Comment, Feminism, Politics

On Board With Equality

Norway is not unaccustomed to being a trail-blazer when it comes to gender equality. It was ranked first in the world for its gender gap index, and has legislation implemented to encourage gender equality that most countries haven’t even attempted yet. Norway, all in all, is pretty much the closest we have to a feminist haven.

Yet Trond Giske, the Trade and Industry minister, doesn’t think it goes far enough. After a law in 2006 required 40 per cent of boardroom seats to go to women (or men, in female dominated boardrooms), Norway has been ahead in acquiring an equal distribution of candidates in the top companies. Compared to the whole of Europe, which as of March 2012 had around 13.7 per cent of women in boardrooms, and Britain, where only 15.6 per cent of FTSE 100 board directorships are held by women, Norway is very clearly already ahead of the game. However, according to Giske, the process to incentivise more women into the boardroom “is going much too slowly”.

 The use of quotas to destabilise the masculine dominated areas of industries and companies is a great technique, and one not to be dismissed for being ‘patronising’ or ‘unfair’. They are often misconstrued in their purpose, and as a consequence, underestimated in their power to smash the glass ceiling. Mai-Lill Ibsen, a woman who at one point held 185 boardroom seats rejected the idea of quotas as “they are discriminatory in a way. I feel we [women] are so strong we don’t need that.”

Ibsen is indeed right when she says women are strong, but completely misses the point of quotas when she calls them ‘discriminatory’. The problem with getting women into boardrooms is not that there aren’t enough good, fully qualified, intelligent women to get there, it’s that they don’t apply. Without being able to perceive your ability to achieve, say, a place on a top film, there’s little chance you’ll aspire to acquire that place. Women don’t want to go into a company that have no other women in it, and definitely don’t want to go into one with a culture that works largely to detriment women. In 2012, Forbes surveyed 600 heads of Human Resources in the world’s largest employers in 20 countries. They found that the most prevalent barriers to women entering into leadership positions, far ahead of flexible work and work-life balance policies, were “general norms and cultural practices in my country” and “masculine/patriarchal corporate culture”. Quotas allow these things to change, as well as resulting in a more meritocratic, fairer system.

Norway is nowhere near perfect when it comes to gender equality in the boardroom. Let us not forget that approximately 40 per cent, whilst ahead of most other countries in the world, is still a minority. Furthermore, whilst Norway has around 40 per cent female non-executive directors, only two per cent of its chief executive officers – who have the real sway – are women. Businesses were also found to avoid the new quota law by converting into private limited companies. Two-thirds of them admitted the quota rules were behind their decision to delist from the stock exchange.

Considering all these things, it’s clear that reticence and sexism when it comes to women in boardrooms is not totally eradicated. The insulting, gendered, dated, 1950s esq term of ‘golden skirts’ given to those women who achieve in the workplace just shows how much more there is to be done. Giske is right to be encouraging the pace of gender equality, and not just becoming complacent with the success of Norway’s quota system. After all, although the system is great for women, it’s also great for companies – expanding your employment pool to 50% of the population can only be beneficial.  Indeed, Norwegian agricultural co-operatives voluntarily adopted the 40% rule, as a way to improve business. This is clearly “an industry goal [and] not just a gender issue,” Giske said speaking in 2010, and one that should be seen to benefit not just women.

For companies, as well as women, Giske’s incentive to speed up the progress of the quota system is another good idea for Norway. Getting more women in boardrooms not only sets a great example to other European countries, but also improves the companies for everyone. Keep up the good work, Norway.

By Ruby Lott-Lavigna

Written March 2013 for The Foreigner, a Norwegian online newspaper written in English

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How Do You Stop People Shooting? Stop Giving Them Guns

There is no doubt that a multitude of factors result in gun crime, and there is no simple way to eradicate a culture and the ingrained sense of entitlement to guns that exists in America. But after the numerous mass shootings; in a cinema in Colorado; a Sikh temple in Wisconsin; the shooting in a factory in Minneapolis; and the final catalyst to Obama’s gun laws; the Sandy Hook Elementary school in Connecticut, ignoring the fact that gun laws need to be tightened is impossible. Although there are various factors that contribute to these shootings, the easy access to guns is clearly one of them, and limiting access to them is one of the best ways to stop these kinds of shootings. Albeit, not the only way, and even if more guns do not equal more gun crime, a pretty basic logic states fewer guns equals fewer gun crimes.

America’s culture is most certainly a contributing factor to these mass shootings. Excessive focus on gun crime in music (“Shoot ‘em up, just shoot ‘em up, what…/Kill kill kill, murder murder murder” – Nas ‘Shoot ‘em up’) and film (“I count six shots, n*gger, I count two guns, n*gger” – ‘Django Unchained’) makes it clear there exists a normalisation of the presence of guns in parts of American culture. This is one of the problems with the gun epidemic, how ingrained it is in certain elements of American society. Even so, you don’t cultivate this kind of culture without being able to easily access guns.

The Second Amendment is problematic in the way that it produces an attitude of entitlement to guns, that it is a basic right to own a weapon. Growing up in a society that tells you that America is the best country in the world, and that its definition of ‘rights’ is an absolute, it is no wonder a mentality that tells you a gun is synonymous with freedom is prevalent. It leads to ridiculous logic, such as the National Rifle Association proposing putting more guns in schools…to prevent shootings. This backward logic that more guns equals more safety has to be disproven by the correlation between ‘civilian firearms per 100 residents’ and ‘number of homicides by firearms’ a year. Whilst places like the UK have about six guns per 100 residents, and only 18 homicides by firearm, America has 89 guns per 100 people, and a whopping 9,960 homicides by firearms. Even Switzerland, which has much more lax gun control than places like the UK for its people’s militia, only has 40 homicides a year by guns. There’s a massive confusion between the gun being both a weapon of defence and attack, and until people stop seeing guns as a right, and start seeing them as something that antagonises situations as opposed to solves them, this stupid logic will continue.

By creating more gun laws, you combat a culture of entitlement and question the validity of the Second Amendment. Obama’s laws are pretty basic – background checks to private gun sellers, revising a ban on assault rifles, limiting the number of rounds in a high capacity magazine, but they are still one step closer to combatting gun crime. People who commit mass shootings don’t do it simply because they have a gun and can, they do it because they’re angry, violent or mentally unstable, but also happen to have access to guns. Simply owning a gun doesn’t mean you’re going to go and shoot a cinema full of people, and it’s clearly the people who are responsible, not the inanimate objects. But, if people are the problem, then should they really be given such easy access to guns?

By Ruby Lott-Lavigna 

Written January 2013 for the Leeds Student Newspaper

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In Favour of Banning Page Three

If we lived in a world where gender equality was not such an issue, where equal paternity and maternity leave existed, where there weren’t still cultures that heavily oppressed women – then Page Three would be, almost, fine.

Unfortunately, we live in a world where this is so evidently not the case. Many attempt to justify Page Three by claiming it’s ‘empowering’ – women ‘choose’ career of a Glamour model. Interestingly enough, it’s an issue that extends to all ends of the feminism perspective, embodying the controversial-ish ‘third wave’ feminism. The defence for Page Three is no longer ‘wheeey she’s got great tits’ but an entirely different rhetoric, frequently coming from women as well, surrounding its self around ‘choice’ and ‘power’.

The reason why these justifications don’t necessarily work has a lot to do with the society we live in. On the whole, people don’t intellectually engage with most of the things they do – this extends to those ‘reading’ the The Sun (If you can call it reading. I like to think of it more as mindlessly imbibing) and those who chose to become models.  Growing up in a world when girls play with heavily made-up Bratz dolls and giant-anorexic-disproportionate Barbie dolls, the message of what women ‘should’ and ‘shouldn’t’ look like is indoctrinated into us from a young age. The idea that women are commodities, to be viewed by their quality of breast to waist ratio is a repulsive idea promoted everywhere, even before we can even realise it. This is why the language of ‘choice’ is so out of place here – when you cannot escape a society that tells you to value yourself by your breast, you can hardly expect getting your boobies out as a free choice.

There’s also a big difference between being sexually empowered, and being defined wholly by your sexual worth. In the glorious 60s, where The Beatles counted as ‘pop’ music and a whole movement of sexual liberation occurred, there was a breakdown of the idea that sex was a disgusting thing – our perceptions changed, and women were liberated from a controlling idea that you were a whore if you had sex. ERGO sexual liberation (good). Today, where almost entirely a male demographic look at pictures of women in their panties, seeing them as an object, an image, as opposed to a person, it’s just simply got nothing to do with liberation – in fact it’s the opposite, it’s hugely oppressive. ERGO sexual objectification (bad).

But not only is becoming a Glamour model not a free choice, the whole franchise of Page Three is extremely pernicious. To see women depicted as not only buying into a culture that commodifies them, but also as nothing more than a pretty face (…and boobs) you entrench the perception that this is where a woman’s worth lies. To every 14 year old boy or girl that picks up The Sun, they don’t read ‘men and women are equal’ but read ‘Getting your boobs out = good’. And because it’s in a paper, it is somehow legitimised: this isn’t a secret porn collection; this is sold in Sainsbury’s, next to Gardener’s Weekly. It’s perceptions like this that mean women feel expected to look good for men, that their self-worth lies in the certification of a man.

Getting rid of Page Three doesn’t mean you don’t like sex, or boobs. But allowing Page Three to continue is promoting a lot more than pro- boobs. It’s dated, it’s moronic, it’s harmful, and ultimately, boobs ain’t news.

By Ruby Lott-Lavigna

Written October 2012 for the Leeds Student Newspaper, in the debate ‘Should We Ban Page Three’

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Mother-in-Chief

Written for The Vagenda, who kindly gave me permission to reproduce the article here

You’d think the wife of one of the most influential, powerful and sexily-voiced men in the world would feel like identifying herself as something more than simply ‘mother-in-chief’. But when Michelle Obama made her speech at the Democratic Convention, listing how, like, totally besotted she was with her husband after his 4 years in office and how her most important role in life is being a mother, shit got a bit uncomfortable in the feminist world (the actual world).

Mummy Obama obviously didn’t realise that when she got up on that podium and declared those beliefs to the thousands, she was basically saying ‘I don’t do the politics-y thing, that’s my husband’s job’. Choosing to spend your life looking after your children is not an unworthy pursuit, but Mrs Obama resorting to dated stereotypes in order to coax backwards Americans to vote is just plain lazy and insulting. Michelle doesn’t need to come wielding The Female Eunuch, screaming ‘DEATH TO THOSE WHO OBEY CONSTRUCTS OF SOCIETY’ whilst burning a doll (or real) Todd Akin, but she depicts an insultingly simplistic portrayal of a lifestyle, a portrayal that, unfortunately, doesn’t say ‘as a woman living in 21st century where the role of a mother is only one of the many things I can choose to spend my life doing, I’ve decided that looking after my children as a job is fulfilling, and I do it not because I feel I have to fulfil a mould that’s set out for me, but because I want to’.
It’s soooooo last century for the Democrats to try and push Michelle as the good ol’ ‘wife and mum’. The main reason they get female voters is because the Democrats aren’t disgusting sexist, woman-say-goodbye-to-your-vagina, you-don’t-know-what’s-best-for-your-uterus kind of politicians, but ones who often acknowledge that things have changed in the last hundred years re: women. Partially, the whole shtick was probably meant to humanise Obama. I mean, I get that it’s important for someone like Ann Romney to be up there doing that, reminding the world that Mitt isn’t just some unbelievably wealthy, misogynistic, cold, compassionless reptile, but actually, a genuine, real-life human being, with a real human heart, and apparently also, a brain (who knew?).
But Obama?! We LOVE Obama! He reeks cool, down to earth man of the people (I mean, look at THIS and THIS), and he definitely does not need to pander to Americans by presenting his policies and then going ‘but if you’re not into all that Medicare, welfare thing, well…I’m actually a bit old fashioned, and just LOVE a classic role fulfilment’.
Mamma O also at one point in her speech presents this long anecdote about how her father worked past medical issues to make the monies so he could support his family. Fine, good work, I don’t like working when it’s dark outside, or if I don’t have the right pen (Pilot VB7 Liquid Ink pen) so that’s pretty impressive. BUT THEN, she states that this is ‘what being a man’ is about (did someone say ‘heteronormative’??). Oh Michelle, you’re confused, it’s the twenty FIRST century, yes, there you go, no don’t worry about it, easy mistake. Men can make the monies. Women can make the monies. That doesn’t make a man a man and it doesn’t make a woman a man. And it certainly doesn’t make a ‘man’ any less of a ‘man’ if he wants to look after his kids or go travelling for a bit, or sit googling ‘funny cat videos’ for over 6 hours a day. It’s just foolish to try and enforce dated gender roles, especially as a cheap means of campaigning.
So Michelle, do as the t-shirts say: look forward! Or,  just, like look around and notice how women are creating all kinds of roles for themselves, and that it shouldn’t matter whether you’re a man looking after kids, or single, or a woman earning money for a family (plus, most mums don’t give up their careers because their husband is the President, natch). The cult of motherhood, much like that other cult, Scientology, is increasingly obsolete in public discourse. And THANK GOD. There’s a difference between enjoying being a mother, and being a ‘mom-in-chief’, which is presumably some kind of uber mom who leads other, less organised, high-profile moms to…what exactly? Not liberation, that’s for sure. Still, at least they let the little lady make a speech. Progress.
By Ruby Lott-Lavigna

Written August 2012 

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The Tory-Feminist Paradox

There are so many things wrong with the way our modern society views Feminism.  It bores me to even write down the silly, ignorant myths created around Feminism, by those who either have no idea what they’re talking about, or those who fear Feminism, seeking to confuse and mislead those who wish to find out what ‘it’ really is. Less a myth, more a contenscious dichotomy that popped into the zeitgeist recently was the phrase ‘Tory Feminist’. With the new Margaret Thatcher film attempting to strike a feminist tone and testemonies from ‘powerful’ women like Louise Mensch claiming that the ‘Tory Feminist’ sure does exists, meant the resurgence of this controversial topic.

January saw the release of the interestingly titled The Iron Lady, a film with an ‘intimate portrayal’ of Maggie Thatcher, sparking once again the contention surrounding the Tory leader. Magaret hit mainstream consciousness and with it came the revival of issues and questions surrounding her unique position in history – Was she a feminist? Was she a good leader? Do we care if she wears pearls or not? The title of the film for one is almost subtly, self-consciously mocking – as if it is the paradox of a ‘lady’ being strong and empowered was gimmiky enough to sell the film. However, beyond this somewhat smaller issue of bad advertising comes another: the innacurate appropriation of Feminism.

Obviously, the title makes an attempt to portray its self endorcing a seemingly feminist ideology, conforming the wide misconception that anything to do with women is feminism. This is a rather unsophisticated way to understand feminism, in the sense that it does not approach any of the more specific and nuanced requirements of the ‘feminist’ title. Indeed, it would be ignorant to assume that there is a single way of being a feminist, that in its self there isn’t confusion or confliction. If patriarchy has achieved anything, it’s the stigmatisation, alienation and misappropriation of the term ‘feminist’. This is exmplar in Mensch clamining the word for party leverage, as opposed to actually endorsing its beliefs. Simply the existence of a woman in power does not constitute a feminist, seen with Mensch and particularly in the case of Thatcher. Not only did Thatcher not utilise her power in politics to make any progress in the strive for gender equality, but ironically by achieving her position by conforming the partiarchal standards of power, perpetuated a male hegemony in politics, and ultimately throughout her society. By simply being in a powerful position, and a woman, does not automatically justify you as a feminist. On the day of Thatcher’s election in 1979, protesters in Finchely declared ‘we want women’s right’s – not a right-wing woman.’

Of course it’s easy to see why we can confuse Thatcher as a feminist, as she achieved what perhaps seemingly what women were attempting to achieve: power and success in a world of men. Though in her private life she committed herself to the classic Tory female beliefs –endorsing the importance of the woman’s role in family and as a wife, which is why beyond what she may represent to an exterior world, she in herself simply cannot be a feminist.

The Margaret Thatcher paradox highlights a wider and fascinating issue with the reconciliation of Tory politics and Feminist ideology.  It’s understandable to see why a party that strives to maintain and preserve society, as opposed to reasserting the changing attitudes within it, a party that maintains traditions and places emphasis in the institute of marriage and family, appears to be contradictory to the most fundamental of Feminist beliefs. Such beliefs like female independence, equality between men and women, having the freedom to choose and be ambitious without having to conform to any societal pressure or stereotype constructed by a patriarchy. ‘Conserving’ such classic traditions within a society means adhering to the patriarchy that we strive to dissolve. How is it possible to adapt the warped view of women from the male counter part, the wife, the mother, to the independent, free entity within an ideology that places emphasis on maintaining the tradition, and being adverse to change? Feminism is a modern movement, something that requires re-questioning, re-assessing and transcending the society in which we live. Endorsing a politics that refuses to change the status quo seems impossible to pair with Feminism.

Which is why the tory feminist can never be. Ultimately, feminism in its root is simply egalitarian; something being a conservative is most certainly not.

Ruby Lott-Lavigna

Written March 2012 for the Leeds Student Newspaper

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May Contain Big Words

At risk of being ostracised by all my new university friends, I have an admission to make: I like thinking. Although this may seem bizarre as a University student to make such a claim (I imagine more conventional admissions usually go down the chlamydia route…) in our modern, progressive society, there appears to be a stigma attached to appearing ‘clever’. Conversation tends to steer towards the TOWIE end of the spectrum than the Sartre end. There is a negativity attached to being publicly intellectually engaged. For example, the question ‘have you revised?’ has never once, in the history of teenage culture, been answered with a ‘yes’ – though, perhaps this has more to do with work ethic (or lack of) than public presentation of intellect. Even so, why is it so looked down upon in a social environment appear hard working? If you drop your intellectual faculties within a social sphere, it is only a matter of time before ambition and introspection follow.

Within the media, we are bombarded with the idea that ‘clever’ equals ‘uncool’. As much as I object this obviously simplistic presentation, it’s easy to see how from a young age, an anti-intellectualist belief is cultivated. From Lisa Simpson to Velma from Scooby Doo, being an intellectual means you’re uncool. Perhaps it is the lazy characterization, but it’s a negative concept that can penetrate into our society, and install a belief that being ambitious, striving to academically better yourself is a wasteful occupation of time.  Lisa is the talented, perceptive 8 year old yet Bart gets to do all the fun stuff like riding a skate board. Velma, whilst solving the large majority of the murder mysteries, is inferior to the gorgeous, cool Daphne.

Shows such as Beauty and the Geek present a despicable mutual exclusivity. The premise of the show is that a group of beautiful women and a group of academic yet socially inept men pair up to compete for some money (and for the most dignity-stripping accolade available). Firstly, the token idea that knowledge is incongruous to good looks (not to mention the gender stereotypes presented) is as ignorant as it is dull. The fact that the men teach the women to look beyond their aesthetic merit to know ‘worthwhile’ and ‘fulfilling’ ‘knowledge’ (please note my overuse of quotation marks) such as ‘who is the prime minister of England?’ is so reprehensible, (contrary to perhaps its superficial objective) intellectually defunct and anti-progressive, that I am endlessly surprised that the show managed to get commissioned. I also lose all hope for humanity, but that’s another concern.

This is an issue that is particularly endorsed by my contemporary female society, and has strong gender ties. Presenting ones self as ‘dumb’ or ‘innocent’ and ‘sweet’ wholly endorses this anti-intellectualist culture, perpetuating an ancient male ideal that women are intellectually inferior to men. Irrespective of this being unbelievably regressive, it is painfully frustrating. A gender divide is often presented within social situation as a result. The idea that being opinionated or willing to debate is seen as a masculine attribute, obviously a residue of a patriarchal society, further tying into the anti-intellectualist culture.

Being articulate is condemned as being elitist. Clarity through eloquence and placing your self in a post-1984 world is being exclusive. You mustn’t ‘big words’ in case someone doesn’t understand what one means, so as not to sound superior, and therefore must patronisingly simplify everything. I have endless been condemned for saying ‘juxtaposes’ instead of ‘contrasts’, or ‘autochthonous’ instead of ‘indigenous – not descended from migrants or colonists’ (that one comes up less often admittedly…). Just because someone doesn’t understand a word doesn’t mean they should assume that the speaker is being belittling. The expectation that one should change the way one naturally speaks because people may not understand is so intellectually defunct. Encourage them to broaden their knowledge, which is not an elitist attitude but an inclusive one. Expecting someone to purposefully speak in a less sophisticated expressive manner is pandering, ignorant and patronising.

Learn a new word. Don’t feel ashamed of talking about something a little more highbrow than return of Made in Chelsea. Have a better way of expressing yourself. Educate others without being patronizing. There of course is a thin line between being clever and trying to sound clever in order to belittle. The latter should be avoided, particularly (if for no other reason) giving knowledge a bad name. Of course, with knowledge comes and arrogance, and perhaps it is this that people fear appearing.

By Ruby Lott-Lavigna

Written October 2011 for the Leeds Student Newspaper

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