Tuesday, January 29, 2008

I'm happy to wear the trousers...

Lately I've been thinking about the role of women in business and politics, partly inspired by the ongoing battle for the Democrat Presidential Candidacy (I feel it needs capitalisation) and also because I've been encouraged to read "business literature". If any of the latter is aimed at women - which, judging from the amount of bullshit these smug men are spouting about how selling business is like seducing a woman, is not a lot - it generally encourages them to become more like men. Similarly, Hillary Clinton attracts quite a lot of sniping because she is too "man-like" and not "feminine" enough - it is clear that she has felt the need to develop quite a strong (and perhaps more war-mongering) brand of politics in order to get over the disadvantage of being female.

Is this the way things have to be? If we want to get ahead, in any sphere, do we have to conform to a certain level of expectation? Research quoted in the Harvard Review of Business (come to your own conclusions about how reliable *that* makes it) suggest that employees are less likely to take a female boss seriously. Being a woman is associated with softness, vulnerability and maternal instincts, no matter how ridiculous that assumption is (how many women like that do you come across every day... er, none).

Perhaps then, we have to overcompensate for this. Women have to network like men, swagger like men, be aggressive and stereotypically masculine (even though those stereotypes are often just as unrealistic as those about women) in order to get what they want and be taken seriously. Yet this also backfires - employers are more likely to judge a woman harshly when she is angry than they are to judge a man. Some women high up in organisations get a bad reputation amongst female staff because they are not seen to help other women reach the same heights. I could go on - but I won't; there's not that much time.

I don't have an easy solution to the problem, which ends up boiling down to "damned if you do, damned if you don't". Is the answer to develop a different notion of what is feminine? To change work cultures and try to correct prejudices? To ignore all of this and soldier grimly on? Obviously, a bit of all these things wouldn't hurt, it's a question of how productive they are.

I also think we need to stop criticising women who don't meet our standards of how they ought to be behaving so harshly. Yes, Clinton's not perfect and she might not be our ideal of a first woman President (for various reasons, if I were an American, I would not be voting for her atr this stage). However, let's criticise her policies as policies rather than bitch because she's acting too male, or she cried and so on. Let's also recognise that she faces some of the same problems the rest of us do - and that honestly, for many of us, our own reactions to these problems are also far from perfect.

...But the pockets are too small to be useful

Why is it that trousers designed for women have such impractical pockets? Men can carry around a whole host of useful items including (but not limited to) phones, wallets, ipods, loose change, keys in their voluminous pockets without looking like they've sprouted giant tumours. Women, on the otherhand, are lucky if they can fit in some clean tissues and 20p for the machine in the toilet. It's made quite clear that pockets are there for show and are shrinking over time - rather like the little toe. Perhaps it is part of the conspiracy to encourage us to buy vastly overpriced handbags.

Friday, January 25, 2008

Redundancy: word of the week

Things that annoyed me this week:

1) The advert on TV for a children's magazine (specifically targeted at young girls) called Strawberry Shortcake. Not only does this charming magazine give away crappy pieces of tat so that teh childrens can play at cooking, the TV voiceover cheerfully exhorts these innocents to "learn to cook just like mummy!"

To which I (quite cheerfully - although it would be a lie because actually I'd be spitting with rage) respond: bite me.

Mummy might be an excellent cook. She may well (rather like I do) own many cook books and enjoy good food. However, it is *not* the sole responsibility of mummy to do all the cooking. Nor, in this day and age, should we be marketing such blatant sexist crap to children. Especially when it is obviously false - look at all the famous male chefs on TV who outnumber the female ones. By all means encourage your children to cook but (a) do it regardless of their sex (b) don't do it by making them think that mummy should do all the cooking and (c) ease off on all the pink coloured, strawberry-decorated bits of plastic.

2) All attempts to make powertools/gardening equipment and screwdrivers more "suitable" for women by making them pink or decorating them with a vile array of floral motifs. WTF? Are women incapable of using tools unless they are markedly "feminine" (and I use feminine in the narrowest possible sense, as I hardly think bouquets of flowers are the be and all and end all of feminity)?

Perhaps women in general are scared and perplexed by something like a screwdriver. They don't know how to wire a plug. However, stick some fucking flowers on the thing and all of a sudden - empowerment! Why did we not think of this before? Maybe if we repaint fire engines to be pink with a ribbon border and rose petal motif, women will want to be fire officers!

It is *kind* of the patriarchy to give us the permission to use these tools. I mean, it just wouldn't do for a women to use a plain old garden trowel (the way she's been doing for *years*) because that's just too emasculating. No, better make it pretty for her.

I had this argument with my (supposedly feminist) boss, who thinks its wonderful that this has happened. He feels this is empowerment forging ahead. Now women can do "manly" things. In fact they are positively encouraged to do it. How can this be bad? He is seemingly unable to see the point that women are only encouraged to do these things as long as they do them in the male-approved, girly way. Which, when you think about it, is only the patriarchy once again dictating the behaviour of women.

3) My sexist new colleague: He's in a position of some power in the organisation, which is a little worrying. At first we gave him the benefit of the doubt - his "in a room with a bunch of girls" comments were annoying but could be due to nerves. They weren't. He's just an arse.

Today he made the wonderful remark that if he were in charge of recruitment he would "never hire any women over the age of about 28 because they'll just go and get pregnant". Gee, how enlightened this man is. Especially given that he's about 35 and already has three children under ten. But that's okay, because that's his wife's problem.

Ignoring the distinctly frosty looks he was getting (he works in an office where he is the only man) he carried on making highly "amusing" remarks about our capacity to be walking incubators and how scary we women were and men better watch out. In the end, I couldn't take it any longer.

Him: "...yeah, all the fellas better watch out with you around."
Me: " Haven't you heard Egbert*? You're surplus to requirement. Men are completely redundant now."
(He starts to snigger then examines my dead-pan expression, looking increasingly worried. He then walks off without saying anything.)

On the one-hand, I'm annoyed with myself for letting him get to me. My comment may have shut him up, but he's obviously so thick that it's going to be one more bit of proof to him than feminists are all a bunch of ball-breaking man-haters who envy him his penis. On the other, it may well be true**.

Think about it, if even *some proportion* of men were to become redundant in terms of procreation (and we're definitely thinking crazy sci-fi utopia here) the misogynist wankers who can't control their mouths even in the most inappropriate of circumstances are going down first. Fact.

*Egbert not actually his real name
** I do not think that all men are redundant. Only the ones I don't like (heh).

Friday, January 18, 2008

Unreasonable Optimism

I am inexplicably cheerful about the coming few months at work, despite nothing having changed in the slightest and the likelihood of me ever getting promoted (or at least to a job that doesn't make me want to eat my own limbs and howl like a wolf) is still zilch. Yet, I still have this unnerving sense that *good things* are going to happen - perhaps the work ethic I mysteriously developed in the closing months of last year was not just zombified, mindless obedience but an actual moment of maturity/growth.

(Shakes head in horror at the thought I might always feel like doing random extra work *at the weekend*)

It could be that this good mood is just a leftover of Christmas cheer or some side effect of the recent illness. Either way, it should be gone soon enough: it's bonus and pay meetings at the beginning of next month. Meh.

Seasonal Malaise

So Norovirus has struck again this year, worse than ever if the media is to be believed. The back-to-work season was sandwiched between dire warnings of projectile vomiting and uncontrollable pooing. Commuters on packed, sweaty trains looked at each other furtively in case their seatmate was suddenly struck down - after all, the papers warned us, these germs were everywhere and could hit at any time. Anyone who looked vaguely ill was to be avoided or sent evil glares: were they the fiends who were ignoring NHS advice to stay at home? In offices, there were competitive renditions of whose-family-was-worst-hit-at-christmas-dinner and slightly sadistic shudders at the terrible pains absent colleagues must be going through.

I am almost disappointed I didn't get it - I feel I managed to miss out on an experience bigger than myself (I am of course being sarcastic here).

There obviously was/is a nasty bug going around - attendance at my work post-xmas party was decimated by ill-health (or perhaps people using a mild cold as an excuse not to go) and the Heloise-stronghold has been brought low by disease of the mucus/miserable/exhaustion type. Apart from the feeling ill part, it's all been rather jolly and an excuse to sleep for 16 hours a day and not change out of pyjamas. Due to the rigid following of the "feed a cold" rule, I've failed to lose weight - although colds should probably not be fed by left over xmas chocolate but by healthy things that we were too ill to go out and buy.

The trouble with illness-related media paranoia is that it tends to override my usual scepticism and awaken any latent compulsive tendencies floating around my head. I have a slight weakness for hygeine paranoia anyway - if I think too hard I can find myself avoiding touching door handles, taps, light switches or the flush on toilets (to name just a few) - but with something as thrillingly disgusting as Norovirus, it can spiral well out of control. Those germs could be everywhere - buttons on cash machines, chip+pin machines at the supermarket, train seats, tables, computer keyboards, restaurants, the kitchens where my pret sandwich was made - and if I'm not careful the logical next step would be to lock myself in my own bathroom, gently rocking backwards and forwards. Luckily, getting a genuine illness put a stop to this dangerous behaviour, if only because I was confined to house arrest.

On the plus side, Tesco was gloriously empty last weekend (although they were so short-staffed they could only open half the tills and the shelves were pretty empty) which gave a bizarre snapshot of what the world would be like during a flu epidemic but without the death and actual terror.

Thursday, January 03, 2008

Read it and Weep

Rather than start the year with my usual moaning, I thought I'd start with a list of some of my favourite feminist reading - if the state of the railways this week is anything to go by, we'll all have the chance to catch up on a bit of reading...

1) The Women's Room
Definitely worth reading - if you're only going to read one feminist book, I'd read this. Not only did it resound within myself and my own experiences, it also illustrates that feminism is not just one theory, but lots of different strands of thought grouped together. It's one of my favourite books of all time and I've read it over and over again.

2) The Second Sex
Simone often gets overlooked, but it's not a bad book. You might want to pick and choose the chapters you read (rather than grimly plough through the whole lot) but some parts are bizarrely relevant, for all society is thought to have moved on.

3) Feminine Mystique
Yes, Betty did go a bit bonkers towards the end, but this is a good read and it's great to see what all the fuss is about. Not perfect, obviously (but who, or what, is?) and some parts are a bit outdated, still - I'd recommend it.

4) The Golden Notebook
I know Doris Lessing is a bit edgy in terms of her feminist credentials but this really is a great book. Perhaps all of you are more sane (or together) than I am, but I found some parts of this book very insightful.

Other books worth reading:
Germaine Greer - Female Eunuch
Naomi Wolf - Beauty Myth
Bell Hooks - collected writings
Imelda Whelan

And of course there are others; the only trouble with doing this when you're supposed to be doing something else (and preferably more productive)is that time is somewhat limited.

To head off the criticism that all/the majority of these are (a) middle class and white and (b) fairly old; I am myself middle class and white and I haven't been all that taken by recent books on feminism. Still, I will try to do better next time.