Adventures at "Christian Summer Camp"

Thursday, 25 August 2011

This month, the Guardian featured two differing views on "Christian summer camps" for young people just before I was set to go on holiday - a negative piece from Thomas Prosser, published first, followed by a response from Steve Clifford. Both interested me as the example Prosser focused on was that of Soul Survivor, the organisation whose events I have attended and participated in for eight years now - and the organisation whose summer festival for 20 and 30-somethings, Momentum, was what I was due to head off to.

So what was it all about, this week of brainwashing made palatable by trendy guitar music and "yoof lingo" (as Prosser would have you believe)? Or as Clifford described, was it more of a revolutionary call to inward transformation and action in the community? As I'm heavily biased with a distinct agenda I lean towards the latter, but with good reason. Soul Survivor's festivals aren't for everyone nor should they be immune to criticism but I genuinely believe that the organisation is brilliant at what it does.

I saw a threefold focus this week - on living like Jesus, looking to God and Biblical example through all circumstances, and mobilising delegates to go out into the world and be proactive in realising and living out our callings - the last point being something greatly emphasised (hence "Momentum"). This played out through teaching on the life of Paul and lessons we can learn from his ministry (Andy Croft), through teaching on "living in the desert" drawing on various examples from the Old Testament (Mike Pilavachi), through teaching on Jesus's commands to action and sending out of the disciples and the way this is so important to us now (Danielle Strickland). Twitter has led me to a guy who has helpfully typed up all his notes from the main meetings and seminars he attended and shared them on Tumblr - do have a read if you want to know more because it saves me doing a lot of typing.

Outside of main meetings, there were 80-something seminars and so much to choose from. I ended up mixing things I'm familiar with and wanted to get fresh perspectives on with encountering some new faces and for the first time, material focused on leadership in a general sense. So while this all led me to tried and tested major inspirations Elaine Storkey on the "unchurched, deadchurched and dechurched", Jo Saxton on leading as a woman and Roger and Maggie Ellis on communication within marriage, it also led me to new finds - Patrick Regan from youth charity XLP on politics, discussing responses to the London riots and showing us footage of him in 2007, discussing with politicians the fact that if nothing was done about societal inequalities in London, there would be dire consequences within a few years. It led me to Danielle Strickland speaking on trafficking. This woman is awesome; she's even managed to use cupcakes for non-nefarious purposes - as part of an initiative helping women to exit prostitution and supporting those working in brothels, if you're wondering.

I think things managed to strike a good balance between "meaty" and "chilled" this past week. Here's the thing: I am a geek - and I like teaching which leaves me with several pages of notes and something approaching exegesis-induced brain overload. And quite possibly a reading list with a section headed "heavy" (as I left Graham Cray's seminar on women and leadership holding). I also like simple and straightforward points with real life examples, which focus on the application or exhortation of a specific verse. Via main meetings and seminars I was able to learn from both - and I believe that the two ways of teaching are important and really valid, particularly where young people at different stages of faith are concerned. There's no point in overwhelming, but there must also be challenges.

Aside from the teaching, worship and speakers, I wanted to take some time to explain a bit about why I support Soul Survivor's work. Not because I have some sort of vested interest, because I don't. I'm just writing from a place of knowing what an impact the organisation has had on my life and the lives of some of my friends, and the lives of other people it works with and helps.

Five things Soul Survivor does really well 

1) A passion for young people, their lives and their potential. The work done by Soul Survivor - its summer festivals, partnerships and teaching focus - is geared towards teens and people in their 20s and 30s, who are encouraged to step out, develop their gifts, get stuck in and make a difference. Additionally, the difficult issues faced by these age groups aren't ignored and there is also a real commitment to addressing them in a productive yet non-judgmental way. The organisation's commitment to this generation is clear to see from the enthusiasm of its key figures.

2) A focus on justice. Soul Survivor recognises that social justice should not be the sole focus of Christian life, but as an organisation it's really committed to making activism and global issues a major part of life for young people. There's its long-running partnership with Tearfund through the Soul Action campaign and Soul Action's new What If? campaign, which focuses on human trafficking and was launched at Momentum. Throughout the week we heard from long-time friends of Soul Survivor working for justice in many areas of the world and as always, there were plenty of organisations on site promoting their work - from fighting poverty and calling for tax justice to helping asylum seekers and working with disadvantaged young people in our cities. On one hand, I look at all these opportunities and get ever so slightly jealous, because my mortgage and my office job mean I can't get involved with most of those trips and internships and programmes. But I also know that Soul Survivor really fosters a sense of caring about justice in delegates - underlining that there are opportunities for all to get involved with the causes they're passionate about.

3) An atmosphere of fellowship. One of the things that always moves me about the summer festivals is seeing people who are going through tough situations and making hard decisions being really supported and looked after by their friends. This sounds incredibly cheesy - as if we all head off down to the West Country for five days of vomit-inducing Christian love once a year, but that's not what I mean. Even though people giving out "free hugs" are a common site at the Bath and West Showground in August. There's a real sense of brotherhood and sisterhood and all being part of one body. Great efforts are also made to create a safe space to deal with issues and hurt. No hype; no manipulation; careful explanation of what's happening; support from the leadership team and suitable processes in place.

4) A positive attitude towards gender equality. Because I bet you were wondering if I might just get to the end of a post without mentioning those two words. Seriously - I'm really proud to support an organisation that is committed to a belief that all roles in the church are open to men and women and also to supporting and training women with a call to leadership. As far as I know, Soul Survivor decided to explore making a firm commitment to gender equality after a time of ministry at Momentum several years ago revealed the extent of female delegates' struggles and hurt with this issue. This has translated into seminars, the one day conference, Equal, which I attended in June, right down to some really great women speaking on the main stage - and there are plans to expand on the "Equal" theme with discipleship networks and mentoring. It needs to be emphasised that all this is done in a way which doesn't attack those who disagree, but sets out a firm stance on what's at stake.

5) A commitment to ecumenism. This is pretty simple. I'm big on co-operation and fellowship between denominations, groups, and different types of churches. I don't want to hear partisan rhetoric, I don't want to hear particular churches or groups of believers criticised or mocked from the main stage, and I don't want entire denominations or organisations denounced as "dead" or picked apart over doctrinal disputes. Disagreements are to be expected and totally fine. Particular behaviours arising from such disagreements are not. Furthermore, I don't think elitism is a very effective way to work with young people. And so this week I've met people from a variety of churches, seen loads of people in Methodist hoodies, actually, (was this just me?), heard messages from a Salvation Army Captain and took communion presided over by a bishop (as Catholic delegates also took communion of their own). Not once did I see someone make the Face of Distaste when a particular denomination is mentioned, or make a sermon all about how another group of churches have "gone wrong". And I'm really, really okay with that. Long may it continue.

Image via plinkk's Flickr

Feminism's back! Again!

Wednesday, 17 August 2011

If feminism has been in "resurgence" mode for nigh on a decade, why is it still treated as some new fad? 

Last weekend, around 500 people travelled to Birmingham for the second Summer School run by UK Feminista, the organisation which brings together people interested in gender equality and equips them for action. I couldn't make it this time - although I attended last year and had a fantastic weekend. This year's delegates spent two days attending workshops and discussions on topics such as running a feminist group, effective campaigning and engaging with the media. I followed the action via Twitter and was pleased to see so many people coming away inspired and equipped.

I was also pleased to see Summer School, for the second year running, getting some positive attention in the press. But why, yet again, the familiar tone of "recent resurgence", of "new groups", of beliefs being "repackaged" thanks to "the new feminists"? 

Wasn't that the case last year, when we saw a pile of fabulous books discussing 21st century feminism published and The Guardian declared that "Feminism is not finished"? Wasn't that the case in 2008, when the first annual Million Women Rise march took place in London? Wasn't it the case in 2007, when the Observer profiled BitchBuzz's Cate Sevilla in a feature entitled "The new feminists"? What about in 2004, when Reclaim the Night London was revived and UK Feminista founder Kat Banyard put on her first feminist conference?

You get the picture. It must have been some time around 2004 when I first started looking into feminist resources on the internet and noticed that there were new conferences, regional groups and networks starting to pop up. Today, there are many, many more - thanks, of course, to this "resurgence". But as Kat Banyard said in an interview before this year's Summer School:

"We've got this massive resurgence in feminism and the question is not now 'Does it exist?' but 'What can it achieve?'".

Unfortunately, despite the best intentions to give the movement publicity and chronicle an exciting time for women, the media is still somewhat stuck on "Does it exist?" The conclusion reached, of course, is always "yes", but it's still hard to find coverage which looks past the idea of "the new feminism" as a some sort of fad and delves deeper than portraying it as "Fresh! Rebranded! Cool again! Look what these girls are getting up to!" and ignoring wider issues while also discounting women who have gone before in the process, sometimes resorting to referring to them only as negative stereotypes: those crusty second-wave bra burners.

I know it's often trying to portray the movement in a positive way and support all that's happening. But it's getting a bit old.

Part of it's down to the media's taste for the titillating. Remember when pretty much every single newspaper and news site obsessed over Slutwalk and the protest against the opening of the new Playboy club in London? But of course! It gave them the opportunity to talk about sex and feature pictures of women wearing skimpy outfits. Where are the tabloid spreads when the "new feminists" are talking about the role of women in the Arab Spring or assessing the impact of government cuts on women? Exactly. Reclaim the Night marches have always aimed to address the same issues as Slutwalk, but very few people mentioned this in all the furore about using the word "slut".

The fact is, it won't be long before "the new feminism" is a decade old. Right now, it's not quite there, but its achievements are many and it's engaged a new generation of women with gender equality issues. It's provided a voice against misogyny and a sense of community for those who want to do something when they hear about funding cuts to women's services or the shameful rape conviction rate or see a lack of options available to their young daughters. True, the media's interest in feminism really has returned in the last two or three years - and this in turn has inspired many young women, but let's not forget all the women, groups and events that have been paving the way for longer than that.

Come on, newspapers, let's move past the fad of  "the resurgence among young women" and towards recognising that gender equality is for everyone, helps everyone and isn't just some trend, something to cover in what is essentially the same article, a two or three times a year. It's really great when you give the movement coverage, but it's time to diversify.

This "rebranding" has been going on for a long time now; I think it's safe to say that we're not just "back" - we never went away. Yes, there's been a resurgence in activism getting mainstream media attention. But stop acting so surprised and consider, as Kat Banyard said, what it can achieve.

This post originally appear at BitchBuzz. Image via sizemore's Flickr.

This is a round-up

Monday, 15 August 2011

The Independent - Caring costs - but so do riots

"It's not one occasional attack on dignity, it's a repeated humiliation, being continuously dispossessed in a society rich with possession. Young, intelligent citizens of the ghetto seek an explanation for why they are at the receiving end of bleak Britain, condemned to a darkness where their humanity is not even valued enough to be helped."

Barbara Ehrenreich for CiF - How America criminalised poverty 
"In defiance of all reason and compassion, the criminalisation of poverty has actually intensified as the weakened economy generates ever more poverty. So concludes a recent study from the National Law Centre on Poverty and Homelessness, which finds that the number of ordinances against the publicly poor has been rising since 2006, along with the harassment of the poor for more "neutral" infractions like jaywalking, littering, or carrying an open container."

Ekklesia - Rich thugs, poor thugs  

"I oppose the corporations who have looted the treasury through their tax avoidance, the bankers who assaulted society through the financial crash and the arms dealers who profit from selling weapons to tyrants. I oppose Cameron, Clegg and their gang of thugs who are launching a daily assault on the poorest members of society with their vicious cuts to public services and the welfare state."

Rachel Held Evans - My story is more interesting than that  

"I am not a supporting character in a story that a man is writing. 
My story is more interesting than that. 

I am not defined by my sexuality, my past, my marital status, or my body. 
My story is more interesting than that. 

I have not cried into my pillow waiting for someone else to give me purpose and direction in life. 
My story is more interesting than that." 

Elizabeth Esther - How to live a good love story: a top-eleven list for my daughters 

"1. Avoid advice from middle-aged, unmarried men who have yet to live one successful love story. 
2. Be wary of the man who always refers to women as “girls.”..."

Another Angry Woman - When not reporting a rape seems like a sensible option  

"Layla Ibrahim was attacked and raped by two men. She was courageous enough to report this to the police, even though the police had a track record of repeatedly arresting her twelve year old brother and failing her sister after a beating, due to being a mixed-race family in a predominately white area. Despite overwhelming forensic evidence, the police chose not to believe Layla. She was sent to prison for three years."

The F Word - When we are very wrong  

"We must always respect the lived experience of those we have privilege over, and take note when they take the time to tell us about it. So if a black woman challenges something racist said by a white woman, or a disabled woman challenges a disablist attitude, or a working class woman challenges middle class privilege, it is time to listen."

Thought Catalog - Surviving an 80s childhood  

"If you survived a childhood in the 80s, you’re probably starting to feel a bit long in the tooth, even though you’re not really. You just can’t help feeling old when you’re at a bar and you meet someone who was born in 1993. If you survived a childhood in the 80s, you may, from time to time, wonder what growing up with an iPhone, Katy Perry and the Internet must be like, and how you survived without all the things that seem so intrinsic to your survival now." 

Thought Catalog - Surviving a 90s puberty

"You wish could still throw your phone against a wall and it wouldn’t break. You miss how everything was riddled with layers of meaning, and you probably have a secret yearning for the earnestness of the decade that defined your coming of age. You revel in having grown up through the 90s, because it’s sort of like being part of a secret, special club that no one understands except the ones that were there with you, and even still they don’t really understand you; because despite your cynicism, you still hold onto a scrap of that poor, tortured, isolated, misunderstood soul a puberty in the 90s gave you."

Cosmopolitics - Fundamentally fearful fashion

"What’s ‘fun’ or ‘fearless’ (hah!) about feeling unable to wear even a loose, opaque, drapy garment without an expensive, uncomfortable underdress to control your unacceptable (and entirely natural) curves? Curves which you’re elsewhere instructed to ‘flaunt’: wearing nothing but a bra (‘be sure to flaunt the cutest of bras!’ Let’s infantilise feminine sexuality!) and an unbuttoned cardi, apparently, is a good idea."

Are women deserting the church - and what can be done?

Wednesday, 10 August 2011

If you mention the issue of gender differences and church attendance to a group of Christians, chances are they'll start mentioning how congregations generally have far more women than men; how men have left the church in droves in the past couple of decades; they'll mention "the feminization" of the church.

Back in June when I attended the conference on gender and the Bible put on by the Sophia Network, I was surprised to hear one of the speakers talking about the major problem of women in their 20s and 30s leaving the church, and going through some of what she believed were the reasons this is happening. I was surprised, not because I didn't believe her, but because it's not something you hear a lot about. What we've seen in response to the alleged "feminization" of the church is teaching and events which glorify masculinity, promote traditional gender stereotypes with a "trendy" edge, and go out of their way to appeal to the modern man and what he feels comfortable with.This isn't always helpful. I think it can and has led to some problematic ways of doing things and reaching out to communities taking hold. It's high time that we saw some deeper analysis of what's really going on in the church today with regard to gender disparity and the appeal different ways of "doing" church holds.

Yesterday I found out via a post by Sharon Hodde Miller on the Her.meneutics blog that his month has seen the publication of a report on gender and religious belief by The Barna Group, part of their State of the Church series which has examined trends in religion over the past 20 years. Although this is a small survey which obviously shouldn't be used to pass judgment on the church as a whole it's really interesting to note what the research found.Among those surveyed, church attendance had dropped by 11 percentage points since 1991 for women, but by six percentage points for men. And while the proportion of "unchurched" men was found to have risen by nine percentage points since 1991, the increase for women was 17%. Bible reading among women had plummeted by 10% among women, so that 40% of those surveyed read the Bible at some point during a typical week, compared to 41% of men (showing no change from 1991 and 2001).

The survey also detailed the fact that although women were at one time relied on as the "backbone" of church life, volunteering, helping out and providing hospitality, this is no longer the case, with a 9% drop in women volunteering at their church.

I wonder to what extent statistics like these are influenced by the drive to get men back into church - and the resulting books and articles we've seen which have criticised churches for being "too feminized", encouraged leadership to focus on building up and empowering men and displaying a scornful attitude towards all things "girly". I also wonder to what extent a drop in attendance and volunteering has been influenced by greater demands on our time ("having it all" takes up most of the day, don't you know), meaning that people want more of their free time to themselves, or don't want to get up early at weekends.

But let's say there is some truth in these statistics, that the church has lost male and female members but that women are now leaving at a greater rate than men. How could this be addressed? Miller rightly says:
"The decline of one gender in the church should not be the catalyst that launches concerted outreach."

While looking to appeal to a certain demographic, the church should not run the risk of excluding others in the community. So how can this be done without shutting people out?

1) Appealing to women from all walks of life, accepting different personalities and giftings. At the Sophia Network conference, providing networking and support to women working in the City through groups that meet or breakfast or at lunchtime in Central London was mentioned as just one example of this, just one example of working with the free time that people have. Miller's post brings up an important point in relation to this issue - " order to communicate with increasingly educated and professional women, Christian women must be able to articulate what they believe and why. How is the church equipping women for this?". There must be efforts made not to bring down and disapprove of women who have "a career" and enjoy their job, which is liable to happen in churches which are more conservative on gender roles. It's also useful to consider the different things extroverted and introverted people might be looking for in a church.

2) Showing a commitment to including the generation which is supposedly leaving the church - those in their 20s and 30s - and investing in their talents. Many women in this age group are neither married nor mothers and an incessant focus on marriage and children is particularly alienating. Trying not to focus all women's events and Bible studies on "family and home" is a good start - we do have other interests and areas of gifting! An outlook which leaves unmarried women unable to lead or take initiative in any way is also unhelpful here, as is a focus on marrying as young as possible. As Miller says:"How might a newly converted, female CEO find her gifts expressed in an evangelical church? How might a woman with financial savvy or her own law practice be able to serve her local congregation? Will these women be welcomed as resources, or ignored and untapped?"

3) Making an effort to include more women in church activities. I can't tell you how much my heart sinks when I see that the only options for learning together and socialising as women in a church are through mum-and-baby/toddler groups or Bible study/prayer groups which meet only during working hours. My heart soars when I see events scheduled in the evenings or at weekends, because although baby groups and daytime events are great (and an opportunity for friendship and support which I will no doubt avail myself of in the future, should I find myself able to), women like me - and the women who are my friends and colleagues - can't go to them. Similarly, if there are weekend or evening events, they don't always need to involve cupcakes and manicures. I have said this before, but I'd love camping trips and curry nights too.

4) Respecting female members of the congregation (and potential members of the congregation) by not preaching that being "like a woman" is synonymous with "traits which are undesirable or worthy of mockery". I cannot stress the importance of promoting equality and standing against misogyny. Today's 20 and 30-somethings have also been made wary of the church by scandals, spiritual abuse and lack of integrity, which is worth remembering. It's one of the cheesiest and overused clichés, but being authentic and operating with integrity is vital.

Some of the comments on Miller's post provided examples applicable to these points and are really worth reading. Women cited a pressure to marry and have children, male-dominated church culture, busy lives, churches trying to pigeonhole them into certain areas of serving, being introverted, and not wanting their daughters to be made to feel inferior due to their gender as reasons they had been "burned" by the church. One commenter noted sadly that this research had been interpreted by some bloggers as showing that now is the time for men to "take back the church", seeing as women are leaving it. This could not be more wrong.

Image via Beaverton Historical Society's Flickr.

Problems with faith-based crisis pregnancy centres exposed

Wednesday, 3 August 2011

Yesterday the Guardian published the results of a survey of ten faith-based and anti-choice crisis pregnancy centres (CPCs), which has been carried out by Education for Choice in the wake of the government's decision to consider offering counselling roles outside of the NHS to organisations such as Life and Care Confidential. Such a move would be at the expense of impartial services such as those run by Marie Stopes and the British Pregnancy Advisory Service (BPAS).

What Education for Choice discovered in the course of its research is, quite frankly, horrendous. The inclusion of Life on the government's new Independent Advisory Group on Sexual Health and HIV has been hailed as a victory by the anti-choice camp, and has also been welcomed by those who feel that all viewpoints should be given a say on the matter. The problem here is that instead of providing "impartial" advice and truly wishing to help women, it's clear that this is far from what's happening at many CPCs.

"A survey of 10 centres operated by Christian and anti-abortion organisations found evidence in most of them of poor practice and factually incorrect advice, while the quality of counselling differs widely. Advice ranged from scaremongering – linking abortion with breast cancer, for example – to actions apparently designed to steer women away from abortion, such as showing them baby clothes..."

For a start, the fact that organisations like Life are strictly anti-choice should not ever mean that they are free to offer misinformation and manipulative actions as a response to women who may be vulnerable, making a difficult choice, unsure about the facts or looking for support. Faith-based groups have got history with this - think of the way many of the groups involved with abstinence education in the USA built education programs for teens around informing them that any sexual activity would give them cancer, make them infertile and leave them unable to find a partner to marry. There needs to be a commitment to offering correct information which values facts over religious agenda and there is simply no excuse for some of this "information" being given out to people:

"At a Life centre in Covent Garden, London, the undercover researcher was given a leaflet entitled Abortions – How they're Done, which said incorrectly that 85% of abortions are carried out using vacuum aspiration. It stated that 'the unborn child is sucked down the tube' and that 'the woman should wear some protection. She has to dispose of the corpse.'"

What was also clear from Education for Choice's investigations is that many CPC counsellors appear to be lacking the training and information needed to appropriately respond to clients (although staff at two centres were reported to have given good and helpful advice):

"When asked whom to talk to about arranging an abortion, the counsellor stated that the organisation was pro-life and could not recommend any service. She claimed not to know the names of abortion providers."

A counsellor at one centre under the direction of Life "repeatedly suggested the client should wait two to three weeks before making her decision on abortion". I don't need to spell out the impact this could have in terms of taking women further into a pregnancy and closer to the upper limits of legality.

One counsellor at a centre overseen by Care Confidential - which, according to its website, offers "unbiased counselling" - "did not know the legal time limit for abortion, claimed that there were no statistics on the number of women who have terminations and had little idea about local services". The undercover researcher was also given an "abortion recovery" manual which stated:

"If we are to walk this journey with a woman then we need to clearly see which boundaries she has crossed … immorality, coveting, lying, as well as taking innocent life."

I have no doubt that some women do feel upset and ashamed after having made the choice to have an abortion and that in these circumstances they should have full support available to them - and yes, faith-based support if they feel comfortable with this. But each case is different and it simply isn't right to treat all women as sufferers of this fictional "post-abortion syndrome". I believe that even those who believe abortion is always the wrong decision to make need to be educating women responsibly. It's appropriate for them to outline their agenda as an organisation but never to use this as a front for lying and refusing to help people. It's not, in my opinion, appropriate to distribute materials defined by faith-based jargon and principles to those who might have no experience of that particular religion and no affiliation with it, while offering no additional information.

It is especially inappropriate when you consider the endorsement of such organisations by politicians such as Nadine Dorries as "balanced, impartial, accountable and caring", while BPAS et al are denounced as having a "vested interest".

As a Christian it concerns me that these reports are increasingly aligning faith-based services in the UK with manipulation and misinformation. There needs to be a responsibility to speak the truth and not hide behind the label of "impartiality" while providing counselling which is anything but. I have no desire to attack groups for holding pro-life views, but research like this makes it hard for me to accept much of what they're doing. I'm sure it's possible to espouse a "pro-life" message without resorting to distorting medical facts and statistics. CPCs need to be clear about where they stand, but also that they are willing to help women and tell the truth. Promoting guilt and shame isn't the answer and it has potentially damaging consequences for women who are dealing with additional issues such as mental health problems, pregnancy resulting from rape, or domestic violence.

A spokesperson for Care Confidential has apologised for the services researched by Education for Choice and says that a "full review of quality control, training and support" will be carried out, including rewriting training manuals to reflect diversity of faith in society. I hope that with rising public awareness of what CPCs do, they will commit to training counsellors to give advice tailored to their clients' needs and make a move away from such obvious misinformation.

Read the executive summary of Education for Choice's report here.

Photo via benuski's Flickr.

FT reports "elite" schools openly offering up attractive pupils for results day photos

Tuesday, 2 August 2011

In case any of you happen to have missed this earlier today (I was tweeting about it during my commute), here are a few interesting snippets of information relating to the annual media cringe-fest that has, in recent years, come to be known as "Sexy A-Levels Day".

As we're all aware, there are certain stories guaranteed to appear in the national media around the middle of August every year, when the nation's Sixth Formers receive their exam results. There's the standard coverage of rising numbers of passes and top grades, complete with outraged opinion pieces on "Why today's exams are worthless and dumbed-down". There's the "Behold! A ludicrously clever family!" story, in which a set of twins or triplets manages about 20 A grades between them. As a variation on this theme we also have "Behold! A ludicrously clever child!" in which we'll meet little Johnny, ten years old and collecting his top marks in maths and further maths.

And then, across local and national papers alike, we'll see almost identical photographs showcasing gangs of attractive blonde girls (with an occasional brunette for variety - if you want to see boys, forget about it) grinning, hugging, jumping up and down and brandishing envelopes.

Last year we saw such photographs compile for the first time on the Sexy A-Levels Tumblr, "a blog exploring the hypothesis that UK newspapers believe that only attractive girls in low-cut tops do A-Levels".

Now last year, someone I know saw that I'd linked this blog and was quick to denounce it as ridiculous. Why would the media do that?! Why would schools want anything to do with it if that was the case?! According to a story appearing in the Financial Times yesterday, schools aren't just happily going along with the media obsession, they're pandering to it.

In "We're just not that kind of newspaper" (free registration required to read), Chris Cook explains that "a little cadre of English private schools compete to supply attractive young women to the national press". He mentions that Bedales School never sends out pictures of its male pupils receiving exam results, and recalls a voicemail message he received from Badminton School last year:

“'Hi Chris, . . .Just wanting to give you some details of some absolutely beyootiful girls we’ve got here who are getting their A-level results tomorrow.'”

It's bad enough that certain schools seem to be promoting students as good "results day" material based on looks, but it gets worse. Cook continues:

"Most alarmingly, another (very grand) private school invited the FT education correspondent to an end-of-year sports event. I was, alas, too busy. It was a shame, I was informed by a senior teacher. He said that watching the girls playing sports would have given me a unique opportunity to pick out promising candidates for A-level day pictures."

How inappropriate. And indeed, creepy. And most likely against the supposed values of such schools, which usually make plenty of noise about an encouraging atmosphere, open-minded acceptance, and support for individuality in the "ethos" sections of their prospectuses.

Image via hammersmithandfulham's Flickr.

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