Dear feminist heroes: please don’t hate me if sometimes I disagree slightly

Update: Following some discussions on Twitter (ironically), I regret some of my wording choices in this post. In particular:

  • The title conjures an image of feminists sniping at me if I disagree.
  • The “head above the parapet” phrase implies that I’m taking some sort of risk both here and in any possible disagreement in comments. The only risk involved is really to my ego, whereas I acknowledge that many brave women face awful harassment for posting their views online.
  • Likewise my use of “safe space” at the end implies a lack of safety (for me) in disagreement otherwise. Again, this is inappropriate compared with the need for real safe spaces.

In addition, where the tone is patronizing – any implication of “I’ll be the level-headed chap to bring common sense, balance and reason to the feminist orthodoxy” – I apologise.

None of this was my conscious intention, but I definitely need to think about why I chose to express myself this way in the first place.

With all that said, I haven’t changed the text beyond fixing typos – I’m not keen on revisionism, and if I don’t own the words I use, it makes it too easy to make the same mistakes again.

Jon, the bad feminist

I have a deep, dark secret. Sometimes when I’m reading an article – most commonly on rape culture, but not always – I say “not all men!” to myself, very quietly. I don’t say it out loud. I would certainly not post it in the comments section – I’m aware of its ability to derail the conversation, whether deliberately or not – but I think it.

This is just one example, and it’s mostly a reaction to the writing style rather than the points raised. (Personally I find that the more compassion for all that is shown in an article, the more thought-provoking it is – but I understand that a smidge of hyperbole can be helpful in getting an article noticed.)

In other cases, I find myself disagreeing with the some of the actual points raised by the article. Importantly, this is usually within the context of strongly agreeing with the primary thrust of the piece. Time for another concrete example, with the risk of raising my head above the parapet here… but I’ll put it all in one paragraph, to try to avoid it dominating the comments. (This piece is not about this particular issue. It’s just an example.)

I don’t think it’s a good idea to knowingly put yourself in a situation where you’re at risk, where it’s reasonably easily avoidable. If you do, and if you are assaulted, that is not your fault. It’s not your responsibility. You are not “asking for it”. But I’d still suggest avoiding the situation in the first place, where possible. When they’re older, I’ll be happy to tell my sons that if they go out clubbing, it might be a good idea for them to sort out leaving with their friends, to avoid being on their own, potentially after drinking, late at night. They should be able to walk the streets (whether in town or closer to home) in safety – but I know that we don’t live in a totally safe world, and I’ll encourage them to take safety precautions. I don’t believe that’s encouraging muggers. I don’t believe that the posters at train stations saying “Pick-pockets are known to operate in this area – be careful with your possessions” are encouraging theft. So when it comes to advice given to women to avoid being assaulted, including rape, I don’t have a problem with there being such advice. I think there are good and bad ways of doing it – that it can be done in a terrible way which is victim-blaming a slut-shaming – but there’s room for it to be done well, too.

That’s the sort of thing I’m talking about here.

Space for disagreement

I’ve been thinking about avenues for minor disagreement for a while – and procrastinating writing this post, basically – but Louise O’Neill’s piece in the Irish Examiner last week gave me cause for optimism, and spurred me on (with only another six days of dithering) to write this. Three quotes from it – out of context, so please read the whole thing:

It felt to me as if we were trying to say that there was a ‘right’ type of woman, or a ‘right’ type of feminist and that feels antithetical to the movement itself.

Feminism is about inclusion. Feminism is for everyone.
I think the most important thing to retain when discussing political issues like these is a sense of nuance.
My own sense of feminism is constantly evolving and incidents such as this help to further develop my political ideologies – I would never be as quick to judge as I would have been only two short years ago.

Robust discourse and debate are crucial for the health of any social movement but infighting and tearing each other apart for daring to hold different opinions is not.

Hooray! So that means it’s time for me to start adding comments, right? Maybe not.

I see four broad reasons why I might disagree with something written by (say) Louise O’Neill, Sophie Walker, Catherine Mayer, Emer O’Toole or Roe McDermott.

  • I’m just ignorant. There’s no way round it – I’m not a woman. I don’t know how I would feel about various issues if they’d affected me more personally. When I was mugged early in the morning a few years ago, that affected me more than I hoped it would. So maybe I’m just wrong.
  • It’s just possible that I’m objectively right (without evidence so far) and they’re objectively wrong. There are definitely some aspects where evidence of policy decisions could be available and maybe even is available. Things like the gender pay gap have had a lot of research effort put into them, for example. Perhaps not coincidentally, these tend to be the areas where I disagree least.
  • Maybe the view I inferred from the piece isn’t the one they intended to put across, or it may be exaggerated for effect, and actually we don’t disagree at all, or at least not significantly.
  • Maybe it’s just something where we’d have to agree to disagree, where there is no objective truth. That’s not to say discourse would be fruitless – it’s always good to understand someone else’s views better – but we shouldn’t expect to change each other’s minds.

It’s important to note that I don’t believe any of these make me a bad person. I don’t feel guilty for disagreeing. (Maybe a little guilty when that disagreement is in the form of a mental “not all men!” – darn that feminist social conditioning! ;) Given that I think all of the authors are fabulous people, I suspect none of them would think I’m a bad person for disagreeing, either. So why am I holding back?

Unity first

I think it’s important that men support feminism. I think it’s important that they do so full-throatedly. I think it’s important that they’re seen to do so. And that’s why I’m limiting my concerns to this little corner of the internet, where I can lay it all out and put significant effort into not being misunderstood.

Imagine I write a well-crafted response to an article I disagree with. To be careful, maybe the first paragraph is in broad agreement, then three paragraphs of respectful challenge, then a summary paragraph reiterating the broad agreement and demarcating the area of disagreement. To start with, that’s a much longer comment than many people will read properly, and obviously on Twitter any chance of nuance is pretty much shot. But even for a diligent reader, it ends up as 60%+ disagreement – and I suspect that hurts the cause of feminism more than it helps.

To put it bluntly: I think a man registering disagreement can easily look like a dismissal of the whole feminist movement, whereas a woman is in a better position to explore nuance in comments. It’s a shame that that’s the case, but I believe it is. (If you disagree, please comment here, regardless of whether you’re a man or a woman – or whether you don’t self-identify in such a binary way.)

I hope it won’t be this way forever. I hope that when more battles have been won, when “openly, actively feminist” men are more commonplace, that there won’t be such a risk in my participation in nuanced debate. Until then, I’ve made my peace with mostly staying silent where I can’t be loudly supportive.

To be clear – this is really around public debate. I very much hope to one day meet at least some of these heroes in person. (I’m actively trying to make that happen, too. We often host great speakers at Google, and I see no reason not to try to make self-interest align with office culture.) I would love to have a long, drawn-out coffee with lively debate, with no risk of my counterpart coming away with the impression that I’m a misogynist. I could listen and become less ignorant. I could ask dumb questions and make dumb comparisons without making it sound like I think I’m actually making a clever point. We could take a point of disagreement and work out which of those four broad buckets from earlier that point lay in, or whether it deserves a new bucket to itself.

The more I describe it, the more I think I’m talking about a “safe space” for respectful critical discussion on feminist issues, where men are included equally. But I’m not asking for it yet. I think we have rather more important things to fight for first.

So I’ll continue to self-censor – unless comments persuade me otherwise. I think it’s for the greater good. (And it feels so good just to have finally written all of this down…)

Known unknowns: feminism, intersectionality and humility

In 2002, Donald Rumsfeld made the following comment:

Reports that say that something hasn’t happened are always interesting to me, because as we know, there are known knowns; there are things we know we know. We also know there are known unknowns; that is to say we know there are some things we do not know. But there are also unknown unknowns – the ones we don’t know we don’t know. And if one looks throughout the history of our country and other free countries, it is the latter category that tend to be the difficult ones.

Compared with many Rumsfeld quotes of the same era, this actually makes an awful lot of sense… but I hadn’t thought about it in the context of feminism until just recently. I’ve been thinking a lot about how not just feminism in general, but my own experience of it – particularly in terms of how, when and whether it makes sense to challenge some views of some feminists, whilst agreeing with their outlook. That’s going to be the subject of a whole other (and more difficult) blog post, but while thinking about it, I’ve had to acknowledge the fundamentally ignorant position from which I approach all of this. That leads me to the topic of humility.

I suspect that if you ask a random person in the street (of any gender) for words they associate with feminism, most probably wouldn’t include “humble”. The image conjured in my head is that of women standing up to be counted, proclaiming “This isn’t good enough – we deserve better!” That doesn’t sound terribly humble, does it? Indeed, there are may be many people who would find a call to humility to be insulting – but that’s certainly not my intention. (Nor is it my intention to try to shut those confident voices down in any way. I want to be very clear about that.) Maybe it would be helpful to go back to why I feel humble – or at least understand that I should be.

Shared humility

I suspect that many readers of “Everyday Sexism” have a reaction of “Phew! It’s not just me! But I never knew how bad it was…” My reaction was more one of astonishment… whilst being aware of sexism in general, many of the examples really left me stunned. They’re simply outside my realm of experience. But what has been taking longer to sink in is the aspects of intersectionality – something which has been present in my reading list right from the start (with bell hooks and Feminism is for Everybody). The interplay of race and class in sexism (both in terms of the struggles of those involved, and the politics within feminist movements) was new to me, and I still feel like I’m only starting to grope round the edges of it. There’s a lot of “I hear what you’re saying, and I have to trust it’s correct, but I don’t really understand it yet.” For a guy who spends most of his time in an environment where he’s reasonably competent and experienced, this is pretty challenging.

One thing I am finding about intersectionality, however, is that I’m not alone. Sure, a white woman probably knows more about what the type of prejudice that a black woman faces than I do – but they wouldn’t know everything. A black man and a white woman getting together to talk about their experiences still wouldn’t know what it’s like to be both black and a woman, facing attitudes that are specific to that context. The only way to find out what challenges black women face is to ask… black women. It doesn’t stop there, of course – I’ve used those two aspects of identity for simplicity, but obviously there are many others, and many different points on each spectrum of race, gender, sex, religion, disability, class etc1.

In that sense, surely we should all be humble – not about whether or not we all deserve respect, equal opportunities or a safe environment, but about how little we know about the lives of others. Going back to Donald Rumsfeld, think about the categories he talked about, in this context:

  • Known knowns: I have a pretty good idea of how someone just like me gets treated (in my area, anyway).
  • Known unknowns: I’m aware of some of the challenges faced by some people who are different to me. I’m trying to learn more – but really, I still need to be listening. Even when I gain knowledge, that’s a long way from understanding – it takes a lot to go from knowing there’s a problem to being able to reason about solutions and predict consequences.
  • Unknown unknowns: there are countless situations I haven’t even heard about, let alone pursued, considered and devoted time to.

Inclusive ignorance

Clearly the set “known knowns” is pretty tiny compared with the others… just as I’m sure it is for everyone. I’d even argue that it’s somewhat relevant that less privileged sets of people don’t know what it’s like for more privileged sets. This isn’t a matter of claiming that I’m due any sympathy as a straight white cis male – just that the more we all understand each other’s experiences, the more likely we are to come to a common vision for a brighter future.

I’ve been finding that articles and speeches taking this sort of humble view to intersectional feminism are inspiring and inclusive. I’ve been trying to find a way of expressing this that doesn’t make me sound life a self-centred jerk, but I’ve failed – so I’ll just express it as honestly as I can instead. When I find myself in an environment of women complaining – with good cause, mind you – about how men are treating them unfairly, I find that daunting and depressing, not only for the awful experiences recounted, but because I feel alone in my ignorance. When I find myself in an environment of women still recounting their experiences but also asking others for theirs in the expectation of learning something new – that’s a room I feel comfortable taking a seat in…. where I won’t feel that any question is too dumb to ask. My personal comfort level should be pretty far down the list of anyone’s priorities, of course – but it feels to me like it’s a sign of the whole atmosphere being a constructive one2.


I’ve mostly added this heading to force myself to draw this to a close. It’s all somewhat rambling, because my thought process is somewhat rambling – this is like a condensed version of the last 18 months or so in my brain.

The TL;DR is that I still find myself overwhelmed by how much I don’t understand. Indeed, the more I learn, the more I’m aware of how much more there is to learn. I find it empowering when I hear that others – including powerful, confident voices in feminist movements – are also constantly learning, and don’t expect to have all the answers.

If any of this sounds like mansplaining, I apologise. Please let me know in the comments – I probably won’t edit the content (to avoid revisionism), but I’ll try to take it on board for future writing. It would be an interesting symptom of the exact ignorance I find myself mired in.

1 I don’t want to imply that we can be reduced to a simple set of points on multiple axes either, of course. The idea that (for example) every straight white cis woman faces the same set of prejudices or challenges in life is nonsense, of course. I hope this doesn’t really need to be spelled out to anyone, but I wanted to make it crystal clear just in case.

2 Sometimes, it’s really good just to vent. That’s not to make the world a better place in general, it’s to make you feel better. That’s still a benefit, and not one that should be underestimated. It can also have the positive side-effect of letting others know that they’re not alone if they’ve had similar experiences. I don’t want those benefits to be lost – I guess I just don’t want that to be the only sort of experience.

Book Review: I Call Myself a Feminist: The View from Twenty-Five Women Under Thirty

Title: I Call Myself a Feminist: The View from Twenty-Five Women Under Thirty
Edited by: Victoria Pepe, Rachel Holmes, Amy Annette, Alice Stride and Martha Mosse
Amazon links: UK, US
Genre: Feminism, Essays

My initial reaction to this book, before even buying it, was regrettable / embarrassing. More on that later. I wanted to mention it up-front to make it clear I’m not ducking it, but it’s important to get to what’s in the book before my reactions to it.

The essays

The book really is exactly what it says on the tin: a collection of essays by young (relative to me!) feminist women. Between the essays there are a few quotes, but each stands alone: if there’s intended to be a path from one to the other, it was lost on me. However, there’s an introduction which acts as an extra essay in some ways – and the absence of one specific direction doesn’t feel like a lack so much as an opportunity for a very diverse set of essays. Indeed, I’d say the variety is actually a primary feature setting this book apart from some other books I’ve read. A multiplicity of authors naturally leads to a range of voices, styles and experiences – but it’s more than that. It allows each essay to be very personal about what especially matters to that particular woman.

I’m pleased to say that not all essays sat easily with me. Some included points that I plain disagreed with (usually alongside others that I did agree with) but others were simply more challenging in terms of a different experience of life. I generally feel that if a book only goes along with my existing experience, I probably don’t learn much from it. Of course, at the other extreme, if I can’t connect with an author’s viewpoint at all, that’s not much use either. A few essays within “I Call Myself A Feminist…” felt like simple common sense (which is at least reassuring) but plenty were challenging and stretched me. (Even if there’s resistance to the stretching, planting the seeds for future change can be positive.)

I’m not going to point out which essays I had mixed feelings about, but I’d like to draw particular attention to a few which stood out for me:

  • “Manifesto for feminist intersectionality” by Jinan Younis. Intersectionality and trans+ discrimination are topics where I’m particularly lacking in personal experience and meaningful understanding.
  • “What can men do to support feminism?” by Reni Eddo-Lodge. Naturally something I’d want to know about, of course – and I certainly recognize some of the criticisms there. (I try hard to hold back at local Women’s Equality Party meetings, but I’ve a long way to go.)
  • “A typical engineer” by Naomi Mitchison. Again, as an engineer interested in diversity in my field, this was always going to hold particular interest for me. The author’s consideration of the Typical Engineer is a problem beyond gender diversity, and the stereotype can encourage some actively harmful traits – but that’s a topic for a different time.
  • “Staring at the ceiling – it’s not always as simple as yes or no” by Abigail Matson-Phippard. While I can see the benefits in trying to make consent “as simple as yes or no” the reality is more complex, and it’s good to see this explored. (Again, I’m only encountering this whole topic from a position of ignorance, but a lot rings true in here.) Louise O’Neill has also written about this in the Irish Independent: “Blurred lines: when it’s not rape but it’s not right”.
  • “Islam is my feminism and feminism is my Islam” by Maysa Haque. Amidst all the negativity and prejudice around Muslims of late, this is a wonderfully refreshing essay of personal growth within both feminism and Islam.

Looking through the essays again for this review – it feels like an age since I read them first, despite being less than two months in reality – I was reminded of just how much I enjoyed the glimpses into their lives that the authors shared. One of the nice things about a collection of essays is that it’s easy to dip into at any time, although I fear the impact on my ever-growing reading list if I do so…

Initial reaction

Here’s the part I’m embarrassed by. When Louise O’Neill first retweeted the launch of the book, I replied asking whether it would have been impossible to find just one man’s voice to include in the book, to explicitly include male feminists too. I’d missed the point.

Of course it would have been possible – but why should the editors feel any duty to do so? Not every book needs to be specifically for every possible reader… something I’ve already been annoyed about in the opposite direction, when reviews for C# in Depth complain that it’s not suitable for beginners (something it doesn’t try or claim to be). So why the hypocrisy here? Recognizing this felt like a giant red “check your privilege” stamp coming down from the sky onto my forehead.

I still believe it would be reasonable to have a similar collection of essays from male feminists. I do think feminism is stronger when supported by men too, and that reading about other men’s experiences, feelings and difficulties can be helpful. I believe that can be done without taking anything away from the more-obviously-crucial writing of women about feminism.

But that doesn’t mean I have any right to demand that of the editors and collators of this book. Instead, it feels natural that if I want to see such a book, I should be part of making it happen. I’m imagining a smaller collection, distributed for free. I have no plan at the moment – no list of people to ask, no covering letter, nothing. Writing down the intention feels like a good start, and we’ll see whether anything comes of it.


I suspect I’m going to get sick of ending my book reviews by “thoroughly recommending” the book in question, but I have no hesitation in doing so here. It’s possible that more “seasoned” feminists may have read something similar to each of these essays before, but as a relative newcomer I found plenty to chew on. Even the essays which only reinforced my existing thoughts were refreshing through their sheer vitality.

Great stuff – and I shall attempt to check my privilege next time…

Book review: Only Ever Yours

Title: Only Ever Yours
Author: Louise O’Neill
Amazon links: UK, US
Genre: Fiction, Young Adult

I’ve noted the genre as “Young Adult”, but Only Ever Yours has nothing that feels “young” about it – not once did I feel it had been dumbed down for a youngish audience, either in the ideas expressed or the way in which they were expressed. That seems to a common theme in good YA fiction these days – they’re simply good books which also happen to be suitable for young people. I’m looking forward to my eldest son (about to be 12) finally getting round to reading Only Ever Yours, so we can talk about his own impressions…


I’m going to try to restrain myself from spoilers in this review, but it’s hard to say very much without giving some parts away.

The book is set in a post-apocalyptic dystopia. The nature of the apocalypse isn’t made clear, although it is indicated that the population is discouraged from finding out too much about it. After the event, the population is radically smaller, and the nature of reproduction has changed: boys are born, but girls are “designed”. Almost all the action of the novel is set in the School where the girls are prepared for their adult life, which will consist of being a companion, a concubine or a chastity. The first two of these roles are pretty obvious, although “companion” sounds considerably more egalitarian than the reality; the chastities are the teachers in the School. The girls are divided into these roles by the boys in society who are of the same age: the boys choose their companions, with the boy from the most prestigious family having first pick.

The story is told from the perspective of freida, in the months leading up to the Ceremony which marks her graduation from the School, when her future is decided for her. We see her battles with peer pressure, eating and sleeping disorders, friendship, betrayal, romance and more.

That quick description doesn’t really attempt to do justice to the storyline. All I want to get across here is the premise. While the story is compelling, it’s not really what I took away from the book. Perhaps it’s the story that kept me turning the pages, but it’s the atmosphere that haunts me afterwards.

Style and themes

Beyond the initial “what’s going on?” intrigue which is a natural part of the first few pages of any book, the oppressive nature of the world of Only Ever Yours makes itself clear immediately, simply in capitalization. Every girl’s name and every woman’s name is in lower case. When I earlier referred to freida, that wasn’t a typo – that’s how she’s consistently referred to throughout the book, including within her own thoughts. Compare that with the many other aspects of the story which are capitalized – the School itself, room names, web sites, special events, and of course, all the boys’ and mens’ names.

Normally, I’m not a fan of this sort of thing. I think of the normal rules of English as a convention to help convey ideas, to reduce the friction of trying to get inside someone else’s head. Painting a pipe funk colours doesn’t make water flow through it any more easily. (This doesn’t mean I don’t appreciate a carefully-crafted sentence; it just means I’m not a fan of difference for the sake of difference.) I can only think of a very few times when something which could be regarded as a gimmick has been effective for me as a reader – A Clockwork Orange being the most obvious one. The difference is that while I gave up reading A Clockwork Orange the first time, the change in punctuation in Only Ever Yours is slight enough that it doesn’t make the book any harder to read. It’s not subtle – I doubt that any reader would fail to notice it – but it doesn’t get in the way. Instead, it just constantly reinforces the impression of what’s important and what’s not in this brave new world.

While the capitalization is the most easily-cited example of the way that O’Neill crafts the claustrophobic world of the School, it’s only one aspect. It’s relentless – just when you think it can’t get more depressing, it does. Of course, if it were just grim reading, it would be monotonous and unreadable, but the bursts of joy and creativity that freida experiences just make it more sickening when the system pounds everything positive out of her life. Here, the system doesn’t just consist of the rules of the School, or the strictness of the chastities – it is the competitiveness of the other girls, and even the voice inside freida’s own head telling her she’s not good enough.

O’Neill reinforces what actually happens with what she chooses to describe – the clothes the girls wear are described frequently, but the girls themselves usually only merit comparisons with each other, and even that in a sort of airbrushed, plastic way. (Admittedly the face of the plastic doll on the front cover has no doubt affected my memory of the book, but that just goes to show how it builds as a whole.)

The inner monologue of freida sometimes comes close to full-on rebellion, but I don’t think she ever steps back to question the whole system… she has internalized her fate as simply what life is like for girls. Even without that level of awareness, I got the impression that freida is perhaps unusually thoughtful and inquisitive. I’m not sure whether that was O’Neill’s intent, however – some of the other girls do have distinctive personalities, but we don’t get to see much beneath the surface. (Both isabel and agyness come over well, having said that. How much is that me liking them, and how much is it freida liking them? Hard to tell.)

Obviously the overarching theme of the book is the tyranny of misogyny, and how pervasive it can become. There’s no attempt to excuse it or lessen it – it’s just there, bleeding through every paragraph, casually malevolent. The majority of the book is “man-free” in terms of direct interactions (although clearly not in terms of context) – and although I’d like to write a little about the attitudes shown by the boys later in the book, I think that’s too close to the boundary of spoilers.

The obsession with physical beauty is the strongest manifestation of self-reinforced oppression (for which there’s no doubt a better word), but this is compounded by the absence of anything more intellectually or emotionally stimulating. Learning about nature has to be done on the sly; trying to find out about maths rings alarm bells. Exuberance is suppressed as far as possible.

Reactions and conclusion

I’m very aware that I’ve been gushing throughout this review so far. I know that unrelenting praise can be a bit cloying, so I will say one aspect which niggled: it felt like either I’d misunderstood the population size of the EuroZone (and possibly the world), or there were some inconsistencies there. The TV shows, social media and pharmaceuticals felt like they were part of a much more densely populated world than other aspects of the book led me to believe. As I say, maybe I misunderstood how the system worked somewhat, and it doesn’t impact on the book much at all, given that the vast majority of the story is firmly within the walls of the School.

So did I learn anything? I’m not sure I’d put it that way – but I’d say it’s added to my experience and beliefs around feminism. Unlike O’Neill’s other novel (Asking For It – to be reviewed shortly…) this is set in a fictional future, and doesn’t claim that this is the way the world is right now. It’s hard not to see pretty much every aspect of the misogyny in the book somewhere in our life, however. It’s as if the difference is in concentration – the poison which is pure in Only Ever Yours is diluted by not-so-sucky bits of life in our world. It still acts as a warning though, reminiscent of 1984. I read this book concurrently with Everyday Sexism, which brought everything into fairly miserable focus, but it made it a very contemporary experience. The recent story about Essena O’Neill’s experiences with Instagram – no relation to Louise O’Neill as far as I’m aware – adds more evidence that we should heed the warnings from Only Ever Yours.

To conclude, I’d strongly recommend Only Ever Yours, with the warning that it’s far from a fun read. It’s very dark – but equally gripping and beautifully told. It will stay with me for a long time.

The Women’s Equality Party, and why I joined it

Given my previous post, this one shouldn’t be much of a surprise. In March 2015, the Women’s Equality Party (WE) was formed, initially spearheader by Catherine Mayer and Sandi Toksvig. I heard about it at the time, and was interested to follow its progression, but didn’t give it much thought.

On August 29th1, the Guardian ran a piece with Catherine Mayer, Sandi Toksvig and Sophie Walker, who was the new leader of the party (and will be until elections in 2016). I can’t put my finger on exactly what appealed within the article – other than the non-partisan nature spirit – but it was enough to convince me to join. As a package, it felt “right”. I’m member 4111, literally a card-carrying member so as to have a constant reminder and conscience-pricker if it’s necessary. I’ve never been the member of a political party before – although as far as WE are concerned I could join another party without it being a problem at all.

On October 20th, the party had a big launch event with first policy document outlining the vision for making progress against inequality along the six main objectives. (And yes, that’s my ugly mug on page 13 of the policy document.)

I’m not going to rehash the policies here – please read the policy document for details. It’s a very readable and clear set of policies, and I’m looking forward to discussing them further at my local branch. They’re not all “comfortable” policies, and I suspect the most controversial one will be around quotas for representation in the House of Commons. I don’t think anyone really likes the idea of quotas, and I hate the idea of either “lowering the bar” or even the perception of that. I don’t think we need to lower the bar at all in order to achieve equal representation – but I do think we may need to go further in order to encourage and support women candidates who are effectively fighting the cultural norm. (This is my view for women in STEM careers too, by the way.) Equality in representation is simply coming too slowly at the moment… other suggestions for quickening it would be welcome, I’m sure.

So why a political party, and why now? Why not just another pressure group? Well, in terms of timing, obviously I had nothing to do with it – it just so happened that WE came along at around the same time as my increasingly feminist view. But I do think the approach of forming a political party is an interesting one. I don’t have a crystal ball, but I’m imagining possible results being:

  • No change anywhere, and general frustration
  • Individual politicians taking a more pro-equality stance, even if their official party policies don’t change significantly
  • Mainstream parties making a much more serious effort – for example, taking into consideration (and ideally reporting) the impact of proposed policies on different sections of the community.
  • WE managing to get councillors and MPs elected, influencing government more directly

I’m guessing (or possibly hoping is more accurate) that it will be the second of these followed by the third. I want our representatives to be sufficiently afraid of the awkward questions being asked in hustings that they feel the best option is to tackle them head-on. I want them to try to outdo each other in constructing policies which will effect real change. I want them to feel proud of themselves at the end of the day for doing so, too.

Ultimately I believe that the most important change isn’t a legislative one, but a massive cultural shift. Ever-better laws protecting equal rights don’t accomplish that in and of themselves – but I think they send a positive message to society: “This is the sort of country we want to live in.” I’m sure that has happened already – while the same-sex marriage act 2013 undoubtedly upset many people, I believe it also encouraged a larger group to rethink their position on homosexuality, whether consciously or not.

Maybe WE will work. Maybe the party can be disbanded before I have grandchildren. Maybe it will be a dismal failure – but at least I’ll know I did my (little) bit to try.

1 Or thereabouts – the online piece says August 28th, but I believe it was in the August 29th print edition, which is where I saw it.

Feminism and Me

I’ve been mildly interested in women’s equality issues for a while, but it was some time in the summer or 2014 – almost certainly as part of reading Gamergate commentary – that I ended up reading a fair chunk of the Geek Feminism Wiki. That was the start of a journey which is far from complete, but firmly begun.

At this stage, my views are reasonably “mainstream feminist” as far as I can tell. As an incomplete list of example views:

  • I believe women deserve equal pay for equal work, and that despite the Equal Pay Act 1970, that’s still not happened.
  • I believe society is squandering the talent of women through a culture of making it harder for them to make career progress in many professions, often through unconscious bias. (I believe that the same is true for men in some other professions – and that fixing the culture would fix both problems.)
  • I believe we are culturally desensitized to the difference in how men and women are represented and perceived. The media does a lot of this representation, but I believe that’s just part of a feedback loop of culture. The media may well be a great lever for helping to fix the culture though.
  • I believe that violence against women is significantly under-reported, under-prosecuted and horribly stigmatized against victims. The high bar for proof and “innocent until proven guilty” principles of the law do sound noble and I’m extremely wary of changing them – but they lead to a particular disparity in violence against women. At some point, the notion of “I’d rather let ten criminals go free than one innocent person go to prison” has to give.1
  • I believe our cultural and professional expectations of child-rearing need to change, and that this would be a net win for everyone. I suspect that more equal parenting would help keep families together in some cases, give better male role models, improve career opportunities for women, give men a better work/life balance, and so on.
  • I believe that remarks and catcalls which might be described as jokes or compliments by some have a significant impact on the lives of women who have to put up with them day in and day out. It’s hard for those who don’t experience this to really appreciate the impact – so I think it’s best to believe the reports of those who do.
  • I believe that with better representation in both politics and business, many aspects of our society would be fairer. Going back to “squandering the talent” point made earlier, I’m sure that widening the pool of thought leadership would lead to better ideas being aired, too.
  • I believe many people suffer discrimination on multiple fronts (e.g. race, sexual orientation, physical or mental disabilities) and that this can have a very significant effect on quality of life, requiring particular care and consideration in combination rather than treating each aspect of discrimination as isolated.
  • I believe trans women are women, and should be treated as such by society. There’s a huge amount I don’t know about trans and more at the moment, and I suspect that I’ll only make a dent in my ignorance over time… but I’m aware that those who aren’t conveniently cisgender (in whatever way) face very particular challenges within a cisgender-oriented society.
  • I believe men have a part to play in supporting causes of equality. (And yes, I think it’s entirely reasonable for me to call myself a feminist.)

I can’t decide whether that sounds like a bold set of beliefs that I should be somewhat ashamed of not putting into practice as well as I might… or just obvious, hard-to-dispute truths (that I should be somewhat ashamed of not putting into practice…) I tend towards the latter option, but if these things really are fairly obvious, why is the world the way it is? I suspect it’s like an oil tanker being very hard to turn around – deep shifts in culture (rather than just trends and technological habits) seem to take a very long time to materialize.

Most of my education so far has come from books, so it’s probably worth listing the relevant ones I’ve read (so far) since the Geek Feminism Wiki awakening. In no particular order:

I’m hoping to review each of these on this blog to whatever extent I can still do so (bearing in mind the time between reading and reviewing in some cases), but before going into details I can heartily recommend all of them here and now. Even those I found I disagreed with most (The Female Eunuch in particular) were definitely worth reading, and were thought-provoking. I’d particularly recommend Everyday Sexism as an eye-opener… and if you’re more of a fan of fiction than non-fiction (as I usually am), both of the Louise O’Neill books listed above are wonderful but deeply disturbing.

Next up: The Women’s Equality Party, and why I joined it. After that, book reviews – and after that, I may have had some original thoughts worth noting.

1 To clarify my view here, as it’s provoked some alarm – I really am extremely wary of changing any of this, but I don’t think the status quo is good enough. When so many cases of sexual violence are “he said” vs “she said”, what does count as fair? How can we best protect everyone? No system will be perfect, but it seems clear to me that the current approach simply isn’t working. Surely we can do better.

Introduction – yet another blog?

I already write a few blogs – most regularly my coding blog. Over the past year or so, however, I’ve frequently felt I had something non-code-related I wanted to write about in a longer form than Twitter or even Google+ encourages. Typically that has been about some form of activism – my feelings when attending the Gay Pride march in London in 2015 for example, or my growing affiliation with feminism and the desire to leave thoughts about some of the feminist books I’ve been reading.

This blog is theoretically a catch-all for anything that doesn’t fit in with my coding blog, the Noda Time blog or my mostly-dormant faith blog. (I may well move entries from the faith blog onto this blog instead, as a lot of the thinking will be related.)

A few ground rules and general points:

  • Every post on this blog is my own personal opinion. Please don’t infer the opinion of my employer (whether past, current or future) from what I write here.
  • All comments will be moderated. I fully expect troll responses to some posts – they won’t get through. Disagreements will, if respectfully phrased.
  • Don’t expect 100% consistency over time. This is a more opinion-based blog than my code blog, and my thoughts on many issues may well change over time.