The equality emporium

I am typing this from the BA Lounge at Heathrow Airport, waiting for the flight that will take me across the pond to Seattle-A and her boys for a glorious 10 days of ‘hanging out’.

As with all airport journeys I leave plenty of time to allow for a) North Circular and Heathrow spur traffic b) a less than fast Fast Track and c) breakfast and a spotty reading of the Financial Times. Today there was no traffic and Fast Track lived up to its name so I have plenty of time to dash off a little post.

This one is inspired by something I saw on Springwise.com yesterday and got me thinking about that equal pay question. You see this was about a pop-up shop called 76<100 where you ‘pay what you’re paid’. So if you’re a woman and you buy something in this Pittsburgh emporium, you pay only 76% of the price because that’s the gender pay gap in Pittsburgh. (Springwise reports that the plan is to expand this concept to New Orleans next where the store will be called 66<100 – you do the maths. You can find out more at http://www.lessthan100.org.)

I’m reading all sorts of things in the media about women ‘issues’ – after all the suffragettes won the right to vote here in the UK a century ago and the general theme of all of these rallying cries is that we have not come so very far. The use of the word feminist is emerging in common parlance again after years of being tarred as the ‘other F-word’ and an election would not be an election in the UK without most of the parties bandying ‘women issues’ about as part of their appeal to the swinging voter (anyone see Labour’s pink campaign bus – I mean REALLY?)

For the most part it just sounds like noise to me and while I accept that there is still a gap to bridge, I just think that there are so many of these bridges to build and for so many of us. The problems of women’s representation on Boards and equal pay – while I do acknowledge their importance – pale when I think about the things I read, that I have never been exposed to – rape, ostracision, FGM, beatings and other torments seem a much greater problem to fix. And not just for women but for all groups who are at the ‘skinny end’ in the balance of society’s power.

And then last night I read the latest post from fellow blogging friend, Travelling Penn (travellingpenn@wordpress.com). We worked together a long time ago – she has since retrained as a communicator for World Vision and travels to far-flung places to support aid efforts for the world’s poorest and most powerless. She has been posting on Facebook recently about the power of global aid efforts to help those affected by the earthquake in Nepal. Anyway, in her post she shared some numbers – 60 million people facing an humanitarian crisis, 36 million of those children.

It puts the notion of equality into a different light doesn’t it?

It is an overwhelming set of numbers and my friend writes about remembering the face of each child she has helped to avoid despairing as she tots up the columns. And I thought to myself, whatever the crisis of equality – whether it’s gender, sexuality, poverty, race, religion…the list goes on – the difference we make is really person by person and moment by moment.

So when next I am admonished to ‘step up’ and ‘lean In’, I will do just that. Because while I’m just one person, so are all of the people I come into contact with each day. And with a little extra from all the ones, I have to believe that it is possible to make a difference.

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The F Word…

This week my world has taken on something of a feminist flavour. 

Not that I am not a feminist – I am.

(I am also sure that there’s a better way to deal with that double negative. Go ahead – comment away!)  

I didn’t actually plan it that way but when I look back there has been a definite theme to the events I attended, the things I learnt and the conversations I had. Might be the planets aligning, might be a raising of my feminist consciousness. Might be my current musings about what my future might look like. Who knows. But over the last four days there has been a lot for me to consider about the future of women.

On Wednesday, I listened to some amazing women (and one man) explore women’s roles in our modern world at the Women in European Business Conference. It featured an excellent panel discussion, an interview with the always fabulous Joanna Lumley and a fascinating 45-minute presentation from Harvard associate professor and social psychologist, Amy Cuddy on shaping who you are – literally. It was an inspiring night and it was thanks to the ‘oh I’ve double-booked’ mistake of a work colleague that I got a guernsey. And what did I take away from all of this? That there are many, many choices about my future, many potential pathways to explore and a myriad of conversations to have. Oh and a potential place on the invitation list for next year’s event.

On Thursday, I listened to a lively discussion on the Pinkification of Young Girls at Selfridges as part of The Beauty Project. This was the last in a series put on in partnership with Intelligence Squared who always offer controversial topics and provocative panelists and with the future of the world’s female population firmly in their sights, Alannah Weston, Tiffanie Darke, Tanya Gold and Katie Hopkins launched into a litany of opinions about the dangers (or not) of a rose coloured world and the potential of a ‘princess’ generation. 

It seemed to me that we came no closer to any answers and whilst it was an interesting discussion, it meandered around for a while then finished all too quickly. In the end, it did transpire that encouraging a questioning mind, a breadth of choice and a sense of confidence in our women of tomorrow were the keys – and also some of the prevailing themes from my previous evening’s WEB Conference. How on earth this is going to happen, I have no idea but that the topic continues to raise in profile is generally deemed a positive thing. But is it enough?

On Friday morning I listened to a less-than-seven-minute TED talk from Dan Gilbert called The Psychology of your Future Self. (You may have noticed over the last few posts that I am having a bit of a love affair with TED talks at the moment.) Anyway, Gilbert postulates that we all under estimate how much we will change in the future and he uses some really clever ways of demonstrating that our heads really are buried in the sand when it comes to envisioning our future selves. Think about who you were, what you were doing and what was important to you ten years ago. Then think about how much you think you’ll change in the next ten years. Doesn’t it stand to reason that the rate of change will continue? Well, apparently reason has nothing to do with it but given my recent reflections about what might lie before me in the next 40 or so years, it seemed another fitting piece to add to my puzzle.

And finally yesterday, when I opened this week’s Mental Floss newsletter, I discovered that LEGO will release a new series featuring female scientist figurines this coming August. Hurrah! (Imagine hooray in the posh, clipped syllables of the English.) The LEGO Research Institute set will show women exploring the world from three different angles – chemistry, paleantology and astronomy. 

Image source: https://ideas.lego.com/projects/15401

And not a skerrick of pinkification to be seen. Double hurrah!

The concept was submitted by Dr. Ellen Kooijman, a geochemist from Stockholm who, despite entering her concept last year, may have tapped into the zeitgeist by encapsulating the sentiments of Charlotte Benjamin, a seven-year-old girl who wrote a widely publicised letter to LEGO in January admonishing the toymaker to ‘have more LEGO girl people who go on adventures and have fun.’ 

So while the rate of change might seem snail-paced to those of us who are firm believers in gender equality, it appears that all it takes are the words of a seven-year-old to create a little momentum. At this rate, just imagine where she could be in ten years time.

So as I sit here on the comfy couch, tap-tap-tapping away and reflecting on the week that was, I am definitely left with some positive feelings about the whole feminist issue. But it still seems like we still have one hell of a mountain to climb and while I lean towards the side of a bright future ahead, I think that the visibility remains poor and the path ahead uncertain. Not only for the women of future generations but also for those of us struggling with how to create a world of choice and equality now. 

And it leaves me wondering just who and where I might be in all of this in ten years time.

Bears some thinking about doesn’t it?