Thursday, 24 March 2011

'Loveable Rogues' and Bad Girls

So, here's a surprise - the Daily Mail pissed me off today. That last bastion of all that is great and good in the world, the Daily Mail Reporter, wrote an article (istyosty link) entitled:

Now, ignoring the obvious Google-bait headline (really, there is no need to include Angelina Jolie in the headline other than that) - I had a few problems with this article.

Firstly, as per usual, there was no citation of the source research, so there's no way to check whether what they're saying is accurate. I looked for it online, but I can only refine search parameters so many times before I accept I am fighting a losing battle. If anyone can find it for me, I will love you forever. This also means we have no way of knowing the sample size of the survey, or how the sample was selected (they could have just asked ten people down the pub, or asked a thousand people using stratified sampling). Crucially, it means we don't know what questions were asked of the participants in the 'study' (the sarky inverted commas will become clear in a minute).

I may be getting ahead of myself here. Our intrepid Daily Mail Reporter cites several 'findings' from the research, these being;
  1. "Two thirds of men now lust after women in high-powered jobs".
  2. "66 per cent of men are most attracted to high-flying females, rising to 71 per cent among 30 to 34 year old men".
  3. "A girl who is strong, independent and professional is likely to be far more appealing to the modern male".
  4. "18 per cent of men look for a partner who's fun, 14 per cent want a woman who can stand up for themselves and nine per cent value spontaneity". [Seriously - only 14% want a woman who can stand up for themselves?!?! Well, that's me consigned to the scrapheap.]
  5. "A further 35 per cent said they like so-called 'bad girls' like Hollywood actresses Angelina Jolie, Megan Fox and Welsh singer Charlotte Church".
  6. "Men who display chivalrous and courteous behaviour are now regarded as weak or patronising by one in ten of the nation's females". [Nice use of leading language here. Those nasty women, hating all the decent, polite men.]
  7. "[F]or 45 per cent, the modern-day groomed man isn't their ideal either".
  8. "One in six now find loveable rogues like Irish actor Colin Farrell and Scottish-born heart throb Gerard Butler more appealing".
  9. "[L]ike men, they are also drawn to ambition - 60 per cent of women said they were more attracted to men with high-powered jobs".
Now, do you see my problem with this? It is totally unclear what they asked. It's unclear what even appeared in the 'study'! For instance, with regard to finding number 3, did the study ask the men to list the three characteristics they found most attractive, or were they part of a limited list of choices? Was the question even asked, or is the Mail just extrapolating characteristics it thinks common of "high-flying females"? See? This is why if you don't link to primary sources you are dead to me. Now, all these problems are not to mention the problems inherent in any study that relies on self-reported behaviour. I think I've established that I am not a fan of this 'study'. However, I appear to have diverted myself, as there are much more pressing problems with the article.

My second bone of contention with Daily Mail Reporter's fine piece is that, like pretty much all their stories of this ilk, it's essentially just a glorified advert. In this case,
"The research marks the launch of the new computer game The Sims Medieval.

Stuart Lang, marketing director for The Sims Medieval, said: 'It's interesting to see the change in appeal of men being attracted to high-powered women and more dominant bad-girl types.

'It shows the evolving position of women in society and the developments of their strength.
'These results show that there is still an element of Middle Age mentality in today's society, with women being drawn to roguish characters.'"

Quite. And when I say 'quite', I mean 'a quite utterly bloody pointless PR exercise'. Never mind though, the Mail have gone for the double in shameless plugs with this article - they also draft in self-styled "relationship expert", Jo Barnett, to help analyise the findings! (Seriously, if you only click one link on this post, click that one - her site is hilariously bad). She says:

'Finances are harder than ever, and men who may once have been scared of a powerful, successful woman, have wised up.
'They are now embracing it, as someone who is financially independent is a very alluring option.
'Also, media has sold us the powerful, executive woman as a very sexy image today.
'Women who have it all have a buzz about them, they are not so readily available and the guys flock to them.'
'Women are looking for the buzz and excitement to distract them from the mundane life of work, kids, usual. [Because that's all women do. They have no hobbies or interests of their own. They need a man to show them a good time.]
'The 'bad boy' is a challenge, it works the same for women as it does for me, the harder the game, the more we want to play.
'Bad boys have that sex appeal that some of the chivalrous men just can't muster, it's the belief they have that they can play the field and get away with it.
'They have the ability to lay on the charm and we never quite know if they are telling the truth, but it's fun while it lasts.'
 I'm not quite sure what to make of this, really. I mean, I'm always fairly skeptical of these self-styled experts to begin with (of course, if Barnett actually has a PhD. in 'dateology', I'll take the comment about her being 'self-styled' back), but when they start talking in absolutes like this, it really gets my back up. No, not all women like 'bad boys' - most women (and men) don't even have a 'type'. People like people, not disparate groups. Most people don't even fit into a type themselves! Also, I find her comments about men liking powerful women because the media portrays them as 'sexy' distinctly... uncomfortable. But yes. Absolutes are bad, OK kids?

Also, don't get me started on the complete and utter disregard for what LGB people want. I know, I know, it's the Mail, and they're terrified of TEH GAYZ, but still - it should be said.


This is my biggest problem with this article (and the main reason I decided to write this post - the rest of the stuff I have written are minor gripes that I could have ignored. This, however, takes the bloody biscuit. Not only does it take the biscuit, it eats it in front of your face then spits crumbs at you while it tells you how nice it was to eat your biscuit.) is this:

 Yes. That's right. In 'Mail-land' (surely the worst place in the entire known universe, no?), if you have a penis and have sex and tattoos, you're a 'lovable rogue' - but dare to do those things while being in possession of a vagina, and you're a bad girl*.

"Yeah, hello, is that the Mail? Decent people's sense of gender equality speaking here. I appear to have got lost on the way to your offices. Is there any way you could give me better directio.... What's that? I'm not welcome? Oh."

Yes, I know I shouldn't expect any better from the Mail (although I always think I can't expect worse, and then they surprise me), but that doesn't mean I shouldn't be bothered when things like this get published. Not only is it hateful and spiteful, it's also harmful, and apathy is not the answer.

*Transgender people do not exist in Mail-land.

Tuesday, 22 March 2011

Rite Of Manhood

Last week, I noticed that I was being followed by a group called @RiteofManhood on Twitter. I won't lie, as soon as I saw their name in my followers, I got suspicious as to exactly what my feelings towards them would be. They are a group of men's rights activists (MRA). Put simply (I appreciate there's different factions and beliefs, but for the sake of ease, I'll leave out the subtle distinctions between groups for now), MRA focus on the societal role of modern men, and wish to reclaim their 'rights', which they say have been eroded by feminism and the advancement of women. Some groups are worse than others, of course. For example, some are mainly concerned with the perceived marginalisation of men in custody hearings (which I plan to write about at some point), whereas some seem to be hell-bent on painting all women as harpies who would cry rape as soon as look at you, just for the lulz (I think you can guess my feelings towards this type of MRA).

Anyway, when I noticed them, I put out a tweet saying:

"It appears I am being followed by a MRA group. *waves cautiously at @RiteOfManhood* I'm a feminist!"

They then responded, and we entered into a bit of a dialogue (which can be viewed here):

@RiteOfManhood: "*waves back enthusiastically* We like to hear all opinions including the redheaded feminists"

Me: "I'm sorry, but I can't agree with your fundamental message - that of essential binary gender differences"

Me: "I also disagree with your message of what makes a 'real man'."

@RiteOfManhood: "I've been scrolling down our tweets and our page. Can you tell me where abouts it says what ur refering to?"

Me: "On the front page of your website and your 'about' page. People are people - no such thing as 'real' man or woman."

Me: "Also, I find your organisation worryingly heteronormative and cisnormative."

@RiteOfManhood: "I'll bring up ur comments to our Director"

@RiteOfManhood: "Hi Natalie. I gave ur comments 2 our director and he wrote a brief response do u have email so i can send it over?"

I was quite heartened by this, and appreciated them both listening to me saying why I couldn't support them, and for taking the time to email me. Here's the email I received:

Hi Natalie. I sent your comments over to our Director and here is his response.

I know that sex and gender are two distinct and disconnected yet connected forms of masculine and feminine. Yet, as we are separate, we are also together. To bring everything together in one blob saying we are the same and equal is not possible, hence the conflict and problems we face in todays society. Men and women are not equal we are both just very different, and without the new feminist paradigm we can do something together that creates unity, but also celebrates our differences without a divisive collision. What is your definition of a real man?

If you have any further questions, comments, concerns, ect feel free to email us and we'll be happy to answer you.

Have a good day,

Jada Lemmens
Social Media Consultant
Hope Studios

So, bearing all that in mind, I'd like to take this opportunity to explain why I disagree with Rite Of Manhood in a form that is not 140 characters or less.

The Rite Of Manhood website can be viewed here. Their tag-line is "Building men, with men, for men". Their home page says: (My comments in red)

"Mankind is at a crossroads of a new revolution.  As human beings the male gender as whole in our western culture has been fundamentally shaken. There is no longer a real separation between boys and men, and many women are desperate to find even one man in their personal or social environment If by 'man', you mean 'someone to go out and kill something for dinner while we stay home barefoot an pregnant', then no, we're not. The children and youth are expressing a longing for real family, and a healthy social connection with men in their lives, but look at our school system, our day cares and pre-schools, what has happened? You can't blame feminism for men not wanting to go into teaching - in fact, it's quite the opposite. If you promote the idea of 'real men' and 'real women', why would you be surprised when men don't want to do a job that is traditionally seen as 'female'?

What can we do but to develop something real, something strong that can build and untie the care of men by building real relationships between them. Men and women are not equal, they are different, and the rite of manhood wants to celebrate those differences and to bring together something new that is beating in the heart of real humanity and real unity, which is a brotherhood of real men. My problem is when you say that differences between men and women mean that they are not equal. Yes, there are certain biological differences - I have XX chromosomes. Men have XY chromosomes. Even that is not a given constant though, there are people with XYY chromosomes, there are people who identify as women but have XY chromosomes. There are people who identify as men who have XX chromosomes. But I digress. My actual point is - why should difference = inequality? Surely people with differences should still have the same equalities of rights, opportunity and consequence?

Let us clear the slate so we can both stand as men and women, before we are crushed by a social ideal that is not working, and which is controlled by only a few.

The page about their director says:

Just call me "JD". I live in Hope,British Columbia, and I was called out by some elders several years go to make men. "How am I to make men," I asked?  "One at a time, and by building relationships."
I have a small video studio and am focusing my efforts in the area of social media. Rite of and .org will be a call to men and women to support making real men. I remember an elder sitting me down and letting me know, women are much more intuitive in being a real woman when a man can be a man, (quick interruption to point out that this phrase MAKES ME WANT TO VOMIT WITH RAGE) but there are no real role models, there are no rites of passage or groups that people can connect with, he thought. Well there are! This site is intended to connect groups, individuals, and men wishing to nurture a flame that is resident somewhere in all our hearts, being real men.

Now, here's my problems with this, as I said in my tweets, explained in a fuller manner:

  1. It promotes binary gender differences and biological determinism. This is essentially saying that men and women are wired differently. You know, that men are pre-programmed to go out shagging and killing things, and women are pre-programmed to stay at home cleaning and baking ickle cakes. My first problem with this is that it's bullshit. If there were hard-wired differences between men and women, there would be an inter-gender consensus on at least one thing, and there's not. There would also be no homosexuals or trans people (a point I will return to later). This article takes down biological determinism pretty effectively. My second problem is that it always seems that men get the best things to do. Women can't be scientists or stunt drivers, because our feeble minds and bodies couldn't possibly cope with it, but we're damned good at scrubbing an oven! If an MRA group showed me a list of 'female activities' that included doing one thing I enjoy, or even wasn't all about 'home making' I might be prepared to hear the theory out for longer than 0.5 seconds. I am not naturally a home maker (as anyone who has ever lived with me will testify). I don't cook. I have to push myself to clean. I'm slightly freaked out by small children. I'd much rather spend my time discussing politics and drinking beer. I'm not even comfortable being around other women for the sake of being around other women ("Girl's nights out"? Ugh). My idea of hell would be to be someone who is defined purely by how many children she can pop out and how fast she can get through a pile of ironing. I know I'm not anomalous, most of the women I speak to feel this way. We have brains in our heads, and we'd much rather use them for good than for figuring out how to snare ourselves a 'real man'. Which brings me on to...
  2. What is a 'real man', or a 'real woman' anyway? Look at what I said above - by the base stereotype, I'm not a 'real woman'. I don't think I know any 'real women'. I don't think I know any 'real men' either. 'Real men' and 'real women' seem to be anti-intellectual constructs where the main aim is to secure food and shelter, and that's it. Well, newsflash. We're out of the caves now (and have been for quite some time) - we don't have to do these things. We can concern ourselves with higher matters, and it doesn't stop us being 'real people'.
  3. It's heteronormative. Heteronormativity is the implication that the only 'true' relationship is between a man and a woman, and fails to take into account the spectrum of sexualities. You can't just ignore them and pretend they don't exist, because they do.
  4. It's cisnormative. This means that it only takes into account people who identify with their birth gender, and fails to take trans people of any type into account. Again, you can't just ignore them and pretend they don't exist, because they do.

And that concludes why I can not support Rite Of Manhood. People are people. They are not arbitrary labels to be told how to behave on the basis of what is in between their legs. If you want to be a 'real man', who goes out cutting down trees and killing mountain lions with your bare hands, go for it (although I must point out that I condone neither activity, but as long as it is legal, I fully support your right to make a choice about whether to do it or not). Just don't tell me, or my friends, how to behave. OK?

I would also like to encourage everyone, especially Rite Of Manhood to read this excellent post from The Good Men Project, which explains why the solution to most MRA problems is actually more feminism.


The wonderful @JennieSue has also written to Rite Of Manhood:

You say that you want to create unity rather than a divisive collision, but by talking about men's rights and denying equality you are being divisive.

I don't think that men and women are fundamentally different.  Our abilities, our needs and our ambitions are all parrallel.  For a society to function well, all members of that society need to be valued and given equality of opportunity.

I think you are asking the wrong question when you ask "What is your definition of a real man?".  
You talk about wanting to solve the conflicts and problems we face in society, and a better way to do this would be to promote equality.  
Asking "What makes a good member of our society" would be much more useful.  By asking simply about "real men", you are excluding women from both the problems, and the solutions of society.

You also talk about wanting to create unity, but without the "new feminist paradigm".  Unity can't be created without equality.  
If women are excluded from the solution, if women aren't part of your discussions, then how can your solution to society's problems be unified?
That isn't to say you can't celebrate individuality and people's differences.  But if you start on the assumption that all men are somehow one thing, and all men somehow another, you are dismissing individuality.

You say that equality is a source of conflict in society, and this does prevent you working towards a unified society.  Women earn lower salaries, are more likely to be victims of domestic abuse, risk their careers if they choose to become parents, make up just a tiny proportion of directorships, board members and politicians.  Worldwide, the UN figures show that women do two-thirds of the world's work, produce half of its food yet earn 10% of its income and own 1% of its property.
If you really want to work towards a better society, you would be working as a feminist to help promote equality.  If women were treated as equal members of society, then we could all work together towards unity.

Friday, 18 March 2011

Why Lynne Featherstone Is Still On My Shit List

Lynne Featherstone MP (LD) is the Junior Equalities Minister in our beloved government. This week she has been in the news for her committment to the promotion of the rights of transgendered people, especially in their depiction by the media. This is clearly a very good thing. At Forty Shades of Grey, we promote and celebrate the rights of every group, especially their right to be portrayed fairly by the 'mainstream'.

However, I do not have a very short memory. In fact, I have a Shit List. Once you are on my Shit List, you stay on my Shit List until you do something extra-super-amazing, like completely smash patriarchy, solve world hunger, or buy me candyfloss*.

So let's just remember that only four months ago, Lynne Featherstone removed the requirement for companies to disclose how much they paid men and women from the Equality Act in order to try bridge the pay divide (at 22.6%, one of the highest in Europe), instead replacing it with a voluntary scheme (because those work so well).

Speaking in 2008, Featherstone said:
"A voluntary audit system for private industry is hardly worth the paper it's printed on. We need to know when the government actually plans to step in if progress isn't made.
The government's failure to grasp the nettle of private-sector pay will provide little comfort to the enormous numbers of people who are still being discriminated against in the workplace."

Speaking in 2010:
"Right at this moment of financial peril to the nation is perhaps not the moment to introduce mandatory pay audits."
 "It was a different world two years ago – financially and in terms of pressures on business. We are in a completely new landscape now … Much more of partnership working, no longer government dictates, this is absolutely the time to make voluntary pay-reporting work."
"You can go back to everything pre-election and say, Liberal Democrats said this and Liberal Democrats said that. Of course, had we won the election there might be a slightly different angle on this. In coalition we agreed this is the way forward."

So, while I applaud her committment to transgender rights, I will also feel no shame when I describe Lynne Featherstone as a "lying, backstabbing, shitehawk Tory schill".

*might not actually work, but you're welcome to try.

Thursday, 17 March 2011

The F Word

Firstly, apologies for lack of posting in the past week, I've had some (well deserved!) time away, and been busy since I got home. This post was inspired by something that happened while I was away though...

(N.B. This post will not discuss any finer points or broader definitions of 'feminism' other than the definition of "the doctrine advocating social, political, and all other rights of women equal to those of men.")

On Sunday, I retweeted @MediocreDave, who had said "Being a feminist is fun and all, but it does rather make you angry all the time.". After I did this, I ended up spending the day trying to defend feminism from the most base stereotype - that feminism = misandry.

This is just one example of the many times that I've had to do this.

It seems that people these days are still far too willing to accept, and even promote, the forty-odd year old stereotype of feminists as humourless, sexless, unattractive man-haters. This goes not just for men, but for women as well, and tackling this seems to be the main problem that feminists have today.

For all the debate about ideologies and stances between those of us who ascribe to the the notion of feminism (i.e. those of us who describe ourselves as feminists), we must realise that although we wish to represent the majority, until the majority also wish to be represented by feminism, we are fighting a losing battle.

What I mean by this is that, although we feminists speak for the rights of all women, there are far too many women (and men), who recoil from the label of 'feminism', even though they agree with the central notion of equality - and this is because of the stereotypes that are bandied about.

There is no doubt that the feminists I know are privileged. We are (mostly) educated to degree-level and sometimes beyond, and will, by virtue of this, not bear the worst brunts of sexism experienced by those who are not as privileged. This is why we must fight for their rights. However, something must be done about the disenfranchisement of those for whom we speak.

I do not blame feminists for this disenfranchisement. I blame the sullying of the word 'feminism' for this. MRAs, and misogynists in general, have systematically turned the word 'feminist' into an insult to be bandied about when they feel that their position at the top of the table is being threatened. It is much easier for them to invoke a harmful stereotype and refuse to engage in rational discussion than it is for them to explain their position, or to baldly admit that they do not think women should have the same equality of rights, opportunity and consequence as men. How are we to advance our movement when every question we ask, or debate we try to provoke is met with derision and a refusal to engage?

In a sense, this stereotype is perfect for misogynists - they have both achieved a (in their eyes) legitimate excuse not to engage in discussion, and have also managed to turn the very people who should be most interested in feminism against it, for fear of ridicule.

Before we can achieve anything, we must combat this stereotyping, and show people what it means to be a feminist. If people are scared to label themselves as a feminist, it makes our movement look a lot more intimidating and a lot less inclusive than it is. It also makes it appear that we have much less popular support for the aims of equality than we do.

The main problem with this is that once anything we try to achieve is tarred with the 'feminist' brush, it loses popular support from those who do not understand feminism because of the stereotype, and just see us as angry, sanctimonious bitches who never want to let anyone have any fun. Think, for example, about soft pornography (i.e. 'men's magazines' and page 3) - women may feel uncomfortable with their partner's consumption of such products, as they promote unrealistic and unethical body ideals and encourage the view of women as interchangeable objects with no higher value than how pert their tits are, but feel unable to articulate their feelings for fear of being labelled as 'boring'. This is just one example of how the popular conception of feminism harms women.

So, how can we achieve change? Obviously, there has been the This Is What A Feminist Looks Like movement, but my problem with this is that it offers nothing to really dispel the myths that are pushed about, nor does it offer any education. People who do not understand feminism do not learn anything from this movement other than to not stereotype feminists by looks. They may still believe that to be a feminist is akin to wanting to advance women's rights over those of men, or that to be a feminist is tantamount to being a misandrist. It says nothing of the equality which is central to the feminist cause in general.

So... any ideas?

Wednesday, 9 March 2011

Prime Ministers Questions

I'll confess this now: I love PMQs. It's a real guilty pleasure to spend my Wednesday lunchtimes getting riled up at the latest round of sparring, lies and braying idiocy. My twitter feed goes in to sweary hyperdrive, and I get far too annoyed for my own good, but I can't stay away.

I don't know what it is that keeps me hooked. Thinking about it objectively, it's awful. It's scripted, it's childish, and frankly, it's downright disturbing that our legislators see fit to behave in the infantile, cat-calling manner they do at all. But it's like watching a political car-crash, I know I shouldn't look, but I do. I suppose that the only way I can justify it is that it's a great way to keep up with the soap opera that is Parliament.

There are a couple of games I like to play when I'm watching it. The first is to count how many times the Coalition MPs use the phrase "...that we inherited from the previous government" (bonus points if that is prefixed with "the mess"), and the second is to watch Nick Clegg and George Osborne while people are talking. Seriously, someone by now should have told them that they can be seen on camera - some of the faces they pull while listening can be very telling.

Week in, week out, PMQs never fails to fascinate and horrify me simultaneously, often leaving me either shouting at the screen, or sat open-mouthed in abject horror. Take this week for example, we had:

  • The Prime Minister leading a chant among his MPs ("Do they have a plan on the deficit? NO! Do they have a plan on spending? NO! Do they have a plan on health? NO!" etc.)
  • The Prime Minister (again) deflecting important questions with childish jibes about Ed Miliband defeating his brother David for the Labour leadership ("There's only one person here guilty of knifing a foreign secretary and I'm looking at him!" Miliband responded with "the more he brings my relatives into this argument, the more you know he is losing" - points to Ed).
  • Peter Bone MP (Con, Wellingborough and Rushden) asking a question which went: "Mr Speaker, 373,000 Daily Express readers want it, [my palm had already met my face by this point] 80% of Conservative members support it, the Deputy Prime Minister would love it and my wife demands it - the British people, Conservative supporters, the leader of the Liberal Party, and especially Mrs Bone cannot all be wrong. Mr Prime Minister, can we have a referendum on wether the United Kingdom remains in the European Union?". Cameron's response? "I wish my wife was as easy to please!". THE. DAY. AFTER. INTERNATIONAL. WOMEN'S. DAY. Oh, I'm sorry, I thought I was watching our elected representatives in the House of Commons, not some third-rate seventies 'comedians'. What? I was? Oh dear.
  • Louise Bagshawe MP (Con, Corby and East Northamptonshire) toadying to the Prime Minister with a 'question' inviting him to rejoice in the fact that thousands of jobs had been created in February, and all of them in the private sector. Well, Bagshawe - it would be very difficult to create jobs in the public sector, given that they have had their budgets slashed as you and your mates try to push your anti-state ideology by forcing everything to be privatised, wouldn't it?

That's a very brief list because there were far too many other things that annoyed me to write about them all.

With that all said and done though, I'll see you next week, yeah? I'll bring the popcorn and you bring the drinks.

Tuesday, 8 March 2011

An Introduction To Feminist Jurisprudence and The 'Equality' Debate

It's International Women's Day 2011, and I'd like to use today to talk about feminist jurisprudence and the equality debate.

The four main strands of feminist jurisprudence

1. Liberal Feminism: Liberal feminism is not a strand of feminism so much as it is liberalism applied to women. Liberal feminists believe that laws, rights and freedoms should apply in the same way to men and women. It is associated with ideas of formal equality and equality of opportunity.

2. Radical feminism: Radical feminists believe that sex differences (i.e. differences between men and women) are more important than any other personal identity (i.e. social class, race or ethnicity). They embrace the idea of an essential sex difference and seek to explore repressed aspects of women's culture, values etc. Catherine Mackinnon is commonly associated with radical feminism. She has argued that the law in general, and traditional legal theory, is 'male' and that legal reasoning enforces men's domination over women. She wishes to invert this. Radical feminists believe that the rule of law and the values of gender neutrality, objectivity and formal equality mask the fact that they will always disadvantage women - i.e. the law on provocation as a defence to murder is shaped around male experiences of violence, not female (this can be a major problem, especially in relation to cases where a woman has been subject to domestic violence and kills her partner). Radical feminists argue for changes in the law and special treatment to deal with the inequalities of power, especially with regards to pornography, sexual harrassment and rape.

3. Post Modern Feminism: Post modern feminists engage with the philosophical rejection of grand theories, such as those within traditional jurisprudence. They are instead concerned with multiple identities and subjectivities. Post modern feminists are interested in the socio-legal construction of legal subjects and the categories of sex and gender, masculinity and feminity. Post modern feminists are concerned with the law's role in constructing, underpinning and maintaining sex and gender. They are interested in discourse and deconstruction - i.e. taking apart how theories are constructed and developed.

4. Cultural Feminism: (a.k.a. Difference Feminism) Cultural feminism shares many commonalities with post modern feminism. Their focus is on the celebration of women's difference. They wish to move beyond standard 'rule of law' values, such as gender neutrality and formal equality (unlike liberal feminists), and are concerned with questioning the very idea of gender neutrality. Like post modern feminists, cultural feminists are also concerned with the construction of the legal subject (i.e. is it useful to have equality in respect of familial relationships, or should we use a different approach based on the different experiences of men's and women's - and other women's - lives?). Cultural feminists are also interested in the way that they law may implicitly reflect a male point of view, for example in the law of provocation, rape, or the 'reasonable man' test. They are also interested in the effect of the constitution of the legal subject as male (e.g. the 'reasonable man' - if judges can't imagine women unless stripped of their gender, we need to address this). Cultural feminists are also interested in critiquing legal methods and values as male, and argue for a contextualised approach to the law.

Criticisms of liberal and radical feminism

1. Liberal Feminism: Liberal feminism has been described as 'too individualistic' - it ignores structural and systemic patterns of exclusion and disadvantage which contribute to women's subordination. For example, a woman might be unable to make partner in a law firm because she is unable to take clients out for late night drinks - liberal feminists would explain this away as the product of individual choice. Liberal feminism has also been criticised for ignoring the extent to which social and political institutions (i.e. the family) shape individual preferences, attitudes and choice - it relies on a pre-social conception of the individual. It may also be criticised because it rests on liberal conceptions of freedom (i.e. freedom from unnecessary intervention by the state) and fails to take into account positive provision of goods and services, such as childcare.

Radical feminists have questioned liberal feminist's assertion that legal subjects can be constructed as gender-neutral - because women have been defined as 'different' by men, they say that equality arguments cannot succeed in obtaining justice for women. Post modern feminists have criticised liberal feminism's attempt to assimilate women to a standard set for men, by men - why should women aspire to a male norm, especially if we don't even know if the norm is right for men? Liberal feminism has also been critiqued by cultural feminists because the equality of rights approach fails to take account of the social, economic and cultural context, and the relationships between the individual and others which may harm their abilities to exercise their rights. Instead, liberal feminism focuses on the assumption of an individual asserting their rights against the competing and conflicting rights of others.

The final criticism of liberal feminism (and possibly the most important) is that it relies on the liberal political view of a distinction between the public and private spheres - if women are more commonly associated with the private sphere, they are not inside the public sphere of state intervention. For example, the problems of rape and domestic violence were very late to come on to the political agenda for this reason.

2. Radical feminism: Radical feminism may be criticised because it assumes a commonality of experience shared between all women regardless of differences (class, ethnicity, sexuality, disability etc.). Those who cannot identify with the common feeling may feel excluded. Also, some women have more access to 'male power' than others - a middle class woman will have more access to the legal process than a working class woman. Radical feminists see male power and dominance as near-perfect because of it's institutionalisation through law, etc. If this is the case, how can women ever transcend it? They have also been criticised for denying women's subjectivity and ability to speak about their experiences if they don't tie with radical feminism. Again, the final criticism of radical feminism is also possibly the most important one - radical feminists aim to replace male grand theory with female grand theory, but this will lead to falling in to similar traps of exclusion and marginalisation - is it worth replacing one abstract of law with another?

Achieving legal equality

At the end of the nineteenth century, women were (in legal terms) non-persons. Recognition of their status as people was a necessary step before women could claim entitlement to legal rights and equality. Cases such as Chorlton v Lings (1868) and Jex-Blake v Senatus of Edinburgh University (1873) raised the question of whether women could necessarily participate in public life (by gaining the vote and graduating from university, respectively) as opposed to just the private sphere. After the Representation of the People Act 1918, the Sex Disqualification (Removal) Act 1919 set the comparator as the male norm, and set the precedent for anti-discrimination legislation to come.

Questions raised about the notion of legal equality

Firstly, having secured recognition as legal persons, might it be better to focus on women's differences from men? Women are still not equal to men - even after the removal of legal discrimination. Secondly - does equipping women for equal rights to use against the conflicting rights of others still allow for recognition of women's relationships, or is it too individualistic? Finally, does the law constuct an 'ideal' woman, against whom all women are judged? (i.e. 'Superwomen' who 'have it all')

Problems with the notion of equality

There are three types of equality we may consider:
  1. Equality of treatment
  2. Equality of opportunity
  3. Equality of consequences
No maternity provision in the workplace would be a result of (1) equality of treatment. However, women are more likely to be primary care-givers, this would mean a lack of (2) equality of opportunity for women. One result of this if that men and women do not share (3) equality of consequences when having children. Equality-based legislation has been ineffective in providing equal consequences in the workplace.

There are also two different meanings of the word 'equality' that we may consider. Firstly, there is material/factual equality - that is to say, that two things/people are the same/interchangeable. The problems with this definition are that no two people are ever the same, and that women are designated different roles and functions to men and tradtionally have been viewed as materially different. Assumptions about gender differences are still made.

The second meaning we may consider is moral equality - that is to say that two people are intrinsically worth the same. The problems with this are that sexes and nationalities have historically been viewed as materially different. Again, assumptions are still made. Also, the standard of comparator is the male norm. Similar treatment is only justified if men and women are the same in respect of the quality under consideration. Women are not competing on the same basis because of social norms which require women to be primarily responsible for the domestic sphere. If the experience is not shared by men (i.e. pregnancy), it is impossible for equal treatment to be attained.

Carol Gilligan

Carol Gilligan is a psychologist who offers a feminist perspective and critique of equal rights discourse. Her approach aims to identify women's 'different voice' in articulating moral choices. In her 1982 book, 'In a Different Voice', she studied boy's and girl's patterns of reasoning when asked about hypothetical examples of stealing. She found that boys tended to reason in terms of autonomy, individualised justice and rights (known as the 'ethics of justice' approach - the approach most commonly associated with the law's reasoning), and girls tended to focus on relationships and sustaining them (the 'ethics of care' approach). She argues that society values the masculine model (prioritising competing and conflicting 'rights') and undervalues the feminine model (which is contextual, narrative and focuses on relationships and responsibilities). Cultural feminists use Gilligan's work to argue that material changes should be made in the law to support women-valued relationships.

Problems with Gilligan's theory

Firstly, Gilligan makes generalisations based on sex alone, and her results come from quite a narrow experiment, meaning it lacks ecological validity (i.e. we cannot be sure the results she found represent the wider population). Also, women's focus on the 'ethics of care' might only be because it's the only role they are traditionally valued for. Finally, Gilligan's focus on the 'ethics of care' can risk greater subordination and entrenching of stereotypes.

Implications of Gilligan's theory for the law

Law is premised on heirarchies and abstract rules and principles. It values abstract principles such as 'justice', 'rights' and 'objectivity' (the 'ethics of justice' approach). It can be argued that they law pays too little attention to responsibilities arising from concrete relationships - especially those of dependency (the 'ethics of care' approach). Gilligan emphasises the importance for the law to recognise the responsibilities that arise through the assumption of relationships.

That concludes my introduction to feminist jurisprudence and the equality debate. Please feel free to leave any questions or comments below - let's get a discussion going!

And happy International Women's Day!

Friday, 4 March 2011

Barnsley By-Election Results

So, those Barnsley figures in full:

Votes cast:
  • Dan Jarvis (Lab) 14,724
  • Jane Collins (UKIP) 2,953
  • James Hockney (C) 1,999
  • Enis Dalton (BNP) 1,463
  • Tony Devoy (Ind) 1,266
  • Dominic Carman (LD) 1,012
  • Kevin Riddiough (Eng Dem) 544
  • Howling Laud Hope (Loony) 198
  • Michael Val Davies (Ind) 60 

Percentage share:

  • Lab 60.8%
  • UKIP 12.2%
  • Con 8.6%
  • BNP 6.0%
  • Ind 5.2%
  • LD 4.2%
  • ED 2.2%
  • MRL 0.8%
  • Ind 0.2%

Percentage change:
  • Lab +13.5%
  • UKIP +7.5%
  • Con -9%
  • BNP -2.9%
  • Ind +4.6%
  • LD -13.1%
  • ED n/a
  • MRL n/a
  • Ind n/a

Voter turnout: 36.5%

Percentage of vote by total electorate: (with thanks for this to @rpxadair)

  • No vote 63.0%
  • Lab 22.5%
  • UKIP 4.5%
  • Con 3.0%
  • BNP 2.2%
  • Ind 1.9%
  • LD 1.5%
  • ED 0.8%
  • MRL 0.3%
  • Ind 0.1%
  • Spoilt ballot 0.1

Percentage of electorate who voted for the coalition government: 4.5%

I'd also like to say that while I appreciate that people are concerned about the BNP getting 6% of the votes, we must also appreciate that extremist parties like this do (unfortunately) have a loyal core of voters. We must be pleased that a) their share of the vote has dropped by 1/3, and b) that only 1,463 of the Barnsley electorate were foolish enough to vote for them.