Media coverage in the Colchester Gazette

It was lovely to be featured in the Colchester Gazette a few weeks ago. I was interviewed by Vanessa Moon who was

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interested to know about how I got into this line of work and some of things I was most concerned about. Media interviews can be tricky especially on print as you are never quite sure how you will come across but I think she did really well.

In particular I wanted to make it clear that young girls should be allowed to wear pink and dress up as princesses, but there should be lots of other options too… but currently there aren’t.

I would have liked something about feminist economics in the headline as I don’t campaign on page three or wolf whistling and I’m not sure my face needed to be quite so massive, but you can’t win them all!

Liberal Democract Councillor and candidate answers #Vote4Equality questions

I asked all the council candidates standing for election in my ward Fawcett Society’s #Vote4Equality questions. Here is the response from the Liberal Democrat candidate and current Councillor Llyn Barton:

Cllr Lyn BartonThanks for the email which raises some key concerns. I have sent a letter to a fair number of women in the ward raising the issue of female representation on Councils. (I will put a copy through your door)

The Lib Dems have a good record for recruiting women but the Council overall has approximately 20 women to 40 men which I feel doesn’t reflect the population it claims to represent.

However as I said the Lib Dems have a good balance. We have a 19 year old female standing in Stanway who is engaging with 18 to 25 year olds to ensure they have a voice. The leader of the Council is a female Lib Dem. the Cabinet is half female.

My colleagues have recently ensured that CBC pays the living wage to all its employees.
We have done extensive work to ensure all staff are paid the correct rates regardless of gender  by working with Unison.

Colbea which the council supports with grant aid has just won funding to run special courses to help women set up businesses in the Borough.

With regard to Surestart that was an ECC cut but my County colleagues are challenging such cuts. The scheme was very successful in Shrub End and helped numerous families on the estate. New initiatives such as the pupil premium are being used to good effect to target our most vulnerable families and give them that extra help and support. As a school governor I am now seeking the evidence of the impact of this initiative.

Rest assured I am constantly working to ensure women are well represented on our Council and that they champion women’s rights and keep the subject firmly on the agenda.

Podcast on pregnancy discrimination in the workplace

5015254002_0159f2fe31_zI was delighted to talk to Freelance Bristol Mum, Faye Dicker for her regular podcast about the work I do at Maternity Action on raising awareness of pregnancy discrimination.

You can listen to the podcast here.

It is estimated that around 60,000 women a year are forced out of their jobs just for being pregnant or on maternity leave and although the government have announced £1 million fund to research this issue, there is plenty the government can be doing to end pregnancy discrimination now. This includes removing the £1200 it costs women to take a discrimination claim to tribunal, ensure fully and sustainably funded legal aid and advice services so women know their rights and reinstate the questionnaire procedure which allowed companies and individuals to determine if discrimination had taken place. Read more in Maternity Action’s report ‘Overdue: A plan to tackle pregnancy discrimination now‘.

If you’ve experience bad treatment at work because you were pregnant or on maternity leave, tell your story anonymously to the When I Had My Baby campaign run my yours truly!

Photo of Licia Ronzulli, Italian MEP shared under Creative Commons by the European Parliament

‘I have been approached to do porn but I just say no’

Samantha ‘Sammy’ Braddy, glamour model turned make-up artist talks to school friend Polly Trenow about plastic surgery, porn and the impact of glamour modelling on young women.

How did you get into glamour modelling?

I was a student studying fashion and I was spotted in a nightclub in London. I wouldn’t go topless with the first agency…I didn’t really want to. But my second agent said I could become a page three model.

I told my parents that I wouldn’t. I’m quite shy and I was just scared. I didn’t want to shame my family… but Mum said, “you can if you want to”, so I’ve been doing it since. My Nan’s got all my pictures! I went to her kitchen the other day and she’s got my calendar up, I thought, “right…this is weird!”

I was quite flattered at first and thought I might not have the chance again. But it is nice to see yourself in a magazine! The best bit is going to interesting places for shoots and working with the other girls. You have trips abroad and share a villa with five girls of a similar age, it’s like a holiday!

How long have you been doing it?

I did modelling for three years then on took other work – you have a lot of spare time and I was getting bored. I have never known what I wanted to do but I studied to do hair and makeup and do that now.

What reaction have you had to your career choice?

My parents are really proud. My close friends don’t pay any attention to it. I have some gay friends who think it’s hilarious to introduce me as a model, but I think they do it for attention – it’s a nightmare! I have never had anyone say anything bad to me…they probably say it behind my back!

You say you were shy, have you found aspects of this career liberating?

Definitely. It’s like the Gok Wan thing [the TV show] – How to Look Good Naked – it does give you confidence.

Parts of modelling can make you feel worse. The first agency told me to change my hair and to get my teeth whitened – I never did! I was also told to lose weight which definitely feeds on your insecurities. But then there are other times when you think ‘I look really good there!’

Being told to change is really horrible. I cried when they said it and then I went on Weight Watchers and the gym…they were probably right! With glamour [modelling] they don’t want you to be stick thin – it’s all about the boobs so if you lose weight your boobs go! You need to stay in the middle.

You got told this when you did Page Three?

Yes, but I worked for The Star not The Sun! There is a rivalry between the Sun and the Star, you’re not allowed to do them both. Though it’s more to do with the papers than us [models]. We don’t care!

How do you manage that?

It’s not a problem for me. At one stage I was probably partying and eating too much pizza. But with fashion models it’s completely different. When you’re [doing a shoot] with Nuts there is loads of food, but if you do a fashion event they eat half a cracker!

Do you ever get recognised?

Sometimes. I’ve been on the train and someone has opened up the paper I’m in which is a bit embarrassing but I change my hair every five minutes. Sometimes in Sainsburys blokes shout stuff at me, like “wayyyy get your tits out!” but that’s probably something you need to accept.

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“You can’t be as good as the guys; you have to be better.” – Mandy Rowden*

Girl Guitar Austin is a women-only music school in Austin, Texas.

It is the brainchild of singer/songwriter/teacher Mandy Rowden who, after teaching privately for ten years, combined her love of teaching, playing, wine and good old-fashioned fun to form Girl Guitar in 2007.

I interviewed Mandy for Women’s Views on News and have reproduced the article here.

WVoN:  Tell me about the birth of Girl Guitar.

Rowden: I used to teach at the Austin School of Music and I’d always thought it would be fun to have a girl guitar class but I’d never had any luck starting it.

I came back from New York and didn’t want to teach private lessons anymore but I was super broke and so the Austin School of Music let me try to put a class together. At that time I guess I was just broke enough that I was really motivated to try to make it happen!

I managed to get enough people for a full class so I thought I would just do one six-week class, get my cell phone turned back on and that would be that. But we had such a good time that they all wanted to sign up again. Then random strangers started calling me wanting to do a class and it started getting too big for the space available at the school of music so I moved it.

I never planned on it being a full-time job but we just kept having fun and getting all this attention so I thought “ok, let’s keep doing this.” After about two and half years I was able to quit waiting tables and just do Girl Guitar full time.

WVoN:  What was the motivation behind the girls-only aspect of Girl Guitar?

Rowden: I’ve never been a big feminist, it just sort of happened.

It’s kind of boys-club playing guitar and there are so many women that want to learn but for some it’s like going to a gym – some women just feel more comfortable without dudes there.

I had wondered whether a girl-only class would make a difference and when we tried it, it was so much fun. Someone brought a bottle of wine and it turned into our own girl’s club. That sounds cheesy when I say it, but the women did seem to respond well. A lot of people told me that they wouldn’t have felt as comfortable if there were guys there.

WVoN:  What was the atmosphere like in your first class?

Rowden: It was so fun, we laughed so much! You know there is a lot about guitar that when when you talk about it it sounds kind of sexual so we just ran with that and laughed our asses off. Everyone has improved and it’s been great watching the girls become friends.

At the end of the course there is a showcase and we have huge crowds at our showcases and everyone is so supportive. I don’t know if they’re more supportive because we’re chicks or just because these women are trying to learn something new, but they’re supportive anyway.

WVoN:  What do your students say?

Rowden: They seem to love it! A lot of them tell me they wouldn’t feel as comfortable if there was guys there. I don’t know why. Maybe we think that guys would make fun of us or make us feel bad or maybe we assume that guys know more than us.

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“Porn is an obsession with female pleasure” says woman porn director

Anna Span (real name Anna Arrowsmith) is an English pornographic film director who speaks widely about sex, pornography and feminism.

I interviewed her on behalf of Women’s Views on News and reproduced the interview here.

You said your moment of inspiration came when you realised you weren’t angry about the existence of the porn industry but were  jealous that men’s sexuality was catered for. What did you feel was lacking for women?

That was 1988 so everything was lacking for women in this country!

You didn’t even have the Chippendales – although I actually wrote my dissertation at St Martin’s about how the Chippendales aren’t what women want – and [women] didn’t have porn magazines.

I remember [British actress] Margi Clarke bringing out a programme about sexuality on television and it was very soft.

But regardless of whether people agree with the sex industry I believe the female libido is worth catering for.

Currently companies are spending money in order to make [porn] for women because there is a market out there.

Without that appreciation of the market there is a disavowing of the female libido and this perpetuates the idea that we’re in [sex solely] for the love, which I find quite insulting really.

What was your first experience of porn?

The first thing I ever saw was, ironically, some images in a gutter when I was 11, walking home from school. There was a woman in leopard skin clothing and of course as school girls we went crazy!

Later I think I stumbled across some copies of the [UK tabloid the Daily] Sport that my brother had in his room. But the first time I used porn was when I was with my boyfriend at the time.

And that was when you started to form the idea that you didn’t think women’s sexuality was being catered for in pornography?

Yes, I didn’t know anything about pornography. It was exciting, I enjoyed it and I certainly didn’t do it because I wanted to please the boyfriend.

When I was 22 I bought “Women on Top” by Nancy Friday and I think that was very key. It’s a book about women’s fantasies and there was absolutely everything in there, it helped me accept my sexual being, it was very useful to me.

I think it also helped me realise that I was bisexual. I don’t know when I owned up to myself about that. There wasn’t a “coming out” – it sort of gradually dawned on me that i fancied women as well.

Did these experiences feed into your desire to make porn for women?

For me, like a lot of people, making porn was a kind of naughty dream job that I would have liked to do in a parallel life.

I got into [London art college] St Martin’s when I was 24 and I started to think about making porn. In my final year at college I wrote my dissertation – “Towards a New Pornography” – on porn and I made a sex film.

My first film was quite experimental, although the blokes couldn’t get it up, but there were also people peeing etc so it wasn’t soft!

Do you think you been driven by having a greater interest in sex than the average person?

I don’t know. How do you compare? They say that men think about sex every seven seconds. Well, I think about sex a lot and I enjoy it, I still do.

There is no history of abuse in my life and if you met my family you’d wonder how they spawned me because they’re very middle class and very average. We’re certainly not a sexually overt family.

When I read Women on Top there were women admitting to having sexual imaginations from when they were very young and I did too. But I developed a guilt about this imagination in my teenage years.

Do you judge your films to be successful if you find them arousing? 

Yes, to a certain extent. With porn it’s like catching a live dance, a performance, and you have to film it as well as you can, so it’s always a matter of compromise.

It’s not like mainstream cinema where you can map out everything in advance and you can get actors with acting skills. How it goes on the day is how good the film will be so there is a lot of chance involved.

You just have to get very good at managing the last minute things when people don’t turn and up and you have to recast etc.

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UN Women: still in pursuit of justice

Earlier this month UN Women, the new United Nations gender entity, launched its flagship report, ‘Progress of the world’s women: in pursuit of justice’ in both London and New York (see WVoN coverage).

I met John Hendra, the newly appointed Assistant Secretary General for UN Women, at the London launch event and talked to him about the report.

Justice for women, says Hendra, makes strong financial sense for the simple reason that improving women’s access to justice will help countries tackle the ‘productivity gap’, when women have limited access to resources such as land and credit.

This means women are not as economically productive as they could be and the whole country loses out.

A recent report by the UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) estimates that closing the gender productivity gap would reduce the number of undernourished people in the world by 12 to 17 per cent. That translates into 100 to 150 million fewer people living in hunger.

But the message isn’t getting through to politicians who, Hendra says, need to add money to the rhetoric on women’s rights. And if there isn’t enough money, then priorities need to change.

Take the example of the World Bank. Between 2000 and 2010, he points out, it allocated $126 billion to public administration, law and justice projects.

Over the same period, 21 projects included components on gender equality and the rule of law but the total allocated to the gender equality components came to just $7.3 million.

Hendra insists that 50% of funding for judicial reform must go to projects designed to support women and girls. The quicker we get there, he says, the better.

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Turning back the clock on women: Northern Ireland and the recession

‘The model of society being held up for women is, “go back to the home, pick up the unpaid caring role that we, the governments, cannot cover and we will focus on incentivising your husband to support you”.’

(The Northern Ireland Economy: Women on the Edge, Women’s Resource and Development Agency 2011)

This is the message being sent by the government to the women of Northern Ireland according to a new 160 page report on women and the recession – The Northern Ireland Economy: Women on the edge? – a comprehensive analysis of the impact of the financial crisis on women.

It examines a range of issues including childcare, lone parents, older and younger women, migrant women, pensions, welfare reform, debt and housing.

The report, published at the beginning of July by the Women’s Resource and Development Agency and funded by the Office of the First Minster and Deputy First Minister,  provides evidence that women are being disproportionately impacted by the financial crisis and ensuing budget cuts.

The dry statistics of job losses and low wages are brought to life by quotations from interviews and focus groups held with a range of women across the region. One said, “my wages are not going anywhere. Diesel has gone up. I’ve had to use the tumble dryer in bad weather. The cost of nappies has gone up. And I’m expecting another child.”

Another said, “I go and stay with my mum 2/3 nights a week because I cannot afford to keep the heating on. The price of oil is terrible and I have to cut back until I get paid again.”

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