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Posts Tagged ‘Feminism’

1. Because MCA has survived the cancer that put the band on hiatus and the Beasties are back, with their long-awaited new album Hot Sauce Committee Part Two (the album’s original release was put on hold after his diagnosis). And after the disappointment of To The Five Boroughs, it’s brilliant to have them not just in fine health but back on musical form. ““Oh my God, just look at me / Grandpa been rapping since ’83” raps Ad-Rock, but he still sounds as fresh as ever. Hot Sauce Committee is a gloriously funky, funny mix of yappy, fluid rapping, great samples, innovative sounds and filthy beats that will have you shaking your booty around your kitchen and put a strut in your step as you listen to it on your iPod. At least, it will if you’re me. You can listen to it here and dance around at your desk.

Oh, Ad-Rock *sigh* Your yappy rhyming skills are only equaled by your attractiveness

2. Because they’re living proof that being a sexist idiot in your youth (the on-stage cage dancers etc) doesn’t mean that you can’t grow up and learn something. In fairness to the Beasties, they were already rapping against domestic violence (“Why you got to treat your girl like that?”) on Paul’s Boutique, back in their ‘To All The Girls’ and ‘Hey Ladies’ days (I love ‘Hey Ladies’, by the way. It is awesomely funky, it’s more silly and fun then sleazy, and how can anyone not like a song with the line “Beatnik chicks just wearin’ their smocks”? It’s one of my favourite Beasties songs) but as time went on they became more and more actively engaged with spreading a feminist message, both in their songs  (“I’m gonna say a little something that’s long overdue/The disrespect of women has got to be through/ To all our mothers and our sisters and our wives and friends/ I want to offer my love and respect to the end” rapped MCA in the fantastic ‘Sure Shot’) and in their public appearances – Ad-Rock used their 1999 MTV Award win to speak out against sexual violence at music festivals rather than engage in the usual industry backslapping. Oh, and he’s married to Kathleen Hanna, one of the most significant American feminist voices of the last two decades and an awesome musician in her own right. Funny feminist boys FTW!

3. Because Ad-Rock is still ridiculously attractive. I’ve fancied him since I was about 12 and saw him in Smash Hits, back in the Licensed to Ill days. Of course, I’d love the Beasties even if he weren’t so very easy on the eye and would never reduce anyone to their physical charms alone etc etc, but still, I’m only human.

4. Because they are genuinely, properly cool, in a way today’s Morrissey-circa-1987-haired hipsters can only dream of. This is because they are unafraid to be both very smart and very goofy. They may be in their 40s now, but they have no interest in trying to be (sigh) down with the kids – they’ve stayed confidently true to their own idiosyncratic tastes. They’re also keen to share their ridiculous jokes and passions with the world, rather than hoarding them up for themselves in a poncy elitist fashion.

5. Because, as part of this sharing of the love, they gave the world the word mullet to describe the horrendous haircut that previously had no real name. Having written a song about the infamous ‘do and its fans, ‘Mullet Head’, they expanded on the topic in the second issue of their sadly shortlived magazine, Grand Royal. I still have my copy of this issue, and the mullet piece is very, very funny.

6. Because, as the promotional video they made to celebrate their return shows, they still don’t take themselves very seriously.

7. Because they created, with Spike Jonze, what is still possibly the greatest music video of all time. I’ll never forget you, Nathan Wind (as Cochese).

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The W-Word

For my first Anti-Room post, I’m going to let loose a small rant that surfaces, on average, every few weeks.

I kind of assume I’m carping to the converted, here, but even if not … well. This is my bonnet, and these are my bees.

Here we go.

Forget the L-word, the F-word, the C-word. Why, I wonder, is it so hard for some people to say the W-word?

You know the one? Five-letter noun, meaning “adult human female”?

Yes, that’s the one: Woman.

I don’t know what it is, but some people just won’t say it.

Recent example: Henry McKean on Newstalk (look, I know), in the run-up to Valentine’s Day (I know, I know!), tells George Hook (I know – Jesus, would you lay off?) what a turn-on it is when a girl irons his shirts. Clearly (I hope to god), this is a tongue-in-cheek, wind-them-up type of remark, but I sweep past the intended fatuous sexism and leap squarely onto my hobby-horse.

(My hobby-milk-white-steed.)

“Henry,” I growl at the radio, “you’re a grown-up. Physiologically, at least. So if you find that you’re turned on by girls you might want to talk to someone about that before it gets out of hand.”

I’ve never felt comfortable with the notion that “girl” is a cool label for an adult. I just can’t separate it from the infantilisation machine that operates in our culture. Youth is superior to age, smooth skin is better than hairy, females are at their most valuable when innocent and unsullied by the vicissitudes of life – all that harmful nonsense.

Anybody is of course free to label hirself “girl” if it floats hir boat, but I won’t. I’ll never be “one of the girls” – and I won’t call another adult “girl” either (I’d have a hard time doing so even if I knew it was hir preference). Phrases like “a girl I work with” make my teeth itch.

That, or I picture Father Ted judging the Lovely Girls contest (they all have lovely bottoms).

I used to grumble about this a lot at choir rehearsal. Our conductor, an adult human female a few years younger than me (and, incidentally, one of the very best conductors I’ve ever worked with), for years had a habit of saying “men” when addressing the tenor and bass sections, and “girls” when addressing altos and sopranos. Men. And girls.

You see the problem.

I don’t know if it’s down to my disgruntled mutterings or just the passage of time, but she doesn’t do it any more.

Now it’s “men” and “ladies”.

Sigh.

It’s a thing, though, isn’t it? I’m sure most of us can remember when we made that transition – you’re out and about, and somebody’s toddler barrels into your legs, or reaches for your exciting scarf tassel. “Mind the lady!” says the child’s adult, and after the initial urge to look around and locate said “lady”, you feel … well, I felt like my mother’s maiden aunts when it first started happening. Your mileage may vary.

For me, “lady” doesn’t jar quite as badly as “girl”, perhaps because it’s merely elitist and inappropriately judgemental, rather than actually squicky. But I’m enraged that these two are so firmly entrenched as the preferred terms – particularly because in choosing which word to use, the speaker is making an (unconscious?) assessment of my age and/or status. I don’t like living in a world where people feel entitled – or, actually, kind of obliged – to do that.

Another radio snippet, from several years ago, has stuck in my mind (not to mention my craw): I don’t know who the presenter or guests were, but they were discussing the very issue of what to call adult human females. Everyone enthusiastically agreed that you can’t say “woman”, because – and this is what stands out in my memory – it sounds like she just crawled up out of a bog or something.

Until then, I’d lived in a bubble where “woman” was the neutral counterpart to “man”. It was dispiriting to realise that this tiny plank of linguistic equality was an illusion.

When I’m speaking to my two young children (who both seem male so far), I consciously try to refer to strangers as “person”, with “man” or “woman” as alternatives if the context calls for them. But I confess I sometimes stumble. I don’t actively want to give offence to individuals (earnest though my wish to dismantle the kyriarchal order may be), and in some cases, it seems easier to mumble “lady” than to make a point.

And so I shunt the problem on to the next generation. But inconsistently, at least. Baby steps.

The problem, of course, is that “female” is a marked category within the kyriarchy. There is no neutral word for “adult human female” because it isn’t a neutral space to inhabit.

Perhaps, in the end, it comes down to personal choice – which of the available words we adult human females feel most comfortable with. Do you choose youth, respect, or the uncharted barbarism of the bog?

Me? I’m thirty-six years old, with two university degrees, two children, a marriage, a mortgage, and a couple of career changes under my belt. I’m entitled to vote and buy alcohol; I have crow’s-feet, varicose veins, and (about bloody time!) one or two grey hairs. In short it’s a long, long time since “girl” was an appropriate descriptor for me. And you can fuck right off with the “lady” thing, too, with its implied judgement of my behaviour and character.

I’m in touch with my boggy roots. Please refer to me as a woman. Thank you.

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Sociologist Dr. Catherine Hakim of the London School of Economics has, not for the first time, attracted considerable controversy in response to the publication last week of her most recent paper, “Feminist Myths & Magic Medicine”. Hakim has previously published provocatively titled works such as her 1996 paper “Mummy, I want to be a Housewife” and last year’s controversial article in the European Sociological Review entitled “Erotic Capital”. This latter contends that women should prize assets such as looks, charm and sexuality and that this “beauty premium” can have as big an impact on your career as your educational qualifications or background.

In “Feminist Myths & Magic Medicine” she argues that the battle for equality is effectively over, that “most of the theories and ideas built up around gender equality in the past few decades are wrong” and that women still aspire to “marry up”, that is to marry men who are richer and more intelligent than they are (though they were not asked I suspect that men would be quite keen on the idea of marrying money too; a situation that would undermine the argument somewhat).  A number of outraged women have accused Hakim of “depowering women” and taking us back to the days of Jane Austen. Feminist campaigning and advocacy group The Fawcett Society accuse her of “threatening the progress made in women’s lives”.

However, the reaction to Hakim’s most recent pronouncements has been far from universally negative. Some women argue that there is merit in what she says. The reality, they contend, is that family life requires a couple to operate as a partnership and that rearing children requires one party to spend more time at home. The greater the earning potential of the male partner, the less pressure the family unit is under to juggle childcare and seek a second household income.

Hakim’s own approach is to advocate preference theory, supporting a woman’s right to choose whether to remain in the workplace or the home and using the fact that the vast majority of main earners are men to support her theory that women, when given the choice, opt to remain at home. However, in her comprehensive critique of Dr. Hakim’s theories in the most recent edition of the Sunday Times, Kate Spicer quotes University of Cambridge Centre for Gender Studies’ director Jude Brown as saying: “Hakim belongs to the school of thought that interprets certain inequalities as reflections of the choices that individuals make. The thinking here is that these choices are related to people’s preferences. But for there to be a real choice there need to be different options, instead of just herding people into stereotypical roles. For most families seeking to balance child care and work, there is no real choice”.

This is the crux of the matter in my opinion. I firmly believe that we are addressing the wrong issue entirely. Instead of looking at how we should or shouldn’t force the square peg that is the modern, well-educated mother into the round hole that is the modern, inflexible, often dysfunctional workplace should we not be asking how we can incorporate more flexibility into the workplace thus allowing society to benefit from the skill sets of women who can do more that feed a baby and fill a dishwasher?

As a rather disorganised mother of two young children I cannot envisage taking on the stress involved in juggling the kind of full-time, high-powered career that I enjoyed before my little ones arrived. Yet as a well qualified, experienced and highly motivated individual I simply cannot draw sufficient fulfillment from adopting the role of homemaker alone. For a women in my situation (and there are many of us) the options for combining a flexible career with the role as primary child carer (the housework can frankly go to hell or be sub-contracted as far as I’m concerned) are very limited. What organisation wants to hear that you are only willing to work term-time? Yet my children are in school and for thirty weeks of the year I can devote five hours per day to productive, revenue generating and ultimately fulfilling activities. That’s 750 productive hours per annum, not one of which will be spent nursing a hangover, moodily dreaming about a turbulent love life or worrying what I’ll wear at the week-end as may have been the case for my younger, single self (I’m admitting nothing). Employers take note – mothers are brilliant and efficient multi-taskers who make the most of the precious hours available.

In the recently published How Woman Mean Business (a follow-up to Why Woman Mean Business, co-authored with Alison Maitland in 2009), Avivah Wittenberg-Cox, CEO of gender consultancy 20-First, clearly and comprehensively documents how corporations can best implement strategies to achieve gender balance and attract the best and brightest members of both halves of the talent pool. She believes that enlightened companies are moving away from the old ineffective mindset and adopting radical and viable new strategies.

At 20-First gender balance is treated as a business issue not a woman’s issue and blockages are removed. This approach is considered radical and attracts clients that are, “open to new solutions and willing and committed to work with them”, having recognised that their organisation is flawed. They realise that gender balancing brings the best mix of management styles to the fore and has a positive impact on the bottom line. As for the rest, “traditional, resistant companies go elsewhere and continue to do all the wrong things.” The “wrong things” include talking about glass ceilings and setting up internal all-female support groups, thus treating women as the problem and convincing them that in order to succeed they must learn to behave more like men.

Ensuring that women remain and thrive in an organisation requires a shift away from the old notion of linear career progression. That’s why women are often attracted to entrepreneurship as it offers greater control. However, access to capital can be problematic. Wittenberg-Cox believes that, “it’s all about shifting the mindset. Creative solutions such as job sharing will work if the company is well disposed to trying them”. Many men welcome changes intended to redress the gender imbalance as this represents an opportunity to improve working life for everyone. So, is the traditional workplace dysfunctional? Wittenberg-Cox contests this assertion, saying that it is simply “outdated. [The system] worked perfectly well in its time when a man went to work every day and had a wife at home to look after him but that time is gone.”

The crux of the issue is this: women should not be expected to make unrealistic sacrifices and take on unrealistic stress; Children should not effectively spend their little lives becoming potentially institutionalised in various crèches and after-school facilities from early morning to late at night (and I do realise that this may be a personal bias and that many children seem to thrive in childcare); and men should not lose the happy, dynamic and successful woman they married to have her replaced by a Stepford style automaton who starts hitting the vino earlier and earlier each day.

What should happen is that society should reorganise itself to allow for more flexibility, thus facilitating the needs of all. Perhaps a mum could take five years out to get her children to school-going age without losing out on status and promotional opportunities as Gwyneth Williams, recently appointed controller of BBC Radio 4, did. Perhaps an Irish dad could take three months off when a new baby arrives as his Norwegian counterpart can. Perhaps junior can spend a happy morning in school knowing that he will be collected by a calm, fulfilled, contented mum not one burnt out by juggling unrealistic demands or worn down by domestic chores that hold little interest for her. Is that Utopia? Perhaps it is and I’d sure like to live there.

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The current issue of The Wire

As an admittedly somewhat infrequent reader of The Wire (the magazine, rather than the cult Baltimore-based TV show) I could empathise with much in this article by writer Anwyn Crawford about why she won’t be subscribing to the music magazine again.

In her opening paragraph, Anwyn tells us

I haven’t been shy about my growing discontent with The Wire over the past few years: with its bloodless writing, dull obsequiousness to a small gallery of icons (perhaps the magazine’s sub-masthead should be A Lee Renaldo Bulletin Board), and above all, its alarming gender imbalance. I had already made up my mind not to re-subscribe, and December’s new issue is an unfortunate justification of my reasons why.

I’ll leave you to read the entire piece yourself – it is fantastically written, with a great dose of humour scattered throughout the scathing critique of what Anwyn perceives as The Wire‘s imbalanced approach to women artists and writers – but for me it echoed so many of the reasons why I am an ‘infrequent’ reader of The Wire.

Unlike other music magazines (or websites), I feel I have to be very deliberate when reading The Wire. It’s not a mag that you can just flick through while drinking a cup of tea on a Friday evening. No. For me, it requires time, space and focus. It brings me back to the UCC library and poring over academic texts in an attempt to formulate an answer for an essay due the next day; the feeling that out of the dry sentences I have to pull something tangible that makes sense to me.

I do love the fact that The Wire is not an advertiser-driven, chart-focused magazine; that I can pick up an issue and only have heard of a small handful (if any) of the artists mentioned within its clinically laid-out pages. It is an education for me, and learning about music is something that I relish. But reading certain articles is like reading a menu in Dutch when you know nothing more than the word for waffle. You won’t get far and you probably won’t learn much in the process.

Music, for me, is about emotions, feelings, the stirrings inside you when you detect a change in beat or when two voices swell in harmony; it’s about the hairs on your arms lifting when a particular lyric strikes you where it hurts.  It’s not a dry element. It doesn’t always have to be about chord changes, soundscapes, or middle eighths. Yes, writing about music is like dancing about architecture but there can – and should – be emotion invested in both. Reading The Wire, sometimes it feels as though all the emotion created within and by the music has been sucked out, leaving an arid landscape strewn with rusting, unfamiliar, instruments.

The now defunct music magazine Plan B (you can download the PDFs of all the issues at that link) generally struck a great balance between po-faced deconstruction of musical texts and expressing exhuberant joy at the discovery of fresh, new music. Like The Wire, I learned a huge amount from reading it but never felt I wasn’t intelligent/knowledgeable/prone-to-beard-stroking enough to really ‘get it’.

Unlike The Wire, Plan B (which was created by Everett True of Careless Talk Costs Lives and edited, and later published, by Frances Morgan) clearly attempted to have a gender-balanced approach. I subscribed to it for a year and each time I saw another woman pictured on the cover my heart leapt. There were lots of female and self-described feminist writers of both sexes and so female and male musicians were treated as they should be: equals.

Sure, Plan B wasn’t perfect (some articles could be a bit too self-congratulatory) but it was a sad, sad day when it folded.

Of The Wire, Anwyn says:

Since 2006 The Wire has put seven female artists on the cover, and that’s if you count Trish Keenan, one half of Broadcast, who shared the cover with her collaborator James Cargill in October 2009 – the only woman to appear on a Wire cover that year. 2006 was a seeming high point in gender parity: three female cover stars, and only one for each year since. Seven out of forty-eight covers really isn’t fucking good enough.

Here’s a link to those covers so you can see for yourself.

This under-representation of female musicians on the covers of music magazines is nothing new – next time you’re in a bookshop, take a look at the music magazines (usually housed beneath the ‘men’s mags’ such as Zoo or FHM) and see if you can spot a woman on the cover. (On that point, when I first started buying music magazines and realised they were housed in the ‘men’s lifestyle’ section in Eason I knew that embarking on my dream career of music journalist would be an ‘interesting’ journey for a feminist.)

Why not count how many women you can see on the covers of Q magazine this year (two solo covers: Cheryl Cole and Lady Gaga – and two group shots: Amy Winehouse and Lily Allen together in a group shot; and Lady Gaga again in a group shot). The reason I mention Q is that the response to ‘there aren’t enough women on the covers of music magazines’ is often ‘but that’s because it reflects the amount of women working in music‘.

This is not true – particularly in the case of Q, which covers mainstream rock, indie and pop music. In fact, the female musicians it covers are usually from the pop arena. And you cannot argue that the pop realm is oestrogen-free.

Our own Hotpress is actually one of the better magazines for featuring female cover stars but there is still not an equal balance.

Then there are the magazines aimed at bassists, guitarists and other musicians. You could learn how to play the entire Led Zeppelin back catalogue on guitar in the time that passes between the appearances of women on the cover of Total Guitar or Bass Guitar Magazine, for example.

The first woman to appear on the cover of Total Guitar was Brody Dalle, then of The Distillers, in the February 2004 issue.  On the cover was written:  “The 50 Guitarists You Need to Hear this Year (and yeah, she’s one of them…)”.

The strangely apologetic editorial read:

“Yeah, that’s a woman on the cover. And it’s the first time TG’s had a female guitarist as its cover star (we suspect it may well be the first time any guitar mag has had a female as its cover star). She’s not on there ‘cos we’re doing a feature on ‘Women in Rock’, or because she’s got her tits out. She’s there for the same reason all our other cover stars are – because she rocks…And if it makes you feel better, next month we’re back to hairy blokes who play really fast.”

Phew! She wasn’t there because she was getting her tits out – but if you’re offended, there are plenty of men to focus on instead. Brody was one of two women in the ‘Top 50 Guitarists’ list. The other woman was Ani Di Franco. What did the writers have to say about her? “The words ‘bisexual’, ‘feminist’, ‘acoustic’ and ‘protest-singer’ might strike fear in the hearts of many, but not us (in fact, they give us a hard-on.)”

There may not be a great ‘conspiracy’ to keep women off the covers of music magazines and give them minimal coverage on the inside pages. But there is an acceptance in most quarters that is just ‘how it is’; that putting a woman on the cover of Q or Uncut or Mojo or The Wire or Rolling Stone or the NME a few times a year, or for the ‘women in rock’ issue is good enough.

That showing Lily Allen in her knickers and Muse in their suits is somehow unproblematic and should not raise questions about how female and male cover stars are portrayed in overtly sexual/non-sexual ways.


Sure, there have been magazines solely dedicated to female musicians but the ideal would be male and female musicians on an equal footing. If women are seen as the ‘minority’ or the ‘outsider’ in music magazines then does that encourage women to create music? If women are relegated to the minority in writing for and editing these magazines (notably, Krissi Murison is the first female editor of the NME, while Louise Brown is the first female editor of Terrorizer) then does that encourage young women to write for these magazines?

One thing this lack of women – or invisibility of women – in music magazines has done is ensure women will try to fill the gaps in the music world by writing zines or starting websites themselves (like Pink Noises, dedicated to women and electronic music).  So, no, women don’t sit back with a resigned sigh and accept things as they are – they rail and revolt, they enthuse, write, rant and blog. They write about Riot Grrrl and female singers and feminism in music, all things that are rarely, if ever (with the exception of Plan B and The Guardian‘s music section) covered in the music press. They create their own space and give previously mute women an unwavering voice.

Yet, still, equality is not there in the mainstream press.

After reading Anwyn’s piece, I am not going to stop reading The Wire. But I hope that the editors of the magazine read her incredibly thorough and impassioned article and analyse their approach to gender (im)balance in their publication. They owe that to their readers.

For all music publications – both online and off – alienating female readers is not a smart move. We are readers, we are writers, we are musicians, we are creators. We deserve an equal space in the music world and we deserve representation in all arenas.

Why? Because we rock too.

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Once upon a time, during the mid-1980s, I was a fresh-faced and enthusiastic young undergraduate and subsequently post-graduate student at UCD. In 1987 I, along with 300 of my peers, two-thirds of them men, graduated with a Bachelor of Commerce degree. Back then, as now, many graduates from my class entered the big accountancy firms around Dublin and were delighted to have the opportunity to gain experience and carve out a lucrative career as an accountant. I, along with about a hundred others, decided to stay on at UCD and study for a master’s degree, an MBS in marketing in my case.

Plus ça change, plus c'est la même chose

We were intelligent and eager and we operated in a perfect meritocracy. Those that worked hardest and proved to be the brightest would graduate with the best degrees and, perhaps more significantly in the midst of a deep recession, would have the best chance of securing employment here in Ireland.

I thrived in this environment. I enjoyed the subjects I was studying and found that the combination of written exam and thesis based research suited me well. I graduated first in my class and was awarded a research fellowship for my thesis on the policies and strategies adopted by financial institutions in attracting lump sum investments. I was for that brief time first among equals and it felt good. I was hired as a business consultant by a small Dublin firm and all was well with the world. Then reality bit hard.

My male bosses were very fair & decent blokes. They treated me very well and if there was a tendency at the end of a working day for “the lads” to head down Leeson Street then I didn’t really mind it. I was happy to go home or meet with my own friends to be honest. However, some of the clients were an entirely different matter. I frequently attended meetings where I was simply ignored. I was criticised for “my” choice of biscuits. I was even complimented on the “typing and presentation” alone of one business plan that I had compiled in its entirety. I was rarely spoken to directly; clients always addressed themselves to my boss or any random male colleague that happened to be in the room. Once when I went on a business trip with my boss, who was at least a decade my senior, our bags were put into the same bedroom. He at least had the grace to look as mortified as I felt.

It came to a head one evening when I arrived at a client meeting and the male client handed accounts spreadsheets out to everybody in the room – except me; I was the lead consultant on the account and it was not an accidental oversight. I walked out. I didn’t care about the consequences and I fully expected to be fired the next day. I was called to the boardroom – and given a pay rise. The guys I worked for were genuinely decent and valued my input. However, I needed more varied experience and left to work for a major multinational. There, I was on the receiving end of a disguising, filthy phone call from a male colleague in relation to something I was wearing one day, I had to campaign to have a “girly” calendar taken down from the wall of the warehouse – a place I had to visit every day, and on one memorable occasion I found myself alone with a male business associate in what I believed to be a very compromising, dangerous situation, one  in which I felt the need to beg to be taken back to my place of work.

After a couple of years I applied for a job in the female dominated market research industry and there I thrived. I rose to the position of Client Service Director in the London office and my success there took the sting out of the occasional casual incident of sexism perpetrated by older male clients. I can honestly say that Irish men were far more prone to this behaviour than their very professional UK counterparts in my experience. One particular star in the Irish business community used to refer to myself and my female colleagues as “the spice girls” and reply to his emails during our presentations. As I progressed I was responsible for many younger male members of staff and I was always conscious of treating them with respect. I strived to never make a casually sexist remark or pass them over in favour of my female co-workers.

Therefore, and bearing these experiences and many more like them in mind, you will perhaps forgive me if I just can’t see the “funny side” or “bit of craic” in the treatment of these 13 unfortunate women working for PWC in Dublin. It’s tough out there in the testosterone fuelled business world. In my experience by merely being young and female (yes ageism is alive and well too) these women will start out at a disadvantage and will need to strive to be taken as seriously as their male counterparts. This horrible, undermining, casually sexist behaviour must be taken seriously and cannot be condoned. I am perfectly prepared to be accused of being a humourless old harridan if that’s what it takes to raise awareness of this issue and eradicate such inappropriate behaviour from the workplace. I really hope we succeed but we’ve not come very far in the past twenty-five years sadly.

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Geena Davis - Not Just a Pretty face

Actress Geena Davis is perhaps best remembered in the role of poor, put-upon Thelma, sidekick to Susan Sarendon’s sassy Louise, in Ridley Scott’s 1991 groundbreaking road movie, Thelma & Louise. Although still acting, Ms. Davis has increasingly turned her attention to activism for gender equality, initially in sport and laterally in the media. Interestingly her positive action in support of a more balanced reflection of society in the media sprang from fairly innocuous roots. Back in 2004 Davis was watching television with her young daughter when it struck her that there was a noticeable imbalance in the ratio of male to female characters portrayed in programmes aimed at pre-teens. Not only was there a marked numerical imbalance, it also became apparent that the roles open to female actresses fell into a narrow range of stereotypes: generally sexualised eye-candy. These were programmes directed specifically at children aged under-11, many of them – on both the big screen and the small – viewed by our children too.

Davis became convinced that this insidious form of gender bias was feeding into the reality that females are undervalued in society. “The more TV a girl watches,” Davis concluded, “the more limited she believes her opportunities will be.” This observation ultimately led to the establishment of the Geena Davis Institute on Gender in Media and the undertaking of a comprehensive research project looking at gender in children’s entertainment at the Annenberg School for Communication of University of Southern California. This study directed by Dr. Stacy Smith and covering four hundred G, PG, PG-13, and R-Rated movie, concluded that for every one female character portrayed, there are almost three males and that girls are given far less screen time.

“The more TV a girl watches,” Davis concluded, “the more limited she believes her opportunities will be.”

The researchers also linked their findings to a resulting undermining of self-esteem amongst young girls and a consequent sexist bias amongst young boys. In response the institute developed a programme, called SEE JANE that works in collaboration with the entertainment industry using research, education and advocacy to dramatically reduce stereotyping and increase the number of female characters included in children’s entertainment.

The approach taken by Geena Davis in tackling gender equality at this fundamental level in the entertainment industry has been recognised and rewarded. In 2009 she received an honorary Doctorate from Bates College, a private liberal arts college located in Lewiston, Maine. Although tangible changes have been affected by the Institute, their task is far from complete. However, it is truly inspiring to see a woman turn an everyday observation into such a laudable and practical programme of action and to learn of a Hollywood legend using their fame to such commendable ends. After all as Geena so straightforwardly puts it, “Kids need to see entertainment where females are valued as much as males.”

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I’m outta here!

Women fed up with lads’ mags and sexist language undermining our struggle to be taken seriously and treated equally could follow the example of Guardian columnist Wendy Roby who encouraged her readers to engage in random acts of feminism. Roby argues very persuasively that “signs of female solidarity in unlikely places might prove a useful weapon in the feminist’s arsenal”. The creative schemes dreamed up by her and her legions of willing fans included placing copies of Good Housekeeping on top of the latest lads’ mags or attaching Post-it notes pre-inscribed with thought provoking comments like “Real Men Buy Books”, and speech bubbles saying, “I am somebody’s sister” to their covers. Others put fake calling cards in phone boxes helpfully including a premium rate astrology hotline at the bottom. The funniest example of all was from one reader who took pity on the blond trapped in the highest turret of a pink plastic castle in a toy shop. This enterprising woman took a tiny card from her handbag and placed the following beside the princess’s head. “Please let me out. I gotta get to work!” What dastardly schemes would Irish women come up with?

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