Fight Your Battle One Seat at a Time

It’s Tuesday morning and I’m sitting in a very comfortable seat at London City airport – one out of five airports located in and around London. I’m flying out and into City every week due to work commitments and my regular morning outbound flight is boarding soon. I’m killing the time till then with an overpriced coffee and fruit salad from a local cafe. I’m looking around and what I see is more than a little bit frustrating – just like it was last week and the week before that, and the week before that.

I see men. Many of them! In suits and with suitcases more expensive than the entire contents of my suitcase combined. They hold Financial Times or City AM newspapers, chat to each other (they seem to be here in groups or pairs at least) and discuss the latest football match from the weekend and/or their golf plans for the bank holiday coming up. And there I am – tired of seeing middle aged (mostly white) men in expensive suits chatting about boys’ stuff while women are nowhere to be seen. I’m literally counting and out of the 17 people immediately in my surroundings, there are myself and 3 other women. That’s all.

The airport website proudly explains that the average traveler from London City airport earns 115,000 GBP a year – that’s very high even by Financial district measures, where the airport is located. It also has more expensive flights than other airports, it doesn’t host many low-cost airlines, and you won’t see a Starbucks when you walk in – instead you see a fancy bar/restaurant with high price tags.

Because it’s a convenient airport for well-paid travelers, it reflects the employee base at banks and at financial and business services companies (63% of all passengers work in these sectors). More specifically, it shows the echelons of those who go on business trips – their lower-ranking colleagues mostly stay in the office. A study has shown that 41% of travelers from City hold the position of Chairman, MD, Director or other senior manager. Those higher echelons are largely male dominated, and so, you guessed it – women are pretty much rare species around here.

I’m frustrated because I hear a lot of talk that women have equal opportunities at work and they can get promoted based on merit, just like men do. However, looking around this morning I don’t see those women, where are they? Yes, on paper we are equals in a country with an advanced legal system, but in reality the numbers of women in senior positions are still low. We make up barely 30% of boards of UK companies, let alone the full 50/50 parity we so desire. And while many say promotions should be based on merit and I agree with that completely, I also find it very hard to believe that for the 13 men around me there are just 4 women who match them on merit. It’s just not convincing.

One may think this is a one-off, but I count every week. So yes, I feel a little frustrated when people tell me Britain is equal. If that’s really the case, why do I feel like a rare gem in a sea of city travelers?

Fly safe, ladies and gents, and remember that what you hear is not always true – question it and fight to change it. One seat at a time.

Young Women May Be Driving Gender Equality in the Middle East and North Africa

Post written by Alexa Hassink, Senior Communications and Advocacy Officer, Promundo

The Middle East and North Africa often makes the news, and not for it’s progressive stance on gender equality. A new 10,000 person study on the state of gender equality in Egypt, Lebanon, Morocco, and Palestine seeks to look behind the headlines. The study finds – among other trends – that young women are leading the way when it comes to supportive views about equality.

Produced by Promundo and UN Women with local research partners, the International Men and Gender Equality Study in the Middle East and North Africa (IMAGES MENA) is the first study of its kind and size in the Middle East and North Africa. Covering four countries, it takes a big picture view of what men think, and how they act, when it comes to supporting gender equality. This includes asking men questions ranging from if they ever have used violence against a partner, to how they feel about having a female boss.

The study reveals that while the majority of men do have fairly traditional, sexist views about gender equality, at least one quarter of men hold more open and relatively progressive views in supporting women’s economic, social, and political equality. That’s good, but not great news.

Importantly, we also get to look at women’s side of the story. What we find is that young women have less traditional attitudes than the older generation. This may seem intuitive, and it is supported by global data and trends, but it shouldn’t be taken for granted in the MENA region, where, among men in Morocco, Palestine, and Egypt, younger men’s views on gender equality do not differ substantially from those of older men; in some cases, they were even more conservative.

We know that when it comes to men taking on less traditional, sexist attitudes, personal histories, family influence, and life circumstances are among the factors that can help drive us in the right direction. This is in addition to things like having greater wealth, higher education, a mother who had more education, or a father who carried out household chores.

So what impact might progressive women have on men’s support for gender equality?

In two of the countries, men whose wives worked outside the home were more likely to do more of the unpaid care work. Others had come to see their wives as strong and capable after they (the men) had spent time away from home, either migrating for work, or otherwise.

The reality though, is that women do not always have the opportunity or support to take action when it comes to seeking and achieving equality in employment, politics, or at home. Indeed, men frequently dominate or control household decision-making, political and leadership spaces, and the daily lives of women and girls: only about a quarter of women in the region work outside the home. Furthermore, the burden should not fall on women to drive this change – we need everyone to be partners in the process.

In this context, men – as friends, partners, siblings, citizens, and importantly, as fathers – can play a key role in raising and supporting strong, independent young women. Fathers who encourage daughters to take on non-traditional professions or to work outside the home, or who allow their daughters to choose their own husbands, seem to contribute to the emergence of more strong, independent women.

In all four countries, men whose fathers had participated in traditionally feminine household work and caregiving, as well as men who were taught to do this work as children, were far more likely to report contributing in this way within their own marriages. This points to the importance of parents’ positive examples in setting the stage for future generations of both women and men who will support relationships and societies based in equality.

This research helps us to better understand how we can raise progressive girls into women. The challenge ahead is to create a supportive environment where these women can thrive, and where the men in their lives support them to do so.

Download the full report here.

Cover photo credit: Promundo

When Feminism Became a Marketing Technique

Marketing to women has been a tried-and-true tactic used by American marketers for centuries. While the benefits of designing and selling products to women, for women, appear to be plentiful, capitalizing on an entire gender of consumers leads young women and girls down a path that is feminist in name only.

Brands are often ready to adopt a feminist persona to appeal to women, who make up an powerful sector of the American consumer base. Traditional gender roles have rendered women the primary purchasers of groceries, clothes, and other household products for family needs.

Yet, some marketers still treat women as a niche audience, creating gendered versions of everyday products, from writing utensils to disposable razors. A quick look at some major advertising campaigns from the past years show how marketing can push a product masked under a feminist agenda.  

  • Big Tobacco: Perhaps one of the longest-running marketing-to-women campaigns, tobacco companies have been advertising cigarettes to women for over 100 years. Nursing@USC’s online Family Nurse Practitioner program created a timeline that shows how tobacco companies branded cigarettes as a symbol of feminist emancipation while highlighting false benefits of smoking, like weight loss and stress management. With slim, light and flavored cigarettes designed to appeal to women and girls with celebrity-sponsored ads, the tobacco industry overpowered public health officials’ attempts to educate women and still sells cigarettes to 15 percent of American women today.
  • Dove’s Real Beauty Campaign: The company’s “Real Beauty Sketches” spot became the most-watched video advertisement of all time in 2013. It featured women describing their physical features to forensic sketch artists. The ad was part of Dove’s decade-long Real Beauty” campaign, and attempted to show that people are their own worst critics, and that they have more to celebrate about their “real beauty” than they realize. However, critics claimed that Dove simply capitalized on women by rendering them “insecure about their insecurities”. Dove went beyond the campaign to partner with youth organizations to prove that they were committed to changing beauty standards for women and girls, yet still received criticism for photoshopping female models in their ads to appeal to the same unrealistic ideas of beauty.
  • Swiffer’s Rosie the Riveter: Perhaps the most obvious appropriation of feminism since the American Tobacco Company sponsored Amelia Earhart in the 1920s, Swiffer featured a model dressed like Rosie the Riveter to sell home cleaning products in 2013. The company quickly apologized for the ad, but not before critics took to Twitter over the controversy, citing sexism throughout advertisements for many cleaning companies that repeatedly feature women as the primary users of their products.

Marketing failures like Bic’s Pens “For Her show us that women are increasingly aware of the superficial ways that brands try to appeal to female consumers — particularly through the unnecessary gendered labeling of would-be unisex products. In the ill-advised 2012 campaign, Bic launched a set of pens in feminine packaging that featured a “thin barrel for a woman’s hand.”  Following a storm of criticism on Twitter, Amazon and an entire episode of The Ellen Show, Bic discontinued the line. It’s clear that the internet makes it possible for more women to be educated about the story behind marketing campaigns and the quality of products, but it also serves as a watchdog for companies that are seeking to capitalize off of women as a niche consumer base.

While many women and girls appreciate the exclusivity of products that are made for women, they also deserve to know why and how products are made for them. As long as women are watching with an analytical eye, brands will have to stay authentic through their manufacturing and advertising strategies.

 

Halah Flynn is the Content and Outreach Manager, Nursing@USC

Nursing@USC is the online FNP program from The Department of Nursing at the University of Southern California. The program prepares family nurse practitioners to treat physical and behavioral health, address social and environmental factors, and lead positive social change.

Hello Spring, Hello Sexual Harassment

London is at it’s most beautiful in the spring. After many dreary months the city fills up with candy-floss blossom and slightest breeze scatters pink and white confetti over the pavements. Parks fill with daffodils. Occasionally the sun shines for two days in a row – although this leaves everyone confused and suspicious. Londoners begin barbecuing everything within arm’s reach (and inexplicably wearing sunglasses on the tube).

But one of the very best things about spring is the liberation from the shackles of the Winter Wardrobe it brings. Freed from socks and boots, toes wriggle joyfully in sandals once again. Coats are confidently packed away til next year (or ‘til it randomly snows in June). Legs escape the prison of thick black tights, shoulders are bared, noses are burnt.

But flash so much as a bit of ankle in springtime and it won’t be long before you’re reminded of a far less welcome consequence of the warm weather. Not absent in winter by any means, just rarer – and more subdued. Welcome back, spring. Welcome back, regular sexual harassment and verbal abuse from total strangers in the street. How I have not missed you.

This year seems particularly bad. For the past couple of weeks my body has felt like it must have a sign that says Open for Public Review. Only I didn’t write that sign. I don’t know who did.

First came the standard whistles/smirks/”alright darling“s that are so frequent that they blend into the fabric of daily life as a young female in the UK. Then, two men in a van drove in circles round the streets to follow me as I walked home from work. On circle one they blew kisses and winked at me. Circle two was an observation on my appearance. Circle three was an obscenity and on the fourth they called me a miserable slut.

I wanted to feel angry and indignant, but mainly I felt very frightened. I wanted to keep my head up and walk tall or to shout something cuttingly clever back at them, but I was shaking and my mouth was dry and I was looking around for the reassuring sight of strangers. The only people I could see were construction workers at the building site at the end of the road. They sat talking in a row on a wall and fell silent as I approached, having watched the whole thing.

I put my head down. Their eyes bored into me as I passed and I suddenly felt very, very sick of feeling like a sad gazelle being eyed by lions. Very, very sick of being looked at in that way that can only be described as predatory. Under his breath, one of them said: “lighten up, for f**k’s sake“.

It’s not a special story and it’s certainly not a rare one. I don’t know exactly how often things like this happen to my friends because it’s difficult to talk about it. There is stigma attached to saying you’ve been whistled at in the street, because it still holds some awful suggestion amongst women that you’re implicitly describing yourself as good-looking. It’s difficult to talk about it with men because it doesn’t happen when they’re with me.

A friend once told me a story from his childhood. He told me that he’d been playing football but had scored an own-goal, causing his team to lose the entire match; a devastating humiliation for any 8-year-old. Determined to cheer this little boy up, the football coach let him sit in the front seat of his van and they went for a drive. The extra special treat? Honking the horn at the women they drove past.

I was disturbed by this the moment I heard it, but the more times I am thrust into a public conversation about my body that I didn’t choose to be in, the more it disgusts me.  I don’t ever want to have a son in a world where little boys are taught that abuse is entertainment. I don’t ever want to have a daughter in a world where being leered and shouted at is normal, and obscene threats of sex are quotidian and shrugged off.

London really does look beautiful in spring. I just wish the season didn’t declare my body open for judgement, simply because I’ve taken off my tights.