Wednesday, December 16, 2009

New BBC Low (and High)

Barely a week goes by I don't write to the BBC to complain about a badly-phrased article or a misleading headline that I feel unfairly skews the argument on a key subject or misleads the public as to the underlying message of the situation. I'm like that. This week though the BBC has totally out-done itself with this debate on the "have your say" page... It's called "Should homosexuals face execution?". I was rather hoping there would only be one response just saying "no". Feel free to write in. I assume they'll take it down shortly.

I'm on the BBC myself tonight on BBC Five Live, the Richard Bacon Show. Half ten to 1am. I'll be his "presenter's friend" chatting about everything that comes up. Do tune in and ring in too if you like to back me up. All the info and the listen online option is here.

Footnote: they changed the page heading to something less shocking but kept the shocking headline as the first line of the introduction with a second line (new) which implied they had been asking the question deliberately to provoke debate... They didn't explain what they had done which is poor journalism I think - write an apology and a retraction but don't change it and then act innocent...!

Monday, December 14, 2009

All I Want For Christmas...

Trying to decide what to get your favourite blogstress for Christmas? I want one of these!!

Wednesday, December 09, 2009

Women Bosses: Line-by-line!

The Daily Mail. Ah. It's my birthday today (drinkies on Saturday at The Comedy Pub, Oxenden Street show at half eight, pub closes 2am, please come if you're in town) and the Daily Mail's lovely gift is clearly this Amanda Platell article charmingly titled "Moody, indecisive and always trying to behave like a man, why ladies make truly lousy bosses". It's a stonker. It really deserves the proper Cru-blog line-by-line treatment so here goes... happy birthday me!

"Why is it that in a society overrun by greedy fat cats - where the Sir Fred Goodwins of this world continue to outrage with their business brutality, unreasonable demands and outrageous bonuses - there is not a single woman’s name in the rogues’ gallery?"

Yes Amanda why IS that? Maybe women are less unreasonable, less brutal and less demanding. Still at least they're not in charge eh?

"Why is there not an equally hated Lady Freda Goodwin, Freda The Shred, riding roughshod over the poor workers, slashing costs and sacking staff? Because, ladies, we are not nasty enough. "

Oh trust me Amanda, I'm only two lines in and already I'm planning to be pretty nasty here. But if women aren't capable of being like Fred Goodwin shouldn't we hire MORE of them? Or are you the only person in Britain still rooting for Fred in this whole fiasco?

"Nor are we single-minded enough, nor focused, nor task driven, nor adept at that simple but essential boss task of giving orders."

No doubt this sort of offensive baseless sweeping generalisation will be backed up with hard cold facts.

"In short, our commercial DNA is not wired for corporate success."

So we're biologically incapable of running a business? Weird that so many of us do run businesses then. Perhaps someone should let Martha Lane-Fox know.

"And nowhere was that more graphically demonstrated than last week when the much-feted co-chairman of Gordon Brown’s Women’s Enterprise Task Force was successfully sued by one of her employees for bullying."

I'm waiting for the cold hard facts and I'm getting a single case study. Just as well you don't run a business Amanda - "I asked my cat and he doesn't want to buy football tickets so clearly there's no market for them..."

"Dr Glenda Stone runs a successful recruitment website, Aurora, with her husband. So even this colossus of female business success, the woman chosen to front such a highprofile government body, co-runs her business with her spouse.

Not much of a triumph for feminism after all, is it?"

She runs a business with her husband? But who cleans the bathroom and does the ironing. Daily Mail head overload alert!! But seriously as an official spokeswoman for feminism - we weren't claiming her as our key triumph this year. I was at Reclaim The Night and the Emma Humphrey Memorial Prizes went to Sandra McNeil and Object. Dr Stone was not nominated but I wish her the best of luck.

"And what’s more, by all accounts in the industrial tribunal, she was a terrible boss - overbearing, foulmouthed, petty, bullying, micromanaging-vindictive."

Foulmouthed, petty, bullying and vindictive? Well if the career doesn't work out she can always get a job as a columnist for the Mail hey Amanda?

"I know that type of female boss well, the Bully Boy Boss, who thinks they have to be nastier than the nastiest male boss to succeed. But more of them later."

Earlier on the problem was that we weren't hard-wired to give orders and nasty enough to run big corporates, now we're too nasty and handing out too many orders? It's almost as if women aren't actually all the same after all. Maybe we're diverse, like human beings...?

"Now, before the hate emails start pouring in from outraged feminists and female bosses, I have a special interest in this subject.

Not just because I’ve had the misfortune of having some of the most God-awful female bosses in the history of modern business, but because I was a boss myself, more than once."

So you're allowed to criticise me because you've got a vagina and a job too?

"I have edited two national newspapers, been the managing editor of one, the marketing director of two and the managing director of one national newspaper group.

As William Hague’s Press Secretary, I was boss to a team of press officers.

I have sat in the editor’s chair, the boardroom and the shadow cabinet. And while I can confidently say most of the people who worked for me liked me and respected me (I always thought of them working with me, but that’s such a girl thing), and, more importantly, worked well for me, I’m not sure I was always a good boss."

So this whole article is about how you're "not sure" you were "always" doing a good job. Who is? Everybody has hurdles at work, everybody tries and learns from experience. I've had male bosses who I AM SURE were ALWAYS doing a BAD JOB. Doesn't mean all men are bad bosses does it?

"Believe it or not, I wasn’t tough enough. I had that classic female trait of being able to get the most out of people - it’s called nurturing now - but I also wanted to be liked, a fatal flaw in a boss."

I mourn whatever you threw away to be liked Amanda because I really really don't like you.

"And like most women bosses, I took things too personally."

Yes that's why Fred Goodwin was so great - he didn't let the little stuff, like a balance sheet flimsier than a sheet of Tescos Value loo roll and bad debts piling up faster than dirty laundry in a student flatshare, get to him.

"I remember one particular incident when my woman boss, who was trying to get rid of me in that usual sneaky female way or undermining me at every point rather than honestly pointing out my shortcomings, called me into an ambush meeting. "

I'm not sure what "that usual sneaky female way" is but I'm pretty sure if such a thing exists it's because when women are direct about what they want they're criticised for being too aggressive and "acting like a man" by people like Amanda Platell.

"She’d assembled various company directors and preceded to humiliate me in a most personal way, for my accent, the school I went to, for not liking the theatre, for my university. Not for a moment that I was bad at my job."

You don't like theatre? What's wrong with you Amanda...

What I mean is: That's unfair and I'm sorry you were treated that way. To me that's discrimination against women, in this case you, and I'm fighting that. What I'm not doing is fighting that discrimination by writing national press articles about women making bad managers. [Although I think you mean proceeded, not preceded, any boss who could time travel would have seen this article coming and retrospectively not hired you in the first place]

"And to my eternal shame I took it personally. Men don’t do that."

No they don't. That's why Eddie Murphy didn't threaten to sue Mel B when she implied he wasn't the most caring father to her child. And Peter Andre didn't sue Katie Price when she said he wasn't the most faithful lover.

"I was a good manager of people, but a lousy risk-taker."

Compared to Fred Goodwin Amanda, I'd say you were a brilliant risk-taker.

"With our typical propensity for multi-tasking, I was more comfortable doing ten things at once and keeping all the balls in the air than what was really needed, to focus on one task and nail that ball in the back of the net."

Yes a good manager only focusses on one thing. Really? So the accounts are sorted but the sales strategy is screwed and the premises licenses have expired. Great management. Our hero Fred Goodwin of course only focussed on one thing - getting rich quick.

"Returning to Dr Glenda Stone for a moment, ironically her job on the quango was to teach businesswomen how to take risks, one of the key areas survey after survey finds women are pathologically incapable of doing."

What surveys? Really. I have never seen such a survey. I saw a survey that said men are bad at taking risk and that's why they make worse car drivers. Even if we could prove somehow that women are more risk-averse though: Firstly when I look at the credit crunch and it's impact on Britain the one thing I have never though is "If only our business leaders took more risks". And secondly it is discrimination to make recruitment and promotion decisions based on generalisations. If you want risk-takers, ask for risk-takers and ask applicants to take one of the many tests of willingness to take risk at interview - don't assume you know what someone is like based on their gender.

"Even in countries where positive discrimination is enforced by law, such as Norway, the underpinning beliefs are that women bring different mindsets and skills to business.

In that country, by law 40 per cent of all corporate positions are now held by women, but even they concede women are by nature more ‘risk-aware’. For which read ‘risk averse’, for which read useless to thrusting, high-risk, high-profit companies."

Yes I remember reading all those articles about how badly Norway had been hit by the credit crunch. Forget all-male-run Dubai, the biggest sufferers have been the Norwegians right? The PROBLEM with businesses right now is that they are "high-risk".

"Women do, however, make a difference to bankruptcy levels, says a study by Leeds University Business School. It surveyed 17,000 companies and found that having at least one female director on the board cuts a company’s chance of going bankrupt by about 20 per cent."

Right so seems like Norway was right all along. And for one this argument actually has a source, it's based on fact.

"Why? Because we’re more cautious. But a study of 2,000 companies in the U.S. found a correlation between companies with disproportionately more female board members and lower profitability and lower market value. "

What study? By who? If you don't give me the source I can go and see whether the methodology is valid can I? Looking back thought at the last ten years of business I think profits were pretty high but risks taken were too high.

"So it appears that companies made up of more women executives are good at keeping afloat, but not at motoring ahead.

We’re good at preventing bust but not at facilitating boom."

Haven't we been saying for a long time we want to get away from a boom-bust cycle and into a steady growth economy? Don't we want more bust-preventers and less boom-facilitators?

"These studies indicate why women bosses are so unrepresented in corporate life. We have different skill sets and the things we’re naturally good at don’t necessarily make companies rich."

I think in the long term "not going bust" is quite a key component of "getting rich".

"That may go some way to explaining why every time a list of overpaid bosses appears, it’s a case of Spot The Female."

Yes it's called a pay gap.

"When the list of 323 public service bosses was published last Friday, there was not a single woman in the top ten. The Royal Mail’s Adam Crozier, Channel 4’s Kevin Lygo, the BBC’s director general Mark Thompson - all household names. Still no women."

If Adam Crozier had been a bit less greedy maybe there wouldn't have been a huge mail strike. Are these examples of great managers? Are these guys SURE they are ALWAYS a good boss. Honestly Amanda I think you could have done better than most of them and there are very few women I can think of I wouldn't have offered the job to ahead of you.

"Women have railed against it for half a century, the Labour government has legislated against it for a decade, and yet we are still in a minority in the companies that dominate our country."

Oh well we had a little try - lets give up now. Did anyone ever say the battle for equality would be easy and over in a fortnight?

"And where women do score more highly, it’s in the caring, catering or fashion professions."

Oh so we do run some industries but apparently these aren't as important as the others? Caring for the needy, feeding people and providing them with clothes to wear - yes I think are the most trivial roles of industry too... Clearly running a TV station or a casino is more important.

"As Dr Stone demonstrated, women bosses tend to fall into two categories - too soft or too hard."

Earlier on we were all the same - now we're scattered at two ends of a (mythical) spectrum. Or could it be that any woman you can't write off as too soft you're writing of as too hard, creating a no-won situation because you have a problem with women.

"There are the Caring Collegiate Bosses you’ll find running shopping, retail, fashion and style companies and the middleranking public service sectors."

Well they seem to be good at what they do, don't they?

"Tesco, Sainsbury and M&S are three of the top 11 companies employing female directors."

And they're on the brink of going out of business right?

"The two great success stories running UK companies demonstrate this point - Marjorie Scardino at Pearson, the publisher dominated by female magazines, and Angela Ahrendts at Burberry."

What point? The point that some women have managed to break through the glass ceiling in publishing, food and fashion and are doing at least as good a job as the men they had to fight out of the way? Yes point well made...

"And then there are the Bully Boy Bosses, like Dr Stone, the women who think you have be tougher than any male to succeed in a man’s world. Yes they’re tough, but they’re also petty, small picture people lacking the risk-taking, taskdriven skills necessary for running a big, successful company."

Yes many women believe (rightly) that they have to be tougher than their male colleagues to succeed. The rest is just meaningless drivel right? Also note that this is the opposite type to the Marjorie Scardino type. She's not tough of course, she got where she is by smiling and agreeing with people.

"Successful bosses mono-task, women multi-task; men are dispassionate, we are naturally emotional; they take risks, we ensure against loss."

So bad female bosses are "petty, small picture people" but men are "mono-task"-ers. That is the same quality only gendered to be negative for women and positive for men. And again what is so dreadful about ensuring against loss?

"But women’s DNA is only part of the answer as to why there are still so few female bosses in corporate life."

Which gene is this in? Which report shows a genetic difference. Go look in your local Early Learning Centre at the pink cookery sets and the blue science kits ... even if we can determine a difference in business performance based on gender - to call it "DNA" is a big (and offensive) leap.

"Even in the U.S., where 60 per cent of all college students are female, less than 15 per cent of board seats are held by women.

In the UK, the picture is worse. While the number of women in the top 100 FTSE boardrooms has doubled since 2000, it is still only 12 per cent."

So why doesn't this dreadful DNA prevent women getting in to university? Surely universities want these risk-takers since there's really no "risk" at university. If student's experiment and fail they just get kicked out or get bad grades.

"That despite a decade of social engineering and an ethos of positive discrimination by this Labour government."

It's almost like there could be nasty forces trying to hold women back? One of them is call YOU Amanda.

"Women are their worst enemies in some ways, with the avalanche of eye-watering sexual discrimination compensation claims in corporate life. Only last week, we had the absurd sight of banker Haley Tansey suing HBOS for £600,000 for sexual harassment."

Yes, absurd, Fred Goodwin deserves millions for running a company into the ground but Haley Tansey shouldn't expect compensation for illegal and terrifying harassment.

"The £39,000-a-year businesswoman said it all began with a colleague tricking his way into her hotel room while she was asleep then appearing naked before her. An eight-year nightmare of appalling sexism followed, she claims."

Oh well as long as nothing BAD happened eh? That's appalling.

"Why didn’t she tackle this undeniably unacceptable behaviour head on, when it happened?"

Because she didn't want to lose her £39,000 a year job? Because she didn't want to go through a horrific dragged-out court case and have her private life splashed all over your newspaper columns?

"A man would have."

How many men are vicitimised by having a naked colleague come in their room in the middle of the night? I've never heard of that happening.

"Victims don’t rise to the top."

You imply Amanda that victimhood is something that people can choose. Not true. Regardless of when she had reported it Ms Tansey would still have been the victim of this incident. And actually many victims of all sorts of crimes do go on to be successful in their own lives.

"Cases like this put the frighteners on companies. I know female bosses who privately admit that it has made them wary of employing female bosses."

You would hope that cases like this made businesses scared of sending naked men into women's bedrooms at night. Sorry if you think Ms Tansey is making a big deal about it - I think she's very brave to come forward and deserves to be thoroughly compensated if her claims are well founded. I think companies need to be sent a clear message that this sort of behaviour is not acceptable.

"Add to that the Government's new generous paternity rights and it's a double whammy for women, especially as it’s still mainly women who take time off after having children."

Then the next thing we need to address is why men aren't more involved in child-raising. See your local Early Learning Centre for clues.

"So it’s not getting better for women, it's getting worse. In this recession, companies have become wary of employing women at their key career stage - in their 30s - when professional women are most likely to step up the corporate ladder but also likely to want to have children."

Do you know that companies are reimbursed 92% of what they spend on maternity pay? And more than 100% for small companies. In a recession a pregnant employee means you can cut your staff temporarily at almost zero cost and ramp back up to full power in a few months.

"Like many women born into the postfeminist generation, the high-fliers of the Eighties and Nineties, I was once surprised by the lack of success of women at corporate level after decades of equality."

How can you be "postfeminist" when I'm still "feminist"?

"Once, we could blame prejudice and sexism, now increasingly we have to look to ourselves. And it’s not just that women are lousy bosses of big companies because of our DNA, it’s also because of the choices we have made."

Of course looking at those women who make it to the top we find that they are in fact not women who have chosen to remain childless. Marjorie Scardino has three children. What holds women back is not choices - it's sexism, sexism that you are all too keen to excuse.

"For perfectly legitimate, complicated reasons of family or love or work-life balance, many of us have chosen to leave or never even enter the corporate jungle."

Lucky that men don't have relationships or families isn't it?

"But we can’t go on blaming it on men and an unfair system weighted against women."

We can - if that's what's really happening.

"You have to ask yourself why even in modern times there are few great female boss characters. There is not one female boss in Sex And The City, the single most iconic feminist TV series of a generation. When we do have successful women bosses, as in The Devil Wears Prada, they’re running fashion magazines, not blue chip companies."

Carrie's boss in Sex and The City is a woman. But I agree - we need more positive role models from TV and films. You do know Amanda, don't you, that those shows are not documentaries?

"Simon Cowell has The X Factor, in which Dannii and Cheryl are little more than pretty props. Even on shows such as Dragons’ Den, there is only one woman dragon."

No wonder our young women are not aiming higher and no wonder senior managers don't think to recruit women into top level positions.

"Can you imagine The Apprentice with a Lady Nicola Horlick at the helm, the ultimate female corporate Superwoman boss?"

Yes I can. I think I might actually watch it whereas Alan Sugar makes me puke my tea up and start grabbing for the remote.

"We’ll know the world has changed when the planned sequel to Wall Street has as its star not Gordon, but that mean mother of all bosses Greta Gekko."

If only Hollywood would lead the way and make a film about a woman who could lead a business. We could call it The Associate and have Whoopi Goldberg play the lead. Or we could make a retro-1980s film with Dolly Parton and Jane Fonda and call it Nine to Five. That'll never happen though will it? Did Platell miss a meeting?

As he famously said in Wall Street: ‘Read Sun-tzu, The Art Of War. Every battle is won before it is ever fought.’ And alas in the boardroom, that’s never been more true than it is today for women.

I'm still fighting. Your help Amanda is not appreciated.

Monday, December 07, 2009

Update From Here

Well the police have rung me twice now. Both times to mostly reconfirm details I already gave them and tell me things I already know. They have however finally established the case number for the last time this lowlife was harrassing me so there is some hope of finding out what happened last time in a few days. They also sent me a leaflet about home security - cos it's well known that if you fit window locks no-one will text you and threaten to kill you...or something. Nice to feel like I'm getting a personalised service.

I was away for the weekend in Edinburgh - gorgeous place, makes me wonder why on earth I live in London - which was nice because I knew that said lowlife didn't know where I was so I wasn't looking over my shoulder all the time.

Back now and busy with interviews. There is a report out showing that just over 5,000 teenage girls and women had repeat abortions last year (i.e. their second or more). Now representing, as it does, less than a quarter of a percent of teenage girls and women in the UK, it seems to me the need for shock and alarm is being a little over-played by, ooh, who could it be? ... did you guess? Yes the pro-choice alliance!
Well what do the numbers tell us? Not much really. Either the number of unwanted teenage pregnancies is on the rise (which would be maybe bad, but not necessarily depending on the age of the teenagers and the consentuality of the sex and the level of understanding of contraceptive use - you know a nineteen-year-old in a happy equal relationship using contraception which fails doesn't worry me) or the percentage of teenagers who want an abortion succeeding in getting one has risen (and that would definitely be good - for them, their physical and mental health and their human rights).

I think any focus on the number of abortions taking place is just dumb. The right number of abortions is one for every woman who wants one. The factors which affect the number of unwanted pregnancies - things like sex education and services working to end rape and sexual violence as well as support for women chosing to continue their pregnancy - can and should be addressed. The number of abortions or repeat abortions or teenage abortions is just a number. Apparently last year it was a bit over 5,000. Excuse me while I remain calm.

Thursday, December 03, 2009

Houston We Have A (Death Threat) Problem

Some of my long-term readers will remember two years ago I had a series of nasty phone calls culminating in the unknown caller threatening to come to my house and rape me. The full story is here. Well I had some success in tracking the caller (thanks to O2 - who gave the details to the police) but I never heard back from the police what had been done or whatever. I was also never told by anyone who it was, which I would really have liked to know. I did try to chase them up a few times but was told the case had been referred to another office and then no-one answered calls, etc. But since the offending calls stopped I figured I would leave it there - either the police spoke to the guy and he stopped or by co-incience he stopped (or maybe he stopped because I told him the police were involved). Anyhow I wasn't exactly satisfied with the outcome but I left it there.

Last night it started again. This time with a text threatening to kill me. It's obvious it's the same guy - there are clear consistencies in the tone and language employed.

I've never had a death threat before. It's quite scary. [Bows to crowd, waves, thanks manager and fans, accepts award for stating the BLOODY obvious]. I got Mr Cru to pick me up from the bus stop on my way home tonight and there was something utterly futile about having a "bodyguard" for 0.1% of my day when I was totally on my own out in public for a lot of the rest.

I was wildly distracted and did a dreadful job compering at the Duke's Head in Putney tonight - sorry everyone and thanks to the acts who were great and made the night go swimmingly anyway. I probably shouldn't have gone but (and this is interesting because it relates to the issue of delayed reporting of crime which has been under hot discussion on here in the last few days) I had insisted in my head of thinking of it as "just a nasty text", and actually feeling cross with myself for letting it get to me. I was only halfway home on the bus when I went "Shit - that is actually a death threat".

Obviously I went back to the police this afternoon and they have written it down and given me a case number so we'll see what happens.

Monday, November 30, 2009

Festive Victim Blaming

'Tis the season to be ... raped apparently. The police have really outdone themselves this time with a series of adverts in which they effectively tell women (and potential rapists) that it is women who are to blame for being raped if they dare to have a few drinks at the Christmas party. The police of course claim they are alerting both men and women to the fact "a large proportion of reported rape cases feature alcohol as a factor - whether it is consumed by the victim or the offender" but that in itself completely misses the point - it implies there is no distinction to be made in terms of blame between the "victim" and the "offender".

Here are other things that increase a woman's likelihood of being raped:

1) Leaving her specially installed "safe room".

2) Having a vagina.

3) Saying "no".

Where is the police's advertising campaign to get women to stop doing these things?

On top of this the police claim their campaign aims to encourage rape victims to come forward. But with a 5.3% conviction rate and horror stories everywhere you turn, you have to think that what's stopping women coming forward it the fact that they have a genuine understanding of the treatment they really are likely to receive. No mention is made of the women being prosecuted for daring to accuse someone of rape without first collecting irrefutable evidence.

No doubt the police would point to the fact that a second part of the same campaign focusses on telling men that they could end up in prison if they rape someone. But that should really be the only point of the police advertising and of course where the story has been picked up in the press the headlines are all based on "warning" women not to drink too much. Sky News went with "Women Urged Not To Be Rapists' Prey This Xmas", the Metro preferred "Rape warning over festive drinks" with a subtitle that made it clear it was women on the receiving end of the warning.

And how are we supposed to believe that the attitude of the police towards rape victims is improving when even their advertising says the exact opposite?

Sunday, November 29, 2009

Mystery of the Day

Remember recently when Chris Knight from the Lap Dancing Association angrily told me that the existing law on lap-dancing "works perfectly"? How then can it be that a lap-dancing club in London has been closed down and eight others raided after the police found out that sex was for sale on the premises as well as drugs. Could it be that Chris Knight is a lying asshole? You decide.

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Tory Politics

I'm quoted in an article about Tory plans to "de-incentivise" (i.e. rip off) single and teenage mothers leaving them without the benefits they need to raise their children. Apparently this will make our country a better place...? You can read the full article here.

Although the quotes from me are totally accurate and I have no problem with them or the way they are expressed - I did actually say a lot more than that to the journalist and (of course) she has chosen the bits that fit the feel of her article rather than quoting me in full. Still for the benefit of Cru-blog readers: here is the full interview I gave:

(The journalist asked) There was an article in the Daily Mail recently by Quentin Letts entitled: "The First Ladette: How Germaine Greer's legacy is an entire generation of loose-knickered lady louts". Would be great to get a response from you on your thoughts on equating feminism with a)rising violence towards women, b)rising teenage pregnancies c) women getting drunk and 'immodest'.

Also would you be able to comment on the Tory policy towards women and the family - more specifically de-incentivising teenage pregnancies and single parent families by taking away social support?

(And I responded) I was appalled by the Daily Mail article, it seemed to be totally missing the point. To blame feminism for rising violence against women makes no sense to me. Women have rights and if men's reaction to women exercising those rights is to respond violently then it is men who are in the wrong and those men responsible should have their rights taken away (by being imprisoned).

Teenage pregnancies are not a new phenomenon. In fact they have been around forever. The difference over the last fifty years the big change is that we can talk about these things - rather than keeping secrets. My grandmother found out on her wedding day that her aunt who she believed had raised her after her real mother died was actually her mother. The ramifications were traumatic for everyone involved. Every family in Britain has one of these skeletons in the closet if you dig hard enough. If the sexual revolution means we can now talk about the fact that many teenagers have sex then great - that means we can also talk to them about contraception, sexual health and issues surrounding pregnancy choices and then support them when they choose to keep and raise their children without adding an extra burden of shame to their worries.

Finally the notion of women being drunk and "immodest". Well I feel that if women want to get drunk then that's their choice and we should respect it. Women still drink considerably less than men and drunk men are responsible for much greater amount of crime and disorder than drunk women. So if we think society has a problem with alcohol abuse then we should start by cracking down on men. And the term "immodest" - well - by traditional Islamic standards what you are wearing right now (and since we're talking by email I can't even see what you're wearing) is definitely "immodest". But really "immodest" in this context probably means "in a way that stands out and is conspicuous" and if young women choose to stand out and be conspicuous then I am thrilled about that and support them fully.

I don't see Tory policies on removing benefits for single mothers and teenage mothers as "di-incentivising". I see these policies as purely punishing women for having sex. What would benefit single and teenage mothers is support to help them raise their children well. Of course we should also be chasing up absent fathers who fail to contribute financially to their children's well-being. Also addressing inequality in the workplace both in terms of the pay gap (we need gender pay, promotion and recruitment audits) and in terms of companies who fail to offer flexible working to carers and who discriminate against pregnant employees would make a big difference.

Overall I guess I am just horrifed at the notion that giving women rights can be seen as taking something away from women. I may have made some bad choices in my life which I regret, but I don't regret that I had the choice to make my own mistakes.

Friday, November 20, 2009

Racism: No Laughing Matter

Oh dear, this is really awful. Where to start?

I have never written a biography of Sir John Betjeman. Somehow though I don't think that entirely invalidates my views on comedy.

A.N Wilson - who has written just such a biography - but who appears to have nothing else under his belt to recommend him to the world of comedy critiquing - is today complaining in the Daily Mail that sexists jokes are not, well, sexist.

Now first up he totally misses the point on the Jordan Wimmer case. As has been repeatedly stated throughout the case - no-one denies that Ms Wimmer complained about sexist jokes long before she decided to take legal action. If someone makes an error of judgement and genuinely apologises and stops the behaviour when it is pointed out, I'm all for giving them a break. However when someone persists in saying inappropriate things after they have had the fact pointed out to them - that is deliberate abuse.

Plus remember that Wimmer is also claiming that her former boss Mark Lowe brought an "escort" dressed in hotpants into meetings. Wilson says that Lowe "hotly denies" this. He would do though given he's in a court of law and looking like he's not got a leg to stand on.

But Wilson's point is really not about the rights and wrongs of the case - it's about comedy and how we all ought to lighten up about a little harmless racism. Yes really - that is his point.

"Making remarks or jokes which you know will be upsetting to another person in your hearing is obviously the mark of a bully and it cannot be defended"

Now firstly - that is exactly what Mark Lowe did - he make jokes about blonde women in hearing range of a blonde woman who had complained about such jokes previously. But secondly - no, it is not ok to tell sexist jokes when there aren't any women in earshot, nor racist jokes in an all-white group. The problem with such jokes is actually much less that individuals are offended but that they normalise attitudes of prejudice and stereotypes which lead to hatred.

"Some of Bernard Manning’s jokes were offensive. But some were really quite good jokes: “If you dial 999 in Bradford, you don’t get the police coming round – you get the Bengal Lancers.”"

That one sounds racist to me. Definitely racist.

"I think you would need to be an incredibly humourless Bangladeshi not to see that this reference to a regiment from the high days of the British Raj was quite a funny joke about immigrants."

And that's racist too - insisting that only Bangladeshis would "not get" the joke.

"Manning was not making a mockery of people from Bengal because they were from Bengal. He was making a joke about the fact that Bradford is very full of Asians.

And in so far as jokes depend upon an element of surprise, there is something picturesque about expecting the arrival of Z-cars and getting instead the Bengal Lancers on their horses, dressed in topis and turbans."

Seriously - could he dig himself any deeper? Is there anything more he could say at this point that would make it any worse?

And then he gives and example of a joke that he is offended: something about "intimate parts of the Queen's anatomy"*. And then four pages later in the same paper there's a cartoon that shows the Queen and Prince Phillip sat on sofas with a large matron-like character in the background and the Queen saying "Call out the guard, Philip! There's a deranged person here who keeps saying "Get yer kit off, it's bathtime"" ... which would be ... oh hold on ... a joke about the Queen being ordered to expose her intimate parts ... no?

Now the irony of the juxtaposition of Wilson's despicable article and the Queen's bathtime cartoon strikes me as a lot funnier than any Bernard Manning line he cares to quote.

*That's what she uses when she has a "royal wee"!

Proper Nightmares

I am not an expert on sleep disorders. I have no idea what sort of strange mental disorder - if any - would cause a man to dream there was an intruder in the house and sleep-walk his way to murdering his own wife. What I do know is this: if you can convince a court that you have such a mental disorder and as a result are cleared of murder then since I am not aware of any wonder-drugs that instantly cure sleep-uxoricidality I can only conclude that you should remain in a secure mental health facility for the rest of your life for the safety of others.

Seems like sentencing those who commit violence against women is having a bad week in general. In Scotland a man was given 18 months probabtion for "having sex with" a 13-year-old (and when the BBC says "having sex" you will realise that what they mean is "raping" since 13-year-olds are not considered old enough to give meaningful consent under British law). Still no doubt being on probation for a few months will make him think twice about doing it again..?

By way of comparison if you accuse someone of rape but then turn out to be an "escort" (and check the double-speak here because aren't escorts supposed to be "high-class" prostitutes who are at liberty to pick and choose which of their clients they have sex with?) and therefore are presumed to have consented to any and all sex ... you get two years in prison.

My advice if you're planning on getting sexually assaulted this weekend (because of course it is women asking for it - not men perpetrating it, remember!) try to get your case heard in front of (a) Judge Paul Downes or (b) whoever sits at Preston Crown Court who seem to have a better grasp of how to deal with rapists.

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Whoopee, We're All Gonna Die

Just in case you didn't read the news today (maybe you were watching Michael McIntyre's latest DVD, or singing along to Jedward...) - just to let you know: Remember back in 2007 when the IPCC said that the planet was headed towards catastrophic climate change? They highlighted a range of possible outcomes depending on at-the-time untested variables projecting the impact on the planet of continues CO2 emissions.

Well following some more research (i.e. having tested those variables) it turns out that of the possible scenarios the one we're actually heading for is the worst case scenario - 6C of global temperature rise, large parts of the earth becoming uninhabitable, massive waves of migration towards dwindling resources leading to wars and genocides and ultimately potentially the end of the human race forever.

I think - if we survive - one day our grandchildren will look back on those of us who didn't campaign to stop climate change the way we look back now on ancestors who supported slavery. The future equivalent of shows like Who Do You Think You Are? will see our descendants digging through records deserately hoping to turn up an eco-warrior and quick to stop the cameras rolling if the National Facebook Profile Archive lists your favourite TV shows as Top Gear.

Ultimately though the government needs to take action. And I don't mean by putting out adverts with images of dolphins on and softly worded guilt-trips about recycling. If only those who choose to reduce their footprint then those who don't are placed at an economic advantage, incentivising others to do the same. Nor do I mean by fining people who put two pieces of garden waste into the blue box. I mean by actively funding research - here and overseas - into alternative energy sources, by actually paying for people to have their homes insulted and double-glazed, by removing tax breaks on airline fuel, subsidising public transport, cutting the number of flights that can be made, cracking down on emissions from factories and power plants and making sure that developing countries have the support they need to do the same without compromising progress.

If you didn't already - sign up to Greenpeace, Friends of the Earth, Plane Stupid and/or some of the other amazing environmental organisations out there today.

Old Jokes

When I pay good money for my daily copy of The Independent I have to say it angers me to see the same story I've read in the paper on the Daily Mail website. But then most articles by Dominic Lawson annoy me and frankly they deserve to be in the Daily Mail since they amount to little more than hate-mongering. This one (repeated here in the Mail) I feel I should say something about because it's about comedy.

Firstly Lawson says he doesn't know what "alternative comedy" means and how it differs from "not alternative" comedy. But surely Lawson is old enough to remember the days when comedy simply meant racism. Bernard Manning, Roy Chubby Brown and Jim Davidson? Club comedians who often all told the same jokes as each other, crude mother-in-law jokes and bawdy references to women, etc. So alternative comedy was originally conceived to counter that - as something that was progressive and often overtly political.

There is no denying that the line nowadays has somewhat blurred. Many of the acts perceived as the most "alternative" are doing jokes about rape and about women that Bernard Manning would be proud of. In fact Jimmy Carr once did a joke so suitable for Jim Davidson that the latter literally nicked it and had to later apologise.

Now apparently the antidote to this latest wave of offensiveness is Michael McIntyre, a very brilliant and very competent comic whose material is consistently about the minutae of day-to-day life and who flinches from politics and controversian subjects like a slug in a salt dish. And I don't mean that as a criticism - some people prefer their comedy funny and unchallenging. It's not my taste but even I have to admit that he's great at what he does.

There are two issues I have though...

Firstly I think when it comes to offensive comedy the media has got it all wrong. There's nothing offensive about doing a joke about rape. What is offensive is when the punchline to that joke is that the woman in question "deserved" it or "was asking for" it. If you write a joke about rape where the punchline is about the dreadfully low conviction rate or the poor attitude of the police then great.

Lawson mentions the incident with Andrew Sachs and Russell Brand and Jonathan Ross and seems to be offended that sex was discussed on air when what was offensive about that situation was this noxious idea that a woman's Grandfather is or should be the guardian of her chastity.

Jimmy Carr's joke about British soldiers forming a great Paralympic team for 2012 is a joke about the incompetence of government policy - it's one of the best lines I've heard from him. On the other hand I've seen him do jokes about rape and about Roma people which I found offensive.

The solution to offensive material not to demand that comedy focus only on topics which would make a good episode of The Tellytubbies but to seek out comedians using their art to express something meaningful and valid, breaking through prejudice rather than compounding it (Translation: Give me my own series!).

Secondly Lawson seems to be implying that McIntyre has been a victim of some sort of conspiracy to keep him off the airwaves because he's overtly middle class. He quotes McIntyre as saying "People used to come to my show and love it, and critics were coming and not seeing that...".

Well sure but why should we believe that is specifically middle class hatred. I'm a political feminist comedienne and after six years I've yet to be reviewed on the biggest UK comedy website Chortle. And while I'd love to be reviewed by them, I don't see it as a conspiracy that I haven't been. And if I do get reviewed by someone who doesn't find me to their taste or is in a bad mood that day or catches me on an off night then I can make my case against the review but I can't imagine concluding that it's because I'm middle class. The vast majority of comics on TV are middle class as far as I can see.

But for another thing - the reviewers may have a good point. Sometimes I go to a comedy show and laugh more or less the whole way through but come away feeling empty and unsatisfied. Other times I might only laugh a few times but I also learn something new, understand something new and see the world in a new light and I come away feeling uplifted. So which is the better "comedy" show? For my money the latter. To measure comedy against a laughs-per-minute ratio seems to me a very clinical and limiting way of looking at it. If reviewers have seen past that, good for them.

And finally the notion that it's been so tough for McIntyre and that the odds have been so terribly stacked against him seems to have been countered recently by the fact that every DVD shop I go past has his grinning cardboard face looming out of the window above a legend about ideal Christmas presents for all the family. Whatever wrong the establishment did him on the way up - I think they're making up for it now.

But then that wouldn't exactly fit with the Daily Mail/Dominic Lawson vision of the poor hard-done-to straight white male. That sort of revolutionary talk would be better suited to .. erm .. The Independent... Oh shit.

In fact clearly what is happening here is I, your humble blogstress, should be writing for The Independent and instead they've gone ahead and hired a posh straight white bloke called Dominic Naffing Lawson!

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Vine Again

Back on BBC Radio Two again today (click link, listen again, then forward to 1h 40) to discuss whether or not Colonel Gadaffi is pro-women. Pretty obvious to me that you can't call a man who runs a country where women are imprisoned for being victims of rape "pro-women". Still my opponent's point wasn't that she denied any of this (nor should she - since I was quoting directly from the Human Rights Watch report I had in front of me). Her point was that women around the world - especially in Islamic countries - have few rights, so we should be grateful for the fact that Gadaffi is a little bit better than other Islamic countries.

I however fail to see how gratitude is helping our cause. Was it after men saw how grateful we were to have some women allowed to vote in 1918 that they decided in 1928 to give the rest of us the vote? No - it happened because women continued to fight for their rights. And thats the thing about rights - you have a right to them - so you don't have to be grateful when you get them and you certainly don't have to be grateful when you get a few of them and not others.

Lots of celebrity "spots" in the studios today - just as I was arriving Alan Davies was leaving and while I was waiting on the sofa outside the studio Graeme Norton walked by. Most exciting of all for me though was the guest before me in the studio - Judge Constance Briscoe (pictured) - author of the brilliant autobiography of her early years of abuse "Ugly". Well I lent her my pen as she was going in to do her interview (she is before me on the show if you are interested - though not talking about her childhood or book, but about sentencing regulations) and she forgot to give it back so I guess she still has it - and she is very welcome to it... (spot the sad groupie!).

Monday, November 16, 2009

Yes I know it's Dangerous

...but this is still really cool!

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Doing Vine

Ah, after the horrors of LBC yesterday there was something little short of warm and cuddly about being on today's Jeremy Vine show on BBC Radio Two. Sure they had brought in not one but two right wing idiots to argue with me (in the form of Spectator columnist Venetia Thompson and UKIP MEP Godfrey Bloom) but we actually had the debate, you know like where everyone gets a chance to give their opinions and respond to the comments of others. Radical stuff.
Up for discussion was the line between office banter and sexual harrassment and discrimination, in the light of a new tribunal case being brought by Jordan Wimmer. You have seven days to listen to the discussion (which starts eight minutes into the show) by clicking "listen again" here.
...and please do go listen - it's only ten minutes and I do a smashing job!

Boris Balls-Up Link of the Day

Boris' policy on women...

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Asshole of the Week: Nick Ferrari

Did one of the most infuriating radio spots of my life this morning. LBC rang me up and asked if I would go on Nick Ferrari's breakfast show and talk about the group of female MPs who are complaining that the new expenses regime will mean they have to sometimes take late night trains home and that this could put them at risk of sexual assault.

Now I agree, travelling late at night alone is dangerous. I have to do it all the time so I should know how frightening and intimidating it can be, and of course we all know the statistics on how rape is dealt with by the police which are even more frightening. But at the same time I don't think the solution to that problem is to give MPs more expenses money - the solution needs to protect not just MPs but all women in the UK and involve a major overhaul of the law and policing policy.

Now first of all I've had problems with LBC before - a very misogynist station in general, they often have "debates" along the lines of "should women be allowed to do XYZ?" or "have women's rights gone too far?" which I just conceptually don't understand. Plus one time before I was on there and the presenter (one N. Ferrari) started screaming at me towards the end of the interview and kept changing the subject, so we went from "Should the current maternity pay scheme be extended?" to "Why should women get maternity pay at all?" to "Why should single Mums get benefits, why do we let them sponge of the state?" in less than a minute without my getting a real chance to answer any of those stupid questions.

But this morning really took the biscuit. Before I got to say a word he did a huge intorduction in which he criticised these MPs in the harshest possible terms for even raising the issue. He said things like "Women say they want equality but as soon as the going gets tough..." and "I'm not going to hold back, I'm going to name and shame the women who are doing this right now, right here on air..." and finished up with a tirade about how if they have this kind of attitude the country is better off without them.

I started to explain why I think that we do need real answers to the issues of rape and sexual violence against women but that the connection to MPs expenses was something of a red herring. Clearly unhappy he interrupts to say that I might not think so but other feminists support these MPs... Effectively by this stage he's arguing with himself and screaming at me that this shows that women in general are - well - generally wrong about everything (I'm paraphrasing here). I actually had to threaten to hang up just to get him to listen to me for a few seconds.

So I said "hold on this is only four MPs...". Now bearing in mind I only found out about the interview ten minutes before I was live on air, it came as little supririse to me to be informed that in fact it's five MPs in the group who have made this statement. I am happy to be corrected. Instead I get screamed at "GET YOUR FACTS STRAIGHT", "IF YOU'RE GOING TO COME ON HERE..."

And the stupid thing is this guy is the presenter! If it was me and some uber-right wing nutter with a presenter refereeing things to make sure we all got our say it would be a bit much but I would probably put up with it. What is the point of having a guest on so you can ignore what they say and harangue them about what you assume other people, not on your show, think? Seriously the whole interview was like "here's a feminist - I'm going to shout at her".

LBC call themselves "London's Biggest Conversation" but a conversation is where two of more people exchange opinions. When one person expressly invites another person to "discuss" something and then fabricates their opinion and screams over every word they say I think we're out of the realm of "conversation" and closer to the realm of "psychopath".

I may stop doing LBC interviews, they are fairly poorly paid and one of the researchers told me one time - you're the only feminist who ever agrees to go on air with us... so maybe it will leave them in the lurch.

Quick Polljack

Polljack, noun, the art of getting everyone you know to visit the Daily Mail website and spoil their hate-filled polls.

Today's poll is (wait for it) "Are greater rights for mothers making women less employable?"

So click here and vote "NO" and lets see if we can spoil their attempts to spread the hate!

Sunday, November 08, 2009

Catch-Up Post

So I haven't been blogging much lately and I know there are a number of big subjects I just haven't covered at all...

Firstly stuff I've been doing:

Some people are still talking about my plinthing (pictured), including the fabulous Daily (Maybe).

I hosted the 2009 Feminism in London conference which was awesome. The highlight for me was a speech by Rebecca Mott about her experiences of being a prostituted woman. You can read the transcript of what she said here. I didn't get to see much else of the conference because I was running about organising things although I was very touched to see the contribution from the London Pro-Feminist Men's Group - they were running the creche! There are hundreds of photos of the event here.

After the conference we held a cabaret party with an all-female line-up which again I hosted and which raised over £600 towards the cost of running next year's conference and was followed by a DJ and most of the conference organisers and me hitting the dancefloor to let our hair down!

Meanwhile Soho Comedy Club, where I am resident compere, has been expanding and now takes up two rooms on a Saturday night (if you want to see me - ask at the door which room I am compering and you'll be sent the right way). We've had several brilliant Swedish comedians on tour recently including Magnus Betner, Tobias Persson (his blog is in Swedish but you can use google-translate), Lasse Nielsen and last night Fredrik Anderssen. This coming Friday (13th) we host one of the most outspoken acts you will ever see - Norwegian Dag Soras. There are a few tickets left but if you want to come please book now at the Soho Comedy website.

And as things are going so well there I have moved my Comedy Manifesto show over to Soho Comedy Club's main venue. We're there now every Thursday. It's a (the UK most popular and most successful) live topical panel show. And since it's all been rolled into Soho Comedy Club again you can buy tickets in the same place - hope to see you there some time soon.

I also did two runs of my solo show (The New At Kate) from Edinburgh at two brilliant places - one at Goldsmith's College and one at a great monthly show in Camden called Better Living Through Comedy. Thanks to everyone who came along to those. The next performance I'm doing of that show is in Southport on Sat 21st Nov. It's at the Floral Hall and is a benefit for striking journalists. Support, I hear, will be brilliant all-female sketch group Ladygarden. I'm not sure where you can get tickets but if all else fails show up on the night and I reckon they'll let you in for a modest fee.

I've also been on a few radio shows. On Friday night I was on the Stephen Nolan show on BBC Radio Five Live, just before midnight. I was supposed to be talking about office Christmas parties [have yours at Soho Comedy Club...] but we got distracted and ended up talking about sex education at school and how important it is. The good news here is that the government is going to make sex education compulsory from the age of 15. So even those kids whose parents choose to opt them out will have to have one year of sex ed before they leave school at 16. The bad news is: 15 is very very late to find out how your body works. By that age kids will have heard about sex in the playground, seen pornpgraphy on the internet or in newsagents and many of them will have already had sex. Still it's a start.

And secondly what's been happening in politics:

Well there was some good news here. The House of Lords passed Clause 14 which will criminalise the buying of sex from a person who has been exploited. In other words "I didn't know" will no longer be an excuse for buying sex from a woman being prostituted against her will. And if you're thinking "Oh no, what about my right to buy women's bodies for sex?" then surprise - you don't have such a right... But women do have a right not to be exploited. The campaign continues here.

Less encouraging is the announced closure of the Karma Nirvana helpline for women at risk of forced marriage and so-called "honour" killing [by which I mean brutal and pointless murder]. The government has decided quite randomly to cut funding for services supporting such women. You can sign the petition to urge Gordon Brown to reverse this decision here. Of course Gordon Brown is probably too busy to worry about stuff like women getting murdered - he has to focus on issues of national importance like who's going to win X-Factor... no really.

Johann Hari had a great - if very frightening - piece about David Cameron's policies in the Indie. And rather than looking at how dreadfully his manifesto betrays Britain's poor or coming out in support of funding for the Karma Nirvana helpline, Cameron decided to spend his time announcing to the world that he's deeply religious.

A report out about gender-related bullying in the school playground makes for disturbing reading but all the more reason to get involved with the Pink Stinks campaign to promote exciting female role models to young children which I found out about through their stall at the Feminism in London conference.

And what's coming up:

Sadly (but also happily) I will be away doing my show for striking journalists on Sat 21st Nov but what I will be missing is this year's Reclaim The Night march in London. I cannot urge my female readers enough to go along and male readers to show up afterwards for the rally and party - it's just one of those things that make you feel great and inspires you to go out and start changing the world. Have a great time.

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Schools of Thought

Ah doesn't this piece demonstrate *exactly* why faith schools are a dreadful idea? Turns out that every religion has it's own interpretations of what constitutes a member of their faith... So Jewish schools claim the child's mother must be Jewish, Catholic ones claim it's about being Christened in a Catholic church while very young and when I went o a Church of England school when I was a kid it was pretty clear that my parents flimsy last-minute flurry of attendance at the local church had much less of an effect than my good grades and behaviour record. If you look at faith groups it's pretty clear that they divide up along heavily ethnic lines. So faith schools allow some schools to quietly carry on being selective and turns others merely act to divide children up to be educated along lines of race. Add to this the implications to science and reason from allowing religious leaders to be involved in the selection of teaching staff and I really don't see what possible reason there can be for the government to continue funding them.

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Hitler Was An Atheist

Not really true - he was Catholic. But so what if he was? He was a vegetarian too. Not generally considered his most memorable attributes! Sam Harris on misconceptions about atheism.

Not Big Enough Questions

So again I was on The Big Questions on BBC One on Sunday. The replay function is here if you want to check it out. Although I came accross pretty well (I thought, thanks those who messaged me to say nice things) I was a bit annoyed that I didn't get a chance to answer two points relating to the debate on Mother Teresa being canonised. Of course I had my hand up and was halfway out of my seat tugging on Nicky Campbell's jacket and begging but they ignored me. Sulk.

Firstly Louise Bagshawe said that it was irrelevant that Mother Teresa opposed birth control and abortion. Her point was that as a Catholic of course she opposed these things and that as canonisation was a Catholic honour it is up to Catholic leaders (or indeed God) to make the decision on how good a Catholic she was.
But that's total rubbish. If a branch of Islam decided to canonise (or the equivalent) a suicide bomber she would be the first one on her high horse condemning that decision. Mother Teresa did not spend her life at home praying and affecting no-one else - she was deeply involved in international politics and her actions and efforts on birth control and abortion as well as the reprehensible way she ran her so-called charity caused totally unnecessary suffering and death to people around the world. In fact she caused much more human suffering and death than any suicide bomber ever did. If (when) the Catholic church chooses to canonise her any self-respecting Catholic should leave the faith and those who don't should expect to be on the receiving end of serious criticism.
Secondly the guy who claimed to have had his mental health problems cured miraculously after he prayed to Mother Teresa. Isn't it interesting how those who experience miracle healing always seem to have conditions where there are other secular cases of those same conditions spontaneously righting themselves? You show me a guy who prayed to Mother Teresa and his missing leg grew back and I will line up with the faithful!

New Resource for UK Women

I am told that Hollaback UK is up and running and accepting submissions right now. The email is: and the idea is to send photos and desciptions of guys who are rude to you in the street to get your own back by publically shaming them. This has been a big hit in New York for many years so I think we really deserve our own eh?

Monday, October 12, 2009

Live On The Plinth

Here's is the interview I did with BBC Radio Foyle from the top of the plinth. Click to listen. It's featured in their "best bits" round-up.

Thursday, October 08, 2009

Listen To Yourselves!

So I'm working on my computer and (without wishing to make excuses) Mr Cru has had his lunch and left the TV on which is now showing the diet and weight-loss show "Biggest Loser USA". One of the competitors, talking about how desperate she is to lose weight because she has family history of diabetes, just said "I want to live to see my son graduate from college, to see my daughters get married..." Bleugh! I want to live to see this woman's children grow up and tell their mum they don't care about stupid gender-based aspirations imposed on them by others when they're still too young to understand them. I want to live to see this woman have to plaster on a smile and pretend she's happy as the daughters pick up olympic boxing medals and the son stays home to raise triplets.

Story about my plinthing

In the Belfast Telegraph.

Spot The Difference

Ok so I did something rather newsworthy today. You may have already heard. I became the world's first living art forgery. Cool huh?
I went on Anthony Gormley's fourth plinth installation in Trafalgar Square. And I did so by impersonating someone else.

I'm exhausted from doing interviews all day so rather than explain it in a great deal of detail I'm just going to cut and paste the press release (which I didn't write so I don't vouch for it but it looks like a decent job at a glance). We can discuss in more depth when I've had some food and some shut-eye...
Pictured above myself and the woman, Goretti, I was impersonating. To see photos of me on the plinth look here.

PRESS RELEASE: Fake plinther highlights the hurdles Northern Irish women face accessing abortions

Abortion rights campaigner and comedienne Kate Smurthwaite impersonated her way into Anthony Gormley’s exhibit One & Other on the vacant fourth plinth in Trafalgar Square Wedenesday, quite possibly becoming the world’s first living art forgery.

One & Other is an art project by the Anthony Gormley, putting up one person every hour from around the UK onto the vacant fourth plinth in Trafalgar Square from 6 July through 14 October and webcast live at

This slot was originally allocated to Goretti Horgan from Alliance for Choice, the campaign for Northern Irish women to be given the right to an abortion. However, Kate Smurthwaite, at Horgan’s request, secretly took Horgan’s place.

“Of course it would take a lot of effort and cost a lot of money for Goretti to come over to be on the fourth plinth —just like the effort and expense incurred by women from Northern Ireland who are forced to travel to England, Wales and Scotland to access abortion services,” Smurthwaite said. “So we decided instead that I would go along and impersonate her.”

The staff at One & Other carefully check identification to ensure that the winners of the plinth drawing receive their spot.

Smurthwaite explained the ruse: “Goretti sent me her passport and a utility bill and luckily they were busy in the office and didn't check the photo too closely. I am also 20 years younger than Goretti so lucky they didn't check that either. I was being careful to play along but it was difficult especially since one of the women in the One & Other office was called Kate so I had to concentrate on not looking up when they called her name.”

The ruse only lasted until Smurthwaite was on the plinth because the organisers could hear her being interviewed.

“Once I was up there Goretti, the real Goretti, contacted the press in Northern Ireland about what I was doing and I did a live interview for BBC Radio 4 Ireland while I was up there.”

“I also took a toy horse along with me — since the statue on the plinth opposite the fourth plinth (the third plinth?) has a horse to sit on I figured I should blend in,” explained Smurthwaite, who is a stand up comic when she isn’t campaigning for abortion rights. “I explained several times to the cameras on the plinth about the campaign to extend the abortion act to Northern Ireland (and I had a huge banner which read "EXTEND THE ABORTION ACT TO N. IRELAND)".

Smurthwaite explained the issue, saying: “I talked about the 40 women every week who come over from Northern Ireland to have an abortion and about how abortion services which are free for residents of England, Wales and Scotland cost Northern Irish women from £600 to £2,000. A lot of money to raise at short notice. Abortion is totally illegal in Northern Ireland — even in cases of rape, incest, abuse and health risks to the mother. It's so wrong that women in certain parts of the UK should have fewer rights than others, that Northern Irish women should be treated as second class citizens. My partner David Mulholland handed out flyers explaining the message to those who had come to watch.”

The ruse took preparation. Smurthwaite said: “I'm really surprised we got away with it— I spent all week thinking someone would find me out and learning things like Goretti's phone number, date of birth and address and running through my back-story so I could explain why I didn't have an Irish accent.”

Smurthwaite added: “When I came down the team in the office seemed pretty annoyed with themselves for not spotting that I was a fake but it was all too late to do anything about it. I really hope it will generate publicity and help raise awareness for this really important cause.”
“So who am I really? I'm a stand-up comic and political campaigner,” Smurthwaite explained. “I met Goretti through my work with Abortion Rights — the UK-wide campaign for a woman's right to choose on abortion. I also write a blog called Cruella-blog: And if you want to come see me perform I also list upcoming shows on there — it would be great to have you along!”

Notes for editors:

Anthony Gormley is probably most well known for his iconic sculpture, The Angel of the North, the 20m high figure overlooking the A1, near Newcastle, and Another Place, the 100 figures placed along a 3km stretch of shoreline in Crosby, Merseyside. He is one of Britain's best loved artists.

The Fourth Plinth is the name given to the empty plinth in the north-west corner of Trafalgar Square in London. It was originally designed by Sir Charles Barry and built in 1841 to display an equestrian statue. There were not enough funds available at the time to create a statue and so the plinth was sometimes referred to as the 'empty plinth'.

In 1998 the RSA commissioned a series of three works - by Mark Wallinger, Bill Woodrow, and Rachel Whiteread - to be temporarily displayed on the plinth. Ever since, the 'empty plinth' has been home to a number of temporary works of art commissioned from leading national and international artists. The Fourth Plinth project is now managed by the Mayor of London's office, with advice from a special commissioning panel. In 2005, Mark Quinn's sculpture, Alison Lapper Pregnant, attracted a high level of interest from the public and media alike. A portrait of disabled artist Alison Lapper when she was 8 months pregnant, the 3.5m high sculpture was carved out of a single block of white marble.

Thomas Schütte's sculpture Model for a Hotel 2007 has been situated on the Plinth since November 2007. It is built of specially engineered glass in yellow, red and blue which collects the light, reflecting it through the edges.

Antony Gormley's One & Other replaced Model for a Hotel in July 2009.

Kate Smurthwaite has worked as a professional comedienne since 2004. She has performed three solo shows at the Edinburgh Fringe festival, including this year’s “The New At Kate”. She also hosts the live political panel show The Comedy Manifesto and is the resident compere at London’s Soho Comedy Club.

Friday, October 02, 2009

Are You Too Busy/Tired/Confused To Be Politically Active?

I understand. It's not easy to find the motivation. What if I paid you hundreds of millions of dollars to do it? You'd do it right? Of course.

Well here's the thing. I can't pay you hundreds of millions of dollars to stand up for what you know is right. But the guys standing against what we all know is right ... they're making hundreds of millions of dollars. Frightening. We have to keep fighting even when it seems like way too much effort. Our opponents have a lot of motivation.

Thursday, October 01, 2009

Bread and Circuses

So Guy Laliberte, the founder of Cirque du Soleil is going to go to the International Space Station as a space tourist. That I can live with. He's going to do a show about it too. Again I get it. What I don't get is the bit where he says he's doing it to raise awareness about the problems of access to clean water for people worldwide.

Is this the ultimate expression of the now exhausted theme of "going on holiday for charity"? In recent years the notion of people asking you to donate money so they can walk the Inca Trail or cycle the French Alps in aid of charity has become increasingly commonplace. And I'm always wondering exactly how much of the money is going to the charity and how much is paying for the trip.

But of course whatever the amount spent on grappling hooks and sun cream, if money is going to good causes that otherwise wouldn't you can't really knock it. But if it would raise more money to do something a little less close to the tropics, then at least admit that and don't go round acting like you've just grown a halo!

I should justify myself a bit here. I've done the London Marathon and the Caledonian Challenge for charity but in both cases I made a contribution myself to cover the cost of entry (not that much) and all that stuff so that money I got sponsored all went to the actual causes. Also in both cases I freely admit I was doing it because I wanted to and the only way I could get a place was to do it for charity.

We also have a fair few charity and fundraiser events at Soho Comedy Club and when we do we make sure that all the money goes to the causes. We don't charge for the room, the acts perform for free and flyerers and doorstaff always work for free those nights. In fact the only thing we can't recoup for the cause is the booking fee that PayPal charges (usually 9%). Annoyingly they have a function to reduce (but not eliminate) the fee for charities but you have to jump through hoops to get it and you have to be a fully registered charity, not just a good cause or an NGO, etc.

I don't want to sound like I'm against good causes and fundraising - I think it's vital and there should be more of it. But at the same time the word "charity" also doesn't mean "you can't criticise me". So when I read things like this dreadful story about topless models walking through Manchester in aid of "Support Our Soldiers" I totally don't get it. Why can't we support our soldiers without also supporting misogyny? And what about our female soldiers and our gay soldiers and our soldiers who for cultural or religious reasons don't approve of topless modelling?

This also goes for all the half naked calendars in aid of charity too - you know who you are. If you want to do something in aid of charity - do something positive.

Mr Laliberte's trip into space is costing £22m. I think that money would go a long way to giving people around the world access to clean water. Take a holiday if you want mate but don't just do something totally frivolous that you want to do and then pretend to me that you're doing this for the greater good. Believe me people dying from having to drink dirty water will not be looking up at the International Space Station going "thanks Guy"!

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Roman Roads

Horrifying to read the newspaper coverage of the arrest of Roman Polanski. Now if people want to claim he was innocent, they are welcome to do so. Instead several papers have pieces claiming that while he was guilty he should not be brought to justice because (1) he makes great films, (2) he has experienced other suffering in his life or (3) because he has paid for his crimes by living overseas for many years to avoid prison.

If any of these are to hold any weight someone needs to clarify exactly what the exchange rate is:

(1) Can I punch someone of my choosing without punishment given that my Edinburgh show got a five-star review?

(2) Can I punch someone of my choosing without punishment given that I had an eating disorder in my teens?

(3) Can I punch someone of my choosing without punishment as long as I take two weeks holiday in the south of France straight afterwards?

Worse still some people are claiming that he shouldn't be brought to justice because the crime was somehow "not that bad". Points raised include (1) the fact that the victim has said she doesn't want to go to court, (2) the allegation that she was "sexually experienced" and (3) the implication that the rape committed was only "statutory rape", i.e. that she consented to sex and that therefore the rape was only a rape on "technical grounds" because of the age of consent. Well:

(1) The victim gave statements immediately after the event and Polanski pleaded guilty so it would be easy for the judge to rule that she needn't go to court, there is no reason they couldn't sentence him in her absence. The point of the law is not to make victims feel better, although it may be hoped that in some cases it does. The point of the law is to punish those who commit crimes.

(2) Are we really still in the 21st century believeing that a woman who has previously had sex cannot be raped? Of course not. And since she was 13 at the time she hadn't previously had sex - she'd previously been raped.

(3) Firstly this is not someone a few weeks away from being legally old enough to consent. She was thirteen. The law has an age of consent for a reason. If people feel the law is wrong they should campaign to change the law, not ignore it. But secondly, and most importantly of all I think. This was much more than statutory rape.

There is a good piece in the Independent by (dare I say it) Dominic Lawson pointing out that he drugged her with the drug quaalude mixed into champagne and also that the claims of consent from the victim are very flimsy...

Here's the transcript of victim's original statement (warning: not for the sensitive reader):

"Q. What did you do when he said, 'Let's go into the other room'?
A. I was going 'No, I think I better go home', because I was afraid. So I just went and I sat down on the couch.

Q. What were you afraid of?
A. Him.... He sat down beside me and asked if I was OK. I said 'No'.
Q. What did he say?
A. He goes 'Well, you'll be better'. And I go, 'No I won't. I have to go home. He said 'I'll take you home soon'.
Q. Then what happened?
A. Then he went down and he started performing cuddliness... I was kind of dizzy, you know, like things were kind of blurry sometimes. I was having trouble with my coordination... I wasn't fighting really because I, you know, there was no one else there and I had no place to go."
Q. Did he ask you about being on the pill?
A. He asked, he goes, 'Are you on the pill?' and I went, 'No' and he goes 'When did you have your period?' and I said, 'I don't know. A week or two. I'm not sure'... He goes, 'Come on. You have to remember'. And I told him I didn't.... and right after I said I was not on the pill... and he goes... and then he put me – wait. Then he lifted my legs up farther and he went in through my anus.
Q. Did you resist at that time?
A. A little bit, but not really, because...
Q. Because what?
A. Because I was afraid of him."

That is not consent.

Sunday, September 27, 2009

Jordan and Daily Mail Woman-Bashing

I'm not someone who takes a lot of time to follow the career of Katie Price AKA Jordan. We all know who she is and what she does. Whatever you think about her choice to make a career out of topless modelling and publicity-courting, you'd have to admit, she's good at it.

Today's Daily Mail carries a piece about revelations made about her by her former partner the footballer Dwight Yorke. It made me pretty angry...

"Dwight Yorke has broken his silence on his relationship with Katie Price, describing her as 'vain and infuriating' and confessing that he wanted to 'throttle' her former husband Peter Andre.

The footballer has also admitted for the first time that he cheated on Price during their stormy 18-month relationship, although he refused to give any details about the encounter."

So she's "vain and infuriating" (which incidentally also appears in the title of the piece) while he is unfaithful and inclined towards violence? Why am I not feeling his rage over her vanity? You also have to wonder what is going on when a guy dates one of the world's most successful models and then announces she's "vain". That's her job - to look great all the time. If she wandered around in second hand cardigans she'd make a lot less money. If you want to criticise the system fair enough but not much point criticising her for playing along.

"[He] describes in detail the moment his former girlfriend told him she was pregnant with their son Harvey.

'My reaction was immediate,' he said. 'There was no way we could have this baby. I told her, "Our relationship is too unstable. I don't think it's right".' "

Really? So you weren't ready to have a baby with this woman? There are these great things that've been invented especially for guys who feel that way about their relationships - they're called CONDOMS. And if you're really totally 100% sure there's no way you could raise a child with this woman - don't have sex with her.

"He recalls staying down one night and Katie's crowd were heading off to a big party in London.

He said the crowd came back 'steaming drunk' and made a terrible noise, despite the fact that little Harvey was asleep upstairs.

'I challenged her about this lifestyle. She'd desperately wanted our baby but was this her idea of motherhood?"

I don't understand - was the child left unattended? Was the child put at risk? Or was the child at risk of nothing more than maybe being woken up in the night by a bit of noise? Should we also be condemning mothers who snore or live near noisy foxes? What was his idea of fatherhood? "Staying down one night"? What about the other 364 of the year?

"After a night of 'wild' sex, Yorke describes how he pulled out a £45,000 ring and gave it to Price.

'It was clearly an engagement ring,' said Yorke


They flew home separately - and Price never returned his ring."

Now for me it's not the value of the ring that tells me it's an engagement ring - it's the guy who gives it to me asking me to marry him. No woman accepting a piece of jewelry as a gift should be unspeakingly understood to have agreed to anything. What next? That was clearly a can-we-try-some-bondage bracelet, and now you've accepted the let's-remortgage-the-house-and-move-to-Spain pashmina you'd better start packing? And no, the whole point of gifts is that they are given freely, if it had conditions attached to it's being offered they should have been stated up front.

Seems to me that the first thing Ms Price has gotten right about raising her child is to keep him away from his unpleasant misogynist father.

Friday, September 25, 2009

You Lucky London Feminists!

Lots of you will I know already be coming to the Feminism In London conference on 10th October. If not then head over here pronto to find out more and reserve your place.

After the conference (and you don't have to go to the conference to come along) we are holding a fabulous feminist fun-packed cabaret show. It's downstairs at The Comedy Pub on Oxenden Street (between Piccadilly Circus and Leicester Square - SW1Y 4EE), doors open at 8pm and show at half eight, though you can arrive before that and buy tickets if there are any left have a drink in the main bar any time.

The line-up is still being tweaked but I have confirmed appearances from Eve Webster (the impressionist who shredded Ann Widdicombe at the recent Abortion Rights fundraiser) and fabulous headliners Chambers and Nettleton (pictured above).

[Update: added to the line-up: the British Bette Midler... Abi Roberts!]

[Update number two: also added to the line-up: amazing magician Katherine Rhodes!]

Tickets are £10 full price and £5 concessions. I'm not going to make any rule on who is and isn't a concession so if you can afford it, it is a fundraiser, please buy the full priced ticket but if money's an issue get a concession one and don't miss out on the fun.

Other info: The pub is over-18s only (sorry) and the venue is down a single flight of stairs. We will do whatever we can to help with accessibility so give me a shout if you need advice on that. Show will finish about 11pm and afterwards there'll be a DJ (over whom I have no control but it's usually cheery and dancy) and the venue will open up to the public until 2am.

You can buy tickets using the button below.


(Oh and by the way once you pay it will tell you to contact David at Soho Comedy Club for your ticket, but this is not necessary, I will just have a list including your name and email address on the door).