The Shame Surrounding Abortion Is Victory For The Patriarchy By Kelly Grehan

Abortion has been legal in this country since 1967 (well most of it, Northern Ireland continues to cling on to a law made in 1861).  Whilst the criminalisation of termination is no longer in the living memory of many people, a culture of shame surrounding abortion continues to perminate.

 

One in three women have had a termination, but it remains a subject never discussed in polite company and very few people tell family and friends about their experience.  Whereas people regularly announce and ask advice about various ailments on their social media feeds seeking a termination is done in hushed tones –  and so the stigma and assumption of remorse remains.  

 

Earlier this year the BBC drama Call The Midwife, featured a storyline where a woman died as a result of backstreet abortion.  At the end of the episode, viewers were directed to the BBC’s Action Line website that provides information about issues aired in programmes.  Except that this time there was no information about abortion. The BBC claimed the issue was “contentious” and that it could not be seen as “supporting one side”.  It remains unclear what they mean by this, how can providing information about a medical procedure be ‘supporting a side?’  Would they follow this argument through about other things once illegal such as say, equal marriage, committing suicide or marrying someone German?  We can only hope that they don’t think they fact some people fought against changes in all these areas does not mean the bbc think we need to present differing viewpoints on them too. To be fair to the BBC an outcry has seen them apologise for this decision.

 

Abortion should be presented as a medical procedure accessed by some people.  It is not a case of ‘picking a side.’ After all there are some medical treatments which various cultures and groups are opposed to such as blood transfusions and vaccinations but we do not hide away information on how to access either of them lest someone take offence.  

 

Abortion has always been opposed by some, for the simple reason it gives women control over their bodies and situation.  

Does the attitude of secrecy towards abortion derive from the fact it is only accessed by women and the patriarchy dictates that womanhood is defined by the wanting, having and raising of children?

Although most of us are pro-choice there remains in our subconscious, an expectation that women not wanting a pregnancy are a bit odd.  This presents itself in the way women without children are continually asking when they will be having children and if past child bearing age why they did not have any.  My experience is that childless men are not held to account on this matter!  Men do not seem to be judged on their contraceptive failures either!

 

We should move towards accepting that abortion is a common part of life and as such should stop treating it as something that should be shrouded in shame.  Lots of things in life are not ideal, but that does not mean they should be taboo.

The Notion That Some Jobs Are ‘Women’s Work’ Hinders Equal Pay By Kelly Grehan

So, the court of appeal have ruled that Asda’s lower-paid store staff, who are mainly female, can compare themselves to higher-paid warehouse workers, who are mainly male, in pay claims.  

This claim could cost ASDA £8 billion in settlements, but first staff need to demonstrate the jobs are of equal value.

They might find this hard – because any job primarily performed by men is considered somehow harder.  

 

When ever the pay gap is discussed the response is often to point out that women pay the price (literally) for the decisions they make with relation to maternity and childcare, and there may be some truth in that, but there is another issue – all work traditionally or predominantly undertaken by women is considered of less value than work traditionally or predominately undertaken by men.

According to the Office of National Statistics the jobs in the UK with the lowest annual pay are:

● Waiters and waitresses

● Leisure and theme park attendants

● Bar staff

● Hairdressers

● Launderers and dry cleaners

● Kitchen and catering assistants

● Check-out operators

● Care escorts

● School crossing patrol

● Cleaners

● Nurses

● Pharmacy dispensers

● Sewing machinists

● Elementary admin

● Florists

 

It is hard to argue against the fact that most people employed in those roles are women.

 

It is interesting that, 50 years since the machinists at Ford started a strike which led to the Equal Pay Act 1970, sewing machinists remain on poor wages.  

 

Let’s look at some other examples and see if we can find reasons for their low wage:-

 

98% of nursery workers are female.

Most will have spent 2 years obtaining a level 3 qualification.  

Most can expect to earn minimum wage.

Let’s just think about that for a moment – this is one of the most important jobs imaginable – looking after under 5’s; changing their nappies, teaching them to share, teaching them to count, making them feel secure.  

But, somewhere along the line we decided people doing this role were only entitled to minimum wage.

Anyone who has ever been to a florist know it is not cheap! I had naively assumed the reason flowers cost so much more in the florist in comparison to in the supermarket or on the market was due to paying for the expertise of the worker, but it seems not.  

This is another minimum wage occupation.  

It is, ironic that the ASDA ruling occurred on the same day that Jess Phillips spoke in the House of Commons on proposals to impose a £30,000 pay threshold for EU workers to be considered skilled.  

She commented that many of her constituents do skilled work, including nursing, but earn less than £30,00.  She then went on to say “I have met many people who earn way more than £30,000 and have literally no discernible skills, not even one.”

Isn’t this something we have all experienced? People paid lots and you wonder ‘how?’

Are they usually men?

Historically, women did all the unpaid labour in the home.  This is no longer the case, but knocking down the culture that assumes work undertaken by women is of less monetary value has proven hard and hence women earn less.  

If we gave more value to the jobs that are important but are generally paid less then employers might feel more inclined to pay them more, and by default we may begin to address the equal pay discrepancies.

 

 

Why Abuse Of Women In Politics Hinders Democracy By Kelly Grehan

100 years on from some women gaining the vote in the UK and 99 years from the same action in the US you would think women’s participation in the political process would be accepted, if not completely ordinary and unworthy of comment.  However, far from being the case, women in politics remain viewed as interlopers and unwelcome by many.  

 

Let’s look at the evidence for why I say this: 

 

This week, 29 year old Congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, who is described as a rising star in the American Democrat Party, faced the seemingly inevitable abuse that comes with being a woman in politics.

A right wing website published an image showing a woman’s bare feet in the bath, under the headline: “Here’s the photo some people described as a nude selfie of Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez.”  

The photo was, as it happens, not of the Congresswoman, but that’s not really the point.  

 As Ocasio-Cortez wrote on Twitter the actions of the Daily Caller were “just a matter of time” as “women in leadership face more scrutiny [than men]. Period.” She went on to say :

 

Last week attempts to shame the same Congresswoman by releasing a video of her dancing from a few years before backfired when she responded with a new video of her dancing:

 https://twitter.com/AOC/status/1081234130841600000

Over 80% of women in politics, globally have experinced sexist or sexually humiliating remarks, gestures or threats and harassment which fell outside the normal political debate.  

Then there is the bizarre judgement of any women in fertility being, as former Australian Prime Minister said Even before becoming prime minister, I had observed that if you are a woman politician, it is impossible to win on the question of family.

If you do not have children then you are characterised as out of touch with ‘mainstream lives’. If you do have children then, heavens, who is looking after them?I had already been chided by a senior conservative Senator for being ‘deliberately barren.’

 

Men just do not face this kind of commentary of their circumstances.  

  

Seeking to humiliate women in politics is just the tip of the iceberg: last year a global survey of women in politics, found that 44% had faced serious abuse, including threats of murder, rape and assault.  As  SNP MP,  Mhairi Black said ‘”I’m bored of gender. I’m bored of being told I should be raped and bored of being told I’m too ugly to be raped.”

 

Jess Phillips, who, lest we forget, lost her friend, MP Jo Cox to murder by a member of the far right tweeted this week:

 

With about a 50% chance of threats of violence and sexual assault hanging over them, is it any wonder so few women want to get involved in politics?

 

Globally more than 10,500 women served as national parliamentarians in 2017, accounting for around 23 percent of total parliamentarians worldwide. In the UK, over the last century there have been just 491 female MPs and more than 4,000 male MPs.

 

A Report, Violence Against Women In Politics, published last year found that reports that ‘growing acts of violence serve as a strong barrier to women accessing their right to participate fully and equally in politics and public life.’

 

Normalising the abuse of public figures – and dismissing sexism and misogyny in the political world – as simply the ‘cost of doing politics’ has devastating consequences for the quality of democracy – Around one third of female politicians who have threatened with violence online stopped expressing their opinions there or withdrew from public conversations as a result. We cannot know the number of brilliant women who are deterred from entering politics because of fear of bringing violence upon themselves and their families, but there can be no doubt there are many.

Let us be in no doubt, the  abuse of women is pushed by those who believe women have no place in politics and so must be shamed, smeared and harassed until they give up.

 It is for all good people to stand up against those with this agenda.

When Will It Be A Good Time To Be A Woman? When Women Are Not Held Responsible For The Actions Of Sexually Deviant Men By Kelly Grehan

Today, 11th October, marks the ‘International Day Of The Girl’.

The day aims to highlight and address the needs and challenges that girls face , while promoting girls’ empowerment and the fulfilment of their human rights.

100 years after some women gained the right to vote and at a time when girls persistently outperform boys at school, some may ask do we in the West still need to mark this day?

The answer to that is simply yes. And here is why…

Last week whilst mocking the testimony Dr Christine Blasey Ford gave against Brett Kavanaugh, the US President Donald Trump said ” It’s a very scary time for young men in America”. He then gave his concerns for young men in America being falsely accused of sexual assault. The President was then asked if he had a message for young women, to which he replied ” Young women are doing great”…

Sadly, Trump’s lack of respect for women is well documented: during the 2016 election campaign, at least 15 women accused Trump of misbehaviour. Ranging from sexual harassment and sexual assault to lewd behaviour around women.

They came forward in the wake of a 2005 ‘ Access Hollywood’ tapes that was released in October 2016, in which he was caught saying ” When you’re a star, they let you do it. You can do anything… Grab them by the pussy. You can do anything”.

The fact a man who bragged about sexually assaulting women was subsequently elected says that this remains a dangerous time to be a woman.

Coincidentally, last week, a lot of attention was given to some American research into the answers that men and women gave when asked about the precautionary safety measures they take before going out.

Here is a summary of what men and women said;

 I, like many others I expect, discussed this with men I know. They were sceptical that women really took these precautions. Yet women’s conversations were awash with how accurate the list was. And so I realised that a gulf exists between the way that women live their lives and the way that men perceive how women live.

From childhood, girls are taught to think ahead, and prepare, lest they be a victim to a male predator in some way or another. For example the following rules are often taught:

To go to the toilet in pairs;

To never walk down an alley;

To keep curtains closed when home alone at night;

To not let a drink leave your sight;

And a whole host of other things that we just don’t teach our sons.

We know, as women, that should we become victims; we will be quizzed as to whether we took appropriate precautions. Presumably to determine whether or not we are ‘ the right sort of victim.’ Don’t believe me? Look at how female victims are defamed by the press or in court:

https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2018/oct/08/husband-murdered-media-melanie-clark-domestic-violence-deaths?CMP=fb_cif

https://www.theguardian.com/society/2017/jun/17/we-didnt-recognise-that-he-was-dangerous-our-father-killed-our-mother-and-sister

https://www.independent.co.uk/news/uk/crime/rape-sexual-history-assault-cross-examine-trial-court-voices4victims-plaid-cymru-mp-liz-savile-a7570286.html

Let us not forget the most significant rule we bestow on our daughters: to always think about how their clothing impacts everyone else.

Every week the tabloid newspapers and magazines treat us to their ‘analysis’ of what various celebrities have worn. Women are expected to ‘cover up’ in various buildings around the world and are constantly told they their top is ‘too low/ high’ or their skirt is ‘too short/ long’ etc.

We also know that any time a women is a victim of any sexual assault she can expect some sort of judgement about what she wore and what ‘messages it sent’.

Men, gladly, don’t experience the everyday harassment that women can expect wherever they go. And by this I mean:

  • The cat- calls;

  • The men who come and sit next to women on trains and ask personal questions;

  • The men who shout things like “state of that” when a woman walks past;

  • The men who think that it is ok to comment on waitresses bra straps;

  • The men who think it is ok to talk over women when making points during meetings;

  • The men who like to reduce women in high places , where they may be the only woman there, as ” the bird”.

All these are REAL examples I got from a group of friends in a brief conversation this week.  I don’t think it crosses decent men’s minds that this goes on. But it does go on.  It is the backdrop to the lives women live.

A significant, but not unusual example of this occurred last month when Ariana Grande (25)  was given the honour of singing at the funeral of Aretha Franklin.

The occasion was somewhat overshadowed when Bishop Charles Ellis III (60), who was officiating the ceremony decided to take the opportunity to grope Ariana.

 Later he apologised for his behaviour saying :

It would never be my intention to touch any woman’s breast … I don’t know, I guess I put my arm around her. Maybe I crossed the border, maybe I was too friendly or familiar but, again, I apologise.  I hug all the female and male artists.  Everybody that was up, I shook their hands and hugged them. That’s what we are all about in the church. We are all about love.”

And so he returned to his job with no consequences at all. As #RespectAriana began trending, the usual cries of “why did she not say anything” and “why was she wearing a short dress to a funeral” started too.

Later that same week, Maureen Lipman was given space in several newspapers to drone on about how women dress, saying:

 All this bondage clothing – dressed a bit like a prostitute would have dressed.  But if you speak to a real feminist, they’ll say, ‘It’s my body.’ Young female pop stars today, for example, are saying: ‘It’s my body, and I’m empowered to show it to you.’ But then: ‘Don’t touch it, don’t come near it, don’t flirt with it.’ And that is a bit of a shame because flirting is some of the best fun you’ve ever had in your life.’’

Lipman then went on to defend Roman Polanski and Woody Allen!

Now, have you ever read an article where elderly male actors feel the need to refer to the dress choices of young male artists?  

In fact have you ever read an article anywhere where anyone points out the failings of a man’s choice of outfit?  

Then there is Lipman’s use of the words ‘real feminist.’  

What do we suppose she means by that?  

I’m a feminist and I could not care less what anyone else is wearing, whether it be a burka or a bikini.  

It seems that the patriarchy now wants to decide what being a ‘real feminist’ constitutes too.

This week Penguin books reacted angrily when their pop-up shop in a branch of Top Shop was cancelled just before the shop opened, with the display already set up.  

Any guesses what the book was about?  

It is a collection called Feminists Don’t Wear Pink, and Other Lieslaunched in support of the charity ‘Girl Up.’  

Can we even guess why Phillip Green decided this was not a good fit for his brand?  

No, I can’t think either.

But, as every girl knows, dressing conservatively does not mean that moronic men will leave you alone.

In fact, one in three girls in the U.K. has been sexually harassed in public while wearing a school uniform, and two thirds of girls have said they have experienced unwanted sexual attention in public.

The figures come from a report by children’s charity Plan International UK; which said that many girls feel that street harassment “is all part of growing up”. The saddest thing is that with our culture being the way it is, it is difficult to argue that their perception is wrong.

The truth is misogyny continues to run through our culture.  As women, we adjust our lifestyles to fit with the expectations and restrictions placed upon us.  

We need to take decent men with us on our fight to smash the patriarchy.    

 

Trans Women Are Real Women. Deny This If You Must, But Not In My Name. By Kelly Grehan

I’ve always been drawn to the statement by American mythologist Joseph Campbell that “the privilege of a lifetime is being who you are.”

Being yourself strikes me as the true route to happiness and something that we should all want for each other and to try to help others to achieve.

But others clearly disagree.  

In recent months there have been increasing reports that ‘radical feminists’ oppose trans women using women’s spaces, standing on all women shortlists and joining women’s groups.

As a feminist, this situation has left me fuming.  For me, being a feminist is about allowing all people to be who they want to be, to show kindness to all and to oppose all oppression.

I just cannot understand the motivation of those trying to stop trans women (and men) from being who they want to be.

One argument I have heard is that, having been raised as male , trans women have benefitted from male privilege and therefore cannot understand the experiences of cis women.  I find this a bizarre argument. I would guess being stuck in a body you despise all day every day pretty much cancels out any advantage you might have accessed as a male.

From what I have seen trans women suffer the absolute opposite of privilege at every stage of their life.

It is not on the same scale of course, but I have been shocked at the online abuse I have received every time I have tweeted support of trans rights.  Of course, as unpleasant as this was, I simply turned the device off and walked away.

I cannot imagine what it is like to face this abuse every day and have no means of escape.

Abuse against the trans community remains rife.

Two in five trans people have experienced a hate crime or incident because of their gender identity in the last 12 months.

A study by equality campaigning charity Stonewall, last year revealed that amongst school pupils who identified as trans 9% had received death threats at school while 84% say they have self-harmed and 45% have tried to take their own lives.

Then there is the argument about who should use what toilet.

Frankly I envy people who have so little to worry about that this consumes their time.  I put this question to them, are they equally concerned that male and female disabled people are expected to share the same toilets?

It’s sad to say, but history tells us we should not be surprised by transphobia.  

People have always been afraid of things outside their own experience and rather than seeking further understanding the default position of many people seems to be to try to drive people of difference away.

We have seen this time and time again, whether the differences concern race, sexuality or even differences in choices like music or dress.

Despite great efforts to see it maligned, feminism is just as needed now as in the past – there are battles still to fight –  America have a misogynist president; we have yet to achieve equal pay; despite the ‘me too’ movement women continue to suffer sexual harassment; legislation concerning pregnancy, maternity and childcare continue to be inadequate.

So why would any feminist concern themselves with trying to exclude an already marginalised group?  It makes no sense to me.

And you know what defines everyone in the trans community?

They have had the courage, against all social convention, knowing the abuse and exclusion that is likely to follow, to stand up and be who they really are.

I’d say that’s the definition of courage. Such people are an asset, not a threat to the ideals of feminsim.

Feminism is not about telling other people who they are or who they can be.

At its core it is about aiding people to be themselves.

Experiencing feelings of transphobia?

Want to exclude others?

Then there is nothing I can do to stop you.

But please do not do it in the name of feminism!

Inspiration Follows Inspiration By Kelly Grehan

I was 11 when my Primary School teacher said something that has never left me.

Talking about the suffrage movement she said “I hope none of you, but especially the girls, ever forget what others gave up so you would have the right to vote.”

This was the beginning of a love affair with the suffragettes and feminism for me.  

So I have been surprised that some of my fellow pupils from that class in 1990 have gone on to be apolitical and others opposed to feminism.

My experience has always been that to mention women and equality is to be met with a accusations of men bashing and to point out the subjectification of women in the media is to be accused of jealousy.

So, despite being a very vocal person I had not always fought as hard as I could on women’s issues.

Over the last six months, however,  I feel as if I have found my voice as a feminist.

This has coincided with a few things: firstly Kent’s new Labour MP Rosie Duffield has been instrumental in raising the profile of Kent’s Labour women, and very quickly we have formed a network, or what could be called a ‘sisterhood.’

It sounds corny, but it’s true, I feel supported by my Labour sisters, that we are all routing for each other.

I have also started blogging (https://theavengeruk.com/) and increasingly write about my lived experiences and those of my friends, and so by default these are often experiences that could be deemed women’s issues.

This has brought me into contact with a whole new network of women.

I have got involved with 50:50 Parliament, having met the founder Frances, at an event and it has brought back memories of all the reasons I became enchanted by the suffragettes 28 years ago.

Following on from this, myself and my friend Kate this week ran  Women’s Event at Dartford Labour, the first in our time as party members.

I spoke with one veteran member of the party who said her heart leapt with joy’ when she saw the invite because at last the issue is gaining attention.

Armed with the stories about the disparity between men and women at every level of government in the UK we made the case for 50:50 representation.

With our new network of Labour Party women we were able to find four amazingly motivational speakers, who represented the diversity of women in terms of backgrounds (the videos can be found here (https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCKTFQzBXXEWXQwebXL76jNQ).

Hearing them led to other members telling their stories.

These stories are about lived experiences, and of course, women’s lived experiences are different to those of men, and both need representing.  

What the event confirmed is this:

Hearing women tell their stories inspires other women to tell their stories.

When woman speak up it inspires other women to speak up and so it stands to reason that more women standing will lead to even more women standing for election.

For me this is just the beginning of speaking out for 50:50 Parliament and I cannot wait to see where else it takes me and to all the fabulous women I will meet on the way.

A Review Of The ‘Inspiring Kent Labour Women Event’- 10th March 2018 By Kelly Grehan

Spurred on by International Women’s Day on Thursday a group of us from Dartford CLP headed down to Canterbury for this event.

Since becoming Kent’s only Labour MP last June, Rosie Duffield has become the pride of the Labour Party movement throughout Kent, with all of us feeling that she is ‘our Rosie’ .

The fact she worked in ‘ordinary, but important’ jobs such as a Teaching Assistant and for charities and juggled this with being a single mother has certainly been inspiring for the rank and file female Labour members.

Ive written before about how in my experience women often play down their skills and experiences and do not realise the value they could add to their communities as councillors https://theavengeruk.com/2018/02/28/a-womans-place-is-on-the-ballot-by-kelly-grehan/ ; so it was interesting to hear Rosie say that not so long ago she felt that standing as an MP was not a realistic option for her and that talking to a fabulous woman called Frances Scott from 50:50 Parliament had made the difference in her outlook.

Frances explained that she launched the 50:50 Parliament campaign which campaigns for gender equality at Westminster with the aim to inspire, encourage and support women in being elected to Westminster and is asking Parliament and all the political parties to work on solutions.

It is very exciting to know that this is exactly what encouraged Rosie.

Women are 51% of the population so it is indefensible that women make up just 32% of our MPs.

Frances spoke about how men can represent women (and vice versa) but are more likely to do a good job when there are women around.

All people use their experiences to understand the world, so it is no surprise that issues which primarily concerning women such as maternity, childcare, the wage gap and domestic abuse have not been priority issues within a male dominated parliament.

Men and women have different experiences – it is not that one is superior to the other – they are just different and all people benefit from those different experiences being valued.

Laura Cashman is Programme Director for Politics and International Relations at Canterbury Christ Church University. She made the point that woman and men vote in the same proportions – yet the false narrative that ‘women are not interested in politics’ persists.

The idea that women cannot be good mothers and good politicians is a myth. Just look at the New Zealand Prime Minister, Jacinda Ardern who is currently pregnant, and closer to home, in France last year; Senator Larissa Walters addressed the chamber whilst breastfeeding her baby.

Yet woman are sidelined in arguments, for example in the Brexit debate only 16% of media appearances to discuss the issue were women!

Given a choice of seminars I opted (after some deliberation it must be said) for Confidence In Campaigning; led by an inspiring woman called Fiona Crawford.

Like many Labour party activists Fiona came to prominence after feeling compelled to campaign on issues she felt strongly about such as racism and the ‘Save Broadstairs High Street’ campaign. This spurred her on to other campaigning.

Other women told of their campaigning experiences, with the message being that campaigning is so varied that there is something everyone can excel at – whether it be door knocking, designing leaflets, making displays and numerous other things.

Hearing women talk with passion about their champion of various causes was so motivating, and a reminder of how much woman have to offer.

What I am increasingly learning is that ‘inspired women’ inspire other women.

As women, we need to get better at telling others what we have achieved and what we value about them.

#AskHerToStand was a campaign championed by 50:50 Parliament.

The power of the movement was bought home to me speaking to one of the members of my group, Sarah Crook, attending her first political event.

Sarah commented “50 : 50 really struck a chord with me. It has seriously made me think about standing. I cannot believe in 2018 it’s still a 2:1 ratio of men to women in Parliament. Frances was so impassioned – she made me want to campaign for the movement”

I ask all women (and men) to join https://5050parliament.co.uk/ and ask friends to think about standing for parliament, council and all other public offices.

Together we can make a difference.

Kelly Grehan is a member of Dartford Labour Party and co founder and writer for The Avenger.