Tag Archives: women

Real Women and Policy

The Lib Dem womens’ policy paper has now been published so the ‘airbrushing’ debate can now move away from what is being said in the media and onto what the policy paper actually says.

The paper has a total of 40 policy proposals, many of which are already policy. The two that have garnered media attention are:

21. Protect children from body image pressure by preventing the use of altered and enhanced images in advertising aimed at under 16s, through changes to Advertising Standards Authority rules. We would work with industry regulators and professionals to find ways to ensure that children have access to more realistic portrayals of women (and men) in advertising

22. Help women make informed choices by requiring adverts to clearly indicate the extent to which digital retouching technology has been used to create overly perfected and unrealistic images of women

The first thing that should be noted is that nowhere do the words “airbrushing”, “Photoshop” or “ban” appear. The clauses are much less prescriptive than last week’s hype might have lead us to believe.

I still have two significant problems with these clauses however. Firstly, the paper provides no evidence whatsoever to convince us that this would be an effective remedy. Not even a footnote (there are footnotes and anecdotes for other proposals).

Secondly, it fails to explain why advertising is being singled out here when the magazines that such adverts are to appear in are not. There does not currently exist a regulatory body to control what can appear on the front page of magazines. All the time they continue to pump out idealised images of women (and they do that because it sells) then why get worried about what appears on page 92?

When you break it down it appears like a fairly meaningless sop. Having read the paper I don’t think it gets to the heart of the problem at all. As such, I fear that this is selling short the very women and girls that the paper is seeking to protect.

For completeness, I should point out here that the paper does have a number of other proposals when it comes to body image:

23. Encourage the British Fashion Council and design schools to ensure students are taught and judged on their ability to cut to a range of sizes and body types
24. The fashion industry should implement all the recommendations in the Model Health Inquiry, including introducing model health certificates for London Fashion Week
25. Require cosmetic surgery advertising and literature to give surgery success rates by collecting and publishing Patient Reported Outcome Measures. This would assess whether the surgery had the desired effects
26. Ensure age-appropriate modules on body image, health and wellbeing, and media literacy are taught in schools

23 and 24 are surely unobjectionable as they are simply urging best practice and not even regulatory. For non-libertarians, 25 seems a pretty common sense measure, aimed at providing people with useful information. 26 is all well and good, but I have to say I question the wisdom of adding to the already long list of things we make teachers cover in schools; I thought we were demanding a bonfire of the curriculum as recently as March this year? Either way, I am sceptical how a lesson one afternoon in school is going to achieve much.

In short, I can’t help but feel this is just scratching the surface of what is a much more complex issue.

Over at Liberal Conspiracy, Unity has just written this:

[The main problem the Green Party faces is] it’s open and democratic approach to policy-making in which any member can put forward a policy, call for vote and get the policy accepted into the party’s manifesto if it prove popular with members too readily militates against evidence-based approaches to policy making, particularly in a party that typically attracts considerably more than its fair share of proponents of pseudoscience.

He’s writing about the Green’s anti-science policies but before we get to smug about their often loony ideas we should pause for thought about how the Lib Dems are often subject to the same forces. I don’t agree with Unity and Martin Robbins that the problem is democratic policy making processes; Labour has torn up its democratic structures but its policies are if anything less evidence-based than the Lib Dems’. But people need to be wary of voting at party conference in favour of “nice things” and demand a more rigorous approach. It is notable that the party’s Federal Policy Committee has failed to demand this itself in this instance. Perhaps this is a good example of how the policy paper model, imposed during the merger period by the SDP wing, doesn’t particularly work very well. Certainly the rules about policy papers having to have specific word limits works against a more evidence-based approach.

How dominant is the “blokeosphere”?

Rowenna Davis writes about her experience as guest editor on Labour List on Comment is Free. What interests me about this experience is that while I think the so-called “blokeosphere” is out there, it isn’t universal across political blogs and, as a “bloke” bores me to tears as well. A few observations:

It is hard to see how you can infer a wider principle from LabourList. With Derek Draper at its head, LabourList is one of the most testosterone-fuelled blogs out there. It has reached its existing readership primarily by picking fights with people. I have to admit that even then I was surprised to learn that it has an all-male editorial board (and presumably will continue to have an all-male editorial board after today), but it does figure.

If you want change, you need to more than have a guest female editor for a couple of days. This was an oddly patronising way to mark International Women’s Day – bring the women out for the special occasion and then put them back in their box. LabourList has been significantly more interesting with her as editor (weirdly, I understand she isn’t a Labour Party member) than with Draper and there is every sign that we will be back to business-as-usual in the next couple of days. Indeed, with LabourWomen now established, the boys will be left to it. Only in the Labour Party is such a phenomenon seen a progress.

You can make a systemic shift – and the Lib Dem blogosphere proves it. I don’t wish to over-emphasise this as I am hardly in a position to claim to have expunged macho blogging, but eighteen months ago the Lib Dem blogosphere was as male-dominated as the Labour blogosphere. For whatever reason, it became apparent that there was a distinct increase in female bloggers, seemingly as a result of the relatively high profile blogger awards at the Autumn Conference and the excitement surrounding the leadership election. And that increase has proven itself to be relatively sustainable: the party’s top blogger is a woman, Lib Dem Voice has a good mix of men and women on its editorial team and most blog meetups that I’ve attended have been equally well balanced.

Why is this? I suspect it is a combination of the fact that a certain critical mass was reached and the fact that we talked about it. Much derided at the time, the Campaign for Gender Balance’s decision to launch its own awards in Spring 2008 helped create that dialogue. A great many women seemed to feel patronised by the awards and several men howled with outrage; as a result I (as one of the instigators) didn’t particularly push for a 2009 event. But I do think that the awards – or more precisely the debate that surrounded the awards – helped create a shift in attitudes.

There are plenty of female political bloggers out there – they just aren’t labelled as political. This is a point that Jenny Rigg makes repeatedly, and she’s absolutely right. Partly this is because of how women perceive themselves, but a lot of it is down to the different way they seem to get labelled, as opposed to men. My blog, for example, has always been a mix of politics, film, comics, television and general toss; yet I’ve always been regarded as a political blogger. As Jenny discovered, by contrast she tends to be regarded as an “other” by default and even feminism is assumed to not be political (as opposed to something to do with women’s bits).

Some of what Rowenna says is arrant nonsense. Sorry, but the idea that only Harriet Harman and other female politicians gets personally abused on the internet is simply not the case. Google “Nick Clegg” or “Menzies Campbell” if you don’t believe me. And “Cif is a good exception to the rule” of political blogs being male dominated? I don’t even follow the comments threads on my own articles on Cif because they are so full of bile and the first three comments in response to her article have been censored presumably because of their sexist content – if that is what Rowenna considers to be a feminist utopia she needs a wakeup call. It is hard to shake the impression that Rowenna is little more than a tourist when it comes to this subject and hasn’t really explored the blogosphere outside of LabourList at all.

Girlguides fail their policymaking badge

I hope Jane Merrick doesn’t feel that by quoting two of her articles in half an hour I am actually stalking her. But the Independent reports a new paper published by Girlguiding UK, the Fawcett Society and the BYC today about how our political system is failing young women:

More than a quarter of girls are put off by a lack of information about how they should take part, while 17 per cent believe it cannot make a difference.

Nearly half of young women say they would like to be more involved in volunteering, but when this comes to local or national politics, the figure drops to 28 per cent. Domestic violence, gangs and knife crime, bullying and equality at work emerged as the most important issues for young women.

The report calls for a new Youth Green Paper, including a demand for one person under 25 to be on every parliamentary shortlist, and the ability to vote by text message or through social networking sites such as Facebook.

I hope the Guides won’t be sewing their policymaking badges on their sleeves just yet (incredibly, the badge shown above is the real deal, and the global umbrella for guides is called the World Association of Girl Guides and Girl Scouts or WAGGGS). Are they really serious about youth quotas for candidate selections? Is this based on any experience of candidate selection processes whatsoever?

Gender quotas for candidate selections have done little to increase women candidates, as I believe the Fawcett Society themselves argue from time to time. Imposing a quota does not magically increase either the quantity or quality of the women wanting to stand as parliamentary candidates; all it tends to do is eat up time and energy spent on bureaucracy.

What we need is not a quota, but supply. Again, since the Lib Dems recognised that in the case of gender we have started making (slow, due to the fact that the relevant schemes remain under-funded) progress. If you want to increase the supply of young people in political parties, you will have to focus on developing their youth wings – all of which are various degrees of basketcase at the moment. The Guides could help actually, for example by working with the youth wings in a cross party way to promote active citizenship and encourage young women to explore their political interests. But that would mean not treating the youth wings of political parties as the pariahs of youth politics, as they currently are. A bold move; do the Guides have the guts to support it?

As for voting by text message or Facebook; words fail. This might make good faddy copy, but the implications for stolen elections are unbelievable, as even a cursory glance of the relevant literature shows. Elections held online are essentially unauditable and open to being hacked. Once again, if they are going to make bold pronouncements about how elections should be run, why didn’t they seek a partnership with a relevant youth organisation with an interest in such things, such as X-Change? If they had, they might actually have raised a far more important policy issue: that under our current electoral system all these gimmicks will fail to achieve much while it is clear that the system is rigged from the start.

Today at the Lib Dem Conference, Howard Dean made a startling claim: more under 35s voted in the US elections last November than over 65s. In fact it sounds so startling that I want to go away and factcheck it, but either way the level of youth participation has shot up in the US and it has been achieved not by having token youth candidates or letting them vote by mobile phone, but by offering them real politics and a chance to make a difference. The Girlguides should be paying more attention to that than trotting out the same old tired tropes.