Posts tagged ‘Feminism’

What Men Must Do To End Violence Against Women

By , 7 March, 2016, No Comment

Last night, I attended a Reclaim the Night march here in Cambridge, against the sexual violence and wider gender discrimination that is sadly common on our campus and elsewhere. I gave a short speech about the key role of men in this movement, and this is what I said:

“When thinking about what I wanted to say here tonight, I reflected on the years I have spent in the feminist movement, attending marches and rallies and protests and signing petitions and calling legislators and so on. I reflected on the feeling of support and pride and strength that I often draw from this work, and also how quickly I find that feeling dissipates when an event like this does not lead to some concrete, material change in the problem we’re trying to highlight and solve.

And so I found myself thinking about what we can do when we leave here to stop gendered violence in our community.

Let’s start with what we know about gendered violence in general and how it happens at universities in particular. The National Union of Students reported last year that 1 in 4 women students will experience some form of sexual assault during their studies. We know that’s not because 1 in 4 men are committing violence, but because the small number of men who do it tend to be repeat offenders. We know that they will continue, and commit increasingly violent acts, so long as they get away with it the first time. We know that the perpetrators are likely to know their victims socially – 90% of victims of assault say they knew the perpetrator. We are talking about boyfriends and colleagues and supervisors and professors, and not, for the most part, strangers in dark alleys.

We know too that sexual violence is not about sex. It is about power.

And one thing we know about power is that people acquire it not just to have it, but to show it off. Using sexual violence to acquire and enforce power over women – who is the audience for that? It is partly women, to make us feel victimized, weak, afraid to assert independence in other areas of our lives. And we know, horribly, that it often works to do that.

But violence against women is also something men do to show off to other men, a way of demonstrating how ‘manly’ they are, based on a particular, patriarchal definition of masculinity that hurts men too. And because violence against women is part of this status competition men are having with each other, there is, ultimately, no solution to this problem that does not involve men.

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Divided We Can Change the World

By , 23 November, 2015, No Comment

Recently, while in India, I met an economist named Deepti Sethi who told me about some research she’s doing into organizations advocating social change, like non-profits and activist campaigns. She and her team have divided them into three categories:

1. Organizations that aim at material change – new laws, money moved from point A to point B.

2. Organizations that aim at ideological change – persuading others that their ideas are wrong,  changing hearts and minds.

3. Organizations that aim at personal expression – large protests bearing witness to injustice or support groups validating the experiences of oppressed groups.

All social movements need all of these modes of activism. But, Sethi argued, the organizations that make up these movements (usually) only succeed if they pick one to focus on.

I’ve been thinking about this a lot in recent weeks, as squabbles over feminism and anti-racism have erupted on my social feeds.

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Some Things I’ve Written, or I’m Still Alive

By , 29 September, 2015, No Comment

Though I’ve been very quiet on here since starting my PhD, I have actually been commenting quite a bit elsewhere on these here interwebs. For those who aren’t on Twitter (where I do extensive self-promotion in between posting pictures of my food), here are some things I’ve blogged.

I’ve been writing a regular monthly column for the website SciDev.net (who cover the intersection of science, technology and development) on the role of the private sector in development. I’ve covered:

Fairtrade and other attempts at ethical consumption will probably not work, even if they make us feel better about ourselves

Automation imperils employment in the developing world. Anthropologist James Ferguson’s has bold (but ultimately unworkable) vision for a society without jobs.

India’s new ‘Corporate Social Responsibility’ law mandating firms donate to social projects is really an inefficient tax on corporate revenue, and a step backwards.

The best way to empower women in business might not be the C-suite, but the supply chain: hire women-owned businesses to source your parts or supply consulting services.

India exploits a loophole in international trade law to sell cheap drugs to sub-Saharan Africa. If they change their policies under US pressure, poor Africans will suffer.

In a world of finite resources, one-shop oil, gas and mining towns are planning for the day when the goods run out. Companies should help.

I’ve also blogged a little bit for the blog of my department’s policy journal, which I briefly edited last year. Recent pieces include:

How the Iranian government charmed the Western press, and thereby saved the peace process.

Foreign correspondents lie, or how news organizations conceal the work of local fixers they employ in conflict zones.

What is capital, and how did capitalism survive the financial crisis? An interview with economist Geoffrey Hodgson.

I’ll try to remember to cross-post all future blogging here going forward, and maybe even find time to write some original pieces for this site again soon*.

Finally, I’ve been interviewed about my research over on BBC Radio 3. It’s a special episode on Indian history, so I’m talking about the East India Company, who are one of several key historical predecessors for the kind of contemporary corporate politics I’m researching for my PhD.

 

*Don’t hold your breath.

How Unilever Got Caught Discriminating Against Women (And My Part in Getting Them To Change)

By , 10 February, 2013, No Comment

It’s been a very good week for journalism and feminism.

It actually started a few weeks ago, when my friend Kate wrote a piece about a contest she’d entered to win a commercial space flight. The contest was sponsored by Axe (or Lynx as it’s known in the UK), the men’s deodorant brand, and Kate was disturbed by the sexism of the contest’s marketing. Ads feature damsels-in-distress saved by handsome men (lifeguards, firemen) who subsequently ditch these men for other, less Hollywood-looking men in astronaut suits. The tagline: “Leave a man. Return a hero.” The campaign gives the impression only men can be astronauts, and that only men can enter the contest, and Kate was right to kick up a fuss about it.

On Sunday, one of these ads aired during the Super Bowl, and I noted the sexism of it to the friends I was watching with. To my amusement, not one person had picked up that there was a contest being advertised at all. And when I told them, everyone was convinced that it had to be for men only even though I told them I knew of at least one woman, Kate, who had already entered. So I wrote my own post about the campaign, noting that in addition to being sexist, it appeared to be thoroughly counter-productive.

That’s when things started to get interesting. Late on Monday, both Kate and I got word via our blog comments that in other countries, the contest was open to men only. Countries such as Russia, Mexico, the Ukraine, Indonesia, Kuwait, the UAE and Saudi Arabia. That was despite the fact that Axe spokespeople had told both of us that the contest was open to women when we’d asked.

I was angry that Axe had lied to us, and that they had confined the contest to men in the markets where they thought they could get away with it. But equally, I wondered if they had misjudged which markets those might be. At least *some* of those countries had to have anti-discrimination laws.

So I did some digging. A Russian lawyer pointed me to clauses in the Russian Constitution and Criminal Code that barred “abasement of dignity” on the basis of gender “in mass media.” A Mexican lawyer sent me to the country’s advertising regulator, whose code of ethics bars sexism in marketing materials. And a quick scan of the Unilever website (Unilever is the Anglo-Dutch conglomerate which owns Axe) found that the firm’s own code of ethics bans gender discrimination. I wrote up the relevant laws and codes in a second post and asked Axe to clarify how it was going to square the contest rules against them. That was Thursday.

Meanwhile, the sexism of the advertising was beginning to get press coverage elsewhere, at Discovery magazine and the BBC and the #astrogrrls hashtag on Twitter was busy.

Late on Thursday night, Axe came back to me with the following statement:

Unilever has communicated to all markets in all regions, that the contest is open to both men and women. Upon review, certain markets are currently revising their terms & conditions to reflect this directive.

Wow.

I write a lot about sexism and a lot about companies behaving badly, but as much as I advocate for the significance of journalism, it’s really quite rare when it leads so quickly to this kind of change.

What made it work was the fact that we – myself, Kate, Remco Timmermans, Carmen Victoria, reporters in Russia and around the world, and space geeks on Twitter – were able to coordinate with each other and eager to share information instead of jealously guarding our own scoops. One of the big surprises for me about Unilever’s mishandling of this was their assumption that it would be possible to have different contest terms in different countries, and to tell reporters and activists in different countries different things about the contest, without any of us comparing notes. Discrimination and false PR statements are always wrong, but in a digital age, they are also stupid. You will get caught.

I rail a lot against the state of contemporary feminism and in particular at the disappointing vitriol-to-substance ratio of online feminist discourse. If you’re following me on Twitter, or have the (mis)fortune to know me offline, you probably hear enough about this in one day to last you a lifetime. This week was a much-needed reminder of all the good the web can do for feminist organizing, when we’re using it to make each other stronger and not to tear each other down.

Some Recent Things Wot I Wrote

By , 26 June, 2012, No Comment

I try to keep this blog up to date with what links to things I write elsewhere, but (as those who follow me on Twitter will know), this site’s been experiencing some downtime of late, and for much of the last week, I wasn’t even able to log in to it to post a status update. So, just in case you’ve missed these pieces, here’s what I’ve been up to during the hiatus:

1. Commenting on a slightly paradoxical hunger crisis in India: more agricultural output, but less food in the hands of the poor. Cause: Corrupt and inefficient government food subsidy program.

2. Examining the economic impact of Title IX, which is 40 years old this week. Short version: it made American women richer and more successful and helped narrow the gender achievement gap.

3. Taking the Atlantic to task for a cover story about “Why Women Still Can’t Have It All.” My take: neither can men (a fact the author overlooks) and who ever said ‘having it all’ was the goal? The piece is touching a nerve with a lot of readers, and I’m getting a lot of fascinating, often critical, feedback which I may revisit in a follow-up post.

I didn’t mention this in my Forbes piece, but the Atlantic does seem to have a penchant for personal essays in which individual writers frame regrets or frustrations about their experiences in critiques of feminism from within feminism. This piece reminded me quite a bit of last year’s ‘All the Single Ladies‘ and the previous year’s “Let’s Call the Whole Thing Off” in that respect, even though those pieces were about romantic, rather than professional, struggles. There’s an awful lot that’s wrong with being a woman today, but feminism isn’t the root of it. It’s almost always our best shot at making things better. I’m so very tired of the Atlantic suggesting otherwise.

Baseball and the Marriage Premium

By , 19 October, 2011, No Comment

At Foreign Exchange:

In honor of the World Series, which starts tonight*, I dug out a research paper I’ve been sitting on for a while.

The paper, ‘Productivity, Wages, and Marriage: The Case of Major League Baseball‘ looks at the wages of baseball players and identifies a 16% gap between the wages of married players and unmarried players.

Economists have been documenting the marriage premium – the income boost (anywhere from 10 to 40 percent) married men have over their unmarried counterparts – for decades. But researchers have historically gotten stuck when it comes to providing explanations for the phenomenon: Do married men perform better because their wives are doing more of the housework? Do married men perform better because women tend to marry high performers anyway? Do married men perform about the same, but employers discriminate in their favor because they come across as reliable?  Without data about productivity, it’s hard to say.

That’s what makes the baseball study distinctive: baseball is a geek’s sport, filled with statistics, and – in a post-Moneyball world – increasingly managed by the numbers. That allowed the paper’s authors, Francesca Cornaglia and Naomi E. Feldman, to control for productivity (using both Batting Average and On-Base Plus Slugging) and sorted players into groups by age (early and late career) and ability (low, medium, or high performers). They were not only able to show that there is a marriage premium, but able to test the prevailing theories about why it exists.

Go read.

Why I am not a SlutWalker

By , 29 September, 2011, 2 Comments

On Saturday, I am going to SlutWalk. I have decided to attend the rally, where some of the walkers will give speeches explaining why they’re there, but not the march.

As someone worried that the feminist movement is losing steam, I am thrilled to see that feminist causes can still get people, especially young people, on the streets. And while I welcome the intention to combat a culture that feeds violence against women – that is a noble feminist cause if ever there was one – I am deeply uncomfortable with the way SlutWalk has framed that cause. Attending the rally allows me to be a friendly observer, to listen and try to understand, whereas marching felt like something I should do only if I felt, truly, that SlutWalk’s message was mine.

SlutWalk began as a response to the callous comments of a Toronto cop who told women that they could avoid sexual violence by covering up. He was voicing the idea, still common in some quarters, that a woman who dresses scantily or has sex often or with many partners has ceded her sexuality to the public sphere – it is now out there for anyone to use. She’s asked for it. Implied is the notion that most women don’t like sex, and therefore that affirmative consent – of a woman asking for sex explicitly when she wants it and not being forced to participate in it when she doesn’t – is impossible.

Affirmative consent was framed quite neatly in the 1970s with the slogan, “Whatever I wear and wherever I go, ‘yes’ means ‘yes’ and ‘no’ means ‘no,’ ” Because it requires people to understand female sexuality, affirmative consent has gotten a big boost from shows like Sex and the City, which, despite its flaws, helped mainstream the idea that women like sex too, and not just the vanilla kind you see written up in Cosmo‘s advice pages. In gender studies departments, this is often referred to as ‘sex-positivity.’ And it’s great.

What distinguishes SlutWalk is a decision to affirm female sexuality by appropriating the word so often used to degrade it: slut.

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It Takes Courage: Christine Lagarde at the IMF

By , 24 August, 2011, No Comment

I’ve written the cover story of the next issue (dated September 12) of Forbes, a profile of Christine Lagarde, the new head of the IMF. This is Forbes’ annual Power Women issue, containing the magazine’s ranking of the world’s 100 most powerful women. Lagarde comes in at #9.

Here’s a snippet of my piece:

Not a moment too soon, given a world in financial turmoil and an IMF shaken to its core by the scandal of her predecessor, Dominique Strauss-Kahn, who resigned over allegations of sexual assault in May. A moderate Socialist, DSK pushed for lenient fiscal policies and stringent financial regulations and opposed austerity programs in beleaguered euro zone economies like Ireland, Portugal and Greece. Lagarde, an unabashed free marketer, takes a much flintier approach to the crisis. It’s time, she says, to return the IMF to its roots, “that fiscal consolidation line, which I think is right.”

She knows this is a tough sell. “You first have a period [after making cuts] where growth takes a hit and goes negative”—and with that come unavoidable human costs in lost jobs and social services. Political feuding over controversial cuts will only make the pain worse. How should ordinary people cope? She pauses. “It takes courage.”

Read the whole story (and watch some video from my interview with Lagarde) here.

Hillary Clinton Seeking World Bank Presidency

By , 9 June, 2011, No Comment

Have a quick post up at Foreign Exchange on a Reuters story from this evening, suggesting Hillary Clinton is looking to leave the State Department for the World Bank.

All of a sudden, we might be on the verge of having four women in the four most powerful development policy roles.

I celebrate this. But I am not satisfied. Because despite the increased visibility of women in development policy, the central role of gender equality in economic development is under-appreciated or misunderstood.

More on why women in power doesn’t necessarily mean empowerment for all women here.

Who are the Mama Grizzlies?

By , 27 October, 2010, No Comment

Over at ForbesWoman, I’ve got a piece on the ‘Mama Grizzlies,’ meaning the Sarah Palin-endorsed GOP women running for office this fall. The piece asks: are they feminists? and if not, how should we think of them?

Yet while these candidates may have a catchy new name, the Mama Grizzly moniker and campaign is, at the surface, built around the most traditional of female roles: mother.

I go into some of the history of this phenomenon, of the patriotic mother being invoked in politics for a confusing mix of progressive and regressive goals. And I try to suss out where the Grizzlies fall. Conclusion:

the Grizzlies are more appropriately thought of as “feminine conservatives” than “conservative feminists.”

Readers of this blog know that the problem of anti-feminist, post-feminist or false feminist women is a major bugaboo of mine, so while I don’t write on politics frequently, this piece was interesting to report, even if some of what I learned was frustrating.

Go read it. And remember to vote.