VOTE – FOR WOMEN!

Voting on 7th May will be the most feminist thing you will do this year.

It’s hard to muster up some enthusiasm to vote in an election that sees the race, once again, being fought by three middle-class white men of varyingly privileged backgrounds. In itself, this is not necessarily a bad thing, providing we can trust the aforementioned three to represent all of us, including women. Now, I don’t know about anyone else but I am yet to recover from the horror of watching my Prime Minister tell a female Member of Parliament to ‘calm down dear’. That was four years ago, and whilst these days David Cameron may be a smidge more media savvy and perhaps a trifle more aware of the issues relating to gender equality (in that he knows when and how to drop key terms into televised conversation), I think it’s fair to say that, overall, little has changed since then. Today, as I type this, there are currently 148 female MPs in the House of Commons, constituting a dismal percentage of just 22.7% of all MPs. Hang on, let’s just pause on that for a minute:

We are 50% of the population and we constitute less than 25% of our elected representatives.

Half the people, not even one quarter of our representatives.

I don’t know about you, but I call serious bullshit. But then again, when your Prime Minister cannot even treat you as an equal in your place of work, is it any wonder that more women aren’t chewing at the bit to enter that most brutal – and mostly male – world of politics?

To be fair to D-Cam, it’s not much better on the other side of the ideological pendulum. Should you dare to cast a glance across the floor of the chamber you will find one party who thinks it is okay to try and appeal to the female population by touring Britain in a bright pink bus; the other is led by an MP who, a few months ago, hopped aboard a bandwagon when he donned a “This is what a feminist looks like” t-shirt – unfortunately, the seemingly newfound feminism lived and died in a day. Perhaps the slogan came out in the wash. Whatever. Suffice to say that not one of the main three has done a jot to fill me with confidence that maybe, just maybe, they will break with tradition and – dare I say it – put women’s rights at the top of their agenda. Or even on the damn agenda.

Since the dawn of the Lib-Con era back in 2010, things haven’t exactly been great for women and there have been countless analyses that have pointed to the gendered inequality of the so called ‘austerity measures’* (*euphemism of the decade!). As early as 2012 the Fawcett Society published a report entitled The Impact of Austerity on Women where they highlighted that women in Britain were in fact facing a ‘triple jeopardy’; i.e. were ‘being hit in three key ways a result of the deficit reduction measures’:

            Women are being hit hardest by cuts to public sector jobs, wages and pensions
            Women are being hit hardest as the services and benefits they use more are cut
            Women will be left ‘filling the gaps’ as state services are withdrawn        

Do a quick Google search using the words “women” and “austerity” and you’ll see that general opinion is that little has changed since the Fawcett report of three years ago. But, austerity aside, if you still aren’t convinced that an inherent and entrenched gender inequality exists in this country, just look at statistics:

1. In the 2014 World Economic Forum Global Gender Gap Report, the UK fell out of the top 20 most gender-equal countries in the world for the first time after average wages for women in the workplace fell by £2,700 in a year. Between 2006 – 2014, the UK went from 9th to 26th place in world rankings. Furthermore, in that same period, the UK went backwards in each the four key categories used by the WEF to assess gender equality:

              Economic participation: from 37th to 46th
              Educational attainment: from 1st to 32nd
              Health and survival: from 63rd to 94th
              Political empowerment: from 12th to 33rd

2. The UK is experiencing a domestic violence crisis. One in four women is abused during their lifetime; one in nine is severely physically abused each year; two women a week are killed by a current or former partner. The numbers speak for themselves. You can sign a petition here to ask the government to step up and do something about it.

3. A 2013 bulletin published by Ministry of Justice (MoJ), Office for National Statistics (ONS) and Home Office, recorded that approximately 85,000 women are raped in England and Wales every year. Over 400,000 women are sexually assaulted every year. 1 in 5 women (aged 16 – 59) have experienced sexual violence since the age of 16. That is 20% of women aged 16 – 59. Next time you’re in a tube carriage with at least 20 women, you can go ahead and assume that four of those women have experienced sexual violence.

4. In 2013, despite the fact that women constituted 42% of the workforce and 55% of university graduates, women were still less likely than men to be associated with leadership positions in the UK: accounting for 22% of MPs and peers, 20% of university professors, 6.1% of FTSE 100 executive positions, and 3% of board chairpersons. So, despite the fact that women are being encouraged to lean in (see Sheryl Sandberg’s awesome book), that silly old glass ceiling just keeps on getting in the damn way.

5. A 2013 report by Girlguiding found that three quarters of the young women surveyed (aged between 11 – 21) said that sexism affected ‘most areas of their lives’. Depressingly, 87% said that women were judged more on their appearance than their ability. These are the women of tomorrow, they deserve better than this.

So, women, can we change this? Of course we can! How?

1. Register to vote and encourage others to do the same. Now. You can do that here.

2. Research. I don’t mean that you have to trawl through the manifestos of every listed party – realistically, most people do not have time to do this and, let’s face it, by the time you have filtered out the jargon and hyperbole, there is very little of substance for those of us who are numb to politic-speak. What you can do in a relatively short space of time is look for the candidates who are putting women on the map; be it through proposed changes to education, employment, the gender pay gap (keystat alert – it’s at 16%), the legal system (keyword alert – rape, sexual harassment & the law), reproductive rights, the rights of rape/sexual abuse/harassment victims, the rights of ethnic minority women, refugee women, LGBT women – whatever the cause, find it, educate yourself about it and support those who are trying to make a change. If you can’t vote for someone because they are not seeking election in your constituency, make sure that those who can vote for them know that they can. Share the hell out of information on social media, make sure everyone in your social media circle is aware of the people (women and men) out there who are trying to make a difference for women. THESE are the people who need your vote. THESE are the people who will shape the future of women – either by their presence, or by their absence, in our next parliament. Don’t know where to start? Contact your nearest women’s centre.

3. Make it your mission to encourage at least one other woman to vote. AT LEAST ONE.

4. Stay informed. When the election is over, women will still have a long way to go in this country, but the more aware we are, the more empowered we are. KNOWLEDGE IS POWER.

5. Encourage others to get informed, including men. Men need to know this shit too.

Apathy is easy, but it is dangerous. Apathy leads to half arsed elections where people we don’t know take seats in constituencies we can’t even pinpoint on a map. It leads to a chamber of 650 people making decisions on your behalf – and the kicker is you didn’t even get a say in deciding who gets to speak for you. Put it this way, would you buy a house without looking around first? Hire a defence lawyer that you’d never even met? Consent to a medical procedure that you didn’t understand? No? Tell me again why you are happy to let everyone else decide the future of the country you live in, because they voted and you didn’t. One vote might not change the world, but 9.1 million will – and that is how many women who, despite being eligible to vote in the 2010 General Election chose not to go to the ballot box that day. 9.1 million can change an election and can change a country – imagine how different things might have been if those 9.1 million had voted five years ago. Now imagine how different things could be if those 9.1 million took the time to put an ‘x’ in a box on 7th May.

Seriously, it is time we put an end to our perception of politics as the Great Male Game. Ladies, this is our House too – we own half of it, we pay for it with our taxes, we pay for it with the millions of unpaid hours that we work raising children and keeping homes. THIS IS OUR HOUSE TOO. MAKE IT A HOUSE THAT WORKS FOR WOMEN.

One final thing, to celebrate women in politics (both the voters and the candidates) consider wearing an awesome Suffragette sash when you go to cast your vote on 7th May. Just for the hell of it – why the heck not?!

VOTE – FOR WOMEN!

women

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NO MORE PAGE 3 – The Time is NOW!

nmp3

Oh those clever little men at that clever little newspaper, The Sun. Oh how they led the women on, tricking us into believing that two and half years of campaigning had paid off. They fooled us all, had us almost convinced that they had finally decided to come on in to the 21st Century with us – or at least, approach it. Except they didn’t. It was all a clever little ruse – passed off as an exclusive by its sister paper The Times. It was over before it had begun. I don’t know about you, but I call bullshit.

I won’t lie, Tuesday morning was probably one my favourite mornings of the past few months, when I woke up to the news that Page 3 was apparently on its way out. I walked with a spring in my step and felt proud to be a woman in 21st Century Britain. Whilst I didn’t purchase a copy of the paper myself, word on the street was that, in lieu of the traditional topless model, The Sun had opted for partially covered women instead. So, whilst the fight was not over, we had at least managed to get nips out of the news. Even the trolling on my Twitter from grumpy Page 3 lovers (#eyeroll) could not dampen my spirits. Hurrah for people power!

But, alas, not so. Come Thursday morning, the nips are back, flanked by some wonderful punning and revelling in its own prankery, courtesy of the nation’s favourite rag. On the Twittersphere, The Sun’s resident PR editor, Dylan Sharpe, chose to indulge in some spectacular gloating about the cleverness of his little paper, taking the time to remind us that the end of Page 3 had never actually been confirmed by The Sun at all (which is a fair point, but a moot one – in the words of Joey Tribbiani, “it’s a cow’s opinion!”). Not content with gloating in the publication’s apparent win, for some reason, Sharpe thought it would be a fantastic idea to tweet well known Page 3 critics with pictures of that day’s Page 3 model (winking at the camera, #natch) – nips and all. Who said The Sun sees women as nothing more than sexual playthings?

What this week has taught me is that, above all, The Sun really does see women as a joke. Especially those women who dare to have an opinion and – worse still – those women who have the temerity to actually challenge the way things are done around here. This was The Sun laughing at women – literally, if you read Sharpe’s tweets. I say, enough is enough. I say that NOW is the time that women really need to tell The Sun newspaper where to go. We need to seize this momentum and say that this time, the ‘People’s Paper’ has gone too far. It has taken the piss out of women for far too long. By all means, put women in your paper, applaud them, praise them: but please do so in the same way, and with the same respect, that you reserve for men. Above all, when Jessica Ennis brings the entire country to its knees with pride by winning a gold medal at the Olympics, you damn well had better make hers the biggest picture in the paper that day.

It’s perhaps not surprising that, when people ask me why I think that Page 3 should go, I’m always a little bemused. I mean, isn’t it kind of obvious? Do we really think that Page 3 does women any favours? For that matter, do we really think it does the image of men – leering over topless twenty-somethings during their daily commute – any favours? No and no. So, before you ask us why we think it should go, ask yourself why it shouldn’t. And perhaps ponder these two points:

1. The whole ‘Page 3 Stunna’ concept is a trope sent to please. It sets women up as sexual playthings; existing purely for objectification, and to fulfil the fantasy of the mighty heterosexual (and, incidentally, white) male gaze. This is but one perception of women, as defined by a very specific and powerful group of individuals. It’s safe to assume that it is in the interests of this all powerful group to maintain the status quo, to keep the trope as is, defined by others. Now then, imagine that one day, a national newspaper decides to dedicate an entire page of their publication every single day to an equally two-dimensional and harmful trope, representing some other social, economic or political group. Say, for example, the Muslim-as-terrorist or the Colombian-as-drug-dealer trope. Would we be okay with that? Hopefully not. So why do we accept the same kind of two-dimensionality when it is applied to women?

2. The Sun is – allegedly – a newspaper. A paper of news. Which means that, ideally, it should be a summation of news stories currently trending throughout the country, if not the world. Does it not strike you as somewhat odd (and, er, random) that, upon turning the first page, we should be faced with a pair of boobs? Now, I have nothing against boobs. I have two of my own, and I’m okay with that, they occasionally hinder my sprint for the bus but otherwise I’m happy with them. But remind me, why do I need to see a pair of boobs when all I am trying to do is get a quick overview of what’s going on in the world? I wonder, do boobs somehow enable my understanding of current affairs in a way that I have not yet managed to decipher? I doubt it. Now imagine this, you’re watching the 6 o’clock news of an evening, you’re wondering what the situation is looking like in Gaza. All of a sudden, we are introduced to Ms So-and-So from Townville, and she’s here to give us the news in ‘briefs’ (get it?). The only thing is, she’s got her boobs out. She’s just straight up reading the news with her boobs on full display. Does that make sense to you? No? And Page 3 makes sense because…..?

Over the past few days I’ve had so many questions, and heard so many misconceptions about the NMP3 campaign, that I have found myself having to explain what No More Page 3 is NOT far more frequently than I have had to explain what it IS. So I decided to summarise a couple of things.

What No More Page 3 is NOT:

It is not seeking a ban via legislation. So, for all of those crying, ‘but, freedom of speech!’ and ‘JeSuisPage3!*’ (*an insult, and a joke), feel free to sit the hell back down. The NMP3 campaign is not seeking to ban anything, it is asking The Sun to remove Page 3 voluntarily – i.e. of its own accord, presumably upon realising that it is an example of what one might call, ‘an undiluted sexist mess of trash’.

It is not seeking to put Page 3 models out of work. Our beef is not with the models, they are free to do whatever the frick they want with their own boobs; whatever, it’s their body and good luck to them. Our request is that their boobs do not become the only (or principle) thing that women are known for in The Sun, or any other national newspaper, for that matter.

It is not an attack on sex or sexuality. I don’t know about my other NMP3 compatriots, but I for one couldn’t give a horse’s arse about anyone else’s sex life. Do what you want, when you want, with whomsoever you want (within the law, obvs), but please leave your pleasure materials for the appropriate time and place – i.e. not in a national newspaper, duh! Put it this way, would you talk about your sex life on the bus? At work? Perhaps when you’re in a meeting with your bank manager? Time, place and context, people.

It is not for “comfy shoe wearing, no bra wearing, man haters” (I think that’s how she put it?). Laughable, sexist, nonsense. I have to say, I am a big fan of the men in my life, they rock. Which is why I think that men deserve better than to be portrayed as boob-obsessed morons. FYI: Re. the comfy shoes – maybe we wouldn’t need to wear such comfy shoes, if it weren’t for the fact that we need to march through the streets in the freezing cold protesting this shit.

Get it?

Okay. So this is what No More Page 3 IS:

It is simply asking for women to be viewed as the true equals of men by a national newspaper. It is asking to be granted the same respect as men, valued for our achievements as much as anything else. It is really that simple. If we are to achieve this, Page 3 has to go.

This week has been one in which The Sun, and its people, have attempted to make a mockery of a women’s movement that seeks nothing more than equality before the media. If you did not believe in the campaign before, remember that, if you are a woman, The Sun is laughing at you too. And Page 3 is just the tip of this almighty berg. Please sign and share this petition with all of the women and men in your life!

http://nomorepage3.org/

NO MORE PAGE 3 – The Time is NOW!

A Resolution of Thinness: I am Woman, I Diet.

cake

At this time of year, as January trudges on and I am almost used to the fact that EastEnders has resumed the normal service of just three episodes per week (sob!), nothing gets my back up quite like the Diet Industry’s hijacking of the post-Christmas season. For many women up and down the land – having spent the weeks leading up to Christmas getting themselves ready for that Christmas party dress; having spent months organising the day itself; having spent the day itself cooking and sweating over sprouts – New Year brings with it a new battle: Woman vs Food. Or rather, perhaps more accurately, Woman vs Diet Industry. Come the dawn of the new year, with its symbolic new beginnings, millions of women will reset their food clock, and embark on a soul-destroying, food-hating eating plan, in a bid to shed the seasonal excess, lose weight and get bikini ready for summer. I’d wager that there is a large number of women on this island who spend half of the year dieting for Christmas, and the other half dieting for summer. No wonder so many women hate themselves. How about, rather than signing ourselves up to months of abstention and misery, we just tell the Diet Industry where to go? How about we focus on something we can do to make ourselves healthier and happier, rather than what we can do to make ourselves thinner? You know, just for kicks.

The Diet Industry is an enemy of women. For decades, it has successfully managed to fool women into believing that they are in some kind of life-long battle with food, a long drawn out Lord of the Rings type odyssey between good and evil, between thin and fat, between socially acceptable and socially frowned upon. Food is the Devil, and now the only thing that stands between you and failure, between you and loneliness, between you and ugly, is the Holy Diet. Against the Holy Diet, only the strongest will prevail, only the best will survive and reach the goal of thinness: the weak, on the other hand, will fall and die, boiled to death in a lonely tank of liquid fudge. Master of disguises, the Diet Industry is truly the sneakiest of snakes. It entices you in with the promise of Thindom and ever-lasting happiness, fools you into believing that you can be the best version of yourself, if you would just take the time to lose enough weight to fit into jeans of a socially acceptable size. Until then – until you become this thinner, better, you – you are nothing. To sum up, thin = everything, not-thin = nothing.

The Diet Industry is also a bully, a bully with power, and a bully with money. Serious money. We are talking billions of your finest British pounds poured into this most subtle of scams, a scam to make you miserable. We are talking enough money to cancel national debts, eye-watering quantities of money, dedicated to the task of making women (and it is women who are the prime target) believe some nonsensical hokum that’s been cooked up in a marketing department: the Holy Diet. Complete with its pseudo-scientific claims based on ‘research’ and its laughably contradictory advice (don’t eat fat, it makes you fat – instead, eat this highly processed, artificial tasting piece of cardboard. Zero calories, zero fat, zero salt, zero flavour and zero goodness – but at least it won’t make you fat, and that’s what counts). You see its campaigns everywhere: just take a glance at the magazine racks next time you pop to the corner shop for a pint of milk. Better still, go to the ‘women’s’ magazines in WH Smith – the Diet Industry is there for all of us to see, in the mouth-watering and glossy magazine covers, strewn with the airbrushed perfection of the modern age: rows and rows of so-called perfect women, looking mighty fine in their never-been-worn-or-even-seen-a-treadmill gym gear.

Notice, if you will, that these women rarely look like they’ve ever broken into a single sweat, whereas the equivalent men’s magazines are nothing if not an ode to muscles, blood, sweat and tears. Where men are encouraged to get into shape, to push their body into being the best that it can be, we women are told to get thin. Not only that, but are told to get thin quietly, with minimal fuss and with puritanical deprivation. Imagine if someone said to you that you can be thin, but at the expense of one of your five senses – would you do it? No? Well, millions of us are already doing just that. We deprive ourselves of the joy of eating, the joy of food, of flavour, of taste. It is deprivation, pure and simple. We are also depriving our bodies of what it needs to survive. When you go on a calorie controlled diet that severely limits your calorie intake to the point of physical starvation, you are not helping your body; you are abusing it.

The only thing that angers me more than the Diet Industry’s poor attitude to food, is its even poorer attitude to exercise. You see, next time you’re flicking through a diet magazine, pondering your own failure as a human being because you – call the police! – may have had one too many mince pies over the festive season, you will notice that exercise is often the footnote in the small print of this sonnet to sadistic starvation. Note also how the exercise recommended to us is always ‘gentle’ exercise, and it’s always exercise to make us look thinner, never to make us feel better or – heaven forbid – feel stronger. You see, we women must work out, but with the sole purpose of getting thin, to reduce the space that we occupy. Muscles, therefore, are a no-no. This is the kind of mess that has women doing ‘half push ups’ in an exercise class, instead of the full thing. Someone needs to pass me a hashtag, is this an actual joke? Women’s bodies have the ability create and carry a human being for nine months, and that’s before it embarks on that most brutal of endurance tests – NATURAL LABOUR – and you’re going to tell us we can’t do a push up? In the words of Bruno Mars in one the funkiest tracks of 2014, “Don’t believe me? Just watch!”

The whole ‘logic’ of the Diet Industry is messed up – its focus is deprivation and denial, its goal some idealistic waif-like physique that has nothing to do with health, and everything to do with aesthetic acceptance. Where are the magazines telling women to enjoy food and focus instead on getting a healthy body? Where are the magazines encouraging women to enjoy exercise, rather than seeing it as some odious chore on the road to Thindom? Exercise does not have to be about suffering – it can be about taking the dog for a walk and enjoying the view on a winter’s day. It can be about putting on the Now 89! CD that you got for Christmas and having yourself a little boogie in the living room when no one’s watching. At its very simplest, it’s about moving your body. If you are doing that, you are doing your body a million more favours than you are when you buy the cardboard non-food that has been manufactured in labs across the land by the Diet Industry. Fat-free does not mean healthy. As far as I know, coal doesn’t have a single gram of fat in it, but I’m not about to start chomping down on the contents of my coal bucket any time soon…. When you eat the latest in high-tech, fat-free, sugar-free snacks, know that you might as well be eating coal. And coal probably tastes better to boot.

Food is not your enemy. Chocolate is not your enemy (by the same token, chocolate is not going to give you an orgasm either, despite what the makers of Galaxy would have us believe…). Chocolate is a compound of sugar, cocoa, milk, and a bunch of other stuff. It’s a list of ingredients wrapped up in a big shiny wrapper – a wrapper that has, incidentally, been designed with you in mind by those clever marketing geniuses on Madison Avenue. It’s just stuff. It is neither friend nor foe. Have it or don’t have it, the world will keep turning and you will still be the same person you were before you took a bite out of its chocolate-y goodness. Remember, it’s just stuff. The only real enemy is an industry that tells you that your worth as a human being is defined by whether or not you choose to pick up that chocolate bar. Ignore it.

I don’t know how else to put this but, ladies, the Diet Industry is not your friend. The Diet Industry hates women. It hates us so much that it wants to control the food that we put in our mouths. It so badly wants us to believe that if we dare to stray from the Holy Grail of the Holy Diet that we have failed. Well, stick a big fat scarlet letter on my forehead and call me a food-whore, I had some cake! AND I LOVED IT! And, rather than feel bad and hate myself, I think I’ll just go for a walk, with some music in my ears and a skip in my strut.

Happy New Year 2015 – may it be healthy and guilt free!