Poll reveals Americans apparently prefer boys over girls

Thursday, 30 June 2011

When we think of countries with a culture of bias towards baby boys, we tend to think of places like India and China. But as the results of a recent Gallup poll show, this mindset is also prevalent in the USA - and has been for the last 70 years.

Gallup has asked Americans about their preferences for boy or girl children 10 times since 1941, using slightly different wording each time but always asking whether, if they were to have a child, they would prefer a boy or a girl - or have no opinion. And what's surprising is that the answers haven't changed an awful lot over the years, despite massive changes in society,

In 1941 38% of those surveyed would have preferred a son with 24% preferring a daughter and 23% saying they weren't sure or it didn't matter. This year, the percentages stand at 40% for a son and 28% for a daughter with 26% of respondents saying that it didn't matter, when asked which gender they would prefer if they could only have one child.

What's more noticeable are the differences when you break the responses down by gender, political leanings, age and level of education. Conservatives showed a bias towards sons, as did those educated to high school level, compared to liberals and those with a university education, who seemed to value sons and daughters more equally.

For some reason I would have assumed that the older generation would show greater preference for boys, due to generational differences regarding opinions of men and women and their roles in society - yet this wasn't so. It was interesting to see that as the age of those surveyed increased, their bias towards sons actually decreased, with 54% of 18-29 year-olds preferring a son and 22% preferring a daughter, while the figures for the 65+ age group were 31% for a son and 29% for a daughter, with 40% stating they had no preference.

The more noticeable difference is between men and women. 49% of men would prefer a son as opposed to 22% wanting a daughter, while out of the women surveyed, 31% plumped for a son and 33% for a daughter. In men of all ages, the bias towards boys remained pronounced - particularly in the 18-49 age group (54%), while there was very little difference in the gender preference of women in general.

In recent months we've seen a lot of coverage of the favouring of sons and its shocking effects, particularly as it relates to India, where the 2011 census has revealed a serious decline in the number of young girls in the past decade. In one district in the north of the country, the ratio of girls per 1,000 boys under seven now stands at just 774.

The preference for sons has meant that girls are neglected as children, abandoned and left to die, or aborted once their parents find out the sex of their baby - a practice increasingly common among middle class couples who have access to good healthcare. It's estimated that there are 15 million 'missing girls' in India - and 25 million in China.

Everyone is agreed about just how horrific these statistics are and that it's shocking that things are getting worse - so it's intriguing to see how, despite the usual protestation that "Of course we don't mind!", plenty of people clearly do care whether they end up with a son or a daughter - even though it's not particularly socially acceptable to admit it.

While reading some articles about the poll, it was interesting to read the reasoning people gave 'below the line'. As I suspected, a few of the reasons I've heard real-life acquaintances use when discussing babies popped up.

You know the ones - that girls are "little drama queens" and "too hard to handle", that you have to worry about what they'll get up to with boys, about teen pregnancies and paying for weddings and catfights in the playground. Boys are, apparently, "less trouble". Maybe the fact you tend to hear this from younger adults accounts for the difference of opinion which comes with age.

I do wonder whether these are things that people actually do think about - or whether they're just things that people say because everyone says them, much like the oft-repeated criticism of women in general being 'catty' or 'bitchy' or 'high maintenance'. Not being a mother, I haven't yet had to seriously consider it, but I find it hard to believe that so many people really have their potential daughter's potential sexual exploits on the brain while pregnant.

Maybe marked preference of sons as far as men are concerned has some roots in all the old clichés some men trot out about wanting a son to take fishing or to play football with, forgetting, of course, that girls can do that stuff too (I know, right, controversial stuff). Maybe it's about 'carrying on the family name'.

Or is it a sign that deep down, societies still value sons more than they would care to admit - even the ones which would consider themselves far more progressive than countries where the neglect and murder of girl children is a problem? Let's not get too hung up on the results of one small poll, but it definitely makes you wonder.

This post originally appeared at BitchBuzz. Image via Micah Taylor's Flickr.

Book review: How To Be A Woman by Caitlin Moran

Wednesday, 22 June 2011

Journalist Caitlin Moran's much-anticipated memoir-cum-feminist rant, entitled How To Be A Woman, was published less than a week ago, but the buzz surrounding it has been incredible. I'm calling it "buzz", but some would regard it as controversy because for the feminist camp, it's turning out to be a little bit like Marmite.

I knew it was coming, from the moment I read that little blurb, reminding us of Emily Davidson throwing herself under the King's horse and feminists protesting the Miss World pageant, telling us that this is 2011, sisters - this is the year that "Caitlin Moran rewrites The Female Eunuch from a bar stool". For months now, a lot of people have been reading Caitlin's tweets with excitement and gearing themselves up for the big event.

As a result, many of the comments I've seen online - often from people who haven't actually read the book, choosing instead to pass judgement after reading a newspaper article or two - aren't too positive. Moran's talking about bras and shoes and sex! About what it's like to be a woman today, with her trademark wit and turn of phrase! What a bandwagon-jumper. What a "fun feminist".

Now I'm a fairly humourless, strident wimmin's libber. What's become known as "fun feminism", the sort of dubious twaddle about pretty much everything - heels, strip clubs, capitalism - being great for women and "empowering" and awesome because these days feminism isn't about being a hairy man-hating lesbian, it's about CHOICE - and BEING SEXY, girls, doesn't wash with me. The thing is, it does't wash with Moran, either.

Here, she's written a gloriously funny memoir, but also an exhortation to women to stop falling for the lies the world tells us about what it is to be a woman - and as a result, start having a good time. And because it's a memoir, it's not a book about global women. Or intersectionality. But there's much to be gleaned from reading it all the same - much about the ordinary lives of women who aren't quite feeling the thick academic tomes and wading through theory, but will probably find a hell of a lot of food for thought in this book.

Moran talks us through her adolescence and the milestones we all remember so well - body hair, bras, crushes, bad fashion choices - weaving in her memories of how she found feminism and what it came to mean to her, at the same time encouraging readers to use the term to describe themselves. Let's not see the adjective "strident" as a bad thing, she tells us.

"Feminism has had the same problem that 'political correctness' has had: people keep using the phrase without really knowing what it means."

She looks back on her teens as a time when women were much less visible in the music industry and when she had to put up with appalling sexism in the office - but also remembers the joys of being a young woman in the era of riot grrrl and then Britpop - minimal makeup, clumpy boots and drinking lager as standard, a time when no-one could have predicted what the "Noughties" would bring - the rise of the Pussycat Dolls and Katie Price, the 'WAG' and the return of lapdancing clubs as an acceptable place to be seen on a night out.

If you were thinking that How To Be A Woman is all about the hilarity, it certainly isn't. Moran devotes entire chapters to her experiences of being in an abusive relationship, going through one horrendous experience of childbirth (and another one which was much easier), experiencing a miscarriage and having an abortion.

I don't agree with everything she says. We're agreed that the porn industry represents an enormous and thoroughly unpleasant problem and that a lot of men have simply been conditioned to see us as second-class citizens but I don't think I'm with her as far as pole dancing goes. Or the role of women in history. I don't think it's necessary to always 'be polite' in order to further the strident feminist cause.

What I really do love about this book, though, is the way Moran pulls no punches in identifying exactly what is toxic about our society's treatment of women - and telling us that we should just stop taking notice of it all, laugh at how pathetic it is and refuse to get involved.

Wearing shoes you can't walk in, which leave you in excruciating pain? Saving up hundreds of pounds for that "investment handbag" that the glossies say every woman needs? Wasting time and money removing every last strand of your pubic hair? Obsessing over finding "the one" and judging women's decisions about having children? Buying magazines which make you feel uncomfortable, with their relentless speculation about celebrity women, weight and cosmetic surgery? None of it's necessary. It's poisonous - and I think too many people in Moran's position are afraid to say this.

As she says, we're conditioned to believe that being content and comfortable in our own skin is not quite right - we're supposed to be that little bit neurotic, worrying about dating and weight loss and wrinkles and aspiring to be princesses or someone's muse or indeed, anything but ordinary. But isn't being an ordinary woman who's happy with herself, in control of her mind, her body and her destiny more important than all that? I'd say so.

"Because if all of the stories in this book add up to one single revelation, it is this: to just...not really give a shit about all that stuff. To not care about all those supposed 'problems' of being a woman. To refuse to see them as problems at all. Yes - when I had my massive feminist awakening, the action it provoked in me was...a big shrug," says Moran.

And it's here that I really identify with her, because as the saying goes, the truth will set you free.

This post originally appeared on BitchBuzz.

Flash-in-the-pan feminism: back to normal for the media?

Tuesday, 21 June 2011

At the beginning of the year, when I wrote a feature on the way feminism was portrayed in the media last year for The F Word, I wondered what the media would do with its coverage of our activism and concerns in 2011. In 2010, the publication of several books and the prominence of certain issues forced newspapers and magazines to take a closer look at the movement, interview some of its more well-known names and faces and concede that yes, the end of the 'Noughties' had seen the 'return of feminism'.

Things were going well, I thought. Some things were getting a bit more coverage - the impact of the cuts on women, FGM, trafficking, International Women's Day, the diversity of the movement. The backlash was still the same, but that was to be expected. However I think we're increasingly seeing the situation, yet again, where the movement is being defined not by its diversity and its engagement with so many different issues affecting society, but by whatever seems provocative, gets broadcasters talking about sex and gives the impression that we're interested in little more than policing other women's lives.

Take the coverage of Slutwalks. Before the march in London a week and a half ago, the papers were full of debate about what this 'new' kind of activism (never mind about Reclaim the Night, right?) means for women. On and on it went, focusing mainly on the clothing choices of women who had taken part in earlier marches (such as the one in Toronto) and on the connotations of the word 'slut'. There was comparatively little discussion of the main aim of the march and when it was mentioned, it was never long before people weighed in with their opinions that 'If you left your valuables lying around they would get stolen, if you know what I mean'.

Now despite supporting its overall aim, I think there are some really valid criticisms of the Slutwalk movement, whether we're talking about white privilege, unexamined power dynamics or reclaiming a word which has never been positive. What valid criticism isn't is 'Is this what feminism is nowadays - campaigning for the right to act like sluts?'

Unfortunately, due to the media obsession with the attire and quotes of individuals, this is what happened. And when thousands of men and women took to the streets of London on June 11th, marched through the capital and had a thoroughly positive and inspiring day, where was the coverage we'd seen in the weeks leading up to it? Well, it wasn't particularly evident. Because musing on women's clothing choices and judgmental opinion pieces about the silliness of young women today is more newsworthy than whatever happened on the actual day of the march and the rousing speeches given at the rally.

"It's become very confused," said one commentator, talking about the aims of the movement. Personally I don't think people would have been half as confused about the issues Slutwalks hope to address if the mainstream media hadn't insisted on twisting them in the hope of a good argument or two, reports of 'catfights' and a chance to snigger at the women involved. I watched a segment about the London march on BBC Breakfast where any discussion about rape was immediately derailed as the presenters attempted to tie the 'clothing' issue in with everyone's latest obsession, 'sexualisation' - and ended up with a debate on what sort of clothing was 'appropriate' for parents to allow their teenage daughters to wear out of the house. It was frustrating to say the least.

The problem with the 'sexualisation' issue is that it's getting focus for the wrong reasons. As I said last week, people are incredibly keen to point out its nefarious effects, newspapers are running stories about it so they can show yet more screenshots of Rihanna videos and tut about kids doing pole dancing classes - but they're not offering solutions or taking a long hard look at the way they portray women. The helpful suggestions of people who don't go along with this futile performance of horror are largely ignored outside of the blogosphere - that is until someone like Charlie Brooker says something about it.

And then there's Playboy. You want a prime example of the trivialization and misinterpretation of feminist activism? This is it. No longer a protest against the way Hugh Hefner runs his business and his treatment of women over the years, Eff Off Hef! became, at the hands of the tabloids, an outdated protest by prudish 'bunny boilers' against the women who work at the club, their right to do whatever job they please and the fact that they're attractive. We saw several opinion pieces outraged at these bitter women, these humourless hags seeking to take away real, liberated women's rights to be sexy and do whatever they want.

In the wake of these distortions, manufactured drama and straw feminists, come the articles telling feminists to stop being so silly, ladies - and concentrate on the feminist issues which really matter. The economy. Poverty. Violence against women. Said Victoria Coren in the Guardian last weekend:

"Mostly, I am sad that feminism is suddenly all about clothing. Maybe that's the answer to what I find rum, what makes me suspicious: it feels like just another way to chat about fashion. The only piece of clothing which is relevant for modern feminists to debate – the only one with a complex argument, counter-argument and serious social implications either way – is the burqa. Shorts, bras, bunny ears? Meh, leave that to Sex and the City. None of it matters. None of it means anything."

All that's happening in the world of feminist activism this year isn't a 'way to chat about fashion'. Or at least it wasn't until the media started focusing on a couple of issues above all else, insinuating therefore that they represent the extent of the women's movement. Giving column inches to the other issues, yes, but putting them nearer the back of the paper or hidden away on the website because they can't be accompanied by pictures of women in 'provocative' clothing and debates about sex. It's because of this that those critical articles are full of straw feminists, it's because of this that people want to know why we have to hear yet another discussion about skimpy clothes and vajazzling on a news programme.

It's because every other issue is being pushed off the agenda and the result, as ever, is people being dismissive about feminism, no matter how well women acquit themselves when they go on the radio or on television to talk about Slutwalks or the Playboy Club, the reaction from many remains dismissive. We're being pigeonholed with increasing frequency by media outlets which should know better, while so much dedicated work and activism goes ignored.

Photo via Ben Ponton's Flickr

What may become a weekly round-up

Monday, 20 June 2011

Bad Reputation - BadRep goes Slutwalking

'Personal stories told by all kinds of people, but all pointing to the same conclusion. Rape happens to people regardless of what they are wearing. Rapists, not those who are raped, and certainly not the clothes of those who are raped, are to blame.'

The Independent - Brian Haw was the conscience of a nation grown quiescent

'Over time, Brian has been proven wholly right. It's pretty obvious to everyone now that we went to war on a lie. In many ways he was the guilty conscience of all the complacent, lazy people who hadn't taken a stand or examined their views at all. I think people often felt threatened by that.'

The F Word - Women's erasure from women's memorials

'The monument to the women of World War II, in contrast, commemorates 'women', but carefully avoids portraying any actual, physical women - only their empty suits of clothes. I'm aware of only one statue for a woman war hero of World War II, Violette Szabo GC, and the monument on which her bust sits actually commemorates Winston Churchill's Special Operations Executive, which organised agents working across enemy lines. So her face does not stand for herself, for Violette, but for the countless anonymous agents of Churchill's 'Secret Army'.'

Lesley's Blog - Women in the Episcopate - A Response

'I’m tired of being perceived as ‘a problem’. I simply want to get on with what I’m called to. God has called me to be a priest and I believe he is calling some of the women in my generation to be bishops. I dare to believe that the Church of England needs us. No one has asked what might happen if the three thousand women clergy in the Church of England were to decide that ‘enough is enough’, and move to another province where their ministry is welcome. No one has contemplated the effect of a further ‘rejection’ of their orders on those without whom the Church simply could not now function. Women clergy don’t wish to hold the Church to ransom: but they also don’t want to be taken for granted.'

Nothing Special - The Guardian catches up...almost

'The mainstream press, and especially those journalists who wish to criticise or gain an insight into the tabloid newspapers, would do well to read blogs like Tabloid Watch, Minority Thought and the others listed in my Links Sidebar. This is yet another example of mainstream journalism lagging behind the blogosphere in important discussions.'

Guardian - Harriet Harman: 'You can't leave equality to the Tories'

'Does she think the coalition is anti-women? "No, it is anti-public services and anti-public spending, but the fact that women are hardest hit is something they just don't notice. Basically they have no idea of women's lives and the impact on them of these cuts. They are not gender aware."'

Huffington Post - Looking Through the Bushes: The Disappearance of Pubic Hair

'Educated women must increasingly submit to the sexual demands of a shrinking pool of suitable men for whom the bedroom is one of the last domains outside of a football stadium where men can be men. And reciprocally for women, it is increasingly only their bodies that set them apart. Bodily hair masculinizes them, so hairlessness becomes a way to hold on to the feminine. Clean is acceptable code for pretty, like the smooth cheeks on their faces. Clean is a form of historical forgetting.'

The Daily Beast - OMG! Women's Sites Need to Grow Up

'With such tickle-me-hormonal content online, it makes one wonder, where is the content for women who want the equivalent of GQ, with sharp articles about powerful women and fascinating trend stories, written by writers as good as Tom Wolfe or Joan Didion? Where are the fashion spreads that make you feel aspirational, not inadequate? Must everything be shot through with a shade of red or pink? And does everything have to end with an exclamation point?'

Bust - The Backlash of Girly Culture and Online Media

'Maybe I’m just the kind of person who likes cute designs, excitement, exclamation points, and joyful reading material, but that doesn’t mean I don’t want solid writing nor do I want to be talked to like a little girl. I don’t think liking cute things and being talked down to go hand in hand. Super girly culture and smart writing are not mutually exclusive in my opinion. I’m pretty sure I can like kittens and rainbows and still be a feminist.'

Racialicious - Who is the black Zooey Deschanel?

'The wide-eyed, girlish, take-care-of-me characters that Deschanel inhabits on film are not open to many women of color, particularly black women. We can be strong women, aggressive women, promiscuous women…we can do Bonet bohemian and Earth Mother (as Andrea pointed out), but never carefree and childish. Even black girls are too often viewed as worldly women and not innocents.'

Guardian - Afghanistan worst place in the world for women, but India in top five (includes links to indepth reports and interactive info)

'High maternal mortality rates, limited access to doctors and a "near total lack of economic rights" render Afghanistan such a threat to its female inhabitants. "Continuing conflict, Nato airstrikes and cultural practices combine to make Afghanistan a very dangerous place for women," said Antonella Notari, head of Women Change Makers, a group that supports women social entrepreneurs around the world.'

Men, Women and the Bible

Thursday, 16 June 2011

Yesterday I was privileged to attend the Men, Women and the Bible day conference put on by the Sophia Network. Last autumn I undertook Sophia's eight-week theology course on gender in the Bible and having gained so much from it, it was great to see the course finally published as a resource, as well as getting the chance to network, listen to wisdom from three wonderful speakers and just have the opportunity to think so hard about the issues surrounding gender, scripture and the church.

The three teaching sessions - Maggi Dawn on hermeneutics, Howard Worsley on why a theology of gender matters and Lis Goddard on how to engage effectively with those who disagree with us - were very useful in that they gave us plenty of starting points for research, recommended reading and things to consider - in the hope, of course, that we would go away and do plenty of work of our own. There was discussion of particular verses and interpretations and we even had time to have a bit of a chat about privilege. It was so good to discuss the 'dos and don'ts' of debate. As one of those strident wimmin I am a bit confrontational - although I think the same could be said for most people when debating something they're passionate about - so it was interesting to get some food for thought on engaging in a Christlike way.

Overall the day underlined for me just how passionate I am about these issues and how important it is to me to see an egalitarian interpretation of scripture and ministry - or 'restored mutuality' as Lis called it - worked out in a way that can benefit Christian women and enable them to fulfill their true calling, using their unique gifts, in side-by-side partnership with men. An interpretation that takes into account the fact that a hyper-masculine image of God and scripture means that both women and men suffer and are limited. I believe passionately in a Creation/Fall narrative which depicts mutuality, partnership without hierarchy and that we should not live our lives according to the results of the Fall, but strive to emulate pre-Fall male-female relationships.

In an open discussion panel at the end of the day, both panelists and delegates raised incredibly important issues. Over the past couple of years we've heard so much about the 'feminization of the church'. Just type that phrase into a search engine and you'll come across scores of blog posts and articles lamenting what has been happening to Christianity, resulting in men leaving the church in droves, but off by the way it seems to be female-orientated. But Lis said something interesting yesterday. She said that the truth is that the group of people leaving the church fastest and in the greatest numbers are women in their 20s and 30s. And they are leaving because they're disillusioned with church life, confused about what God has for them and burned by being brushed aside.

Let's think about this. Church should be for everyone. But a major challenge for a lot of churches is actually catering to everyone. Women my age are often poorly served in churches where opportunities for women to make friends, get together and grow spiritually frequently come in the form of mum and baby groups, or women's prayer and study groups held on weekdays during working hours. In recent years there has been a big focus on getting men together, hence the breakfasts and curry nights and men's days we see a lot of. And these are good. I do feel that they often rely too heavily on promoting a very stereotypical 'manliness' which is more of today's world than anything and the same could be said for plenty of women's days which focus not just on teaching and worship but also on 'pampering' and eating 'treats'.

It's not always possible to cater to everyone with these sort of events, particularly in small churches with limited resources, but there is a real need to help women find community, a way to serve and a way to develop their gifts. They must not feel that they need to find a husband or have children in order to fit in. They must not become discouraged because they have been told they can't serve in the way they feel called to - perhaps in a position of authority. They must not leave meetings in tears because they've been told they can't speak or make a decision because they are female. They must not feel that it's always right to instantly defer to what men in the church want to do.

They must feel confident in working together with men as a team which works well, not one which is beset by power struggles and dismissive attitudes. And they must feel that if they are worried about one of these things, they can talk to someone about it without being told that it's not important, that egalitarians aren't proper Christians, that gender isn't an issue and that there is no room to discuss it, particularly when this is being said by a man who will not know what it's like to be told that he must limit what he can do for God according to his gender.

Why do I feel this needs underlining? I am part to a church where women are built up, encouraged and given many opportunities to 'do' Christianity the 'mutuality' way, whether that's on a Sunday morning or at home with their husbands. But this is not the case for so many of my sisters. From some churches and groups of churches has come a 'push' towards a more hardline approach to women in ministry and I know for a fact that it is causing hurt and affecting peoples' relationship with God. As I said earlier, this hardline approach doesn't just impact women in a negative way. The stereotypes, the limiting lifestyles it imposes on everyone are not of God and will not, I believe, lead to a fulfilled life.

I can't stand by and watch with an aching heart while high profile Christian leaders say publicly that they would not take a book on scripture written by a woman seriously and while women's concerns are ignored. It creeps in subtly like this, but at the same time we have people believing that God created all women to be subordinate to all men and others using scripture to justify abuse.

So this is me, beginning to take a stand.

The battle against 'sexualisation': what next?

Wednesday, 15 June 2011

So it's just over a week since the publication of the controversial Bailey Review, the independent review carried out in an attempt to address that buzzword of our times, 'sexualisation' - and how it affects children and teens.

The report, carried out by Reg Bailey, Chief Executive of the Mother's Union under the banner 'Letting Children Be Children', has issued a series of recommendations to businesses, advertisers and the media after finding that some parents are concerned about the way their children are exposed to 'inappropriate' messages and 'sexualised' imagery.

It comes after many months of discussion surrounding the concept of 'sexualisation', and the effect it may be having on young people, but how much of an impact is it going to have - and how useful are its findings?

One of the issues I've had with the outcry against 'sexualisation' is that a lot of it seems to be about expressing shock and disgust at high heels for little girls, or Rihanna's dance moves on primetime television, or Bratz dolls - but that's as far as it gets.

Every few days you'll come across an 'Ooh, isn't this awful! Think of the children!' story in a tabloid newspaper, or a programme like Channel 4's Stop Pimping Our Kids will feature a presenter showing passers-by on the street miniature miniskirts or thongs. The passers-by will look shocked, talk about how they wouldn't want their daughters wearing clothes like that and the presenter will nod triumphantly.

But what has it actually achieved? Very little, so far. What I see is a lot of people very happy to moralise about the state of the world today but far fewer people showing an interest in the issues behind the problems they see.

In the days following the report's publication I read some really insightful blog posts and articles from people talking about looking past 'sexualisation' - this word which is fast becoming meaningless - and at the expectations surrounding sex and relationships, commercialisation and obsession with money which is fueling the issues detailed in the Bailey Review.

"The problem is not the sexualisation of childhood, but the commercialisation of sexuality," wrote Symon Hill for Ekklesia.

Suzanne Moore, writing in the Guardian, accused the review of telling us nothing we already knew and providing no evidence to back up its claims.

"What is needed then is not some weird repression of sexuality or of young people, but of a rapacious capitalism that commodifies every desire and yes, will sell sex to children," she said.

There's also been criticism of the snobbery implicit in the furore, with some commenting that the government are only taking steps to placate middle-class parents and care little about anyone else.

My major problem with those clutching at their pearls about 'sexualisation' is that they often offer little in the way of criticism of what our culture expects of women in general.

They get upset at children being sold padded bras and heels or wanting to be 'sexy', but say nothing of the fact this is pretty much expected of adult women - the role models girls emulate. They talk of little girls looking and acting like 'tarts' and 'sluts' without a second thought at what that says about sexism in our society and gender stereotyping.

As Holly Dustin said, also in the Guardian, our culture:

"...reinforces stereotypes of women and girls as sexual objects who are sexually available to men and boys and sends strong messages about what it means to be a man or a woman."

The Bailey Review has recommended such solutions as getting retailers to sign up to a code of practice stating they will not sell 'inappropriate' clothes, covering up sexualised images on magazines and restricting the types of advertising which can be displayed near schools and playgrounds.

But these are recommendations and voluntary measures rather than new laws. One newspaper report last week suggested that the media industry is taking a 'relaxed' view of the review and that there is relief that measures will not be enforced.

There's been talk of tighter controls on what gets shown on television early in the evening, but all in all the media has reverted back to the usual outrage about children's beauty parlours and pole dancing classes for three-year-olds.

All at the same time, of course, as running the usual dearth of stories about celebrity starlets, models and hot royals 'showing off' their 'stunning' legs/curves/bikini bodies and posing for 'steamy' photoshoots. On the front pages of their newspapers or with large photos on their websites.

Want a comprehensive unpacking and discussion of the issues surrounding the Bailey Review and 'sexualisation', without the media spin? Sex educator Dr Petra Boynton has done a great job over at her blog.

Post originally appeared at BitchBuzz. Image via natalialove's Flickr.

Top 10 Christian blogs...in the world?

Monday, 13 June 2011

Interesting to see that New Statesman's The Staggers has published a list of Top Ten Christian Blogs. If we're being picky, one (The Twurch of England) is a Twitter aggregator rather than a blog, but as the piece says - "The list is not exhaustive, but gives a flavour of what sort of online resources are out there for the global Christian community".

I like the fact that there's a bit of diversity in the list. They're not all blogs that I would necessarily read (mentioning no names) but it's nice to see an inclusive round-up focusing on more than one denomination or viewpoint, as can often be the case when our media looks at Christianity - which means you could often be forgiven for thinking that just three groups of Christians exist - the Church of England, Catholics and fundamentalists - and that there isn't much more to our lives and beliefs than infighting and intolerance.

Which are your 'best Christian blogs'? Some of my favourites are listed in my sidebar.

Image via viclic's Flickr

Street harassment on a sunny Saturday

Saturday, 11 June 2011

Unless you've been living under a rock recently, you'll probably be aware that today was the day the Slutwalkers hit London with their anti-victim blaming message about sexual violence. I wasn't able to go. Here's what happened to me today instead:

It occured as I got off the bus on one of the busiest streets in Peterborough city centre. As I started to walk away from the bus stop, a man walked towards me. As he walked past, he barged up against me, moving his hand on my inner thigh. Then he carried on walking.

I turned and shouted; he turned round and looked me up and down, smirking. I stood as he walked off down the street - he looked back at me a couple of times as he went over to talk to another man. I realised my hands were shaking as I took my phone from my bag. I was enraged, but couldn't figure out what to do. In the end I left it too late - I walked in the direction he had gone, planning to confront him, but he was nowhere to be seen.

I decided to take a trip into town because it was a nice day and I had nothing to do this afternoon. It was supposed to be enjoyable. Now I don't like having my personal space invaded even in the most innocuous of ways. The city centre was packed and as a result I spent the next couple of hours feeling incredibly anxious and angry every time someone came near me. I was cross with myself for not going after him, for taking a photo of him, for doing something more.

I shouldn't have had to be made to feel like this, but this is what happens when some men think they have the right to harass other people in the street. When they feel entitled to touch people and intimidate them and afterwards, smirk and saunter off. When they feel fine about treating women with such little respect.

The message of today's march in London was that the way someone dresses is irrelevant to the way they are treated by those who rape, assault, harass and abuse. One woman carried a placard saying: "I was wearing jeans and a jumper". One marched in a wedding dress, raising awareness that abusers can be husbands too. The harassment today happened while I was wearing somewhat baggy trousers and a cardigan. This isn't the first time I've been a victim of street harassment and I'm sure it won't be the last. It has happened when I've been in heels and office attire, when I've been in gym gear.

As the website of anti-street harassment movement Hollaback states:

"Sexual harassment is a gateway crime that creates a cultural environment that makes gender-based violence OK."

It's not a compliment. It's not a 'fact of life'. It's not a case of 'boys will be boys'. It's beyond unacceptable and it disgusts me.

In somewhat related news, when I heard the news that Andrew Bridgen MP has been arrested on suspicion of sexual assault, the first thing I thought was "here we go again...". We don't know an awful lot about the details of what happened and so obviously no-one is in any position to pass judgement as yet. Whether or not the Daily Mail is in any position to pass judgement is, as usual, completely irrelevant to what it decides to do about stories like this.

Why did I think "here we go again..."? From the Mail today: Woman who says Tory MP assaulted her was 'drunkenly flirting with other men' (don't worry, it's an istyosty link). In the story, we learn that:

"The 29-year-old former political aide was seen chatting to a number of different men..."

"...onlookers told the Mail that his accuser was inebriated and in high spirits when she talked to Mr Bridgen..."

"After closing time, the pair and the second man went back to Mr Bridgen’s flat in Westminster to discuss politics..."

- by which we infer that the Mail is determined to discredit the woman's allegation, based on other aspects of her behaviour that night. I knew there was something slightly odd about the fact that they'd published a couple of weirdly supportive anti-victim blaming pieces related to Slutwalk recently. I knew it couldn't last. No mention of her clothes, but they felt it was important to publish a story talking about the accuser's 'flirting' with 'different men' and 'drinking' in a way which clearly shows this should make us doubt her claim. It's predictable fodder from one of the most misogynist newspapers around but disappointing nevertheless.

Links of interest:

- UK Anti Street Harassment Campaign
- Stop Street Harassment
- This Is Not An Invitation To Rape Me

Things worth paying attention to this week

Thursday, 9 June 2011

Rachel Held Evans - The trouble with litmus tests

"I apply litmus tests to my fellow Christians because, for about five seconds, they make me feel better about my own decisions and beliefs. After those five seconds have passed, however, it becomes painfully obvious that my efforts at “fruit inspection” or “doctrinal correctness” are being seriously hampered by the massive log stuck in my eye."

From me on BitchBuzz - Help celebrate Emmeline Pankhurst's birthday

"This year, Manchester-based artist Charlotte Newson will be celebrating the birthday of the political activist, founder of the Women's Social and Political Union and feminist heroine with a special collaborative project."

National Geographic - Child Brides

"Child marriage spans continents, language, religion, caste. In India the girls will typically be attached to boys four or five years older; in Yemen, Afghanistan, and other countries with high early marriage rates, the husbands may be young men or middle-aged widowers or abductors who rape first and claim their victims as wives afterward, as is the practice in certain regions of Ethiopia."

Ekklesia - Britain's young people - sexualised, radicalised or patronised?

"Instead, consumerism promotes a narrow idea of what sexuality is all about. This is an image of sexuality that says a lot about money and little about love. Assumptions about what is acceptable have more to do with social convention than with compassion, consent or mutuality. The problem is not the sexualisation of childhood, but the commercialisation of sexuality."

Christian New Media Awards & Conference 2011 - Nominations are now open

Independent - How the right-wing press lost interest in Gabrielle Brown

"It’s a terrible thing to be cynical, but one could easily come away with the impression that these newspapers were only interested in Ms Browne’s opinions so long as they fitted with their own reactionary agenda on criminal justice."

Sarah Ditum for Comment is Free - To protect girls, women must have rights

"Sex-selection stories in the UK (when there isn't a urgent medical motive, like a hereditary sex-specific disease) tend to hinge on a parent's burning desire to have a child they can either kick a football at or cover in pink frills – reasoning that makes gender into a frivolous add-on in the quest to assemble a perfect family. But in the parts of the world that practise widespread sex-selective abortion, having a baby with the "wrong" genitals can be devastating."

Kathy Escobar - "Auntie Kathy, are you sure it’s not wrong for you to be a pastor?"

"You see, the 'we don’t really value your voice' message goes far beyond just whether or not women preach or teach. It’s the subtle ways women don’t have equal power, leadership, value, or voice, where entire generations of misogyny are built upon a few passages of scripture and the liberating message of Jesus gets lost."

Petition - Stop the deportation of Betty Tibakawa

"Betty Tibakawa has had her asylum application turned down and is facing deportation back to Uganda, where homosexuality is illegal. Gay women who are deported to Uganda risk being raped and assaulted whilst they are in custody. We are petitioning the Home Office to overrule this decision from the UK Border Agency, to give Betty the chance to live a life free from violence and fear. No one should be deported to country where they will be persecuted for their sexuality. We owe those seeking asylum in this country better than this."

One Off Productions - It began with name calling (scroll down for parts 1 through 5)

"I have a friend called Etta. She is a Holocaust survivor. It has taken her many years to be able to talk about her experiences. Now she does. She believes that she has to. To try and prevent Holocausts. She does it in memory of those she lost to the gas chambers and all those who she saw die. She does not want to let them down. Recently she learned of the EDL. She asked me if I would help her write this. This was her idea. It is the hardest thing that I have ever written. The bold is a simple version of horror that has happened. The rest are comments that have come from the Face Book pages of the EDL."

Gender Across Borders - "Boys will be boys" - and other language which rigidifies our conceptions of masculinity

"Unsurprisingly, women-centered idioms and expressions tend to be derogatory, as is the case with ‘run like a girl.’ This is, once again, an expression that is used to remind boys that in order to be real boys, they must at all costs avoid behavior that might be perceived as feminine."

More Than Toast - I am NOT a mumpreneur

"I don’t need to be congratulated or patronised. I thrive on juggling all my balls and I get so much more out of life and my daughter because of it. I understand my view is in the extreme and may touch a nerve with some, but to me the term ‘Mumpreneur’ is condescending, patronising and outdated."

Discouragement and wisdom from @feministhulk

Wednesday, 1 June 2011

Just recently posts from me (and thoughts in general via Twitter etc) have been a bit thin on the ground. Much of the time this is down to life getting in the way of writing but over the past few weeks I've been experiencing motivation issues.

Motivation issues of the sort which happen when despite all the things you have to be positive about, the inspiring books you've been reading, the upcoming conferences you're really excited about attending and the events you can't make but are still really pleased are happening, things just get you down.

Those times when people you know discover the little corners of the internet dedicated to being viciously unpleasant about them because of the activism they do. Those times when it seems like everything is destined to end in call-outs and privilege olympics at the expense of anything productive. And when each day seems to bring a new wave of hatred and drama, often from below the line on a news story so you can't even be bothered to read comment threads any more.

For me it started with 'the Slutwalk debate' and the fact that so very few people seemed to be looking past the misinformation and the media hype and that word, whatever conclusion they ended up coming to, until it was even happening among the people hoping to attend the marches. It continued through discussions over Nadine Dorries and something called 'sexualisation' and ended up with rape apologist after rape apologist after rape apologist and arguments about Ken Clarke and Roger Helmer and Dominique Strauss-Kahn. The news has been full of it to the extent that someone only has to mention it and you hear people on public transport or in the office saying: "The real problem is all these women who ruin decent men's lives".

That's before you get to the rest of the world and the stories about virginity tests in Egypt and rising sex selective abortions in India, trafficking in Nigeria and access to women's health services being used as a way of political point-scoring in the USA - more reasons this fight needs to continue.

You start to wonder what the point of wading in might be because you know that as soon as you say something, someone will pipe up with a smug comment about 'hysteria' or 'rational discussion'. They'll make smirking asides about 'moralising' or 'jealousy' or 'catfights' or 'choice' because groups of people have decided to speak out against Girls Gone Wild or the Playboy Club coming back to London. But back to 'hysteria' and 'rational discussion' for a moment. You know that the minute you talk about anything from personal experience or try to relate the stories of individuals or - God forbid - show emotion in the form of anger or outrage at injustice those who just want to silence you and belittle you will pounce on it. You silly, irrational, emotional woman. They'll either pounce or you or they'll pounce on the people you're talking about and trying to defend.

"You're talking about the experience of a handful of people. Where's your evidence that it's widespread? You could be making all this up!"

"You're just overreacting."

"I'm sure your intentions are honourable but the fact is, these women just bring it on themselves."

In an introduction to her 1969 essay 'The Personal is Political', Carole Hanisch said:

“...they belittled us no end for trying to bring our so-called 'personal problems' into the political arena.”

That was 1969 and when you look at things from that angle we haven't come a long way, baby. The personal experience and anger at injustice and oppression which motivates much of the activism we're seeing, the blog posts and the things we say on Twitter shouldn't have to make us targets for the sort of people who only want to silence, intimidate and patronize.

That's why I've had some motivation issues in recent weeks and why, over the past couple of days, I've had to keep reminding myself that the fight is worth it and although I may not feel the urge to wade in with whatever I feel needs to be said in the form of a blog post or a 140-character smackdown, that doesn't mean the same as 'giving up'. Sometimes it's just called 'having a break'. You know these people are always going to be there but wearing yourself out engaging with the hatred isn't always helpful or productive.

Let's remember the recent and very wise words of our esteemed friend @feministhulk: FEELING OVERWHELMED NOT A SIGN OF FAILURE. FEELING OVERWHELMED A SIGN OF HOW IMPORTANT THE FIGHT IS. KEEP ON SMASHING!

Edit: and it's not just @feministhulk, I feel like I should maybe be quoting Samwise Gamgee in the epic motion picture Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers when he says:

"I know now folk in those stories had lots of chances of turning back, only they didn't. They kept going because they were holding on to something...That there's some good in the world, Mr. Frodo, and it's worth fighting for."

Check that out.

Nigella and the feminist act of baking

So Nigella Lawson says that 'baking is a feminist act'. Speaking at the Hay Literary Festival on Sunday, the author, television presenter and go-to reference for the (not-so) 'new domesticity' told of the importance of celebrating the most traditionally feminine of culinary arts in an age where the blokey celebrity chef is king.

It's now over a decade since the publication of 'How to Be A Domestic Goddess', Nigella's book about baking and comfort food - and her first television show, Nigella Bites, which means that it's almost as long that journalists, social commentators and assorted navel-gazers have been musing on whether or not she symbolizes the 'ultimate woman' and whether we should aspire to have her body - and not forgetting, of course, the big question of how we 'should' be feeling about domesticity.

The beginning of Nigella's reign as queen of indulgent cooking saw cakes emerging as something fashionable as opposed to mere sustenance. Fast forward past the end of the Noughties and I don't think anyone, least of all me, wants to see another earnest feature using the phrases 'recessionista', 'cupcakes as a lifestyle choice' and '50s housewife nostalgia'. Which is why I'm going to shut up about that already.

I do, however, think that all this is part of the point that Nigella was trying to make when she said, of 'How To Be A Domestic Goddess':

"I think it's a very important feminist tract in its own right, and I'm not being entirely ironic. Baking is the less applauded of the cooking arts, whereas restaurants are a male province to be celebrated. There's something intrinsically misogynistic about decrying a tradition because it has always been female."

Nigella has had a great deal of success with her books and her broadcasting, but as she says, it's the more male-orientated areas of culinary skill which are seen as important and world-changing. Restaurants staffed by drama-loving men who cause scandal and tabloid intrigue. Foodie television shows and the careers, family life and social action projects of well-loved manly role-models like Jamie Oliver and Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall.

It may now be socially acceptable for men to be into cooking, but it's still more likely for them to exercise their culinary skill for special occasions, barbecues and big 'show-off' meals while women often solider on with 'day to day' cooking, family meals and the sort of stuff that foodies couldn't care less about. And, of course, baking. Coverage of baking in recent years has tended to focus on it as 'on-trend', a bourgeois 'lifestyle choice' or the way overprivileged 'yummy mummies' engage in one-upmanship at the school fete.

I think we're all familiar with the denigration of activities and attributes considered 'traditionally female' - hence the sneering tone when some people say 'women's work' and the ultimate insult of acting or being 'like a girl'. So Nigella's absolutely right when she talks about the misogyny of criticizing 'traditional' cooking. What she's saying is "Go on - reclaim baking - take it back from those who see you as a 'silly woman' for enjoying it".

This isn't a new concept and over the years it's been applied to not just baking, but also activities like knitting and pretty much every other form of crafting, sticking two fingers up not only at those who see them as of lesser importance than 'masculine' pursuits, but also at right-wingers who spend half their lives bemoaning the way us feminists hate traditionally feminine hobbies and attributes as well as men, children, bras and fun.

The ways we spend out lives, whether that's in the office or climbing the corporate ladder or cleaning or childrearing, absolutely should be equally valued. It's about respecting those things which in the past have been devalued and derided - yes, even in the 'golden age' before the 1960s. Remember all those adverts for appliances and products which were 'so simple - even a woman can use it'?

I think the last time I baked a cake was at the age of 13 when it was required of me for Home Ec class, so maybe I am the archetypal right-winger's nightmare (no babies yet, puts off doing the ironing as long as possible). But that's not to say I think it's a pointlessly silly exercise and I definitely agree with chef and chocolatier Lagusta Yearwood when she says that Nigella's right:

"The great gift feminism can give to the mainstream world is precisely this: that the qualities we associate almost exclusively with women will, if allowed to flourish and given adequate respect, vastly improve society across all levels."

This post originally appeared at BitchBuzz. Image via dklimke's Flickr.


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