It’s a Man’s World

1.  The SNP Cabinet has expanded its girth but not its gender balance.  Now there are two out of nine (or three out of eleven if you count the lawyery ones) in the main Cabinet.  The Shadow Labour Cabinet also only manages to give three places out of eleven to women. But there are four out of ten junior Government Ministers, which is better so hey ho, let’s not get too sniffy about progress.  But still…

2.  The super-injunctions.  Yes there are all sorts of subtleties with this one and a much bigger and broader debate to be had around the right to privacy and the public’s right to know.  But there is no mistaking how it all looks.  Rich men using their wealth to cover up their foibles and indiscretions and keep their public images intact.  It says a lot about our society frankly.

3. Good news on the unemployment figures with it continuing to fall in Scotland but less good for women.  I would have liked to have given you the figures for Scotland but gender differences on employment, unemployment and economic activity by region (sic) are not publicly available.  But no reason to suggest that Scotland is bucking the UK trend on this one, which shows a fall in the number of women without jobs (ie more women employed) but a much smaller one than for men.  At the end of March 2011, there were just over 1 million women unemployed, a fall of just 5000 on the previous 3 month period to the end of December 2010.  There are fewer women in work, far fewer in full-time jobs and a disproportionate number in part-time jobs.  It doesn’t take a genius to work out that this puts an awful lot of women firmly in poverty bands, and consequently, thousands of children too.  Ensuring more women can work in well paid jobs, as well as solving the outrageously high and tragic levels of youth unemployment  are too enormous problems in Mr Swinney’s in-tray.  A word to the wise:  more widely available, suitable and affordable childcare would help enormously.  Oh and making sure some of those youth apprenticeships bridge gender divides by creating opportunities for young women to work in male dominated trades (and vice versa) would also be a good thing.

4.  Some issues are so obvious you wonder why it takes a movement to bring them to our attention.  This week saw the launch of  No Women No Peace in the UK with the strapline “you can’t build peace leaving half the people out”.  We all know how women – and children – are often worst affected by conflict, yet too often they are excluded from strategic peace building.  This campaign simply asks that their vital role in peace building be elevated and given its proper place.  Seems simple enough to me.  Shame we need a movement to achieve it.

5.  Rape was back in the headlines this week, for all the wrong reasons.  Worse was listening to men (mainly) trying to justify why the rape of a woman by a stranger in a park was worse than the rape of a wife in her marital bed.  Depressing stuff.  And there was a little local stushie when City of Edinburgh Council wasn’t keen on allowing women (mainly) to march, at night, through the streets of Edinburgh in an attempt to reclaim them.  Some of the reasons for the Council’s humming and hawing were that the noise of the chanting might cause distress to Grassmarket residents.  And the fact that there are lots of drunken men around on a Saturday night – and likely to be more next weekend thanks to an influx of rugby teams and supporters for the 7s tournament – meant it probably wasn’t safe for so many women to be out on their own at night.

No, I’m not making this up and yes, it does make the point of the march eloquently.  But thanks to a little publicity, City of Edinburgh Council has relented and the march to Reclaim the Streets is now going ahead.

The following week will see Edinburgh’s first Slutwalk.  I think I’ll be walking but not sure if I’ll be doing it as a slut.  And while I get what the point of it is, I’m not entirely sure why women need to reclaim or absorb a word that was never ours in the first place.  There is something about the sexualisation of women in all aspects of our society, particularly the inappropriate sexualisation of young girls that needs to be addressed.  Is that aided or abetted by women reserving the right to dress like sluts?  Not sure, it’s a complex one.  Apparently I can march in my pyjamas if I like, which might just suit me rather well.  And absolutely, it’s time for women to protest about being victimised and labelled.  By men (mainly).

But the point remains – two marches in as many weeks.  Women are fighting back – hurrah!  Shame they need to do so in the first place.  We have every right to expect the laws of this land to protect us from crimes of violence and violation.  And we have every right to expect to be able to walk and go about our business freely, free from the fear of violence and violation.  And it’s time our governments, society and judicial system recognised this.

Political representation at the highest level, unemployment, a campaign for involvement in peacebuilding, marches to demand the right to be safe and treated appropriately – all signals of just how far we have to travel in 21st Century Scotland to create a society of equal opportunity and status for women.  It’s still a man’s world right enough.


10 thoughts on “It’s a Man’s World

  1. Pingback: The law is an ass but will more law mean better law? « Better Nation

  2. Oh, and I agree with Jeff about slutwalk, and won’t be joining in. I want to be part of a movement that names and focuses on the perpetrators of violence, not the victims or potential ones. I’d join in a rally against rapists, but slutwalk is all wrong, despite good intentions- count me out. I’d be happy to write a guest blog post on it for you if you like Kate!

  3. Lots I could say about all of this but the main thing in my mind this week has been the rape issue and the reclaim the night stuff. I was talking about it with friends after the Ken Clarke comments and we all agreed that rape is rape, end of. But then we got onto all the waysin which we fear and try to avoid stranger rape, which we all know is rare, and that bit of the conversation depressed me so much. One friend who works nights has to think about where her car is parked and how to get in and lock it as fast as possible every night. One compulsively checks the car back seats for a potential attacker. We all walk home with our keys in hand, ready to use them as a weapon if need be. We alll hate badly lit dark corners in or near our homes or workplaces, especially if we’ve worked late and are returning after dark. Essentially, we all live in fear of something that is very unlikely to happen, but that we know will be horrendous and life-altering if it does. I don’t think 99% of men can have the first idea of what it feels like to live with that fear. To me that’s the biggest indicator that it’s still a man’s world.

    • Well said Jenny and agree absolutely. And of course this is one issue in the lexicon of violence in our society that rarely gets an airing or attention. Still the police persist in advising women to stay home if there are violent attacks, and still local government ignores it with badly planned and designed public spaces that make life more dangerous for women, not less. Where are the politicians making this as big an issue as sectarianism?

  4. I’d just like to make two points:

    (1) The SNP’s Cabinet is a very talented and well credentialed team – if there are women in party branches putting themselves forward to be candidates with the intellect, qualifications, external experience and ability as the likes of this team then they are hiding a very bright light under what must be a very dense bushel. I suspect the real problem is that not enough very talented women see Politics as a desirable career move and that is the problem that needs fixing rather than Salmond applying an arbitrary quota from the 68 people he has before him.

    (2) I personally think SlutWalk is bonkers, I mean really Tea Party level cuckoo land stuff. Women and feminists work tirelessly for decades to achieve real equality to show they are every bit as clever, capable and competitive as men and then this comes along and ‘reclaims’ the word slut from men, as if many men aren’t standing back thinking ‘dress up in your skimpies and walk down the street all you want luv, knock yourselves out, it gets my vote’. To me, ‘Slutwalk’ represents a group that are not up to the tougher battle of fighting discrimination and are taking a too-reactionary easy way out.

    But, maybe I just don’t get it and I do hope you enjoy the day nonetheless!

    And you’re right, it is still very much a man’s world, can’t argue with that inequality at all.

  5. Like Graham, I think it’s a bit harsh to include the cabinet in this, especially if you include the junior ministers as well. The FM can only work with what he has in front of him, and he has nothing like a 50/50 split between male and female MSPs. Of the 18 cabinet secretaries and ministers (I’m excluding Alex in this since he can’t choose a female for his own post), six of them – i.e. a third – are female. This compares favourably to the SNP group as a whole, where just over a quarter – 27% – are female. Likewise, two-thirds are male, whereas almost three quarters – 73% – of the SNP group as a whole are male.

    A male SNP MSP who didn’t get into the cabinet could actually use these statistics to claim that women are unfairly over-represented in the ministerial/cabinet roles. I wouldn’t agree with the thrust of that point if it were to be made, but statistically-speaking it would be correct.

    Besides, I think one of the reasons the cabinet itself is so male-oriented is quite simply because the big hitters in the SNP tend to be male. Swinney, Russell, MacAskill… How do you leave guys like this out? It was bizarre that Michael Russell wasn’t in the cabinet in the first place in 2007, in fact. Would it be cruel to point out that he is in the cabinet because of the one and only time an SNP cabinet minister had to be replaced…and that this MSP was a female?

    I suppose the point I would make is this: which female SNP MSPs would you have in the cabinet, and who would they replace?

    • To apply proportionality to a very low base is just bizarre. And actually means it’s a much lower percentage making it to the top in SNP politiics. Glass ceilings also in place?

      Who would I have promoted – Shona Robison, not Alex Neil. Equally as good as he is. And I would have brought Roseanna in and demoted Kenny to her ministerial position – again because she is just as good as he is. And four out of nine would have been much more respectable.

      In the junior ranks I wouldn’t have brought Stewart Stevenson back but would have given Aileen Campbell that post and brought Maureen Watt in as local government minister – that is a big tough brief and Maureen has experience of local government which would have served her and the government well. I also would have expanded the junior team and put Joan McAlpine in as Fiona Hyslop’s deputy in charge of media. And I would have moved Alasdair Allan in directly under the FM as depute on constitutional affairs. In education I would have kept that team as it is – I find it a little insulting that Angela has been moved to the children role, probably because the FM thinks there is resonance in a woman with a young child having it. And that answers some of the women-unfriendly criticisms previously levelled at the party. But I would have added another berth under Richard Lochhead and brought Aileen McLeod into that one.

      Good job it wasn’t down to me making these decisions then huh?!

      • I think if you were arguing that Roseanna should have been Justice Secretary in the first place, or even that she would make a better Justice Secretary than Kenny, then that would be fair enough. But if we’re saying that Kenny should have been replaced this time round just for the sake of gender balance, even though he was one of the starlets of the last session, then I think that would be a bad move. But Shona instead of Alex Neil? Yeah, I’d probably go with that. Maybe she’s a victim of her own success working with Nicola in health?

        I would say Stewart Stevenson was always going to come back in, partly because he seems to be a close ally of the FM, but also because his removal from the ministerial team last year was due more to a BBC witchhunt than anything else. I wouldn’t have any argument about Aileen and Maureen being given those roles you suggest otherwise, though. McAlpine in as a minister already? Maybe a bit quick, alhough I’d have liked ot have seen it. However, I think if there is any headway with the attempt to get broadcasting rights devolved, then she would be a shoo-in for a new ministerial role. I do find it strange that Fiona has no junior minister, so perhaps Salmond has something in mind here. If there was one woman whose absence from the ministerial team surprises me though, it’s Linda Fabiani, who’s always struck me as a good talent.

        The way I see it, the lack of women is just unfortunate circumstances, although that might sound apologetic. The current hierarchy are mainly males born in the late 40s to early 60s, but the next generation of the SNP (born in the 60s and 70s) looks likely to be far more gender balanced. If Salmond has a reshuffle a couple of years into the parliament, I would expect to see some more women involved.

  6. I pretty much agree with the points made in 2,3,4 & 5 but not so sure about point 1.

    Unfortunately there is far from enough representation from women at pretty much all levels of governance – whether that is Holyrood, Brussels, London, our local authorities or board rooms of public bodies. I would, however, stop short of looking at the cabinet as being unbalanced. Yes, it is unbalanced in the grand scheme of things but, and it’s a big but, it is reasonably close to balance on the basis that the SNP Group in the Scottish Parliament has 50 men and 18 women (having taken out Tricia, who is now Presiding Officer – certainly no glass ceiling there!).

    The problem of balance is more fundamental than the FM’s choice of Cabinet Secretaries and Ministers, it is much more about the whole culture of politics and how to get a balance that makes it as attractive to get involved in for women as it seems to be for men.

    There have been improvements in recent years but there are massive hurdles to overcome. To appoint a cabinet with a view to getting an even balance would be positive discrimination, which reminds of the very challenging debates about ‘zipping’ to select roughly equal numbers of women and men as candidates in the SNP back in the 90s.

    Never a good debate to get into!

    The culture needs to change if the balance is to improve.


    • Discuss indeed! Not advocating for positive discrimination but your assumption is that there weren’t alternative women in the SNP – or indeed Labour – as good as the men who got the jobs? What interests me is that everyone is keen to take on this debate and make the right noises but election after election, no real difference is made. Are the parties making things happen to try and improve women’s representation as candidates – and winnable ward candidates – for the local government elections next year? Probably not. And therein lies the problem. Unless the parties who hold the culture of politics more than most are prepared to do “something” nothing will change. Sadly.

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