Society: Gentlemen prefer bonds

Last week, I noticed some sexist advertising on the London Underground. ‘Gentleman prefer bonds’, according to the online ‘retail stockbroker’ the Share Centre.

While I have no interest in stockbroking, or any idea what ‘sharedealing’ is, there are millions of women who do. Many invest, some even work in finance. There are women travelling on the tube every day who might actually want to use this site.

So what a way to alienate a proportion of your market – by implying that only ‘gentleman’ are interested in bonds.

Referencing ‘Gentleman Prefer Blondes’ is crappy in more than one way. It’s pretty racist for one thing. It also implies that gentlemen prefer their women stupid (‘blonde’). It’s one of the stalest sexist stereotypes in circulation.

In the context of finance, blondes are ‘bonds’ – commodities to be shared and played with by men. The ad says “Investing in the stock market isn’t gold-digging, it’s common sense.”

So, I shamed them on Twitter.

The Share Centre 4

(Sorry about the shaky pic, I was on an escalator.)

I asked people to contact them and ask why they thought the ad was OK:

The Share Centre 3

The Share Centre’s response was, “it’s an iconic film title – can you come up with anything better?”

(It’s not very hard. It took me 5 minutes to come up with something that wasn’t sexist – a western theme of ‘Make few dollars more’ and ‘Once upon a time to invest’. You can have that one for a nominal fee, the Share Centre.)

The Share Centre

Someone at the Share Centre offered to give me a call, to discuss what I thought was so wrong with the ad.

I spoke to Ian in marketing, a very nice man, who explained to me again that it was an iconic film title (which I explained I did get) and asked what I thought was wrong with the title?

I said that it alienated female customers as it suggested that investment banking and finance is a man’s world.

He told me, “Only about 20% of our customers are women. Our customer base is mostly men, that’s just the way finance is.”

That’s just the way it is.

He also explained the theme alluded to an iconic film title (yes, I did understand that, Ian), that they were running other ads in a similar vein, including “The man with the Golden Bond”.

“Ian, that’s another title referring only to men!”

Ian, investment banking is a sector dominated by men not because ‘that’s the way it is’, but because of numerous obstacles, including inflexible working hours for mothers (women who take time off to have children are “worth less” to finance than men, according to Nigel Farage) and not enough women to coach female graduates. Plus, the simple fact that people hire people like themselves. Men beget men.

I asked Ian if he realised that many potential female customers may already feel barred from a career in finance because of the barriers they face and that this advert could alienate them further.

Women already think they shouldn’t be interested in finance and this ad is perpetuating the ‘Old Boy’s Club’ mentality of the financial world, bold as brass on the London Underground. I explained that ‘the way it is’ has to change to be inclusive of women.

Ian said only about 20% of The Share Centre’s customers were women. That’s odd, because women make up 60% of the global workforce across the financial services industry.

But women hold only 14% of board seats and 2% of CEO positions. That’s why the Share Centre doesn’t care about that 60%.

As a consumer you command respect from the brands you seek out. The Share Centre has made it clear that a fifth of their customer base is unworthy of any respect at all.

Ian assured me that extensive market research had been carried out on these ads (about 1000 people, mostly online I think), and that the response had been unanimously positive.

“I’d like to know what the demographic of that group was”, I asked.

“Yes, it was largely men, though there was a female contingency.” (I’m not sure what a ‘female contingency’ makes up, but i’m guessing not a lot.)

Ian assured me that my opinions would be “taken on board”. “With all due respect, Ian, i’m only one person who happened to raise the issue on Twitter. What difference is my voice going to make?”

Oh it will, Ian said. He’d been discussing the comment with his team for most of the day.

I hope it will make a difference and the fact that they called me suggested that they either respected my opinion, or got a scare from me shouting my mouth off online. Twitter can have that affect on brands.

I’ve got about 1,200 followers – not loads, but enough to make an impact. I’m sure Ian understands how quickly fat can catch in an online fire, especially when it comes to the ‘discussion of the moment’, feminism.

Perhaps they’ll choose a 50-50 male/female split the next time they run market research. I hope so.

If a brand disrespects you, because of gender, race or sexuality, I urge you to make a noise about it on social media. I think it makes a difference, and as a consumer, it’s the best weapon in your arsenal.

Featured image from randomaniac.us.

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Society: bigger feminist fish to fry

Yesterday I posted Alecia Lynn Eberhardt’s blog on Facebook about why as a woman, saying “I have a boyfriend” when you want a man to leave you alone is problematic. I agreed with it.

I’ve been accused of demonising all men by the actions of a few. In short, i’m “pitting women against men”, which is an “outdated mode of fighting inequality” and “us against them won’t get us anywhere”.

This stale adage which is starting to make my teeth hurt also cropped up:

“There are bigger fish to fry.”

There is ONE fish to fry. Inequality. I’m frying it on all sides.

I can talk about FGM in the same breath as the fact that Bear Grylls has made a TV show about surviving a desert island with men only (because “it’s about man’s modern struggle”), as both are important.

They’re both symptoms of an unequal society which sees women as commodities or not as capable as men. We should be talking about every element of women’s struggle to be equal. We have to fight everything together at once.

Rape (notionally worse than ‘lesser’ sexist behaviour) happens because our sexist society teaches us that women are beneath men and that assumption festers in every small, ‘insignificant’ inequality.

I will NOT pick my battles.

I will not let the little things go. When a man in the gym asks my male exercise partner if he’s done on the machine and ignores me (yesterday), I will speak up.

The Facebook criticism of Alecia’s blog was that it implies that “all men are predatory and assume a knowing dominance and that women need to defend themselves against men.”

Talking about the actions of predatory men is not the same as saying all men are rapists. Calling out the sexism and misogyny rife in society is not the same as saying all men are sexists.

So what about men who aren’t predatory? The ones who don’t rape?

What about them? Should I congratulate each and every one of them for respecting my rights as a human being?

Let’s apply a similar question to another subject, for fairness’ sake. Because, being one of those people who actually thinks women should have the same rights as men, i’m terribly biased.

“What about dog owners who don’t beat their dogs?”

If a blog about dog cruelty is posted on the internet, I don’t imagine i’d hear the sound of dog owners around the world indignantly typing, “excuse me! I’m a dog owner that respects dogs!” But there’s no such thing as the dog owner’s ego, as far as I know.

If you don’t like hearing that men hurt women, tough shit, it happens, get used to it. I’m not going to shut up about it.

If you don’t like me telling you that men rape, help me change the culture that normalises violence against women by speaking up like I do. If you think my battles are trivial, take up one you think is more meaningful.

Patriarchy hurts men as well as women. It doubly hurts women when they are more focused on protecting the male ego than calling out inequality.

Society: Happy International Women’s Day

Lewis Caroll

Today is the day to celebrate being rad ladies. It’s a day to be sisters and think about how far we’ve come and how much further there is to go; for us and for everyone around the world.

It’s quite easy to become frustrated when debating feminist issues. Why can’t everyone just agree that all people are equal and demand respect? I was thinking this when I read Sarah Ditum‘s intelligent rebuttal to Pairs Lees on Hollaring Back to Street Harassment. The horrendous Paris Lees piece on Vice (I won’t link) angered me to see so many young male commenters sneering at the women who spoke up to say street harassment made them uncomfortable.

Lees writes, “I love catcalls. I love car toots. I love random men smiling “Hello beautiful!” like my mere presence just made their day. I like being called “princess” and ignoring them as I giggle inside. I like being eye-fucked on the escalator and wondering if I’ve just made him spring a boner.”

It’s disappointing to me, although not surprising considering she is writing for Vice, that Lees has fallen down on thinking about this issue critically or from another person’s viewpoint. Just because she enjoys the attention, that doesn’t mean that all women do or that there aren’t sinister undertones to this type of catcalling. Indeed later in the post she goes on to recount more aggressive and upsetting instances without examining the relationship between these and more harmless “compliments”.

Others have pointed out that as a trans-gender woman, perhaps Lees might find this kind of attention to be more of a reassurance of her femininity than a cis woman. I don’t know Lees’ motivations, nor do I suppose she speaks for every trans woman. What I do know is that every woman has the right to be able to walk down the street and feel safe and equal, and this will never happen while she is being blatantly “eye fucked” or tooted at.

So my feminist (and not feminist) sisters and brothers, for this International Women’s Day, let’s all try and do one thing: let’s just listen to each other. Because no matter how far we’ve come, we’ll always have further to go and that’s ok.

Natalie x

 

 

 

Society: This is Why I Shout

Shout
I just walked into the disabled loo in my office – yes I know this is frowned upon, but it has a full-length mirror – and overheard a conversation between two men outside the door. The first comment I heard as I walked in, and chose to ignore. The second man’s response I heard while I was in the cubicle. It took me a few seconds to register it, then a few seconds more to go over it two or three times in my head to ensure I heard it correctly.

First man (aimed at me): “You’re not disabled!”

Second man (aimed at first man): “She will be by the time i’m finished with her.”

Now I usually don’t blog about sexist remarks, cat-calling, that sort of thing. There are fantastic projects doing this on our behalves, plus, I don’t think it would make for particularly enlightening or insightful blogging.

However, this, I feel I need to put out there. Partly because of the shock I feel at hearing these remarks from men in my place of work, but also as a reminder to other women that they MUST speak up against these comments.

I cannot be sure of the intent of his remark, whether it was intended to imply that he would rape me so violently I would be left disabled, or that he would beat me so badly I would be left disabled.

I suspect it is the first. For two reasons: violence against women in the guise of beating is not generally considered to be appropriate to joke about between two men who are probably on acquaintance level. Most men, I think, would balk at another man saying he thinks it’s OK to punch a woman, for example.

Rape jokes are more acceptable. Because rape is normalised. Maybe the man making the joke didn’t even realise he was implicitly talking about rape. Maybe the other man was as shocked at me at hearing a guy utter such a disgusting thing. I hope so. I know most of my male friends would be.

I am disappointed and sad for a number of reasons, aside from the fact that the men made a comment about me when I work on the same floor of their office and have probably smiled at them when they have been in the queue for the tea machine, or even sent them an email.

I am also sad at the thoughts that ran through my head as I stood in the toilets:

1) “Be REALLY sure that’s what you heard. Could you have misheard it? You have to be sure…”

2) “No-one would believe you if you reported them. It wouldn’t be considered serious as it was said ‘as a joke’. There are two of them, they will defend one another and they will call you hysterical.”

In stopping to make sure I was totally convinced at what I heard, they walked off. I can never report them. I feel powerless.

I share this story partly for my own catharsis. I met up with my boyfriend at lunch to get a hug and remind myself of an amazing man in my life who supports my fight for equality and against a culture of rape. He was equally angry, but told me I need to forget this and move on. He is right. There’s nothing I can do now directly.

I can only urge women to speak out, try not to hesitate, report these things when and where you can. If no-one listens, at least other women will see you speaking out and think “I will do the same next time”.

Today, like on so many other occasions, I didn’t shout. I wanted to and I didn’t. And I hate that when something like this happens, I end up feeling disappointed in myself. I feel mute.

That is why I am sharing this story. Because I need to gather the strength to keep on fighting, to shout SOMEWHERE if I can’t do in the real world. I need to remind myself to put that anger into making a change.

Image from Ms Magazine.

Photography: Weep Not By Day

Dorrell Merritt, a friend of Arran Gregory (the dude who designed the little birdies on this site) got in touch recently to ask me to consider a review of his graduate photography project. Weep Not By Day is a display of, as Dorrell describes it, “the power of night and an insight into dolefulness in female youth, set within the busy, lonely and unforgiving urban landscape of London.”

I liked his photos, so I agreed to interview him. I proceeded to harangue him on his choice of imagery, hoping to engage in a healthy debate about the portrayal of women in popular culture (i’m mad for girl talk). Sorry Dorrell.

Luckily he gave me some interesting answers and because I was feeling nice I chose to not to drill him about certain of them, like “we all enjoy to be voyeurs towards female subjects”.

Aside from everything else, the photos are damn good. They resonate with a captured sadness that is testament to the protagonists and the photographer.  You can truly feel the hollow, lingering depression of being in a big city, surrounded by people and feeling like you’re on your own.

They also portray someone seeing these women’s dejection – another commuter or passerby, who might be wondering why the woman in each photo is so distant – and I think the women know someone can see them and that they are wondering. I have experienced both sides of the coin as i’m sure we all have.

Dorrell, and his ‘we‘ – which I assume means ‘men’ – are voyeurs. He says “we have been conditioned to feel a higher level of empathy towards female subjects”, but also that “on the other hand I think we all enjoy to be voyeurs towards female subjects to some extent”. [my emphasis]

But can you “tell the woman’s story”, as Dorrell says he wants to do, and ‘be a voyeur’? I don’t think so. Either you can connect with them emotionally in understanding their sadness, or you are watching them as a distant subject. But perhaps I don’t identify myself as the voyeur because I identify with them, and seeing these women on my imagined journey feels coincidental and fleeting. As the viewer I don’t feel like i’m following these women to spectate. But do I feel natural empathy with them and a connection with their melancholy because I am too a woman?

Dorrell has done well to capture what he calls the ‘power of the night’. Melancholy holds its own in the night and this plays a part in the potency of the imagery. He told me that he thinks night has “an ambiguous presence; it can console us, make us more relaxed, more thoughtful, more creative, but also anxious.”

This we crops up again in our interview:

“Women are almost art within themselves, really. If we go as far back as 16th century art, and look at Jupiter and Io by Antonio Da Correggio, and skip to the present day; Death of Coletti by Tom Hunter, there is a technique which has survived 500 years: the use of women as a key emotional-narrational tool.

“We are so used to seeing it, we sometimes don’t even realise it. It is ingrained within us. I think there are a number of reasons for this historically and socially but regardless, we take great pride in observing women. We are fascinated.”

Women are tools in Dorrell’s art, to apply a feeling, or be applied. There are many issues here; the idolatrous worship of women as art forms is a component of a society that doesn’t view women on an equal footing. Women are to be admired, on a pedestal. It really is no advancement on viewing women as less than men.

Dorrell has done exceedingly well to capture the souls of his protagonists in his photographs. I just would have liked to have heard about their stories in our interview, rather than just his placing as voyeur.

“Critically”, he says “I guess it could be deemed a bit shortsighted of me as a man, to attempt to tell the stories of young women.” Gender does not define whose right it is to tell another’s story, but i’m not entirely convinced it’s their stories that Dorrell wants to capture.

Weep Not By Day by Dorrell Merritt (EXPOSURE 24 – Graduate Exhibition – Frameless Gallery 18th-24th, June, Clerkenwell Green)

Blog: UniLad. Ohhh Dear.

Ah, University. Three years of Pro Plus, unfeasible deadlines and flat pound pints in the SU. Happy days. Where once school filled you with nameless dread, University was a gleaming bastion of openness, new ideas and experiences. You emerge older and wiser, trembling hands clutching a degree and a slender grasp of the big wide world. Perhaps you’ve made friends for life or met the fellow you‘re going spawn with. Perhaps you have contracted scurvy from a dubious diet of Super Noodles and crisps. Whatever state your brain and health was in, you would have no doubt been aware of the jolly ‘lad’ culture that floats about in the background of day to day life.

But what, pray, is wrong with this? Lads are harmless, no? Vigorous young fellows fresh from the snuggly womb of their home towns, teeming with hormones, impotent energy and a rampant, sex drive sated only by brief yet rapturous post-club fumbles. Ah, the cheeky scamps, reeking of Lynx and fried breakfasts, bless ‘em.

Perhaps you had little to do with them. You may even have exchanged pleasantries in a corridor without note. Or maybe they were more pertinent – maybe you unwittingly attended a sports team night at the Union and happened upon them braying loudly and gyrating their sweaty crotches in your direction of an evening when all you wanted was a cheese toastie and a pint. Oh. Perhaps you encountered them drunkenly straddling inebriated cheerleaders on a dance floor sticky with spilled Sambucca and other, far more sinister substances. Perhaps you were among those cheerleaders and now feel a faint sense of disgust?

They may have grabbed your bum as you waited for a drink, attempted to look down your top or made reference to your hot, hot, gash in an endeavour to chat you up (true story). This would all be uttered in the name of ‘banter’ of course – no harm done. Yes, Uni is a place to let rip in a way that you probably never will be able to again, and for the most part your questionable and ‘legendary’ – my god, don’t you just hate that word – antics will blur into hazy, fond memory. Former lads may even feel shame. But no harm done, right?

Recently, however, the ‘lad culture’ of the UK’s Universities has been pushed into the harsh light of the public eye due to the so-awful-it’s-almost-parodic website, UniLad.com. It has mercifully been taken down, due to a medley of offensive articles which not only demean their female counterparts completely, but frequently make light of sexual assault in a staggering variety of inventive ways. Despite the site’s owner posting a feeble ‘apology’ on both the main site (which once used to post cheerful T-shirts bearing the slogan, ‘Keep Calm, it Won’t Last Long’) and their Facebook page, their followers haven’t taken this apologetic stance. In response to women who have taken it upon themselves to complain about the content – including victims of rape – the site’s members have done nothing but continue to belittle and demean, for the sake of ‘banter.’ To disagree with them is to have sand in your vagina, and provokes demands to return to the kitchen, all hiding under the cuddly blanket of ‘freedom of speech.‘ Ah, informed debate. Invigorating.

By all means, a lot can be gotten away with due to freedom of speech, I have always ascribed to the belief that if one controversial subject is funny, they all are. Laugh equally, right? But laugh from a distance. Laugh when you know a slight insinuation of something darker is not the sole intent. Language is ever-adapting. Now I know a lot of folk won’t agree with me, but take the word ‘frape,’ meaning to log into someone’s Facebook and change their status to something about them stinking of poo or whatever. HILARIOUS. Ahem. While the word originates from ‘rape’ there is no threat of your friend emerging from the computer, Ringu-style and attacking you. They have removed the dignity and order of your page and made you look stupid. That’s it. To compare the word ‘frape’ to a threat of something more sinister is pedantic at best. But that’s not the issue here.

The ‘banter’ on the UniLad site, however, isn’t this harmless (in my opinion) creation of dubious words. It is filled with genuine misogynistic threats towards women. Advice on how to take advantage of wasted freshers, identifying ‘slags,’ sharing stories about violent sexual experiences, girls crying – all to prove ‘laddishness.’ And for me, the most offensive thing of all? It isn’t funny. Not one jot. There is nothing funny about sexually violent language aimed at women – their classmates, friends and colleages.

‘It isn’t rape, it’s surprise sex?’ Ho ho, a classic.

‘Someone needs to change her tampon?’ Lololol, period jokes. Funny stuff.

‘She needs her backdoors smashing in, that’ll lighten her up?’ Haaa, harmless fun.

‘If I came across you I wouldn’t hesitate in raping you, I would have to kill you first though… so you didn’t struggle.’ ??? I don’t see how even the most base level, low IQ shit could find that funny. The others are a pretty far stretch themselves. This is a threat, not thrown about in jest but aimed squarely at a female facebook user who complained publicly on the site. A glance at the comments reveals a wealth of honking, sweaty ’lads’ posting similar things when female users post opinions.

At the time of writing, Facebook have done nothing about this. The site is still floating along quite merrily, with the corresponding UniLad website promising to clean up any inappropriate material. (It will then be even more of an empty wasteland surely?) While pages containing racist and homophobic abuse are frequently removed by Facebook, nothing has happened here. The volume of sexually violent language and the sick, congratulatory nature in which it is doled out is staggering, and the way the hooting idiots that populate the site rally around when confronted with an angry comment is pretty frightening in itself.

You’d hope that these guys would grow out of such actions and ways of thinking, but alas I highly doubt this is true. At sixteen I saw my classmates touching up drunken, scantily clad girls at parties, clutching bottles of vodka and pretty unaware. At twenty-three I experienced something slight but similar from a ‘lad’ with a good job, good prospects and a good upbringing. But I was drunk and asking for it, right lads? When I complained, who’s fault was it? Mine, of course. How dare I be drunk and sit next to a wasted, horny guy? I’ve lost count of the times similar things have happened to my friends, with varying consequences. A bit of ‘banter’ on the internet may seem innocent to a good proportion of the guys involved, but it serves to perpetuate an ongoing symptom in society that women are ‘asking for it,’ and when they don’t, taking it is all part of the banter.

Society: Unilad and rape jokes – who’s laughing?

‘Ranty feminist’. That’s how I described myself at a party last weekend, because it’s just easier that way. To me, it says I will rebuke you for a comment that is sexist in nature, no matter how harmless you think it is and I will not make apologies for it. To others it says something entirely different, but in that sort of environment there isn’t always time to explain the nuances of my gender politics. So I set the bar low and hope for the best. And hope, perhaps naively, that once you see I’ve shaved my armpits, you’ll be so confused that you’ll ponder on my application of the F-word and find me later on in the party to ask to hear more.

Certain conversations of my youth stick out in my memory as milestones. Possibly the most important was in Freshers’ Week at university. A particularly mixed-up young man who had the misfortune to share a flat with me was overheard to state that “women who masturbate are dirty.” Challenging his stunted and hateful view of women rated way above not looking like a fruitloop in front of my new friends on this occasion. Suffice to say I tore him a new one and for the next year he professed to finding me “fucking terrifying”.

When Unilad reared its ugly head to a liberal crowd on Twitter last week, some argued that it was best not to bring attention to it. But I, like many others, knew I couldn’t leave this one alone…

“And if the girl you’ve taken for a drink […] won’t ‘spread for your head’, think about this mathematical statistic: 85% of rape cases go unreported. That seems to be fairly good odds.”

An extremely shocking line that you might expect to see written on a pro-rape forum in the deepest darkest recesses of the internet, where monsters lurk, but this was written on an openly available and ‘mainstream’ website called Unilad.com. Given that a group of men and women participating in a study at Middlesex University found it difficult to differentiate between statements given by convicted rapists and lads’ mags descriptions of women, I guess it’s hardly that surprising that it’s hard to place it.

The site has been temporarily suspended, but in a nutshell, the stories on Unilad have been inspired by ‘real-life’ stories in lads’ mags like Zoo and Nuts*, which usually involve something along the lines of two female friends who didn’t know they were lesbians until they shared a changing cubicle in Topshop, suddenly finding themselves wet and horny and tearing each other’s clothes off. But Unilads’ stories are not ‘titillating’, they are violent and contemptuous towards the female ‘protaganist’.

In one story, There Will Be Blood, a ‘lad’ is sick on the breasts of a woman whose period comes during sex and wipes menstrual blood on her walls. In Stirring The Porridge: a ‘lad’ pressures a girl who has arrived at his house for sex to make herself available for the whole household, despite her seeming ‘uncomfortable’ with the idea. Terms and phrases like ‘slag’, ‘whore’, ‘she was asking for it’ pepper the nonsensical and grammatically heinous language. I paraphrase as the site has now been removed with an apology.

‘Shell’, a commenter on the Facebook page, has been threatened with rape and murder, which she is now taking to the police. The threat was made by a ‘fan’ of the site, not a Unilad writer, but the page is acting as a forum for men to spew hate speech at women in the name of ‘lad’ banter. These are probably men you work with, go out with, live with. Hopefully not, but the fan page has over 84,ooo fans. How many of those are men that think rape is OK if she’s so drunk she can’t remember if she invited them in or not? Hopefully less than the thousands who think it’s funny to joke about it. Trivialising rape in the media leads to less convictions as the myths that lads’ magazines and tabloids perpetuate enter the public perception.

Call it ‘banter’ if you’re fucking stupid, but whether or not violence is intended, the comment represents everything we should be fighting against in the name of ending violence against women. 1 in 7 women at university will be raped or sexually assaulted. A woman is raped every 9 minutes in the UK. Tell me when this starts being funny?

We are certainly going to be cleaning up our act on unilad.com”, they sayI very much doubt they have any idea of the danger of their content. They are simply hiding from a very large baying crowd of women who have had E-fucking-NOUGH of this bollocks. I look forward to seeing what the newly launched site has to offer when they’ve crawled out of their fetid holes.

__________________________________________________________

*Pardon the misleading links. But Zoo and Nuts can kiss my big fat lesbian ugly virgin beehind.

Visit uniladevidencemag.tumblr.com to see a running feed of violent language affiliated with Unilad. 

Excellent ode to Unilad in the Guardian, by @NaomiMc