Kinder “Surprise”

via Reddit

This is a sort-of-guest post, in that I’ve sourced most of the text and images from the excellent Mike Hall, with permission.

It’s a pet peeve of mine, this increasingly gendered toy market we’re seeing, and people’s defence of it; that it’s always been that way, that it’s what parents/children want, that it’s not a problem at all to be hammering old-fashioned and restrictive gender roles into kids from day 1.

Kinder Surprise eggs were part of my childhood; I used to collect the animal figurine series; turtles, lions, hippos etc. They’re probably in my mum’s house somewhere.

They did what they said on the wrapper; you didn’t really know what you were going to get out of this chocolate, in the little plastic popper-container. We’d shake them and listen, thinking that we were like some kind of connoisseur-expert, that we could tell from the sound whether it was a figurine or just another plastic toy you had to assemble.

It could have been a whole host of things. You didn’t know, that was the fun.

But now Ferrero have decided that they have 2 kinds of egg; one for boys, and one for girls. Yawn. Over to Mike for more…


12/08/2014: So yesterday I bought a pink “gendered” Kinder Egg, partly because I fancied a Kinder Egg, and partly to see what I would find inside it.

For those not aware, Kinder have recently started marketing independent “boy/blue” and “girl/pink” versions of the Kinder Surprise. Seems unnecessary to me? But there you have it. And these are a few thoughts on my pink Kinder Surprise.

1. They seemed to come in palettes, with a layer of pink eggs sitting on a layer of blue eggs, sitting on a layer of pink, etc. Don’t know if this is representative of how they are shipped, how the shop chooses to stock them, or whatever. Interesting part of this for me was that customers had only taken eggs from the top (pink) layer. There were no eggs taken from the blue tier underneath. Does that mean no-one gives a fuck about the colour and just want a Kinder Surprise? Does that mean that only women are buying them? Is this just an artefact of the shop being located in the business district in Liverpool where they’re going to be bought predominantly by adults? Would younger purchasers have been more discriminating? Don’t know.

2. The toy inside was a “Pop Star Barbie” (indeed, the pink egg itself is Barbie branded). This wasn’t as bad I was expecting, to be honest. I was expecting princess, nurse, home-maker, socialite, etc.

MikeKinder

3. The toy required very little assembly. I remember Kinder Surprise being more difficult to put together than this. Maybe that was because I was younger? But basically, I have to clip two things together and apply one sticker. Not more than eight seconds work. But then sometimes you get little statuettes inside the egg with no assembly required at all?

4. The leaflet inside indicated that “Pop Star Barbie” is part of a larger “I can be…” range, which looks to be designed with the aim of giving little girls positive role models. Also in the range are Fashion Designer, Chef, Doctor, Lifeguard, Ballerina, Actor and Tennis Player. They are all very “girly girl” along with their vocation (e.g. Doctor Barbie is wearing heels and a sequinned mini skirt, Chef Barbie has pink wooden spoon, etc.), but they do come over as successful (e.g. Actor Barbie is holding an Oscar).

5. I’m wary here of coming over as denigrating the choice of some women to be “girly girls”. Of course, that’s a valid choice. Being a doctor in a mini skirt is a valid thing to do if that’s what you want to do. Though I do worry there is a fine line between the message “being feminine and being a doctor aren’t mutually exclusive” and “obviously you must be very feminine, but you can still be a doctor too”.

6. It could have been worse; it could have been only feminine stereotypes, without the attempt at giving positive role models. But it also could have been a lot better. Like not producing daft gendered toys in the first place and letting kids play with what they want to play with.

7. Overall, it comes over to me like a bunch of middle-aged, middle-class guys got together in a room… then tried really, really hard to be progressive about it. And missed.


MikeKinder401/09/2014: Bought another Kinder Egg today — this time a blue/boy one. It was a Hot Wheels car (also a Mattel brand).

It came in two parts, which snapped together very easily. Probably a simpler assembly job than Barbie, if anything. Plus the application of three stickers.

There was nothing along the lines of the “I can be…” message of the Barbie-branded egg, just the car with a photo of which other cars you can collect. This car came in a lovely poo-brown colour.

From the leaflets inside the two eggs I’ve bought — pink/girl and blue/boy — it looks like all the pink eggs are Barbies with various professions. And all the blue eggs are cars of various designs and colours. So no gender stereotyping in there whatsoever, no sir.

Interesting that the boys are given things they should want, and the girls given things they should want to be? Don’t know if that’s deliberate, or subconscious, or if I’m reading too much into that?


Thanks again to Mike for sharing these posts.

Looking through some other comment pieces, it does seem that there’s some evidence for this trend being sexist parent-driven rather than just from the market itself (although as a circle rather than linear effect, it’s hard to separate those out completely):

The company said in a statement: “We do not advocate or promote our products as gender specific. Instead, Kinder Surprise Pink and Blue offers a range of interesting new toys in coloured eggs which help parents navigate the toy ranges on offer and make purchasing decisions based on what is most relevant for their child.

“Research that we undertook prior to launch indicated that parents welcome this product, with 66% of parents saying it was a good idea to have two separate ranges of toys. In addition, 66% of parents agreed that having a pink and blue Kinder Surprise egg made it easier for them to know which treat to buy for their child.” “

- Marketing Magazine

There has been a Change.org petition set up to challenge the company’s decision on this, which is obviously met with the usual “find some real issues” type comments. But, if we don’t take the low-hanging fruit where we can, how are we ever going to address those bigger issues too? Feminism isn’t about only ever thinking of the most devastating issue; not only is it not possible, but ignores the fact that people can care about more than one thing at once.

See the links below for more, and do share if you have some experiences on the subject.

Links

- “Kinder Surprise denies gender bias with pink and blue eggs, plus five sexist marketing fails” – Marketing Magazine
- “Kinder Predictable” – Let Toys Be Toys
- “Kinder Surprise in stereotyping row over pink and blue eggs” – Independent
- “Why New Pink Kinder Surprise Pisses Me Off” – HuffPo
- “What do toys have to do with inequality?” – Let Toys Be Toys

Charity Challenges

I’m sure you’ve heard about the Ice Bucket Challenge. More and more people are doing it – film you or a friend dumping a bucket of ice water on your head, post it online, make a donation to charity, and nominate some other people to do the same.

In the UK social media circles – due to a shift that probably happened in the US where this is a better-known disease perhaps because of Lou Gehrig, the famous baseball player who suffered – it seems the most common cause to donate to is for Motor Neurone Disease (MND) or amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS) research charities. ALS is a form of MND; a degenerative disease that leads to muscle degradation, paralysis and eventual suffocation. Our famous sufferer is Stephen Hawking.

The Wellcome Trust did a great video explaining the condition, for those who’d like to learn more:

A wonderful friend from university whom I have seen far too little of in recent years decided to nominate me yesterday as he took the challenge. Having done the right thing and made a cup of tea ready for the aftermath, he decided to donate to Ebola Epidemic Relief Fund. I’m sorry I haven’t been “a good sport” as he put it and made my own video, but you can watch his and, if you like, read on for some more thoughts on the phenomenon and my explanation of why I’ve decided to donate and write this instead.

“I’m donating towards the Ebola Epidemic Relief Fund via GlobalGiving. One good turn deserves another so Kevin, Orr, and Marianne (because I’ve enjoyed her Facebook ruminations on this topic and I know she’ll be a good sport) get your ice and buckets and don’t forget to donate.”

All for one or..?

Despite the shift in focus to ALS, as the wikipedia page for IBC explains, the origins of the challenge are fuzzy, and it doesn’t appear to have been started by ALS charities specifically; people have donated to a range of causes for it. It’s often said that the point of the ice water is to, if only briefly, mimic some of the pain ALS sufferers experience. But cancer research and firefighting also seem to have been origin-causes. Macmillan are raising money through the challenge too – without them, my dad’s end of life care would have been even more difficult, so if the Ebola fund isn’t your thing, maybe send some cash their way.

As I said in a previous post about the similar viral fundraising campaign, No Make-up Selfie, it’s important to explain why you’re doing what you’re doing, give people a) the means to donate and b) find out more information about the cause you’ve chosen to support. Otherwise it really just seems like an attention-seeking exercise, with the added bonus of some money going to charity, which is great.

Extrovert’s dream

So why haven’t I made a video? Sorry. I don’t like videos of me  – there’s only one that I know of. I like writing stuff – as you can see – I love talking to people on social media, sharing things I find interesting, having rants about what annoys me (quite a lot of stuff). But I’m not particularly attention-seeking in terms of people-staring-at-me. I know I’m not alone in that – some friends have said they too would find a nomination mortifying or otherwise uncomfortable. It could be an introvert’s nightmare.

People have different kinds of personalities, enjoy different things, struggle with different aspects of social interactions (or sometimes none at all). Those things manifest in different ways. This kind of challenge just doesn’t suit everyone, so I’m all for offering up alternatives.

Team MB all_namesThis is mine – have a look at the issue in a wider context, send some money anyway, but in a less showy fashion. That’s not to say this way is better, that the videos are wrong – just different.

A request

What I would ask is that, having read this, could you please donate either to the Ebola relief fund, Macmillan, a charity of your choice (let me know in the comments!) or to me!!

Not personally, you understand – I’m doing my own Charity Challenge next month, walking 25km on the Thames Path Challenge, for Barts Cancer Institute. There’s a little team of us, so you can pick your favourite on our BT Donate page (me, I hope, given you’re here).

If you’re wondering about the hat, follow the link on our team page, Arrow to the Knee.

Blah blah blah

As I said, I ramble about things online, so I suppose this started when I posted the following (ish):

- Donating to charities that don’t get much attention is good
– People are always going to be vain and irritating, especially online/in media generally; if that turns into a way to make money for charity occasionally, bonus.
– If you don’t want to watch them, don’t.
– If the self-congratulatory aspect annoys you, just donate quietly – as you may already do.
– Complaining loudly about it makes you as bad – if not worse. Unless you’re sending a donation with your complaint. But then what was the point of complaining in the first place?
– Go to learn about ALS/MND on Wikipedia for a bit. It’s what Stephen Hawking has, and he’s amazingly old considering. It’s a really difficult-to-research condition. Tack it onto your complaints if you feel information is lacking somewhere, or link to a charity.
– It doesn’t necessarily mean people are donating less/other charities are worse off. That’s not how it works.*
– It’s a bit like no makeup selfie, which I wrote a long thing about. Similar questions can be asked. Curiosity about how this kind of fundraising is good; critiques can be useful. Pretending you’re so much better [not so much].

*This is something I seem to be wrong about, more on that in a bit.

Edit: our Jimmy Wales of Wikipedia has some stats that are mildly encouraging

https://twitter.com/jimmy_wales/status/505010767432019968

Criticism

This word, ironically, gets a lot of criticism. I don’t think it’s as bad as all that – it’s a means of pushing for improvement. Without criticism, how can we improve? It’s not just about being negative, although identifying where things could be done better is a big part of a critique, it’s not the only aspect. Making note of what does work is also necessary.

It also doesn’t mean that, just because you have offered up criticism, you are “a heartless bastard”, as a friend put it. Are we all so sheltered as to think everything we do is beyond reproach, or so arrogant to think we’re already doing everything right?? Critical thinking isn’t just about deciding everything is rubbish, it’s about analysis, evidence, common sense, digging for truths and betterment.

I’m not usually one for dictionary definitions, but while a common use of the word is “expressing disapproval”, it’s also about “the analysis and judgement of the merits and faults” – while this is usually applied to the arts, it needn’t be its sole preserve. Should we not be considerate and critical of most things we do?

Charity Critiques

via Wikimedia Commons/Givewell – public domain

A huge, sprawling topic I won’t get too deep into here – I just want to return to the *people are donating less/other charities are worse off aspect. It’s most people’s gut feeling that simply stepping up to a random challenge wouldn’t change people’s donation behaviours, or that a successful campaign for one charity would negatively affect others.

But, it seems that is in fact the case. Is charity giving really a zero-sum game? I can’t say with conviction here, but it seems at least in the US where donations have apparently been fairly static in recent years, that it is more a case of charities fighting it out amongst each other for their shares of that restricted pool than simply coming up with new ideas to add revenue to their available budget.

In reality I’m sure it’s a bit of both, and if you have access to some enlightening research on the subject, please do link in the comments. The “problem of forgotten emergencies” is similar and perhaps sheds some light on this. The UK does well at giving to charity, and I expect the nuts and bolts of inter-charity competition differs somewhat depending on which country you look at – and whether you’re interrogating individuals, corporations or other revenue sources.

Charities need money in order to function (government funding of research being a related issue). They need to ask people for money but people don’t like being asked for money. So “raising awareness” and other slight misdirections are more fashionable now – plus, with the increasingly popular phenomenon of social media permeating our lives, of course it’s an avenue to explore. And it’s not going to be perfect the first time.

Charities didn’t seem to have started this, really. At least it’s not a campaign masterminded and owned by any one in particular. If it were, we could hold it to higher standards, but I think we need to make the best of it – while being open to criticism.

Holier Than Thou

I suppose what made me notice the complaints was the context some of them came in. Ridiculous meme-like photos juxtaposing happy-looking Americans throwing water on themselves with a child living in poverty being fed water from a rusty cup. I don’t find this kind of complaint useful.

People in developed countries are better off than people unlucky enough to be living in developing countries. Some developing countries have water shortages (the whole of Africa, however, does not) – throwing water on yourself in a developed country doesn’ t make you an awful person. It makes you lucky, and we’d do well to be grateful for that sometimes.

Other people having bigger problems does not negate all of our own, and we cannot be mindful of every single problem all of the time; it’s impossible. You can just stand up for causes you care about and believe in and do your best not to be apathetic about everything.

If you criticised someone for doing this challenge when “there’re droughts in some states/Africa!” then I hope you are a regular supporter of Water Aid. If not, you really can’t use this line of attack. Not using water frivolously in one country does not mean that water will be shipped somewhere it is needed; that is not how water provision works, and probably where I put a foot wrong in shifting that argument over to the cash flow issue without thinking it through.

Thames personalised A2KsmallSo I would like to nominate you, reader, to do what you think is best.

Send some money where you think it’s needed. You might already be doing that – great! You might want to throw ice or coffee or baked beans on yourself. You might want to run a 5k or sign up to a challenge next year. I don’t mind – just remember to check your charities are “legit”.

Charities mentioned in this post:

Related

  • Yahoo, Natasha Bird: Challenging the ALS Ice Bucket Challenge – the problem with mega-donations
  • Independent: ALS ice bucket challenge: Over half of Brits polled did not donate to charity afterwards
  • Quartz: “The cold, hard truth about the ice bucket challenge”

Sense About Science: Fad Diets

Ask for EvidenceDiets on the internet: You might as well make them up.

Sense about Science have a new (ish, I’m a bit slow off the mark on this one!) campaign focus – exposing the claims behind fad diets.

Many societies currently have a problem with nutrition. In places where food is abundant, or supermarkets and fast food chains present the main family options, a lot of people are overeating and eating badly. Poverty doesn’t help, and when you already have little money, companies duping people with claims of superhealthy items and food plans are extremely unethical.

The NHS resources are, in my view, the best place to go for a start. To learn about calories, going about losing weight, “hidden” weight-gain causes, asking a GP about getting and keeping a healthy weight and more – really many of these things should be in schools, so equipping people with skills that will last a lifetime and help them to keep healthy, combating challenges such as lack of support at home when children are growing up.

Unfortunately, a combination of culture generally, celebrity following, personal challenges and insufficient regulation of food suppliers often leads to people who are frustrated and find it difficult to keep healthy and happy. Where there are vulnerable people with problems, there are quacks ready to take advantage and make money from them.

Dodgy dieting

Contradictory diet advice is everywhere – Katy Perry’s acupunctured fish, Matthew McConaughey and the caveman diet, Gwyneth Paltrow’s macrobiotic meals. It seems celebrities feel obliged to offer their opinions on what we should eat, leaving sound diet advice lost in bogus claims.

Frustrated by fad diets, today young scientists are calling on everyone to Ask for Evidence behind diets. To highlight why this is so important they are challenging people to spot completely made up diets in an online quiz. It’s not as easy as you might think. The researchers also looked at the evidence behind 10 diets and came to the conclusion that if it sounds too good to be true, it probably is.

To help people sort the beneficial from the bogus when they come across diet claims in the future, the researchers have 4 things to look out for:

Eat less, eat better, move more – it works. Via National Cancer Institute/Wikimedia Commons.

Immune boosting. You can’t and you don’t need to. If your immune system wasn’t working properly, you would be very ill and you’d be needing serious treatment. If it works, it works.

Detox. It’s a marketing myth – our body does it without pricey potions and detox diets. You’d only need some medical detox intervention if your liver and/or kidneys weren’t working properly. Again, in that case you’d be very ill. If you feel bad about drinking too much and eating crap, just do less of that. Don’t buy pointless, useless, overpriced products branded with this nonsense word.

Superfood. There is no such thing, just foods that are high in some nutrients. Just eat a balanced diet; as per the NHS link, and you don’t need vitamin supplements or super-anything food. Just enough food, generally.

Cleansing. You shouldn’t be trying to cleanse anything other than your skin or hair.

Comments

Further comment on the absurdity and dangers of fad diets:

“Never mind about being tempted by that slice of cake – don’t be tempted by fad diets. When you see extraordinary claims, always ask for evidence.”

- Leah Fitzsimmons, Biochemist and VoYS member

“Personal diets and nutritional health more broadly, are very complex areas. Many people latch on to particular diets through just word of mouth or from articles in the popular press. Unfortunately the impact of some these diets can be, at best, ineffective and, at worst very unhealthy. For this reason, it’s important to have sound food and nutritional science underpinning any diet choice. It is also important that this is soundly but simply communicated.”

- Jon Poole, Chief Executive, Institute of Food Science and Technology

“Let’s be realistic about fad diets – they don’t work. They don’t accelerate weight loss because they’re not sustainable long term. If you plan to lose weight you need to recognise you’re committing to a marathon, not a sprint. They don’t improve your health, nor act as a talisman to protect you against cancer, Alzheimer’s, or whatever health risk is the media focus du jour. Fad diet promoters never let sound nutrition get in the way of persuasive marketing to the public, but rely on the publics’ lack of knowledge on diet and health to promote their dietary myths and generate financial profit.”

- Catherine Collins, British Dietetic Association

“New diets are being made up at an alarming rate. If you are concerned about your weight, look for evidence based advice”

- Dr Ellie Cannon, GP and author

“Hundreds of researchers in the VoYS network are involved in tackling public misinformation about science and health. They make great efforts alongside their research work, and have had a lot of fun tackling dodgy diets. They’ve shown just how hard it can be to sort the beneficial from the bogus – unless you ask for evidence.”

- Victoria Murphy, VoYS Co-ordinator

VOYS Daft Diets Quiz

VoYS members launched a document and webpage published by Sense About Science to draw the public’s attention to the stream of silly diets which drown out sensible advice. It’s hard to spot the spoofs – try the quiz!

The VoYS diet project is brought to you by Agnieszka Piotrowska, Alison Clark, Anusha Seneviratne, Charlotte Dunbar, Chris Creese, Claire Marriott, Daisy Hessenberger, Elizabeth Glennon, Erika Nitsch, Fergus Guppy, Grace Gottlieb, Helen Coulshed, Kate Waller, Kristian Le Vay, Leah Fitzsimmons, Lizzie Tilley, Lucy Hagger, Madeline Burke, Rob Hagan and Tanya Hart.

Related

  • Mosaic - South Africa’s obesity crisis: the shape of things to come?

Women and sexism in STEM

STEMNETLast week I tried to explain to someone whom I saw adding to abuse directed at a woman on Twitter why that’s a very bad thing for a STEM Ambassador to be doing – once I noticed that they shared that voluntary occupation in their bio.

Background

STEM is now a popular acronym that describes “Science, Technology, Engineering and Maths” – the sciences and their applied disciplines, essentially. Some like to add another M for Medicine but I think that’s covered by Science and Technology, really. Separate debate.

What is not worth debating is whether women are disadvantaged, underrepresented, discriminated against and put off in these fields. It has been shown time and again, and I’ve placed links and references in this piece to demonstrate that. People with the ability to pay attention, women or otherwise, already know this. I intend this to be a resource to demonstrate this fact, and a push for people to try to tackle it however they see fit.

STEM Ambassadors are trained by a group called STEMNET and their purpose is to inspire young people, encourage them to learn about the scientific disciplines and perhaps aim for a career in one of the fields. I believe that if we’re to tackle gender inequality and discrimination in STEM, teaching children that everyone can do and work in science is vital.

mariannegardenlab

Inspecting snails as a child of 6/horsing around in the lab as a child of 24

 

Personal touch

People ask me why I “left science” – I don’t consider that I have, I work at the same place I ventured to 7 years ago to begin my PhD (in cancer research) and I am now helping to spread the word about our work – my job includes supporting our students, new recruits and established staff, many of which are women. Many of whom are friends. I just didn’t feel like lab-based research was for me, for various reasons. I enjoy what I do and I’m lucky to have had the opportunities and support to get there.

I grew up around a lot of sexist older men and I could not possibly fully describe how galling it is to watch people you otherwise love and respect (family, friends etc.) speak of other women (and by extension, you) in a dismissive, insulting and belittling manner. The world already shows us what it thinks of us – we’re underrepresented and discouraged in the entertainment industries: games, film+TV, literature; our bodies are used to sell products; we’re taught they are public property, and people treat them as such.

How many times do strangers comment on men’s appearances in the street or aggressively instruct them to perform something sexual? Would you not find it shocking and inappropriate? Just as one example. These many things and much more is why I have long called myself a feminist, yet people still ask, and yes the question both surprises and bores me.

We are told that the proper, respectable, worthwhile jobs are for men – less than we were in the past, for sure, but it’s still out there with the boys’ toys and the girls’ toys; the blue and pink, the choice of fireman/spaceman/policeman/doctor, or the housewife-cleaner/nurse/princess (that’s not even a job!). I do not believe that women are less capable in these fields – curiosity is all you really need to get started in science, and most if not all children have that.

The “leaky pipeline”

To the point… women in STEM.

Less than 20% of grant applicants are women [1] and fewer grants are awarded to them [2]. Only 20% of UK professors are women [3]. Why? No, it’s not just because of babies and wiring.

Women are certainly discouraged from STEM [4] (very few girls take A level physics for example), and the few of us who get there regardless are still tested regularly [5,6,7]. Not everyone withstands these tests, and women continually ‘leak’ out of STEM fields [8,9].

Academia is still a sexist environment to work in, and it’s a battle for us. Women are not hired equally and paid less when they are [10,11] – even by other women – sexism is in the air we breathe from day 1 and none of us are immune to that, it can just be easier to acknowledge and try to move on from when it’s happening directly to you.

Edit: here’s a depressing piece on sexual assault in science.

A House of Commons report states that the causes of women’s underrepresentation are of 3 broad types:

(a) issues particular to academia;
(b) issues particular to STEM, and;
(c) the gendered nature of work and family care in the UK. [12]

For example, senior members of staff might criticise women who have to take time off for family. In fact, it’s not “what women do!”, as I heard someone put it, it’s what people who want children have to do and unfortunately we’re required to do the physically draining bit – men who want children often can’t seem to grasp this and consider that perhaps pushing for equal parental leave would make things better for everyone.

womenignoredStill, women worry that their job will be gone when they want to return to work and have to deal with these judgments about their ambitions and capability at work; on top of the usual being ignored, harassed and other common experiences.

I heard of one occasion when office allocations were decided in a pub on a Friday night, when people had to go to pick up children, so some find out on Monday they’ve missed that boat and ended up with the leftovers – perhaps official meetings that don’t exclude people with families to look after are more fair?

Obviously it’s not clear-cut, sometimes events must be given evening slots to ensure high attendance, and penalising people who do not have dependants is not always an acceptable trade-off. But the prevailing attitude is still that women have families and they are the most penalised; including being asked at interview whether they’ll “go off and have children”, despite this being illegal.

It’s not even that this is a new phenomenon. Women’s achievements have historically been ignored, erased, claimed by men as their own. We are having to work hard to show people that’s it’s not natural that the famous names are men – we just haven’t been permitted and taught to remember women.

Change: young minds

If you are working with children who want to get into this field, you need to be encouraging to them and try to make sure you’re not displaying behaviours that young women and girls will pick up on and internalise. We are not stupid, we live this and see it all the time so when someone who’s supposed to be advertising an industry to girls seems so ready to belittle and dismiss women, I am very concerned.

“The most effective age for intervention activities is pre-adolescence, before negative attitudes appear.” [13]

Research from California suggests that children need to be taught these things before society can mould them and prejudices set in.

Not good enough

People who insistent they have worked with and supported some women and say things like “But Florence Nightingale was great!” really isn’t good enough. We must at least try to understand that women, worldwide, in all professions, are systematically disadvantaged. We are at increased risk of discrimination, violence, and being blamed for what other people choose to subject us to.

Without accepting that a system of oppression is in place worldwide that constantly erects hurdles along women’s routes of progression, success and what should be simple choices, you cannot claim to be supporting women. Many women frequently discuss these issues and we are repeatedly told to stop. We’re exaggerating.

“Yes, of course, love”     “Lighten up”     “Get a sense of humour”     “You’re a scientist? But you’re pretty”  “Other people have it worse, you know”     “Are you sure you understand?”    “Make me a sammich”.

If official bodies (including parliament [14]) can do the work, look at the stats and tell you and everyone else that there is a problem, can you please accept that and start working to address it, not adding to the problems that already exist. It is actually part of the STEM Ambassador mission:

“The Government “funds STEMNET to run the STEM Ambassador programme which raises awareness amongst children and young people of the range of careers that science and technical qualifications offer”. Although not a central part of this inquiry, we are aware that the STEM Ambassador Scheme is very well regarded.

We have also previously recommended that engagement with industry should be a core requirement of teachers’ Continuing Professional Development as this would improve the provision of STEM careers advice to students.

We encourage the Government to work with the STEM community and schools to tackle gender stereotypes in education, particularly at primary level.

- Gender Perceptions in STEM Careers [14].

To quote that teacher you always respected, it’s so disappointing. Recently a colleague told me his daughter had explained how much street harassment she receives – he seems shocked and apologetic that he didn’t understand before (and her male partner still doesn’t) that this is a global problem that affects all of us.


 

Women are people, not possessions, not a different species, and we deserve the same respect you would show to your male colleagues and the same (if not more) encouragement as you would give boys showing interested in science. It should not require some personal experience to be able to empathise with women who tell you these things.

I’d rather budding feminist dads than sexist dads (like so many of us endured) but I’d rather still it didn’t require that one girl carrying your genes becoming so important to you that only in mid-late adulthood do you possibly start to consider women’s issues more widely.

someone

Understanding and working against sexism is a process. We have to acknowledge that we all harbour sexist prejudices – we cannot exist in our culture and not absorb those messages. So “women do it” isn’t an excuse – we are, again, human beings and equally fallible. From a favourite article:

  1. Sexism is a fake idea invented by feminists
  2. Sexism happens, but the effect of “reverse sexism” on men is as bad or worse
  3. Sexism happens, but the important part is that I personally am not sexist
  4. Sexism happens, and I benefit from that whether or not I personally am sexist
  5. Sexism happens, I benefit from it, I am unavoidably sexist sometimes because I was socialized that way, and if I want to be anti-sexist I have to be actively working against that socialization

So in this case, I would implore you to realise that: sexism is very real. It happens and disadvantages women. You can choose to avoid sexism. You also benefit from lacking barriers that are placed in front of others whose traits you do not share for historical and cultural reasons.

You are not, nor should you be, “genderblind” or colourblind or any of those things – if you think you are, re-examine this attitude because it is not helpful. You do not exist outside of society, you do not breathe “clean air” – you’re as dirty as the rest of us, and unless you notice and work on it, you’ll still contribute.


 

So I hope people who proclaim to be fair and helpful will in future reconsider joining in with the abuse of women in public, because ultimately all fields and all facets of life need to be less restricted to men and male voices alone – how we think of our fellow human beings and address inequality is a fundamental part of that fight.

It feels like a fight so much of the time, because we are met with so much hostility, for even the smallest of things – for just existing, for daring to speak – and it’s tiring. But people care enough to keep pushing, because it is important.

You may not agree with other people’s behaviour. You may not think you support it, participate in it or have anything to do with it. But the thing that’s more important than saying “But not me!” is listening to people who do have those experiences, believing them, and helping. Not being dismissive and accusing people of lying. It happens all the time, I see it a lot – it’s infuriating. You can look at #yesallwomen for more on this (on twitter or the many articles based around it) [15].

Men’s sexism is not the same as women’s sexism (sorry), just as black people are not racist in the way that white people are. History and worldwide context is very important; there is a huge power imbalance at play that again, while you may not believe in or subscribe to, very much exists and makes the same actions impact upon different people in very different ways [16]

Looking ahead

I’d hope that people who have children/grandchildren or know any young people would want a fairer world for them – not just for the girls and women, but for the men as well – absurd ideas of masculinity harm men just as enforcing gender roles harms women. Telling boys not to show their feelings, telling them they must be physically strong, that anger is a permissable emotion above all others; these things reduce men. Accusing women of being tempting and blaming them for what men do is to underestimate men’s humanity and responsibility.

“Boys will be boys”? How about teaching them to treat other people with respect, as well as themselves, and don’t excuse unacceptable behaviour. Stop teaching girls to accept abuse, “He only hurts you because he likes you!” – help them to appreciate and respect themselves and not to settle for those who seek to own them.

This is part of why I challenge people. I think it’s important, and I think people are capable of doing better than what we so often see and experience now, for everyone’s benefit.

References

  1. Women In Science – BBSRC blog
  2. Women trail men in securing Research Council grants – Times Higher Education
  3. RCUK look for evidence of quality – Research Professional
  4. Girls love science, we tell them not to
  5. PNAS: “Science faculty’s subtle gender biases favor male students
  6. Bias persists against women of science” – NYT Science
  7. Study: Sexual harassment is a real problem in science” – review of PLOS publication
  8. “Stemming the Tide: New Study Examines Why Women Leave Engineering
  9. How stereotypes can drive women to quit science
  10. Women in science, you have nothing to fear but your own subconscious” – Jenny Rohn, Guardian. Links re: hiring discrimination
  11. Sexual discrimination in science: why we must act now” – Guardian
  12. The House of Commons Science and Technology Select Committee: Inquiry into Women in STEM careers
  13. Position paper, California State University: “Why girls participate less in science, engineering and mathematics
  14. UK Parliament Science & Technology: “Gender perceptions in STEM careers” (quoted above)
  15. Not all men: How discussion women’s issues gets derailed” – Phil Plait explains why “not all men!” isn’t useful, just in case what women say doesn’t get through
  16. As bad as each other – men’s sexism, women’s sexism” – different groups, same actions, different outcomes – history, social context.

Added later:
- “When Words Fail: Women, Science, and Women-In-Science” – Jacquelyn Gill
- “Pushing Women and People of Colour Out of Science Before We Go In” – Jennifer Selvidge, Huffington Post
- “Why is the media so obsessed with female scientists’ appearance?” – Guardian
- “Universities are urged to tackle gender segregation on courses” – Scottish Herald
- “Women in science: A temporary liberation” – Nature Comment
- “35 Practical Steps Men Can Take To Support Feminism” – xojane
- “The Gender Equation: Women and Science” – Diamond Light Source

More on this

- “Battling Sexism” – I write about sexist stuff reasonably frequently.
- “The Silent Misogyny” – another of mine with similar points to this post, but it jumps around more.
- “What next? Gendered science toys” – a tale of complaint success and a small victory against gendered marketing
- “Prejudice itself isn’t the only problem” – on accepting the status quo before mending it

Not just women

As is the case with any form of discrimination, it is not unconnected to others, and it is not just women who suffer in academia (and workplaces generally).

People having or belonging to minorities; race, sexuality, physical and/or mental illness/disability – also face adversity in these fields and in life more widely. So it is worth expanding these principles to them, drawing on their own specific challenges, and being mindful of the shared and distinct difficulties.

- BBC: “Fewer university offers for minority groups
- Overcast.fm Gender & Race Swap Online (Podcast)
- “Why reverse racism isn’t real” – see also “reverse sexism”
- “Colorblind ideology is a form of racism” – see also genderblind/sexism.

Seattle Down

This June I made my way over to the Pacific North-West to see a dear friend of mine who had to move away from London last year.

I had THE BEST TIME so here’s a series of photos of me enthusiastically pointing at cool stuff, in an homage to another wonderful friend, the now world-famous (or at least in Canada) James O’Malley, who pointed at all the Canadian things.

I didn’t want to do a video, so you’ll have to make do with this! I’ll write some stuff at the end for those who are interested but first, pictures…


Downtown and Fremont:

pikeplace

PIKE PLACE MARKET!

starbucksoriginal

ORIGINAL STARBUCKS!

hydrant

U.S. FIRE HYDRANT!

FremontTroll

FREMONT TROLL!

SUSHI

SUSHI!

Mt. Rainier National Park:

alderdam

ALDER DAM!

rainierriverbed

MOUNTAIN!rainierlogbridge

NISQUALLY RIVER!

NaradaRainier

NARADA FALLS!

rainiersnow

PARADISE, MT. RAINIER! SNOW!

Whale-watching on the Victoria Clipper up to Friday Harbour & around the San Juan islands:

MtBaker

MT. BAKER!

whales

ORCAS!

seastar

SEA STAR!

clipper

VICTORIA CLIPPER III!

Washington Park Arboretum:

tree

SITTING IN A TREE!

Sequoia

SEQUOIA!

crabs

CRABS!

Space Needle and Chihuly Glass Exhibition & Garden:

SpaceNeedle

SPACE NEEDLE!

downtownNeedle

DOWNTOWN!

Chihuly1

CHIHULY GLASS!

doublepointchihulyneedle

REFLECTING!

chihuly2

MORE CHIHULY GLASS!

dockkayak
KAYAKING (OUTSIDE FRIEND’S HOUSEBOAT)!

Chittenden Locks:

salmon1

SALMON LADDER!

Seattle Pride Parade and Festival:

pridemiddlepoints

SAD CHRISTIAN PROTESTERS!

Takei1

GEORGE TAKEI AND HUSBAND BRAD!!

Takei2

GEORGE. FRICKING. TAKEI!!!

GimpsandPups

SEATTLE PUPS & HANDLERS!

BalloonOctopus

GIANT BALLOON OCTOPUS!

AFK Tavern, Everett:

AFK

SUPER-GEEKY COCKTAIL MENU!

Cushions

SEATTLE/LONDON HOUSEBOAT CUSHIONS!

Snoqualmie Falls Park, diner and historic town:

Snoqualmie LOVELY WATERFALL!

chowder

CHOWDER!!


Many more photos (that don’t feature me pointing at stuff…) in my album, plus separate ones for more Pride, and Chihuly. I’ve storified some tweets, too.

I won’t say much more here other than that it was wonderful to meet all the friendly people; eat all the delicious fishes (UK sushi now ruined); sail; kayak (quite a big deal for me as I can’t swim – yet); listen to great tunes; chill out with my book; spot lots of wildlife and see so much beautiful scenery.

Thank you, Seattle!

Prejudice itself isn’t the only problem

I’d say it’s more often about getting people to admit to it.

I actually don’t think “more people admit to racism” is necessarily a problem. In fact, in a way, I’d say that’s a good thing. Bear with me.

Avenue Q’s “Everyone’s A Little Bit Racist” may be comedic but it’s true. Power/context/history important – it’s a song though, not an essay.

Everyone internalises prejudice, it’s impossible not to when growing up in a society that has inequality. We’re all sexist because of the messages that objectify and diminish women and this being true through history. We’re all racist because of messages that other and categorise certain races, and the history of it.

So what is the real problem? It’s people who are deluded and think they are not part of it. We all are. By not calling things out we are complicit. By parroting things we know to be wrong and/or reductive and offensive, we are making sure those problems continue.

We can do better, if we want to. Sure, if someone says (or more likely, thinks) “I’m racist/xenophobic because I hate everyone who doesn’t look like me!” then that needs to be addressed too. But a basic “Would you say you are at all prejudiced?” type question does not distinguish real hatred from an acknowledgment that we are flawed in our thinking and behaviour sometimes.

I accept that I haven’t looked too deeply into the questions being asked so I might be wrong about the degree of specificity, but I’ll go with that for the sake of argument. Perhaps it just reflects that more people are aware of what constitutes racism – which certainly would be a good thing; issues can only be tackled once they have been identified and defined.

What matters is:

a) accepting that inequality exists
b) accepting that means that people who are white/straight/male etc. have certain advantages and avoid disadvantages from day 1 that others have to deal with their whole lives
c) because of our culture influencing us, we all harbour prejudices
d) we have to constantly work at educating ourselves and do more to tackle inequality.

Simply acknowledging prejudice is arguably better than insisting it’s not there. “I’m not racist/sexist but [something racist/sexist]” – better to think, yes, sometimes I’m influenced to think negative things about people for no justifiable reason. But I work hard to realise and address when I do that, because no one deserves to be disadvantaged on the basis of something they cannot change. And I can change my behaviour to make my interactions and influences better.

Perhaps that’s an optimistic view but I’ll stick with it. In addition, there have been other angles that say racism has decreased recently.

It might be more enlightening to talk to the people who are affected – the best way to learn about how actions affect people, unintentional as those actions may be, is to listen to the people on the receiving end. Feminism is increasingly, and rightly, criticised for its white-central approaches, and while all too easy to take accusations personally, every privileged group has to remember it’s not about them, as individuals.

Of course, when discussing any kind of discrimination, there are similar and related issues to consider. Much like the list of ‘progress’ I scribbled down above, this is found in one of my favourite articles of late, “Not all men: a brief history of every dude’s favourite argument“:

  1. Sexism is a fake idea invented by feminists
  2. Sexism happens, but the effect of “reverse sexism” on men is as bad or worse
  3. Sexism happens, but the important part is that I personally am not sexist
  4. Sexism happens, and I benefit from that whether or not I personally am sexist
  5. Sexism happens, I benefit from it, I am unavoidably sexist sometimes because I was socialized that way, and if I want to be anti-sexist I have to be actively working against that socialization

So, let’s not pretend we’re all perfect and immune to the very air we breathe – let’s just concentrate on what we do about it.

Related

Death to “Banter”

Just a quick rant about one of my least favourite words today.

In the last few years, “banter” has become an increasingly common excuse people trot out when they’re talking offensive crap and want to be let off the hook “because it’s just bants”.

Another meme that really needs to die on its arse ASAP

The claim tends to be that it describes “joking around with friends”, teasing people and such like, and indeed if it were restricted to groups of like-(small)minded people maybe it’d be fine. But in my experience it seems to mean something else entirely. Namely, while addressing people you do not know, “I want to be a dick here, leave me to it”. Why would someone request that, though?

Traditionally, when people say horrible things, we can remain silent, laugh along, or challenge them. More recently, these challenges tend to be met with calm down, love, it’s banter. This is just the latest iteration of a long-standing silencing tactic; your feelings on this matter are unimportant, my right to speak without consequence takes precedent, you are overreacting and should be quiet.

People like to say “no subject is off-limits in comedy” and the get a sense of humour line is itself quite funny. If you seriously think that parroting some of the oldest, most pervasive forms of discrimination found in our cultures (whether it’s sexism, racism, homophobia or whatever) is in any way edgy or indeed at all funny, it is you who is lacking a sense of humour. These “jokes” are not innovative or clever, they are as old-hat as they come.

“Banter” is simply a get-out-clause people use to protect their “right” to offend, remain ignorant, dismiss others and uphold the status quo that benefits them. Lol none of these things affect me, so I can joke about these issues that I’ve never thought for 5 seconds about and make fun of you chumps who have to deal with it! Get back in the kitchen and make me a sammich #bants

It’s truly pathetic that people think they can hide their sense of entitlement and desperation to fit in under one such revealing word.

So, next time you hear someone say it and they’re not just taking the piss out of this idea (if my favourite facebook group hadn’t been closed I could show you a truly comedic example of the supposedly humourless feminists, punning away on banter like masters; murder on the bantz floor, the unbearable bantness of being, Das Bant… you had to be there) do tell them to shut their stupid mouths and grow up.

I’m glad when I was at university the word hadn’t really taken hold yet – I wouldn’t go back to that culture if you paid me anyway (despite rather enjoying the course) but it would’ve been even worse if all the binge-drinking, cock-waving, bank-of-mum-and-dad-money-burning children had been throwing that wannabe excuse for their behaviour around as well.

For example

Another thing I’m glad I’m not involved in at all: football. I tried, I did. So many people talk about it so much of the time, it’s impossible to live life without having some unwanted info thrust into your awareness. But lots of us just do not care. One of the reasons I was never able to enjoy it is that it’s institutionally sexist.

A prominent example of this is the current coverage of the Premier League chief exec Richard Scudamore’s emails, and Musa says it best:

When accused of sexism, there is often an effort among men in football to infantilise themselves: what you might call the “boys will be boys” defence.  “We’re just kidding”, so the argument goes, “chill out”.  However, it’s strange to see these men rely on a defence of youthful irresponsibility, and in the same breath expect to be trusted with billion-pound budgets.

Indeed, LADS, why be satisfied with leading so basic and immature an existence? If the essence of that defence doesn’t offend you somewhat, well, it’s a bit of a chicken/egg concept – how much of that attitude comes from our surroundings? Can we counter it?

A mole in a group called Football weekly extraaaaaaa sent me a screenshot of a discussion – here are my picks of the TOP BANTZ. Burn it with fire.

scudamorebantstwats

Please do add your own examples of the Banter Fallacy and how irritating you find it below.

Edit: related

  • Tom Chivers hates banter, too.
  • Women have had enough – the misogynistic murders and defending sexism
  • Steve Coogan, 2011 – on the Top Gear ‘lads’ and their misdirected attempts at humour
  • On the Ethics of Teasing and Mocking People, in Groups, in Friendships, and in Debates and Satire – Camels with Hammers
  • Independent: Grace Dent on TV: Dapper Laughs is unpleasant sexism dressed up as ‘banter’
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