Friday, September 30, 2011

Do you live in Hull?

If so you should definitely come to this:

Research Seminar II

Wednesday 23rd November, 2011, Meaux Room, Staff House, University of Hull

4.15pm-6pm. Refreshments provided. Free entry, all welcome.

Kate Smurthwaite: feminist comedienne and activist: A powerhouse of observational wit” (The Spectator)

‘The British media: should we just burn it down?’

"Fifty years ago women were considered outrageous if they appeared in the media in a bikini and only men presented motoring shows. Now a woman in the media is considered lucky if it's only her cleavage - not her labia - on display and ... erm ... it's still only men who get to present motoring shows. TV, radio and UK comedy circuit regular Kate Smurthwaite will talk about the state of the media and her own experiences and call for immediate radical action. Bring battering rams and grappling hooks! The revolution starts here and we will televise it ourselves."

Kate Smurthwaite is a well known feminist activist and campaigner. She is the vice-chair of Abortion Rights UK, an active member of London Feminist Network and the Secular Society and a regular contributor to The F Word Blog. Kate is also a highly regarded British comedienne, having performed more than 2,000 shows including the Bloomsbury Theatre, Soho Comedy Club, Comedy Cafe, Edinburgh Festival, and the New York and Malmo Comedy Festivals. She is currently resident compere at the Soho Comedy Club and the host and writer of London’s most popular live political panel show The Comedy Manifesto. She is also a seasoned broadcaster, contributing to television and radio programmes including BBC Television and BBC Radio 4 and 5 and has hosted shows on a range of UK independent radio stations.

Monday, September 26, 2011

MY Home Town!

[trigger warning] I was born in London and I'm not one for pointless displays of patriotism, but I like London, I like living here and being from here. I was pretty horrified by this video from the BBC though. It's about an exhibition of tattoo art going on. Fair enough. But look at the guy 1m10 in... He describes his London-theme tattoo as featuring "Sherlock Holmes, dead prostitutes and Big Ben". Holy fuck. When did "dead prostitutes" become an ok thing to casually have tattooed on your arm under the heading "London theme"? And the interviewer doesn't stop him or question him. He allows him to carry on talking and describe himself as "an English gentleman". Lets remember lads, all together: real gentlemen don't trivialise the murder of prostituted women. Did that really need saying?

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Memorandum to journalists about social media

Hello all. Sorry for the round-robin message, I know it's only a small number of you who are letting the others down but I really think I need to have a word here.

It's about social media. Yes Twitter, Facebook and blogs are exciting new platforms for communication and sharing of information. We can certainly look at them and see what subjects people are discussing. However what we can't do is this: Take one or two specific quotes from members of the public on Twitter, Facebook or a blog and act like that's the nation's opinion.

Let me show you what I mean.

Example 1: An article about Adam Ramsay in the Daily Mail.

"Last night, several messages were posted under Ramsay’s blog by readers mocking his background. One of them pretended to be his mother, writing: ‘Adam darling, We’ve got no caviar left and the staff have taken the day orf... please be a dear and pick some beluga up when you and your Uni chums pop into Fortnums... Mwah, mwah, Mumsy.’"

Stop press! SEVERAL messages? Really so lets say "at least three". Clearly what Ramsay was doing (he was alleged to have been something to do with UK Uncut) was attracting a lot of attention. Lets assume 20,000 people heard of him and his blog. And lets assume five of them wrote something "mocking his background" (I did have a look at the time, that's about right). That would be one in 4,000 people. I'm pretty sure that one in 4,000 people in this country has written to Points of View because they're "morally outraged" by Blue Peter. And at least two in 4,000 go to the pub and try to convince their friends that Elvis is alive and works in Lidl. It's not a measure of national opinion, it's a measure of the random opinions of a tiny handful of people. It hugely smacks of "I've run out of arguments to support my stupid point" and also rather of "I know I'll get my teenage nephew to write something on Twitter and then quote him in the national press".

Example 2: The Sun chucking its toys out of the pram on the proposed Lib Dem Page 3 ban.

"The ploy sparked a wave of fury on Twitter, with one user saying: 'A country full of problems and in desperate need of solutions, and the Lib Dems are voting on banning Page 3. Sheesh!'"

They have exactly one example of this "wave of fury" and it's not even from someone who says they disagree with the measure - its from someone who thinks it shouldn't be a priority. And where is this "wave" really? Twitter uses hashtags (where you write the theme of a comment in the form #Page3 so people can search for it) to allow you to see who else out of their 100 million global users is talking about a particular subject. At noon today I was interviewed on the subject by Wendy Austin from BBC Ulster. She put a post up on Twitter asking people to contact her show with their opinions. That was 14 hours ago and there have been 10 comments about #Page3 since - none of them really expressing "fury". So that's less than one comment per hour from 100 million users! The fairer news story would be to say "there wasn't much reaction on Twitter, most people were still talking about Ashton Kutcher".

Quoting Twitter, Facebook, blogs and social media on news stories is stupid and lazy. It's fair enough to quote a person who is directly linked to the news story. And it's fair enough to discuss overall trends, what were the top subjects discussed or the results of a fairly-conducted, large sample size survey. It's even, arguably, fair enough to publish a selection of responses to a particular issue from social networking sites.

But to quote "a Twitter user" or "a person who made a blog comment" is as ridiculous as saying "a man on the 24 bus said he thought the war in Iraq was a good idea" and "a woman in a blue cardigan in York agreed". It's not news, its propaganda. Stop it.

Thanks very much for your time. All carry on now.

Monday, September 19, 2011

Ultimate Daily Fail line-by-line

Who would have guessed the Daily Mail would have leapt on the bandwagon of a new film to let women know they need to stop trying to have careers? Yup, me too. Here it is: Women CAN’T have it all: Two thirds of working mums would have to quit their jobs if they couldn’t rely on help from family and friends. Right, but as long as friends and family are happy to help, they won't have to quit their jobs, so then they can "have it all". Right?

And here's the line-by-line...

"In I Don't Know How She Does It, Sarah Jessica Parker just about manages to juggle a job in a financial market firm with being the mother of two children. But she does it with a lot of help from a nanny."

Oh gosh, already I'm angry. Why does she "juggle" a job and kids? Doesn't juggle imply at any moment something's going to get dropped? Couldn't she just HAVE a job and kids? Or even "be busy with" a job and kids? Know any men who "juggle" tax accountancy with golf and a drink problem? Me either.

"Many modern working mothers can't afford personal childcare, though."

Right we should discuss three issues here shouldn't we?
1. Why do we still assume the mother is responsible for the childcare?
2. Why isn't the government doing something to tackle the cost of childcare?
3. Why is women's pay still lagging a long way behind men's and what can be done generally to increase wages?

"Instead they rely heavily on a close-knit circle of up to ten close friends and family to juggle their busy lives."

Juggle! Juggle! Juggle! Stop it already! But yes of course every child benefits from relationships with a range of adults.

"Mums call on their support network, dubbed 'Team Mum', to help out for around ten hours a week as they try to fit everything around their office hours, a survey found."

Ten hours a week is not that much really to have your child minded by others. It's less than two hours a day.

"Their own mothers are the first port of call in emergencies, while friends, neighbours and other children's mums are also likely to be on hand when needed."

Do these kids have fathers? Or has the Daily Mail uncovered human cloning?

"The study, carried out by Tesco Baby, found that 67 per cent of mothers believe they would have to give up work if they didn't receive help from Team Mum."

Why are these people called "Team Mum"? They're actually helping the kids. Just like Mum is.

"Having a close support network saves the average mum £140 a month in childcare costs. That adds up to a saving of £1,680 per year."

Only if we start from the assumption that the mother has to pay personally for 100% of the child-raising costs. What about the value of the child-rising these mothers do?

"The trend was revealed in a study carried out among 2,000 mums by Tesco to launch its 'Help a Mum' campaign."

Yeah the solution is not government action or societal attitude shifts, it's definitely for a major supermarket to launch a "campaign". If Tesco wants to help working mothers why not have creches in every store and sell real high quality food?

"Spokeswoman Lorna Dickinson said: 'Mums work incredibly hard and it's only natural that they rely on other people to help them out."

They rely on other people? Does anybody think that the rest of the world maybe relies a bit heavily on mums? Like to do 95% of the child-rearing for us?

"'Juggling work, meal times, housework and various appointments can be difficult so having a trusted network of reliable people can make a difference.'"

Jugglers work at the circus. But let it be known that Tesco thinks it is women who are responsible for housework...

"The study found mums typically enjoy ten hours of support from their network of friends and family, but one in 20 women has 31 hours of help every week."

Mums ENJOY ten hours of support? No mums enjoy back rubs and meals in nice restaurants. The real issue is mums only get ten hours a week of support. Where the hell are dads?

"Two thirds those who took part in the poll said their own mother was the one person they could not do without, and one third of women said their mother babysits their kids while they are at work."

Where were the questions about the support by the child's father? Where is the corresponding survey asking how tough it can be for working dads?

"Tesco's survey also revealed one in ten relies on their mother-in law's child-minding skills while five per cent get granddad to muck in."

How can these women have mother-in-laws? They don't know any men! Except - we learn - granddad!

"The findings come after Grannynet (a website for 'grannies in the know who are looking after their grandchildren') strayed into helping with childcare."

That sentence doesn't make sense. Not that that makes it look out of place in the Daily Male.

"Midwife Sally Underdown is running classes for members of the website which support the nation’s 7million grandmothers."

I'm not sure all of these 7 million women are using the site.

"Underdown teaches nans about how childcare has changed since they first had children."

Sadly it appears what hasn't changed is the notion that women bear 100% of the responsibility!

"Tesco's study found 40 per cent of mothers said they were part of a mum's network, with most belonging to two support teams."

Stop press! Parents get to know other parents and childminders...

"Around 58 per cent said no one in their support team accepted cash for their efforts."

That's why it's a support team - not an agency.

"But half of the participants said they returned the favour by babysitting for their friends when needed."

Is this news? Really?

"A third of mums said it was far easier to juggle everything when you are a stay-at-home mum as opposed to being a working mother."

I sure hope the other two thirds said "fuck off with your stupid survey, I don't juggle anything".

"And 27 per cent said it was 'impossible' to do everything yourself unless they were 'incredibly organised'."

And what percentage said they felt they ought to do everything themselves? I'm guessing about the same percent as the percentage that take shit they read in the Daily Mail seriously.

"Pippa Wright, mother-of-two and blogger at A Mothers Ramblings said: 'It is incredibly hard for mums working full-time during pregnancy but there are online pregnancy forums if mums are too busy to attend pre-natal classes."

Good. Hopefully these forums will have links to the Employment Tribunal service in case your company discriminates against you or fires you for being pregnant or taking maternity leave. This is amazingly common despite being completely illegal. We should be talking about this.

"'From these forums, I met almost 30 mothers who, after almost eight years, are friends I still rely on for advice."

Woman makes friends with other women in similar circumstance. Stop press. No really.

"'The smallest thing - like a rash - can be panic-inducing for a mum so being able to know another mum has been through the same issue and will respond is a massive weight off your shoulders."

If only there were another parent with whom the mum could share her fears and discuss them. Ah well - I guess one day Daily Mail readers will evolve from asexual to sexual reproduction...

"'Several friends have had to move back closer to their family in order to get help during and after their pregnancies."

Yes childcare is too expensive, women's wages (and wages in general) are too low. I blame the government.

"'Becoming and being a mother can be a difficult journey but as this research highlights, support is always available and mothers and friends should never be afraid to ask for it.'"

But don't ask the father. Just get his dinner ready on the table and practice giving good blowjobs right?

"The study also found a third of women said the hardest aspect of parenting was being a good mother whilst also being dedicated in the workplace."

Hmm - what percentage of fathers worry about being a good father? I'm saying less. So really the problem is living up to unreasonable gender-based expectations.

"But the same proportion said the hardest part of parenthood was keeping the house clean."

And the final third said the hardest part of parenthood was choosing outfits that made the whole family look like The Waltons.

"Nearly three quarters of mums said it would make their life simpler if they had more close family and friends helping them out with day to day errands."

Their own fault for "being afraid to ask for help" I imagine.

"Lorna Dickinson added: 'It's fantastic that mums help other mums out - from babysitting to giving advice and sharing parenting concerns."

Parenting concerns? Like where's that dude who knocked me up?!?

"'Being able to take the weight off their shoulders and having people to turn to is precious and our Help a Mum campaign is all about celebrating mums who help other mums.'"

Not all about getting your brand name in the papers without the inconvenience of paying for an actual advert then?

What's really amazing here is that we have an 800-word article about the difficulties faced by working mothers that NEVER ONCE so much as even mentions the idea that fathers can take responsibility for their children or contribute to their care.

Anytime I write something about the pay gap or the rape conviction rate I get a bunch of angry "MRAs" (so-called men's rights activists) telling me that actually it's men who are discriminated against because they don't get access to their children (like y'know, just cos they've got a couple of domestic violence convictions or something...). Well you want to be considered fully equal co-parents and given assumed shared custody in the family law courts? Maybe you'd like to start by campaigning against this attitude in one of the nation's most-read papers? Get back to me when you've finished and we'll talk.

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Infuriating BBC!

Argh! Who allows this sort of thing to go out on air? A woman - Marine Debray - appeared on University Challenge and subsequently received stacks of awful comments and messages on the Internet. The BBC frame it as "is it harder for a woman to be smart?" which is not really the point. It's not her intelligence that made her a target - it's her gender. Women on the Internet - and in real life - get harassed for being ugly, for being attractive, for being smart, for being dumb, for being tall, for being short, for being cheerful, for being angry, etc, etc. Indeed some of the hassle this woman got was from people saying she wasn't smart enough to be on University Challenge - so essentially hassling her for being dumb even though she very obviously isn't.

But then they get their resident "expert" on. I haven't managed to figure out who she is, but she's awful. They ask for her response and she (1) describes the harassment as unsurprising. Well true but that doesn't make it ok and (2) suggests it is the responsibility of Debray herself to "come across" in a way that deters harassment. NO! The responsibility for this lies with the people who posted the abuse. Not the victim. STOP IT! Get the victim-blamers off my screens! And then the BBC turn round and effectively ask Debray to respond to the suggestion that it's all her own fault!

The truth is we should be congratulating Debray on having the gumption to stand up and admit it happens and it's horrid and for drawing attention to the wider issue of sexist abuse on the Internet. Something can be done about it as demonstrated by the jailing of Facebook troll Sean Duffy.

I'll be on BBC Radio Five Live around 11.15pm tonight talking about whether children make our lives complete...!?

Thursday, September 01, 2011

Dorries, Lies, etc

I had a piece published in the Huffington Post yesterday about abortion access and Nadine Dorries. Seems like since then there is some good news. But we're not in the clear yet. Please if you haven't written to your MP about this - do so today! It's a two-click process here and you can join Abortion Rights while you're there and support our ongoing work trying to stop women's rights being eroded.