either, but they’re a little closer. Misandrists aren’t feminists. Feminists aren’t misandrists (or misogynists). So, Feminazi’s are not a thing. 

What your average human can do to beat ISIS

It’s been a sad week. Watching terrorist attacks and security alerts unfold across the world, followed by the resulting bombing of Syria… did anyone else just feel… kind of hopeless?

I’m not convinced we should be rushing to bomb Syria. Something tells me that’s giving ISIS what they want. Feeding their narrative. That said, I don’t have an answer. The causes are complex and I suspect the solution needs to be correspondingly multifaceted. So, this isn’t an opinion piece about what our government, or the French government, or indeed the Russian or Syrian government should or shouldn’t do. It’s about what on earth the rest of us should do. 

I felt sick when I heard that a Syrian refugee’s passport had been linked to a Paris attack. I could already hear the we told you so’s coming from UKIP and the like.  The potential backlash against refugees felt almost palpable. So far, though I’ve been pleasantly surprised. Sure, Nigel Farage did a predictably great job of making me furious on the news the other night, but overall I’ve seen a lot of solidarity. With refugees and with Islam in general. And that’s been a relief, because the more I think about it, the more obvious it seems. That’s what the rest of us should do. We should starve ISIS of one of it’s main nutrients. Islamophobia. This guy rather lays it out rather brilliantly.

Every person convinced that Islam is to blame for these attacks is a victory for ISIS. Every resulting feeling of prejudice or marginalisation a Muslim experiences in the West, feeds the narrative that ISIS uses to recruit.  ISIS has about as much to do with your average muslim as the Klu Klux  Klan has to do with Christianity, and the absolute best course of action for the average human being has to be solidarity. As visible and far reaching a solidarity as we can muster.  A defiant solidarity  that says ‘we will not fear and hate because you want us to’.

thetruth

We need to display a solidarity with the 99.997% of muslims who are not ISIS, or Al-Qaeda or Boko Haram and whose faith is being coloured by their actions and/or are fleeing their regimes. That’s the most powerful thing the average human can do.

 

 

 

WE Launch : Exciting times

At the beginning of this year, I didn’t really think much about politics. At best, I had a basic grasp of the situation – who was leading which party… Vaguely what they stood for… Beyond that, it wasn’t something that concerned me.

And yet, yesterday, I woke up still excited about the Women’s Equality Party policies that I saw launched yesterday. I’m currently a paid up member of two political parties, have contributed to policy forming for one and, with my vote, to a fairly large swing to the left in the other. What happened??

First, the election happened. There was something different about the election this year. Something felt important. It felt like possibilities had been opened up. It was no longer a two horse race. I felt compelled to make a fully informed choice, rather than one based on second hand ideas, gleaned from other peoples conversations. I read all the manifestos, watched all the debates, was glued to the news coverage, until I proudly marked a cross in the Labour box on polling day. I remember the unsettling feeling of mild dread, when I woke the next morning to an outright Conservative victory and five years of austerity looming ahead, with no Lib Dems to counteract it.

In the following month or so, two things happened that called me to action. First, Jeremy Corbyn joined the Labour leadership race and I finally saw somebody I could get really excited about voting for. I joined Labour to vote for him and give myself that option at the next election. You’d have to be living in a small white room underground to not have seen the dramatic effect his win has had on the political landscape since then.

Meanwhile, my mum had told me about the Women’s Equality Party, which had just been announced. After a bit of bellyaching about the gender exclusive name (I still have my reservations, but have made peace with it, as the general concept is awesome), I joined. Actually, I didn’t just join, I got involved. I turned up to all the working party meetings, put myself forward for the comms team, took on bits of work, helped to form policy, met some awesome people and became more and more excited about what this party could achieve.

It was that excitement that woke me up yesterday morning, still buzzing from the launch, the brilliant speeches given by Sophie Walker and some very impressive teenagers (Honor Barber! Wow! Future PM?), the fantastically practical yet revolutionary policies that had me beaming the whole way through…

Most of all though, the feeling that this may really change something. That WE can actually do this: create a society that values men and women equally, sees women taking an equal role in running the country, values fathers as equal parents to mothers, sees men and women represented fairly and diversely in the media, boys and girls doing what they enjoy and excel in, regardless of gender…

It’s still very early days, but this feels SIGNIFICANT. For the first time in my life I’m really bloody excited about politics.  If you want to get excited with me, here’s the policy launch. It’s about an hour, so grab yourself a drink and settle in. It’s a great watch.

 

Suffragette. How far have we come since then?

Last night I was lucky enough to get to a special screening of Suffragette (Women’s Equality Party working group perk!). I LOVED it. Beautifully shot, beautifully acted, fascinating, empowering, toe-curling and tear-inducing all at once, with a few giggles thrown in. I’m utterly in awe of what those women did. There’s no way I could have endured the hunger-striking and force feeding. I suspect I’d have bottled it the minute I stood a chance of being arrested. Thank goodness we’re using political parties these days to effect change, as opposed to civil disobedience.

We have come a long way since then. I think it’s safe to say that it’s now generally accepted that women have the mental and emotional balance to handle such tasks as voting. Hearing those arguments against granting women the vote really brought home how far we’ve come.  We’ve (in law at least) secured equal pay. The first majority female shadow cabinet is currently flanking Jeremy Corbyn in the House of Commons. In terms of legal rights we’re pretty much square (on paper if not always in practice). Women have fought long and hard to get us here, we haven’t quite achieved gender equality yet, and the next part of the battle is possibly even harder.

Changing laws seems comparatively simple when faced with changing the attitudes of an entire society. The disparaging sneers those suffragettes were faced with felt a little too familiar. It’s not always as overt these days, but it’s still there. You still hear men being told to keep their wives in line, for example. Yes, It’s less accepted and far less prevalent, but it still kind of floors me that it’s taken nearly a hundred years to get even that far.

Is it really going to take another hundred years for us to stop hearing things like ‘man up’ and ‘you throw like a girl’? Another hundred years until women can walk down the street without having our bodies publicly and verbally appraised? Another hundred years until little boys can play with dollies without fear of ridicule?

I think we owe it to Pankhurst(s) and co. to try harder than that. To create an education system that fosters gender equality, right from the early years. To tackle the dated representation of gender roles in the media. To create a better gender balance in parenting and caring through flexible working and parenting leave. Perhaps a big push on these areas could create a more rapid change in attitudes, that the suffragettes would be proud of. Perhaps The Women’s Equality Party, with it’s same purple and green livery, can use politics to echo the strides forward those Suffragettes made a century ago.

The joy of choice

Is it just me that’s quite amazed at how different today’s political offering looks, to the one we were faced with just six months ago at the election?

Somehow, from the ashes of Labour’s sweeping defeat (indeed almost everybody’s sweeping defeat) has risen a more exciting Labour Party than we’ve seen in a long time.

Tens of thousands of new Labour supporters have signed up for Jeremy Corbyn’s new, honest politics.  And meanwhile, The Women’s Equality Party has emerged as the fastest growing political party in history. To me this feels like a far more enticing spread.

For a start, it feels like I have a genuine choice. Back in May, it felt a bit like choosing between centre-right Tories, centre-right Lib Dems and centre-right Labour (much as I love the Greens, they are a little further left than I stand). There were differences, but they were hardly ground-breaking. It felt very much like the status quo was set in concrete. Now we have a centre-left Labour Party and a brand new party, dedicated to achieving gender equality. Who’d have thought it?

Whatever you might think of Jeremy Corbyn and/or the Women’s Equality Party, the increased choice of political leanings alone has to be worth celebrating as a win for democracy.

Gender Roles hurt men too

I’m a big believer in gender equality and the challenging of gender roles benefitting everybody. It’s practically my mantra. Also, I was delighted to see, it’s the WEP tagline on my membership card. Hurrah!

wep card

Although Women are the most obvious beneficiaries (what with the pay discrepancies, objectification, under-representation in politics, media, sport…), the effects of gender roles on men are no less damaging. And from what I’ve seen, they’re somewhat underreported.

Expecting our little boys to be strong and not cry when they hurt themselves teaches them to bottle up their emotions. Giving them cars and dinosaurs and action figures to play with, and not toy kitchens, hoovers and dollies creates men who assume domesticity is a women’s thing. They’re then plastered with sweeping ‘lazy man’ and ‘disinterested dad’ labels, which are applied en masse at home in the same way as ’emotional woman’ is applied in the workplace. Both are grossly unfair.

This advert by Greenwich Council was picked up by Fathers For Justice as being particularly unhelpful. It’s a great example of gender roles in action. Domestic Violence by women is on the rise and statistics suggest that 40 percent of UK domestic violence is against men, yet here we are automatically assuming it’s dads that need to change their behaviour.

dads

Greenwich council defended the poster, saying it is just one of a range they produced for a wider campaign. I don’t think that really makes it any better. Wouldn’t have been too hard to use the word ‘parents’ instead of ‘dads’ (as corrected by Fathers For Justice), would it?

 

Dear Labour Party… a democracy issue

Dear Labour Party,

I’m concerned about the upcoming leadership election. I worry you’re going to discount my vote for Jeremy Corbyn. I’m somewhat alarmed at your approach to democracy.

I joined the Labour Party almost as soon as Jeremy Corbyn was announced as a candidate for leader. I voted Labour in this year’s elections but had never considered joining. I was disappointed to lose Ed Miliband and still more disappointed when I saw the original candidate line up. I saw nobody who differentiated from the centre-right status quo that I’m fed up with. Nobody I might actually want to vote for.

When Jeremy Corbyn joined the race, I cheered. Finally, somebody who represents my views! He was only introduced as an outsider to widen the debate, but for me he was the obvious choice and I had to do my bit to support him. I joined Labour to vote Jeremy. Is this entryist? Wanting to have a say in whether Labour is a party I’d vote for in 2020? I’m also a member of the Women’s Equality Party. They’re not party political and are happy for members of other parties to join, so I assumed there’d be no problem from Labour’s point of view either. Now I’m not so sure.  I’m not sure where exactly your benchmark on entryism lies. I’m not 100% sure that you do. I have sinking feeling that the benchmark may be decided on the extent of Jeremy Corbyn’s success.

I even heard a suggestion on the news that votes may be discounted during the counting. That sounds pretty much like fixing the result.

I’m not usually this skeptical. This suspicion is borne out of the recent flurry of suggestions as to how the election process may be halted or changed, all of which appear to be geared towards counteracting Jeremy’s surprise popularity. Towards, in fact, stopping the most popular candidate winning.  It just doesn’t feel very… what’s the word….? Democratic.

To quota, or not to quota?

I’ve always been anti-quota. The barriers to diversity in any sector or on any company board always seem to me, too complex to be addressed by recruiting based on certain demographics.

The reason there aren’t enough women on boards isn’t due to anything as simple as the (typically) white male management not wanting to hire them. The talent pool they’re hiring from is often fairly white and male to start with, making recruiting a woman or indeed anyone from a minority group less likely. That doesn’t mean we just shrug and accept that these underrepresented sections of society aren’t interested in, or good at these jobs. Instead, we analyse why the talent pool is so homogenous. At what stage are these missing demographics discounting themselves from this job, or sector? Is there a point at which the opportunity is not equal?

Well yes, the easy answer to that is there are countless points at which the opportunity is not equal. This problem starts much earlier than in boardroom selection procedures. It starts in infancy, when boys are complimented on being big and strong, encouraged to run faster, cry less when they fall, play with toys based on building and driving and fighting. And when girls are complimented on their pretty hair, encouraged to be sweet and kind, play with toys based on babies, keeping house, and making themselves pretty.

It continues through education, where girls not doing well in STEM subjects (after having played with dollies instead of building stuff) is accepted as a natural phenomenon, and the sports you play depends on your gender. It’s then reinforced by the media; Page 3, a dearth of reporting on women in sport, family matters being reported as ‘women’s issues’…

All these insidious messages shaping what we think we are capable of, considerably thins the crop of potential female directors, or engineers, and male carers or primary school teachers. And with such multitudinous messages telling us we can’t do this and that because we’re a girl, or because we’re a boy, a quota system feels a little like putting a sticking plaster over a deep wound. It doesn’t even begin to address the root cause.

This week though, I was sent an email that tripped me up a little in my anti-quota stride. Our HR department sent out a link to some unconscious bias training. I knew about unconscious bias, but I don’t think I’d previously appreciated just how pervasive it can be. Even the most exemplary  HR practices struggle to address the fact that we’re so geared to like and trust people who look like us. This affects which interviewee we choose in very subtle but influential ways.  It affects how we respond to each interviewee, how encouraging we are if they’re nervous, how we perceive their strengths and weaknesses. It colours how we read CV’s, too. A CV carrying a name like ours (Anglo-Saxon, for example) is read more positively than one with a foreign or different sounding name. It affects which colleagues we socialise with and often therefore consider more favourably for promotion. Even those of us who pride ourselves on our equal treatment of all, are victims of this shortcut our brains are wired to create.

The upshot being, sectors dominated by white men are instinctively inclined to hire more white men. And sectors dominated by white women are instinctively… well you get the idea. The same would apply of course, were there a sector dominated by black LGBTQ women. I don’t know of such a sector, though. That’s the thing. So many sectors are still dominated by white men, or in some cases white women. Diversifying amid this insidious influence of unconscious bias is a bit of an uphill struggle. Do we need quotas, or at least targets, to swing the bias back to neutral? Role models play a large part in what young people think are possible careers for them, so perhaps that sticking plaster would do more to address the deeper problem after all. I think more awareness of the power of unconscious bias would be a really good start. The training I just did should be the norm, not a novelty.

I always worried that those hired to a quota would be forever in doubt that they truly earned the position on merit. Now I think about it, perhaps the next time I get hired by an interview panel that looks just like me (white British female), I should be asking myself the same question.

 

Holidaying like a minimalist

I’ll admit I’ve been slacking at home when it comes to streamlining my crap. I’m still plodding through various cupboards, and piles of stuff that seem to just accumulate magically overnight.

I’ve a holiday coming up though, and if there’s one thing that sharpens my minimalist mind, it’s travel. That joy of wafting through Ryanair’s hand-baggage checks; skipping about a new city for the day  – with all my stuff  – before checking in for the night; great outfits that require barely any thought of a morning (more time for seeing things)… I love it. The freedom, and lightness of it all reminds me how little stuff I actually, really need.

Last September, my first official attempt at traveling ultra-light, my backpack weighed less than 5kg and saw me comfortably through two weeks traversing the North of Spain. It’s Spain again this year; this time meandering through Andalucia for two weeks. The weather’s more dependably boiling, so perhaps I can even lighten my load even more.

I do geek out a bit over minimalising. I’ve put some serious time into streamlining my toiletries, I often find myself writing of items of clothing for being too bulky or heavy, and I have some ridiculously quick-drying knickers – of which will only be packing two pairs. I wash them in the shower – they double as washcloths – and then dry them overnight, or while we’re out and about.

Even my hoarder of a husband has now embraced minimalist-style travel. He had to keep his bag below 8kg for a three week trip through Chile and Bolivia earlier this year, due to a budget internal flight. He wasn’t keen to start with, but the comparative ease of having a lighter load, plus a few impressed fellow travellers soon had him converted. He loved that our backpacks kept getting mistaken for hand-luggage :).

If only it rubbed off on his habits at home…