Tag Archives: London

Sexism roundup week one: witch-hunting becomes Olympic

8 Aug

by Jo Johnson

Actually, it started before week one, with the news that the Olympic Committee will be testing any women athletes doing suspiciously well at their sport or come across too “masculine”. The IOC started a hunt for hyperandrogenism. The scenario appeared like a medieval witch hunt, only the herbs were replaced by hormoneas the devilish substance.

Hyperandrogenism is a condition in which a woman’s androgen levels are considerably high. Androgens,

Caster Semenya, who was at centre of gender row in 2009

Caster Semenya, who was at centre of gender row in 2009

which include testosterone, are hormones commonly considered to be “male” hormones, although all women have a certain amount in their bodily system. The IOC is arguing that a naturally raised level of androgens gives a female athlete an unfair advantage over her peers.

It’s an extremely oversimplified view of things. There’s plenty of research suggesting that raised testosterone levels alone do not provide any significant advantages. This was articulated very well on Women’s Hour this week. Many women with hyperandrogenism even have a complete immunity to the effects of testosterone – meaning although they have higher levels than the supposed average woman, their bodies do not respond to it in any way.

There also hasn’t been a rush to test high performing athletes for any other kind of genetic condition that might give them an advantage, like mitochondrial conditions that result in increased efficiency in respiration. The latter have been found for some runners. Or Marfan’s Syndrome, which can be an advantage in sports like swimming or basketball.

Nope, it seems it’s sex and gender that people have got their knickers in a twist about. Mostly because women, now that there are fewer barriers to their participation in sport, are performing some pretty outstanding physical feats. And a lot of people simply can’t believe they’re doing it. So obviously, they must be men in disguise. How else can they be SO GOOD?

Ye Shiwen

Ye Shiwen after winning 400m freestyle and breaking world record

This brings me smartly on to the case of Ye Shiwen, a 16 year old Chinese swimmer, who absolutely smashed the 400m individual medley and won gold. She beat her personal best by five seconds, and swam the last 50m of the race quicker than the men’s champion. The first assumption was that she was doping. The USA swimming coach was quick to label her performance as “disturbing”. Which speaks volumes; obviously a girl beating a boy at sport can’t be anything other than disturbing.

She’s upsetting the idea that women are and always will be weaker and slower than men, and the patriarchy does not like it. She passed her doping test, but how sad that when a woman performs such an amazing feat of athleticism, she is immediately assumed to be cheating. When Usain Bolt did something similar on the track, he became an instant hero. Clearly, many people are not as pro-woman as they think they are.

And Thursday we were treated to an article in the Telegraph that would have made a Victorian physician look

Gemma Gibbons celebrates her win over Purevjargal

Gemma Gibbons celebrates her win over Purevjargal

like a moderate, pragmatic feminist. Andrew Brown shared his insights on women’s judo with us, and very gripping it was too (aha!). It seems that, rather than celebrating a display of immense skill, strength, co-ordination and discipline, which lead to a medal for Gemma Gibbons of Team GB (the first for GB in judo for 12 years), Andrew was a tad more concerned for their “soft limbs battered black and blue with bruises”. Andrew wonders whether watching two women fighting is a “wholesome” spectator sport. I put it to him that it is as wholesome as watching two men beating the crap out of each other in the boxing ring, or smashing each other on a rugby pitch. If you don’t like fighting or contact sports, that’s fine, but don’t be a massive sexist about it, it does nothing for your argument.

Sport is an arena where sexism still, largely, goes unchecked. Where mainstream society does not question the chronic poor fundingcrap reporting and downright abysmal amount of respect that women athletes get, or rather, don’t get. Women athletes are constantly reduced to their appearance, expected to balance out their athleticism by presenting as very feminine, and are ripped by the gutter press if they don’t. Olympic weightlifter Zoe Smith articulated the situation very well when she ripped some sexist tweeters apart on her blog.

And so, there is a long way to go, but to leave you on a happy note; in women’s football GB played Brazil, at Wembley Stadium in front of a crowd of 70,000 people. That, sisters and allies, is something I never expected to see in my lifetime.


Jo Johnson
Jo Johnson studies Sport Science at Leeds Met and just finished a two year sabbatical at the Student’s Union. She is a member of the NUS National Executive Council and the NUS Women’s Committee. Nevertheless, all views are – surprise! – her own. Follow her on Twitter @jo_johnson13


This article was originally published on 5 Rings 4 Diversity. Thanks to them and Jo Johnson for letting us reblog. 

Why we support the London bus strike

22 Jun

by Amy Jackson


Today, tubes and trains across London are cramming in yet more passengers, cycle lanes are cluttered and pavements are crowded with more pedestrians than usual, as bus users are forced to find alternative ways to get to work. Only 3 bus companies are operational, as London bus workers in seventeen bus companies go out on strike.

The industrial action has gone ahead despite attempts to block it by a high court injunction, which the drivers’ union, Unite, branded an ‘affront to democracy.’

As some who lives in London, I am all too aware of the chaos that transport strikes bring. They make travelling in London even more stressful than usual, and in turn, Londoners even more grumpy than they normally are. But, for all the inconvenience, the strike is worth it. Here’s why:

  • It is estimated that six million people will be visiting London for the Games. This will put huge pressure on the transport system and it is perfectly reasonable that transport workers are rewarded for fairly for their efforts.
  • Tube and train drivers have already been promised at least a £500 bonus for the Olympics, why should bus drivers be left out?
  • This strike is a last resort. TfL and the bus companies refused to even meet with bus drivers until the 11th hour, despite repeated requests for meetings from Unite and the workforce.
  • Billions of pounds have been spent on the Olympics and personal fortunes have been made out of lucrative contracts. It is unfair that bus drivers, crucial to the success of the Games, are denied a mere £17.24 extra a day.
  •  The top 7 executives at TfL will be awarded an £80,000 bonus each after the Olympic Games, and yet they have condemned bus drivers for asking for £500 – less than one per cent of their huge bonuses.
  •  Bus drivers are not expecting the bonus for ‘free’. A visit to any tube station will show you that Londoners are being encouraged to walk and cycle to work as the strain on the transport system will be so great. London already copes with a huge number of visitors each day, but the numbers flocking to the city for the Games are unprecedented. TfL are expecting at least 800,000 extra people to be using buses.
  • Of the 21,000 drivers balloted , 97% of them backed industrial action. This is workers demonstrating their right to withdraw labour, and despite the transport problems caused,  the right to strike is fundamental to democracy and should be respected.
  • The bus operators have collectively made over £2 billion in profits according to their latest annual accounts. Unite’s regional secretary for London, Peter Kavanagh said,  “Despite the huge profits bus operators have given their workers three years of below inflation pay increases or pay freezes. If the operators shirk their responsibilities now they will sow the seeds of massive anger and frustration across the bus network inevitably leading to strife and industrial action during and way beyond the Olympic Games.”


Of course, people travelling daily in London tend not to have the collective patience of a saint, and this dispute needs to be resolved. The strike should act as a wake up call to the bus companies and TfL to get round the table and negotiate meaningfully about rewarding bus workers for their indispensable role in the Olympics. After all, it’s only fair.





TFL bosses to get £80,000 Olympic bonuses

10 Jun

Fair Play for Bus Pay

by Amy Jackson

Unite the Union has accused Transport for London of ‘ barefaced hypocrisy’, following revelations that senior TfL executives are in line to earn Olympic bonuses 160 times more than the award bus workers are demanding.

According to TfL’s unaudited annual report, the  top seven staff at the organisation are in line to cash in on two years of annual bonuses worth £560,000 which equates to £80,000 each if the system runs smoothly during the Olympic Games.

Leon Daniels, TfL’s Managing Director of Surface Transport, who earns a basic salary of £234,000, condemned bus workers whose average salary is £26,000, for asking for an Olympic award. Meanwhile, Mr Daniels himself will be one of the seven managers to receive the £80,000 bonus.

Bus workers are asking for an Olympic award in line with what every other London transport worker will get for the massive increase in workload during the Games. Unite has been urging TfL to intervene since September 2011 to persuade  London’s bus operators to meet with Unite. In line with Boris Johnson’s rule of non-negotiation with trade unions, TfL has refused at every turn to help resolve this dispute. In a clear sign that bus workers patience has run out, they have voted by 94 per cent for industrial action.

Peter Kavanagh, Unite regional secretary for London, said: “This is barefaced hypocrisy of the highest order. TfL chiefs on six figure salaries are in line to earn Olympic bonuses worth 160 times more than bus workers are asking for.

“These revelations will infuriate our members and serve to strengthen their resolve to fight for fairness.

“TfL has done nothing to help get the bus companies around the table to resolve this dispute. Since September last year TfL has consistently refused to get involved. All TfL can do is condemn workers asking for a fair award for the massive increase in workload that they will face during this historic occasion.

“There is no doubt that with the huge numbers of extra passengers and major congestion on London’s roads, bus workers will be on the front line ensuring London runs smoothly during the Olympics.

“TfL’s  approach to this dispute is a dereliction of duty to London, it is time TfL acted responsibly.”

For 2010/11 revenue for TfL from the buses was £1.3 billion, an 8 per cent year on year increase. Bus workers have endured pay freezes and below inflation increases over the last few years.

Following the strike ballot result, Unite has given the bus companies a final opportunity to reconsider their refusal to pay bus workers a bonus. If the dispute is not resolved, strike dates will be announced early this week – not what London needs in the run up to its big Olympic party.

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