New Statesman: Allowing boys to be boys won’t bridge the GCSE gender gap

According to Tory MP Karl McCartney, UK schools need to spend more time celebrating the traditional masculine roles that men were “born to do.” As a mother of school-age boys, I’m obviously very concerned about this. Does my sons’ school offer lessons in manliness? If not, how can I be sure they won’t mistakenly end up doing things women are “born to do,” such as hoovering, ironing and remembering to send birthday cards?

Not only that, but how can I be sure that girls – any girls, I don’t care which – won’t get better exam results than my brilliant boys? This stuff keeps me awake at night (this, and fuming over white male MPs standing up in parliament to complain about the “shrill equal pay brigade,” but best not to dwell on that now).

There’s a long history of boys underperforming, by which we mean “not doing as well as girls.” The assumption is that boys should naturally be doing as well as their female contemporaries. This is not an idea of equality we apply to all areas of achievement. We do not, for instance, talk about women “underperforming” at sports. We do not insist that men have no innate physical advantage (something that would be quite obvious were the Olympic 100m sprint to be replaced with competitive menstrual bleeding or breastmilk squirting). Yet we refuse to accept that girls could just be better at certain academic subjects. Of course not. There must be something wrong with the way these subjects are being taught.

Read the full post at The New Statesman

Andrea Leadsom’s Maternal Unthinking

In 1989 the philosopher Sara Ruddick published Maternal Thinking: Towards a Politics of Peace, in which she sought to identify “distinctive ways of conceptualizing, ordering, and valuing” that arise out of maternal practices. “I am not,” she wrote, “saying that mothers, individually or collectively, are (or are not) especially wonderful people […] For me, ‘maternal’ is a social category. Although maternal thinking arises out of actual child-caring practices, biological parenting is neither necessary nor sufficient.”

I do not expect Andrea Leadsom to have read Maternal Thinking, let alone agreed with its precepts. For instance, Ruddick takes particular care to tease out the interplay of selflessness and self-interest that goes into mothering a child who one wishes to become a successful member of a community (regardless of whether one supports the values of one’s own community in absolute terms or not):

Maternal practice assumes a legitimate special concern for the children one has engendered and passionately loves as well as for the families (of various forms) in which they live. Any attempt to deny this special form of self-interest will only lead to hypocritical false consciousness or rigid, totalistic loyalties. Mothers can, I believe, come to realize that the good of their own children is entwined with the good of all children, that in a world divided between exploiter and exploited no children can be both good and strong, that in a world at war all children are endangered.

Compare this with Leadsom’s approach to maternal politics in her hours-old yet already infamous interview with The Times’ Rachel Sylvester:

But genuinely, I feel being a mum means you have a very real stake in the future of our country, a tangible stake, you know, I mean [Teresa May] possibly has nieces, nephew, you know lots of people, but I have children who are going to have children, who will directly be a part of what happens next. So it really keeps you focused on what you are really saying, because what it means is you don’t want a downturn but never mind let’s look to the ten years hence it’ll all be fine, but my children will be starting their lives so I have a stake in the next year, the next two…

Whereas Ruddick envisions maternal self-interest as a one possible stop gap on the road to recognising that a world divided into exploiter and exploited is unsustainable, Leadsom identifies self-interest as a good in itself. There’s no need to move on to a more collective politics of care, just as long as you’ve done enough to ensure your own child isn’t totally screwed in the short term. Continue reading

Phones don’t hurt women; misogynists do

The education secretary Nicky Morgan is proposing a “curriculum for life” to help young people deal with what the Guardian calls “modern social issues brought on by the internet age.” These are, we are led to believe, new issues. Brand new, never-been-seen-before, state-of-the-art sources of teenage angst, such as sexting and revenge porn.

True, there was nothing like that in my day. We just had boring, hands-on sexism – sorry, did I just say sexism? It seems we’re not supposed to mention that. It might be the driving force behind this particular misuse of communication technology but no one seems willing to say. Looking for a hierarchy? Nothing to see here. We are meant to think this stuff is just happening at random because “modern times.” There’s no link between rampant individualism and Tory policies, and absolutely no connection between a form of abuse which targets women in particular and sexism at large. It’s just that smartphones were invented before we had time to work out what to do with them. Right? Or are we just finding another way to talk around misogyny because to actually confront it would be more than we could bear?

Morgan mentions NSPCC research showing that “six in 10 teenagers have been asked for sexual images or videos online.” What she does not mention is the very clearly gendered nature of the NSPCC findings. Indeed, the researchers explicitly state that “no understanding of sexting would be complete without an appreciation of the extent to which an often completely normalised sexism constitutes the context for all relationships–both on and off-line”:

As researchers going into the schools to meet with young people, we were distressed by the levels of sexist abuse and physical harassment–even violence–to which the girls were subject on a regular basis. […] Perhaps the broadest level at which sexism operates in the young people’s lives is to be found in the deeply rooted notion that girls and young women’s bodies are somehow the property of boys and young men.

This is not some gender neutral trend. It is young men seeking to claim ownership of young women’s bodies. What’s more, this is nothing mordern at all.

It is utterly pointless to talk in vague terms, as Morgan does, about “peer pressure or coercion” (pressure from whom? who is being coerced?). Pointless, too, to suggest that “the internet and the advance of the digital age […] bring new pressures”; what they bring are new weapons for men to use in their age-old war on women. You can complain about the weapons, sure, but it’s a morally vacuous complaint if you’ve no interest in ending the actual war. Continue reading

Hardworking people, mental illness and “Mandatory Intensive Regimes”

Amidst all of this week’s Tory Party Conference nastiness, one thing I didn’t pick up on in George Osborne’s hardworking people / help to work ramblings was the specific impact his proposals would have on those with long-term mental illness. It’s easy not to notice these things. Personally I spend so much time trying to figure out how a Workfare job isn’t a job and why, by extension, all jobs don’t just become Workfare jobs that I’ve little time to focus on anything else. So until today (when @stfumisogynists alerted me) I wasn’t aware of proposed Mandatory Intensive Regimes “to address underlying problems including illiteracy, alcoholism or mental health troubles” — you know, those problems that are usually no big deal, but are really bloody annoying when they stop you from bringing in the profits for society’s self-appointed wealth creators.

Apparently you’d only end up on one such regime as a last resort, if you’d failed to find employment after completing the Work Programme and were deemed to have one of the problems listed. I can’t help feeling it’s a curious way of going about things – isn’t it possible to diagnose and treat mental illness before a person’s been put through the Work Programme wringer? Or does it just not matter until then? Do we honestly not give a shit unless the mentally ill are getting on our nerves with their scrounging ways? It would appear to be the case. I have to say, this both angers and frightens me. It seems, frankly, inhumane, not to mention utterly ignorant of the complexities and difficulties behind that two-faced phrase “helping people to work”.
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Married Couple’s Tax Allowance: Let’s talk about sexism

Of many things that annoy me about Tory plans to introduce a Marriage Tax Allowance, one minor irritation is that my partner and I, who’ve been together for thirteen years, wouldn’t even benefit from it. To be fair, I’m not sure I even want to benefit from a policy with which I so wholeheartedly disagree, but if it’s going to happen anyhow … Well, that’s a moot point anyhow. Married or not, we’d gain nothing. We’re both in paid employment so our respective tax allowances are spoken for.

This morning, however, something crossed my mind. I might lose my job! In fact, for reasons I can’t go into, there’s a distinct possibility that I will lose my job! And if I do lose my job, providing we’ve tied the knot, then it’s Tax Allowance a-go-go! Way-hey! Thank you kindly, Mr Cameron!
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The Telegraph, the niqab and pseudo-feminism in action

Last week the Telegraph had a white, male journalist telling “pro-choice feminists” that they should be “more appalled than anyone by the sex-selection abortion story”. This week there’s a different one letting us know that “It is not necessary to be a militant feminist to understand that the niqab is deeply demeaning of women”. Thanks guys! Any other Rules of Feminism you’d like to pass on? I’m hoping this will become a weekly feature, leading up to the formal appointment of Boris Johnson and Toby Young as the UK’s Lead Feminists, always on hand to advise women what to wear, what to do with their bodies, what does and doesn’t constitute misogyny etc. Otherwise, how will we know?

As a movement, feminism might be flawed, but there’s nothing I hate more than Telegraph pseudo-feminism. At least when feminists are self-critical – or engaging in cat fights, as our male feminist superiors no doubt see it – the goal in sight remains a better feminism. With Telegraph or Tory feminism (I’m not sure what to really call it, as it’s restricted to neither one newspaper nor one political party) what we’re getting is feminist rhetoric as a means to anti-feminists ends. It’s manipulative, reactionary crap and no one who believes in equality should feel pressured into buying it.

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And a half for the lady: Tory politics for girls

Laura Trott, originally appointed to advise David Cameron on how his policies will affect women, will now have to cover education and childcare, too. This reminds me of one of my dad’s sayings, which he’d use to explain why men shouldn’t have to do housework: “why have a dog and bark yourself?” The fact is, if you’ve already got one woman to deal equality (whatever that means, eh?), you might as well get her to deal with all the other “calm down, dear” laydees’ issues – childcare, early years, that sort of thing.

I imagine in another 17 months Trott will get tights, makeup and the colour pink added to her portfolio. Maybe they’ll also allow her to stick a broom up her arse and sweep the Houses of Parliament as she goes along (it’s possible they’ve also confused her with the cyclist Laura Trott and think she’ll win them pretty gold medals, too). Continue reading

Rather than more “successful” women, can’t we just have fewer “successful” people?

Maria Miller is proposing that parents of girls receive “info packs” to help broaden their daughters’ career aspirations. In the face of falling numbers of women in executive positions, what could be more beneficial for both equality and economic growth?

According to Miller, “making sure women can be successful at work and in business is essential if we want a strong economy”:

A vital part of future career success is the aspirations that girls have early in their lives, and the choices they make about subjects and qualifications. Parents are vital in helping girls make these choices, and we know that many parents want help with that. This campaign will give parents the knowledge and confidence they need to make sure that their daughters make choices which will help them realise their ambitions

Way-hey! Get influencing, mums and dads! Because that’s a major thing that’s holding this country back, quite possibly the whole reason why we’re in this sorry mess today – women and their stupid, girlie choices. Continue reading

Why the non-rich throw away food: Some tips for Richard Benyon

Why do the non-rich throw away food? Because we’re stupid and we’re losers. That goes without saying, otherwise we’d be rich, wouldn’t we? As Tory minister Richard Benyon tactfully notes, we’re so stupid we wouldn’t even think to wrap up a piece of cheese after we’ve opened it (assuming we’re in the 13% of the population who don’t practise cheese-wrapping). Then again, even if we weren’t so ignorant of cling-film, we wouldn’t do it anyhow. That’s because we’re lazy and entitled. We’d be all shall we save that cheese? Nah, why bother? If we run out the welfare state will provide!

I am not rich and I waste food. Can’t stop myself, me. My waste-food bin floweth over. Even so I would like to point out that there are reasons other than the ones given above for throwing away food when you’re not rich. I feel it necessary to do so for no other reason than I strongly suspect that Richard Benyon, whose own fridge is to be found somewhere here, has very little experience of budgeting for food on a daily basis. So especially for you, Richard, some reasons why the food of the non-rich might head binwards:

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Extreme privilege makes children of our leaders

Remember being a child and finding it incredibly annoying that adults, who clearly had more money than you, chose to spend it on crap like bills and bus fares? What was that all about? Why didn’t they spend it on cool stuff like toys or, better still, just give it to you? You’d have put it to good use. None of that moping around over a brown envelope demanding payment for something entirely intangible and definitely not as good as Optimus Prime. Well, anyhow, remember that feeling, because I reckon that’s what it’s like to be IDS, George Osborne or David Cameron all the time. Yes, they might be the ones with the money these days, but man, they deserve it. The rest of us? We’d only fritter it on rubbish like the electricity bill and shoes for our kids. Continue reading

Gay marriage and the politics of parental preference

Conservative MP David Davies claims “most parents would prefer their child not to be gay”. As a parent, I can only speak for myself but I’d like to think most of us don’t give a shit. Seriously, David. Even those of us who “want grandchildren”. We’re generally educated enough to know that you don’t have to be heterosexual to become a parent and, beyond that, we don’t all hold our children responsible for endlessly continuing the family line. Sod the potential next generation – my kids are complete in themselves.

Of course, my perspective on what “most parents would prefer” will be coloured by the views of those parents with whom I choose to associate. Still, I do have a broader perspective on things – otherwise I’d say “most parents would prefer their child not to be a Conservative MP”. Hell, that’s true of me. I mean, I’d try to be tolerant. I’d still love him and respect his choices. All the same, I fear my Conservative MP son would still see the disappointment in my eyes and it would burn into his soul (that’s if he had one – not that I’m bigoted, despite never having fought and trained with a Conservative boxer). Continue reading

David Cameron’s hard-nosed, hard-luck tales

I’ve heard it said that every person has a novel deep inside them, just waiting to be written. To be honest, I can’t remember who said it or in what context, but this doesn’t really matter, what with it being total bollocks. Take me, for instance. If I were to try writing an extended work of fiction it would be breathtakingly awful. I can’t do plot, would get bored midway through and am so self-absorbed that every single character would, essentially, be me, except for some token additional detail (having different colour hair, for instance, or a third nipple – no, wait, that’s still me).*Anyhow, the truth is, while I don’t believe everyone on the planet is a secret Charles Dickens (finger on the pulse, yet again), I do think there’s one literary capability which we all share: all of us, each and every one, could pen a “tragic life stories” autobiography. I’m not kidding – I seriously think we all have that potential (apart from Andrew Collins, but then that was the whole point of the rather wonderful Where did it all go right? He’s the only person, ever, not to have several tons of crap from childhood just waiting to gush forth). Continue reading

No, actually, I won’t be “even-handed” when it comes to debating abortion rights

So it’s all kicking off about Jeremy Hunt’s 12-week abortion limit pronouncement. Or maybe it isn’t. Maybe it’s all about making Maria Miller look reasonable. Maybe it’s all about drawing attention away from massive NHS cuts. Maybe David Cameron’s played his hand too soon by disagreeing with Hunt but revealing he’d like to lower the limit, too. Maybe … Well, we can all speculate. I’m just a bit worried that “spot the distraction” is become the distraction itself.*

Amidst all this, one thing in particular has started to annoy me. It’s the emergence of an ever-growing number of pro-choice “voices of reason”. In this particular case they tell us that yes, Hunt is wrong, and no, we don’t want a return to the bad old days, but hey, let’s not get carried away. It’s not as though all this is going to happen tomorrow. It’s just a thing Jeremy Hunt said and besides, it’s not as though abortion isn’t a complex moral issue. And then comes the part where pro-choicers are encouraged to be that bit more honest about the whole debate and to stop pretending that it’s just about “a woman’s right to choose”. After all, it’s way more complicated than that. We need to come clean and confess that weighing up the pros and cons of preserving a woman’s bodily integrity and taking the life of a potential baby is hard. We need to be more open. We need to acknowledge that no one likes abortion. We need to – Continue reading

Jeremy Hunt: You don’t get feminism more “modern” than this

Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt believes the legal abortion time limit should be reduced to 12 weeks. “It’s just my view about that incredibly difficult question about the moment that we should deem life to start,” he explains. Well, if that’s your view, Jeremy, who am I – a mere fertile woman with her own body and opinions – to argue? Although to be honest, I’m not quite seeing the link between this and making access to a termination even more difficult and restricted than it already is. The point at which human life begins and whether or not an individual woman’s bodily integrity should be sacrificed in order to sustain the life of another strike me as two completely different issues. Or have I missed something? Is my feminism just not “modern” enough? Continue reading

A very modern abortion debate

Maria Miller describes herself as “a very modern feminist”. In a similar vein, I would like describe myself as “a very modern Conservative Party supporter” plus, as a hobby, “a very modern axe murderer”. Right now I’m eating my lunch, “a very modern Michelin starred feast”, which merely happens to look and taste exactly like a cheese and marmite sandwich.

Modern feminist Miller – Tory minister for women – has reiterated her support for a reduction in the legal limit for abortion from 24 weeks to 20. Quoted in the Guardian, she claims to be “driven by that very practical impact that late term abortion has on women”, and notes an apparent need to “reflect the way medical science has moved on”. Sigh. This is all very boring, isn’t it? Not that unwanted pregnancies and waiting lists and doctor’s signatures and fear and pain and isolation are boring. But the argument’s boring, isn’t it? The same one, again and again, unmoving, as dates and rights are chipped away at simply by the lack of response. Continue reading

Woman On: Redefining equality for “the normal person”

Charlotte Vere is not a feminist, thank you very much. The former Conservative candidate and mother-of-two last shaved her armpits “this morning” and she’s definitely wearing a bra.

Huffington Post, 1972  2012

As I write this, not only I am wearing a bra –  a Debenhams “age-defying” uplift one, no less – but I am sporting a recently shaved area far more intimate than the mere underarm. Does this make me more of non-feminist than Charlotte Vere? Or is it not just what you do but what you don’t do?

Here are some things which I suspect Charlotte Vere, founder of the Woman On think-tank – which “campaigns for women, but not at the expense of men” – does not do: wear dungarees, shave her head, live in a commune, eat lentils for breakfast, act as muse for the Millie Tant strip in Viz. In addition, I’ve a feeling she also avoids the following: having principles, showing compassion, thinking “hard” thoughts. Continue reading

That Key Stage 4 consultation document: How can something so annoying be so boring?

At 9am this morning I found myself in a meeting where it transpired that I was expected to have already trawled through the DfE’s Reforming Key Stage 4 Qualifications consultation document. Due to unforeseen circumstances (otherwise known as blogging about bitchy feminists) I, um, hadn’t. It didn’t matter though. I managed to wing it. After all, it doesn’t take a genius to work out what EBCs are (hell, I could do it and I don’t even have O-levels). Besides, reading the document in advance would have just been cheating, rather like using “source materials” as an “examination aid” while sitting a history paper (I do, by the way, look forward to future history questions: What does the artist in this cartoon – the one which you’re not allowed to see – wish to suggest about Disraeli’s foreign policy? Failure to happen to imagine the correct cartoon will result in no marks.) Continue reading

Dear ‘Wealth Creators’

Dear ‘Wealth Creators’

You know when you got bullied at school and went home in tears? Well, actually you probably don’t, since most of you will have been boarding at Eton. But anyhow, let’s imagine you do. When that happens, do you know what mums always say? They’re just jealous. That’s right. They’re just jealous. Whenever anyone upsets their kids, mums always decide that the perpetrator just has to be seething with envy. After all, what else could it be? Continue reading

The economy’s just not that into you

If you are an able-bodied politician or journalist who’s feeling left out during the Paralympics, don’t worry – there’s a competition just for you. It’s called “the most shameless way to exploit Paralympic achievements to promote self-serving right-wing arguments”, and it’s been going on since way before the Opening Ceremony. Competition is fierce, but don’t be shy – everyone’s having a go.

For instance, here’s Cristina Odone, writing about work capability assessments in the Telegraph on 30 July: Continue reading

Some squeaks from a mildly political mouse

Politics has gone all hormonal again, hasn’t it? One minute Tim Yeo’s asking David Cameron whether he’s “man or mouse” – believe it or not, it takes nerves of steel to go back on a pre-election pledge – and the next David’s popping up in the Mail on Sunday to show us all just how hard he is. And he’s really, really fucking hard. Kind of like Ross Kemp with a plummy accent.* Man, there’s so much dick-swinging and testosterone abounding, if I were a more modest woman, I wouldn’t know where to look. Continue reading