News roundup for June 2001

General Election 2001

It’s all over! For a more in-depth analysis go to our special feature on the election.

Abortion issue is raised in Ireland and Northern Ireland

BBC News Q&A: Abortion in Northern Ireland

Facts about the state of the law and the legal battle for access to abortion

BBC News: Abortion ship heads for Dublin

As the Dutch group Women on Waves sailed a floating clinic to Dublin intending to offer abortions to Irish women in international waters, a high court judge agreed to a judicial review on the question of abortion rights in Northern Ireland. Abortion is illegal in the Irish Republic, and in Northern Ireland, meaning that women living there do not have the same rights as women in the rest of the UK. The case has been brought by the Family Planning Association, who claim that the law is inconsistent. This looks likely to be an incredibly controversial issue in the province. There are strong anti-abortion groups in Northern Ireland and the Republic, who have attacked the FPA and Women on Waves. Geraldine Martin of the ‘Pro-Life Campaign’ said of Women on Waves: “It is a kind of hysterical approach. It is basically a publicity stunt.” Considering the actions of some pro-life activists, this brings to mind the words ‘pot’, ‘kettle’, and ‘black.’

James Brown: for women who should know better

Former Loaded editor James Brown has declared he is thinking about bringing ‘ladd-ism’ to the women’s magazine market. Er, yeah right, that’s just what we need. But will he really bring us anything that More or Cosmo’s naked male centrefolds hasn’t already? We’re on the edge of our seat, James. Go on, surprise us.

Wilma Flintstone found

The oldest painting of a female figure has been discovered in an ‘obscure corner’ of the Chauvet caves in southern France. The drawing, which is is 32,000 years old, shows the figure of a woman’s hips, belly, legs and sexual organs. Although small statuettes of female figures have been found from around the same period, this seems to be the oldest cave painting to be found. It’s slightly depressing that what remains of ancient history is paintings of men hunting, men fighting, men doing this, men doing that – and one solitary woman’s lower body. Women wiped from history – seems to be a recurring theme.

Congratulations, it’s a tomboy

Full Report

Oh-oh, here comes another scientific study. This one suggests that a mother’s testosterone levels during pregnancy influences whether their daughter will play with Barbie dolls and makeup or toy trucks and footballs instead. The study was completed by City University, London, and looked at three-year old children. The newspapers highlighted the apparent testosterone link; but then, almost as a footnote, admitted that socialisation was an even more important factor. And what about the boys? Well, apparently the mother’s hormone levels have less of an effect on them, ‘possibly because their hormone levels were already high’ (eh?) and because ‘they were under greater social pressure to behave in certain ways.’ Hmmm. In other words, no parent wants their little boy to play with dolls or act in any way like a girl. And on the other hand, tomboy-ism is generally not seen as a natural personality trait of that child but a phase they will pass through.

Cultural imperialism is alive and well

Western standards of beauty strike again. The organisers of a beauty contest held in South Africa have rejected entrants from Uganda. Apparently Ugandan women’s hips are too big and they are too short to be considered. Despite the fact that Africans prefer bigger (i.e. normal sized) women as opposed to the skeletal-like, caucasian features of western models (some cultures fatten up brides before their wedding day), the selectors have rejected these women in favour of those who are more likely to win the prize: being signed to a New York modelling agency.

British Airways ‘girls’ reject ‘very sexy’ uniform

Givenchy’s artistic director and fashion designer Julien Macdonald angered British Airways staff when he was asked to design new uniforms. He explained that he intended to ‘bring back glamour to travel’ and said ‘the girls will look very sexy and the men will look like strong heroes.’ Oh for goodness sake. ‘Girls’? ‘Strong heroes’? Patronising, moi? Happily the Transport and General Workers’ Union complained, saying that cabin crew were not ‘dollies with trolleys.’ BA apparently conceded that ‘sexy’ was not the preferred image. Yay!

‘Institutional sexism’

Two police officers who are making claims against the Metropolitan Police have claimed that sexism, like racism, is institutionalised at the Met. They have alleged systematic sexist behavior from their colleagues such as verbal abuse, bra-strap pulling and bottom slapping. The allegations are being investigated by the Met, but a spokesperson claimed that the force has a ‘robust equal opportunities policy and will not tolerate any form of sexism.’

Health news

Family Planning Association

A new contraceptive patch called Evra is being developed which works in the same way as the pill but, sticks onto the skin for a week at a time rather than being swallowed, and releases hormones through the skin itself. It is hoped that this will avoid the problem of women forgetting to take the pill. Other developments in contraception have included Oves, a disposable silicone barrier method for women which can remain in place for 72 hours (now on sale), and Nuvaring which is a hormonal contraceptive which sits in the vagina (should be available in the UK next year). Unfortunately, the ‘male pill’ is still nowhere near completion. Seems we’ll have to wait as long as 10 years for that.

‘That’s not what we meant!’

A survey by the internet firm has shown that amongst hoteliers, women on hen nights have a far worse reputation than men on stag nights. Women on hen nights indulge in far worse behaviour than the men do, and are just as likely to be turned away by hotels when looking for a venue, they told the company. So, let loose the pundits who claim feminism is to blame! Let loose the feminist columnists to tell us ‘that’s not what we meant!’ I can hear the pencils being sharpened now…

Fancy a port in the Garrick?

The Club and Institute Union (CIU) has announced that it will abolish a clause in its constitution which prevents women from entering some of the most traditional and elite men’s clubs in the country. Only 40% of members of the CIU offer full membership to women, so the organisation is likely to encounter some resistance and it’s not certain that they will be able to push the amendment through. However, Kevin Smyth, general secretary of the CIU, said “The union’s executive has recognised for some time that this is an anachronistic rule which doesn’t belong in this day and age.” Well said, and it’s about time, too.

Orange Prize for Fiction winner praised by both genders

The controversial Orange Prize for women’s fiction has announced its winner, a book chosen by the official, all-female jury, and the ‘just for fun’ male ‘shadow’ jury. The Prize has been criticised for being patronising to women, and it has been questioned whether ‘female’ and ‘male’ styles of writing are really that different. However, the winner, The Idea of Perfection by Kate Grenville, was enjoyed by both juries. Well, it seems good fiction is simply just good fiction, no matter the gender.