Tag Archives: sexism

Made in Dagenham on point: Rights. Not privileges.

16 Aug

– Laura Ouseley, Campaigns Coordinator, One World Action

On Saturday night I finally sat down and watched Made in Dagenham. The film tells the story of the 187 women machinists from Ford’s Dagenham plant who, in 1968, bravely stood up and went onto the picket line to demand equal pay. At the time, it was the last thing anyone expected them to do. There aren’t enough feminist films around and this is a great one. At the end of the film I was struck by how this success story for women’s rights so closely reflects One World Action’s work over the last 22 years.

As the film shows, strong women’s leadership is essential for generating positive change for women. Celebrating and supporting women’s leadership in all its forms is something that One World Action has been doing for years, and getting to know so many inspirational women has led to our latest campaign to find One Hundred Unseen Powerful Women who Change the World. In the film, the role of the unseen powerful woman falls to Rita O’Grady (Sally Hawkins), who is stirred into action to lead the other women workers.

The film was interesting in it showed how the women’s striking had an impact on their relationships with men and the challenge it made to traditional gender roles.. Breaking a gender stereotype was – and continues to be – one of the biggest obstacles to women’s political participation in every country of the world. Whilst women stood by their husbands when they were on strike, women going on strike was seen as somehow laughable and outside what was within the accepted boundaries of behaviour, particularly if men’s jobs were affected. Perhaps my favourite part of the film is when Rita is arguing with her husband Eddie about going out on strike. As Rita put is ‘you’re right actually. You don’t knock us about, you don’t drink, you don’t gamble, you do join in with the family. That’s-as-it-should-be! Try and understand that. Please. What you’re talkin’ about now, what I’ve been fightin’ for, the last few weeks. Same thing. Rights. Not privileges’.

One World Action has always been a proudly political organisation. It has supported low-paid garment workers and trade unions across the world for many years. Women home workers in India are now better represented and better paid since joining SEWA – a trade union movement of informal women workers supported by One World Action. SEWA believe that women’s human rights will not be achieved without economic empowerment and self reliance. The movement began in 1971 when a handful of women came together to protest against their unfair treatment by local merchants and it currently has over one million members.

But sometimes strong women’s leadership or trade union membership is not enough. Women still need men and women in positions of power who support women’s rights. Getting more women into positions of power was what One World Action’s last campaign was all about: the More Women More Power campaign called for more women in parliament – and asked women already in power to use their voices to amplify the voices of women who are fighting to be heard. In the late 1960s it was Secretary of State Barbara Castle’s (Miranda Richardson) support for the women’s demands for equal pay that secured their success.

Seeing women stand up for their rights in this film was inspirational, but let’s not forget that in the UK the full-time gender wage gap is still 15.5%. What’s more, women are paid less but they often have to work harder as well. There is no doubt that more men are doing their share of childcare and housework, but it can safely be said that these tasks remain firmly in the area of ‘women’s work’.

Despite the Equal Pay Act being passed in 1970, 41 years later women are still fighting for equal pay. In fact, there are currently 45,000 women in the UK taking equal pay claims to court!

I am not convinced that women being politically active has been fully accepted in the UK, so it gives me hope when I hear that 200 people signed up in the first 24 hours to attend the Feminist Summer Camp that took place last weekend. What’s more, UK Feminista is setting up a new activist group so that even more people can stand up and demand a more equal world – just like the 187 machinists from Dagenham.




Sexism in the media

28 Mar

Rosamund Urwin, Evening Standard Journalist

KIRSTY Wark, Martha Kearney, Mariella Frostrup: there are many brilliant female broadcasters and writers working in Britain today. An advantage of the media industry is that complete male domination – at least in the public-facing roles – is easy to spot. If there are no female voices on the radio, female faces on TV or female names above articles, somebody notices.

But tally up those names, count the voices, add up the faces and you see something: how under-represented women are in high profile roles. And in the best gigs, you might find evidence of “tokenism”: a one-woman-but-no-more policy. Take the Today programme, the Radio 4 show which acts as an alarm clock to a large part of the nation: there is just one female presenter (the wonderful Sarah Montague) to four men.

Last year, at an event celebrating women in the arts, a well-known critic complained that she was tired of being the only woman on discussion panels. On a weekly arts show, which had four guests, another woman kept her seat warm when she wasn’t there, but they were the only females ever allowed on the sofa.

When a second does slip through, there is often an assumption that the two women must be feuding – the more established one taking against this invader. So when Emily Maitlis joined Newsnight, the thinking went that Kirsty Wark must be fuming. A view which Wark dismissed as “hilarious”. As she told an interviewer: “You could have Jeremy [Paxman] and Gavin [Esler] existing side by side, but somehow not two women? That was a very sexist attitude, and it was absolute nonsense.”

Older women suffer discrimination in the media most, of couse. This week, Miriam O’Reilly won her case for ageism against the BBC – proving that even an organisation obsessed with “diversity” is guilty of booting women out, Logan’s Run style, when they approach the big 5-0. O’Reilly was not only subject to ageism though, but sexism too. For while their female contemporaries are kicked off our screens as their hair turns grey, men are elevated to the status of “national treasures”. Think Radio 4’s John Humphrys, Strictly Come Dancing’s Bruce Forsyth, John Simpson and Jon Snow.

I suspect a few, very pretty young women get an easier ride than the boys at the start of their careers, especially in television. Though none would ever get there without talent, they are promoted to be the attractive face next to the more “serious” older men: Cheryl Cole and Dannii Minogue on the X Factor and the way Alesha Dixon replaced the far more knowledgeable Arlene Phillips (then 66) as the lone woman on Strictly Come Dancing.

A seasoned (male) journalist recently joked that I – at 26 – had only four years left in which to make a name in television. So far, in three years of journalism, I have encountered sexism in only one way – and that was from people commenting on articles, not from anyone working in the industry. But, as one of my worldly-wise female colleagues recently warned: “That may only be a matter of time.”

Rosamund Urwin is a More Women More Power Women’s Rights Champion. Rosamund has been billed as a woman to watch and was listed by Red magazine as one of 20 Red Hot Women under 30 and is leading the way with her weekly column where she stands up for women’s rights and feminist values.

Standing up for women from the terraces

28 Mar

– Hannah Davies, Director, One World Action

On Sunday evening I participated in what was a very happy occasion. A small, marginalised, impoverished and often forgotten football club managed to hold Arsenal to a draw in the fifth round of the FA Cup. Leyton Orient is the team I grew up with. My Dad took me and my brother when we were young children and, in spite of being away from the UK for a while, I usually feel very comfortable stepping back into the environs of Brisbane Road, London E.10. So after Leyton Orient drew level with Arsenal in the final minutes of the cup tie I was more than happy to join the throng of fans – mostly men – in their regular post-match pub.

It was a great evening with lots of spontaneous singing and chanting: communal, celebratory, inclusive and friendly. That is, until a group of supporters started singing one particular song known as “Scuba Diver”. Apparently it’s an Orient classic and most of the pub did seem to know the words. In a nutshell, the song describes all of the various ways in which the (male) singer will have intercourse with his – un-named, of course – girlfriend, including when she’s dead.

It’s a horrible song. Hearing all of these men sing along got me thinking… although women in the North may support women’s rights professionally, we can perhaps be a bit complacent when confronted by sexism in more familiar environments. Campaigns like Action Aid’s “Get Lippy”, while welcome, or the horror stories about sexual violence in conflict zones such as Eastern Congo, can sometimes give the impression that gender based violence happens in other places and has nothing to do with our privileged lives. It becomes a development problem for us to solve. But when I hear a song that talks about digging up a female corpse and having sex with it, supposedly in the context of a happy carefree night out with the boys then I can see the link. One of the slogans doing the rounds for International Women’s Day is because if we aren’t equal everywhere, we aren’t equal anywhere. I would agree that if we want to talk about solidarity with women around the world then it might be better to say we actually aren’t equal anywhere – we might be better off in many ways, economically, legally, culturally, but not equal. Not when reasonable, ordinary men in a pub in London in 2011 think it is OK to sing songs like “Scuba Diver”.

“Scuba Diver” is not funny, it’s not harmless and it’s not OK. It sends a nasty and threatening message to those women who are football fans or who are just in the pub having a drink. As a woman, you are the lone individual in a collective mass of men. It tells you that this is not your public space. The men are the ones chanting together while you sit quiet and listen. Never mind the lyrics – the very public performance of the song has the affect of belittling any woman who is a witness.

And as my sister very rightly pointed out if you replaced the woman in the song with a member of an ethnic minority, in that context and with those men, it would have been completely unacceptable. The campaign to kick racism out of football – led by fans putting pressure on other fans – has been remarkably successful. But sexism in football, from “Scuba Diver” to the tabloid antics of high-profile football stars, has really yet to be challenged.

However, on Sunday, a couple of men did begin to speak out. In fact one man – a long-time supporter who has written popular songs about Orient – did challenge the song. Steve White (lead singer in the band Steve White and the Protest Family (http://www.myspace.com/realstevewhite)) supported my sister and another female friend when they complained about the song. He has now written his own song – which he will no doubt perform in front of many of these same men – which points out how offensive it is and declaring that he will “never sing Scuba Diver”. And other men too, also began to express their own discomfort about why men sing this song.

More Women More Power is a strong message for women. But we also need the support of men. Not just passively saying that it’s a good idea for women to have rights. We need to encourage men who don’t like songs that sexually humiliate and objectify women to actively challenge their friends, their colleagues or fellow supporters in the pub, on the kinds of attitudes and behaviours that threaten and undermine women and prevent them from participating as full members of society – whether that is as political representatives or as football fans.