Category: Feminism

Read. Watch. Go. Do 20/01/14

If you’ll allow me to ease myself back in gently, here’s a quick overview of what I think we should all be up to.

READ: Something written by a woman. Joanna Walsh started #readwomen2014 after creating these rather wonderful bookmarks featuring the likes of Gertrude Stein (pink), Rachel Carson (red) and Simone de Beauvoir (blue). As her Guardian article explains, even though women read more than men, fiction by female authors is often overlooked – and undersold – as ‘chic lit’ due to lazy cover art and marketing.

“you might like to do a Vida count on your own bookshelf; if you find an imbalance, consider whether you might have been a victim of inequality, missing out on good writing because of a pink dust jacket.” 

The year of reading women

You could get started with Allie Brosh’s Hyperbole and a Half book in readiness for February’s Blook Club. Next on my list is The Flamethrowers by Rachel Kushner.

GO: Eat in Edinburgh’s coolest restaurant/bar, The Devil’s Advocate. The macaroni and cheese was absolute perfection, and the espresso martinis will get you good and drunk. Don’t worry if you can’t get there for six months; it’ll still be Edinburgh’s coolest restaurant/bar such is the pace of my favourite of all cities!

DO: Sign up to Women in Renewable Energy Scotland (WIREs), if that’s the sort of thing you’re into. They have a fast emerging network of women in a young industry which employs women as only 28% of its workforce. The newsletter is good. November’s launch event in the Glasgow Science Centre was rad. And – because in the words of Madeleine Albright “There is a special place in hell for women who don’t help other women” – they’ve set up a mentoring programme. I’ll be both a mentor and a mentee over the next year and I’m very excited about the opportunities for career growth.

This has been fun. Maybe I’ll be back in the blogging world for a bit.

Read. Watch. Go. Do 29/04/13

I got a job! A really exciting, grown up communications job in a renewable energy company. April resolution achieved.

READ: My blogpost for Grateful Chorus on the Bank of England’s decision to remove the last woman from the nation’s banknotes.

WATCH: The Gatekeepers! Go to the cinema and watch this right away! This breathtaking documentary brings together the last six former chiefs of Shin Bet, Israel’s internal intelligence agency.  You have to keep in mind throughout that they are trained spies, but it’s still astonishing to see them talk so frankly about the failure of Israel’s fight against ‘terrorism’, citing a war which has “no strategy, only tactics”. I learnt a lot.

DO: Switch your energy provider away from the Big Six with their disgusting profit margins and lobbying for continuing to rely on fossil fuels. There are quite a few available, but the company I’ve always had the best experience with is ecotricity. They use customers’ bills to build new green electricity, turning bills into mills. Switching is unbelievably easy and the prices are absolutely comparable to the Big Six. They also have a crystal clear pricing structure with just two plans. Switching your energy provider is a big individual action against climate change.

April resolution: job by the end of the month.

After a rather terrifying month in which zero appropriate jobs were advertised, the next fortnight brings three deadlines for job applications which I actively want to apply for, and another couple that would be OK.

In preparation I’ve been doing some CV building by undertaking pro-bono work for the Electoral Reform Society for Scotland on the gender balance of Scotland’s public institutions, as well as starting a pretty intensive Coursera course from the University of Florida on Economic Issues & Food. There’s a lot more financial data and a lot less food than I had expected, but that is a good thing. My brain is working hard and I’m learning a lot about global financial systems and economic theory. Both of these things are rewarding in and of themselves, but more importantly they show potential employers that I haven’t spent this period of unemployment letting my skills go rusty.

As well as that I’ve been reading business books borrowed from the local library. Most useful so far have been Brilliant Cover Letters by James Innes (especially the pages on ‘the salary question’ when a post is only advertised as ‘Competitive’) and Mrs Moneypenny’s Careers Advice for Ambitious Women by the Financial Times columnist.

The latter only came out last year and I have raced through it. I respond well to very common-sense, perhaps even harsh, instructions, provided I trust the credentials of the people giving the advice. Which in this case, I do. The book’s premise is that rather than wishing the world of work was less ‘asymmetrical’ for male and female workers, bright, ambitious women need to adapt to the way the world is now and steamroller their way to the top of their field so they can make it better. For me, this needs to work hand in hand with campaigning to improve gender equality at a structural level, but this isn’t really covered in the book.

Moneypenny breaks down the essential components which women need to secure in order to progress to the top including:

  • Qualifications – she is emphatic that you need good qualifications from prestigious institutions on your CV and gives suggestions for what to do if this isn’t the case in your early career, mid career and nearing retirement
  • Networks or ‘social capital’ – “The idea is that your connections are as valuable to you – and, crucially, to your present and future employers – as your qualifications and experience”
  • Saying No – this requires knowing your priorities, in descending order. “I have priorities. I measure every request for my time against those priorities and, if the request does not measure up, I say no – however uncomfortable that makes me feel in the short term”. This isn’t all that big an issue for me right now, but goodness I could have used such a list 18 months ago…
  • An understanding that You Can’t Have It All – Moneypenny insists this righting of unrealistic expectations is the most important chapter in the book
  • Financial Literacy – This has really resonated (hence the economics course). I am unemployed because too few people in the organisation I worked for were financially literate. I caught up fast but things might be different if there was a greater onus on NGO workers to be as financially savvy as business people. I will not be making the same mistake again.
  • Develop yourself as a thought leader – I can identify people in my industry who are the ‘go to’ source on a given topic, not because they have a PhD on the subject but because they regularly write articles, blog on the subject, retweet relevant information or new pieces faster than everyone else, and are seen at networking events. They all have good jobs, many of which they got after establishing their credentials as thought leaders. Almost all of the people I’m thinking of are men. That needs to change. We need to be strategic about this stuff.

Apologies for going on at quite so much length about a book it only takes six hours to read, but I’ve found it a useful kick up the bum. I can see that I’m not crowing enough about certain aspects of my background and am taking up too much space with examples which were important to me but don’t read well. For example, I went to the Times Higher Education’s second highest rated university on the planet and this is on page 2 of my CV – MISTAKE. I speak basic Japanese although I don’t include it on my CV because it’s unlikely to ever come up in my daily working life – MISTAKE.

Whilst the book isn’t perfect and I know some people might not enjoy her tone, I have loved and benefited from it. It has also reminded me that another rubbish thing about unemployment is not being able to afford £2.50 a day to buy the Financial Times…

Donkey Kong and gifts for little girls

A recent story about a dad who hacked into his ancient Donkey Kong game so that his 3 year old daughter could play the princess and rescue Mario got me thinking. I haven’t spent much time around babies and toddlers, but all of a sudden I have two sort-of nieces and I want to show them that they can be whatever they want to be and do whatever they want to do. They’re lucky that their mum is a doctor, so they have a great example close to home, but I’m hyper aware that our culture will offer stereotypes in opposition to that every single day of their young lives. Stereotypes in which appropriate behaviour, games and clothes for girls are prescribed and a rigid and solitary definition of girlhood is presented to them through television, books, advertising, shops and the other girls they play with.

I come from a little family, and I’m the eldest of a grand total of five grandchildren. Everything I wore was passed to my male cousin then my sister then my female cousin and finally (if the clothes hadn’t worn thin) to my brother. That wasn’t a problem in the mid 80s to early 90s because we all ran around in wool, cotton and corduroy (so much corduroy) in a mixture of reds, blues, greens and yellows. My parents and aunt weren’t being political or even particularly gender-conscious. They were just buying normal clothes for kids.

Claire_1

Claire_2

Claire_3Claire_4

Oh yeah. Now you’ve taken in that smorgasbord of high fashion – let’s take particular note of the buttoned up shirt and green cords combo – try to imagine a little girl from a totally non-political, working class family wearing these outfits now. No skirts, no frills, no cartoon characters and absolutely no pink. It’s pretty difficult.

If the same set up were to happen in 2013, it would require some pretty deft and conscious clothes shopping to avoid the plethora of pink and lilac froth that is the bedrock of little girls’ clothing. Outfits and toys are so gendered that it’s likely that a wee boy would refuse to wear the hand me downs of his elder sister, via two other girls on the way down. And that is, I think, what’s at the heart of the pinkification of little girls – not a deliberate sexism, but money. You can make twice as much if parents have to buy double the amount of clothes, toys, blankets, prams, books etc etc if they have both sons and daughters.

Consumer culture and the idea that children need new, gender-appropriate clothes and toys if they are to be happy and demonstrably well-looked after, is no doubt a source of financial anxiety for lots of new parents. But aside from being financially problematic if you feel ashamed to take hand me downs of the ‘wrong’ colour from friends and family, the ‘one size fits all girls’ model of consumerist parenting is no doubt squeezing lots of girls into a pink, Princess-filled childhood that may not be the best fit for their needs. Growing up I played with Barbies, Thomas the Tank Engine and Lego. Two of those have now been branded as boys’ toys, with a special pink lego range for making beauty parlours and malls (I’m not even joking. I wish I was). It’s all narrowing down for girls, offering them a culturally sanctioned vision of femininity that they have to squeeze into, rather than an open choice of all the clothes and toys available.

Our niece’s second birthday is this week and I’m not sure how a Thomas the Tank Engine figure would go down, but I’m sure as hell not getting her a Barbie. So the answer lies in books, as usual. She’s getting Maisy’s Fire Engine – in which a wee firefighting mouse rescues a cat after her juniour colleague Cyril scares it on to a roof – and The Paper Bag Princess – in which a princess rescues Prince Ronald from a dragon but then he’s rude to her so she dumps him. God bless the internet for helping me find this stuff, because it sure as hell isn’t on the high street.

Read. Watch. Go. Do 14/03/13

READ: Sarah Nicole Prickett asks Where Are All the Women? in a Vice article which rejects the concept of ‘ladies’ as opposed to girls or women. In a funny and filthy rant, Prickett calls out ladies who ‘dine out on the upper echelons of what is called equality, concerned mainly with Democrat victories and amicable co-existence with men and “the status of women,” so long as it doesn’t upset the status quo.’  She hits the nail on the head when criticising the faux-empowering language of ownership when ‘Ladies tell girls to “own” their bodies, skirting the capitalist implication by which everything “owned” can also be bought and sold. Women understand that our bodies are borrowed against time. So we use them: lavishly, well.’*  

New Scottish blog A Thousand Flowers launched on International Women’s Day and includes lots of angry, sweary feminists writing about topics such as Wanker of the Week and the death of Hugo Chavez. Tarzan Girl’s piece on the endemic sexism in the Glasgow University Union GUUdbye ya pricks is a helpful background piece to the recent controversy after members of the GUU debate team verbally abused female debaters from Cambridge University.

WATCH: Ash Beckam is so gay. She doesn’t want to hear you use so gay as a criticism. The words that you choose matter. When you use ‘gay’ in a pejorative way the effect that it has on the gay kid in the room or the kid with gay relatives is that being gay is ‘less than’ or ‘inferior to’. And our bar cannot be that the day you just get through life or the day you don’t get harassed qualifies as a good day.

GO: An event entitled Policy and Prosecco? I’m in. On 28th March Alan Miller, Chair of the Scottish Human Rights Commission, for a discussion on human rights in Scotland.

DO: Sign Avaaz’s petition to the EU to ban the bee poisons in pesticides. The final vote is on Friday and both the UK and Spain are expected to vote against, after some serious lobbying from agricultural chemical companies. Sign up and help Avaaz to lobby the UK’s shitty, shitty Minister for Environment Owen Paterson to do the right thing. As Caitlin Moran said on twitter “I have signed this petition about saving the bees because I, for one, don’t have time to pollinate trees.”

*There’s a brief mention in her article of a Canadian feminist and twitter user taking an abuser/troll to court which I don’t know anything about and so can’t speak for Prickett’s opinion on that point.

International Women’s Day

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Today my twitter timeline is full of #IWD chat. I’d presumed this was mainly a demonstration of the kind of people I follow but lo and behold #IWD was trending as the third highest topic in the UK this morning!

Contrary to what I’ve seen around, today isn’t about recognising the special women in your life/turning the occasion into another reason to buy a Hallmark card. International Women’s Day is about campaigning for full equality for all women everywhere in the world. I’ve not had a particularly politically active day, but this is what I’ve been up to:

  • Shamed myself with a measly 5/10 in the Guardian’s International Women’s Day Book Quiz
  • Read my wonderful friend Juliet’s fantastic article Sex and Power on Bella Caledonia. Their description of her is perfect:                Juliet Swann is a feminist & environmentalist who passionately hopes that the independence debate can change the lives of women in Scotland for the better.
  • Attended engender Scotland’s IWD debate ‘Scottish independence or better together: what does it mean for Scotland?’  Both Carolyn Leckie of Women for Independence and Kainde Manji of Better Together spoke honestly and eloquently in a debate which was refreshingly non-party political. Dozens of women listened and asked questions, with most declaring themselves as yet undecided on how they’ll vote. It was the most interesting discussion on independence I’ve been privy to, as everyone was respectful, balanced and shock horror actually listened to the other debater. Both sides, and those in the middle, want to build a society where we support women better by, amongst other things, increasing female political representation, reducing violence against women and creating an inclusive nation in which women who face additional barriers (whether through disability, poverty, carers’ responsibilities, racism, language barriers etc) play an equal role in Scottish democracy.

 

Hilary Clinton, mon yersel.

The Guardian has pulled together a series of photographs to celebrate Hilary Clinton’s term as Secretary of State. Flicking through them I was pleased to think ‘wow there are a lot of cool, powerful women here’. Things are getting better.

Images like this really inspire me. I see that there are already women at the top of global power structures, and it gives me faith that soon there will be more because it won’t be as hard for the next lot following in their footsteps. It makes me feel braver about holding out for the right job at the right level, rather than running scared into something I know I’m overqualified for.

I wish Clinton a really lovely, relaxing holiday. But hope it is just a long holiday and not retirement. Clinton 2016!

Hilary 1

Hilary with Aung San Suu Kyi. Completely joyful.

Hilary 2

Hilary with Angela Merkel. At some conference where they are clearly taking care of business.

Hilary 3

With Lithuanian president Dalia Grybauskaite.

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With Spain’s foreign minister Trinidad Jimenez Garcia-Herrera.

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Hilary and Australian PM Julia Gillard. Female icon/girl crush overload.

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Owning that Libyan airstrip, absolutely the boss.