Yearly Archives: 2011

Women of 2011 1

After reading that the BBC had chosen a panda as one of its women of the year in 2011, and that half the actual women on its list were notable only for marrying or shagging powerful men, I thought T&S could do better. So, to start the ball rolling, here’s my own roll-call of the year’s most memorable women:

World politics: the women activists of the Arab revolutions (and not only those whose names we’ve learned because they speak/write/blog/tweet in English).

National politics: Angela Merkel. The Eurozone crisis might not have been her finest hour, but she still advanced the cause of women political leaders by being so much less appalling than Berlusconi, Cameron, Sarkozy et al.

Local politics: Pauline Pearce, the woman who took issue with some rioters in Hackney. She talked more sense in a few minutes than politicians and pundits managed in hours of heated debate and pointless waffle.

Feminist campaigners: Tristane Banon, the French woman who told the world that Dominique Straus-Kahn had form even before he was accused of sexual assault by a New York hotel chambermaid; also

Tanya Rosenblit, who challenged the growing religious pressure for sex-segregation in Israel by refusing to sit at the back of the bus; and

Laura Nelson, who got Hamley’s toy shop in London to organize their toys by category rather than by gender (she also inspired a columnist for an Irish Sunday newspaper to rant under the immortal headline ‘SEXIST MY ARSE’).

Media personalities: Sue Perkins. How many women on the telly are equally at home presenting a baking competition, conducting a brass band and displaying their wit and erudition on QI? And how many of them are lesbians?

Light entertainment/satire: Princess Beatrice. Who knows if it was deliberate, but she made the royal wedding look even more ridiculous by wearing a giant pretzel on her head.

The mighty fallen: Rebekah Brooks—not that I’m applauding her, but she’s a rare case of a powerful woman being brought down for sins of some actual moral consequence, and not just because of sexism and double standards. The cardinal points of her wonky moral compass went beyond the usual female repertoire (‘slag, adulterer, gold-digger, bad mother’).

The late lamented: Cesaria Evora, singer; Amy Winehouse, singer; Christa Wolf, novelist.

And finally…IMHO, the female animal of the year (not to be confused with a woman) is not Tian Tian the panda, but the nameless polar bear who was judged too dangerous to film for Frozen Planet, thus sparking a row about reality and fiction in nature programmes.

Note to the BBC: I’ve managed to find enough human women to list without even touching on art, business, science or sport… Feel free to add your own nominations, sisters, and may 2012 bring joy to one and all


Dick-ipedia 5

A recent article in the New York Times revealed that women make up less than 15% of active contributors to Wikipedia. This has sparked a debate about why women are so underrepresented. Claims that it has something to do with the technology being more congenial to men do not stand up, because the 85/15 split is pretty typical of traditional media too. And don’t even get me started on the ‘brain sex’ argument that men are bound to dominate the world of amateur on-line encyclopedia-writing because they’re basically a bunch of autistics, hard-wired to collect facts and obsess about trivia.

But these explanations have not been the most popular ones. Many contributors to the debate, including some ‘experts’ commissioned by the Times, have suggested that women are deterred from participating in the Wikipedia project by their (unwarranted) feeling of inferiority. Unlike men, most women do not feel entitled to set themselves up as experts, or if they do take that role upon themselves, they lack the confidence to defend their views against contributors who have other ideas.

I am always suspicious of any argument which boils down to ‘women are their own worst enemies’, because in truth, they very rarely are. In this case, for instance, I would say that in general it is men rather than women who think that women are inferior. An extraordinary number of men seem to be genuinely convinced, often without even being consciously aware of it, that they must know better than any woman they find themselves in an argument with. This is not some innate characteristic, it’s an effect of the way they’ve been socialized. But to me it is undoubtedly a reason to steer clear of an enterprise like Wikipedia, which is set up on the assumption that there will be arguments among contributors—and whoever wins the argument gets to delete the loser’s contribution. No woman with any self-esteem wants to spend time and energy writing something if she thinks there’s a good chance that some dickhead who just assumes he knows better will come along and erase it.

Does it matter if Wikipedia is an overwhelmingly male creation? Since the Times article that question has been getting a lot of play on feminist discussion lists, and the consensus seems to be that it does matter. Everyone, it is argued, uses Wikipedia all the time: if the vast bulk of its content reflects only men’s knowledge, men’s interests and men’s perspectives, then the millions who regularly go to it for information are getting a seriously skewed picture of the world.

But some of those who make this criticism have a peculiar idea of what the world would look like if women’s perspectives on it were better represented. One example of gender-bias given by the Times was the dearth of material on Sex and the City by comparison with The Sopranos. Another was the lack of an entry for—I’ve forgotten the exact details, but I think it might have been friendship bracelets. (Writing the last sentence, I had to pause for a moment to retrieve from the recesses of my brain what friendship bracelets actually are; on the question of why anyone should care enough to look them up in an encyclopedia, my brain returned ‘page not found’.) If these really are the kinds of subjects women are interested in writing or reading about, then we probably shouldn’t be allowed anywhere near a computer. Not that they are any more trivial than the stuff a lot of male contributors write about, but equal airtime for girly trivia is one feminist cause I feel no great need to champion.

If we really want an on-line encyclopedia which represents our collective knowledge, I think we should probably leave Wikipedia well alone, and go for the separatist option. Dykipedia, anyone?

Access to abortion in Northern Ireland

The government is going to help women in poor countries access safe and effective family planning, including abortion. This is laudable, but it highlights the hypocrisy with respect to abortion rights within the UK. It is a disgrace that women in Northern Ireland still don’t have access to abortion.

According to

Unlike in Britain, abortion is almost completely criminalised in Northern Ireland. This does not prevent women from needing or seeking abortion.

Instead it unfairly forces them to travel secretly, often alone, to Britain or Europe. With short notice, women have to find money for a private procedure, costing a minimum of £450, to pay for travel and accommodation, to arrange time off work and often to find an alibi to explain their absence. Some women can’t afford to do this and instead resort to unsafe, illegal ‘back street’ abortion.

New article: Brain Wars

In her new article, Brain Wars, Debbie Cameron reviews two recent books that challenge the idea of a sexed brain: Cordelia Fine’s Delusions of Gender: The Real Science Behind Sex Differences, and Rebecca Jordan-Young’s Brainstorm: The Flaws in the Science of Sex Difference.