Sexism still lies at the heart of all aspects of public life

December 12, 2013 10:19 am

Here are some things that have happened over the last week:

On Sunday, news broke of the list of people who had been prepared by Spencer Livermore and Douglas Alexander to be consulted about how to win the next general election. I have written elsewhere about some of the problems inherent in this list, but absolutely key is that it contained no women. None of the people deemed worthy of meeting are female. And no one picked up on this. Not a person who looked at that list thought there was anything the slightest bit odd about it.

On Tuesday a demonstration was held outside the headquarters of Universities UK to demonstrate against their advice allowing the holding of on-campus gender-segregated meetings. Somewhat bizarrely, this was reported in the HuffPost Uk as a topless protest (in December – umm, OK!). No one connected to the organisation of the protest seemed to understand where the topless angle had come from. Seems if it’s women in public life, it must be something to do with tits.

Certainly, if you have the temerity to question whether the most newsworthy daily contribution women can make to public life is to bear their breasts, you are then apparently “asking for it” in terms of sexist and gendered abuse.

Or at least so thinks the Political Editor of the UK’s widest read newspaper (and proud publisher of those newsworthy knockers). When Labour MP Stella Creasy mentioned the No More Page 3 campaign during PMQs yesterday, he seemed shocked that Stella would criticise women’s bodies being regarded as entertainment while at the same time wearing a skirt of a particular colour and material. Apparently it’s OK though, because as he later explained, he was #justsaying. Hey, no big deal.

So far in a week, and off the top of my head, the things that trump women’s equality include misguided political “expedience”, religious fanaticism and fashion advice from the terminally grey suited.

Under Ed Miliband and led by Jon Cruddas, head of Labour’s policy review, there has been a great deal of talk about shifting our focus from dealing with the results of inequality through redistribution to trying to tackle the causes.

Well here are some vital statistics that some might think relevant to that mission:

  • On average two women a week are killed by a violent partner or ex-partner in the UK.
  • An estimated 66,000 women in England and Wales in 2001 had been subject to Female Genital Mutilation (FGM) and at least 24,000 girls were at risk of FGM in 2007.
  • The full time gender pay gap is 10%, and the average part-time pay gap is 34.5%.
  • Approximately 70% of people in national minimum wage jobs are women.
  • Women make up only 17% board directors of FTSE 100 companies.
  • Women’s unemployment is a 24 year high and unemployment is highest amongst Black and minority ethnicity women.

(These and many other statistics are taken from the UK Feminista website)

Maybe just once, as the Labour Party are so keen to talk about internal change and societal change, we could perhaps start with gender inequality. Rather than continue to treat it as an add on. As a second wave problem. Because if we are serious about changing the inequality faced by certain groups in society, then dealing with that faced by 50% of the population first would be a good start, not a ending fiddle.

But to do that, we must look first to our own endemic issues. Yes, we are the Party who are – by a country mile – the best in terms of gender representation of elected officials. Yes All Women Shortlists and other measures are invaluable in getting us to that leadership position. But it is not enough. We all know that.

Ed Miliband wants to be a bold leader. As a supported of Ed’s right from the very beginning, I know he is more than capable of this. But if Ed wants to truly be a leader with a great, clunking birth canal then he needs to address the problem of gender inequality in society. Starting with that damn list.

  • Czarny kapturek

    It is indeed not positive that there are no women on the list. There are also however no Black people or other People of Colour; you mention them briefly (though only Black or PoC women) but focus only that women should be included. The question is why this is, when there are a fair few Black and PoC people in GB, and many of them in the Labour party. In Germany (where I work) there is someone called Alice Schwarzer who puts forward a middle class white-women’s feminism and is widely derided by Marxist feminists. I wonder if that is similar here. I would hope that we can have representatives from different groups who have less power in society, not just one.

    Those statistics you quote are indeed damning and need addressing. Homelessness, prison and mental health statistics will give a different impression of which sex faces the both problems. I say that not to take attention away from women with problems, rather, that sexism against women is one of many problems that needs to be addressed. I mean, I don’t know much about those people on the list, so I wonder how many of them are working class. Labour started off as being about the working class. God knows that certain movements that stand up for the working class are horrendous in dealing with women’s issues (such as the SWP), but I would hope that Labour could be diferent.

  • MarkLathamUK

    A post that does not make for pleasant reading. We, in Labour, criticise the overt misogyny of Coalition policy and practice; cutting child benefit (paid to mums), cutting legal aid in divorce (women are less likely to control assets), “calm down, dear” to female parliamentarians, the increase in part time hours required for Working Tax Credits, the replacement of maternity leave with a grossly inadequate two week period for new mothers (a Lib Dem policy). So in this new age of misogyny and sexism articulated by government and played out against an increasing storm of porn being piped into our homes, the Labour Party must wake up and be “better than this”. It takes great clunking birth canals to put this right.

  • ColinAdkins

    Emma, I agree but I sometimes throw my hands in despair when the focus is on chief execs of the top FTSE index companies. Hundreds of thousands if not millions of women are effected by gender based occupational segregation which results in them having jobs, vocations or working for pin money, whilst men have careers. To bring about fundamental change it is necessary to get more men into occupations like nursing, primary school teaching or social care and more women into occupations like construction, engineering as well as into the top jobs. Colin

  • Quiet_Sceptic

    Surprising angle on example number 2, I’d have thought the decision of Universities UK to condone segregation was rather more important than the rather poor reporting of it by one media outlet.

    Where was the article about that on LabourList?

    The Sun editor makes a comment about Stella Creasy’s dress and it gets an article, Tory MEPs voting on sex education gets an article but the acceptance of gender based segregation within what are supposed to be our centres of learning, of intellectual enlightenment doesn’t!

    Then perhaps that comes back to the issues within our own party, do we challenge sexism when it risks upsetting some of our own support base?

    • treborc1

      That was rather interesting sadly it would have up set a few of the Voting groups so it’s best to say nothing and leave it at that.

    • JoeDM

      The near silence of the part of politicians and the media on this is very disappointing. Nothing on LL or currently in the NS or the Guardian. YAB had a good go at it in the Indie which was good to see and the BBC has given it good air time on the Today programme but not on TV. But very little elsewhere.

      The impression is that the media and political trendies would rather sit back in shameful apeasement of segregated public meetings that are not really any different from the old racial apartheid that has been in the news again this week.

      Well done Jack Straw for standing up to be counted on the Today programme. A politician who is willing to say what he thinks in defence of normal western liberal values.

  • treborc1

    Swearing labour use to be about working class, sadly then the min wage came in they all got paid £12,000 and became middle class.

    Labour use to be about disability and equality then decided if your disabled and equal you should work, they let in a few nice disabled people in wheelchairs and one or two with dogs and that was that settled.

    Sadly labour is now not so much middle class as very slightly Tory

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