MPs and Twitter: when it all goes wrong

Friday, 27 August 2010

I was appalled to see what my MP, Stewart Jackson, has been up to on Twitter this week. A classic case of obnoxious tweeting which exposes a person's true colours.

As reports of rising STI cases hit the headlines this week, with a local news story highlighting the fact that infection rates in Peterborough are the fourth highest in the Eastern region, Mr Jackson tweeted:
V disappointing news on STD rates in Pboro. No doubt our liberal friends will tell us we need MORE sex education - as it's worked so well!
And when Twitter users such as Dr Petra Boynton criticised his statement and provided him with links to accurate statistics and other information on sexual health, he replied:
Touched a raw nerve with shrill intolerant pro sex education Lefties who don't like debating the issues. Wonder why not?
And in case you weren't cringing enough, Mr Jackson wasn't finished. As people continued to contact him urging him not to fall victim to scaremongering about sexual health and care about the welfare of his constituents, he went on:
Re. Sex education Memo to sad tedious sex obsessed Leftie weirdos - do please tweeting me You're confusing me with someone who's interested.
And there you have it. Residents of Peterborough, your MP would like the world to know that he really doesn't care about major health concerns in the city he represents. As a parting shot later today, he added:
Left are simply unable to debate issues without personal abuse and vicious shrill denunciation. Important we keep them locked out of power.
So. We start off with some blame-shifting to make it sound as if better sex education and awareness of societal problems could not possibly improve sexual health. Then we move on to insults. And we end with a statement that THIS, all you right-thinking people out there, is why we need to keep the left 'locked out of power'.

After some blogosphere coverage the BBC picked up the story and Dr Petra appeared on BBC Radio Cambridgeshire to comment on Mr Jackson's behaviour (news story subsequently published here).

Personally I'd love to know that my MP cares about the welfare of his constituents and has something more to say about serious issues affecting them than "You're confusing me with someone who's interested". Unfortunately, that doesn't appear to be the case. It'll be nice to know what he's got to say when he becomes officially available for comment again.

There's a way to use Twitter well in a professional capacity, Mr Jackson, and this isn't it.

Screencap via this handy Facebook album.

Grazia wonders: are pregnant 'career women' a 'disgrace to feminism'?

Monday, 23 August 2010

Oh Grazia magazine. This looks like it may become an occasional series, considering you've got previous when it comes to 'things that make Hannah rage'. And that's why I don't buy you any more, despite your fabulous fashion features.

Jo at RedHeadFashionista gave me a heads-up about today's women's mag fail, which I'm really grateful for as let's put it this way, my daytime internet access is somewhat restricted at the moment.

We've just heard that Yasmina Siadatan, who won the last series of The Apprentice, is four months pregnant with her first child. Today, Amy Molloy asks "Is the second pregnant 'Apprentice' a disgrace to feminism?" on the Grazia website.

Everyone's intrigued to know how Lord Sugar feels about it, considering the controversy he's caused in the past with his remarks about women in the workplace and questioning of another contestant about her childcare arrangements.

And according to a spokesperson, he's 'pleased' for Yasmina and 'very supportive'.

Okay, that's fair enough, but it's not the story. Over on Grazia, the main area of concern seems to be whether Ms Siadatan is letting down the sisterhood. Molloy writes:
"...Yasmina is being cricitised for giving career girls a bad name and ruining the chances of any woman winning the Apprentice in the future,"
ending on a highly dodgy note with:
"Should mother-to-be Yasmina be congratulated or condoned for reinforcing the glass ceiling she was once so determined to break?"
She includes a couple of quotes from 'online commentators' which insinuate that this 'career girl's' actions are exactly why companies prefer to hire men. But where are the hordes of angry feminists accusing Yasmina of letting them down and disgracing us all by daring to have a child? Where indeed? If someone could point me in the direction of some of these blog posts I'd be really grateful because I haven't seen any yet.

I'm more worried that a someone writing for a magazine aimed at and read by successful, ambitious 'career women' is insinuating that having a child 'reinforces the glass ceiling'. I'm sure plenty of Grazia's readers could refute this and I'm also sure that the majority of them want to make choices about motherhood without being judged in that way.

Yasmina can make whatever choices she wants regarding her career and motherhood. We all know she won't be able to without facing criticism - already a certain tabloid which I won't name (I bet you can guess which one) is reporting that she 'must choose' between motherhood and her job and no doubt the message that we women can have one or the other - but certainly not both - will be repeated numerous times in later coverage.

With her high salary, Yasmina may be in a better financial position than many working women who have children, but the unrelenting message that we must 'choose' between work and family - and that trying to have both always comes at a price - can easily become a source of worry for those women who don't have a choice.

Unfortunately the Grazia piece is just another example of women's magazines attempting to get readers (and interviewees) to define who can and can't be a feminist - something I hope to write a post about very soon. I'll say now it's unproductive, unhelpful and doesn't have women's best interests at heart. Instead it trivialises and creates divisions in the name of being somehow accessible to everyone. By all means write a decent article and start a discussion about the response to Yasmina's announcement (because there is good discussion to be had), but let's be honest, Grazia, 'a disgrace to feminism'? Sort it out.

For the time being let's derive small comfort from the fact that comments on the piece are supportive towards Yasmina.

Image via The Telegraph.

Beyoncé - Fierce & Feminist?

Monday, 16 August 2010

In a world which constantly pits women against each other and expects us to want to bring our fellow females down, we don’t see many magazine pieces extolling the joys of supportive female friendships.

That’s why it was awesome to read Beyoncé’s latest ‘tell-all’ interview - with the Mail on Sunday’s YOU magazine, no less - one which has since been picked up by several other news sources who have gleefully picked up on the fact that an global superstar seems to have admitted that she’s a feminist.

Interviewing Beyoncé, Jane Gordon mentioned to her that she thinks she’s a great role model for young women because of some of the ‘strong’, ‘independent’ messages in her lyrics (hey, let’s not get into a debate about that right now). The singer/actress/internationally-acknowledged queen of fierce replied:

“I think I am a feminist in a way. It’s not something I consciously decided I was going to be; perhaps it’s because I grew up in a singing group with other women, and that was so helpful to me.

“It kept me out of so much trouble and out of bad relationships. My friendships with my girls are just so much a part of me that there are things I am never going to do that would upset that bond. I never want to betray that friendship because I love being a woman and I love being a friend to other women.”

She went on to say:

“I think we learn a lot from our female friends – female friendship is very, very important. It’s good to support each other and I do try to put that message in my music.”

The old ‘feminist’ question is a popular one when it comes to celebrity interviews. The answer isn’t always an encouraging one, whether this means a resounding ‘definitely not!’ or a tentative ‘yes’ which is quickly played down by a snappy assistant (oh hi there, Kate Winslet).

So it’s always nice when someone as famous as Beyoncé actually elaborates on their answer in such a positive way – a way which may not be impressively intellectual or reference a shedload of influential books or thinkers, but a way that we can all relate to and that is so important.

It might seem ridiculously simple, but the power of female friendship and supporting each other through life’s trials is enormous. It’s not a message we hear too often these days, when every other magazine feature is about bagging the perfect man or getting rid of ‘toxic friends’ and the tabloids are reporting the latest ‘feuds’ between female celebrities several times a week as proof that we’re inherently nasty.

But in a world where so many people – or newspapers, or books, or films – want to bring us down and belittle us or paint us as ‘catty’ and ‘bitchy’, the very fact that we can be a good friend to other women – and that this is a positive and life-enriching thing – is really vital to making the world a better place for women.

Through friendship we’re able to share experiences, help each other and teach each other. As a teenager I had a few bad experiences with high school female friendship dramas and I’m sure the majority of us can relate to that. But as an adult – and particularly in the years since I’ve identified as a feminist – I’ve come to realise just how important sisterhood is. Being a good friend has become something that’s important to me.

I’m not naïve, I don’t think it’s necessary and even desirable that we all agree with each other and get one with everyone all the time. That wouldn’t be realistic.

There’s been a couple of occasions recently when I’ve been sat in a room of women all supporting each other and building each other up and thought “this is the greatest feeling – look at how much we can achieve when we are united and look how much we have to offer each other”.

In talking about the power of supporting other women through friendship - and the happiness this can bring - Beyoncé has sent out an important message which we all need reminding of sometimes. It might be slightly cheesy, but admit it, you just felt some love for ‘your girls’ (or women, if you prefer).

This piece originally featured on BitchBuzz.

UK Feminista Summer School 2010

Monday, 2 August 2010

I spent my weekend in London learning about organizing, campaigning and engaging with politicians and the media as part of UK Feminista's Summer School, an event aiming to provide activist training and networking opportunities for those of a feminist bent. I think it must have achieved what it set out to do because I've returned home full of ideas, confidence and motivation and having met some great people. Looking on Twitter it's obvious that plenty of others feel the same and have been able to take such a lot away from just two days of seminars and discussions.

Day One - Saturday - kicked off with a panel discussion entitled The Importance of Feminist Organizing, chaired by Tonya Boulton of the Women's Networking Hub. Karin Robinson from Democrats Abroad, Gwendolyn Sterk from the UK Joint Committee on Women and UK Feminista's own Kat Banyard talked about the reasons we need to be organizing and campaigning for women's rights and the positive changes it can effect. Karin brought some inspiring examples from her work on Barack Obama's presidential campaign and spoke of the need to 'respect, include and empower' when training grassroots activists.

After lunch I attended a seminar on how to set up and run a group, led by UK Feminista's Ellie Cumbo. This was a valuable step-by-step guide and I could see it was particularly helpful as there were so many women in attendance who were either already involved in a group or looking to set up something in their local area. Later, I listened to Heather Harvey from Amnesty International UK speak on running an effective campaign. She used the example of Amnesty's well-known - and successful - No Recourse - No Safety campaign and again, provided a hugely helpful list of things to consider and remember.

Day One ended with another panel discussion focusing on The Feminist Year Ahead, featuring Denise Marshall from Eaves, the Fawcett Society's Angela Mason and Sharon Jacobs from UK Feminista. One of the main issues they talked about was the fact that women are set to bear the brunt of public sector cuts and what this will mean, but a wide range of ongoing and upcoming campaigns and events dealing with violence against women and reproductive rights were also mentioned. Above all we were encouraged to get people involved, develop our resources and really make clear why feminism is still needed today.

Day Two opened with a panel on Women and the Media, chaired by Jess McCabe of The F Word and also featuring Hannah Pool and Kira Cochrane. As was to be expected delegates had so much to say on this topic and the discussion could definitely have continued for much longer. Topics covered included under-representation of women in the media, the reception that women writing comment pieces receive, the 'long hours', 'macho' culture of newspapers, the popularity of 'women vs women' features and the way feminism is reported.

Immediately afterwards I attended a seminar with Joanna Inskip of Media Trust's Community Newswire, entitled How to Use the Media. This was absolutely invaluable, even for those of us who already have some media experience - and provided a lot of helpful pointers about how to approach newspapers, what to consider when doing so and how to make sure they publish the story you want to tell. The afternoon session for me consisted of a seminar on influencing politicians with Joy Millward from Principle Consulting and Janet Veitch from End Violence Against Women, who used the example of EVAW's Map of Gaps campaign.

And so the weekend came to an end with a noisy, interesting and controversial feminist Question Time, chaired by Bidisha and also featuring Julie Bindel, Dr Aisha Gill, Sunder Katwala from the Fabian Society and NextLeft and Karen Monaghan QC. Some issues discussed and debated:

- The importance of intersectionality
- Media coverage of feminism
- Academia and the sex industry
- Whether or not the movement needs visible 'leaders'
- Responsible reporting and the notion of the 'good victim' in cases of violence or abuse
- Breaking down elitism
- Is it time for 'less talk, more action?'
- How we should respond to anti-feminists
- Progressive men and how we should include them
- The importance of working together and being united despite differences and what we want to label ourselves as

There were many more seminars that I couldn't attend but I'm sure that other women will be blogging about them very soon (if they haven't already).

One issue raised by a couple of people was that they want to make the move from 'armchair feminism' to activism and getting involved, but were unsure what to do next. As someone who was in this position a couple of years ago, I can say this: it seems overwhelming at first, but there are so many 'first steps' you can take which are a really good starting point. Joining a group. Getting involved in a campaign. Starting to network - even if that means Twitter. Starting up a blog. Talking to your friends about it. Using your strengths and skills, whether that's writing or speaking or caring or performing arts or music or teaching.

There are also more regional groups springing up than ever before. At the weekend we got the opportunity to network with other women from our geographical area and many new connections and plans were made. Before Summer School I'd been having a lot of thoughts about the possibility of a campaign to challenge the way newspapers report rape cases (and in particular false allegations) and how this affects public perception of rape victims. I now feel so much more inspired, encouraged and motivated to get this off the ground. I also had some great conversations with new acquaintances which I hope will lead to good things in the future.

If you didn't attend you'll soon be able to look at resources from the conference on the UK Feminista website. And if you're reading this and have blogged about Summer School, drop me a comment with the link to your post please! Some photos are already up here.

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