The mini-skirt of the Internet?

I’m going to attempt to live blog from the Social Media Week London “Women In A Room” event. When I say live blog, I really only mean “write while it happens so my laziness and short-timedness don’t mean I never write at all”. I will then, should this go ito plan, upload it pretty much straight after the event. You will of course then be captivated and simultaneously feel like you’ve been here all the time, while wishing you had been.

Great huh?

Well let’s just see how we go…

A hush descends … (Too theatrical?)

….

And now I’m on my train home. I didn’t write a jot of this during the event (I posted a few tweets though). Reason was, the event was excellent and I was too busy being a Woman In A Room. Plus there was much more participation than I’d anticipated and very little sit-back-and-think-of-feminism.

So here are my post-event thoughts.

Format: excellent. A couple of panellists, no presentations, just some questions to get them talking and to get the room warmed up. The wine was good too, for making friends. We then had a few questions (actually really informed comments more than questions) from the floor, before swiftly breaking into discussion groups. Brilliant chat followed, then more informal continuation of discussion and (ironically?) the socially normal closure by twitter name exchange.

Discussion: while the Laurie Penny article ostensibly started us off, the evening centred more on social media than I had anticipated. I was expecting something more broadly looking at women commenting and receiving comment online. I was imagining a couple of recent bad experiences I’d had commenting on articles in right leaning online papers.

So at first I confess to thinking the evening would be more basic, topic-wise, than I’d hoped. Oh ego-laden me…

The group I was part of included a community manager/PR person, a UI specialist and a feminist YouTube channel owner. And the topics we covered ranged from:

– the threat of the anonymous commenter, and the opportunities when using anonymity yourself

– the responsibility of media and community managers around moderation

– the ‘genderisation’ of language, tone and approach in social media

– the usefulness of multiple, disparate and fragmented social media channels to attempt to represent the many faces of a modern human (& the journeys they may be on)

The memorable bit: a question asking for the panellists’ opinions on a social meme which saw women tweeting and calling out abusive and rude names they are called under the #thingsyoucallme hashtag. One of the panellists said she’d be cautious of bringing attention to negativity and negative persons (disclaimer: I’m massively paraphrasing), and that by using their language (e.g. The C word) it reflects on you. Memorable? Yes, coz I got a bit angry and shakily told the room it reminded me of women rape victims being told that public knowledge of the rape will reflect badly on them. I stand by my comment and essentially….

Conclusion: …. I loved the event because it *wasnt* a bunch of women agreeing. Noone had an air of feeling they needed to agree for solidarity. We disagreed (often the commenting audience disagreeing with the panel) without aggression or accusation. But in the spirit of discussion and thought.

Well done Women In A Room. I’ll be back!

I’ll edit to add links when on a computer. Just google Women in a room for now!

Speaking out online

Tonight I am attending a panel discussion which is being run as part of Social Media Week London. It is entitled Is a woman’s opinion “the miniskirt of the internet”? and will be based on Laurie Penny’s article of the same name.It will be about the often violent and threatening verbal abuse women get for engaging in discussions online.

So given the timeliness of the discussion, I wanted to share an experience a male friend of mine had last night on twitter.  Because its an interesting comparison. It’s a story of a man sticking his neck out on a largely women’s issue, and the response he got. 

This friend, let’s call him Sam, because that isn’t his name, and I had been talking a lot this week about the disgraceful behaviour of The Grammys, inviting Chris Brown back to perform three years after he had to cancel his performance because he was in a lock up mulling over his violent attack on a fellow human being.  It got us into a wider discussion about domestic violence, mutually tutting over the terrifying statistics and generally feeling impotent to do anything.

And then last night Sam (not his name, though), saw one of his idols tweeting a “funny” photo of a white couple, with a baby – posed in 80s family photo style,  In the photo the woman had a huge black eye, and the baby on her lap was black.  The tweet said:

“Just to bring you guys a smile before the day is over 😉 makes you think when we complain it could always be worse”

Raw from the discussion we had just been having, he responded:

“I don’t think joking about domestic violence really works as way to cheer things up to be honest. She’s got a black eye. not cool.”

To which this idol replied:

“Yes and he got a black kid, fair trade 😉 she will heal in 5 days he will pay for college”

So I’m just going to walk away from the justification of any sort of domestic violence by this dude (as well as the assumption he’s made that the father will be the wage earner, that he’ll be paying for anything etc), because people are wrong every day of the week.  And he is just one man. What I want to share with you is the response that this “idol” (using inverted commas because I’ve never heard of him, though in this community he is obviously a bit of a god) and Sam got to their discussion.

1) “that’s not even a real black eye” (it was, by the way)

2) “who said joking about something means you condone it and are for it?!! There’s a big difference.

3) “every time we talk I see your pic flipping the bird That’s domestic violence too, many women receives that pic at their home :-/” (really??)

4) “Life’s too short to take everything do seriously”

5) “lighten up..ur just assuming she got the black eye from domestic violence its just a picture not a story”

6) “hahaha.. Take the black eye anyday!!! Take 2!! Lol. X”

7) “Look at the picture, and get a sense of humour you bloody tube!”

8) “well I thought it was funny… Lol…. Agree to disagree haha”

9) “I was waiting for that one uptight douche and sure enough,lol.”

10) “ever hear of “satire”….lighten up a bit”

11) “does your boyfriend beat you up or something man cause you are over reacting. It was a joke u buffoon”

And when Sam was commented on the defence mounted by the followers, Idol said:

“it’s not my fault I have a great crew of friends here, and when I’m in a fight they jump in with a flying kick 😉 I love them”

Wouldn’t it be nice if victims of domestic violence were all so lucky.

I wanted to close this post with some of the statistics on domestic violence in the UK. Hopefully a quick glance at these will remove any doubts about the unfunnyness of domestic violence “humour”.

  • Over two women per week are killed by current or ex-partners
  • One in four women in the UK will experience domestic violence in their lifetime
  • Between 1 in 8 and 1 in 10 women experience domestic violence annually
  • Less than half of all incidents are reported to the police, but they still receive one domestic violence call every minute in the UK

(stats from Women’s Aid)

Policy decisions – spreading the help

This morning David Cameron is widely covered in the media, ruminating on the discussions he attended yesterday where state leaders exchanged policy experiences on a number of topics important to feminists.

The headline yesterday was the achievements of Sweden in increasing the number of women on the boards of large companies following the introduction of mandatory quotas.

But today the papers seem to have picked up on another angle. One that intrigues me as much for the outcry from left-leaning feminists (actually, let’s be honest, most feminists on less than £50k a year!), as for the scarcity of its details.

According to the papers, Cameron is pondering the value of giving tax relief to people who hire domestic staff.  Apparently in Sweden the very rich benefit from this arrangement and they find it is great for job creation, particularly among immigrant communities.  Interesting to also pause to reflect that the jobs it creates are probably largely for women – what with domestic employment still the realm of females.

Of course the papers have had a field day with denunciations of elitist protectionist tax policy, and puns on the Jeeves and Wooster stereotype, and quite likely by the end of the day I will be firmly in the camp of the Good Lord What Was He Thinking?  But I wanted to post this while I think there may be a spark of sense hiding behind this vulgarly unrefined idea.

Here it is:

Women on the cusp of board positions tend to be the higher earners among society, and we constantly hear that they “choose” not to return to work after having babies. Perhaps their husbands are equally stashed so they simply don’t need to, but I think that ignores the obvious ambition of women who have come this far. So something else is stopping them returning to work – and I believe it is in part to do with getting enough support for their other role (that of mothers, because lets recognise statistics strongly show the home work remains her responsibility no matter her salary).

I have among my friends a couple such women, and the way they have managed a full time return to the cut and thrust and hefty time commitment of board level positions is by hiring nannies. Live in, live out, whatever. Currently in this country (though interestingly, not in France), parents have to pay all the same employer taxes as a small business when hiring dedicated childcare (or other domestic support – though that isn’t where I want to dwell because I do agree this whole argument becomes a whole lot more tenuous when we are mourning the hassles of a maintaining a beautiful lawn, or waxing teacup rings out of Georgian furniture).

I think I would probably largely support a tax break for child care in every form – whether that is privately hired or within a group/nursery setting.

I have absolutely no idea whether Cameron’s musings are currently touching on this at all, or whether he genuinely is worried about the decline in topiary skills within the UK labour market. But it’s just a thought I had.

Did you have any? Go on, I know you do….

Early stage feminists: how to make your point

Over the last couple of months I’ve been getting back into feminist activism in a big way. OK, nothing like as a big as some of the amazing women and men I have been meeting (mainly through twitter), but comparatively, for me, a big way.

I’ve been reading books, blogs, enlightening tweets… I’ve even been to my first feminist conference (Go Feminist, last weekend).  And I’ve got to the point where (I think!) I have learnt a bit better how to pick my fights than when I first started out.  By that I don’t mean I have *stopped* picking fights, rather I am getting better at which proof points to use to justify the requirement for feminism in a 21st century westernised country (which, let’s face it, is the gatekeeper to any productive feminist conversation if the other party is not already a convert).

So I had a nasty reminder of what it was like for me a mere couple of months ago when talking to a friend of mine this week – one of my latest recruits to the church of feminism.  I feel a sense of responsibility for igniting her interest and engagement with feminism (though perhaps I flatter myself).

Since beginning to practice her feminist arguments she has come under quite aggressive attack from friends and family telling her that not only is feminism a big fuss over nothing, but often asserting that it’s the men we need to be worried about protecting as our society is now so heavily laden with privilege for women than the boys are being left behind.

It reminded me of very similar conversations I had with loved ones (often more likely to be female than male).  These confrontations hurt, especially when you are new to the arguments and don’t have a watertight defence against “facts” that they throw at you, even when you know how wrong they are.

So I thought, in case anyone stumbles upon this blog post in the early days of their own feminist journey, I would pass on the advice I gave her, to avoid others becoming disheartened.

  1. The first thing to remember is to use their push back as a reminder of how inherent a subconscious acceptance of the “order of things” is in everyone’s minds. You don’t have to be a chauvinist to accept the current order, it just means you haven’t thought about it. So these friends and family members aren’t the enemy, they just need to be awoken to the situation.
  2. Arm yourself before entering any situation where you find yourself the sole defender of the feminist movement (whether when talking to your partner, or a pub full of colleagues). I am still massively cautious about starting these sorts of discussions because I am not an expert, however every book and article I read gives me more confidence and, importantly, more examples and anecdotes to prove my beliefs. It’s important to get a basic grounding in what UK laws do and don’t cover, and some stats that show the current lie of the land.  This basic grounding doesn’t require a 3 year gender studies degree; a couple of months of interested reading and conversations in your spare time and you will notice how much more knowledgeable and confident you come across in a conversation.
  3. Find accessible ways in for others.  So you’ve made your point and someone is showing the vaguest bit of interest in your philosophy.  Don’t lose them now! Keep a couple of films or book titles up your sleeve (not literally… though that’s an idea…) to recommend as a bite-sized next step into feminism.  My personal favourites are:

Three easy tips to get you started.  Does anyone else have any others they would like to share?

Postman Pat

When I was a little girl I had a Postman Pat lunch box.  It was one of those red ones with a yellow handle.  It also had a melted plastic patch at the bottom because my mum once put it on the hob top while it was still warm.

I loved that Postman Pat lunchbox.

But apparently, I was *way* out of my gender turf with this one. Postman Pat? He’s just for the boys right?  No?  Ah, well someone had better tell Tesco…

(if you can’t read it, the price label says “£3.97 35 LICENSED PUZZLE BOYS ASST”)

Is it our mums’ fault?

A survey from Netmums was splashed all over the papers in the UK on Wednesday: mums are more critical of their daughters than their sons, it said.

There are some pretty interesting discussions that could be had around the research, drawing links to the one feminist tome I have actually read (Germaine Greer’s The Female Eunuch).  In TFE, Greer reckons it is mothers who unconsciously create “female” attributes in the next generation of women – being more protective of them which makes them averse to taking risks, and teaching them enjoyment in looking pretty etc.   These “female” attributes are then banded around and used to beat women into submission when they dare suggest that our biological make up does NOT predispose us to “female” (read: underpaid, undervalued) roles in society.

But, believe it or not, this wasn’t the thing that struck me the most. This was:

“The 2,500-strong survey by parenting website Netmums found that although almost one half of mothers say they know it is wrong to treat boys and girls differently, almost 90% admit they do exactly that” (quoted from The Guardian).

No it’s not the 90% figure… look again…

ALMOST A HALF of mothers say they know its wrong to treat boys and girls differently? Do more than half of UK mothers REALLY think it’s right and proper to treat their children differently depending on gender? That worries me.

The Magic Circle – a female-free zone

The Times newspaper reports today (from behind its paywall – sorry!) that Clifford Chance MAY become the UK’s first magic circle law firm to appoint a woman as senior partner.

Which means that Clifford Chance, along with Allen & Overy, Freshfields Bruckhaus Deringer, Linklaters and Slaughter and May – the 5 biggest law firms in the UK – have NO females currently at the upper echelon of their partnerships.

The Times says that:

“Only a handful of the City’s top law firms have been run by women despite recent efforts to increase their number in senior posts. Dame Janet Gaymer, the Commissioner for Public Appointments, was senior partner of Simmons & Simmons for five years until 2006 and Lesley MacDonagh was managing partner of Lovells for a decade until 2005. None of the top 20 firms has a woman as senior or managing partner.”

Recent efforts? How hard can it be to be fair? Or are these firms going to try to argue that the female candidates who doubtless have run for such lofty positions in the past are simply never as good as their male colleagues?

Poor form.