Tag Archives: sexism

The Women’s Room – calling female experts!

15 Nov

by Catherine Smith

So it’s Monday morning and I am starting the day with my usual dose of frustration and weary resignation as I listen to John Humphrys on BBC’s Today programme, discussing contraception for underage teenage girls with two men. Admittedly, one was the Headteacher of a school but even so. I’m not convinced that he has any real understanding of what it might feel like to be a teenage girl.

I let some steam off on twitter, sigh and go about my day.

Tuesday morning arrives and I switch on Radio 4. This time a discussion on breast cancer actually includes two women who have experienced it. But wait! What’s this John? Now we turn to the expert? A man?

Cue rage, exploding head and another rant on twitter, fuelled further by the BBC responding with a short statement saying they would like more female experts but can’t find them

‘Right’, I decide, ‘enough is enough. If the BBC can’t find experts, I’ll do it myself’.

Caroline Criado-Perez, a freelance journalist, responded by tweeting out asking for female experts in both of these subject areas and, within ten minutes, had a selection to choose from.  A continued exchange with Caroline resulted in thewomensroom.org.uk being set up on November 1st with the able assistance of Jem & Jax, our long-suffering website team.

The response to the website was simply overwhelming.

Within hours of launching we were inundated with entries  ranging from; lecturers in Film, Media, History and Architecture, to lawyers, zoologists and nurses, to survivors of domestic abuse, women who grew up in care and women who have been in forced marriages.

We simply couldn’t keep up with them and had to put a call out to our twitter followers to ask for assistance. Our twitter account is still gaining approximately 200 – 300 followers a day and we have, as of 7th November, received over 150,000 hits on the website from all over the world. We have clearly captured the imagination of women everywhere, many of whom say they feel silenced or ignored.

The response in the media has also been extremely positive and supportive, and our continued press coverage and sustained presence on twitter has also resulted in some high profile endorsements from such as Clare Balding, Alison Mitchell, Gaby Hinsliff and Chris Addison. We were even re-tweeted by Harriet Harman.

One of the aims of thewomensroom.org.uk is to challenge and re-define the general perception of an ‘expert’. It does appear that when an expert is called upon for their opinion, it tends to be someone who is formally qualified in their particular profession. And more often than not, they are male. We believe that an expert is someone who has experience or expertise in any area.

For example, with regard to the breast cancer debate on the Today programme, the two women who talked about their experiences are, as far as we can see, experts. They are able to give their unique insight into the impact that cancer has had on their lives, the lives of their families and how it feels to be in recovery.

It’s important to recognise that women’s experiences of domestic abuse, mental health, substance misuse, abortion, child care or rape are different from those of men. They may not be ‘qualified’ in the conventional sense, but they are very definitely experts so let’s start treating them as such.

Women have long been vocal about the inequalities, discrimination and, in many cases, institutionalised sexism that they experience. In the media, in politics, in the workplace, in daily life.

It’s the 21st century. It is time for women’s experiences and expertise to be acknowledged, and for them to be viewed as experts.

And Mr Humphrys? If you want to discuss an issue that primarily affects women, or any other issue for that matter; you know where to find us.


Catherine Smith

Co-Founder of The Women’s Room



One woman’s election experience – ‘It didn’t come easy!’

27 Jul

by Paula Sherriff

Hi everyone, really pleased to be able to contribute to this worthwhile and much needed site!

I was very proud to have been elected as a Labour Councillor in May this year. However, it is fair to say it didn’t come easy! I was elected in an AWS seat (incidentally really interested to hear other’s views on AWS?) The ward for which I stood had a candidate in mind and yes you guessed it – it was a man! I can go into details if you wish but, in a nutshell they made life very difficult indeed. Ultimately my selection was made by the DLP with Regional involvement. During a difficult campaign, I was subjected to abusive telephone calls, threatening behaviour and a number of untruths were circulated around the ward in question, generally questioning my integrity.

I had a couple of mini ‘wobbles’ but was determined to keep going and not give in to shocking, misogynistic behaviours. What really saddened me was that this treatment was being dished out from fellow party members, effectively going against everything the Labour party stands for.

I made over 5000 contacts between being selected and the election and improved the contact rate in the ward from 11% to nearly 50%.

I hope you are relieved to read that I was elected with a fairly sizeable majority despite an ex Labour party member standing against me as an Independent. Upon making my ‘victory’ speech I stated I was so proud to be a Labour party member but more importantly a ‘strong Labour woman’. I hope this resonates with many of you. We have a duty to and must try to stamp out this kind of behaviour within the party, there is simply no place for it!


Paula SherriffPaula Sherriff is a Labour Councillor for Pontefract North

Follow Paula on Twitter: @paulasherriff

Is it still politic to play the good wife?

26 Jun

by Jackie Gregory
WVoN co-editor

“The great value of wives, prime minister” mused Judge Leveson at the Leveson Inquiry into press standards.

It was an off-the-cuff remark, and possibly judiciously sarcastic, but had it appeared in a Jane Austen novel, scholars would describe it as perfectly crafted, weighted with class and precisely pinpointing the place of women in society.

But this is 2012 and the prime minister is David Cameron, who had to ask partner Samantha Cameron to consult their weekend diary (yes, we all have one, it’s called the kitchen calendar in our house) to see how many times he had enjoyed a “country supper” with former News International executive Rebekah Brooks.

Too many, she could have curtly replied, but no, Mrs Cameron as the PM referred to her, was able to help him out of the frying pan.

After she had consulted her diary, her husband was able to clarify that he and Brooks had met every six weeks, and not more frequently. It was then that the judge made the remark that has attracted much comment.

Quentin Letts in the Daily Mail mused: “Yikes. Harriet Harman and the sisterhood may not approve of that remark. I do hope the good Lord Justice is not subject to a class action complaint for sexism.”

It’s obvious that neither the judge nor Cameron nor Brooks, a former tabloid editor, realised that country supper  – words used in a text by Brooks to Cameron – has a totally different meaning in today’s street language, being slang for oral sex on a female.Samantha Cameron

And so through linguistics, the clubby culture and remoteness of the British ruling elite are exposed.

Cameron consulting Mrs Cameron firmly underlines her role as “the good wife”.

It’s this concept that sickened Tanya Gold who wrote in The Guardian: “How I would love an inquiry into how politicians treat their wives, how they swap access for favours, how they beg them to dumb down, down, all the way to the glove drawer.

“The good wife is neat, smiling and ubiquitous, performing her role as professional tea caddy and shock absorber for her male … It is a tedious narrative but politicians need the vision of the happy woman as they harm women and their families elsewhere.”

It brings back uncomfortable memories of Judith Mellor, a couple of decades back, being forced to stand by the country gate smiling after husband David Mellor, then Tory Minister for Sport, was revealed to be having an affair.

Norma Major stayed quiet, in public at least, after John, then prime minister, had a fling with Edwina Currie. Even Sarah Brown was called in to speak up for Gordon to try to humanise his image.

Note the backlash against Cherie Booth which is still ongoing, because she failed to be a demure good wife to Tony Blair, and instead had her own career and identity. Sally Bercow, the wife of the speaker of the House of Commons, faces similar scrutiny.

Michelle Obama in the vegetable gardenYet Naomi Wolf detects a change – on the Continent at least. While Mrs Cameron may be busy listing her husband’s supper dates, and Mrs Obama swaps a law career for growing veg in the garden, there are partners of politicians in other countries who are refusing to toe the line.

Wolf points out that the French president, the German president and the mayor of New York are not married to their partners – and no-one seems to care.

Wolf says: “Smart women may be unwilling to marry high-profile political men these days, owing to the tremendous potential downside. Other domestic arrangements might be easier than taking the matrimonial plunge, with its prospect of thankless exposure in the event of a scandal.”

Another reason is generational change with an expectation that women will have their own careers. Wolf argues this helps diminish the fear in some voters’ eyes that adoring good wives are the power behind the throne, unelected and unaccountable.

If a wife is too busy with her own career to get involved, this diminishes her power in the eyes of some electorate.

Wolf concludes: “The adoring political wife was always more caricature than character. Now, fortunately, she can finally retire.”

If Mrs Cameron does decide to step away, then she had better leave the weekend diary on Dave’s desk.

Jackie Gregory is a co-editor of Women’s Views on News

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