Everyday Sexism – university campus misogyny

Having read the article in this week’s Guardian by Sally Williams entitled “Campus nightmare: female students on the rise of sexual harassment” I began to look at other article about gender inequality in the UK university system. I found another by Ms Williams from earlier this year called “Facebook’s ‘Spotted’ pages: everyday sexism in universities for all to see”. I felt obliged to make comment.

We are aware of the historical (and current) objectification, harassment and misogyny of women (No more Page 3), but these oppressive behaviours seem to be alive and kicking for female university students up and down the country.

I have spent the past thirty years working as a diversity practitioner. We all recognise that working environments have moved a long way towards gender equality, though recognise that there is still a way to go. Indeed, with regard to boardroom equality there may yet be a need to bring in quotas, as Lord Davies suggests, if public company boards to not achieve 25% women members by 2020.

With over forty years of gender diversity legislation, improvements are everywhere. In September one of the last bastions of men only space, the Royal & Ancient Golf Club, finally voted to admit women. So why would misogyny be on the increase in our universities.

With a seventeen year old daughter about to enter the complexities of university application, comparing one against the other for courses, results and environment, I wonder should the level of misogyny also be part one of her assessment criteria.

Facebook allow (or at least do not prevent) university “spotted” sites from existing. It is on these pages that level of public objectification, overt sexism and humiliation can be seen. In the Guardian article there are several extreme quotes about sex and what the contributor would like to do to the object of their desire. Being inquisitive, I went to explore a Spotted page for myself and chose at random, the UCL Library Spotted Page. This is the text of the eighth post.

To the sexy medic brunette sat across from me…
I couldnt make out your full name but your surname is Bangham?!
I would bang you over and over again. Come on over, you can feel my hair and maybe something else*
The stud with the Afro xx
* In case I wasn’t explicit enough, I was in fact referring to my penis

This clearly does nothing for Ms Bangham, but neither does it do the writer any good, or for that matter, the high quality educational institution from where it emanates. What I found quite staggering is that the post has thirty-five “likes” from male and female students alike and several reinforcing comments too.Student

Perhaps I should also add that it’s not only comments from men about women on Spotted sites, but these seem to be the most humiliating.

How has our youth society dropped to this level of public sexism that in the workplace would clearly be considered illegal?

Sally Williams’ feature this week goes even further, describing pranks, practical jokes and initiation ceremonies that have no place in our higher education establishments or, for that matter, anywhere else.

I am not a prude, but cannot find any part of me to condone or accept the behaviours described in the articles. I wonder whether Facebook and the universities are themselves complicit by allowing the sites and the behaviour to continue.

Perhaps it’s time to take control and start campaigning against these Facebook pages. If your daughter or son is going to apply to university, why not check out the Spotted Pages from the institution they are applying to (easily found via Google or another search engine). Have a look and see what is going on. Amongst the many inane comments there is plenty of misogynistic harassment. If enough people report these sites for their content, eventually Facebook will have to respond.

I am fearful that the long term impact of this behaviour on young men and women will be a regressive step in the journey towards gender equality in the workplace. After all, today’s students are tomorrow’s employees and managers. Hopefully they will leave their behaviours at their colleges and not take them into their future lives, potentially damaging forty years of gender equality work. If not, where will the glass ceiling be in twenty years – lower than it is, I suspect.

Perhaps it’s worth asking, what did you learn at your university?

Posted in gender equality, inequality, Sexism, teenage sexism, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , | Leave a comment

A small step for Lego – or a new management style

I was reading an article today entitled “Lego addresses gender gap with female scientist range”. Lego is introducing a new set, to include a chemist, an astronomer and a palaeontologist, all women. WOW! The Danish toymaker has launched the female figures with science jobs following a campaign to address gender bias issues. ILego' Women Scientists cannot imagine a smaller step, albeit in the right direction.

Let me explain. If you take a look at their website, you will see Lego feature four main pictures on the home page, gender neutral monsters, men only super hero, a men-only building site and women only friends posing in a range of modern provocative stances. Perhaps the men on the building site are wolf-whistling at them!Lego Friends

Nearly every page of the Lego website seems to have has a product for girls, it doesn’t say so specifically but the evidence of pink is there to be seen. Indeed, on each of the pages there is predominance of male orientated merchandise. On glancing through the site it appears that less than 10% is directed towards girls – until you get to the “creative” tab on the Games page. Here pink predominates as do the themes: Beauty Salon Game, Pool Party Game, Dressing up Game etc. Clearly not for boys!

I grew up when Lego was a toy for all. There were very few complete sets to buy, just blocks of various sizes and colours, windows and doors and the occasional wheel, hinge or connector. The result was a completely gender neutral toy which was also 1970s Lego Advertreflected in Lego’s advertising. As the toy has changed, so has the marketing, but is that an indictment of Lego or of our broader society?

The Boardroom of Lego (Statistics from their website) reflects similar gender ratio to the products – six men and one woman, whilst their management board has three women to twenty-two men. Is it any wonder that the company is male orientated. What influence, if any, do the women in Lego management have on the development of the product range?

All our companies are duty bound to serve their customers with the products they want and require. But they are can also be trend and thought leaders for society. It is time the toy industry (and all others) to be part of the solution rather than the problem that perpetuates gender inequality in our societies.

Not all girls want pink and not all boys want monsters and building sites. The challenge is to develop a gender neutral product range. Not only will this be more widely acceptable it will bring massive media coverage and public interest. This will bring more children into your customer numbers and therefore increase sales and profitability; a good deed for society and yourselves.

Be radical Lego, give us more than a female chemist or palaeontologist. I’m sure there are many diversity practitioners around the world who could advise how this could be done!

Posted in beyond diversity, Equality & Diversity, gender equality, inequality, Sexism | Tagged , , , , | 1 Comment

A Search for Justice – or just getting your man.

This article is a little different from my usual offerings, but I have felt compelled to write something.

Like the rest of the world, I am not in a position to know what went on that February night in Oscar Pistorius’ bedroom. Indeed, the only person who really knows the truth is the man himself.

In August 2012 Mr. Pistorius, as he is now referred to, was the subject of another blog article I wrote, just after he competed in the London Olympics. He was one of the three disabled people taking their place against able-bodied athletes. Then he was a hero, not just to me, but to many people around the world; a role model and a beacon of hope for so many.

Things have changed – but now, as then, I find myself gripped to the unfolding drama that is his daily life. I do not make any judgement about what he did and why. Nor will I comment about owning and being prepared to use a loaded gun; I do not know what is like living in a crime-ridden city, being really afraid for personal safety. I can only comment on what I am hearing daily; Mr Pistorius in tears; a broken man.Oscar Pistorius

Certainly, I have massive sympathy for the family and friends of Reeva Steenkamp; her life violently and abruptly ended that night. I cannot image the pain and suffering they must have gone (and been going) through.

What I can comment on is what seems to be unfolding in the courtroom. This drama is drawing watchers in from around the world, even people who would not previously have heard of Oscar Pistorius. What are they seeing, a man seemingly broken by his own action, being attacked by a professional interrogator? Clearly Gerrie Nell is an accomplished lawyer, insisting on the story being told over and over. In the dock, Mr Pistorius, often in tears, forced into reliving the night that changed his life.

He fully accepts his part in Reeva’s death and is full of regret and remorse. He has apologised to her family and his followers, a heartfelt and truly genuine apology. Either his pain is real and deep or he is the best actor I have ever seen, providing an Oscar-winning performance. I suspect the former.

However, I know not whether he is innocent. I cannot make that judgement, but I have been horrified at the bullying tactics of the prosecution. Is this what any of us would expect if we found ourselves being cross-examined? Facing an adversary with a professional tenacity that refuses to let go. Though I have nothing to do with the case, sometimes he makes me feel guilty too. I cannot imagine what it must be like being attacked face-to-face.

I always believed that judicial systems are designed to get to the truth, not purely get a conviction. In this case, I wonder whether Mr Nell agrees?

Posted in Justice | Tagged , , | 15 Comments

82 countries where homosexuality is illegal

I found this blog listing the countries where forms of homosexuality is illegal. It makes for uncomfortable reading for some. Unfortunately, judging by the number of unsubscribers from my distribution list after my last blog, comfortable reading for others.

82 countries where homosexuality is illegal.

Posted in Equality & Diversity, Sexuality equality | Tagged , , , | 1 Comment

No Double Beds Available – a religious response to equalities

When I go on holiday, I want to be able to share a room and a bed with my partner; whether we are married or not should be of no consequence. In last week’s news, I read a story of a thirteen room bed and breakfast establishment in Wales that has removed all double beds in order to get round an Equality and Human Rights Commission comment about it being illegal not to allow unmarried or gay couples to share a bed.

This issue has arisen before when in 2008 Peter and Hazelmary Bull, a Christian couple in Cornwall, refused to allow a gay couple to share a bed in their guest house. This led to a successful prosecution under the Equality Legislation and a subsequent ruling by the Supreme Court last November stating that their decision was sexually discriminatory. On the surface this may seem like an easy judgement to make, but when one person (or group’s) rights conflicts with another’s, it is usually more complex than first it appears.

Highland Moors Guest House

Highland Moors Guest House

In this second case, should Sue and Jeff Green, of the Highland Moor Guesthouse in Llandrindod, have the right to determine what goes on (or doesn’t) in their guest house? They claim their traditional Christian values are undermined by equality legislation and the demand made by the EHRC, suggesting that the ruling compromises the way they want to raise their children.

As it happens, it is irrelevant whether or not we agree with their position, for as soon as they opened the guest house they were bound by the Equality Act 2010, as were the Bulls in the previous case. The Green’s response to the ruling was to remove the double beds from their establishment – a creative, and it appears, successful compromise.

In our work places we find that disagreements and conflicts arise far too often and usually as a result of two people thinking their position is right. Do managers have the skills to help them find the middle ground solution, which may demand a little creativity, thinking ‘outside of the box’, and individual give and take – Sue and Jeff Green showed this is possible. It helps if the protagonists try to see the position of the other people in the conflict and come back from the polarised positions they find themselves in.

Posted in beyond diversity, Equality Act, Sexuality equality | Tagged , , , , , | 10 Comments

Your Family Name – following the mother or the father?

One of my new LinkedIn contacts Stephen Morley, Sports Development Officer at Cambridge City Council posted this question on the Beyond Diversity group on LinkedIn. He stated.

“For a long time I have felt that a major inequalities is how woman give up their family name to take on their husband’s after marriage. I’ve been married for nearly forty years and neither of us questioned the fact that Miss Clyrene Harris would become Mrs Clyrene Morley when we married. I don’t believe my wife had any strong feelings about it, it was just the norm. As I’ve got older I’ve really begun to question this practice.

Why should a woman give up her name and take on that of their partner?

When the Danish Badminton player Peter Gade married Camilla Hoeg, he became Peter Hoeg Gade.

If you are going to have a formal marriage ceremony, why not have a joining of the two family names to mirror the joining of the two people?”

Sunniva Heggertveit-Aoudia, Consultant, Trainer, Mentor and Coach appreciated Stephen’s comment and question and added that “There are different practices across the world, not all cultures perform the name changing after marriage. In my home country, Norway, it is very common to keep both names: maiden name and husband’s name.

I now live in France and was horrified when I got the first tax papers; I no longer had a name! I had become Mrs Husband’s Last Name, Husband’s First Name! I think it says something about women’s status in society: you don’t even have the right to your own name. Later on my bank changed my name without asking me, to my first name and husband’s last name. I was very angry! But, talking with other women, they had not thought much about this practise; “it is just the way things are”. However, it seems some women around me now start noticing these inequality for women due to the fact that I started commenting on them”.

Stephen then went on to acknowledge that from time to time his wife still receives correspondence addressed to Mrs Stephen Morley, which in his opinion is a step too far.

Is this discussion yet another example of the general status of women in our society. I suspect there are not so many men that would give up their claim to a family name and the connections that go with it, so why should society (and many men) expect a woman to so do.

I am conscious of how this name changing practice impacts on children too. In most societies, it is the norm to give them the father’s last name, or in more aware families double barrel it with the mother’s name. In my case our two children have the mother’s family name as their surname. I was recently asked, after introducing my son to a business contact, whether his mother and I were divorced. Never married was the answer and still very much together. She did not change her name and the children have hers.

The person who asked the question wondered how that madeUntitled me feel. I asked him how his wife felt not passing her family name on to their children. He had never given it a moment’s thought, which is no surprise really. When you think about it, which family names appear on your family tree?

This is another interesting gender inequality that seems to set in societal stone. I think it’s time to get the hammer out and start smashing it!

Posted in beyond diversity, community, gender equality, inequality, Sexism | Tagged , , , , , , | 8 Comments

Business Networking – another male domaine

Last week, I popped in to a local business network event to find thirteen men and one woman, which from my experience is not an unusual gender split at such groups; I do, however, find it quite disappointing. The room resonated with maleness.

Of course this was not the first time I had noticed this gender imbalance, but decided to explore it a little deeper, for surely, it cannot be that only men find networking to be a real business benefit. After a brief search, I found a survey conducted by Trowers and Hamlins, an international law firm, laying out some evidence to this networking anomaly.

The article is clear about the statistics showing that women want to network as much as men, but don’t do it. What are the barriers that limit their equal presence and participation?

The survey findings suggest that whilst women want to attend they make choices not to. Is this a simple case of “I have other priorities”, or “my work patterns prevent me from attending”. I think not. Most networking events are open to all and anyone who goes along has an opportunity to get involved. I do not believe that there is direct discrimination preventing women from attending, but what goes on there does reflect traditional ‘male’ behaviours and therefore is more attractive to men.

Networking is a challenge – going into a room not knowing anyone, approaching people, introducing oneself and being able to comfortably talk about “you and your business” and listen to others talking about “them and theirs”. Certainly this is not for everyone.

I run a monthly group, which during 2013 had over 120 attendees. Reviewing the attendance figures I see that 30 were women (25%), which compares well to other local groups. I asked some of them whether they view networking as a necessary business function. Nearly all agreed that they attend groups because they think they ought to, rather than want to, but acknowledge that they are actually better suited to men. One suggested that “the more testosterone fuelled ‘hard sell’ groups where everyone has a tag-line about their business, often with some kind of dubious double entendre, are particularly difficult”.

In conclusion, if traditional networking spaces are better suited to men, it becomes the responsibility of those running groups (me included) and other attendees to be aware of this phenomenon, to work to turn them into more inclusive spaces.

Women will not be the only beneficiaries. The groups will improve too. So, what will you do next time you go networking?

Posted in beyond diversity, discrimination, Equality & Diversity, gender equality, Sexism | Tagged , , , | 10 Comments