Is my kids’ school telling girls they need to be thin?

My stepdaughters’ school has decided to introduce a nice, smart new uniform – which has got my goat because staff persistently told parents it would only be for students starting the school in/after September 2014 and now it will be for all pupils, new and existing.

Anticipating the backlash over the expense, the school has managed to persuade the organisation which runs the Academy it is part of to cover the cost of blazers and ties – but not shirts.

I spent almost £35 per child on shirts when they started the school and bought sizes aimed at making sure they’d last the whole four years – because the school insisted on branded shirts with the school logo on rather than the inexpensive kind I could buy in a three pack at the supermarket. So I’m not best pleased at £70 down the drain and having to dig in my pocket for more new shirts.

I also think that if a school can find a big chunk of money seemingly out of thin air then that money should be spent on educating my girls rather than clothing them in this new, but at the end of the day not vital, uniform.

 

New uniform: for girls this will consist of a smile, a small waist and long legs.

New uniform: for girls this will consist of a smile, a small waist and long legs.

 

As if all that weren’t irksome enough I decided to have a look at the school’s website to see if they had posted an image of the new uniform. They had. I must admit I think it looks very smart but then I looked closer and it struck me just how long-legged and thin the girl looks and yet also curvy – and how she is also smiling while her male counterpart looks very straight-faced. This bothered me.

Whether intentional or not it seems to be sending a message to female students about femininity. Firstly – the girl is in a skirt. There is no corresponding image of a girl in trousers. Then there’s the body shape – like a mannequin – all (subjectively) idealised proportions. Finally the smile – because girls and women are expected to always return smiles and look happy and cheerful at all times. Or else face those exasperating, “Cheer up. It might never happen,” comments.

Maybe I’m an ‘old’ feminist over-reacting (no, I don’t really believe that either) but these seemingly innocent little sketches are just the kind of image that littered the magazines I read as a kid and made me feel bad about my puppy fat and as if I wasn’t a normal girl – so I think the school, especially in these more impact-of-body-image-on-children aware times and after months of apparent consultation on the new uniform, should have spent a little longer making sure the sketch portrayed a more average-looking students.

Instead, not only do the little darlings have to cope with going from a fairly casual polo shirt type uniform into something that (certainly around here) makes them look more like a buttoned-up public school kid, but they also have to feel bad about not having a tiny waist, giraffe-like legs and a perpetually smiley fizzog.

It’s time schools woke up to the effect that gender stereotyping has. Not just on the girls who are bashed with it but on society as a whole and the lot of all girls and women well into in the future.

 

Stop writing mothers out of history

I know…it’s been forever but I am back!

I used to be vehemently anti-marriage in a ‘We don’t need a piece of paper from the City Hall’ kind of way – and beyond. Marriage treated women like men’s possessions. The ridiculous surname changing (yes – from one man’s name to another), the father of the bride ‘giving away’ his daughter as if he owns her, the virginal white wedding dress blah blah bleurgh! However, I mellowed with age, realised that (the above aside) being married gives you legal protection that co-habitation doesn’t – and most importantly – I met a man who treated me with respect and love and who sees me as an independent and equal person. Reader, I married him.

We’d been together nearly five years, but he put a lot of thought into proposing and picked a memorable and significant place to do it. It was romantic and exciting and the cherry on the cake was that we managed to book the registrar to marry us on the 5th anniversary of our first date. Don’t be sick – but I was thrilled – until the shine was taken off by going to register our marriage when I found out that Official Records have no interest in the person who carried you in their womb for nine months.

All they care about is the name of the father. I was deflated. Not because of any problem in my relationship with my Dad (he was a fantastic father) but because I have two parents – one of whom literally supported me in the nine months before I existed as a person. Who sacrificed her bodily autonomy for all those months to give me life. After which I didn’t even have the common decency to come out of the hole when I should. No. I had to be cut out. (And yes, I proceeded to be just as stubborn for the rest of my life).

What made matters worse, for me, is that both my parents are dead – and yet I couldn’t have them both there as represented by the official record of my marriage – only my father. And the registrar was quite snotty when I asked about it. As if I’d asked if I could sign the official register in faeces.

Pic courtesty of www.srime.com

Pic courtesty of http://www.srime.com

I’d be lying if I said it ruined my wedding day. It didn’t. My engagement, my wedding and my honeymoon were all brilliant – but it bothers me that the State, in the 21st Century when we have supposedly achieved equality, is content not just to ignore women but to diminish the existence of mothers by in effect writing them out of a crucial part of an individual’s personal history. It’s not just wrong. It’s ridiculous.

So I was over the moon to come across this petition started by Ailsa Burkimsher Sadler who is calling on the Equalities Minister Maria Miller to rectify the situation.

Obviously we need to be realistic about when this change can happen. We are still living in tricky economic times and although this is an important issue I’m sure we could all live if the Government said, “Yes. You’re right. This is outrageous! We will change the law so that mother’s names may be put on marriage certificates but… erm it will cost a bit to set it all up in practice so we might have to change the law now but enact the whole thing in a couple of years when we’ve got a bit more money.” I could live with that.

But I don’t want to have to put up with women being blatantly discriminated against by the State because someone can’t be bothered to bring marriage certificates into the 21st Century. So come on Minister, it’s time to say I do.

You can find – and sign – the petition here.

Representations of women

What do you think this leaflet is advertising?

What do you think this leaflet is advertising?

I found this leaflet a couple of years ago – at a beer festival if I remember correctly – and re-found it this week in a folder full of stuff. What do you think it is about? (Please do add comments to this as I am interested to know your thoughts).

It is a recruitment leaflet for the Round Table which is a sort of social club that does a lot of charity fundraising work – but is a men only organisation.

I remember reading the leaflet and being shocked that the Round Table was men only and then being angry that a sexualised image of a woman was being used to try and sell that organisation.

I will issue a disclaimer here that this leaflet is – as mentioned above – a couple of years old and the RT may well have seen the error of its ways and dropped this campaign but it is still an example of how mainstream it is to exploit women’s sexuality to sell things.

If we picked a group based on nationality or race and continually used images of members of that group in this way would that be ok? Of course it wouldn’t. There would be justifiable – and necessary – uproar. So why is it ok to use women – half the population – this way?

We are more than what we look like

Over the last couple of months I have been bombarded with press releases from the Torbay Tourism Association about glorified swimsuit competitions that still attempt to claim respectability by playing the charity work card.

I’ve been trying to ignore it but having been sent the same press release twice this week about how “Miss World is coming to Torquay next month!” I have been inspired to resurrect my feminist blog to protest.

As far as I’m concerned too many women suffer on a daily basis from the prevailing attitude that what we look like is more important than what we do or who we are. This is the basis – indeed the foundation of – a catalogue of sexist, unequal treatment that holds women back in the workplace and public life; exposes them to catcalling and verbal abuse on the streets and makes females from toddlers to pensioners anxious about their weight and appearance to the degree that it impacts on, and even ruins, their everyday lives. Don’t even get me started on the role it might play in violence against women.

Whether you’ve got kids or not (I have two stepdaughters), and whether they are boys or girls, do you really want them to grow up in a world where a woman’s worth is measured by an arbitrary ideal of beauty and how other people think she should look? This is not the basis for an equal society, nor is it the basis for equal partnerships between women and men.

So-called beauty contests like Miss England and Miss World legitimise this view of women and promote it as an ideal. It is NOT the sort of thing a tourism association should be promoting. It is little better than saying, “Come visit [name a destination] and ogle women. Plenty of venues where you can be lecherous over women you deem attractive and abusive to ones you don’t.”

This sort of perspective on women is also one step away from endorsing the view that when a man pays any woman sexual attention she should be grateful and yield to his ‘desires’. To refuse means she is ugly and probably also a lesbian because in this view of the world women are sex objects to be ogled, masturbated over and/or fucked.

I do not want my stepdaughters to grow up in this kind of world; the kind of world that the organisations or individuals who support and promote Miss World and the like want us to live in. Pretty women for men to look at and women to aspire to be like and women not ‘pretty’ or ‘slim’ enough hidden away in the kitchen – or if they’re lucky at least in their workplace somewhere – after all this is the 21st Century.

So last month it was a whole load of gushy press releases about Miss England being held in Torquay and now it’s Miss World. Either the idea of equality is being deliberately ignored or the press releases are being sent out by someone who is extremely naive.

Here is an extract from one of the Miss England press releases which bore the ridiculous headline, “Breaking News! Miss England is being streamed LIVE!”

It then went on…[includes comments in italics from me]…

“It just keeps getting better for Torbay. Miss England is being streamed LIVE on the Daily Mail’s website and on the Miss England.info website. [Ooh, hold the front page!]

The public can watch the contest Live from the Riviera Centre – a press release to announce the fact that the public can watch the contest live on the Internet either on the Miss England website or the Daily Mail website will be forthcoming. [What the fuck? A press release to tell us what you've already told us?!]

The Sun TV is also interested. As you all know the Sun is Britain’s Biggest Daily Newspaper with the biggest circulation. [It is only interested because it puts tits on page three and this is basically tits without the nudity.]

The media coverage this will bring Torbay will be unbelievable and a fantastic boost for our Bay.” [Really? Because the sort of people who read The Sun and The Daily Mail will flock to the area? And in any case why would anyone come here just because some load of old sexist tosh is being held in a local conference centre?].

 

Torbay: Let's admire the scenery rather than ogling women in swimsuits

Torbay: Let’s admire the scenery rather than ogling women 

I wish this was just some horrible nightmare that I could wake up from. Instead Torbay – or at least its Tourism Association – seems to have been beamed back to the 1970s and is trying to drag everyone else along with them.

I hope they – and everyone else – wake up and smell the coffee. It is demeaning to judge women on their looks and disingenuous to claim these outdated beauty contests are all about personality and contestant’s charity work. In reality beauty contests simply objectify women. Let’s consign them to the dustbin of history where they belong.

You’re a brick Samantha

A few thoughts on a misogynistic internet shitstorm

A friend texted me to ask if I was going to write something about the Samantha Brick debacle. For those of you who have missed it she is the woman who has been ridiculed, vilified and torn apart by various ‘commentators’ (read internet users with nothing better to do/too much time on their hands) because she wrote an arrogant article for the UK’s Daily Mail newspaper in which she expressed how difficult her life was because people thought she was so beautiful. Men apparently fall all over themselves to fawn over her and bestow her with gifts and free drinks, while women despise and loathe her because they perceive her as being more attractive than they are and therefore likely to lead their husbands/partners astray.

The Daily Mail wouldn’t want you to see me like this!

Part of me thinks I should just ignore the whole thing because it’s just yet another tabloid-press induced sideshow in which women’s appearance is deemed more important than what they do. That the Daily Mail is a particular proponent of this attitude has already been admirably considered and summed up by Hadley Freeman in The Guardian (see end of blog for link to her article) and doesn’t surprise me because I once wrote a piece for them that was subsequently spiked because my editor asked someone at the paper to rewrite it and they did so to the extent that it was both no longer my story and included things that were products of the re-writer’s imagination – presumably because the truth didn’t fit the Daily Mail’s vision of womanhood (again see Hadley Freeman’s article because she’s spot on with her analysis). Their vision of womanhood also extends to the way they photograph women for the paper – perhaps you’ve noticed how everyone on the pages of Femail looks suspiciously similar – as when I was photographed I wasn’t allowed to wear my own clothes or make-up; I had to remove nearly all my jewellery and have my hair curled. I drew the line at having my eyebrows plucked. I looked so different from my true self that when I showed my partner a photo of myself in Daily Mail Womanhood Guise he asked me who it was.

But back to Samantha Brick. The reason I’m writing this is not to slag her off like almost everyone else has done, but to say that her story is merely an example of a society that measures women’s worth by their looks rather than their deeds and to suggest that this is still one of the main issues for today’s feminists (and in case you are a Daily Mail Reader, a feminist is someone who believes in equality between the sexes, not someone who hates men, and women who they feel are better looking than themselves).

Which leads me to the subject of another text message – from a different friend – who had been to a screening of the film Miss Representation. She texted that she was walking round London feeling infuriated by it and that the “demeaning attitude towards women [illustrated by the film] fuels violence against us.”

Although I haven’t yet seen the full film just the trailer, Miss Representation would seem to be about tackling exactly the kind of narrow representations of women embodied by the Samantha Brick article – and again I’m not attacking her for writing it, but the question has to be asked what kind of newspaper commissions something like that?! (If you are familiar with The Daily Mail you’ll realise that was a rhetorical question). Except that Samantha Brick is the thin end of the wedge.

“Like drawing back a curtain to let bright light stream in, Miss Representation uncovers a glaring reality we live with every day but fail to see. Written and directed by Jennifer Siebel Newsom, the film exposes how mainstream media contribute to the under-representation of women in positions of power and influence in America. The film challenges the media’s limited and often disparaging portrayals of women and girls, which make it difficult for women to achieve leadership positions and for the average woman to feel powerful herself,” is how the website of the organisation set up to take action on the issues raised by the film describes it.

The organisation itself says:

“The film Miss Representation exposes how American youth are being sold the concept that women and girls’ value lies in their youth, beauty and sexuality. It’s time to break that cycle of mistruths.

In response we created MissRepresentation.org, a call-to-action campaign that seeks to empower women and girls to challenge limiting media labels in order to realize their potential.”

If you’re a reader from the UK you know this film is just as much about British culture as that of the US. The question is what are we going to do about it?

An example of how women are misrepresented on a poster ad in a London Underground station.

As the organisation suggestions, we have to start speaking out about the pigeon-hole most of the mainstream media would like to squeeze us into; we have to make sure our daughters and our sons (by which I mean the next generation – because not all women are biological mothers) realise there is more to being a woman than tits & arse, make-up and clothes and we – women – have to make sure we realise that as well – because our value should be measured not by what we look like but what we do.

Related links:

Find Hadley Freeman’s Guardian piece about The Daily Mail/Samantha Brick here: http://www.guardian.co.uk/commentisfree/2012/apr/04/samantha-brick-thrown-to-wolves

See the trailer for Miss Representation here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6gkIiV6konY

Find out more about the organisation created in response to it here: http://www.missrepresentation.org/

In case Samantha Brick is reading this: I think your article was ill-advised, but I wish you £1 for every insult heaped on you for having written it.

Beer is a feminist issue

As well as writing and blogging about feminist issues I am also a beer enthusiast and have a beer blog called A FemAle View:  This post is an example of how my two specialist subjects sometimes cross over.

Granted it’s not the biggest issue facing womankind, but an area where we still face prejudice and some discrimination is beer and brewing. As with many women’s issues there have been ups and downs. There’s a fair amount of evidence that women were the first to brew beer, but as recently as the 20th century (and do shout if you know any examples of it this still happening) if women went to the pub at all they were restricted to the lounge bar or even considered prostitutes. Bizarrely, women going to pubs – and shock horror drinking beer in pint measures – has also been used as a way of gauging our sexuality – it apparently means you are a lesbian. Yes, this is anecdotal, but it’s a conclusion that’s been made about and pointed out to me on more than one occasion, albeit many years ago now.

Peculiar attitudes to women who work in the beer and brewing industry still persist though. From the relatively minor such as comments from men, including male bar staff along the lines of “What’s a nice girl like you doing drinking something like that,” to, a brewery employee who laughed openly when I mentioned I was planning a piece about women brewers, commenting that he didn’t think there were that many because the job requires a lot of physical strength; (At least one female brewer ­ – or brewster – I know pleaded with me to tell her who said this so she could punch him on the nose backed with the same muscles used to dig out the tonnes of spent grain from the mash tun, a job she usually does solo) on to some of the horribly sexist imagery used to sell beer, be it on pump clip or advertising, from the recently headline-hitting Slaters brew Top Totty, to more obscure but no less problematic beers with names like Hanky Panky, both using pump clips featuring images of a semi-naked females which not only objectify and degrade women, but also indicate the brewers think that only men (or lesbians?) drink beer.

Women having a beer

What I’ve highlighted above is a problem not just because it is sexism but because it might put women off trying and/or enjoying the fantastic drink that beer is!

Luckily there are many women (too many to mention in one blog post in fact) aiming to redress the balance and make sure other women don’t miss out and this week there is even a women-only beer event where we can enjoy a few glasses of this magnificent beverage free of any of the anti-women sentiment that sometimes goes with the territory. It’s being held in Birmingham and hosted by a pal of mine, Marverine Cole who goes under the moniker of Beer Beauty. I must confess that it won’t be a 100% womanspace as she does have two male co-hosts, but only female punters are allowed in for the six-beers-paired-with-six-tapas-dishes-bash.

Bash might not be the best description actually, as the evening is designed to be a glamorous event for discerning women who either already love beer, or would like to find out just how far it has moved on from its blokey, beer-bellied, flat cap and whippet image; how great it tastes and how many different kinds of beer there are.

For example, there are dark beers with coffee and chocolate flavours, honey-sweet golden beers, crisp and refreshing lagers (nothing like your average pint of Fosters/ Stella/Heineken) and strong, fruity beers that sometimes get their flavour from actual fruit but often from a skilful blending of malt (made from barley) and hops. There are hundreds of styles of beer and even more individual beers within those styles. It is, quite simply, one of the most varied and exciting drinks there is and something that women shouldn’t be missing out on!

So, if you are in Birmingham (in the UK’s West Midlands) this Thursday, 29th March (2012), come along to FemALE at the Malmaison Hotel and strike a blow for women enjoying yet another thing that for too long and too often has been designated only for blokes.

  • Tickets are £25 – which covers beer, food and a goody bag to take home.

Visit: http://www.malmaison.com/hotels/birmingham/local-events.aspx to book.

Marverine Cole’s Beer Beauty blog can be found here: http://www.beerbeauty.co.uk/

And my beer blog here: http://afemaleview.wordpress.com/

Let’s get physical

Women journalists, bloggers and other writers went on the record in the UK quality press last year about threats and abuse they’ve been subjected to simply for expressing their opinions in writing. It reminded me of my suspicions that I’d been treated unfairly, and certainly viewed in a bad light, for being a forthright and assertive woman who was unafraid to express her opinion in the workplace (or elsewhere for that matter).

Although, thankfully, no one threatened me with violence or suchlike I recall one particular occasion where a colleague complained to my boss that I’d been aggressive in a team meeting when hand on heart I can say that although I had disagreed with the female complainant in said meeting, I was not aggressive. I simply made my point. I thought her suggestion was a bad idea for our team and disagreed with what she was saying.

I also remember telling my male boss that I thought it a ridiculous complaint and him responding that ‘other people’ (it turned out this actually meant one other colleague – who was a man not known for beating about the bush) had made the same observation about me. That was when it hit me. It wasn’t about me being ‘aggressive’ it was about me being a woman who dared to speak her mind when she thought something wasn’t right.

I could think of countless times when my boss or male colleagues had shot ideas down in flames, sometimes in a less than gentle manner, but no one complained about them. But it wasn’t fashionable to point sexism out in our relatively leftwing and politically correct workplace (How could such a thing happen here? Don’t be silly etc etc) so I ended up putting it away and wondering whether my feminist antennae were being over-sensitive. Until I read about the reactions from some quarters to women writing their opinions. And then I remembered something else.

I was suddenly reminded of my 18-year-old self. I was heavily influenced by the film Thelma and Louise, by another less well known Australian film called Shame* and by the character of Sarah Connor in Terminator 2. I wanted to be physically strong, muscular and tough and literally able to take on all comers – especially sexists and misogynists. I was full of fight and, back then, I was aggressive, and belligerent too. I wanted there to be a battle. I wanted to be as violent to those men who hate and hurt women as they are to us.

Linda Hamilton as Sarah Connor in Terminator 2

I feel now that my younger self was wrong in her desire to be violent but I still believe that it is a good thing for a woman to be able to successfully physically defend herself should she be attacked and that physical strength is something women and girls should aspire to and not be ashamed of possessing. So I was overjoyed to read this article by Julie Bindel: http://www.guardian.co.uk/commentisfree/cifamerica/2012/feb/03/michelle-obama-ellen-press-up-feminist in which she expresses many of the same views I have and also hails one of my role models Sarah Connor (Yes, I still think she is marvellous!).

While many battles of feminism have been won, leading to laws on the statute book that ban discrimination on the grounds of sex, there is still a war to be waged against attitudes to women that would put us in tiny little boxes and try to make us all behave according to a narrow set of so-called feminine norms.

Instead of things getting better, on this front over the last 20 or so years they have become worse, the rise of sexualised culture, the prevalence of reality TV and the lack of diversity in the representations of women in the media generally – as if the only females that existed were thin, enthusiastic about baring their breasts and desperate to be looked at; rather than coming in all shapes and sizes and being capable of ACTUALLY DOING things rather than merely parading around while people watch them doing nothing (or pretending to be lesbians).

It may take a great deal of courage to refuse to behave in the way ‘women are expected to’ but the more of us that do the easier it will become for us to be who we really are and the harder it will be for those who want to diminish us.

And if you think it’s aggressive of me to say so you know what you can do with it.

 

*Shame was released in the late 1980s and starred Deborra-Lee Furness as a motorcycling lawyer who tries to win justice for a young woman who has been gang-raped in an isolated outback town. The strong, independent and leather clad Furness was a potent role model for me – despite the outcome of the story.