On gender neutral t-shirts and #100DaysofMay

On gender neutral t-shirts and #100DaysofMay

Interesting things arrive in your in-box when you’re a blogger on gender issues. In recent weeks,  these have included an infogram looking at female board members in some of America’s largest companies, an invitation to discuss the issues surrounding the UK gender pay gap  on American TV* and a link to a new website which markets gender neutral t-shirts with feminist, LGBTQ+ friendly, strong and thought provoking slogans.

No less a publication than the Wall Street Journal has recently written about the growth of gender neutral apparel, so I think that Zealo Apparel founder Josie is really onto something here.

She told me that she set up the range in part due to her frustration in finding lots of things, but specifically clothing, to be so highly gendered:

“My aim is to create a shopping experience as gender-neutral as possible so that people can choose products based on what they like and not whether it comes under “women’s” or “men’s”.” 

Zealo Cinnamon Rolls not Gender RolesEveryone who knows me IRL knows how much I love cinnamon, even to the point of carrying a tub of it in my handbag for 24/7 sprinkling opportunities,  so of course I particularly love this shirt >>>

Here’s a direct link to the feminist collection and Josie has kindly offered blog readers 10% off your order with code THEGENDERBLOG – so do check it out.

(*Due to timing issues, this didn’t happen,  but I appreciated the offer to momentarily be big in Kansas via NBC affiliate KSHB-TV. Perhaps another time.)

* * *

90360017_mayfeminist.jpgStill on the subject of t-shirts … here’s a reminder that,  back in the day, new Prime Minister Theresa May donned one of the Fawcett Society’s “This is what a feminist looks like” shirts in order to add her voice and support to the cause. Only time will tell if  she’s still holding fast to that promise,  but so far I’ve liked her reference to the gender pay gap on the steps of 10 Downing Street as she took over the reins of power – and her snappy retort at Prime Minister’s Question Time last week when being quizzed what her party had done for women (“It makes us Prime Minister!”) is undeniably true.

The Women’s Equality Party intend to hold the new PM’s feet to the fire and have launched a new campaign called #100daysofMay, in which they have set “six achievable goals for Theresa May to commit to by the end of her 100th day in office.”

They are asking her to show her commitment to gender equality by actioning these six goals, saying that “WE think the Prime Minister should commit to making all these changes by 22 October – her 100th day in Number 10.”

  1. Introduce compulsory sex and relationships education in all schools
  2. Guarantee sustainable funding for specialist services that tackle violence against women
  3. Invest in free universal childcare
  4. End the detention of people seeking asylum
  5. Ratify the Istanbul Convention to protect women from violence and abuse
  6. Commit to 50:50 representation in Parliament

More details on the campaign are available at the WE website. I fear Mrs. May may be otherwise engaged with matters Brexit and ISIS shaped between now and October,  but let’s see.


“Feminism is the unfinished revolution …”

“Feminism is the unfinished revolution …”

– declared Natasha Walter in The Guardian earlier this week,  in her column about the centenary of International Women’s Day. Meanwhile,  back in my spiritual home of India, Dr Elizabeth Menon‘s piece in The Hindu reminded us that equality for some is still very elusive.

For me,  IWD was all about spending the day at a university,  at which I spoke and chaired an event called “Breaking Glass”.  I heard about the glass ceiling as it exists within academia and learned,  not altogether surprisingly,  that the issues faced by female staff at universities (reasonably high numbers at entry level, falling away at a career mid point,  subsequent difficulties in progressing to the top tier) mirror almost exactly those faced by their sisters in the corporate world.

I used the centenary of IWD to structure my talk around the way in which the world has changed for women since 1911 and the key events and people who have made those changes come about.  My brief had been to “make it light”,  so I peppered my slides with a few key quotations – some of which I share now.

“There’s a special place in hell for women who don’t help other women …”

– Madeleine Albright, the first female US Secretary of State, 1997 – 2001

“I myself have never been able to find out precisely what a feminist is.  I only know that people call me a feminist whenever I express sentiments that differentiate me from a doormat.”

– Rebecca West, writer, 1913

“Well behaved women seldom make history …”

– Laurel Thatcher Ulrich, professor at Harvard University

“I wanted to work there because I wanted to become a writer. I was quickly assured that women didn’t become writers at Newsweek. It would never have crossed my mind to object … It was a given in those days that if you were a woman and you wanted to do certain things, you were going to have to be the exception to the rule.”

– Nora Ephron – writer, novelist, film director [on starting her career in 1962]

My favourite quotation,  which I didn’t use because I hadn’t then read the originating article,  comes from Mariella Frostrup in The Observer,  who,  in a blistering and truly excellent piece of journalism, reminded us that the struggle is far from over and that,  within the closed world of UK politics:

“… there are more blokes called Dave and Nick in government than there are women MPs. Women continue to hover at a steady 19% in the chamber, put off perhaps by a testosterone-fuelled climate where the last two prime ministers’ wives have given up high- flying careers to support their husbands or simply to satisfy the perceived demands of middle England.”

Check it out – one of the best and most impassioned articles on feminism you may read.

International Women’s Day – minus one day

International Women’s Day – minus one day

Tomorrow is the 100th celebration of International Women’s Day,  and I’ve been really interested to note the extent to which it, as an event, has gained popularity and awareness over the last couple of years.  One of the first projects I ever undertook when I started working in gender diversity around five years ago was a global survey in order to understand which countries celebrated (or even,  were aware of ) IWD and I remember that the results made quite depressing reading. My colleagues (and these were people in senior diversity and HR roles) hadn’t even heard of IWD in countries such as the US, Canada and Australia; it’s commemorated on a different day altogether in South Africa (there it’s “National Women’s WEEK” each August, as I witnessed at events in Jo’burg and Cape Town in 2008) and in the UK it was celebrated but in a very low key way,  with only a few corporates getting on board and doing something to mark the economic, political and social achievements of women past, present and future.

It was (and is) marked in a big way in countries like Russia and China,  where it’s a public holiday,  and quite a few western European countries also make it a social occasion,  with activities tied into fund raising for women’s charities,  but there was no sense at all of it being a global multi-media event.

Fast forward to this year,  and I’ve seen references all over the press,  even in the mass market tabloid papers – where it perhaps has most impact in terms of readership numbers.  From the official IWD website,  you can see that Reuters are on-board as a media partner and there are things happening all over the world,  including in many of the countries where just a few short years ago IWD was a relative non-event. I’ve been invited to celebrations in London, New York and Bangalore; of course,  I am actually going to the London one,  which is being hosted by Plan and the Africa All Party Parliamentary Group at the House of Commons and is a lunch thing to “Celebrate the Potential of Young African Women.”  Click here to read more about what Plan are doing to help girls in Africa and elsewhere complete their education.

I’m then legging it across town to join in the Fawcett Society’s photo shoot, which they’re organising to support their new pre-Election campaign, “What About Women?”. We all have to wear our FS “This is what a feminist looks like” t-shirt,  so I really hope the weather warms up a bit …

My favourite TV channel (it shows “Mad Men”!) is BBC4,  who are truly brilliant at creating themed programming strands: a week of shows from the BBC archive on any one of a number of concepts; prog rock, India, advertising, blues music and Islam, to name but a few recent memorable groupings.

Starting tomorrow,  and this surely has to be to commemorate IWD,  even though they’re not explicitly saying so,  is a week of programmes about women and feminism – most of which will be repeated if you miss them tomorrow night and/or are also showing on BBC2.  I’m setting Sky+  for the all-female audienced version of “Question Time” later in the week (still only ONE woman on the panel itself, though – why? Click here  to suggest more female panellists) and for Vanessa Engle’s three part documentary series on the impact of feminism called, simply, “Women”.

Part one is set in the 70s and is about what were then known (usually disparagingly) as “women’s libbers”.  Also from that era is Monday night’s repeat of a documentary on the 1976 Grunwick strike,  now regarded as a key moment in union history and one at which female and Asian workers first tested and protested their employment rights.

Check out the BBC4 listings (or iPlayer) if you’re in the UK,  there’s some great stuff in there from the amazing BBC archive.

Three things you can do to empower women

Three things you can do to empower women

While I’ve been in California, I’ve picked up a copy of a few magazines which I don’t normally see at home, such as “More”, “Pink” and Oprah Winfrey’s “O” magazine.

I gather that Oprah in particular is lined up to be a huge supporter of Nicholas Kristoff and Sheryl WuDunn’s forthcoming book Half the Sky: Turning Oppression into Opportunity for Women Worldwide and that they’ll be appearing on her eponymous ABC show later this month to discuss their argument that the key to economic progress lies in unleashing women’s potential.

September’s “O” magazine carries these three suggestions from the book as to how we can all help to empower women:

Make girls smarter. Many pregnant women living in poverty don’t get enough iodine, so their fetuses’ brains do not develop properly. Their children routinely lose 10-15 IQ points – particularly the girls, for reasons not fully understood. The solotion: iodize salt, at the cost of a few pennies per year. Contribute via Helen Keller International.

Support a women’s business. With a microloan of US$50, a woman can start a business, producing income she can use to feed her children and send them to school. To make a loan, go to Mercy Corps or BRAC – two groups helping women around the world.

Keep a girl in school. A girl who gets an education will have fewer children, earn more money and be able to help her younger siblings. One excellent support program operates in Cambodia, where uneducated girls are at great risk of being traffiked into brothels. For US$10 a month, you can keep a girl in school through American Assistance for Cambodia, or for US$13,000, you can build an entire school that will revolutionise life in a village forever.

On the flight over, I read in a British magazine (“Woman & Home”, I think) about an awareness and fundraising initiative called “Girls’ Night In” and I think I’ll organise one for when I get back to London – watch this space.

On being several days closer to my new t-shirt

On being several days closer to my new t-shirt

I’ve just received this email and, as a reminder, here’s the t-shirt in question:

FS_feminist tshirt

Dear Cleo

Thank you for confirming your membership with the Fawcett Society.

Your t-shirt has been despatched and should be with you within the next couple of days. Please contact our office on the number below if you do not receive it.

Once you have received the t-shirt, why not take the Fawcett Feminist Challenge and show the world that being a feminist is something to be proud of! All you need to do is send us a picture of yourself in your Fawcett t-shirt with a quote saying why you’re a feminist to donorcare@fawcettsociety.org.uk and we’ll add your picture to our gallery of Fawcett feminists. Click on this link to see who’s risen to the challenge.

Thank you again for your support and for standing up for feminism.

Well, as the old saying (sort of) goes: if the t-shirt fits …

This is what a feminist looks like

This is what a feminist looks like

Today I did something which I should have done a while ago – I joined the Fawcett Society and signed up to make regular financial contributions.

The email acknowledgement I’ve just received serves as a stark reminder of why we need the Fawcett Society, even in 2009:

Thank you for adding your voice to the campaign by supporting the Fawcett Society with a regular donation.

Despite the myth that feminism is dead, inequality is alive and kicking. On average women get just 83p for every £1 of income received by men, less than 7 out of every 100 reported rapes results in conviction and only 20% of MPs are women. We are working hard to change this reality and close the gender gap in access to power, money and justice. Your support will go a long way to help us achieve this.

And what exactly does a feminist look like?

Well, once I receive my Fawcett Society tshirt:

FS_feminist tshirt

… I guess that it will look like me.

On feminism, 1913 style

On feminism, 1913 style

I was reminded of this (in)famous quote on feminism yesterday, when having lunch with some friends; they are a married couple, with two small children. He works outside the home, she is at home with their boys, aged 5 and 8.

Although I said nothing to prompt or provoke what followed, I can only imagine that, for whatever reason(s), her “at home” status is perhaps preying on her mind, because she commented that: “I suppose, because of your job, you think that I should go back out to work now that the boys are at school”.

Not at all, I replied; my job is about ensuring that women who are already in the workplace, have the opportunities once there which are afforded to their male colleagues, ie to be promoted, to lead, to manage, to work in a flexible way – and that the lack of those opportunities does not then make them wish to leave. There’s nothing about my job in gender diversity which is about forcing women to go to work unless they want to do so, or, economically, have to do so.

But it’s clear that, even in 2009, there’s still confusion over what we mean by “feminism” – so this 1913 quote from Rebecca West does still hold true:

“I myself have never been able to find out what feminism is. I only know that people call me a feminist whenever I express sentiments that differentiate me from a doormat or a prostitute.”

For what it’s worth … feminism to me is about choice, opportunity and flexibility; it’s not about “having it all”, but it is about having the opportunity to choose what form and shape your life will take, be that working inside the home, outside the home, having children, or not – or making any other of the myriad of choices now available to twenty-first century women.