FEM05: A review
The conference was a great success. It ran smoothly, all due to my excellent cloakroom and welcome desk skills (erm…no!), it was interesting, and well subscribed.
My early cloakroom duties meant I missed the opening talk and the first seminar on violence against women, but my other job involved me being in the auditorium so I was able to catch the second seminar on women in the work place, which was excellent.
There were three speakers, Sheila Wild from the Equal Opportunities Commission (EOC), Rachel Gill from the Trades Union Congress (TUC) and Vivienne Hayes, Director of the Women's Resource Centre. Of the three, Rebecca Gill stood out the most for me. Her speech not only challenged the gender inequalities in the workplace, but also stirred passion among the audience to arm themselves to fight against it.
In the afternoon I attended a workshop run by Jennifer Drew, Chair of Object, on Challenging the Normalisation of the Sex and Porn Industry. I had high hopes for this seminar which focussed specifically on lads mags, but actually found it provided little new information, lacked organisation/control and failed to offer useful and proactive channels for the anger many women in the seminar felt about the topic.
On reflection some interesting points were raised, particularly that the ASA are self regulating body funded by the publishing industry (so that’s why they’re so ham fisted and reluctant to strike back) and it also exposed the astounding double standards of the ASA in their strong censorship of gay mens magazines such as Gay Times as opposed to lads mags such as Zoo. For example a cover of Gay Times showing a buff man in just his Jockies was censored for being explicit, where as Zoo or Nuts could have a naked woman on the cover with just tassels covering her nipples and her hand covering her muff. It also reminded me that teen girls magazines are highly censored and strictly monitored, but there’s no one checking up on these mags that are being sold to boys as young as 10.
It was also interesting and quite surprising that this workshop filled up the quickest, was over subscribed and appeared to contain no pro-porn feminists.
The final seminar of the day was entitled Feminism, and aimed to argue why feminism is still important. This was another great seminar, with speeches from Prof Jeff Hearn (of Swedish School of Economics, Helsinki, Finland & University of Huddersfield, UK) a Profeminist who spoke on Masculinities and ‘the problem of men’. His was a strange talk, which left me with the impression that he believed men needed to be oppressed in some form to ensure women can become equal. An idea that doesn’t sit very well with me. I didn’t take up the feminist cause to oppress men, and I don’t think that’s the way to gain true equality.
Jenny Westaway of The Fawcett Society also gave a great speech on the paygap and why feminism is as relevant as even and Jo Salmon, National Women's Officer, NUS and feminist and LGBT blogger, spoke on issues relating to students at university and beyond, again mentioning the paygap, and an disgraceful fact that within 5 years of leaving university women can expect to be paid 15% less than their male counterparts when doing exactly the same job!
An interesting discussion started up after the seminar, from which I remember one specific question that struck me. A delegate asked whether equality can ever be achieved in a capitalist society.
It can’t. Capitalism relies on the cheap labour of the underclass to grease its wheels. To achieve equality we need not only to fight for women’s rights, but against capitalism. I will write more on this soon.
All in all FEM05 was a long day, but a good day. And I got a free lunch, a free t-shirt and a lot of inspiration and ideas for this blog and Subtext for my trouble.
My only criticism is that it focussed too heavily on what’s wrong, and not how we can work together to put it right. I think if Subtext can balance these two things, and give readers options how they can work towards equality in their community if not on a larger scale we would be on to a really good thing.