Friday, 29 October 2010
Proving that absolutely nothing is safe from 'pinkification' is the slightly nauseating My Princess Bible that I came across this morning. With cover artwork not dissimilar to Disney Princess branding, the 64-page book focuses on 19 biblical women including Eve, Deborah and Miriam. It frames them as princesses, using their stories to teach young girls about desirable character traits.
I appreciate that the 'women as princesses' narrative is a common one in Christian culture and that for a lot of people it is encouraging and affirming to see themselves as princesses based on the fact they are 'daughters of the King'. What I do have a problem with, however, is the way that this has become bound up with pink and sparkles and Barbie-esque artwork, just like everything else aimed at young girls.
The women featured in My Princess Bible were not princesses. They came from very different backgrounds and achieved many great things. As role models for girls they have so much more to focus on. Deborah was a prophet and the only female judge in the Old Testament. Lydia was a businesswoman and a key figure in the early church. Obviously it's necessary to simplify their stories in a way that girls can benefit from but you have to wonder if the diversity of their gifts and experiences is lost.
According to one review of the book, some of the messages given by the stories include "A princess prays for people", "A princess is kind and thoughtful", "A princess loves her family" and "A princess takes care of God's world". I think there are good intentions behind this and I also think it's really good that there are some books out there focusing on the women of the Bible as role models, but I don't think going down the 'pink' route is the way to do it. There's more to faith in God than being 'His special princess' and a whole lot more to being a woman of God than tying your self-worth up with tiaras and Prince Charming.
Members on Amazon have offered several negative reviews of the book - one such review included observations such as:
"...1) It lacked depth and the true Biblical narrative, 2) the stories were written to moralize, and in some cases incorrectly, the biblical accounts and 3) the book consistently promoted a physical beauty of all the women that was Barbie-esque."
My Princess Bible isn't the only book to get in on the act, however. And this next example of bringing present-day stereotyping into Christianity is possibly even worse. Behold, I give you the God's Little Princess Devotional Bible and its boy-orientated counterpart, God's Mighty Warrior.
The boy's version includes Bible stories broken down into the following topics:
* The Belt of Truth (Article on values)
* Guard Your Heart (Manners for boys)
* Stand Strong (Sharing the Good News with friends)
* Shield of Faith (How to make right choices)
* Helmet of Salvation (Knowing right from wrong)
* Sword of the Spirit (Scripture memory)
* Mighty Warriors (Bible heroes)
* Adventure Quest (Encouragement for imagination and adventure)
while girls can benefit from wisdom shared under some different headings, including:
* Down in my Heart (scripture memory)
* Beauty Secrets (how to be "beautiful")
* Bible Princesses (girls and women of the Bible)
* My Hero (scripture promises)
* Take a Bow (dress-up and role-playing ideas)
* I Adore You (kids songs and worship ideas)
* Princess Charming (teaching manners, poise and charm)
* Worthy of Love (ways to love your family and friends)
This is a book which comes with a blurb stating 'Girls long to be loved and adored, and give their heart to their hero'. It's a book where, as one reviewer of GoodReads details, girls are advised to 'Put on a favorite piece of your jewelry, such as a ring or a bracelet. When you look at it throughout the day, remember that you are God's little jewel.' And it's a book which teaches 'poise and charm'.
At Feminism in London I listened to a nine-year-old girl talk about how she thinks there should be better role models for girls in fairy stories, because (to paraphrase) 'the girls just have to be pretty but the boy characters get to do fun stuff and look cool'. I'm currently undertaking a theology course on gender in the Bible and the message is clear. Women of God aren't bound by stereotypes and convention and maybe it would be good for the people writing these books to remember that. There is so much more to life than pink, glitter and princesses, even for little girls. You wouldn't believe it from going into any toy shop or children's clothes shop, but it's true.
Melissa Wardy of Pigtail Pals has got it right when she says:
"I'm not anti-princess...I’m not anti-girly. I’M ANTI-LIMITATION. I want my daughter to be bold. I want her to be unafraid to be intelligent. I want her to be respected for her accomplishments. I want her to know that she can be an astronaut, a soldier, a pilot, a carpenter, a firefighter. She will not be raised to think that the world belongs only to boys."
Tuesday, 26 October 2010
US-style anti-choice tactics have crossed the pond this month as part of a religious initiative to picket abortion clinics.
For the first time, protestors have been targeting a UK clinic – Marie Stopes House in central London, which was one of the country’s first abortion clinics.
Reports have suggested that women entering the clinic have been ‘harassed’ and given leaflets containing dubious information – such as the unfounded claim that women who have had abortions have an increased risk of breast cancer.
Staff at the centre also claim that they are being filmed walking in to work, which has raised worries that the actions of the protestors are mirroring those of the more extreme anti-choice activists in the US.
The protests are being run by 40 Days For Life, an organisation which formed in Texas in 2004 and since 2007 has run yearly 40-day campaigns of prayer, vigils and pickets at abortion clinics in locations all over the US.
This year’s campaign is also taking place at various locations in Canada, Australia, Denmark, England and Northern Ireland. According to the organisation’s website:
“40 Days for Life takes a determined, peaceful approach to showing local communities the consequences of abortion in their own neighborhoods, for their own friends and families.”
The London protest boasts an army of 500 mostly Catholic volunteers who are keeping the vigil going for 12 hours each day.
The past two years have seen the anti-choice movement in the UK take things up a notch and make efforts to reduce the cut-off limit for abortions. Although Parliament eventually voted against lowering the limit in 2008, now-prominent members of the government such as David Cameron and William Hague had voted to reduce the cut-off to 22 weeks. Some MPs voted for cut-off point as low as 12 weeks.
And more recently, an early day motion has been tabled which would require women seeking an abortion on mental health grounds to have counselling and assessments and be warned of the consequences of what they are about to do.
Although the 40 Days For Life initiative is supposedly peaceful it marks another shift in the way anti-choice activists are operating here. We’ve had the misleading leaflets and videos that use inaccurate science and shaming tactics already – now come the pickets, which could prove extremely upsetting for women who might have already had to make some really difficult choices and may not be in the best state of mind.
Just this week, an American father has achieved notoriety by filming the way his wife was treated by protestors as she entered a clinic, then berating the activists himself. Aaron Gouveia and his wife were on their way to end her pregnancy of 16 weeks, having discovered their baby was suffering from a congenital condition, was missing internal organs and had zero chance of survival.
The video he recorded on his phone has been featured on several major news sites and has proved that some anti-choice activists are happy to terrorise women no matter what their circumstances may be.
Of course it’s not just their attitude towards patients which could be a problem. As we all know, this movement which supposedly believes in the sanctity of life hasn’t done a very good job of demonstrating this with regard to healthcare professionals over the last few decades.
National Abortion Federation statistics show that since 1977, anti-choice activists have been responsible for eight murders, 17 attempted murders, 383 death threats, 153 incidents of assault or battery, and 3 kidnappings committed against abortion providers.
In addition, there have been 41 bombings of clinics, 173 arsons, 91 attempted bombings or arsons, 619 bomb threats, 1630 incidents of trespassing and 1264 incidents of vandalism.
Many anti-abortion groups remain committed to peaceful activism only but Abortion Rights UK has already noted a surge in protests recently – this could help to pave the way for extremism and more violent actions.
In the next few months we’re likely to see the government focused mostly solving the country’s economic issues. Whatever’s on the MPs’ agenda, it’s important for us not to forget that a core of people and organisations committed to limiting a woman’s right to choose is growing - and that they’re continuing to pose a threat, even as women continue to fight for safe access to terminations in Northern Ireland and we hear more shocking accounts of backstreet abortions there.
With many more prominent members of the new government holding socially conservative views, it’s definitely going to be an issue to watch closely in the near future.
Monday, 25 October 2010
There were over 1000 of us, men and women, students and pensioners, children and babies - making it the largest Feminism in London conference yet. The mood was excited and expectant and I was pleased that there was a 'speed feministing' session before the conference started to enable people to make new friends. Personally I didn't manage to get there as I was busy looking at all the stalls but as someone who generally goes to these events on my own, I can definitely say that I imagine it was really worthwhile for a lot of people.
The opening session of the day, entitled 'Women in Public Life', provided much food for thought in light of last week's news about the financial changes set to hit so many and was a great start to the day. Throughout the rest of the day when I heard people talking about their favourite speakers, those from this first session were mentioned a lot.
Ceri Goddard of the Fawcett Society was the first speaker and talked about the way women and economic policy have always been seen as completely removed from each other - and that this was something noticeable in the General Election earlier in the year. It made me think about the fact that the only time women and the economy were ever mentioned in the same sentence was when referring to child benefit, as if it's the only aspect of economics that concerns and affects us.
Ceri set the tone for the whole session, stating that the cuts will be hitting women the hardest and that the government did no Impact Equality Assessment to see if this would be the case. She highlighted the problematic nature of tax breaks for married couples where one partner does not work and the fact that the committee overseeing the cuts is completely male.
Helena Kennedy QC delivered a fantastic speech on the nature of exploitation as always involving power and/or money. She spoke of the way activism in 1970s shone a light into the way institutions were run and the way in which they treated women. But as she explained, the gatekeepers of everything in our society are still men and we're still in a situation where just a few visible women in these institutions are seen as proof that 'equality' has arrived. She ended by talking about the importance, therefore, of supporting and promoting women.
Lindsey Hills spoke on the perception of young mothers. As someone who had a child in her teens, she talked about the prejudice she faced and the difficulty of living on welfare - contrary to tabloid portrayals of young women who have babies 'so they can get a house and lots of benefits', Lindsey's experiences showed this is not the reality. She's involved in various projects and organisations which empower young mothers and is keen to help them show society that the negative stereotypes of women who have children young are unfair.
Rahila Gupta discussed women in journalism and writing with plenty of emphasis on the fact that even what we perceive to be 'liberal' spaces are full of prejudice - one example of this being that women of colour are rarely invited to comment on any issues aside from those specifically pertaining to women of colour. She challenged us to think about the extent to which our narrative is compromised or 'diluted' by 'rules of engagement' - for example newspapers and magazines having certain issues they don't talk about, certain things which they don't think their readership would be interested in. As we all know, this often affects feminism as it is portrayed in women's magazines because they feel they have a duty to stay 'on message' about fashion, men and makeup, often ending up talking about how the movement relates to these things over anything else.
Finally, Virginia Heath spoke about women in film and the inequalities of representation there. She also talked about her project My Dangerous Lover Boy, which aims to address the realities of the trafficking of young women.
The morning workshop which was the one I'd actually registered for was 'Violence Against Women as a Hate Crime', with a panel made up of Prof. Jill Radford, Hillary McCollum, Dr Aisha Gill, Pragna Patel and Vera Baird QC. The room was packed out and we were treated to a really interesting discussion, partly because the panelists didn't agree with each other on all points and also because of the wealth of experience they had to speak from.
Jill Radford talked a lot about findings on VAW from the WLM in the 1970s and violence as a strategy of control which was fascinating. One recurring point was the fact that we should not depoliticise the struggles surrounding VAW because we are probably about to enter a period of time where it will be firmly off the political agenda; another was the way that recent state responses to VAW have been more of a form of immigration control which has only pushed the problem abroad.
There was definite conflict over whether classifying VAW as a hate crime would be a positive step. On one hand it's important that VAW does not become any more 'acceptable' than it already is, but on the other, hate crimes have been shown to encourage communities to turn on each other and the very word 'hate' could make it difficult for some people to admit to being a victim. Similarly, it could pose problems with intersectionality and forcing women to identify as being the victim of a particular crime when other factors - for example homophobia or racism - might be involved and just as important.
At lunchtime it was fantastic to meet up with Sian of Sian & Crooked Rib and spend some time together. Sian is doing some fantastic work online and in Bristol so DEFINITELY check out her blog if you don't already read it. Woman is a powerhouse.
I managed to get a seat at the afternoon workshop entitled 'It's Easy Out There For A Pimp', which as you can imagine was pretty intense. The aim of the workshop was to outline how porn culture affects young people and prepares girls and boys to play certain 'roles' when it comes to self esteem, sex, relationships and exploitation - with one of the main points being that our media landscape is such that this is often not questioned and accepted as 'just a part of life' or even desirable behaviour. The role of corporations in portraying sex as something which is bought and sold, something involving degradation and a lack of respect, was discussed, as was the fact that this is something being pushed upon children from a young age and seriously affecting their wellbeing.
The workshop was accompanied by an extensive slideshow dealing with trends in porn and the way the majority of mainstream porn promotes a focus on humiliation, degradation, disgust and pain as well as the explosion in popularity of imagery of very young women. Panelists were Rebecca Mott and Anna Van Heeswijk of Object. As expected there were several conflicting reactions from delegates and questions prompted discussion on erotica, BDSM and the relationship feminists have with sex workers. Rebecca expressed her frustration at the way the movement often excludes the voices of prostitutes and spoke of many women she knows who feel let down and patronised by feminism.
I felt like the day was over much too quickly. I was pleased I chose those particular workshops but to be honest there were so many others that I would have loved to have been involved in. A goal for next year will probably be to go to one of the sessions on parenting. By 4pm we were all back in the main hall for the closing session which provided a truly rousing and inspiring finale.
Natasha Walter talked about stereotyping and the fact it means women and girls are not encouraged to live up to their full potential, which is something we can all agree with. She urged us not to give up the fight however terrible things seem; to 'never give up hope'. Anna Fisher spoke from a anti-capitalist perspective and said that she doesn't want equality with men if this means participating in the exploitation of others through capitalism, highlighting that there is major difference between hating men and hating what patriarchy and capitalism have done to them.
The closing speech of the conference was given by Finn MacKay who was most definitely on form and characteristically emotive and fabulous. Her main points? That we shouldn't have to 'rebrand' feminism as if it's something to be ashamed of, that the emphasis should be on reclaiming it instead. That in a world where it's framed as being about 'choices' and 'doing whatever makes you feel good' we need to remember the women's movement is about politics and the law and life and death. That the UK's rape crisis is not the amount of false accusations and that we must challenge this society that blames us for everything. And that all men have an important role to play by not supporting oppressive structures, by not treating us as a commodity - because we believe in their humanity. It was a speech that earned her a standing ovation.
I was so pleased I'd nabbed myself a ticket for the after-party with its food, bar and entertainment - not just because I felt like I could really do with a drink by that point but because it gave me the opportunity to have a really good chat with Kristin Aune, who I've been keen to meet since I became aware of all the work she's done on women in the church.
Throughout the day I was able to catch up with some lovely people and was inspired to get the ball rolling on a couple of projects (as always, time permitting). After a busy few weeks FIL was a welcome opportunity to engage my brain again. I think it was an overwhelmingly positive experience for the majority of those who attended - all I've seen so far is fantastic feedback - and I know it left so many people inspired and ready to do more.
FInd out more about the speakers and the other workshops. I'm sure lots of other blog posts will appear soon!
Thursday, 21 October 2010
Having been to London, Birmingham, Nottingham and Manchester, Jessica and Michelle are on their way to Cambridge later this month and seeing as this happens to be my neck of the woods I'm going to be in attendance. I'm also hoping that a few of you reading this might be from the Cambridgeshire area and interested in coming along too!
If you would like to be part of a project aiming to get an idea of how today's women feel about the issues affecting them and their lives - work, family, feminism, politics and whatever else you can think of, Women Speak Out is for you.
Jessica and Michelle will be hanging out at the Café Project on Jesus Lane, CB5 8BQ, from 1-4pm on Saturday October 30th. Turn up whenever you like and stay for as long as you like - I'm sure it'll be a great afternoon.
For more information here's a PDF of the flyer for the event.
Tuesday, 19 October 2010
Female candidates on The Apprentice have been criticised for representing women in business badly after last week's episode of the reality show made the headlines for all the wrong reasons.
In an episode which saw contestants attempt to design and market a beach-themed product, the show's female contestants were seen bickering and fighting throughout - something which undoubtedly contributed to them losing the task and being called into the boardroom to answer to Alan Sugar.
From the moment we saw footage of the all-female group sniping at each other while attempting to come up with initial product ideas, it was obvious that things weren't going to run smoothly and before long, project manager Laura Moore was in tears, claiming that she couldn't handle her team.
Despite her obvious anger at their behaviour, her fellow contestants continued to ramp up the nastiness, resulting in complete mayhem as they argued about how was responsible for the team's overall failure.
After watching the drama unfold, Lord Sugar's assistant Karren Brady stepped in to criticise the way the women were acting.
"Can I just say something? You are representing businesswomen today and I have to say that it is outrageous the way that you are behaving," she said.
"70% of my management team are women and I've never come across anything like this."
Brady was right of course - the rudeness of the contestants and their inability to respect or listen to one another made me realise immediately that in the days following the show's broadcast, commentators and newspapers would be bound to hold them up as a shining example of why female bosses are a nightmare to work for, or why women are naturally 'catty' in the workplace.
I haven't been disappointed. Liz Jones has done it, using words such as 'bitching' and 'backstabbing' for extra emphasis and proclaiming that:
"We are never going to get out of this recession if this is the best British womanhood has to offer."
She's not the only one - a brief search for news stories and blog posts about last week's episode threw up much talk of women 'letting the side down' and 'catfights'.
It's depressing because on one hand I was appalled by the contestants' behaviour, but on the other I knew the backlash against businesswomen was bound to happen and how unfair it would be.
I may not have risen as far up the career ladder as these women but I'm pretty aware of basic etiquette when it comes to talking over people and letting people have a say in decision-making. The difference between being assertive and being aggressive, you might say. But then again, I don't work in a particularly pressured environment and the show puts the contestants into extremely stressful situations.
The fact is though, when male contestants on the show act like complete losers – which they frequently do, they're not seen as representing all businessmen. Their behaviour doesn't prompt a rash of articles on why men are just so awful to work for and why they're setting a bad example to young men who want to ‘make it’.
The reaction of the public to the antics of the female Apprentice contestants underlined very clearly just how, as women, we face particular challenges when aiming for influence and power in any sphere. Very often, our actions will be held up as symptomatic of the behaviour of all women.
Most of us have probably had to deal with an unpleasant male boss at some point, but it's female executives who are usually painted as evil and scheming, the sort of people nobody wants to work for.
Since the recession hit, there has been much talk of making boardrooms more inclusive and even imposing quotas to make sure women are equally represented. Some people are vocally opposed to such actions and last week’s show is likely to add more fuel to the fire in this respect.
Interestingly, the only female contestant not part of the “girls’ team” was put in charge of the “boys’ team” and excelled as project manager. Stella English was praised by her team, who had no problems with her leadership.
Unfortunately, the male contestants did decide that as the sole woman in the group, she should don beachwear to advertise their product, resulting in a particularly uncomfortable scene where they urged her to ‘take one for the team’ and wear a bikini – as they smirked and sniggered. Some things never change.
Sunday, 17 October 2010
Stereotypes about the way men and women eat are so easy to reel off that I could be here all day. Men are supposed to love MEAT. Especially BIG STEAKS. And fried breakfasts. Women order salads and nibble Ryvitas while men scoff pasties and chips. We 'indulge' in a 'naughty' biscuit or a 'sinful' chocolate bar. 'Real men' don't eat quiche. Women pick at their food when a man takes them out to a restaurant because they don't want to be seen as 'big eaters'. We love chocolate more than anything else and see cupcakes as an entire lifestyle rather than a sugary snack.
Of course this is all ridiculous and you don't need me to tell you that. I'm not about to start listing all the ways in which I contradict stereotypes about women and food because actually, most people (if they'll admit it) DO contradict these stereotypes in some way. Sadly we all know a lot of people who buy into it and come out with the sort of comments guaranteed to set off my extra special eye roll. The female work colleague who watched a friend tuck into a certain chocolate bar and yelped 'But they're not for girls!'. The men who laughed at my husband for drinking elderflower cordial because apparently such beverages are 'gay'.
It's something I noticed happens a lot when it comes to male/female-only social events within the church. Men get curry nights and prayer breakfasts involving huge platters of bacon and sausages. Women get chocolate fountains and breakfast meetings involving pastries and fruit. Earlier this year, the women in my small group organised a women's get-together in the form of a curry night just to, you know, redress the balance a bit. I'm a big fan of curry and let me tell you, it was a great evening.
Doubtless, this isn't helped by the way food companies market products. Wiseman's article discusses the chocolate industry and the differences between 'masculine' and 'feminine' chocolate bars.
"Jill McCall, brand manager at Cadbury, is careful to point out the difference between the indulgent, feminine bars (Flake, Galaxy) and the masculine "hunger bars" (Boost, Snickers), which are nut-filled and huge, and fill you up rather than provide a girlish "treat", thereby creating markets within markets."Wiseman then lists some of the ways brands market 'male' and 'female' versions of their products - the Kit Kat Chunky and the Kit Kat Senses. The Twix and the new Twix Fino. Of course the calorie and fat content of the 'female' bars is always a key selling point. If you ever see these brands advertised they'll always make a big deal out of it, much the same as with other 'feminine' foods like yoghurt, cereal and cakes.
As the article tells us, boys are socialised from a young age to eat big portions and this has a major impact on the way they see food. Concepts of masculinity usually involve the ability to eat huge platefuls and large amounts of meat or dubious takeaways. On the other hand, women are socialised to associate food with shame, guilt and worry far more about what they should and shouldn't consume. Men might be mocked for eating salad or being vegetarian - and eating for so many women has become an depressing pantomime of not eating a big plateful, vowing to go to the gym later, trying to lose just a couple of pounds before Christmas or the summer or a big night out.
We're living in a culturally rich time, and are more than able to divide food into categories, including one for 'food that people like me eat'. So, men don't eat steak because they are men, men eat steak to show they are men. Women aren't hard-wired to crave dessert – we've learned that women crave dessert, so we follow, mouths open.So there you have it. As is usually the case, men and women aren't really 'hard-wired' to like certain foods at all. Just as my attraction to the colour pink and my ability at maths has nothing to do with cavemen, neither does the way I eat. Not that this fact is going to stop ridiculous advertisements for chocolate and yoghurts or stop people feeling like they can't eat something which somehow marks them out as a traitor to their gender, but we can dream.
Friday, 8 October 2010
I'm already starting to look forward to the build-up to Christmas, pointless 'Winterval' stories galore in the tabloids and people landing on this very blog by searching for 'Is Advent Conspiracy liberal?' or 'Is Advent Conspiracy socialist?'. It's a sad reflection on the attitudes of Christians when an organisation challenges them to spend less on presents and instead donate time or money to helping good causes or their church family - yet all they're worried about is whether or not this is an inherently 'liberal' or 'socialist' act and how awful that is.
Yet again I have some links to share before normal service resumes (hopefully) very soon and depending on how busy I am.
- This Comment is Free piece from earlier in the week entitled 'Feminism's Generation Wars' discusses recently-voiced opinions about supposed tensions between women who were active in the movement 30 and 40 years ago and the younger feminists of today. Unfortunately at times it comes across as reinforcing some problematic attitudes and unfair portrayals of younger feminists.
- An interesting and debate-generating post from RedHeadFashionista about journalists, bloggers and the influence they have, in turn inspired by this post about 'influential bloggers'.
- Today we heard the genuinely sad news that the next issue of Subtext magazine will be the last. Subtext has provided me with interesting reading for a long time now and I know for a fact that Gill and Charlotte's efforts have inspired a lot of women who want to create alternative women's magazines themselves and live in hope that one day we'll see more publications like it.