News roundup for March 2003

Naomi Wolf takes on Ali G and wins. Rrrespect.

BBC Report

Third wave feminist Naomi Wolf failed to see the funny side of Ali G, after the spoof gangsta interviewed her for his new American chat show. The author of The Beauty Myth and Fire With Fire became ‘furious’ when Ali bragged that he called his girlfriend Julie a bitch in bed. He also remarked that if women were given equal rights at work, “they’ll want them at home”. US network HBO has reportedly decided not to screen the interview, and Wolf is allegedly calling in the lawyers.This story was reported in The Sun and on GQ Magazine’s website – presumably to confirm the stereotype that all feminists have no sense of humour?

Liverpool considers prostitution tolerance zones

The UK’s first prostitution tolerance zones might soon be set up in Liverpool. The local council are considering the proposition after a rise in prostitution rates across residential areas in the city, and are looking into continental methods of management, even bringing in a Dutch ‘expert’. Areas may operate under a traffic light system in managed areas in retail or business parks outside the city centre, where green light zones will mean prostitutes can work freely, and red light zones are no-go areas. The women will also receive regular health screenings and support services.

Good news for Bronte fans

A new novella by Charlotte Bronte has been published for the first time this month, in The Times newspaper. Stanliffe’s Hotel, which is 34 pages long and set in the fictional world of Angria, has been described as “racy” and “sardonic”, and was written by the Jane Eyre author in 1938. The manuscript was first taken to Ireland upon Bronte’s death in 1855, bought by an American collector, then sent to the Parsonage Museum in Yorkshire, which was part of the Bronte family estate. There are said to be more unpublished works, five of which will be collected into one volume and published later in the year.

Pregnant women no more scatty than the rest of humanity, research shows

BBC Report

Pregnancy does not make you more scatty, psychologists from the University of Sunderland have found. Research, compiled from mental tests performed with 15 pregnant and 14 non-pregnant women, has shown that those who are carrying children do not perform any worse than those who are not. However, the pregnant women believed that their mental capabilities were indeed slower than before they became pregnant – an attitude possibly chalked up to “cultural expectations of impairments, which make women more aware of forgetting things and attributing such things to their pregnancy”, according to chief researcher Dr Ros Crawley.

All-female college preserves status quo

Guardian Report

Oxford University’s only all-female college, St Hilda’s, has decided, in the closest of close votes, to keep the college as women-only. The governing body was reportedly only one vote short of the two-thirds majority needed to make the decision to admit men. The college was forced to consider co-education after failing to attract leading academics and funding, and performing less well than other Oxford colleges in league tables. Oxford’s other all-female college, Somerville, opted to admit men in 1994, while rival Cambridge, with Newnham and New Hall, has two single-sex colleges left.

New breast cancer scans could cut disease

BBC Report

A pioneering new scanning technique could cut the number of women wrongly diagnosed with breast cancer in the UK by as much as 70%. The equipment is being developed by New York-based Dobi Medical Systems in order to replace the current mammogram system, which is said to detect benign lumps in up to 90% of cases. The scanner will mean the end to further unnecessary and frightening biopsies, and apparently will be particularly useful in assessing the breast tissue of women under 35, as their breast tissue is denser than that of older women. Clinical trials of the new checks will take place later this year.

Breast implant “treatment” recommended by psychologist

BBC Report

A British psychologist believes that offering women breast implants on the NHS is “cheaper and more cost-effective” than psychological therapy. Owen Hughes, who works for Northamptonshire NHS Trust, has been treating women requesting cosmetic surgery, and has also stated that “some people would say it’s as valid as a knee replacement.” A recently published study has shown that increasing numbers of women are on waiting lists to have augmentation, and that these women also suffer from greater rates of depression, anxiety and low self-esteem than an equivalent sample group from the general population. It doesn’t, however, show how many of these women’s problems stem from cultural obsession with big breasts and their ‘failure’ to measure up….

Worried? You’re not the only one.

Something men have always suspected has been confirmed by scientists – women are born worriers. American research shows they have lower levels of a chemical in the brain which regulates anxiety. Having less of the chemical – known as COMT – appears to make a person more highly strung. The DNA of more than 400 men and women in the US was set against brain activity readings and the results of psychological tests. The highest anxiety levels were found among women with a certain version of the gene that makes COMT, while the biggest worriers were those with two copies of this version, one inherited from each person.

Lack of consultants make childbirth dangerous, survey shows

BBC Report

Many mothers and babies are being harmed in childbirth because of a huge lack of consultants to supervise junior doctors. A survey of more than 700 consultants revealed that more than half admit that the standard of care on their wards is worse in the early hours of the morning than in the evening. This has meant that approximately 280 women have suffered due to staff shortages in the last year – increasing the risk of serious injury or even death to the mother and baby. Health Minister Jacqui Smith has however said that an extra 470 trained specialists will be available to take up posts in 2004.

Guerilla Girls strike again

BBC Report

Feminist activist group the Guerrilla Girls have unveiled a billboard in Los Angeles as part of their campaign to eradicate sexism and racism in Hollywood. It makes the claim that “even the US Senate is more progressive than Hollywood”, and backs this up with the fact that there are 14 women in the Senate, but just 4% of directors in the US film industry are female. Even the interim government of Afghanistan beat this tiny statistic – 6% of the cabinet members there are women. The group have commented: “We maintain that in the 21st century, low, low, low numbers have to be the result of discrimination, unconscious, conscious or both. There’s an easy way to change things: open up that boys’ club and hire more women and people of colour.”

Heart disease threat to women’s health

BBC Report

Women are “dangerously unaware” of the serious risk of heart disease, according to the campaigning charity British Heart Foundation. Heart disease kills 54, 000 women a year, more than four times the mortality rate from breast cancer, yet most consider cancer to be the biggest threat, with heart disease only thought to affect men. Risk factors include smoking, poor diet and family history, and the charity is concerned that according to a survey of over 1000 women, four out of five on average have never discussed heart disease with their doctor or practice nurse.

Close shave

Media Guardian Report

A controversial and provocative advert by fashion house Gucci has escaped being banned after complaints were made to the Advertising Standards Agency (ASA). The advert shows model Carmen Kass having her pubic hair shaved into the company’s logo, and was shot by acclaimed photographer to the stars Mario Testino. It has attracted widespread condemnation in the tabloids, with Daily Mail columnist Bel Mooney calling Gucci “no better than pimps and those who advertise sexual services in phone booths”, and calls for a ban by campaign group Mediawatch UK, despite only 16 members of the public contacting the ASA about the ad. Gucci have defended the image, stating that it was intended to be “the ultimate ironic pun for a sexy brand in a logo-led age”.

MoD faces rape claims

Guardian Report

The Ministry of Defence are facing a legal battle after the discovery of new evidence supporting claims by 100 Masai women in Kenya that they were raped by British soldiers, in the country for training exercises. It has been revealed that minutes have been found of a meeting between Masai leaders, British Army officers and the Kenyan District Commissioner which suggests that they knew rape claims were being made back in 1983. This makes the Ministry of Defense’s previous claim that the Masai women were jumping on the “compensation bandwagon”, after a £4.5 million payout to Masai injured and killed by discarded army ordnance in 2002, look very foolish indeed.

Girls to be removed from prisons

BBC Report

The Youth Justice Board are aiming to remove all girls aged 16 and below from prisons in England and Wales by the end of 2003. This move comes after a report from the Chief Inspector of Prisons, Anne Owers, in which she voiced her concern about the treatment of young women in Holloway Prison, stating, “We cannot carry on holding difficult and damaged children in situations where they are likely to be further damaged.” The premises in which the girls are kept reportedly have “cockroaches all over the place”, and Holloway in particular suffers greatly from overcrowding, after young women are jailed by judges and magistrates for relatively minor offences. The authorities are also concerned about prison exacerbating the problems – such as drug habits, debt and poor mental health – that made the girls turn to crime in the first place.

BBC poll shows high levels of abuse

BBC Report

Over one in four women have experienced domestic violence, a new poll for the BBC has shown. Out of over 1000 people who were surveyed, a quarter said that they had been involved in physical violence, either as the victim or the perpetrator – and 27% of the women polled said that they have been subjected to domestic fighting, hitting, punching, kicking, or rape at some time in a relationship or marriage. 7 out of 10 people also believed that the police were more likely to intervene in street incidents rather than any domestic disturbance going on at the same time. The disturbing statistics also revealed that around two-thirds said that they could put up with occasional name calling, one woman in five would accept an isolated slap or punch, and one in ten a single instance of forced sex.

Scientists discover how sperm swim

BBC Report

Scientists have identified the protein that makes sperm wriggle and swim, which could help greatly in fertility treatment. Molecules of dynein make tiny tubes within the sperm tail slide back and forth, causing the sperm’s tail to wriggle. Dynein – which can also be found in the nervous system and the lungs – was discovered as the propellant after scientists from Leeds University combined thousands of electron microscope images of individual molecules of the protein under different biochemical conditions. It also helps power the tiny hairs – known as cilia – which push eggs along the Fallopian tubes towards the womb.

Pay gap still exists, say TUC

BBC Report

A new study for the TUC Women’s Conference this month found that two thirds of working women are earning less than the average income. Launching their campaign to close the gender pay gap, the TUC’s survey also showed that women are also more likely to fall beneath the poverty line because of a lack of affordable childcare, and that female pensioners were more likely to be poor than male OAPs. The organisation highlighted the almost 20% pay gap between the sexes as one of the major causes of female poverty. TUC general secretary-elect Brendan Barber commented: “Many families are poor because their mothers cannot afford to work and pay for expensive childcare. And even women lucky enough to be able to afford to work often find themselves earning so little that they cannot afford to save for their old age. The most effective way to lift women out of a life of poverty would be to eradicate the gender pay gap, to allow women to earn a decent wage for the work they do.”