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Men and Reading Women’s Writing: 4 Links

David Gilmour on Building Strong Stomachs
ed. Emily M. Keeler, 25 September 2013

"Usually at the beginning of the semester a hand shoots up and someone asks why there aren’t any women writers in the course. I say I don’t love women writers enough to teach them, if you want women writers go down the hall. What I teach is guys. Serious heterosexual guys. F. Scott Fitzgerald, Chekhov, Tolstoy. Real guy-guys. Henry Miller. Philip Roth."

BREAKING: If You Are a Woman, Your Work is Irrelevant. How Dave Eggers Can Get Away with Ripping Off a Woman’s Book about Facebook, or Patriarchy 101
Kate Losse, updated 26 September 2013

"Society makes assumptions about women that make us guilty by default: our work is supposedly minor, less valuable, and limited to the personal, where the work of a white man is presumed to be “universal”, “essential”, and relevant to all. This assumption is how, when I published The Boy Kings about working at Facebook for five years and the impact Facebook has had on society, the media made the sexist assumption that this book was not important, because how could a woman writing about technology be important? How could a woman doing anything be important? The assumption the media makes in these instances is that something is not important unless a familiar, male white face does it. So, when Dave Eggers decided to rewrite my book as his own novel about a young woman working her way up through Facebook, the Wall Street Journal called it a treatment of “the essential issues of the day.”

It May Interest You to Know, But If Not, There Is a Scroll Feature
Belle Waring, 23 September 2013

"Often the protagonist of an Important Novel of the Latter Half of The 20th Century is male, and is a thinly veiled version of the author. So thin of a veil. A veil so thin is it possible to discern whether the author was circumcised. Also, he often displays a particular stomach-turning combination. He regards women as, one the one hand a mere necessary evil, not things one would be inclined to befriend or discuss life with, and on the other hand, beings of terrible power that make one very angry indeed."

[…] I judge novels that were written during a time when men perfectly well could have known that the women they spoke to were intelligent human beings, in which the authors nonetheless fail in varied awful incredible ways to represent the 51% of humanity involved, to have failed qua novels. It is a necessary result of the Updike-version sexist writing that your novel fails to be even a passable novel. It is actually somewhat embarrassing for everyone.

Loving female writers: One man’s reading journey from male to female novelists
Jason Rice, 10 June 2013

"A publicist working for a book publisher recently said, “Jason, I’ve noticed that you really like female writers.” Sheepishly agreeing, I realized she was right and spent the rest of the day figuring out why, because it wasn’t always like this."
*

On a personal note, I have basically given up on OkCupid, disillusioned by all the “literary” man-children and their stupid, short-sighted lists of favourite books. Testosterone-saturated ego: Miller, Roth, Amis. And so on. Most of the time, not a single female novelist makes the grade. It’s dispiriting.

Then again, these lists are at least useful heuristics for assessing their ability (or even interest) in actually relating to women.

I dive under the coversSheila Heti reviews Heroines by Kate Zambrenopub. Semiotext(e), November 2012

An excellent essay on women and writing - and exactly how a literary review ought to be written, with full attention to the complexity of the author’s intent, the literary associations, and the reviewer’s nuanced response.

As the review is paywalled, an excerpt. It speaks directly to Tumblr:


Heroines is dedicated to an author friend, ‘to writing ourselves as our own characters’, and to ‘the girls who still seem, as they did in Virginia Woolf’s time, so fearfully depressed’. In the final pages she addresses this second reader directly: a reader who has now narrowed to a young Kate Zambreno, a woman who longs to write but feels pre-emptively marginalised and silenced. She advises writing a lot, writing ‘the self’, and doing it in public, on a blog, for there one can find community with other female bloggers. She says that such women ‘have started to reinvent the spaces of modernism with their networks and little magazines.’

But is Zambreno, the feminist analyst, proposing the best cure for these women? She calls the blogosphere a ‘space that’s safe, that’s our own’, yet it is also potentially a ghetto. Doesn’t a writer need to enter an unsafe space, as Zambreno does with this book? Only in unsafe spaces does ‘unsafe’ writing happen. Is true freedom bleeding diaristically on the internet? Or does freedom mean taking the time to craft something, using one’s skills as well as one’s feelings? Isn’t freedom the freedom to take oneself seriously enough to put years of application into a finished work of art and fight it into the world? Maybe I’m being old-fashioned, yet I can’t help think that Zambreno must agree. After all, she spent seven years on this book.

At the end of last year, she wrote on her blog:

I have been criticised lately for writing a bad book, a flawed book, a book that needs to be more disciplined, a book that needs to behave better, a book that needs to be a better scholar, a book that needs to be less obsessive and emotional and mad, a book that needs to be less vain, less circling around vanity. Did I say book? I meant self.



Heroines by Kate Zambreno
Reviewed by Sheila Heti in the LRB (£).

I dive under the covers
Sheila Heti reviews Heroines by Kate Zambreno
pub. Semiotext(e), November 2012

An excellent essay on women and writing - and exactly how a literary review ought to be written, with full attention to the complexity of the author’s intent, the literary associations, and the reviewer’s nuanced response.

As the review is paywalled, an excerpt. It speaks directly to Tumblr:

Heroines is dedicated to an author friend, ‘to writing ourselves as our own characters’, and to ‘the girls who still seem, as they did in Virginia Woolf’s time, so fearfully depressed’. In the final pages she addresses this second reader directly: a reader who has now narrowed to a young Kate Zambreno, a woman who longs to write but feels pre-emptively marginalised and silenced. She advises writing a lot, writing ‘the self’, and doing it in public, on a blog, for there one can find community with other female bloggers. She says that such women ‘have started to reinvent the spaces of modernism with their networks and little magazines.’

But is Zambreno, the feminist analyst, proposing the best cure for these women? She calls the blogosphere a ‘space that’s safe, that’s our own’, yet it is also potentially a ghetto. Doesn’t a writer need to enter an unsafe space, as Zambreno does with this book? Only in unsafe spaces does ‘unsafe’ writing happen. Is true freedom bleeding diaristically on the internet? Or does freedom mean taking the time to craft something, using one’s skills as well as one’s feelings? Isn’t freedom the freedom to take oneself seriously enough to put years of application into a finished work of art and fight it into the world? Maybe I’m being old-fashioned, yet I can’t help think that Zambreno must agree. After all, she spent seven years on this book.

At the end of last year, she wrote on her blog:

I have been criticised lately for writing a bad book, a flawed book, a book that needs to be more disciplined, a book that needs to behave better, a book that needs to be a better scholar, a book that needs to be less obsessive and emotional and mad, a book that needs to be less vain, less circling around vanity. Did I say book? I meant self.

Heroines by Kate Zambreno
Reviewed by Sheila Heti in the LRB (£).

Gender roles gain their power from the fact that they appear natural and eternal. By looking to the past, we can draw aside this veil and see these categories for what they are—made by people, and able to be changed by people.

Alyssa Goldstein at AlterNet.  When Women Wanted Sex Much More Than Men

And how the stereotype flipped.
(via protoslacker)

The single best thing about doing an anthropology degree was the lens it gave me on my own culture: an understanding of what is a human universal, and what is not. Not much is a human universal, and least of all attitudes to gender and sexuality.

This is an excellent article, and I wish everyone knew this history. It is… freeing. To be sure it doesn’t free you from the bonds of culture and upbringing - there is no position wholly outside, there is no perfect individualist agency. But recognising there are other ways to be - that is freeing.

The Magdalene Laundries - three links

The McAleeser inquiry in Ireland has reported on the Magdalene Laundries. These workhouses for “fallen” women - unmarried mothers, prostitutes, or just flirts, bad girls and the socially deviant - saw up to 30,000 women detained for months, years or life and forced to work unpaid - as recently as 1996.

This is an Irish national scandal, and the process of recognition and reconciliation is only early underway. Accounts from the woemn involved have been published elsewhere; after an evening’s reading, I wan to recommend these three (four) articles for helping do the difficult work of placing these horrific institutions in social and cultural context:

1. "It is regrettable that the Magdalene homes had to exist at all"
Hardcore For Nerds (@HC4N)
Tumblr, 7 February 2013

HC4N takes a deep, measured, and serious look at the complexities the Magdalene system raise for Ireland - both prison and refuge, workhouse and social service. He asks Ireland to look at how "the state and the wider society relied on the ‘charitable institutions’ to sweep their perceived failures under the carpet - and to literally scrub some of their dirty linen at the same time.".

A powerful conclusion:

There’s a sense in which it is not entirely an exaggeration to call the institutionalisation of women and children along with people with mental illnesses, by both Church and State, the Irish Holocaust - in what it asks of us in terms of memory and atonement and self-examination.

2. Coercive confinement in the Republic of Ireland: The waning of a culture of control [PDF]
Eoin O’Sullivan & Ian O’Donnell
Punishment and Society, 1462-4745; Vol 9(1): 27–48

Essential academic article which puts the laundries in the full “penal-welfare” context - that is, as one of a range of institutions from prisons, to mental hospitals, to industrial schools and religious organisations “that confined men, women and children in the name of treatment, care, rehabilitation and repentance.” Foucault’s “carceral archipelago”. Ireland was an extraordinary place in the 1950s, with over 1% of the population in “coercive confinement” - a higher rate even than the prison capital of the world today, the United States. But this was mostly through non-prison institutions, and the article details the dramatic shift over the course of the twentieth century.

2a. A few months ago, the Differential Association (a Dublin criminology reading group) reviewed O’Sullivan & O’Donnell’s 2012 book on this subject, Coercive Confinement in Ireland: Patients, Prisoners and Penitents.

What they have to say about the social context of the laundries is the most incisive social analysis I’ve seen:

The authors noted that upon the publications of the Ryan and Fern Reports there has been a collective denial of institutions of coercive confinement; ‘if only we’d known…’ has become something of a collective anthem. As the authors told us, with a staggering 1% of the population being held against their will at one time, it affected so many families that widespread denial of their existence is utterly implausible. Both said they were moved by a John Banville article in the New York Times in which he speaks frankly about the tacit and widespread awareness of the institutionalisation which faced the poorer boys in his class when it came to post-primary. He is also honest about the silence that pervaded Irish society on this issue, ‘Everyone knew, but no one said’.

[…] What factors underpinned and drove the use of coercive confinement in Ireland? Their sophisticated analysis illuminates the fundamental role of the rural economy in sustaining high levels of coercive confinement in Ireland. This is a tricky and sensitive topic, and the authors handle it in a fair and considerate manner.

Life had an economic calculation, for those in poverty institutions of confinement were a valuable resource, a sort of safety valve. The small farmer class also used the network of institutions as a repository for surplus family members. Further, these surplus family members, excluded from inheritance or unlucky in the marriage market, themselves often joined religious orders, thereby completing a closed system which sustained the network of institutions. While Ireland was certainly a conservative and puritanical society it was the cold calculus of economics that often drove the high numbers of those coercively confined rather than simply oppressive morality. It was only as rural Ireland began to abate that the use of coercive confinement declined; the shift away from rural fundamentalism meant the need for institutions of confinement were no longer a necessity.

This family culpability is explained further by:

3. It’s not just the State that needs to say sorry to Magdalene survivors
Victoria White
Irish Examiner, 7 February 2013

Now we know the State’s share of the blame for the slavery of our women in the Magdalene laundries. We know more than a quarter of the women were sent there by agents of the State. We know agents of the State, including the President, ate their dinners off tablecloths had washed by Magdalenes and dried their mouths with napkins they had starched.

Of course the Taoiseach should admit as much and say “sorry”. But when eventually that full apology and compensation come we will still be left with a huge feeling of disquiet. Because the truth is — as Martin McAleese’s report makes clear — it was our society which confined those women in those laundries.

And it is clear that some of the women could have been better off in those appalling conditions than they would have been outside them. There were no women’s refuges then, few social services, no lone parents’ benefit. Some of the homes the women came from were cruel and dangerous. “We were robbed of our childhood, but then I had a mother who beat the crap out of me,” one woman told Mc Aleese’s committee. Another told them she had ended up in the laundry as a safety measure because her father “interfered with the bigger girls”. You wouldn’t want to get “big” in the family, would you?

After this report, we may finally move away now from our habit of blaming the Catholic Church for everything we have done wrong as a society. […] Our society produced the religious organisations. There’s a very telling moment in McAleese’s report when a nun says, “We were institutionalised too, of course.”

[…]In Ireland’s Magdalene Laundries and the Nation’s Architecture of Containment, James Smith argues that we did it because we had just been through a period of Civil War and wanted to present an image of Irishness which was both “pure” and uncomplicated: comely maidens and athletic youths.

I think that’s a man’s reading of it. As a woman who has gone through pregnancy and childbirth in Ireland, I think it all goes much deeper. We incarcerated women because we were terrified of female sexuality. We incarcerated pretty girls, girls who had babies out of wedlock, girls who had been abused by their relations.

What’s more, McAleese’s report gives the lie to the idea that women did not send women to the laundries. There are terrible stories here of mothers. One responded to her daughter’s plea for freedom with the request that she be kept in for another 20 years.

These were women who, on some level, hated women. They must have hated themselves. Perhaps their daughter’s dawning sexuality reminded them of what their sexuality had cost them: unwanted sex, unwanted pregnancy or even rape or abuse.

Perhaps they saw in their daughter’s bright eyes the hope which had been dimmed in theirs. So they put it out of sight. Most of all, surely, they feared their daughters’ wombs which could so easily bring shame on the family. And surely that fear went back to a chronic fear of having another mouth to feed which went back to the Famine.

*

Ireland in the last five years has been an extraordinary country. More than anywhere else in Europe, there seems to be a national sense of implication in, even culpability for the collective madness of the property boom. Not all the risks of the financial crisis, to be sure - but the notion that money could be borrowed and houses could be built, and the Irish Tiger would keep roaring on and it was upward all the way. Now, guilt at not having asked the questions sooner that might have revealed it was all a house of cards.

And now, as HC4N and Victoria White put it both, the need for an intense social and personal reckoning about women, human dignity, the Church, the state - but perhaps most of all, a coming to account with “the priest inside the head”.

What some politicians fear most is that this young, educated population reminds them of the Arab Spring and they are demanding change. They fear what they call “the pink revolution”. When people say, as they so often do, that feminism is the preoccupation of a few white middle-class women in the west agonising over whether to wear lipstick or not, I wish they could see these angry men and women out at night demanding that women be safe, who say rape is always a weapon used to keep women in fear.

For something is happening here, anger is overtaking fear. The dam has burst. The debate the politicians want is one of law and order, but the radical one is about how to change the culture itself. And because this is India we are taking about a myriad of cultures. Somehow, though, through the shock and the trauma, this country is examining itself

Delhi gang-rape: in India, anger is overtaking fear
Suzanne Moore, Guardian, 31 Dec 2012

Sunday reading list part I: sex + gender

Over the week I build up a massive to-read list in Twitter ‘favourites’ and Tumblr likes. Today I’m working through them all, and these are the highlights. First up, the feminist review:


1. Creepshots and revenge porn: how paparazzi culture affects women
Kira Cochrane, The Guardian, Saturday 22 Sept

“What unites creepshots, the Middleton photographs, the revenge porn websites,” says Mary Anne Franks, “is that they all feature the same fetishisation of non-consensual sexual activity with women who either you don’t have any access to, or have been denied future access to. And it’s really this product of rage and entitlement.”
[…] But as soon as it’s women who want to have any kind of exclusionary rights about their intimacy, we hate that. We say, ‘No, we’re going to make a whore out of you’.

2. A qualitative study of children, young people and ‘sexting’ [PDF]
NSPC, 2011

This is mentioned in Kira Cochrane’s article above, and I cannot stress how much you need to read this. It’s a research report consisting of verbatim focus group transcripts with 13-year-old girls and boys describing practices constant technologically-mediated harassment.

We, the technological elite, are far far often too inclined to deny that technology causes any problems - “Oh, it has always been so.” Really? The ability for photos to be passed on, the ability for private conversations to be photographed & shared - this is a fundamental change in the boundaries. Peer surveillance has always existed in some forms - it’s as old as the village gossip - but technologies can qualitatively change it - I think what’s really key about many of the stories narrated is that girls don’t feel they have any opportunities for complaint or recourse. They have coping strategies, but it sounds like the gender power differential has changed, and for the worse.

We uncovered a great diversity of experiences, which contradicts any easy assumptions about sexting as a singular phenomenon. Nor can it simply be described in absolute terms – wanted vs. unwanted sexual activity, deliberate vs. accidental exposure – for much of young people’s engagement with sexual messages and images lies in the ambiguous and grey zone. Few teenagers wish to be excluded from the sexual banter, gossip, discussion or, indeed, from the flirtatious and dating activity endemic to youth culture. But to take part is to be under pressure – to look right, perform, compete, judge and be judged. Much of young people’s talk, therefore, reflects an experience that is pressurised yet voluntary – they choose to participate but they cannot choose to say ‘no’. We also argue that because sexting is not just an individual practice but also a group, networked phenomenon, its effects are not limited to the actors engaged in some specific practice but permeates and influences the entire teen network

Very intelligent conclusions and recommendations by the way - read through to the end.

3. Women Speak Drastically Less When They’re Surrounded by Dudes. And That’s Bad
Lindy West, Jezebel, Wednesday 19 Sept

New experiments in group decision making show that having a seat at the table is very different than having a voice. Scholars at Brigham Young University and Princeton examined whether women speak less than men when a group collaborates to solve a problem. In most groups that they studied, the time that women spoke was significantly less than their proportional representation – amounting to less than 75 percent of the time that men spoke.

A slightly lightweight article, though it sparked off a very interesting discussion with Aaron Muszalski (@sfslim). He was talking about his process of learning to recognise this and change his own behaviour, and the tragedy for those men who don’t. Meanwhile, I and a couple of other women jumped in to discuss the ways in which we had somehow become the 20% of women who do speak up - culprits including single-sex education, Aspie tendences, and (of course) one’s mother.

Fortunately the academic paper is also available in full:

Karpowitz, Christopher, Tali Mendelberg, and Lee Shaker. Gender Inequality in Deliberative Participation, American Political Science Review 106, no. 3 (2012): 533-547.


4. Femen’s topless warriors start boot camp for global feminism
Guardian, Saturday 22 Sept

An interesting read because it’s not exactly the kind of feminist tactics I’d usually advocate - isn’t the point of protest to annoy your targets, not make them go “Yay, tits!”? Its vulnerability to cooption makes it a difficult way to communicate meaning. That said, Femen make a good point about their reasons for this approach - "We are taking off our clothes so people can see that we have no weapons except our bodies." However, in the next paragraph it turns out to be just as much about getting a lot of attention…

Still, it’s thought-provoking to sit with my white Western middle-class feminism and consider the different ways the same essential beliefs are . Femen are Ukrainian, and doing feminism (and doing protest) in Ukraine is not the same matter as it is here. A comment from Cathy Rozel was also valuable as a reminder of other non-Western feminisms and the role of nakedness as a political tool in these circumstances:

I am sure that the women are well aware that the ‘male gaze’ can appropriate their bodies regardless of the message they are trying to convey. At the same time, if the gazer is made politically conscious of his gaze, so to say, then surely something has changed? It is interesting to note that in some African countries women have stripped naked to make vital political points in dangerous situations. This is a big thing in societies where naked women are truly shocking and so this takes a lot of courage. These women are often elderly - takes more courage I am sure. I know that when this happened at a demostration in Kenya about trying to save the environment, women actually took their clothes off to protect themselves from being beaten by police. It worked but the real point is that women often do not have much more than their bodies to defend themselves with (and are simultaneously open to abuse for having those bodies).

For more on this theme, I recommend an excellent summary of bodily protest tactics in:

5. Arab Spring: how women are using their bodies to create a revolution
Nadia Aissaoui, Saturday 8 Sept

The language of ‘sacrifice’ makes me feel a bit ill, though. Women have been told for millennia that they must sacrifice their own wants and needs for the good of their partners and children; that of the whole family, their needs and lives must come last, must be subsumed beneath the ‘fulfillment’ of producing the next generation. Men - you will note - can have all the fulfillment of children without making any personal sacrifices. This is entirely left out of the discussion, which is all about what women must do and what children allegedly need from them.

How long before women stop buying into these ideas, and glamorising their own exploitation, rather than addressing it? Wouldn’t the grotesqueness of the language be far more apparent if someone attributed the need for their own greater sacrifice and loss of ambition to their ethnicity? The normalised language of servitude used by some women has got to be unpicked and abandoned. That language alone, Emily Murray, is going to give your son a badly skewed idea of gender relations.

Comment by coffeetable, 21 June, on the (rather poor) article What Cherie Booth doesn’t understand about ‘yummy mummies’ by Emily Murray in the Guardian, 20 June 2012.

What Not To Wear: Academic Edition

An interesting discussion over at The Thesis Whisperer about acceptable academic dress. One comment stood out:

I’m in a Fine Art department in the UK and we operate a fascinating double game. The unspoken rule is: the artier the clothes, the worse the work. Therefore, nothing ‘arty’ or ‘theatrical’, nothing ‘formal’ (no suits/jackets), nothing ‘fashiony’, nothing ‘perfect’. You have to signal that you work in the studio, possibly getting very very messy (of course, your practice may not involve this but the same rule applies), but that you are utterly in control of all aesthetic communications. I’m exhausted just thinking about it. […]

As an undergraduate I was trained to critique every tiny aspect of our visiting lecturers presentations- including their clothes. It was incredible training for understanding the visual nature of a presentation, but I can imagine my long-dispersed crit group analysing every outfit I consider!

[comment by Isabellisima, 16 April 2012]

One of the smaller reasons I didn’t pursue a PhD was that I did not see any women in my field who looked like me.

This was in fact reasonable - I was pushing it at the time (variously white-bleached hair, not wearing anything other than monochrome). But actually, I did not see any women in academia who could dress full stop. They all followed the style that Isabellisma (in her longer comment) identifies as “American Academic” - aka the frumpy end of preppy and fashion trend-illiterate. The outfits on AcademiChic are not, to be frank, any definition of chic that I recognise.

"Academic dress" (as defined by these bloggers) done right should be straight down the line COS, aka mid-budget Marni with fewer prints. Suitably librarian-ish and sexless, but also chic as fuck.

But that is not the point - the point and the problem is that women in academia are apparently supposed to evidence no sexuality and bodily awareness in how they dress. By this I don’t mean anything so obvious as cleavage - I mean shape, cut, a just-so attitude. Apparently women in academia are supposed to be dis-embodied, such that (as the original blog post demonstrates) they spend hours worrying how to present themselves suitably so. Women in academia appear to believe - perhaps rightly - that men in academia want them to be neutered men.

Driven by a combination of serendipity and desperation, I interned in commercial real estate consultancy in the summer of my third year. It’s an intensely old-school male-dominated environment: a fully 90:10 gender imbalance is typical and women had to be able to hold their own against a certain amount of masculine banter and bullshit.

But I remember being struck by how some of the senior, partner-level women dressed: the shoes, the silk shift dresses, the sharply-cut slightly cropped jackets. It was chic and it was feminine, expressing a strength through a distinct identity rather than conforming to an imitation of men’s suiting. It felt like a game I could play, and maybe do well at.

So I went commercial. No-one had ever said in academia that I wasn’t going to fit. But I read the semiotic codes and the writing was on the shirt label.


We can’t perfectly control our online selves any more than we can control the contours of our flesh. Bodies, like data, are leaky. Out of the mess of bodies and blood and bones and pixels and dreams and books and hopes we create this mess of reality we call a self, we make it and remake it. Each human being is a palimpsest of possible faces, of personas, and none of us were “born this way.”


From Model Behaviour by Laurie Penny (@PennyRed) in the New Inquiry, 30 May 2012. 

The longer post is about the social enforcement of feminine appearances, with an excellent conclusion arguing that all gender performance is drag - well worth a read. But of course it’s the physical/digital parallel that jumps out at me.

Image by Lucas Simões from his Unportraits series

We can’t perfectly control our online selves any more than we can control the contours of our flesh. Bodies, like data, are leaky. Out of the mess of bodies and blood and bones and pixels and dreams and books and hopes we create this mess of reality we call a self, we make it and remake it. Each human being is a palimpsest of possible faces, of personas, and none of us were “born this way.”

From Model Behaviour by Laurie Penny (@PennyRed) in the New Inquiry, 30 May 2012.

The longer post is about the social enforcement of feminine appearances, with an excellent conclusion arguing that all gender performance is drag - well worth a read. But of course it’s the physical/digital parallel that jumps out at me.

Image by Lucas Simões from his Unportraits series

Perfect case study in how design is gendered:

Here is a bike storage solution.
It works by holding on to bikes by the top bar 
The designers apparently never considered that some bikes don’t have a top bar…
…Women’s bikes.

Blindness to issues like this: not good design.

Perfect case study in how design is gendered:

Here is a bike storage solution.
It works by holding on to bikes by the top bar
The designers apparently never considered that some bikes don’t have a top bar…
…Women’s bikes.

Blindness to issues like this: not good design.

HOW TO STOP BEING A PINTEREST SEXIST

"6 Pinterest Pointers…For Tech Bloggers Who Want To Get It Right"

Aka “women like it” isn’t a problem, it’s the exact thing it’s doing right.

In terms of aesthetics & social dynamics, Pinterest feels a lot like using Polyvore (aka the fashion site with the shit-hot collage editor), except that - crucially - it’s got bugger-all barriers to entry and adds a re-blog function. Which is to say I’m not wowed by 90% of content out there, but the experience of using the site is fluid & engaging enough that I’m immediately prepared to start producing my own & turning it to my own uses. Nice. Tumblrtastic.

[Current favourite board: neon + neutrals by Laurel Messina.]

[…] the first sexual revolution was characterised by an extraordinary reversal in assumptions about female sexuality. Ever since the dawn of western civilisation it had been presumed that women were the more lustful sex. As they were mentally, morally and physically weaker than males, it followed that they were less able to control their passions and thus (like Eve) more likely to tempt others into sin.

Yet, by 1800, exactly the opposite idea had become entrenched. Now it was believed that men were much more naturally libidinous and liable to seduce women. Women had come to be seen as comparatively delicate and sexually defensive, needing to be constantly on their guard against male rapacity. The notion of women’s relative sexual passivity became fundamental to sexual dynamics across the western world. Its effects were ubiquitous – they still are.

[…] Even some of the most basic features of our sexual desire are therefore not natural and unchanging, but historically created. What we think of as “natural” in men and women, where the boundaries lie between the normal and the deviant, how we feel about the pursuit of pleasure and the transgression of sexual norms – all these are matters on which our current attitudes are fundamentally different from those that have prevailed for most of western history.

Extracts from The Origins of Sex: A History of the First Sexual Revolution by Faramerz Dabhoiwala, which’ll be published on 2 Feb 2012.

I wish ideas like these were more widely known - that it was common knowledge quite how culturally contingent and historically specific our attitudes to gender and sexuality are. This would give people a lot more freedom.

About time – Examining the case for a shorter working week

CASE and New Economics Foundation public discussion

Date: Wednesday 11 January 2012 
Time: 6-7.30pm
Speakers: Professor Juliet Schor, Professor Lord Skidelsky, Dr Edward Skidelsky
Discussant: Professor Tim Jackson
Chair: Anna Coote

As the economic crisis deepens, this is the moment to consider moving towards much shorter, more flexible paid working hours – sharing out jobs and unpaid time more fairly across the population. The new economics foundation (nef) set out the case in its report 21 Hours: Why a shorter working week can help us all to flourish in the 21st century.

Now, in partnership with CASE (Centre for Analysis of Social Exclusion) at the London School of Economics, this event brings together a panel of experts to examine the social, environmental and economic implications. They will consider how far a shorter working week can help to address a range of urgent social, economic and environmental problems: unemployment, over-consumption, high carbon emissions, low well-being and entrenched inequalities.

Solving part-time work is one of the big socio-economic challenges for the next decade. It’s something needed by several demographics:

  1. The baby boomer bulge coming up to retirement, but not financially able to support 30 years of leisure off 35-40 years of work.
  2. Young people wanting to get an education, but potentially increasingly unwilling to commit to 3 years of full-time residential study at the age of 18 to rack up £60,000 of debt / future tax liability. They need better work-study options, not only Apprenticeships which are far too often being used as ways for employers to escape the minimum wage
  3. Solving the work/kids balance is essential for many countries to avoid the aging population problem above. (It’s not just Italy worst affected, but actually South Korea, most of Eastern Europe, Japan and Germany too [source].)
    You could call this the “last challenge of feminism”, in that childrearing is the point where income inequality kicks in (women in their 20s are actually earning 3.6% more than men, commensurate with greater levels of education [source].) But that’d be a very white middle-class feminism (aka blinkered to others’ challenges).
    I’m more inclined to consider it one of the first challenges of post-feminism, if we take post-feminism not to mean not the backlash (that’s anti-feminism) but something more constructive where we “generalise the insurrection” such that what were once seen as “women’s issues” are recognised as struggles men too want to fight. Research shows that fathers want more involvement with bringing up their children [source] - in about the last 10 years, going part-time after having kids has really become much less gendered behaviour.
    Gaby Hinsliff’s new book Half a Wife talks about the need for households with children to find 2 days a week for “wifework” (itself another book by Susan Maushart, worth reading).

There’s also another set of ideas worth referring to around the increasing automation of work and the challenges of maintaining full employment under these circumstances. A few quick links:

  • Job-devouring technology confronts US workers [Financial Times]
  • Will robots take our jobs? Who cares? [Tim Worstall, Forbes]
  • The Next Economic Revolution [Alex Planes, Motley Fool]. One of the most fascinating and important articles I’ve read recently, it argues, "our economy — and much of our market prices — is built on consumption, and a world run by machines is one that won’t support the same levels of consumption if those displaced have no easy way back into the workforce." The profits from increasing labour efficiency can’t necessarily outrun the losses from permanently-high unemployment killing consumer demand.

The emerging (middle-class) ideal may be the four-day work-week, and the employers who do best at making this possible may well prosper by being the ones who hold on to talent. Unexpectedly enough, it is in fact the companies known for the longest working hours that are making strides to introduce it - law and consulting firms are really pushing flexible working as they recognise (are best-placed to measure?) the impact of losing experienced women at 35. They’re also keen to reduce their fixed costs from real estate, and allowing working from home + hotdesking can dramatically reduce the office square-footage required.

But that’s still an upper-middle class elite. The real challenge is how to introduce a shorter work-week for lower-middle and working class jobs that retain the benefits of employment (pension; healthcare in the US) and don’t become the zero-hour flexi-contracts of the "precariat"….

We have never explicitly paid attention to the gender issue at Edelman. We have countless smart, talented and driven women here, many who have been very successful, such as Pam Talbot, who ran our US company for 15 years, while raising two outstanding children and contributing to the Chicago community. But now the playing field is becoming more complicated, with executives often needing to move across geographies, large clients and practices, with dual career couples or single headed households, often working long hours, and juggling responsibilities outside of work, such as caring for children, aging parents, etc.

Despite some stellar examples of women who have risen through the ranks, we have an issue at Edelman like much of the corporate world, which can best be understood in quantitative terms. Women account for approximately two thirds of our total work force, but only 34% of our Strategy Committee and 28% of our Operating Committee. One of our four regional presidents is a woman. Of our sixteen Global Client Relationship Managers, five are women or 31%. Of our five large practice chairs, two are held by women.

Our goal is simple—50% of those on Strategy Committee, Operating Committee, GCRM and practice leadership will be women by 2016. They will have earned the positions; there will not be a quota.

Excellent to see a big company addressing the issue so clearly, publicly and straightforwardly.

The evidence is clear that more women on boards leads to better decision-making, and research by British law firm Eversheds (March 2011) found that better performing companies tended to have a higher percentage of female directors.

So let’s have more of this!

(Source: edelman.com)