Friday, 27 February 2009

Language - chairman, chairwoman, chair

For me, this is one of the classic cases that exemplifies patriarchal etymology. Or to put it in less pretentious language, how the words we use subtly reinforce that men are in charge.

As a child, I was brought up with a very 'traditional' use of words. Women were ladies, something to aspire to, implying a rather nice class of woman, respected by men (who held doors open for ladies), and ladies probably only ever slept with one man in their whole life.

They were correctly addressed on envelopes as Mrs Husband's Initials followed by Husband's Surname. Not only did they lose their surname on marriage, they lost their first name too.

On the rare occasion any of these lovely ladies got involved in meetings and - heaven forbid - got to chair them, they were invariably Madam Chairman. A chair was an inanimate object. People who referred to Chairmen who chaired meetings as Chairs were clearly revolutionary dissidents.

I learnt and absorbed all this etiquette and correct use of language rigorously. Aspiring to be (almost) as good as a man and being called Madam Chairman sounded wonderful. How much more could a young girl want than to be considered remotely equal to a man?

Fast forward some years and I'm sitting in a newspaper office with some women, who could broadly be described as feminist. One of the local councils that I regularly covered was chaired by a woman. It suddenly occurred to me that I should not be referring to her as a man. But what to call her? Chairwoman? Chairperson? I didn't want to get it wrong.

I wanted to tread a fine line between pointing out that she was not a man and not sounding like a radical left-winger. I can't even remember what solution I chose. I just remember I stopped calling women chairmen. There were no hate letters or rants from the editor so it was obviously acceptable.

Moving on a few more years, and I'm in charge of the chief executive's office (sadly not as chief executive) and I had responsibility for managing the board. So Question Number One. How to not offend your chair, when she is a blue-rinsed Tory pensioner who adores being called Madam Chairman? I don't know how I managed it, but I seemed to get stuff passed that referred to her as chair. I usually tried to avoid it by saying she chaired the meetings, but sometimes I had to refer to her as Chair. She probably moaned to the Chief Exec and he would have dodged around it and smoothed it over in my favour.

The point about all this is that women can and do chair meetings. In some cases well. They are not there to be regarded as some aspiring man. They are there in their own right. And they deserved to be acknowledged as such and not as a token man.

Here is a definition from my computer dictionary:
2 the person in charge of a meeting or organization (used as a neutral alternative to chairman or chairwoman) : the deputy chair of the Supreme Soviet. • an official position of authority, for example on a board of directors : the editorial chair.

Language changes and evolves. Chair is a perfectly acceptable term to describe the person in charge of a meeting. It no longer refers solely to an object you sit on. So it really gripes me when recidivist whingey men drone on about how anyone who chairs a meeting is a chairman, that chairs are what you sit on and only what you sit on, and who are all these PC idiots anyway?

Do the same men (and sometimes women too qv my former chair above) call Anita Roddick a successful businessman? If you don't call a businesswoman a businessman, why would you call a chairwoman a chairman?

Chairwoman and chairperson sound clumsy to me and I prefer gender neutral language wherever possible.

But anything is better than calling a woman a chairman. People who call for gender neutral language aren't doing it for the sake of it because it is 'PC'.

We are doing it because
a) the default value that assumes everything is male is offensive, oppressive, and reinforces patriarchal stereotypes
b) changing language and its use is, at least, a start to changing ideas, culture, and society.

Thursday, 26 February 2009

Growing old

A whinge. This is hard. There are no two ways to say it. I know it's 'better' to grow old than die young, but getting old just is not easy. You know you are growing old when your body starts changing, and your physical health isn't what it was. I haven't even got to fifty yet. It's not so much wearing glasses/contact lenses (I always have done), or even going grey - I've still only got a handful of grey/white hairs so can easily pluck them out. It's things like your fillings falling out - the ones you should probably never had had in the first place had it not been for the unethical drill and fill policy at the time. Your teeth are still hanging on in there, just complete with a load of gaps and pointy edges. After twenty or more years of the same body shape, something starts to change. It doesn't even look out of proportion. It is just, well, bigger. And actually, I don't want to be bigger. I have spent forty years being slim, and after being insultingly called skinny and flat-chested I have finally got used to it, only for it to change. All my darling designer clothes no longer fit. Colds seem to take longer than ever to go away, not just flu, just boring old colds. Serious injuries - like those incurred by the Cat Chasing Monster - literally take a year or more. You start to worry about health care. (Especially when you have worked in the NHS). You certainly worry about money. Especially when the fucking British government retrospectively changes the age of pensions for women. May you all rot in hell for screwing me and everyone else on my pension planning you total and utter gits. People start dying on you. One university friend died in his late 30s, a former neighbour and good friend died suddenly last year in his 60s. Your parents decide to leave you alone in the world and suddenly wipe out half of your past. And what is really bad about getting older? You are aren't even any wiser. You make the same mistakes. Sadder and older and wiser is just not true. Sadder and older maybe, but no wiser. In fact I think I was more sensible when I was young and just told people to fuck off when they got up my nose. You wonder if you will ever do those things you planned to do. And you wonder if you even want to do them any more. When your motivation goes, you know you are getting old. There are times when I feel like the oldest 25-year-old on the planet. Because I still think I am 25. And that's the problem.

Tuesday, 24 February 2009

Princess Anne visits Gib - Spain sulks

Gibraltar is a British Overseas Territory. A former Crown Colony. Ceded to Britain in 1713 under the Treaty of Utrecht. The Catholic King does hereby, for himself, his heirs and successors, yield to the Crown of Great Britain the full and entire propriety of the town and castle of Gibraltar, together with the port, fortifications, and forts thereunto belonging; and he gives up the said propriety to be held and enjoyed absolutely with all manner of right for ever, without any exception or impediment whatsoever. That seems clear enough. But apparently not. Spain made a few attempts to reconquer Gibraltar and failed. Franco kicked up a fuss in the 60s - leading to the closure of the land border with Spain - and Spanish governments have since continued the Spanish claim to sovereignty over Gibraltar. Spain claims lots of infringements of the treaty, which seems to mean that Gibraltar should therefore just become some pimple on the end of Andalucia. And what do the people of Gibraltar think? Well, surprisingly they are happy to continue with their links with the UK. The referendums provide the proof of this. Even though the MOD has reduced its presence to virtually absolutamente nada compared with the past, there are still a few decent perks with being linked with the UK. Cancer problems? Off to The Royal Marsden. Eye problems? Off to Moorfields. No charter plane around? No problem - off on a Hercules jet. Education? UK universities of course. I may be a historian but I do not support colonialism and will be the first to say the UK has been abusive, vicious and totally oppressive in its colonialism around the world. But these days, these discussions are not about colonialism. They are about self-determination. And the people of Gibraltar are Gibraltarian and have chosen to retain political and historical links to the UK. So why is Spain whingeing and whining about the Princess Royal (ie Princess Anne) visiting Gibraltar next month? It seems Spain considers this is an inopportune and provocative visit. Really? So the Princess Royal is visiting Gib to inaugurate a medical centre named after her. Shit. That is amazingly controversial. Given how near Gib is to the UK how many royal visits have there been over the years? Not that many. The Queen visited in 1954. And hasn't been back unless I've failed miserably on the internet search (always possible). I'm not a royalist either. But I do object to Spain bleating on about Gibraltar running its own business and who turns up and who doesn't. Quite frankly, Spain, it is none of your business. Maybe you should consider a few domestic issues. Maybe you should consider your shit town planning that involves endless urbanisations. Maybe you should consider unemployment that has left my neighbour in Spain out of work for three years, and half the village without work right now. Rather than sticking your nose into Gib. And maybe, when you consider ceding Ceuta and Melilla - your claim to Gib would sound slightly less hypocritical. You were fast enough to defend Perejil when the Moroccans took it. Forget Gib. It isn't yours to claim. And here is an excellent perspective seen on A Gibo's Tale blog. Whereas I am a Brit living in Gib, he is the reverse, a Gibraltarian living in the UK.

Saturday, 21 February 2009

Joan Baez

My father introduced me to Joan Baez. My father, the radical trade union representative in his youth, who didn't like the politics of Joan Baez when he was older. He hated her singing 'We shall overcome' but couldn't resist the beauty of her voice.

So, when he was standing on his market stall, next to someone who sold records, he bought two Joan Baez LPs. I still have them. I can't resist listening. 'Once I had a sweetheart' is one of the saddest songs I have ever heard.

I can't listen to the LPs without crying. Not for sweethearts as such, but for the loss of people you have loved, and have gone from your life - my father obviously, and others too. And the purity of her voice is just so perfect. But even now when I listen to it, all I can think is, 'I wish things had gone differently.'

And on a more upbeat note. 'Te ador'.

Miss you dad.

All from Joan Baez in Concert, Part 2

Thursday, 19 February 2009

Valentine's Day = Violence Day

Here are three amazingly unfunny jokes which I noticed when reading a misogynist forum that I visit (for practical info) occasionally. It never fails to let me down. There is always, but absolutely always, some crass 'joke' about women that has all the men laughing in the aisles. Reading things like this - under the heading of Valentine's Gifts - just leave me wondering why radical feminism is not the norm. 1 I got my wife a new bag and new belt... Can't understand why she's moaning, at least the hoover works now! 2 Got mine leather goods.........A boot in the ar5e and a belt in the mooth!! 3 Bought mine a lovely high backed chair..... miserable cow wont plug it in though. Woman as 1) Unpaid domestic slave 2) Someone to assault and physically abuse 3) Someone to kill None of them are funny. Women are not here to clean up after lazy idle men. They are not free cleaners. But that's the least of the offensive jokes. The other two are truly repugnant. Making jokes about violence against women, to the extent of killing them is not remotely witty, amusing, or clever. Just sick, sad, and indicative of some very screwed-up thinking that goes on inside what purports to be brains inside some mens' heads.

Wednesday, 11 February 2009

Radical feminism?

Once upon a time, there was a radical feminist forum. It was interesting and lively, with lots of thoughtful and stimulating discussion. So I joined.

As with all forums, there were also arguments. And cliques. And moderation. Some of which seemed fair, some of which didn't. Nothing unusual there.

But there was obviously something deeper running. A private disagreement - almost a war - between some of the members and the moderators. And then the board owner closed it down.

So on-line radical feminists needed a new home. Or rather new homes, because a number of new forums started up. One of them was an interim forum, where those of us who were keen to start up a new one discussed what we wanted to see. It was good to take part in the discussions and develop a shared vision.

After a while, it became fairly clear that people wanted to see a democratic community that was in keeping with the principles of radical feminism. No autocratic dictators, or oligarchy. A genuine voice for all the members - elected moderators, an ombudsperson to mediate between members and mods. A hands-off approach. Self-moderation wherever possible in an adult fashion. Voting on new members, and voting on any potential bans. A committee of volunteers to develop policy.

Here are the words at the beginning of one of the new forums, from a keen feminist who was willing to start up some new space (on a domain paid for by her male partner). Rationale: The goal of this website is to offer blamers and other radical feminists a space to discuss, vent, rage, and otherwise consciousness-raise that is relatively safe and absolutely free from the misogyny we face every minute in the "real world." ... I am attempting to manifest my vision of radical feminist leadership.... * decentralized, shared responsibility for leadership and direction * as little hierarchy as possible, leading to flexibility, diversity, multiplicity, and compassion, not just tolerance or acceptance * hands-off moderation on boards hand-in-hand with strong defense of boards against users with ill intent * respect for the independence and intelligence of women * belief in women's good faith and ability to choose for themselves * respect and compassion for the anger, rage, and passion a lifetime in the patriarchy instills in women, feminist or not * radical listening and deep empathy for others, especially women and others oppressed by the patriarchy * a space in which women and radical feminists feel invested, empowered, safe, and free to examine their lives through the lens of feminism without insult

Policy was developed. Rules - a minimum - were established. Volunteers for mods signed up, as did volunteers for ombudspeople. The volunteers for mods became part of a steering committee with a couple of policy volunteers. They had meetings behind Closed Doors in a Sekrit Room. Where they discussed things like the appearance of another radical feminist forum that appeared to be invitation only. Most of these people had not received an invitation to the other one so were rather unhappy. They talked about members behind their backs. And they discussed the direction of the forum without the participation of the community. After voting took place for moderators - these unelected members retained their place on the Sekrit Committee in the Sekrit Room. And despite a pretty clear instruction on the Volunteers for Ombudsperson thread: ....Volunteers for this position should not already be in the moderator pool... one of the volunteers in the mod pool was also allowed to stand for election as ombudsperson. I'm sure it is coincidence that she happened to be one of the admin's biggest sycophants.

Was something rotten in the state of Denmark at this point? I didn't say anything but waited for the outcome of the ombudsperson elections and jointly won the poll. I agreed to go first. I waited to be allowed into the Sekrit Room complete with the non-elected members. It didn't happen. It seemed to me that if I was to be expected to later mediate in the case of any problems, it would be helpful to at least know the history rather than making an arse of myself going in ill-informed.

One of the mods made a decision that was initially supported by the site administrator, but the admin later retracted her support when the unelected members criticised the mod's actions. Not only that, the mod got a public rebuke and a few members weighed in with their comments too. Unsurprisingly the mod initially quit, although later agreed to serve out her term.

The admin decided that she didn't want to keep sending out the boring weekly newsletter on her own and it should become part of mod duties too. So she dumped that on them. One of them objected. Not allowed to object. It is not up for discussion. It is now one of the moderators' duties.

I made the mistake (by PM to the omnipotent admin) of suggesting the OBP could have been involved when someone asked for their account to be deleted. I also asked why unelected members were having a say behind closed doors in the Sekrit Room - whereas, as an elected representative, I was excluded.

These comments did not go down well. It was pointed out that when I was elected I should have foreseen the way things could go and made suggestions about the role of the OBP. Actually no, I didn't think it was my role to get elected and then determine what I thought I should do. The whole principle of having a democratic community was for the members to say what they wanted - not to elect someone for her to suddenly decide to create an all-powerful role.

I did get admittance to the Sekrit Room. But not for long. Less than two weeks after sending my pm to the admin questioning the remit of my role - I was sacked, along with the two moderators. We didn't even get the courtesy of a pm - it was just announced in public.

So let's go back to those first few principles (the bolding is mine) - * decentralized, shared responsibility for leadership and direction * as little hierarchy as possible, leading to flexibility, diversity, multiplicity, and compassion, not just tolerance or acceptance * respect for the independence and intelligence of women * belief in women's good faith and ability to choose for themselves

Wait. I have missed something. Where does it say outright sacking of elected representatives because they question the way things are going? It doesn't. But that doesn't matter. Because this board belongs to one person. And it is run by her, and only her. Way to go sweetheart. Way to go reinforcing the patriarchy lock, stock, and barrel. Given that this woman is not much older than half my age, and so are many of the members who support her autocratic style, it doesn't give me a lot of hope for the younger generation of radical feminists who want to spout idealistic tosh while remaining safely enclosed in a patriarchal hierarchical microcosm of society.

Radical feminism isn't about getting a few equal opportunity measures passed. Or playing at something that is fun and exciting while you are at university. Radical feminism is about dismantling current societal structures and changing them. Radically. Otherwise it wouldn't be called radical.

Fortunately, I do know other younger women, who do not just lie down and take this garbage and do what they are told. While I might have stopped posting on the supposedly radical feminist forum, others haven't. Doesn't do them any good though. One woman was moderated for daring to disagree with the majority viewpoint. She wasn't happy with this and asked if she could appeal against the moderation. NB don't forget there aren't actually any moderators since the sackings four months ago, so the admin is jury, judge and executioner.

Here was the response she got.... It's not up for debate. The complaints of the other member are well justified and more than evident in the ..... thread. If it comes to it, the third strike is when you'll be able to lay out your case and challenge the claims against you. Until we reach that point, if we do, just consider this yet another warning to watch your tone and your attitude while posting. Thanks.

So this is what it has come to. In just over six months, a vision of a shared online radical feminist community is run by an autocratic dictator where any dissent is quashed. Actually it didn't take six months, it only took three - when we were all sacked unceremoniously.

And what is the worst thing? Nobody notices, or if they do, they don't care. Let's overthrow the patriarchy and re-install the same system. Why does this make me think of Animal Farm?

ETA: For a much shorter and pithier perspective on the same issue - check out WhyI'mBitter's Weblog

Wednesday, 4 February 2009

Where are the women....... (2)

Thanks to one of my American internet friends who alerted me to Obama's reversal of the so-called Mexico City Policy - or the Global Gag Rule. This, for anyone who didn't know (like me), was a particularly insidious piece of legislation first introduced in 1984 by Ronald Reagan, repealed by Bill Clinton in 1993, and re-instated by George Bush in 2001. So what is this hot potato? Abortion of course. The one where men get to say what women can do with their bodies. The policy banned non-governmental organisations (NGOs) from performing abortions or providing abortion counselling if they wanted to receive American state funds. So - good that Obama has reversed this misogynistic policy? Yes. And in Obama's words; " is right for us to rescind this policy and restore critical efforts to protect and empower women and promote global economic development." Just a minute. Promote economic development?? In the words of my internet friend: "Instead of 'It is right for us to rescind this policy because women are human beings who are entitled to personal sovereignty.' "And, it can't just be for women, nooo. It has to have global economic benefits too I suppose. "Not impressed." Thanks Ph, for alerting me to it and for your comments. I'm not impressed either. I'm losing track of the number of women in Obama's cabinet - and other high level positions. Every time I look it seems to be a different number, someone has dropped out or hasn't been confirmed. There still aren't enough though. But on my travels I found this: "Hilda Solis Labor secretary This 51-year-old former California congresswoman, who is Hispanic, is comfortable with car issues -- her husband owns an auto repair center. " - Courtesy of The Detroit News - Now, in case anyone wonders why I do not like this comment - it is patronising, patriarchal, and quite frankly, vomit-inducing. I am not interested in what Ms Solis' husband does. It is of no relevance whatsoever to her political skills, ability and intelligence. Even though I am not American, I do understand there is a connection between Detroit and cars. And as a journalist I also understand the need to add some local relevance. But that is just tosh. However it seems Ms Solis has managed to achieve something in her own right: "In the California Assembly, she fought to raise the state's minimum wage in 1996 and focused attention on sweatshops." Great. So why not put that first? Who. Gives. A. Fuck. about what her husband does? Deb Price - either your reporting sucks, or your sub-editors suck. Someone does. And as a minor point, either give the ages for everyone - or not at all. How inconsistent. Anyway, I am just looking forward to reading about how all the really important men in the world are capable of doing their job because of their wife's career. Ha!