Monday, 16 July 2012


It's been agreed that YouFem, as a group, will stop operating.

Since founding the group last year, I have been energised, inspired, and often deeply moved by the support and input offered to us from the very beginning.

The group now lacks a core team. A Levels got the better of us in the end, and we're all moving on. Somehow, it feels like time.

I will continue to blog in a personal capacity on more widely political issues. Maybe in this space, but probably not. Either way, the YouFem blog will cease to be. Thanks for reading; I am, we are, so grateful.

Best wishes, and again, thank you so much,

Harriet Smith Hughes

Sunday, 6 May 2012

Poor Politics

The day after Thursday's elections, I got an email "from Ed Miliband":
"Today I felt prouder than ever to lead this party. Proud of the extraordinary effort of people like you - not for ourselves but for the people we came into politics to serve."
And I thought: "delete". In fact, I delete every one of these well-meaning messages to the supposed party faithful. I used to actually read them, but have learnt not to, after straining my eyes through excessive rolling.

Thursday's elections were such a Labour coup because a) mid-term elections always punish the government, b) cuts are starting to hit and people are reacting, and c) only those who really wanted to vote for or against the government actually made their way to the polls. It's not because Labour is offering an attractive alternative to the Coalition, it is because they are not the Coalition.

If only the party would take that on board. If only the leadership would realise that the result wasn't a massive vote of confidence in Ed Miliband, or the Labour dialogue, but a vote of no confidence in the government. Day in, day out, Labour lacks any positive message; we know they oppose everything the government is doing, and oppose the cuts. But what on earth are they for

Wouldn't it be lovely if they started to treat us, the electorate, like sentient beings? Labour needs to develop a mature and credible line; to come out every day and say, "Okay, so that's what the government is doing...but here's our policy, and it's better in this way". The public, rendered jobless, their welfare state in tatters, their public services sliding into the sucking pit of Coalition cuts, are casting around for a viable alternative. And all they have is Labour, telling them what they already know. 

No wonder so many people think Coalition policy is tough but necessary. Labour isn't showing anyone how it could be different.

The horrifying thing is that there is no hope of a radical change in tack, at least not under this generation of Labour leadership. The political system encourages answer-dodging, toeing the party line, soundbite-ism, emotional but insubstantial grandstanding. The system is eating itself, populated by ambitious born-and-bred politicos who quickly conform to the system's dictat; accordingly the electorate becomes alienated from and disgusted by politics, and disilllusioned with their "representatives". The system suffers as a result.

The next generation of politicians and party leaders have the opportunity - nay, the duty - to rebuild politics from the bottom up. Voters are rejecting the system, as shown starkly by Thursday's projected 32% turnout. As this next generation moves up into politics, we can throw out the current tendency for self-imposed ossification. 

But it's a group effort. It means diversifying politics, in terms of class, gender and skills. It means politicians striving for statesmanship on a daily basis, rather than descending into petty adversarial mud-slinging. It means not promising what you can't achieve. Not pontificating and condescendingly semonizing to the people. To remember that humility is a most attractive trait in a politician.

It means a new generation of journalists have to resist the temptation to hang politicians up to dry, every time they actually answer a question.

It also puts responsibility on the public: to get involved in politics, and call out politicians when they bullshit. To stop demanding the Earth, when it's not your MP's to give. And to never give up on action, even if its just in a pluralistic, localised way. In twenty years time, we could have reversed this snowballing voter apathy, and reintroduced humanness to politics.

Or, Labour, you could just do it now?

Sunday, 29 April 2012

EVAW guide to Mayoral Election

London's Mayoral Election is on Thursday. If you're still undecided, have a look at the End Violence Against Women Coalition's comprehensive guide, exploring who will do the most for women's safety. Who will make London safe for women? #ldnsafe4women

Wednesday, 28 March 2012

Penetrating the patriarchal world of finance

So hello to new Bundesbank research, that has found women bankers to be greater risk-takers than men (see Financial Times). The study measured risk-taking in major German banks alongside the gender makeup of the banks' executive boards. Banks with more female executives were found to take more risks.

This finding challenges all those lazy gender stereotypes that consign women to a life of being measured, sensitive, more emotional, less brave. According to these notions, we're supposed to live up to that spine-chilling 19th century female adjective: meek. The ridiculous assumption that female bankers would put a damper on the fast-paced world of finance has been annihilated by this research. The myth of quiet, uncompetitive, unambitious, unexciting, utterly un-banking women in finance has been revealed - no, really? - to be just a myth.

That's not to say that the findings are in any way conclusive, or even that the research takes all factors into account (it doesn't). It's just pleasant to imagine the collective jaws of the financial sector's male hegemony dropping. Women don't conform to convenient business stereotypes? But WE KNOW their testosterone deficiency renders them unable to operate in high-octane banking. Well, you thought you knew.

That was my first reaction, anyway. Then the penny drops. This research will have dire political ramifications for women across the globe trying to penetrate banking's upper-echelons. In the deceptive parlance of officialdom, the research is said to “suggest that a public policy debate must take this impact into consideration”. In practice? Women are risky, so get them the hell away from our banks.

If the corporate world and "public policy debate" do take this research "into consideration", it will be a major setback for gender equality. It will amount to a transparent excuse to abandon any planned attempts to get more women into boardrooms. Women are too dangerous to merit the use of quotas. It would be frankly irresponsible to reform the patriarchal world of banking in favour of these risk-taking harlots of hysterical spontaneity. Why is that when men were seen as the risk-takers no one thought to prevent them entering banking? Because they have always been there. Women, on the other hand, are the intruders.

We're right back to prejudice against women, built on lazy and unproven assumptions. Before, women were rubbish because they couldn't take the necessary risks. Now they're rubbish because they apparently do.

Why can't we win? Why are we being held to higher standards, greater ideals? It's much easier to defend a castle than to win a seige. That's what we're witnessing here: the establishment can open the drawbridge to who it chooses. Women are forcing a foot in the door, but as reaction to this research shows, the battle is far from won.

Monday, 26 March 2012

Motherhood? It's not all feminism and applepie

Written by one of our members' mothers.

Motherhood is when it happens. When many women become of aware of inequality for the first time. Up to then, many young women wonder what all the feminist bleating is about.

It’s not so very terrible, they think, it’s not like my mother’s day. I was an equal at school and more than an intellectual match with men thereafter. I dress how I please, sleep with who I want, when I want. Contraception is freely available. And the women at work are doing as well as – or even better than – the men. We’re earning as much as “the boys” and are climbing the ladder with no trouble.

Then they get pregnant and something shifts. Pregnancy does not always suit modern working patterns and the world of work struggles to accommodate it. Women are often desperate to hold onto their jobs and to continue being seen as able, wholly-functioning members of the team (despite the occasional sneaky vomit and the dragging weariness).

Women’s relationships with their partners also shift. As they get heavier and closer to birth, they become more dependent. They will be taking time off work and will need their partner to make a commitment to supporting the new enterprise in ways that are different from before, possibly financially.

When a baby is born, many women find their old certainties disappear. To some, going back to work is intolerably painful. The fact of having a child can also put the relationship with their partner under enormous pressure. Many feel that the partnership that they’d thought of as largely equal no longer is. Someone, somehow ends up holding the baby, and that someone, somehow, is usually the woman.

Suddenly they find that their careers are the dispensable, less important ones when someone has to take days off work with a sick child, attend school assemblies, take children to the dentist, see teachers after school, interview childminders.

After one baby, many women are able to maintain their old working patterns and positions, just. After two, however, the juggling often becomes too much. At this stage they begin to make the big compromises. 

And because they need to be available, and may have opted to work part-time so that they can spend more time with and on the children, they don’t apply for the big jobs, for the promotions, for the careers requiring travel and longer hours at short notice. And suddenly the gap between men and women’s positions and salaries starts to yawn.  Except for the rare, lucky few, they aren’t sitting in the boardrooms, editing the newspapers, chairing the committees or heading the teams.

Much has changed for the better since their mothers were young women. Today, western women are not defined by marriage, they are educated and enter the workplace in equal numbers with men and boys. Contraception and abortion are available almost on demand, few careers remain closed to them, in the UK they can apply for family-friendly working patterns, and it shouldn’t technically be possible to sack them because they are pregnant.

But today’s mothers face a fresh struggle: to force the world of work to accommodate motherhood, while still making it possible for women to make a full contribution to their work. Families also need access to good, affordable childcare, and employers need to recognise and accommodate men’s as well as women’s role in parenthood.

Until employers are made to realise that they have to adapt to motherhood and families to get the best from their female employees, women will remain poorly represented at the top table, and will continue to earn less than men over their working lives. The revolution continues.