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Archive for September, 2008

Magazines Matter

Things have been a bit quiet over the last week or so here at the Anti-Room, for various reasons, so sorry about that – we are all still alive, just very busy! But not too busy to raise awareness of some other female pop-culture junkies in their hour of need. The excellent and entertaining “feminist response to pop culture” Bitch Magazine is in financial trouble and looking for donations.“>I’ve been reading the magazine for about ten years now, and while I don’t always agree with every writer, I always really enjoy the way Bitch analyses, criticises and, yes, praises various portrayals of women in pop culture, from ads to TV shows to the internet.
It’s not as frothy as Bust, which I’ve been reading for about the same length of time, and yes, there are times when it can be a wee bit po-faced, but it’s always smart, readable, thought provoking and interesting, and I’m really glad it’s still around – over the last few years, some of the biggest and most important print zines like Punk Planet have bit the dust because of rising production costs. Much as I love reading stuff on the internet (and I’ve been reading content-driven sites since I discovered the awesome Blair back in 1996), there’s something special about holding an actual magazine in your hands. Bust and Bitch are the only magazines that I actually hang onto these days instead of throwing them into the recycling tub (weirdly enough, in my teens and college days, when I had far less money, I bought way more magazines, and kept almost all of them, which is why every single issue of the NME, Select, the Face and Vogue between 1991 and about 1997 are still under the bed and dressing table of my old boudoir in my parents house).

So if you want to support independent media in general and one of the few magazines that treat women with respect and encourage them to look critically at the way they’re depicted in the media, then give the Bitch ladies a fiver.

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R.I.P. Eileen Flynn

R.I.P. Eileen Flynn. Thankfully we’ve come a long way from the kind of misogynistic religious stranglehold that thought it was ok to deprive a woman with a young family of her income because she wasn’t married. Sadly, this only happened in 1982, not 1962. Good ol’ Ireland and its sexist, backward moralism….

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If we were in any doubt that the prospect of a female leader fills some people with fear and loathing, the coverage of Hillary Clinton and Sarah Palin’s political careers should be enough to confirm our worst fears (although I’ve got to say that another one of my worst fears is a fundie, anti-environmentalist gun-nut secessionist becoming the second most powerful person in the western world). But according to a new Harvard study, although people have negative ideas about female leaders, once they actually experience what it’s like to have ladies in charge, their attitudes to women in power become more positive.

Maggie Thatcher, Milk Snatcher? A good thing for women? Well, possibly...

Maggie Thatcher, Milk Snatcher? A good thing for women? Well, possibly...

When an Indian government ammendment decreed that at least 1/3 of government jobs should be held by women, the residents of some regions were not impressed by the idea of ladies in charge. And once the first batch of women started working in government, the voters gave them poorer evaluations than their male counterparts, even when the female politicians had outperformed the men. So far, so depressing. But when the same voters encountered female politicians for the second time, they began to evaluate them more positively, indicating that exposure to powerful women reduces prejudice against them by 50 to 100%.

Good news, right? Well, it would be if there were a few more women in power to begin with – people’s prejudices can’t be challenged by female leaders if there are no female leaders. And we could be waiting a while for this to change, according to last year’s report from our Central Statistics Office:

The report shows that women are under-represented in decision-making structures at both national and regional levels. Only 13% of TDs in Dáil Eireann are women, while they account for 34% of members of State Boards, 20% of members of local authorities and just 16% of members of regional authorities.

And here’s a surprise – except no, it totally isn’t:

The education and health sectors employed the highest proportion of women, with around an 80% share of the total at work in these sectors. However, women were not well represented at senior level positions. In the health service, women represented just over 30% of medical and dental consultants. Similarly, women accounted for 84.7% of primary school teachers but only 51% of primary school managers.

Women: doing socially important but low status, badly paid work since, um, the dawn of time!

And if anyone wants to know why I’m a feminist, well, here’s one of many reasons:

Women’s income in 2005 was around two-thirds of men’s income. After adjusting for differences in hours worked, women’s hourly earnings were around 86% of men’s. The proportion of men at risk of poverty in 2006, after pensions and social transfers, was 17.5% compared to 19.5% of women.

Sigh. But I want to try and look on the bright side. I do not think Sarah Palin becoming America’s VP is a good thing for women (this is a woman who, as Mayor, made rape victims pay for the cost of the rape kits) or indeed the world. But there is this: high-profile women in power do change people’s expectations. For most of my generation, Margaret Thatcher is the first UK Prime Minister we remember – she was in power from when I was 4 to when I was 15 (one of my teachers came into the classroom grinning from ear to ear and told us she was out). Thatcher wasn’t a female-friendly politican either, but the fact that she was the British PM for pretty much my entire childhood and early adolescence meant that I, and others my age, always took it for granted that women could run countries (badly, in that case, but still). I just wish more women would get elected whose politics I agree with, but alas I fear that, as in the cases of both Thatcher and Palin and even Mary Harney, a conservative women is always going to be less threatening to the masses than a liberal one. What do you think?

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Helen Mirren’s recent comments about date rape tap into something Molly discussed in her post called Sex, Consent and Expectations.

I’ve always liked Helen Mirren. To me, she has always seemed like a woman in total control of her own career, unlike the slew of robot actresses happy to be the Hollywood equivalent of a Malibu Stacey doll (“Don’t ask me, I’m just a girl!”). Here is a woman who can flit from risqué flicks like Caligula and The Cook, The Thief, His Wife and Her Lover to effortless Shakespearian heroines with the blink of a heavy-lidded eye. And she has never considered TV too shabby, especially when Prime Suspect made her such a recognised star. So as a long time fan, I’m hugely disappointed with her recent remarks about date rape. In an interview with GQ magazine, Mirren confessed to her own experiences of rape, but then questions the validity of whether you can claim it as such when “a woman voluntarily ends up in a man’s bedroom with her clothes off”. She goes on to say that while these incidents weren’t brutal or violent, they consisted of being “locked in a room and made to have sex against my will.” Eh, sorry, but the last time I checked, force and lack of consent in sex equals rape.

In the same week, the Irish Rape Crisis Centre’s Annual report warned that fewer victims are stepping forward to report their rapes. In the GQ interview Dame Helen admits that she didn’t go to the police about the attacks, revealing that while a woman “has a right to say no at the last second…I don’t think she can have that man in court under those circumstances.” Why the hell not? Anyone who says no to sex in any situation – even at the last second – and has their objection overruled is a victim of rape. Once consent is removed, it isn’t an act of free will; it’s a crime. And a crime of that seriousness should most definitely land the perpetrator in court. We can all understand that Helen Mirren’s experiences took place 40 years ago when the world was a different place. But then, as now, victims still run the risk of not being believed, especially if the Prosecution in court wants to run a fine toothcomb over their character, lifestyle, the company they keep and their relationship history.

Mirren’s comments are even more surprising given the type of steely roles she has played. From the ballsy DCI Jane Tennison to no-nonsense monarchs (Elizabeths 1 & 2), you assume that in real life she is rarely intimidated. Contemporary audiences have never been more receptive to the thoughts and opinions of those in the public eye. Given the totemic position of celebrities these days, Dame Helen’s comments are, at best a drawback for rape victims who are reluctant to speak out, at worst downright miscalculated and dangerous.

Everyone has the right to say no to sex, just as every rape victim should have the right to prosecute their rapist. And a smart woman like Dame Helen should know that.

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Thanks to everyone for the suggestions in this post about how to get the ball rolling in our inaugural Anti-Room Classics bookclub.  As much as we’d love to meet the delightful Rosie in person, it seems like it suits most folk to meet up online. As today is the 8th of September, why don’t we say eight weeks from today, Monday November 3rd? We can all jump online here at a flexible time (I’m suggesting 9pm, but we’ll go with what suits everyone) and have a natter about the chosen book.

As per everyone’s suggestions, here’s the shortlist. Cast your vote and whichever gets the most, we’ll go for.

* North and South by Elizabeth Gaskell

* Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte

* Lady Audley’s Secret by Mary Braddon

* The Woman in White by Wilkie Collins

* Wide Sargasso Sea by Jean Rhys

* Something by Jane Austen to make up for the pretty dull Lost in Austen on UTV

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The awesome Jon Stewart and the Daily Show reminds us that while conservatives are now up in arms over the sexist attacks on Sarah Palin, they were singing a very different tune just a few months ago. Watch how Bill O’Reilly’s attitude to teen pregnancy has miraculously changed, while other conservative pundits and policy advisors have suddenly become passionate critics of the sexist double standard.

Link from Jezebel.

Edited to continue the Palin theme: Rob Rummel-Hudson writes as eloquently as usual on why Sarah Palin is not a really supporter of parents of children with special needs (she cut funding for special education programmes by 62%), and in the Irish Times, Mary Mullin, also the Alaskan mother of a child who has Down’s Syndrome, writes about why she’s not supporting her suppposed “soul sister” (thanks to Q for that link).

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There are many reasons I love Coronation Street. The sheer quality of the writing (never will I forget Norris describing Rita “fanning herself with the People’s Friend like something out of Les Liasons Dangereuses“). The funniness. The wonderful characters (Becky! Blanche! Eileen! Any one of that trio alone would make a programme worth watching). The way that characters who would be the butt of jokes in lesser programmes (like the wonderful Roy and Hayley) are treated with respect and affection.

Viva Blanche!

Viva Blanche!

But one other great thing about it is the fact that it’s one of the few high-profile television programmes where you see older women who actually look like, well, older women – and who get proper characters and storylines instead of just being doddery old grans.

The older Corrie ladies, Rita, Blanche, Emily, Betty, Audrey – hell, even Deirdre and Liz (not that she’d like to be included in this group), are opinionated and funny. They’re not just sitting around waiting to die. Some are sexually active. Some are happily single. But all are complex, interesting people – albeit complex, interesting people who happen to live in the heightened reality of Wetherfield.

But while game old birds might be thriving in soapland, they’re not doing so well in the more serious media. In yesterday’s Guardian, the legendary Joan Bakewell writes about the lack of women over 50 in our news programmes – and how they’re starting to fight back; 57-year-old Selina Scott is taking Channel 5 to court for age descrimination, claiming they went back on an offer to cover another (younger) female newsreader’s maternity leave. Bakewell remembers the optimism of the early ’80s, when she and her peers “joked about how the tough older male would always be lead presenter, while a woman was given the secondary role – softer stories and knowing her place. We joked, too, about the obvious stereotypes: the craggy world-weary buccaneer male reporters – Sandy Gall, the late Charles Wheeler, and Newsnight’s younger trim female presenters whom we dubbed the “programme wives”. I was one such. So was Jenni Murray until she went off to enliven the more feminist corridors of Woman’s Hour.”

Bakewell and her female colleagues assumed this would all change. But nearly 30 years later, it hasn’t.

But where today are the wrinkly female equivalents of Trevor McDonald and Peter Sissons, Nick Owen and Jon Snow? Kirsty Wark stands alone, and she, after all, is merely middle aged. Older women are missing from news and current affairs.

Bakewell suggests, and I think she’s right, that this is because TV is not only obsessed with youth but increasingly run by younger people (“The only people of 60 they know are their mothers”). And she points out that their reluctance to show older people, especially women, on screen, makes bad business sense – why ignore a potentially huge audience?

But in her final paragraph, she reminds us why it’s important to show women of all ages on screen.

One entire segment of the public – women over 55 – never see their like on serious programming. They may be part of the content – victims of crime, sufferers from disease or lottery winners, but they are never there as the professional equivalent of older men. I rejoice that there are older people on the screen: David Attenborough and Bruce Forsyth are wonderful. But I rejoice too that Selina Scott might force the industry to take charges of ageism seriously.

The fewer ladies of a certain age we see on the screen, the more the idea that men somehow age “gracefully” while women become pathetic and hideous once they hit the menopause is perpetuated. So let’s hear it for the older ladies. After all, if we’re very lucky, we’re going to be them some day.

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