Archive for the 'Reviews and Recommendations' Category

Women’s Aid charity single

NS November 25th, 2009

TakeMyHandHome

I’ve never done any PR on this site before, mainly because I’ve never received a request that I could really get behind. I don’t want to help people sell more of whatever stuff they’re peddling unless it’s something I genuinely find extra-special or if it’s for a cause I believe in. I don’t even bother replying to ones wanting me to promote this or that DVD or pair of shoes or children’s clothing line. So it was with great pleasure when I read an email asking me to help promote a charity single for Women’s Aid, to celebrate 35 years of the fantastic work they do, and released today, on the International Day for the Elimination of Violence Against Women, which I wrote about yesterday.

Please, take a moment to read more about how you can help Women’s Aid raise some much-needed funds by simply downloading their new charity single on iTunes, for only 79p. I’ve never asked anything monetary of my readers before (and it’s not something I plan on doing very often), but I would be so pleased if I could help such a vital organisation, particularly in light of what happened to me last weekend and the much worse things that  happen to women all over the UK and all over the world, every day.

Thank you.

Women’s Aid release charity single Take My Hand

On Wednesday 25th November 2009, national charity Women’s Aid is celebrating 35 years of working to end violence against women and children by releasing their first charity single, ‘Take My Hand’.

The song has been written especially for the charity to help them raise vital funds to support abused women and children.

The single, which is being released to mark the International Day for the Elimination of Violence Against Women, is sung by 13 year old classical singer Olivia Aaron, with Natasha Benjamin, a real-life survivor of domestic violence.

The song is based on the 2nd movement of Beethoven’s Piano Sonata No. 8, ‘Sonata Pathétique’ and its lyrics are an expression of the emotions experienced by children and young people affected by domestic abuse.

Women’s Aid Chief Executive, Nicola Harwin CBE, said:

“Take My Hand has been written especially for Women’s Aid and reflects the words of families that have survived abuse. The song reflects hope for a future free from violence and we hope it will reach out to those affected by domestic violence as well as the wider public. We want to raise awareness of the support available and raise vital funds so that we can continue to provide these services.”

Domestic violence affects 1 in 4 women at some point in their lifetime and recent statistics[1] from the Women’s Aid Annual Survey show that last year an estimated 18,000 women and 20,000 children lived in refuge accommodation in Women’s Aid’s national network of services.

The launch of Take My Hand on the 25th November marks the beginning of Women’s Aid’s activities to mark the ’16 days of Action’, where the charity will ask the public to help them take action against violence against women and children. For more information on the ‘16 Days of Action’, go to www.womensaid.org.uk from the 15th November.

To buy Take My Hand for 79p, please go to www.womensaid.org.uk/takemyhand

Natasha’s story:

‘I was only with my boyfriend for three weeks when he started to become verbally aggressive. The first time he got aggressive I thought I must have said something that upset him and he went mad. He started throwing things at the walls, even a wine glass that had red wine in it. As I left the room he continued to throw things after me and a glass plate just missed my face.

The first time I did try to get help I was told to leave him, but it was not that easy. When it happened again I told no one, firstly from sheer embarrassment, and later from fear.

One night I woke up with his foot on my face and my boyfriend saying he was going to stamp on me. I had to sleep in contact lenses as it was a common occurrence for him to wake me up with demands or threats. I was so afraid of not being able to see when the assaults took place as I might not be able to get away.

I experienced a severe form of domestic violence that also included a range of abuse, from controlling where I was and what I did, to pulling my hair, to eventually strangulation. My daughter witnessed the abuse and we were both very frightened of what would happen. I was only with him for six months where he nearly killed me.

I stayed in a Women’s Aid refuge which provided us with safety and which gave us the support we needed to rebuild our

lives. I am singing on ‘Take My Hand’ to not only raise vital funds for Women’s Aid but also to provide a message of hope to women and children currently living with violence in the home – thanks to support services provided by Women’s Aid there is hope for a safe future free from fear.’

Elsewhere on the blogosphere

NS August 2nd, 2009

I sometimes write for feminist UK website The F-Word and have a book review up there right now if you fancy reading it. I tried to be nice, I promise! It just didn’t work out so well…

After I saw that my review had gone up, I was looking back at some of the other stuff I’ve written for them and thought I’d post them here for anyone interested. First up, a feature I wrote two years ago on the division of domestic labour and why women are still getting a raw deal in Maid of the Manor.

Next was my most controversial piece, a feature about birth rape called Not a Happy Birthday. A bit of a storm kicked up after that one, resulting in the relatively well-known ‘NHS Blog Doctor’ calling me and another woman who wrote about medical mistreatment and assault “coffee shop feminists” and me an “irrational militant.” Hoo, those were good times, my days as a militant. I think I still have my man-hating ammo belt and femme fatigues somewhere, but I’m too irrational to work out where they are before I go get my next latte. Tee hee!

By the by, The F-Word didn’t take his shit laying down and posted not only a public defense of what we’d written but allowed me to make my own rebuttal. So major props to them for that, especially when the topic isn’t something that’s often been discussed or even acknowleged in feminist circles.

I know some of you might wonder why the hell I bothered taking on that piece-of-work doctor and his bullshit views but the fact that I still get emails from women thanking me for that article and asking me where they can get help for a trauma or assault they suffered during birth makes me so glad I did. This is why I believe that writing IS activism. Sure, it’s important to go out and march and lobby politicians for change and so on, but it’s no less important to simply write about the issues we care about and are passionate about because somehow, in some way, no matter how small, it will connect with someone. It might get them mad, or upset or whatever, but if it gets them thinking and questioning their own beliefs (even if they don’t even up changing them), that’s a good thing as far as I’m concerned. A belief isn’t a CONVICTION until it has been challenged and held fast.

And that’s all I’m here to do, really. Question. Write. Think. Do. Challenge. Learn. And also laugh. Because without that, the others weigh too heavily sometimes.

Just don’t tell anyone about the laughter bit. I don’t want anyone thinking that this coffee shop feminist can have a sense of humour. That’s against the Irrational Militant rules.

The Trouble With (Paying) Women

NS May 20th, 2009

Further to yesterday’s post, I’m offering up my thoughts on part two of The Trouble With Working Women, which aired last night on BBC2. Entitled “Why can’t a woman earn as much as a man?” it tried to find an explanation for the pay gap (currently at 17% in the UK) by interviewing various people and exploring various theories about the “choices” that women make that result in lower status and earnings in the workplace.

Ah, yes. Choices. Women and all of their darn, conflated CHOICES. If I was to drink a shot of alcohol every time that word was bandied about in this type of discussion I’d be doing a Nicholas Cage in Leaving Las Vegas right about now, wandering around the supermarket in a drunken haze, slurring and hiccuping while piling dozens of bottles of Russian vodka into my trolley with merry abandonment.

“What about choices,” you ask? Oh, wherever shall I start? How about with the economist, Dr. Shackleton, who says towards the end of the program that, really, women have made the choice to take lower-level jobs and gone into traditionally female-dominated fields like teaching, nursing and the public sector (which are badly paid) because they get a greater sense of satisfaction out of those roles or because they provide women with the most flexibility. Thefore, according to his astonishingly arrogant and illogical theory, we have effectively made the choice to receive less pay than men.

Clank, clank went my vodka bottle.

After he and the male presenter smugly patted themselves on the back for discovering this phenomenon and solving all our lady angst, they trotted out the arguments always used to defend unequal pay: “But men work more hours than women and don’t take ‘breaks’ to raise children and so they have more experience and are more valuable than women as a whole and (insert more inane myth-spouting here), etc..” Yeah, let me tell you something about those two hours a week that women aren’t in the office when men are. They spend it picking up and dropping off kids, attending appointments and meetings associated with their care or education, doing the shopping, cooking, cleaning and helping with homework. In all, women do about 20 hours of unpaid work for domestic and childcare-related duties each week; men do fewer than 10 on average. 20-10 = 10 hours difference in time spent on household chores, minus 2 hours less at the office, which still equals 8 hours more work per week than men, and unpaid to boot. The fact is, women are doing more work than men, not less. It’s just that domestic labour is not considered “real work” and therefore not taken into account. And as for the patronising drivel that women actively choose roles that pay less because they are more “fulfilling”….well, I think you can see why my vodka bottle was raised again.

Let’s go back a bit now while I digest this potent potato juice.

Towards the beginning of the show we met some of the female machinists at Ford in Dagenham who went on strike in 1968 over pay inequalities between them and male machinists doing similarly skilled work. Even though production at the plant was severely affected and upper management held many ‘talks’ with these ladies in which they promised to increase their pay, it took 16 years and another major strike before they got it. Shameful.

Even more shameful is the present-day situation at Bolton Council, amongst others. Dozens of women who are or were employed by the council are banding together in a class action lawsuit, demanding compensation and redress of the pay discrepancies between them and men of the same skill level. Apparently, what the council had been doing was hiring them in on the same pay but then giving the men “bonuses” that were anywhere between 50-120% of their salary. Clever move on the part of the council, I must say. They thought they’d found a loophole so they could keep screwing women over without getting caught. And now that they have been caught and were told to pay back wages to all its female employees, they’re claiming that there’s just not enough money in their coffers to do so and that it wouldn’t be “fair” to the taxpaying citizens to raise the funds through tax increases. Fair?! FAIR?!! What part of FAIR is screwing women and their families out of hundreds of thousands of pounds over a woman’s working life? £369,000 to be exact. Because that’s how much a woman who works full time can expect to lose out on over the course of her career, due simply to being female. It’s absolutely outrageous and nothing a pompous economist can say will make me think it’s okay or fair, or somehow our own CHOICE.

And…swig. This drinking game is intense!

Another possible explanation we see given in the program is that men are just better at negotiating salary and payrises than women. This might be true in some cases, certainly, because women are taught to be grateful and ‘nice’ as opposed to assertive and selfish (in the good sense of the word — looking out for oneself over others), but it doesn’t account for such huge wage differences as 17%. Besides which, even if women weren’t demanding higher salaries, why is it still okay for businesses to screw them over — just because they can? Why is the onus on women to demand better ethical behaviour from the companies and catch them out instead of on businesses to treat woman as human beings when hiring and paying them?

The icing on the cake was the two presenters at the end discussing their findings and mulling over what it all means, to the strains of violins and laughing children in the background. Sophie, the female presenter, asked some good questions but in the end she just nodded and smiled when jerkface Justin told her that despite all of these pesky pay issues, women lead “richer lives” for being given so many CHOICES (dear god, make it stop!) and for being more involved with their children. Yes, Justin, tell that to the single mother raising three kids and struggling to make ends meet who finds out she’s been getting screwed out of a substantially better paycheque for doing the same work as her male colleagues over the years. I’m sure she’ll just smile and look wistfully into the distance while she muses over how very RICH her life is because of the CHOICE she made to get paid less because she has a uterus.

Unsurprisingly, I say to him: FUCK YOU.

The most sensible and intelligent comment came, not surprisingly, from Minister for Women and Equality, Harriet Harman. She said there is one (and only one) explanation for the disparity between men and women’s wages and it is this: institutional discrimination. You can dress it up in bows, make it into a jigsaw puzzle, a maze, a juggling act, a glass ceiling or any other silly euphemism but the plain and ugly truth is that discrimination against women is so deeply ingrained in so many areas of society and by so many people that all of the documentaries and focus groups and angry blog posts (I’m pretty sure this would count) in the world won’t change working women’s plight.

Until we stop asking that stupid question: “Can women have it all?” and instead start asking “Why do women have to do it all?” we’re infinitely, indefinitely screwed. And I will be drinking vodka for a long, long time to come.

The Trouble With (Working) Women

NS May 19th, 2009

If you didn’t catch it last night on BBC2 (or you’re not in the UK), I highly recommend watching the first in a series for a new documentary called The Trouble With Working Women. Presented by Sophie Raworth and Justin Rowlatt, the first program was entitled “Why can’t a woman succeed like a man?” and explored the issues preventing women from really breaking through the glass ceiling in the professional realm. So many important issues were touched upon, including: maternity leave, sexist attitudes in the workplace, unequal pay, nature vs nuture with regards to gender differences, the effects of gender conditioning in children, how hormones affect the way male and female brains perform different tasks, the public’s attitudes towards women in the workforce, the ‘bottom line’ for businesses vs women’s desire for more flexible working hours and family-friendly practices, working mothers’ guilt, the research into what effects childcare has on children’s brains, and how second wave feminism didn’t really foresee the new set of challenges that mothers would face once they broke into the workplace.

I’ll get into my critique of what they did say in a moment, but first I’d like to address the area I felt was sorely lacking in the documentary. As usual, the fathers’ roles in all of this was hardly mentioned. Yes, there were a couple brief allusions to paternity leave needing to be increased and of men being given the option of more flexible working hours like some women have been, but it was framed in more of a “Ooh, look at the women with their long maternity leaves and four day weeks. It’s practically a vacation! See, men are really the ones getting a raw deal!” kind of frivolous way instead of realising that men’s lack of involvement in the discussion in any meaningful way is a huge factor in working women’s problems. There was no in-depth analysis of how men being willing and able to participate in family life and taking on more domestic responsibilities is extremely crucial to women achieving equality. The fact that there was no mention of the social phenomenon explored in the book of the same name, The Second Shift and how that is one of the leading (if not the most important) factors in why women haven’t been able to fully integrate into the professional world just shows how we still put all of the onus for finding “balance” between family life and career onto women while, for men, things remain largely the same. There is no such term as “working fathers’ guilt” and until there is (or we just eradicate the guilt altogether by taking equal responsibility for children), this discussion is going nowhere.

That said, I was happy to see some more complex issues tackled instead of the usual childcare and maternity leave agenda that only goes in circles and which has been covered a thousand times. Looking at how many of our gender differences are biological and which are a result of our environments was interesting because even when there are small biological differences in how our brains work, the presenters wondered if the only reason these differences are noteworthy is because our society has historically favoured men. My opinion? Hell yes! The very definitions of “success” and “business” and “power” are based on male imperatives. So not only are women struggling against false perceptions of their intelligence and capabilities, but a world that was designed for and by men, with few concessions to women’s strengths. Instead, to be truly successful, one must be like a man to some extent. Women who “think like men” are praised for shrugging off traditional stereotypes of feminine behaviour (because these are associated with weakness), but at the same time are prevented from joining the upper ranks because people tend to personally dislike women who exhibit masculine traits like aggression, direction and focus. Add to this that powerful women are threatening to many men, even the ones who heap praise on her for being “one of the boys” and it’s an extremely frustrating catch-22, one that I was glad to see the documentary touch upon.

This was illustrated perfectly by the female business owner who said she was back at work four days after having a baby because the market just doesn’t allow for any time off, even when that “break” is to give birth to another human, not go for a golfing trip somewhere warm with one’s buddies. More than just history, our capitalistic society is based on male biology. The inclusion of pregnancy, birth, breastfeeding and the demands of caring for small children into a normative and widespread economic structure has remained virtually nonexistent, despite small allowances like a statutory maternity leave and it being illegal to fire a woman due to pregnancy (though the latter still happens frequently). Praising women for being dedicated to their careers by returning to work literally days after giving birth (denying the realities of female biology) but at the same time judging them as substandard mothers who should be at home with their babies is the pinnacle of ridiculousness in the working mothers debate.

Equally ridiculous was the interview with the lady (I can’t remember her name) who set up the first women’s refuges in the UK. Her opinion was that feminism had “gone too far” because now, instead of having a choice in whether to work or stay at home, she felt most women had no choice but to work, that motherhood had been devalued, and that family life as a whole had suffered irreperably. While I can see her point (to a degree) because I agree that too many women’s choices have gone the opposite direction in regards to whether they feel able to choose equally between work or childrearing, and I do think that motherhood and household management have been devalued, I wholly disagree that this is somehow the fault of feminism, or second wave feminists. Again, where is the discussion on changing the entire structure of business to accomodate women, and the serious lack of initiative on men’s part to form a fathers’ movement for equal access to and responsibility for their children? The only time we see fathers publicly fighting for the right to their children is when they’re entirely taken away from them as a result of divorce (Fathers4Justice, anyone?).

But why does it take them being completely removed before they put up a fight? Where are the outspoken denouncements of men pressured to work increasingly long hours to increase their employers’ profits, taking time away from their domestic duties and quality time with their kids and decreasing the likelihood that their partners will be successful and fulfilled in their careers? Where is the outrage over media portrayals of women as long-suffering carers who act as the glue holding the family together and men as inadequate, inept and hopelessly selfish when it comes to raising children? Why are feminists expected to tackle all of these issues, and more, while many men are happy to just sit back and wait for others to bring about change that they are perhaps not even socially invested in? Could it be that they don’t want things to change? I mean, it would mean more sweeping, shopping and nappy-changing, after all, and that’s women’s stuff. A lot of men, no matter how much they love their children and respect their partners, still subconsciously think of these things as Not Their Problem. The number of times I’ve seen or heard males purporting to be feminists or feminist-supporters bemoan the way THEY are treated and marginalised on the domestic front but instead of doing something about it expect women to, once again, do the dirty work….well, let’s just say I’d be stinking rich if I got a pound in each instance. Talk about a second shift! Women are expected to work all day and then come home and run the household and fight for social change for women and then for men too. In our spare time, of course.

Step up, brothers! It’s time to be fathers. Step up, husbands! It’s time to be partners.

Until the discourse on ‘working mothers’ is changed at a fundamental level, making it a discussion on working parents that holds men just as accountable as women for how they will balance their professional and personal lives, documentaries like this, although interesting and thoughtful, will continue to create more questions than they answer and put the burden squarely on women’s already laden shoulders.

Part Two, entitled “Why can’t a woman earn as much as a man?” will air tonight at 9pm on BBC2. More commentary to come tomorrow.

The rags I read

NS March 15th, 2009

I’m a huge magazine reader. As early as middle school, I loved to flip through the pages of various glossies. Back then, I read the insipid tween and teen magazines aimed at girls and young women. I read them not because I really wanted fashion tips, makeup lessons and to learn about my latest celebrity crush (because I rarely got those), but because that was all that was available to me. I found them quite boring but something about the way magazines are written, laid out and packaged — even the way they smell and feel — held a certain allure for me. Even when my appetite for books was at its most voracious, I never stopped flipping through those smooth magazine pages.

When I got to college I moved on from the Glamour and Cosmo crowd and started reading Vanity Fair, Rolling Stone, US News and World Report and The Onion. Slightly more grown up but still not hitting all the right marks. I have yet to find the perfect, dream magazine that covers all my favourite topics but for that I am glad. I like reading a variety of sources to get a broad spectrum of ideas, though now that magazines are so expensive it makes it slightly more painful to my wallet. I do, of course, read a lot of online magazines as well but I still savor the experience of physically turning the pages of my favourite rags (called so with great affection, not disdain) and consider it a leisure activity in its own right.

Henceforth (can I say that without sounding really strange/old fashioned/pretentious?), I’m sharing the list of my current favourites, both print and online. Check some out if you’ve got the time and inclination.

The Green Parent — “Raising kids with conscience”
Politick! — “A new cross-party magazine of political gossip, scussion, interviews, satire and opinion for the new generation of politicos”
Bad Idea — “The smart option. Young journalism. Ideas. Opinion”
Ms. — “More than a magazine — a movement”
Mslexia — “For women who write”
Adbusters — “Journal of the mental environment”
Mothering — “Inspiring natural families since 1976″
Brain, Child — “The magazine for thinking mothers”
Hip Mama — “A feminist parenting zine for all kinds of families”
Mother Jones — “Smart, fearless journalism” (online only)
Common Dreams — “Join the movement. For the greater good” (online only)

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