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.

100 Years On From Winning The Right For Women To Vote But How Far Have We Actually Progressed? By Kelly Grehan

Next week marks 100 years since some women in Britain were granted the vote – it seems to be forgotten that, despite all men over 21 years of age being able to vote after the Representation of People Act, only women over 30 who occupied a house were deemed fit to vote.

It was another 10 years before equal suffrage was to be achieved. At this time the destiny of a woman was very clear – get married and raise a family.

Campaigners like Millicent Fawcett and Elizabeth Garret Anderson had carried out and pursued a peaceful struggle to open professions like medicine to women. Yet still, only the privileged few, whose fathers or husbands were enlightened enough to permit it, got a foot on the ladder of opportunity.

Today almost all jobs are open to women, and yet we have yet to get an even gender representation in Parliament or standard equal pay.  

But there is one industry where process towards equality has been particularly slow: sport.

Male played sports continue to dominate the TV schedules and news headlines. Women who have beaten the odds and the system, such as Assistant Referee Sian Massey-Ellis are subject to scrutiny on their appearance which would never be imparted on their male counterparts.

In fact, after Sky Sports pundits Andy Grey and Richard Keys were embroiled in a row over their sexist comments on her; The sun saw fit to print a front cover of Sian dancing in a vest top and denim skirt with the headline ‘Get ‘Em Off.’

Further to this, some sports – boxing and motorcar racing in particular –  have not only continued to be overwhelmingly male dominated, but have continued to use women in roles that I can only describe as ‘accessories.’

This week it seems, those responsible for the Formula 1 brand openly recognised its use of ‘grid girls’.

They deemed it out of date and not conducive to the image they wish to portray.  In a Press Release Sean Bratches, Managing Director, Commercial Operations at Formula 1 said:

“Over the last year we have looked at a number of areas which we felt needed updating so as to be more in tune with our vision for this great sport.  While the practice of employing grid girls has been a staple of Formula 1 Grands Prix for decades, we feel this custom does not resonate with our brand values and clearly is at odds with modern day societal norms. We don’t believe the practice is appropriate or relevant to Formula 1 and its fans, old and new, across the world.”

Formula 1 should be congratulated for their change in policy here and let us not forget this was a commercial decision, taken to protect commercial interests.

Clearly F1 decided that girls doing nothing more than looking pretty and having champagne poured on them was not a good image.

This has, perhaps predictably, not prevented  the coverage that has followed; accusing them of ‘cowering to political correctness’  and that ‘jealous, ugly feminists’ have ‘banned’ women from jobs they loved.

Objectification of women is endemic in our society.  Just look at the recent events at the Presidents Club.  People claim the women concerned enjoy their work, choose it etc. No doubt this is true, but ‘work’ of this type contributes to a society in which women’s role is seen as being for the pleasure of men in a world where they are portraying that the nearest women can get to the top or be a success is by fawning all over the men who actually win something.

Then there is the vilifying of feminism and the repeated use of the word ‘feminist’ as a derogatory term.

A brief browse through this weeks tabloids or twitter attached to the hashtag #gridgirl gives no doubt about the vitriol aimed at women who dare to praise the F1 decision.

Women who call themselves ‘feminists’ can expect to be called ‘jealous,’ ‘ugly,’ ‘prudes,’ and such like as a matter of course.

So 100 years after women won the vote it seems the idea that ‘women should know their place’ still persists.

We still have a long way to go for gender equality.