News roundup for November 2001

Women shortlists debated

The Equal Opportunities Commission published a report saying that more than a third of candidates in the last two general elections thought that selection procedures were prejudiced against women. The issue was discussed in the Commons as MPs debated the Sexual Discrimination (Election Candidates) Bill, which would allow political parties to use shortlists. Ann Widdecombe spoke against the bill, saying “We whinge and whine and demand special treatment. If that isn’t an insult to women, I don’t know what is.” Meanwhile Stephen Byers, DTLR Secretary, said “the only way we will see in real terms a practical improvement in the representation of women is if political parties do adopt positive measures.” The Liberal Democrats had previously voted against the use of shortlists at their party conference.

Health News

BBC News: Breast Cancer Screening
BBC News: Caesarian births

Women’s health issues have been in the news, and it’s pretty depressing. Firstly, there was a controversial claim that screening for breast cancer might not actually be saving lives. Then we heard that the risks of inheriting a tendency for breast cancer was lower than commonly believed (good!). But then we heard that breast cancer had become the most common form of cancer in Britain. Eeek. Another report suggested that women suffering from Ovarian cancer have less chance of surviving in the UK than the rest of Europe, and the number of cases in England and Wales has risen by 20% in the last two decades. In other news, there was concern raised about the high number of Caesarian births in the UK: an amazing one in five births, many performed for no specific medical reason.

Why not just employ a large woman?

Apparently Gwyneth Paltrow is to star in a film called Shallow Hal, for which she has had to be dressed in a 21 stone “fat suit” made of rubber. The plot features a man who only dates “attractive women” (I suppose by that they mean “skinny women”), but who falls for Paltrow’s character’s “inner beauty.” Sounds fair enough. But why not just get a large woman to play the character? Why get Gwyneth all togged up? I guess being fat is okay if it’s only a suit, but not in real life.

What’s Stopping You?: EOC launch campaign

What’s Stopping You? posters

The Equal Opportunities Commission has launched a campaign to try to persuade children to break out of gender stereotypes. Called What’s Stopping You?, it features two posters which will be displayed in schools and in magazines. One poster shows the ballet-dancing film star Billy Elliot, the other shows Bobby Moore holding up the World Cup in 1966 – but a young woman’s head is superimposed onto his body. The campaign was launched because the EOC found that boys and girls are still choosing stereotypical subjects at school: for example, IT is 81% male, 19% female; Health and Social Care is 8% male, 92% female. The campaign aims to get boys and girls to fulfill their potential across a wide range of vocations. This is all great, but something tells me it might take more than a couple of posters. Another study from Birkbeck College found that boys had entrenched views about what they have to be like to be popular at school, and what it means to be a man. This included a view that hard work is uncool and unmasculine, avoiding close friendships meant you were a ‘real man,’ and respecting those who are good at sport, dominant, and swear a lot.

Call for prostitution to be legalised

Independent Report

London magistrates called for licensed brothels and legalised prostitution at their annual conference. They felt they spent too much time dealing with prostitutes, and pimps should be targeted instead. Laws should be brought in line with the values of modern society, they argued. At the same conference, a senior female judge called for men who commit domestic violence against women to be given immediate custodial sentences, and for judges to treat the offence more seriously.

Silvermoon bookshop closed

The Silvermoon bookshop in London, one of only two specialist women’s bookshops in the UK, closed this month. The pressures facing independent bookshops, coupled with their lease coming to an end, meant they felt it was time to call it a day. It’s a shame, especially considering they only recently brought the shop online with a useful and interesting website.

Kate Adie critises Beeb

Kate Adie, the famous BBC reporter, criticised the Beeb, saying they only employ women on the basis of their good looks rather than their talent, and then get rid of them when they get older. Adie, who described herself as “on old trout”, said “they just want people with cute faces and cute bottoms and nothing much else in between.” The BBC defended themselves, saying the claims were “ridiculous” and emphasised that they employ all people on the basis of their skills, not their looks.

Calista Flockhart says her weight is society’s problem

Ally McBeal star hit back at criticisms of her weight in Hello magazine. She said “I don’t believe my weight was ever a problem. Society’s obsession with my weight, that was the problem. The star was rumoured to be anorexic but has repeatedly denied such claims. She recently said she was “sick” of the show Ally McBeal and would be leaving in two years.

Event in London: “Rebranding Feminism”

Fawcett Society website

The Fawcett Society is holding a meeting on Friday 30th November to discuss the issue of “rebranding feminism.” The meeting is open to non-members as well and will take place at the ICA, The Mall, SW1 at 7pm. The Fawcett Society says: “We are taking forward the question of how we can tackle the negative image of feminism among many women… We will be asking: How can we re-brand feminism to make it more attractive to a new generation? Does feminism deserve its media stereotype? Does feminism need to change or just change the way it communicates itself? Do we need a brand – or can we just have customised versions of feminism, to suit different situation? Is feminism now so mainstream it’s often invisible? And if young women are no longer marching, what form does their activism take?”

Tickets cost £7.00 for Fawcett members and £8.00 for non-members. Contact the ICA box office for more info on 020 7930 3647.