A hard week so far…

I am in a male dominated profession (science) and I have risen fairly high in my career, faster than most people my age. As a result of this, I feel like people sometimes make snap judgements about who I am and why I am in a meeting. That happened to me (again) this week. I was in a meeting that consisted of myself and 5 men aged between 35 and 50. For about the first 10 mins of the meeting one of the senior sales reps who had come to try and convince us to outlay tens of thousands of euros on some highly technical software seemed to be treating me like I was sitting in on the meeting as a secretary. He spoke exclusively to the two male representatives from my institute, even when I asked a direct question. What he didn’t seem to understand was that of all the people in the meeting, it was me that would be making the decision on whether to purchase or not. It was incredibly frustrating, but I am not the type of person to let these things go, and so I managed to turn the meeting around, grilling the specialists on the technical details and making it clear that if they wanted this sale they would have to fulfil my requirements.

So that was a small annoyance, but then straight after this, I received an email from our national science funding body inviting me to a ‘women in science’ workshop to discuss some of the obstacles facing career progression for women (its an enormous problem – there are so few women at the top). I was too gobsmacked to take any notice of the content of the workshop as the name of the workshop was “Pump your career” and it was illustrated with pictures of high heel shoes! Apparently they were taking a leaf from the recent, indescribably horrible, EU ‘Science: It’s a girl thing!’ campaign. (If you haven’t seen it, watch it now, there is no way to describe how bad it is: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=g032MPrSjFA) Cue annoyed emails to funding body from myself and some of my colleagues. Their response? They just wanted to make it ‘light-hearted’ to attract participants. Despite some really eloquent comments from my colleagues, they wilfully ignored our concerns and did not seem to understand that associating female scientists with high heels etc is counter productive to women who wanted to be considered as professional equals. The exchange of emails goes on…

And lastly, the proverbial straw that broke the camels back, was facebook. I have a few people in my friends list that are more acquaintances than friends but for the most part I haven’t bothered unfriending them because there didn’t seem to be a point. But today that changed. There is one guy in my timeline that usually posts interesting things, but every now and then he posts something that suggests that deep down he is a proper old fashioned misogynist (and that he probably doesn’t even know he is). Today’s gem was an image showing in a long and round about (and to his mind amusing) way that “women = money = problems.” You know the kind of crap I mean. (And I am NOT going to post it here.) Oh the hilarity. Oh yes, women are just things to be obtained, for which you need to spend money on them, but then once you have them (when they trap you of course) you discover that actually they are just problems to be avoided so you can go drinking with your buddies. Thanks FB guy for reminding me that so many men out there still see women that way, and that you, a guy I know, are a sexist wanker. The fact that you are occassionaly witty or clever does not make up for that. Enough is enough.

Some weeks being a feminist is really tiring, and the week is only half over…

Now that I have got that out of my system, I am off to kickboxing training to get some of this anger out of my system, otherwise its possible I might start doing violence to random men I pass on the street…

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The lady’s not for sinking

This morning I was awake stupidly early and ended up watching a bit of a documentary about an aircraft carrier being sunk and turned into an artificial reef (yes I know, I am a geek). It actually was quite interesting, but there was something about it that was very jarring for me. Whenever the ship was referred to it was as ‘she’. Now I am very familiar with the maritime tradition of ships being ‘female’ not least because for many years I was very into sailing and even owned my own boat. But sitting there watching the programme and constantly hearing ‘she’ when referring to an inanimate object just got on my nerves this time. It kept making me think how women are treated as objects, like it was a reminder of how society sees women. It felt like a big neon sign flashing, saying; look women, we think so little of you as independent human beings that we group you together with chunks of floating metal.

I know this is a tradition. I know. But not all traditions are good ones. Why is it that we maintain this one? Its one thing for some salty sea dogs to refer to ships as ‘she’ while they are floating around the ocean, but why do we still do it on the discovery channel or on the BBC? Cant we just say ‘enough’ with this stupid tradition and start referring to ships as ‘it’ from now on?

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20:1 for the Nobel Prize

Today the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine was awarded to…three more men. Not to belittle the achievements of these men, but it struck me yet again that there were no female awardees to be seen. And its not like this is an anomaly. In the history of the Nobel Prize there have been a total of 840 Nobel Laureates; 813 individuals and 20 unique organizations (with a few people/organisations winning the award more than once). Of these 813 individuals, 773 of them have been male and just 40 females (around a 20:1 ratio). That means that 95% of all Nobel prize winners have been male . This includes the awards across all fields, including Chemistry, Physics, Medicine, Literature, Peace and Economic Sciences.

A list of all the female laureates can be found here: http://www.nobelprize.org/nobel_prizes/lists/women.html

I was curious to see how the 41 prizes (40 women, Marie Curie won it twice) stacked up over time. Are we really seeing things getting better, and are they getting better fast enough? So I plotted the number of female Nobel prize winners over each decade since its inception:

Female Nobel Laureates over time

Up until the nineties, basically nothing had changed. About 3 or so women were getting the price each decade (compared to around 70 men). Then in the 90’s there were seven women and in the period 2001-2010 there were 11 women.  This is a definite improvement, but still nowhere near parity with the male awardees.

I was particularly stunned by a response I got from some Nobel-associated people I was at a conference with earlier in the year. When I said that I would like to see greater promotion of women in science, the general response that I got was that the situation would basically fix itself, and once there were more women in science they would get more prizes. I’m sure the second half of that is true, but I certainly dont think just sitting back and hoping for more women to make it to the top of their field, be it science, economics or medicine is going to work.

How much responsibility do you think an organisation like the Nobel prize has to promoting equality? Do you think this trend will continue, or did we just get lucky in the noughties?

Fingers crossed that the figures for the next decade will soar, however given today’s announcement, I cant say I am too optimistic…

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The United States of Anti-choice.

Guest post from Jenn Anderson at ToughxCookies

Once upon a time, there was a young girl. Pregnant at seventeen and severely uneducated about sex, it was during what she thought was an unexplainably intense period that she learned what a miscarriage was. After being hit with all of this information at once, she learned that it was going abnormally and that there were complications which, without medical intervention, would threaten her life. She made the tough choice to do what was necessary to spare her life.

In present- day America, there is a billboard of a 35 year-old man holding the outline of a baby, accusing his 19 year-old ex-girlfriend of “killing” their child although she states she miscarried (1). My inner 17 year-old is seething at the blatant disregard for this woman’s rights and privacy in the face of indignant misogyny. This man states that he had a right to impose his wishes on his girlfriend’s choice of whether or not to keep the child: another example of this new school of thought where those who are incapable of becoming pregnant think they know what is best for those who are.

Right now, women in America are facing the fight of their lives. Forty-six years ago in the case of Griswold v. Connecticut, married couples won the right to reproductive care by having a state law overturned that banned contraceptives (2).  It wasn’t until 1973, after winning Roe v. Wade, that women had the right to control their own bodies and exercise their reproductive rights (3). This legislation upheld a woman’s right to choose to abort a pregnancy in its early stages without fear of legal repercussions.  Less than forty years later, we are looking at legislation being introduced which would dictate under which circumstances women would be able to receive assistance paying for the costly procedure (4). This legislation also includes protection for medical providers who refuse to provide abortions or other reproductive care (including emergency contraceptives) based on their religious or moral beliefs (5).

 In some states, medical providers are required to pressure their patients into keeping the pregnancy by showing them sonograms of the fetus (6). On top of that, there is a strong push to limit an individual’s access to abortion services based on how they got pregnant. One bill in particular posits that abortion is only acceptable in cases of forcible rape (7). Who, praytell, is in charge of deciding what constitutes “forcible rape,” and what protections are there to ensure justice is being served to women who are the victims of such horrific crimes?

Thirty-one of our fifty states currently have anti-abortion legislation passed or pending (8). In the state of Louisiana, there is a bill that has been introduced that would outlaw all abortions, even if the mother’s life is threatened (9). I can’t think of anything more despicable than blatant disregard for a woman’s life in the interest of a pro-life agenda. The right wing political strategy right now is to flood the state and federal legislatures with anti-abortion laws. If we, as a country, don’t stay vigilant and regularly educate ourselves about these attacks on our reproductive rights and freedoms, we could easily find ourselves caught in a web of legislation that reduces us to little more than obedient sheep controlled by religious doctrine. Separation of church and state is a fantastic concept, but rarely a reality when the primary power base of the right wing is of the fundamentalist Christian persuasion.

 I say that women in America are facing the fight of their lives right now, and I stand behind that. Most of our lawmakers are biologically male and, as such, are missing a vital lens through which to view reproductive legislation. I also think they’re missing a key point: Guys, pregnancy and child support are very closely related.  Think about it.  It is a slippery slope, and if we (women and pro-choice allies) don’t stand up and fight for our reproductive rights, what is there to stop our other rights from being taken away? After all, it wasn’t too long ago that women weren’t even allowed to vote (thank you, Susan B. Anthony and Elizabeth Cady Stanton; I am forever in your debt) or own property, since they were considered to be property themselves!

References: All sites accessed 07June2011

1)http://www.reuters.com/article/2011/06/08/us-abortion-billboard-idUSTRE7570F720110608                                                                                                                 2)http://www.sfgate.com/cgi-bin/article.cgi?f=%2Fc%2Fa%2F2011%2F06%2F06%2FEDI81JPDOH.DTL                              3) http://womenshistory.about.com/od/abortionuslegal/p/roe_v_wade.htm                      4) http://www.opencongress.org/bill/112-h3/text                                                                        5)http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2011/02/18/AR2011021803251.html                                             6)http://trailblazersblog.dallasnews.com/archives/2011/05/perry-ceremonially-signs-sonog.html                                                                                                        7)http://motherjones.com/politics/2011/01/republican-plan-redefine-rape-abortion   8)http://blog.reidreport.com/2011/06/slowly-but-surely-american-women-are-losing-the-right-to-choose/                                                                                9)http://housebill587.com/about-hb587/

**A massive thank you to Jenn Anderson at ToughxCookies for this amazing piece. If you haven’t checked out the ToughxCookies blog, what are you waiting for? Do it now!

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Petition for removal of anti-choice lobbyists from gov sexual health forum

The anti-choice lobby group LIFE has been appointed to the new government sexual heath advisory panel. This is disturbing for a number of reasons. LIFE is a group that opposes abortion in all circumstances  – in their words “The most important and influential part of LIFE’s ethos is our opposition to all abortion on principle.” LIFE is also opposed to the use of contraception; promoting abstinence-only approaches.

Furthermore, the inclusion of Life has been at the expense of BPAS (British Pregnancy Advisory Service), a group with 40 years of experience in pregnancy counselling, including a long-term involvement with the previous sexual health advisory panel, that runs more pregnancy advice bureaus than the rest of the agencies put together. Despite this nationwide experience and proven track record, the department of health has excluded BPAS from this panel.

The aim of LIFE is not to provide the best health and care for women, but to stop ANY abortion from occurring, even in cases of rape and incest. BPAS, in contrast, offers unbiased counselling that aims to help a woman make the best choice for herself and her situation, whether that is to continue the pregnancy, adopt or abort. The key word is choice.

Sign our petition to demand that Anne Milton, Minister for Public Health, retract her invitation to LIFE and instead reinstate BPAS to the sexual health advisory panel. Women’s health should not be left in the hands of extremists that want to take away our right to protect ourselves and our right to chose.

The petition can be found here.

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Tories cosy up with anti-choice groups

More pro-abstinence, anti-choice bullshit.

According to a press release, a new group has been established “The Sex and Relationships Education Council – a new umbrella body representing sex and relationship education providers” (http://tinyurl.com/3gftzqb). They go on to say that “The Council has been formed to promote the best possible sex and relationship education both at home and at school, recognising the particular importance of enhancing the role played by parents in SRE.” Sounds innocuous, right? Hey, getting the parents involved could be a good thing. But don’t miss the fine print at the bottom. Now this is the important part: “The founding members of the Council are: evaluate, Lovewise, Challenge Teams, LIFE, Silver Ring Thing, Family Education Trust and Right to Life.”

If you are not familiar with these groups they are largely anti-choice, pro-abstinence only groups. Take Challenge Teams as an example. They promote abstinence only programs (http://www.challengeteamuk.org/why.php) and state among other things that “The only way to guarantee freedom from sexually transmitted infections is when two uninfected people stay faithful to each other.” Similarly, Silver Ring Thing “promotes the message of purity and abstinence until marriage” (http://tinyurl.com/2f22od). These groups are all much of a muchness. Jesus loves you and doesn’t want you to have sex until you are married.

Who in the conservative government thinks that this is the way to combat high teen-pregnancy and STI rates? Of course, Michael Gove. Sorry Michael I would rather my governments politics were based on facts, not fairytales.

See also, the related post: The Tory War on Women.

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Tory War on Women

I have been tweeting recently about recent examples of the Tory War on Women that seems to be well underway. I thought it might be worth compiling these into a list. I have a feeling these might start piling up…

If you are a woman & you think the Tories are on your side, please review the evidence:

  • Lets start with Nadine Dorries:

For Dorries there are a whole swag of horrible stories coming out. She touts herself as a candidate supporting women, while trying to take away reproductive rights (http://tinyurl.com/3bcp8u9), victim blaming and suggesting that if women just said no, there might be less abuse (http://tinyurl.com/6lg6zr8). Yep, you are really looking out for the female half of the population Nadine.

  • Next, Roger Helmer:

The original blog post from Roger Helmer MEP was pretty horrible (http://tinyurl.com/3epavdm) and it just got worse when he went on Tory Radio to ‘justify’ his comments. (http://tinyurl.com/3d6olsn). He is claiming misunderstanding/misrepresentation etc, so I will let his speak for himself in his own words, taken from his blog:                                         “In the same way, let’s consider two rape scenarios. The first is the classic “stranger-rape”…The second is “date rape”.  Imagine that a woman voluntarily goes to her boyfriend’s apartment, voluntarily goes into the bedroom, voluntarily undresses and gets into bed, perhaps anticipating sex, or naïvely expecting merely a cuddle.  But at the last minute she gets cold feet and says “Stop!”.  The young man, in the heat of the moment, is unable to restrain himself and carries on…in the second case the victim surely shares a part of the responsibility, if only for establishing reasonable expectations in her boyfriend’s mind.”        

  • Next up, David Willets:

How could we forget the mind-bogglingly overt sexism of the comments from Willets?  “Feminism trumped egalitarianism,” he said, adding that women who would otherwise have been housewives had taken university places and well-paid jobs that could have gone to ambitious working-class men.” (http://tinyurl.com/3hclv7y). Just in case you don’t know who Willets is, he is the Universities Minister. Yes that’s right. This is the man charged with ensuring the future of higher education for everyone, although you would be forgiven for thinking he only represented half the population. 

  • Now: anti-abortion:

The guardian reports that “A group which is opposed to abortion in all circumstances and favours an abstinence-based approach to sex education has been appointed to advise the government on sexual health.” In contrast the long-serving British Pregnancy Advisory Service (BPAS), that aims to support women who need abortions, has been excluded. (http://j.mp/lll1Du) Social engineering, anyone?

  • More pro-abstinence, anti-choice bullshit:

According to a press release, a new group has been established “The Sex and Relationships Education Council – a new umbrella body representing sex and relationship education providers” (http://tinyurl.com/3gftzqb). They go on to say that “The Council has been formed to promote the best possible sex and relationship education both at home and at school, recognising the particular importance of enhancing the role played by parents in SRE.” Sounds innocuous, right? Hey, getting the parents involved could be a good thing. But don’t miss the fine print at the bottom. Now this is the important part: “The founding members of the Council are: evaluate, Lovewise, Challenge Teams, LIFE, Silver Ring Thing, Family Education Trust and Right to Life.”

If you are not familiar with these groups they are largely anti-choice, pro-abstinence only groups. Take Challenge Teams as an example. They promote abstinence only programs (http://www.challengeteamuk.org/why.php) and state among other things that “The only way to guarantee freedom from sexually transmitted infections is when two uninfected people stay faithful to each other.” Similarly, Silver Ring Thing “promotes the message of purity and abstinence until marriage” (http://tinyurl.com/2f22od). These groups are all much of a muchness. Jesus loves you and doesn’t want you to have sex until you are married.

Who in the conservative government thinks that this is the way to combat high teen-pregnancy and STI rates? Of course, Michael Gove. Sorry Michael I would rather my governments politics were based on facts, not fairytales.

(Thanks to @boudledidge for sending me the SREC press release.)

  • Calm-down-dear-gate:

For sheer stomach turning condescension here is David Cameron’s so called ‘joke’ in PMQ’s aimed at Labour frontbencher Angela Eagle. You have to admire the response from Eagle: “I have been patronised by better people than the prime minister” Although an apology has been demanded by many quarters, as yet none has been forthcoming.

I’m not sure what is most unpleasant, the arrogant condescension of Cameron or the excited schoolboy giggling of Osbourne, bobbing around in the background trying to see the reaction.

  • Dominic Raab: “Feminists are…obnoxious bigots“:

Dominic Raab, Conservative MP for Esher and Walton, wrote an article on Politics Home, calling for an end to “feminist bigotry” and sexism against men. Sorry, what? Sexism against the poor hard done by men? What do you mean Dominic? He writes: “From the cradle to the grave, men are getting a raw deal. Men work longer hours, die earlier, but retire later than women...Feminists are now amongst the most obnoxious bigots” He also cites pre-nups, education and access to children for divorced/separated fathers as ways men get a ‘raw deal’.

In about the only sentence of the article that makes sense he states that: “One reason women are left ‘holding the baby’ is anti-male discrimination in rights of maternity/paternity leave. ” but unfortunately he missed what could have been a great point here, and just ran with his anti-feminist vibe. Instead of bashing feminism he could have realized that feminism is about equality, not women over men. It has been said far better than I ever could by Julie Lalonde in a fantastic blog post: Dudes and Chicks: What Men Can Gain from Joining Feminism. She writes that “The primary function of feminism (or rather, feminisms like mine) is to challenge people about gender assumptions and in turn, to emancipate all genders…You can’t combat rape culture, without emancipating men from stiff definitions of masculinity that see men as necessarily aggressive, violent, homophobic and misogynist.  You can’t combat gender discrimination in the workplace without emancipating men from the definitions of masculinity that see men as competitive, unemotional and all-too-happy to give up time with their family over a pay check. ” Do you get it now Dominic?

(Thanks to LJ Lee for sending me the Politics Home link)

I have no doubt that more are to come. The question is; where will it end?

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Being gay is indecent.

The pre-watershed Brookside kiss

The pre-watershed Brookside kiss

Something has been playing on my mind recently, and it’s an accumulation of many subtle influences over the years. It’s the idea that somehow being gay is somehow more sexual and sexually explicit than being straight. It came to light how prevalent this attitude actually is in a recent daily mail article reporting on decency standards on the television. The daily mail writes

“Lesbian kisses could be banned from television screens until late into the night under radical Government plans to stop children being exposed to ‘indecent’ images.” http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-1382376/Indecent-lesbian-kiss-scenes-face-watershed-crackdown.html

I think what shocked me most was the clear distinction between what was considered explicit vs. family friendly, and that there was a clear dividing line here between gay vs. straight. A lesbian kiss on television was somehow considered to be explicit and not appropriate for children. Why is this so? Straight couples regularly show affection to each other on television, including kisses (and sometimes more), yet these boy-girl kisses never raise an eyebrow. Why is it somehow more sexual and more ‘for adults’ when it is two girls (or two boys)?

It reminded me about an argument I had with a male friend about his young daughters. The two girls were in pre-school and early primary school and were being asked by other parents if they had any little crushes or ‘boyfriends’ at school (in that slightly creepy way that parents do with very young children – jeez give them time to live a little first why don’t you?!). When I interjected and asked if they had any crushes on girls I was quickly shot down by the adults present, saying that this was not appropriate for children of their age, and why was I trying to push gay on them. My response was that I was absolutely not trying to “push” gay on them, rather I wanted them to know that if they did have any feelings of this sort it was completely normal and would be discussed in exactly the same way as if they had a crush on a boy. And furthermore I said, digging my heels in firmly, if anyone was trying to push sexuality on these kids it was the adults who were making these stupid comments to 5 year old girls about having boyfriends in the first place. Needless to say I didn’t make many friends that day. But it illustrates the same concept, that being straight is natural and innocent for young children, but gay remains a ‘deviant lifestyle’ that children need to be protected from until they are old enough to understand it. Given the high rate of suicide and depression in young gay people, shouldn’t we as a society pay very close attention to this distinction?

I am also reminded of a very progressive, liberal primary school teacher friend of mine who surprisingly thought that including gay issues in the sex education course at her state run school would be inappropriate. We spent much time debating this point, and my opinion remained that if a child is old enough for sex education they are old enough for straight and gay sex education. Sex is sex. Its not dirtier or more explicit if you do it with a man or with a woman, no matter what sex you are. As long as we keep presenting straight sex and normal and gay sex as deviant/dirty we keep barriers between the gay and straight communities in place and true sexual equality will remain elusive.A little bit of acceptance could go a long way in helping the next generation of queer kids feel like they are normal human beings just like everyone else.

My suspicion is that a lot of people have a gut reaction to think this way, even though they might have never considered the issue specifically before. What do you think? I would be interested to hear if you think that children should be protected from “gayness” or if you think a gay kiss is just the same as a straight kiss.

(If like me, you think that there should be no distinction between gay and straight, you can also write to Mothers’ Union chief executive Reg Bailey head of the inquiry and tell him how you feel.)

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Carry on…human trafficking.

A sex romp, if my knowledge of British films is anything to go by, involves a man dressed in a sailor suit and women in bikinis running around to 70’s music at 2x normal film speed. What a sex romp does NOT involve is a wealthy sports star paying to have sex with an underage girl who has been forced into prostitution. Period.

So why did the NY Daily News describe it in exactly this fashion? The title of the piece was: “Lawrence Taylor hit with lowest-level sex offender status for romp with 16-year-old girl” (http://tinyurl.com/6y2j4uk) and went on to say that:

“A judge slapped former Giants star Lawrence Taylor with the lowest-level sex offender status Tuesday for his admitted sex romp with a 16-year-old girl.”

It was not a sex romp, it was rape. It was rape of an underage girl. It was rape of an underage girl that said she was forced into prostitution. It is bad enough that this slimeball got off with only probation and classification of only the lowest level sex offender status, but can we please not diminish his actions in the reporting of these events?

The excellent sherights blog, which I definitely recommend you check out about this article, http://sherights.com/2011/04/13/rape-sex-romp/ brought this to my attention, and has suggested that we all write to the journalist who wrote the piece, Jennifer H. Cunningham at JCunningham@nydailynews.com to let her know that this use of language is neither accurate nor appropriate.

Please write today!

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Adidas responds, and then posts a video of women competing to be best dressed.

Here is the response I received after sending the letter of complaint to Adidas. I do believe they just don’t give a shit.

Dear Madam

Thank you for your enquiry, as a brand we take all feedback into consideration. 

Women are an important part of the adidas brand and we are proud to have world class athletes like Victoria Pendelton, Jessica Ennis, Caroline Wozniacki and Blanca Vlasic as well as celebrities like Katy Perry among our brand ambassadors.

As the all adidas brand campaign evolves it will focus on different sports and therefore more likely to feature more women athletes.

We would like to thank you again for contacting adidas (UK) Limited.

Yours sincerely

Lauren Cruse                                                                                                                                customercareuk@adidas.com                                                                                                     Customer Care Manager

For and on behalf of adidas (UK) Limited

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