Equal pay now: a small feminist action

 

When I am behind a megaphone, something quite magical happens. I become the message I am conveying: there are no insecurities or fears, it is just pure dissemination of information. It is intoxicating and empowering.

This is perhaps part of the reason I protest so frequently.

Yesterday I was part of a tiny action aimed at raising awareness of the gender pay gap. We chose the City, as for doing the same jo

We met at Holborn and unfurled the banner which bore the stark, simple message ‘EQUAL PAY NOW’. There were five of us, all pa We shouted and leafleted, then began to march through the City towards Liverpool Street Station, pausing briefly to spread the word on the steps of the Bank of England. Some faces lit up in understanding. Others sneered.

At Liverpool Street, we draped our banner over a clock and shouted from above, like angry feminist gods, to puzzled commuters below. Some faces lit up in understanding. Others sneered.

At this point, Liverpool Street’s security asked us to leave. We politely ignored. The police arrived. We told them calmly of our message. The manager arrived. As she asked us to leave, we complied, not having the numbers to risk arrest and dearrest.

We left, shouting, and stood outside the station until all of our leaflets were exhausted. Some faces lit up in understanding. Others sneered. A young man joined our small, lively group.

‘You are being ripped off,’ we told the women in the finance sector, talking to them in a language they could understand.

Many did. Many sheepishly accepted leaflets.

‘Surely this can’t be true?’ we were asked frequently. We explained that it was, and they should check out the extensive set of references on our leaflets.

There was support, delicious, glorious support. Many women and some men cried, ‘Good on you!’. One woman walked with us for a while.

‘Well done,’ she said. ‘You’re not preaching to the converted here.’

And we were not. I counted seven instances of outright misogynistic abuse. Then there were those who victim-blamed, declaring women were paid less because they chose to be, or that they worked differently, despite our repeated assertions that the pay disparities we were highlighting were for doing exactly the same job. Then there was the mirth: so many men laughing and sneering that people had the gall to be angry and take action.

I was annoyed. We were there to point out unfairness and oppression, and we were greeted at times with stark evidence of women not being taken seriously.

Megaphone in hand, the empowerment it bestowed flowing through me, I would, at times, shame those who detracted us.

The man who said that women were paid less because women had smaller brains got a public scolding outside Holborn. Passers-by turned and stared. He slinked off briefly.

The man who, while laughing, said, “We work in the finance sector, and I can tell you that she earns more than me,” was greeted with sarcasm. I said, “The plural of anecdote is not data. With a grasp of numbers like yours, I’m not surprised there’s a financial crisis.”

The men who laughed from the concourse of Liverpool Street were greeted with a shout of “shame”. E was on the megaphone at the time. She shared the feeling of power. The men blushed.

The young man who stood and sniggered, finally plucking up the courage to utter the height of witticism, “Get back in the kitchen, love,” received the apex of my ire.

Megaphone in hand, I followed him up the street, informing him and a group of commuters that he had a tiny penis. His friends hooted with laughter.

It was perhaps misjudged, to cast aspersions on the size of his genitals. There are implications to that. I was not thinking of the consequences. Just once, I wanted him to feel what women feel every day: the sense of powerlessness in the face of harassment, of gendered abuse, of humiliation. I think it worked.

Reception of the action was largely somewhere between neutral and positive, though.

The support we received was exhilarating. The interest shown by those who did not know about the magintude of the problem was uplifting. I truly feel as though we may have changed some minds rather than merely preaching in an echo chamber of saved souls.

We should do it again, we decided, with greater numbers, and a more audacious form of action.

On the way home, buoyed by such a wonderful day, I encountered a completely novel form of street harassment. Just when I had thought I had seen all the patriarchy had to offer, I saw something new.

A man leapt out from behind a lamp post and shouted “Boo!”

I had no megaphone.

I gave him an angry scowl.

He looked sheepish. He blushed, chastened.

I smiled to myself. The strength does not have to come from a megaphone. It is only a conduit.

Why I’m marching tomorrow

Tomorrow, 26th March 2011, up to a million people will take to the streets and march against the government’s ideological austerity measures, raising awareness that there is an alternative: taxation and promotion of new jobs and green growth. I will be one of these people.

I will be marching for the future generations of children who will not receive the same opportunities in life that I did. They will face crippling debt of up to £40000 if they decide to go to university like I did. Those from poorer backgrounds may not even be able to do their A Levels.

I will be marching for women, who are disproportionately affected by the cuts. My sisters will be more likely to lose their jobs in the public sector. They will lose numerous benefits relating to childcare. They will be unable to leave abusive relationships; marriage or poverty. Pension reforms mean many women will spend their retirement in poverty.

I will be marching for all of the valued public sector workers who face losing their jobs due to the cuts. These people provide us with things that we need–security, advice, care–for what is often a very small salary. They will lose their jobs as the government has chosen to look after their rich private sector friends instead.

I will be marching for all of the people with disabilities who face heartbreaking cuts to the support they need. Many will lose living support, transport support, mobility support, the roof over their heads, their very independence. They will lose everything which allows them to live a life of dignity, ostensibly to save a few quid.

I will be marching for the people who might, possibly get ill at some point in their lives. Our government is will restructure our precious NHS, allowing vast swathes of basic care to be outsourced to their rich private sector friends. All the while, up to 50000 NHS workers–doctors, nurses, midwives–will lose their jobs.

I will be marching because I am outraged by our government’s complete lack of thought for their fellow human beings. I will be marching for my own future, and the future of others.

These cuts will affect me. These cuts will affect you.

See you on the streets.

 

Fierce roast.

The following post is about an episode of America’s Next Top Model that has yet to air in the UK, so if you’re a die-hard ANTM fan, this will contain spoilers. If you loathe and despise ANTM, I apologise for mentioning it. I enjoy really naff American reality TV. Be grateful I’m not blogging about Jersey Shore (which is fascinating from an anthropological and sociological perspective and you should TOTALLY watch it)

The video linked above is a segment of the most recent episode of America’s Next Top Model. The Next Top Model franchise involves young women competing for the chance to win a modelling contract by leaping through a series of humiliating hoops in the hope of achieving their lifelong dream of being photographed wearing clothes. There is already a lot of good writing on problems with the franchise, and so I am reserving my ire for one specific incident.

The women are briefed to shoot an advert in which they are to be “flirty, fun and seductive” in a way that is “retro yet current”. This translates to writhing like the face of a late night premium-rate phone line while dressed as Betty Draper. The women are informed they are even expected to utter lines, as though this is the thirteenth labour of Heracles.

The concept of the advert is promoted as one would expect: a little bit of charming retro fun in which women use a very narrow definition of sexuality in order to challenge oppression. As they put on their costumes, filling out their fashion-industry approved bodies with socks to create breasts, the women discuss this notion. The general consensus is that it is empowering. It is how to get ahead: by using boobs and bums and the nebulous hint of sex (never given, for that would make you a whore!).

One woman differs from the rest. Earlier in the episode, Sara mentions that she is a feminist. while dressing, she looks uncomfortable with the false breasts stuffing her bra. At 3.10 in the video above, she says:

My whole life I’ve just been trying to get away from the stereotypical, subservient, docile woman, and I’m really embarrassed to have my fem-core friends back home see this.

Sara is the only one of the women who points out the problematic concepts within the advert, and she words her reservations articulately. The fact that she mentions the F-word twice in one episode of America’s Next Top Model makes me love her a little bit, and I do hope that her fem-core friends forgive her for her participation due to her excellently succinct critique of the task. Never before have I heard the F-word uttered on a Next Top Model franchise.

The women perform the image of the stereotypical, subservient, docile woman to camera, many relishing in the empowering nature of being “flirty, fun and seductive”.

Sara, meanwhile, struggles. The other women smugly smile, believing her unable to deliver the dull, narrow “sexy”. The director is disappointed and declares that she “did not believe in it”. Too right. As Sara says,

I’m finding it really hard to fake any sort of sexual energy and emotion. I mean, I’ve never had to fake anything like that in my life. Doing it for a commercial was just really difficult.

Of course it was. Sexual energy is not something that should be faked. It is not something that needs to be faked, and it is certainly not something which should be performed in the coquettish, cutesy, teasing manner which is commercially acceptable.

Yet this is what sells. Coffee, we learn from America’s Next Top Model, is sold by a hint of cleavage flashed at a man. Coffee is sold by a whisper in a man’s ear. Coffee is sold by competition between women for the attention of a man. Coffee is sold by playing subservient, vaguely suggesting sweet submissive sex with a man.

The whole concept of the advert was problematic as hell, and Sara was not comfortable with playing ball.

There is no room for an understanding of the problems with this sort of advertising message in America’s Next Top Model. Sara’s reward for her beliefs and reservations was a sympathetic cocked-head from Tyra Banks, a message to “believe in herself” and a bus ride home.

There is no room in this modelling competition for feminists. There is only space for those who will perform dull clichéd cartoons of what a sexy woman should be.

“The way things are”: fight the status quo

I am a white, middle-class British woman, and my privilege is sticking right out as I write this. However, I wish to highlight that even for someone of my privileged status, feminism’s work is not yet done. On International Women’s Day, I send solidarity to my sisters all over the world. I will fight for them wherever I can.

Women in the UK have come a long way. Nominally, we’re equal now. Legally, we’re supposed to be equal now. What women lack is now invisible and counted by many as a gender essentialist ‘this is how things are’. Apparently, any residual inequality exists because men and women are fundamentally different and that women must have chosen differently.

Women are  severely under-represented in the sciences and engineering because our brains are better suited to empathy rather than analysis. There’s science to back that up, and everything!* It’s just the way things are.

Sex is something that is sold to women as part of a long game to please a man. Try typing “how to please” into Google. Autocomplete provides “how to please your man”, “how to please your man in bed”, “how to please your man sexually” and so on. Sex still isn’t really for women, or else we’d be sluts. It’s just the way things are.

The end game for sex is to get a ring on your finger. The end game is always marriage, evidenced by countless jokes and supposedly amusing t-shirts. It’s just the way things are.

Walking along a street while appearing female is enough to merit catcalls, overt sexual messages and unwanted touching. It’s supposed to be a compliment, we’re told. It’s just the way things are.

Some of my sisters from other countries in Europe tell me that British men are better. They’re more polite, apparently. There’s less groping and what they say is less sexually aggressive. As women, of course we should expect harassment, and British women are lucky that our brand of harassment is marginally less noxious. It’s just the way things are.

You might think I sound like some kind of angry radical feminist. That would be because I am some kind of angry radical feminist.

I refuse to accept “the way things are”. I want better. I think we women deserve better. I dream of the day where women are not objects, not punchlines, not walking wombs or disembodied tits. I want to bury, once and for all, that “the way things are” is as good as it will ever get. Women deserve better. Women deserve to be treated as people. Just people. Ordinary people who are not in any way different.

Perhaps some of the lack of fight against this status quo, the blind acceptance of “the way things are” lies in the fact that the word “feminist” is seen to be a dirty word: an irrational woman fighting an imaginary battle, when really she just hates men. Surely our work has been done, because we aren’t automatically packed off to the poorhouse if we can’t find a husband?

I don’t think our work is done. Discrimination has taken on a covert form, and we are sold the myth that this is what equality looks like.

That is not what equality looks like.

If you agree, you might just be an angry radical feminist, too.

*The “evidence” for this assertion is completely demolished in this rather fantastic book, which I would thoroughly recommend.