feminism

The subtle sexism of the cleaning self-help cult

“There’s no question that most of us feel a bit brighter when the house isn’t a tip, but this cultural conflation of cleaning and inner bliss raises serious questions about the strangely limited aspirations many women are trained to have for our own happiness.

While men are conditioned to dream big – to see their happiness in terms of adventure and travel, sex and ideas and long nights of hilarity – women are now encouraged to find deep fulfilment in staying home to origami our underwear.”

Read my new article on The Pool about our obsession with cleaning self help and what it means for women.  If you like it, (or if you don’t!) please share on Facebook or Twitter.

And if you want to read more about the happiness industry and why it’s making us feel inadequate and anxious- why not order my book!

It’s Not Just Bossy- Some Other Supposedly Gender Neutral Words That Are Only Ever Used To Describe Women

Facebook’s Sheryl Sandberg and Beyonce want to ban the word ‘bossy‘, saying that it is used to undermine girls and women and discourage them from taking on leadership roles.  Instead we should use the word ‘leader.’  But bossy isn’t the only word used to subtly keep women down.  Here are some other examples of words which are almost exclusively used to describe women.

 

Bubbly

Feisty

Strident

Blonde

Brunette

Career orientated

Shrill

Sassy

Frumpy

Shapely

Vivacious

High Maintenance

Independent

Dippy

Ditzy

Scatty

Bitter

Domineering

Barren

Frigid

Manipulative

Gossip

Nag

Working…

Beautiful

Overbearing

Headstrong

Contrary

Judgemental

Battle-axe

Hormonal

Any more?

Ann Romney: The Real Republican Threat to Women

Ann Romney has been given the task of ‘humanising’ her automaton husband Mitt and bringing in female voters.  Recent polls suggest that her campaign is working, with the two candidates now neck and neck among women.  But deceptively apolitical, Ann is using her unique position to push a powerful and damaging anti- feminist message.  I’ve written about it here at the Independent today.  Take a look!   Leave me a comment over there on the Independent site, and ideally Facebook like it and/or tweet it.  Thank you!

Read it here

Want Your Kids To Grow Up Thinking Men Are More Important Than Women? Read Them Children’s Books.

This piece was also published on the Huffington Post

It’s amazing how much routine sexism we regularly feed our kids via their reading material. Strange as it may seem, research suggests that a female has a greater chance of securing a seat on the board of a Fortune 500 company, in Congress or in the Senate than she does of appearing as a main character in a children’s book. When they do appear, if they’re not carrying wands or broomsticks, or attempting to marry unelected future heads of state, female characters are usually sidekicks or help-mates.

Take Roger Hargreaves’ Mr Men books, childhood favourites of mine. As the series title suggests, their world is as exclusively male as a frat house or a submarine, a science fiction-style dystopia in which all the women appear to have been wiped out. Although in an environment in which each man possesses just one emotional characteristic (Happy! Grumpy! Forgetful!) the absence of women, with their bleeding and complexity, may well be for the best.

Banished from Mr Men world, Andrea Dworkin style, the females of the ‘Men’ species apparently formed their own nation state in the early eighties, providing the various settings for the ‘Little Miss’ books. But any thoughts of the establishment of a radical feminist utopia stop there. Apart from the infantilising honorific they have collectively adopted (Little Miss? Really? Am I the only one who has a problem with this?) and their vaguely demeaning character names, Miss Chatterbox, Giggles, Ditzy et al, when presented with the central dilemma driving their respective narrative arcs, (Little Miss Giggles finds herself unexpectedly unable to giggle) the first thing they tend to do is to seek the advice of one of their male counterparts (“so she went to visit Mr Strong, to see if he could help.”) The Messrs Men then rescue the situation, and restore giggles, chattering and ditzyness all round.

On the Island of Sodor, where Thomas the Tank Engine lives, females exist, but the glass ceiling hangs low. All the senior positions are occupied by men, (I suspect, but can’t prove, nepotism.) No matter what their qualifications, there is little prospect of an Annie or a Clarabel ousting a Gordon or a Percy from the top spots, no matter how many times Silly Old Gordon demonstrates his basic incompetence by getting stuck in a ditch, they must still smile sweetly, and chug along a modest six feet behind their bosses, as befits their gender.

Females fare little better on Sesame Street, the old school hipster franchise, apparently responsible for America’s deficit, that has spawned a huge range of children’s books. Despite its impeccable ethnic diversity and meticulous representation of all strata of society via the children featured on the television show, its puppet elite is apparently impenetrable for female applicants. In the spin-off books, occasionally a female puppet called Zoe makes a brief appearance to fix her hair bows or remark on how pretty butterflies are, but the big guns (you know who you are Elmo, Big Bird and your macho fraternity) make sure that the puppet top spots are reserved for the boys.

The gentle old school books have the screamingly obvious gender roles- The Tiger that Came to Tea, with the breadwinning father and the mother at home, up to her eyeballs in domestic drudgery and still having to feed unexpected and ravenous feline callers. Richard Scarry’s quaint housey books, depict father and son kittens relaxing on the sofa discussing affairs of state, while mother and daughter kittens clean the kitchen.

It’s not just me and my joy-crushing feminist ways. Research published last year suggests that characters in children’s books are overwhelmingly male, and this is particularly true when they are non-human, and supposedly neutral. The reporting in the press of the study attracted the usual range of livid commenters below the line, taking time out of their busy schedules to compose thoughtfully worded comments about how “NONE OF THIS MATTERS SO WHY ARE WE TALKNG ABOUT IT?” many of them presumably still smarting about the demise of black and white minstrel shows and golliwogs.

Does it matter that children’s books are sexist? I guess that depends whether you think that either a) children and/or b) equality, matter. I do, but then then I’m the kind of powerfully annoying mother who says brightly: “or maybe it’s a woman!” every time my son points out a man driving a truck in a book. Any thoughts?

How the Mail Online Turned Us Into Misogyny Addicts

My new piece on the Independent. Bitchy celebrity journalism, Kate Moss’s toes and the Mail Online’s perfect storm of misogyny. Would love it if you would stop by and read it, and ideally leave a comment, Facebook like it or tweet it. Thanks very much!

http://blogs.independent.co.uk/2012/05/21/how-the-mail-online-turned-us-into-misogyny-addicts/

When Religion Enters Politics, Women are the Losers

( This piece was first published on the Huffington Post )

There are few arguments more pointless than the on-going battle between religious groups and so-called ‘new’ atheists trying to ‘out-atrocity’ each other.  “Call yourselves moral? What about the Crusades?”  “Ha! But your side has Stalin!”  Kerpow.    The whole thing is reminiscent of  ‘Godwin’s Law’,  the truism that states that all altercations on the Internet, no matter what their topic, invariably end up with someone being compared to a Nazi.

This game of ‘war-crimes Top Trumps’ that constitutes much of the current debate about religion sheds little light on the real, more subtle issues at stake.   Given the fact that most people, in my social circle at least, aren’t genocidal maniacs, the more pressing concern about the role of religion in public life is the very real threat that religious influence poses to equality between men and women.

Matters of faith have been high on the agenda on both sides of the Atlantic in recent weeks.  In the US there have been the bitter wrangles between religious organisations and the government over President Obama’s Birth Control Mandate, a law requiring health insurance companies to provide free contraception.  Meanwhile, back in the UK, Conservative peer Baroness Warsi has been firing off odd editorials in the Telegraph attempting to stem a force she is calling “the rising tide of militant secularisation” and arguing that in order to create a more just society, “faith should have a seat at the table in public life.”

I am, at least nominally, a religious person.  I was married in a synagogue, observe religious holidays and even once, in a weak moment, attended something called ‘rock and roll Shabbat.’  I am certainly not anti-religion and believe that at its best, it can offer a combination of community, comfort, tradition and awe that is hard to find elsewhere.   As a matter of private conscience, religion has a lot to offer, but when faith finds its way into politics, the results usually don’t look good for women.

Take employment law for example.  In both the US and the UK, religious groups have secured a sweeping exemption from anti-discrimination laws.   In short, this means that they are not required to abide by the laws of secular society that guarantee equal treatment for women in the workplace.  As a result, there is no major organised religion in either country in which women are permitted to hold the top jobs.

This isn’t just bad luck for the individuals concerned.   Religion carries vast influence in society generally.  Religious groups run a third of all Britain’s schools and a significant proportion of other state-sponsored services, and the current government are pushing hard for this to expand.   Religious leadership roles are positions of moral authority and faith leaders are role models who shape conduct and societal norms. The exclusion of women from positions of power within religion lessens our status in society as a whole.

This legally sanctioned sexism is a particular problem in the Church of England.  In the House of Lords, the highest legislative body in the country, there are 26 seats reserved for Bishops.  Seats which, by default, can be filled only by men.

In the US, the religious objections to Obama’s Birth Control Mandate are another case in point.   The mandate stipulates that health insurance companies be required to provide free contraception.  The controversy comes when religious groups, not just churches and their equivalents, but also faith-funded schools, hospitals and the like have to provide health insurance for their staff, but don’t want it to cover birth control.    Yesterday the Senate voted against wide-scale exemptions for religious groups by a margin of just 3 votes, but lawsuits by religious organisations have already been filed against the government.  It looks likely that eventually the administration will cave and make concessions of some sort.

A woman’s ability to choose for herself whether or not to get pregnant is a basic condition of equality.     Her boss’s religious views (which she may well not share) shouldn’t determine whether or not she can afford to go on the Pill.   If religious interests are allowed to steer policy-making in this area, it will be a serious blow for women’s rights.

The same goes for abortion.   Last week, in deference to religious campaigners, the State of Virginia passed a law requiring any woman who wants an abortion to submit to an ultrasound and an ‘opportunity’ afterwards to view pictures of the foetus  (they should count themselves lucky that they weren’t forced to have the ultrasound performed by vaginal probe, part of the original legislation, but discovered to be prohibited by sexual assault laws) Similar, or even sterner abortion laws exist in twenty-one other states.

Baroness Warsi’s idea that an increased role for religion will lead to a more just society is simply not borne out by the evidence.  When religion enters the murky world of politics, all too often, women are the losers.