Tag Archives: Feminism

Using twitter to research sexism

Just stumbled across an interesting use of twitter – I’m not sure exactly what time it started but sometime today (the first tweets originate from 8 Hrs ago, so it must have started circa 12.00 GMT) @EverydaySexism (website here) facilitated a TWITTER CHAT on Street Harassment on the #ShoutingBack encouraging users to tweet their experiences of harassment.
This post lists some of the responses and then discusses methods
A selection of tweets on #shoutingback
Most responses relayed experiences on the street and in bars. Some of the most shocking/ retweeted include – (NB – These are in no particular order, my twitter analysis skills aren’t up to that!)

Abi OAbi O@ashke50at 15, with friends on train, group of boys blocking our path and asking if they “made us wet”.

EverydaySexismRT TheAfricanHippy Walking home in the afternoon.Drunk guy says: If I knew where you lived, I’d follow you home and rape you

Emma AmatoEmma Amato ‏@emmatronic – A van that blocks you while cycling so the driver can tell you he wants to be your saddle

Rachel BichenerRachel Bichener ‏@rachelwaxinglyr – chased by a bin lorry full of jeering men for a mile while on my bike, aged 18. Never rode again until 32.

chillerchiller ‏@chiller – If I wrote down all the assaults & verbal harassment experienced since age 12 I’d be here for a month.

ylhlhrylhlhr ‏@stopgrinning – complaining about street harassment or harassment in general, being told by others you should feel ‘flattered’.

Dancing MisanthropeDancing Misanthrope ‏@DaMisanthrope – People shocked by India rape reports as if it’s a foreign problem, check your own backyard

Roxanna BennettRoxanna Bennett@roxannabennett – Male friends told me it was disgusting I was breast feeding and that’s not what tits are for

Natasha ViannaNatasha Vianna ‏@NatashaVianna – Clubs are the worst! How many times have I felt stiff penis on my back while dancing? Too many.

Ellie ThomasEllie Thomas ‏@EleanorMThomas – Friend and I trying to take down tent at festival without bending over, due to shouts of “legs” and “boobs”

Tarah STarah S ‏@tarahfied –  going out to a club. guys decide to dance&touch w/o asking, get offended when you push them away or say no.


I also quite liked this response…

Hollaback Girl ‏@hollabackgrrrl – Man in bar repeatedly groped me, used homophobic/sexist slurs. I yelled at him the first 3 times. The fourth I broke his nose.

So what are the strengths and limitations of this as a method for finding out about street harassment? 


  • Firstly on a practical note  it’s very easy to set up, free, and accessible
  • Secondly, it’s hopefully empowering for the women using it – I like to think of women reading thinking ‘I’m not the only one’ – quite a few tweets with ‘solidarity’
  • Thirdly, on the concept of validity – it’s giving users the freedom to define sexual harrassment, useful for facilitating debate around the issue.
  • Fourthly, it’s giving us an idea of the range of experiences of sexual harassment – could be a useful basis for operationalising a questionnaire with a more representative sampling frame.
Now to the limitations
  • Firstly and most obviously, the sample will be biased in the extreme – limited to twitter users, and to users who follow @Everydaysexism and happen to be on twitter at the opportune moment, so this research is useless as a quantitative study.
  • Secondly, we always have to question the validity of what’s being said and it is very difficult to validate the truth of what these women are saying. I am not saying these women are lying, just that it is practically impossible to verify what they are saying.  Having said this, I personally wouldn’t have thought there is that much motivation to lie on twitter about such experiences given that ‘coming out with them’ is probably accompanied by negative emotions.
Find out More 

If you want to find out more about the extent of street harassment – then check out the collective action for safe spaces blog (U.S based)

This Guardian Article suggests 40% of women have experienced sexual harassment – based on a yougov poll

Hollaback – a depressing but useful site in which women in Birmingham share their experiences of harassment, has the potential to expand into more areas!


Gender representation in the FTSE

Latest Figures show that there are now 163 women in executive positions in the FTSE 100 and 189 in the FTSE 250.  While this does represent an increase on 2010 figures (an additional 25 women being added to the FTSE 100 director posititions) representation remains poor – Only 15% of directorships in the FTSE 100 are female, and this figure drops to 4.6% of executive directorships of the FTSE 250.  


What’s of further interest is that you can pretty much forget any hope that the (very gradual) feminisation of business will herald in a new age of ethical business practices – There are some real ‘corporate clangers’ in the top 17 list of FTSE companies with female representation.

Top 17 FTSE companies with female representation on the board (2012)


Imperal Tobacco and BAE systems really stand out – It seems there are plenty of women out there just as willing as men to run companies that make their money out of encouraging weak minded, poor, low-status, and/ or ignorant people to shove a cancer sticks down their throats and plenty of even ‘harder women’ happy with making their bonuses out of selling even more storm shadow missiles to governments so they can kill relatively powerless people who might dare do things such as try to put their interests before those of Western Corporations.

Source of the TablesThe Female FTSE Board Report 2012 – Cranfield University School of Management

Related Links

Useful comments on methology here!

Broader knowledge on women in the labour force (UK) here (2010)

To Pole or not to Pole, is that Objectification?

My sixth form college (16-19) has just started ‘pole fitness’ classes and put this very large banner up to advertise them. The college’s take on this is to see ‘pole-fitness’ on a level with Zumba – It’s simply a different form of exercise that young women (let’s face it – it’s primarily women who will attend either) can use to empower themselves, but the former’s just a bit more aethletic and more ‘Burlesque’ than Zumba.

However some staff have commented that it just doesn’t seem appropriate for a 16-19 college to be promoting something that is associated with the sex-industry. The sexual connotations are visible in the banner – you can ‘clearly see cheek showing’ as one member of staff recently pointed out.

Of course I had to go away and do some digging on the issue, and it comes as no surprise that there are a wide range of opinions about whether or not Pole-Fitness is empowering or oppressive to women. To summarise just two…

Clare Mohan, writing at the Varsity Blogs about Pole Fitness in Cambridge University sets out the argument against it….

‘Whatever you name it, pole fitness or pole dancing, you’re still participating in the social context of the pole. Everyone knows where it comes from, that pole dancers are to be found in strip clubs and sex establishments up and down the country, and that pole dancing (which is, a huge percentage of the time, an activity carried out by women) is a dance form specifically designed to excite the watcher (who is, a huge percentage of the time, a man). So pole dancing encourages a view of the dancer [as a] sexual object.’

For more information on the objectification of women see the ‘Object‘ website.  

The ‘Pro-Pole’ voice comes from a number of women who both ‘pole’ and identify themselves as Feminists over at the StudioVeena.

Two of the more compelling arguments for ‘poling’ being empowering include…

(From ‘Nilla’) “Maybe people feel that way because stripping as a profession is often seen as something women would only do as a last resort, and that it’s degrading for any woman who does it (It can be, but so can working in the fast food industry).  So in a way, taking pole dance out of the stripping/sex industry context and doing it for your own enjoyment is the ultimate act of feminism, kind of taking the activity back for your own control and enjoyment rather than having to do it for the enjoyment of someone else.”

(From ‘Poledanceromance’) ’”To me, the answer is very simple (sex positive feminist): feminism must be about choice. It’s about women supporting other women in our efforts to explore undiscovered parts of ourselves. If I want to explore my potential by staying at home full-time to be the best mom I can be, you’d support me in that. If you wanted to explore yourself as a sexual being by experimenting in different sexual relationships, I’d support you in that (provided everyone is being safe!)”

If you read through the arguments for poling, many of them focus on the notion that it’s good for women to be allowed the freedom to express whatever they like through dance, including their sexuality if they damn well please, and they argue that in pole-fitness this process of exploration is completely liberated from the context of male domination and objectification that may exist in stripping.

What’s interesting is that both Pro and anti-pole stances see a sexual link in the activity, which brings me back to the original question – Is it right for a 16-19 college to be promoting something that has obvious sexual connotations? Moreover, is it right to do this when we all know that it will be mainly, probably solely young women, rather than young men, engaging in this sexualised activity?

Personally I don’t feel particularly comfortable with the college’s promoting pole-fitness, but am I just showing my age here? Or maybe this is my ‘inner patriarch’ just wanting to control young women from expressing their freedom? Or my ‘inner dad’ wanting to prevent young women from growing up?

Maybe I just need to get over it and start promoting pole-fitness in tutorials? Maybe that’s the future… ‘And don’t forget… final UCAS deadlines are this Friday, next Wednesday there’s a guest speaker talking about how to break into Journalism, and any young women wishing to explore their inner sex kitten are welcome to attend our new pole-fitness classes on Tuesdays… Please undress appropriately.’

Comments more than welcome…


Top Ten Resources for Teaching Gender and Development

OK – Only up to 5 – but I’ve really got to down the pub, and I really wanted to post something before I left!

These are in rough order of how much I like them – If you prefer other sites then let me know. These are just the best ones I know of , and I don’t know everything! (clearly!).

One – The UN’s hub page for the Gender Inequality Index

 ‘The Gender Inequality Index (GII) reflects women’s disadvantage in three dimensions—reproductive health, empowerment and the labour market—The index ranges from 0, which indicates that women and men fare equally, to 1, which indicates that women fare as poorly as possible in all measured dimensions.

  • The health dimension is measured by two indicators: maternal mortality ratio and the adolescent fertility rate.
  • The empowerment dimension is also measured by two indicators: the share of parliamentary seats held by each sex and by secondary and higher education attainment levels.
  • The labour dimension is measured by women’s participation in the work force.’

The above page has lots of useful links – one of the most accessible being this table showing details of gender inequalities for most countries in the world. You should also check out the ‘interactive data tools’ and ‘FAQ’s at the bottom of the page.

Two – The United Nations Development Fund for Women

Very broad in scope – The site says of itself ‘In July 2010, the United Nations General Assembly created UN Women, the United Nations Entity for Gender Equality and the Empowerment of Women. In doing so, UN Member States took an historic step in accelerating the Organization’s goals on gender equality and the empowerment of women.’

It’s also worth considering what the fact that this wasn’t established by the UN until 2 years ago says about what the UN’s development priorities really are!

Three – Gender Across Boarders – What a fantastic blog! – A team of writers blogging under various headings including (the ones that interest me) health, education and activism – and a load of stuff about culture too. The about section of the web site says of itself

‘Gender Across Borders (GAB) is an international feminist community where issues of gender, race, sexuality, and class are discussed and critically examined. We embrace people of all backgrounds to come together to voice and progress positive gender relations worldwide’

Four – International Women’s Day Web Site

International Women’s Day takes place on 8th March every year and the above link is a hub-site for events surrounding that day when thousands of events are held throughout the world to inspire women and celebrate achievements. The site (annoyingly for me) doesn’t actually explicitly state what its about – but I guess this is because a huge part of the ‘women’s empowerment’ agenda is to allow women with diverse aims to ‘speak for themselves’. Still, reading between the lines, the main posts and themes seem to be about celebrating women’s achievements and using these to inspire positive change in those parts of the world where ‘progress’ has yet to be made – and this means promoting women’s empowerment through improving the education, health, employment prospects and political power of women worldwide.

The day itself is very popular – to quote from the site….   ‘IWD is now an official holiday in Afghanistan, Armenia, Azerbaijan, Belarus, Burkina Faso, Cambodia, China (for women only), Cuba, Georgia, Guinea-Bissau, Eritrea, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Laos, Madagascar (for women only), Moldova, Mongolia, Montenegro, Nepal (for women only), Russia, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan, Uganda, Ukraine, Uzbekistan, Vietnam and Zambia. The tradition sees men honouring their mothers, wives, girlfriends, colleagues, etc with flowers and small gifts. In some countries IWD has the equivalent status of Mother’s Day where children give small presents to their mothers and grandmothers.

Five – The Guardian’s Summary of the worst place in the world to be a woman – Includes a handy ‘interactive map’ where you can find out such things as ‘in Somalia girls have a 95% chance at being of risk of Female Genital Mutilation’

SixAmnesty International’s Women’s Rights Page

SevenUnseen is a UK based charity to help recovering victims of sex trafficking – and there are enough of them – estimates range from 500 to 800 000 per year being trafficked across Europe.

EightOne World Gender Guide – A nice ‘hub page’ with lots of resources on Gender Inequality in different countries

NineWomen for Women – An example of an NGO working with socially excluded women in 8 countries – a good example of what you might call ‘people centred development’ – a number of different projects are tweaked to meet the needs of different women in different situations – ranging from teaching economic skills to rights education.

Ten  – TrustLaw is a global hub for information on human rights and women’s rights. The link takes you to the ‘women’s rights’ section. While you might have to click on some of the links twice to get them to work, this is a good site for summaries of up to date news on women’s rights in international context and there is also a useful database which you can search for resources by keyword, region and country – although once again, the links to some of these are unreliable, so you may have to ‘cut and paste’ into another browser.



Tory cuts – encouraging a return to the traditional family?

Tory cuts are unfairly disadvantaging women, according to this article in the Guardian, which is akin to encouraging a return to the traditional family with the male breadwinner role.

The article draws on research from the Fawcett Society, who are making a legal challenge against the government’s cuts on grounds of sex inequality.

I’d recommend listening to this excellent recent debate on women’s hour between Ceri Goddard, Chief Executive of the Fawcett Society and Professor Len Shackleton, Fellow at the Institute of Economic Affairs and Dean of Business School at the University of East London which shows you that it isn’t particularly helpful talking about how the budet cuts will affect ‘women’ as a homogenous group.

Object – challenging the sexualisation of women in popular culture

A summary of a 2009 report by Object – Joining up the Dots – challenging the sexualisation of women in popular culture.  Obviously of direct interest to anyone studying the ‘continued relevance of Feminist Theory’ today – this document contains over 100 sources, many of which are research based. The main points include

  • The sexualisation of women and girls in the media and popular culture is increasingly prevalent across many forms of media, from television, video games, the internet, film, advertising and clothing to products, animated cartoons, magazines and news. It is linked to the continued mainstreaming of the sex industry and the ‘pornification of culture’.
  • A growing body of research has firmly linked the sexual objectification of women and girls to a negative effect on individual health and well-being, with increased sexualisation leading to severe dissatisfaction over body image and self-esteem; high rates of eating disorders among women and girls; rising levels of women turning to plastic surgery; increased incidences of sexual bullying and damaging sexual relations between young people.
  • The sexual objectification of women is also linked to the promotion and reinforcement of sexist attitudes – via exposure to media which overwhelmingly contains gender stereotyping and affects perceptions of all women. This has significant overlap with racism via the objectification of women according to their ethnicity. Finally, a large body of evidence demonstrates the connection between the sexualisation of women in the media and popular culture with violence against women.
  • Popular arguments against taking action on this issue are centred around the human right of individuals to freedom of expression. However, such a right must be weighed against the need and importance of taking effective steps to protect the human right of women and girls to live their lives free of gender-based violence and discrimination.

Just a selection of some of the evidence they cite – all evidence is available via the link at the top!

On the sexualized representation of women in popular culture –

44%–81% of music videos contain sexual imagery19. Women are far more likely than men to be presented in provocative or revealing clothing20 and sexually objectified – often through imagery linked to the sex industry, such as pole/ lap dancing. Women are frequently portrayed as decorative objects that dance and pose and do not play any instruments.

Contrary to popular belief this is not restricted to hip hop or pop. In one analysis of country music videos, 42% of female artists were coded as wearing “alluring clothing”. Analysis of MTV music videos has found objectification in 44.4% of the 30- second clips analysed.

Comparison of both men’s (Playboy) and women’s (Cosmopolitan) magazines concluded that both types of magazines portray female sexuality in similar ways despite appealing to different audiences. Men’s and women’s magazines both depict women as sexualised objects whose desire is best fulfilled by making themselves into commodities that are sexually available to men. The primary difference was that women’s magazines are not as crude, aggressive as men’s magazines

 Objectification and Harm to women

The sexualisation of women and girls is linked to a range of harms – ranging from body and self esteem issues to violence, sexist attitudes and racism. The links between these issues and a culture in which women and girls are overwhelmingly sexualised is all too often neglected in preventative policy-making decisions.


The mainstreaming process has also served to normalise prostitution, lap dancing and other related activities60 – making the harm of commercial sexual exploitation invisible. Yet many women in prostitution and lap dancing experience violence and abuse – whether physical or psychological. Studies consistently find high correlation between routes into prostitution and a background of time in care61 and sexual or physical abuse62.

 Many women cite poverty and the need to pay household expenses as a primary reason for entering prostitution63 and report problematic drug use64. More than half of UK women in prostitution have been raped and/or seriously sexually assaulted65 and many survivors of prostitution meet the criteria for Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder in the same range as torture victims and combat veterans undergoing treatment66.

 Working practices in many lap dancing clubs implicitly encourage men to seek sexual services from performers and women routinely report sexual harassment and violence within the industry.

 Emerging evidence suggests the sexualisation of women and girls has negative effects on the ability to develop healthy sexuality 80. Studies have shown that self-objectification on the part of young women often leads to weakened sexual assertiveness81. At the same time young people increasingly learn about sexual relationships through the media and from pornography, as shown in a 2003 study carried out by Institute of Education which found that 66% of young people reported the media as their primary source of information on sex and relationships. Researchers argue this is “reinforcing the views of many young men that women are always available for sex”.

 A 2005 study of 2,081 young people in Rochdale also found that pornography influences young men’s expectations of sexual relationships, “lead[ing] to pressure on young women to comply” and grooming young men and boys to expect sexual acts normalised in pornography

The report goes on to provide a number of counter arguments to those who would defend women’s right to ‘freely express themselves in a sexualized manner’, argues that current government policies are not adequate to ensuring gender equality and preventing harm to women and suggests a number of things the media and government could do to combat the sexualisation of women and related harms.

Sexist Ageism in the media

Question – what have these TV presenters got in common?

Arlene Phillips
Arlene Phillips










Anna Ford
Anna Ford
Moira Stuart
Moira Stuart
Miriam O'Reily (from country file)
Miriam O'Reily (from country file)

























Answer – they have all been axed from television shows amidst allegations of both ageism and sexism.

This is actually part of a wider trend of older female presenters disappearing from our screens, while older male presenters are much more visible – John Craven (70), Jeremy Paxman (60) and Bruce Forsyth (137) are all still very much in the public eye, heading mainstream, primetime shows for example.

So what’s going on here – why are older women getting sacked against their wishes, while older men are allowed to continue in their roles as leading television presenters?

The Feminist take is that this very clear gender imbalance demonstrates that the mainstream media is both giving into social stereotypes about gender and perpetuating them – giving into the ideal of what Naomi Wolfe would call the beauty myth. By sacking older women – the media helps to perpetuate the idea that what is ‘normal’ for women is to be young and beautiful. As a woman, your utility derives from your looks, and once your beauty fades, you have no useful social function, and you hide yourself away, making room for the next generation of dark haired beauties – which of course, is what men want to see! While for male presenters, traditionally associated with authority, knowledge and power, ageing is not such an issue, hence it is older male presenters who are typically used to give ‘serious’ programmes an authoritative edge.

Of course there are those academics that will have spent years analysing representations of gender and age who will tell you that there are a complex array of portrayals of age and sex in our contemporary post-modern media, and indeed there are (John Snow springs to mind – authority figure or mad professor?)  – but, bottom line, the trend in age representation is women with sagging skin get the sack, men with flabby jowls don’t.

Miriam O’Reilly, the ex-presenter of country file is currently involved in a tribunal with BBC, is essentially claiming that she and other older, female presenters, were unfairly dropped from country file because of their age and looks. 

Of course in order to verify her accusations on a more global level, and find out how overt this ageist sexism is, we would need to have access to the backroom discussions (I don’t think they would be so stupid as to memo any of this) of the editors of the programmes in question, and we are never likely to get this, which is a shame, as it would be fascinating to see how sexist ageism actually works its way through micro-level decision making in the media.

It distrsses me that Fiona Bruce (46), who I have never liked, has the following to say about being a news presenter

‘It is a great job. The best. And a bit of sniping and stereotyping here and there is a small price to pay’

This kind of individualised ‘I’m alright’ so a ‘ bit of sexism doesn’t matter’ response  is something I despise – still  if sexist ageism remains on trend – Bruce’s days are numbered  – I give her 7 years max.

Sociology on TV – Women, the BBC Documentary

This BBC documentary is in three episodes – the first charts the rise of the Feminist movement in  the 1970s ,and includes interviews with radical Feminists such as Susan Brownmiller, Kate Millet and Germain Greeer. The second episode focusses on interviews with families and looks at the variety of domestic roles today while the final episode looks at the views and activities of the London Feminist Network, which provides an interesting insight into the issues that concern contemporary Feminists (mainly the objectification of women’s bodies, and its relationship to violence against women being indicative of gender inequality. )

All documentaries are available to college students on estream – just type in ‘women’ to the search engine