Sunday, June 29, 2008

Stick A Sock In It Tim!

Having just read this and spat half my tea over my computer screen, let me count to ten, breathe deeply and say the following:

1) I don't know how the women in work commission get their theory that only 5% of the pay gap is a result of direct discrimination (the link he provides leads only to a front page but most of the links there are broken) but speaking as a women who worked 8 years in the financial services sector - a woman with no particular propensity to get sick and who during that time never had a baby or so much as a dependent goldfish -the pay gap is alive and well and all about direct and indirect discrimination. Neither kind of discrimination is acceptable.

Now I will accept that deliberate, conscious under-paying, under-promoting and under-recruiting of women is rare. But there are lots of other ways women miss out. To list but a few:

- Not having our ideas taken seriously at meetings.
- Women being recruited for looks rather than abilities and then being unable to keep up with male colleagues.
- Missing out on networking opportunities that take place in strip clubs, etc.
- Being criticised over our appearance, while male colleagues are not.
- Being unable to take part in business trips to places like Saudi Arabia where women have restricted movement.
- Being mistaken for administrative staff and given paperwork instead of proper work to do.
- Having unpleasant sexual remarks made about you within earshot.
- Being criticised for being too pushy while male colleagues are congratulated for sticking to their guns.
- Being told how lucky we are to have got the job in the first place.
- Being excluded from team banter.
(I could go on all week)

Even if this mystical 5% number had any truth in it - what is so wrong with wanting to close a gap that by your own admission is directly caused by outright prejudice?

2) Discrimination against women because they take maternity leave and have more domestic responsibilities is still not acceptable. If we are to insist that it's ok to underpay women because they have wombs and (shock horror) might use them then would infertile women be afforded a pay rise on bringing in a certificate of hysterectomy? Or indeed, for dramatic effect, their removed womb in a freezer bag?

And do we actually want to live in a society where people with children are deliberately underpaid in case it affects their work? How will that affect the next generation?

3) As to the notion that part-time workers deserve mistreatment because they are less useful and require more training: most part-time workers I know are women who have gone back part time after having a child. They therefore needed no additional training, they all work more hours than they are paid for and they all afford their employers flexibility because they can adjust their schedule to accommodate busy periods (e.g. working an extra day at month-end).

In short, Tim, when you say in your title "Not All Discrimination Is Bad" - remember the definition of discrimination:

Discrimination: (n) treatment or consideration of, or making a distinction in favor of or against, a person or thing based on the group, class, or category to which that person or thing belongs rather than on individual merit.

Yes all discrimination is bad. People deserve to be judged on their individual skills and merits - not on prejudice about how they might behave because they happen to have a cunt.

I Woz Ere Too

By the way - since every other blogger seems to have mentioned it: yes I was at the Guardian-sponsored liberal bloggers conference on Tuesday. I didn't take a camera so I've had to poach this image from Tory Troll (thanks!).

I am not sure I can identify all the people pictured but top row: Boriswatch, Cath Elliot & Georgina from The Guardian & Dave Cole, Me & The F-Word.
Middle row: Me & Tory Troll, Conference, Scribo Ergo Sum.
Bottom row: Holly Combe & me & ??, panel, ?? & Sadie Smith.

I generally enjoyed the chance to meet other bloggers. I wasn't so impressed with the insistence on having a second half dedicated to essentially "Why aren't women and feminist bloggers getting more recognition?". Speaking as someone who was featured on the Stephen Nolan show on BBC Five Live AGAIN this evening, is often on BBC radio and TV, has been asked to write articles for the BBC online, featured on Liberal Conspiracy, The F-Word and mentioned in the Evening Standard, The Guardian, The Independent and The Sunday Times I worry that if feminists feel they aren't getting enough attention it may be because I'm hogging the limelight - sorry!

Of course there is always more that can be done and I'd certainly love it if more people linked to me and promoted my stuff. It just seemed that we set out saying "Why are women failing in this arena?" and I don't think we are. I think the blog-o-sphere has done wonders for the women's movement - it's encouraging people to speak out and get involved even where they live within entrenched misogynist communities. And it's giving people a voice who otherwise wouldn't get the chance to express themselves. And I meet loads of brilliant women bloggers online, and often later in person. I think it's the best thing to happen to feminism in a long time.

But instead because of the way the question had been posed I had guys barely old enough to grow facial hair coming up to me afterwards saying "You know one thing you could do to promote your blog is try to cover more non-women-specific topics, that might help. Also you could try asking bigger blogs to link to you and..." And I was thinking "Dude where's your blog with it's huge numbers of visitors? I'm actually pretty happy with the way my blog's doing. I'll cover the stories I damn well want to and if I want your advice I'll ask for it, now shove off and let me get to the free food."

Saturday, June 28, 2008

Hell, I'll Take It!

Harriet Harman is putting together a new equality bill which seems to me to have been specifically designed to have as little actual impact as possible while winding up the anti-equality lobby as much as she can. The plans are for a new equality bill which would mean that employers in the public (but not private) sector must publish data on their gender pay gap and will allow employers to hire a woman or ethnic minority candidate in a circumstance where two candidates are equally qualified. Of course I don't really understand the term "equally qualified". Surely no two candidates are equally qualified - there is always a difference.

And unfortunately by putting that clause in it has given the tabloids the chance to have a field day. The Daily Express ran with "White Men Face Jobs Ban" which is just literally a lie.

What it's going to do for the most part is (a) stir up hate (although honestly I think the haters are quite capable of hating us whatever we do!) and (b) create a new industry of specialist consultants available to massage gender pay data and make your public sector organisation look like they're not as discriminatory as they really are. What would work much better is to bring in compulsory internal pay, recruitment and promotion audits with feedback and recommendation followed by fines for companies and public bodies (above a threshold size) who fail to make changes fast enough. And an independent board set up to seek out and punish discriminatory practices throughout public and private sectors where employees do not wish to run a full court case but where distinct improvements can be made.

Essentially the existing law should provide all the protection from discrimination that women need - but sadly efforts to enforce it are minimal. What we need is not so much new laws, but the existing ones actually adhered to.

But hell, at least it's something, a step in the right direction. It certainly won't do any harm and there are bound to be cases where it does some good. And when I hear the Daily Express quoting her opponents saying Ms Harman "must be the most politically correct MP" I think she must be doing something right.

Friday, June 27, 2008

Consumer Products With Padding

Attention food manufacturers and supermarkets. Just so you know - I've noticed when you pad out your products with cheap ingredients. I know when I pick up a carton of pomegranate 100% juice drink and it turns out to be 50% grape juice that I'm being ripped off. I know grape juice is the cheapest juice on the market. If it wasn't why would there be a never-ending run of clearly press release-driven "news" stories about how good for you grape juice is (note however that that's all purple grape juice, while I'm pretty sure the pomegranate juice is cut with white grape juice)?

I know when I look at a supposedly chicken-based soup and it contains more carrots, potatoes, rice, onions and peas than it does chicken that somebody somewhere thinks I'm stupid enough to base my choice of food on the picture on the front of the tin, rather than the information on the back. And even those ingredients are second only to water. What is the point of selling uncondensed soup?

And on that subject there are adverts on TV at the moment for a fabric softener "now condensed". Surely what they mean is "by the way, that stuff we've been selling you for the last 50 years was mostly water!!".

Isn't it time companies realised that we're not fooled by this stuff any more. Isn't it time these guys cut their advertising budgets and instead spent the money on an internal CSR (corporate responsibility) audit to see how they could be better benefiting consumers, the environment, their employees and the communities they operate in. Then when you've started using better ingredients in a better way, send out a press release about that!

Thursday, June 26, 2008

Last (Male) Comic Standing

There's a new series of Last Comic Standing being shown on Paramount Comedy. Now I'm not a big fan of reality TV but I quite like the show and as a stand-up myself I'm all in favour of anything that promotes the industry and helps people get good audiences and the attention they deserve. What I don't understand is why this season it's being presented by Fearne Cotton (pictured from her own website). She's not a stand-up. They would never have a male presenter who wasn't a comedian. And in the trailer she is in a tiny mini-skirt and does a little "twirl" in the middle. Unlike in the actual series, all the comics shown in the trailer are male. Why not just put a big sign up saying "GUYS: MAKE 'EM LAUGH, GIRLS: JUST TRY AND LOOK PRETTY". Can't we have a female stand-up present the show? Jo Brand, Jo Caulfield, Jenny Eclair, ... or better still - me?

Wednesday, June 25, 2008

Coming To The Edinburgh Festival?

Tickets for my solo Edinburgh show Apes Like Me are now available online. Just click here. It's about evolution and our relatives the Orang-Utans, Gorillas, Chimps and Bonobos and about how much I hate creationists! I am also in several other shows but this is (a) my main show and (b) the only one you can book in advance for. Hence why I'm mentioning it now. It's not suitable for small kids but smart teenagers would be most welcome.

If you've never been to the Edinburgh Festival I can only say it's amazing, you should definitely go once in your lifetime. My show is just one of around 6,000 comedy, theatre, music, arts, literature and all kinds of other shows. For pretty much the whole month of August the streets will be packed with performers and festival-goers. Book now for this year though especially for accommodation. And see you there!

Tuesday, June 24, 2008

Someone Is Fucking Our Children!!

The Daily Mail along with most of the other papers, even the supposedly liberal ones, reports this week that the number of abortions performed on girls under the age of 16 has risen. I can't find where these numbers have actually been released, the breakdown doesn't fit with how these numbers are usually released so already I am suspicious. More to the point though I have no idea why the number of underage abortions is an issue. I would like to live in a country where we kept as much of a lid on underage pregnancy as possible - but once these young girls are pregnant I think making sure that they have access to abortion if that's what they want is VITAL.

The Mail wraps up it's totally one-sided coverage of the issue with a case study of a woman who had an abortion when she was 14. She says of her termination "I took the next day off school and tried to forget it ever happened." - but no mention is made of the fact that had she had the baby she might never have gone back to school at all because she would have had the responsibility of raising a child.

But why is it that every article is full of horror at what underage girls are doing but no-one has bothered to notice that it takes two people to start a pregnancy. We have no way of knowing what proportion of these underage pregnancies and abortions occur as a result of sexual abuse at home, as a result of rape by boyfriends or strangers and what proportion result from consensual sex. What we do know is this - the law says that under-16s CANNOT consent to sex. 16 is called the age of consent because below that age a child is not considered mature enough to have the weight of making that decision put upon them.

So the headlines should instead surely read SOMEONE IS FUCKING OUR CHILDREN!!