Charlotte's Web

Blogging my world since 2006


Who Needs Feminism?

We’re all equal, right?

Here are some of the front page articles in today’s Observer:

Despite having one two top-notch female candidates, the BBC chooses yet another man as DG.

Jesus was happy with female apostles, but the Church of England still can’t decide on female bishops.

Family planning summit in London threatened by religious groups.

UK recession hits middle-aged women worst.

ETA: Andy Murray, who as of this morning, has not yet won the Wimbledon Men’s Final, is all over the front page, whereas it takes four clicks to even find out who took the Women’s Final. (It was Serena Williams, if you care.)

Slap yourselves, folks. Apparently we are living in 2012 – although today’s headlines would indicate otherwise. Right now, men at better at leading broadcasting companies and being bishops, 200 million women around the world don’t have access to contraceptives, recession is worse for women than for bankers and no-one gives a rat’s arse about women’s tennis.

Are these the messages you want your children to receive?


Are quotas really so bad?

Stats from earlier this year show that Germany is doing really badly at getting women into senior management – not to mention paying women significantly less than their male counterparts. Angela Merkel has mooted quotas, a concept I support whole-heartedly. What surprises me, however, is how little support for quotas I am seeing in the workplace.

People say things like, “I would never want to be promoted just because I am a woman. I want to be promoted on merit.” or “Quotas are insulting. We don’t need them.”

I notice that the women who dismiss quotas are usually in some kind of a management position already or who have strong technical qualifications and experience – people who have already fought a hard journey to secure their positions. They have made sacrifices to get there: had no children or only one, paid a premium for childcare, worked long hours, perhaps worked harder than anyone else, sacrificed their personal lives. It is these people who, understandably, aren’t happy to see others swing in on the liana branch of quotas and grab jobs similar to those they have nearly killed themselves for.

For those who have taken on the patriarchy at great personal cost, and won, it doesn’t seem fair to then hand out jobs like so many bananas to others. I get that.

I have two counter-arguments:

1. Men have had a quota system in place for 2,000 years. They have been handed bananas, many have been promoted above their skill sets – because there was no-one else there. The other half of the potential work population was elsewhere, fulfilling their “biological destiny”. There was no competition.

It’s time for some reciprocity.

2. The only way to fight the patriarchy is to break it. The system will never change unless there is radical action and the only radical action I can see that will enforce and inscribe change is the introduction of quotas.

I am South African, and for the last 18 years, South Africa has had a radical system of affirmative action to counteract the injustices of apartheid that privileged white people over black people. People weren’t going to hand over jobs out of the goodness of their hearts. It had to be systematic.

It’s the same with gender. We can talk diversity until we are blue in the face, but until there is systematic change – a quota – the patriarchy will continue to feed itself the bananas.


Pictures for Women’s Day, 8 March 2012

I’ve written words about International Women’s Day here and here.

This time, I made a mood board on Pinterest instead. I looked for images that didn’t include:

  • nakedness
  • waifs
  • nubile women
  • women laughing alone with salad
  • women missing their mouths while drinking water
  • women as backdrop to a product
  • hardbodied women
  • women sweating while wearing small amounts of clothing
  • women as body parts
  • women in duets of romance with men
  • women in wedding dresses

Instead I tried to look for

  • happy women
  • colourful women
  • women in groups of friends
  • women in art
  • women in literature
  • women in music
  • inspiring photos of women
  • women who fought for us
  • bold words about being a woman
  • women from all over the world
  • women from long ago

And here is my Pinterest board to celebrate International Women’s Day 2012: Women

Hope you enjoy it.


Why We Need Women’s Day

It’s the 100th International Women’s Day and here at Phlegm Central, I’d like to give you an intelligent post about why we still need a day to celebrate women and to mark the inequities between being a woman and being a man in 2011. However the phlegm has invaded my brain so I’m only able to give you bullet points:

  • glass ceilings
  • corrective rape
  • clitorodectomies
  • sex slavery
  • pay gaps
  • domestic violence
  • honour killings

And the facts that:

  • one in five women will become victims of rape or attempted rape in their lifetime
  • 19% of parliamentarians worldwide are women
  • women own 1% of the world’s property but do 66% of the world’s work
  • women make up 75% of the world’s illiterate population
  • two-thirds of children denied schooling worldwide are girls
  • women hold 12% of board-level positions in the UK

We need International Women’s Day because women around the world – even in your country – are systematically abused and discriminated against. In the absence of my own ability to cobble thoughts together, here’s what some other women have had to say:

Marielle Frostrup on feminism’s global challenge

Susie Mesure on countries where women on the march (including South Africa)

The Guardian’s 100 Inspiring Women

Dame Judi Dench and Daniel Craig’s video Are We Equals?

Lia’s post on Celebrating Women

Marie’s riposte to the question ‘Why Isn’t there an International Men’s Day?’

Lilian’s post on Yiddish and the Literature of Prayer

Helen G at The F-Word on the equality debate

Bluemilk who’s sick like me but still on the hunt for great feminist bloggers

Dad Who Writes on Patti Smith

Litlove’s essay A Woman’s World about how we can all stop chastising ourselves quite so fiercely and learn to worry less.

Annie Lennox talks to other women about feminism and the gap between developed and developing countries here. Top quote from Beverley Knight: ‘It’s interesting that in the countries where women have the least power, the least equality, International Women’s Day is much more treasured. Here in Britain, with our excess of everything, the very things that are so precious that the Emmeline Pankhursts gave their spirit and their lives to, we take for granted. We don’t think about the struggle that other women have across the world.’

If you’ve written a post about IWD or read an inspiring article, let me know and I’ll link to it here.


What Are You Going to Give Up?

I love it when a Times Online columnist espouses one of my views loudly and publically on a long weekend so as to get the attention of all the reading masses on my behalf.  It means I get the feeling of being validated without having to get out of my pyjamas.

My opinion: Women can have it all, just not all at the same time.

Minette Marrin’s opinion:  Don’t even bother trying.

The esteemed Ms Marrin says the only way to ‘ do a demanding job, pay attention to family and friends, preserve a competitively toned body, maintain an elaborate beauty programme, including trips to dermatologists, depilators and assorted beauty bandits, keep up with tweets, emails, telephoning and aggressive networking, dress stylishly, shop for food, cook elaborately, entertain regularly, attend school functions, keep up with reading, listen to music and remember jokes’ is to be really rich and pay people to back you up. Nigella’s Team Cupcake, par example.

On the one hand, Marrin says the pressure on working mothers is unavoidable (until, Otter says, their husbands and partners wake up to the revolution and start doing their 50%). On the other hand, she says women can decide to ignore the aggressive consumerism that underpins much of the last paragraph and – now here’s the revolutionary part – just let things slide. (After all, Otter says, most of their husbands and partners have been doing the same and getting away with it for generations.)

Marrin doesn’t mean that women shouldn’t stop working, stop having babies or doing things that they love. She means they should stop competing with other women, stop trying so hard, drop their standards, do less.

And – here’s the rub – she says ‘fortunately, doing a lot less is quite easy when you try — or, rather, stop trying.’

She says we should think of each thing we give up as an opportunity gain. Giving up two hours at the salon means two hours extra to keep up with friends. Giving up cooking elaborate meals means more time with the family. Giving up fashion magazines means less lusting after and trying to afford inaffordable items.

Living in a land that still expects good mothers to be home by 12.30pm ready to cook the family a hot lunch, I’ve had to give up a whole lot of things in order to make time for what matters to me: writing, working, exercising and spending time with the people I love. Here’s my list of things that have gone out of the window:

1. Keeping up with the laundry. Why do it? So that some housewife in the sky will give me a good report? I address the piles, with the dubious but enthusiastic help of certain members of my family, on a need-to-wear basis.

2. Ironing. We embrace the crumpled look.

3. Sorting socks. Puh-leeze. I put all socks in a large container and then bring them out when my South African friends and family visit for them to sort. It makes them feel useful and they can go home and tell stories about how hard it is living in Europe. 

4. Baking. I’ve taught my children how to do it. One kid made biscuits this weekend, another made carrot cake muffins. Team Cupcake’s got nothing on us.

5. Complex depilation. None in winter; bikini, leg and armpit on a need-to-display basis.

6. Beauty salons. Expensive time wasters.

7. Highlighting my hair. Ditto, plus I get to be cutting-edge grey.

8. Posh creams. Ditto. Nivea is the way forward.

9. Long make-up routines. Nivea’s tinted moisturiser rocks.

10. Soaking pulses. Tins and cans are just as good.

10. Buying fashion magazines. Blogs are better written and more interesting and they never make me lust after a Prada handbag.

I love Marrin’s mantra of Just Do Less. If it speaks to you, then what are things you’ve given or are giving up? I need more time for reading and writing and will gladly accept tips.


The Revolution Has Only Just Begun

I love this message from Germaine Greer in the Times today:

But in the real world, women have changed; bit by bit, they are growing stronger and braver, ready to begin the actual feminist revolution. The feminist revolution hasn’t failed, you see. It has only just begun. But in the real world, women have changed; bit by bit, they are growing stronger and braver, ready to begin the actual feminist revolution. The feminist revolution hasn’t failed, you see. It has only just begun.

Greer says we should stop bemoaning ladettes, the pinkification of girls and ongoing, constant and, let’s face it, boring sexual objectification of women as signs that feminism is on the wane. Instead, she says the fact that women walk out of their marriages, refuse to accept servility, is a sure sign that the revolution is ongoing.

As women’s economic independence increased, their tolerance of marital infidelity, and of emotional and physical abuse, diminished. If you ever doubted that family stability depended on the oppression of women, you now have the proof. The proportion of divorces rises so inexorably that my figures are probably already out of date. In the developed world 40 per cent or more of marriages end in divorce, typically after seven or eight years, with a year or two to establish separation and then the actual divorce. Most of these divorces are initiated by wives. This is proper change. There’s no going back from here.

Another factor for Greer is the banks’ realisation that women make good customers:  

Banks were slow to wake up to the fact that women’s credit performance is much better than men’s, but they got there in the end. Now we have a worldwide system of microcredit, based on giving small loans to women, who won’t spend the money on prostitutes, booze, gambling and cigarettes. 

 (Read the whole article here.)

I interviewed one of Germany’s top women scientists this week and it was a privilege to do so. I asked her what advice she’d give young women going into science now and she said: one, get into the best lab possible so that you are exposed to excellence, and two, make sure the person you have a family with is prepared to do 50% of the work.

How remarkable, but also how simple. 50% of the work, that’s all it is. To me, that’s the revolution.


In other news, please don’t forget the Big Bad Bloggers Competition.

In still other news, this is my 500th post!


Beautiful Creatures

Can I just say how much I love 10-year-old girls? We had a bevy of them sleep over last night for L’s birthday and I’ve come away replete with their gorgeousness.

I love how they are on the cusp of childhood and womanhood and the way they swing between the two unselfconsciously. One minute they’re singing their hearts out to Rosenstoltz and Pink and Duffy, then they’re earnestly teaching each other board games and the next minute they’re on the floor playing farms. They watch Harry Potter and go to sleep cuddling their fluffy toys. Some of them, I might add, don’t sleep at all.

They love talking, to each other and to the grown-ups, and they haven’t swallowed any of the crap about being cool. Or if they have, they’ve forgotten it after an hour when they pull L’s four-year-old brother onto their backs to gallop him around the house.

I love their long legs and flat chests and how they haven’t started believing any of the lies society tells them about their bodies. I love how they’re still caught in the moment, not regretting the past or hoping for some unknown future. I love their potential – what will little S, who I’ve known since she was three, and who is a now beautiful dancer and talented pianist, one day be? Will they be zookeepers and scientists and pilots and archeologists, as they now dream?

I hope the people who are raising these gorgeous daughters are also raising gorgeous sons. I want these 10-year-olds to be respected and loved by men who are as wise and lovely as they are.

Yesterday I glimpsed the future. I hope that the impending teenage years don’t chip away their trust in the world. I hope their dreams don’t implode. I hope the men they encounter don’t expect them to fit into a mould of femininity that constricts their sense of self. If they meet such men, I hope they have the confidence to say, “Stuff you. This is me. Take or leave it.”

Let the future be kind to them, beautiful creatures that they are.