Feb 21, 2011

Angry from Manchester

Dear "Start the Week with Andrew Marr" Team,

I've just taken a casual glance down the list of STW podcasts that I've been loyally downloading since November, and was struck by the fact that on no occasion was there more than one woman on the program at a time. The standard lineup seems to be four men (Andrew included) and a solitary female voice.

Which rather puts me in mind of comedy panel shows like Mock The Week and Never Mind the Buzzcocks, also careful never to have too much female talent in any episode. I'm not sure that's the audience niche you guys are working to attract, but given that even Melvyn Bragg has grudgingly come to accept that women constitute more than 20% of the sentient life forms on this planet, one is forced to speculate.

The comedy quizzes' excuse is the venerable and well accepted universal truth that women just aren't funny. They do good work upholding this tradition by making sure not to invite too many funny ones, which stands to reason. I'm less sure what the reasoning behind STW's guest lineup is.
A. Sentient, Lifeform

ETA: There is clearly something in the water. Possibly seeded there by Bidisha's audacious new venture at her blog, where she catalogs and rails against the invisibility of women in the arts; although it would be unfair not to give first credit for getting me interested in this issue to Maura McHugh, a writer who often blogs about her experiences with woman-excluding panels, awards shortlists and writing manuals.

Anyway, my point is that this issue of women being ignored, excluded or marginalised in various media & artistic fora is getting airplay in the feminist blogosphere right now, with today's serendipitous addition being by the redoubtable Cath Elliott. You may want to read her post, it contains actual information and thoughts rather than just a snarky email to R4.

Feb 16, 2011

Over there is over here

A very, very sad thing happened last Friday in Cairo. It' a thing so sad, so painful and terrible, that it threatens to overshadow the cautious optimism I felt for the future of Egypt with a big, angry cloud of recollection that it's a deeply troubled patriarchal society, where sexual assault and harassment are rife, and where women report being routinely groped on the streets.

If I'm honest, even before this tragic news broke, I was already casting a jaundiced eye on the gleeful stories of women tidying up Tahrir square, sweeping up all the rubbish and returning it to normal; I heard lots of men taking credit for giving the Egyptian people their square back in good nick, but reports of actual broom-yielding mentioned only women.

Still, my second wave annoyance at the swift reassertion of gender roles isn't really on the same level as how upset I am about Lara Logan. And you know what else I'm upset about? I'm upset about stupid people trying to make political capital out of the personal tragedy of this young woman, in some kind f tasteless attempt to prove their superiority, or the inferiority of Islam, or the impossibility of democracy in the Middle East, or whatever their stupid agenda happens to be that stupid day.

Well, bad things happen in the west, too, you know.

So. Here's a list of women who've been murdered on a sexual/intimate background. In the UK alone. In the last few months (basically since the summer). Because it's always good to be reminded that we don't live in some enlightened utopia where bad hings have ceased to happen as soon as public toilets and non smoking laws were introduced, yeah?

(This is not a comprehensive list of course - just what I could find from about 30 minutes of Googling.)

  • Overshadowed at the time by the Raoul Moat story, Vicky Case and her two daughters were murdered by husband and father Andrew in their home int he New Forest.
  • In August 2010, Corby Craze was found in the burnt out shell of her house. Her rapist set the fire to hide what he'd done.
  • Also in August, Amanda Harrison was found murdered, apparently by husband Barry, while their children were in the property.
  • More recently, Pauline Jenkins was discovered raped to death (though police did not put it quite so bluntly) in her apartment in Brighton.
  • Sharon Hull was beaten to death by her estranged husband, who then committed suicide, in October.
  • Late in January 2011, Magdalena Januszeska was brutally murdered in Norwich; a 21 year old man has been arrested and it is believed he knew the victim. More information is hard to come by - violence against immigrant women is low on the national news agenda.
  • Again, only this month: Lorna Smith had her throat cut by her ex when she came to see him in Brixton "for a visit".
  • You may remember Linda Bakewell - her disappearance made the national TV news and everything. Her body was found in the back of a car in November. Her alleged lover was arrested.
  • You're even more likely to remember Anni Dewani, as her murder provided the Murdoch press with a excuse to send jammy reporters to South Africa and demonise the Asian community.
  • Then, only yesterday - Joy Small and her two small children, murdered by reportedly abusive ex who then goes on to kill himself (it's almost like there' a pattern here, isn't it?).
Ten women (and several children) in 8 months - and those are just the cases that made the press, that were shocking enough to raise attention. I didn't even mention other murders, of a less obviously personal nature - that of Siobhan Kelly for example, or Marie Stewart, whose remains were kept in a suitcase for so long it was possible to identify her only from dental records.

I'm not some information service - just a girl with a search engine. These murders of women are so accessible they are practically white noise. Still, every time we're surprised. Every time we're shocked. The neighbours always say, they were such a nice couple, weren't they? And put flowers outside the door.

And every time we hear news of something terrible that's happened far away, we like to think well, it's different there. Different culture and everything. What can you expect. They treat their women like animals. We like to think it. Well, we need a rethink.