My Journey Into Politics and the WE Party

Tomorrow, London is being given a new choice: the chance to vote for a party that is committed to doing politics differently. The Women’s Equality Party (WE) is a new, non-partisan political party, formed last year and growing with astonishing speed, which is putting gender equality at the top of the political agenda for the benefit of us all.

My name is Kate Massey-Chase and I’m standing as a candidate on the London-wide list for the Greater London Assembly (the orange ballot paper), alongside 9 other inspirational women and Sophie Walker, our leader and mayoral candidate.

I’m not a career politician, and although I’ve always thought of myself as political, the jeering-sneering performance of politics has never appealed. I just don’t think the road to social justice is lined with posh men in suits shouting at each other. I believe in dialogue, communication and empathy; human connections are the building blocks of my world. So I’ve thrown myself into a career which celebrates them, in the arts and education (teaching young refugees English through Drama, running creative workshops with recovering addicts, people with Parkinson’s and people who are HIV+, and talking to teenagers about consent and healthy relationships), trying to carve creative paths to a slightly better world for a few people at a time.

But I’ve unexpectedly, and so naturally I almost didn’t know notice it happening, become a politician; I’ve found a home for that political passion in the Women’s Equality Party, and through that hope to build a much better world for everyone. And tomorrow, registered voters in London have the chance to show their commitment to making London the first gender equal country in the world: at the ballot box.

WE have a vision for London that would make the city safer and fairer for everyone. WE have specific, costed policies which could create:

  • A transport system that is accessible for parents with buggies and wheel-chair users, where women and girls can travel safely, without the fear of sexual harassment;
  • Protection for women and children escaping domestic abuse, with ring-fenced funding for refuges and safe housing;
  • A system of child-care for all children from the end of paid parental leave at 9 months, and a pan-London approach to meet the demand for care for older and disabled people;
  • Compulsory, quality Sex and Relationship Education and PSHE, so that the next generation are taught to respect and protect one another;

In a political system stacked against new-comers our voice cannot be heard as loudly as the old parties. WE are fighting to be seen and heard and it can be heart-breakingly, back-breakingly hard. Yet there is a place where smaller, newer, less wealthy parties can succeed, and that is on the orange ballot paper. Tomorrow, we are asking Londoners to give half their votes to WE (one for mayor and one for the London Assembly), because we think that’s fair.

You can still vote for the party you usually vote for, and at the same time know your votes for WE will make London a safer and fairer city for us all. We’d love you to give your first or second preference for mayor to Sophie Walker, but if you only give us one vote, make it on the orange ballot paper, which is the London-wide list for the London Assembly, as that’s the only vote tomorrow that uses a form of proportional representation, so we have a real chance of winning seats.

I’m standing as a candidate because I refuse to keep waiting for inequality to be taken seriously. Because equality is, obviously, better for everyone.

This blog is written by Kate Massey-Chase, A Candidate for the WEP in Londonhttp://www.womensequality.org.uk/kate_massey_chase

To find out more about the WEP and their manifesto http://www.womensequality.org.uk/

Read More

Burnt Out on Mentoring

I got involved in an online STEM network conversation a few weeks ago. Taking my usual position of cynical optimism I commented on an article because it was a subject I feel quite passionate about.

Quite simply the article argued that fixating on mentoring and role models for girls and women limits progress. HALLELJIAH I thought.

For too long gender imbalances in the workplace and especially in decision-making pipelines have focused on what is wrong with women. The focus should be what is wrong with cultures and structures in the workplace which make it difficult for women to excel.

I am not saying mentoring is not a good thing for some people, but it can underpin a culture that says women need mentors and men don’t. And of course role models are important for young people. They can be an effective signpost to possibilities and opportunities. But we should be asking what messages do role models deliver – is it of a world where men and women work alongside each other as equals?

So it’s back to cultures and structures which are all fundamentally man-made and therefore capable of change. And yes we need more role models, but ones which openly advocate and champion change.

Now, back to the article. Having added my contributions as outlined above, I was confronted with a series of comments suggesting that while sexism exists in the workplace, in science, engineering and technology, it was better not to confront the issues for fear of a backlash.

Well, I ask myself what is point in women’s networks, mentor programmes, speakers in schools and all the other programmes which keep telling girls they should not challenge the status quo. In fact what have I and many others been doing for the last ten, twenty, thirty years??

When are more women going to stand up and say we don’t all want mentors because frankly it’s patronising and time consuming. We want sponsors and supporters. We want to contribute to co-creating a better workplace.

As we enter what seems to be a new phase of awareness around gender equality, perhaps it is time for some streamlining amongst women’s network. Like all social change it’s important to keep an external focus, bring in people with different ideas and step up and challenge sexism, head on.

At an interview some years ago for a board advisor role on gender I was asked about mentoring programmes to encourage women. My question to the two senior male executives was to find out if they had mentors. They looked a little shocked – why would they need one? Exactly my point, why do women them, they need an opportunity, not a mentor.

But like so many aspects of gender, the complexities are never given enough consideration and it is in this approach that mentoring has become an easy answer to addressing the inequality ills of the workplace and society rather than sustainable transformation.

We need to shift the focus and challenge (insert organisation, campaign, network of your choice) to take more considered and strategic actions.

Read More

Improving your body image won’t make you happy

It’s the New Year and the gyms are full. Men are pumping iron to get bigger, stronger, tonker, hencher. Women are burning calories to get smaller, thinner, sexier, leaner. Of course that’s not the only reason. It’s also about becoming fitter and healthier. But body image surely plays its part: with the barrage of media and advertising messages telling us that success, happiness and self-worth are synonymous with achieving the ‘perfect’ body, how could it not?

Needless to say, body image is highly gendered. Co-dependent, often opposing, messages are delivered to women and men. Women are to be sexually desirable, thin, passive. Men are to be strong, virile, active. Arguably, there is more flexibility for men, and women are more routinely objectified and scrutinised, but we’re all subjected to gendered stories of how we should look to some degree.

So the question is does achieving the ideal gendered body image make you happy? In a way, it does. Looking how we want to look can make us feel positive for adhering to the standard we have set ourselves (or the standard society has set us). But what is this feeling based on? It’s based on a judgement that what you look like defines you and your worth: something very superficial, alienating and fragile. It puts us in competition with each other as we rate and compare ourselves. And what happens when we fall short of our ideal? Which, let’s face it, is most of the time given that the standards are usually unrealistic and unattainable. Then we’re not good enough, we suffer low self-esteem and we beat ourselves up for not achieving our goals, however impossible they may be.

There’s also a more fundamental existential issue at stake here. Messages about body image are underpinned by an idea that it is possible to fix ourselves in a certain way. Cosmetic surgery is the epitome of this – we literally seek to fix our bodies in a desperate attempt to stave off the inevitability of not only losing our looks, but of old age and death. As Susan Hess Logeais explains “Plastic surgery doesn’t produce the long-term results people are seeking. It tries to pin us to a moment, but our bodies refuse to remain constant”. If we’ve spent our lives valuing our body image too highly the inevitable onset of cellulite, wrinkles and varicose veins can cause us immeasurable suffering: we’re falling further short of our beauty standards every day as time takes its toll and we’re becoming increasingly aware of our mortality.

Our gender conditioning and existential predicament are therefore intimately intertwined. We’re trying to fix ourselves as immortal just as we’re trying to validate ourselves by fixing how we look. The goal is to be permanently young and beautiful. But the fact is we’re constantly changing. In the time it’s taken you to read this, approximately 300 million of your cells will have died and been replaced. Whatever attempts we make to ‘fix’ ourselves, we’re fighting a losing battle.

That’s not to say we shouldn’t exercise. Regular exercise is essential for a happy and healthy life, reducing the risk of major illnesses by up to 50%. But sometimes how we exercise may not be in our best interests if it’s motivated by body image rather than health. We may end up over-doing it, taking shortcuts, and just encouraging our bodies into shapes they’re not really meant to be in. And beauty industries are ready and waiting to promote, exacerbate and exploit our fixation with body image, selling us the latest diet or product.

Maybe this is starting to sound a bit depressing. But it’s not. It’s actually quite liberating. If we can let go of a need to adhere to gendered body image standards, and indeed a need to fix ourselves in any way, and if we can listen to our bodies and exercise in a way that is healthy and motivated by feeling good rather than looking good, then we might just be able to let go of some of the stories that limit us.

@tessa_horvath

Read More

Getting Back into Sport

The Gender Hub blogs started life last summer but didn’t get very far. But here we are again, renewed and refreshed. Our aim is to bring you different perspectives and musings from our collective who are out in the world doing great gender work.

What strikes me over the past month is how important it is when working in gender to take the opportunity to think about my own position, my own voice. So often I spend my time supporting and encouraging different people and organisations to engage with the complexities of gender that I forget to check my own engagement.

What am I passionate about?

This is really the key question. For the past six months I have consciously tried to avoid working in gender and sport for a number of reasons.

  1. Sport is not an easy place to make progress when it comes to gender. It is underfunded and is fuelled by lots of lip service, so all talk and no action. There is an irony!
  2. Women’s sport is such a big category it’s often difficult to engage with. Apart from netball and athletics I don’t really watch women’s sport on the TV. This is not because I don’t want to but watching sport takes up loads of time.
  3. Competition is my passion, I love thinking about it. While sport is a good place to do this work it has been frustrating to get any traction so I parked my ideas. I am now un-parking them.
  4. I think gender and sport is getting too focused on media coverage. While important there are many more interesting issues to engage with. But see point one again.

So I tried to run away from gender and sport but it has tracked me down over the past month. Those conversations I had over the past two years with different people are popping up and wanting to progress. Seems like unfinished business.

But this time I hope I am a littler wiser in this space. I have realised I lost my own voice in respect of gender and sport. This is not a good strategy.

If you work in gender you will know it’s hard. It’s also hard to find the time and space to share ideas, explore those ideas and keep learning. While I love seeing people think about things in a different way when they discover gender, my journey is on a different road.

I hope that contributing to this blog and encouraging others to do so will help us all share our gender thoughts, which will include the good, the bad and the ugly.

jane@genderhub.com

Read More

Talking About Our Mothers: Take 2

My mum comes from another time: born into a bright, middle class military family who travelled the world and came back again.  Traditionally educated at a girls’ convent, she was fiercely faithful and intellectually way ahead of her classmates.

She left school post A levels and younger than her friends.  With no question of her going to university she joined the Civil Service and married at 19 years becoming a young Army Officer’s wife – a job in itself.

In the same way she has continued to do at every new opportunity her life has brought her, she threw herself into the task at hand providing care and support for the women around her, even though she was barely older than most of them.

Her adaptability has stayed with her to this day.

When her children came along, we became her chief project. We read, baked, gardened, walked, bird-spotted, explored, all the time her invisible reins letting us grow ever further up and away.

My dad left the army and came to work from home.

Quietly and modestly, my mum slowly recreated herself to become his right hand ‘man’, and over the years built her own successful commercial concept within the family business, in which we all, at some time, were involved.

The social constraints that held her back as a girl were never a problem as I grew up. My mum made sure that every chance open to my older brother was also open to me. We were both able to complete a good school education and we were both encouraged to go to university.

And when we both decided to settle abroad she let both of us go, even though it must hurt her every day that we, and her grandchildren, are a plane-ride away instead of in the next village.

So what strikes me about what my mum has taught me about life and work?

I know she is allergic to imposing her choices on me, even though it pains her every time I crash on my nose as a result of my own choices (and yes it still happens, even in my forties).

I think maybe I am tougher on my children about their choices.

Her adaptability has absolutely transferred to my approach to work, as I dial my career down and up again in response to my changing personal circumstances.

She has passed on her determination, and if my girls can learn some of that doggedness then I’m sure it will serve them well.

But most of all it’s the balanced view, where ‘work’ and ‘non-work’ form a whole and are complimentary – what a great thing to give to the next generation. Thanks Mum!

Read More

Talking About Our Mothers: Take 1

My mother stopped working when she got married at 21, had my brother and still to this day calls herself a housewife. I would never say my mother didn’t work because she had five kids and a husband, so long hours and no pay were part of the daily grind. But she did have clear expectations for her role in society and a strong support network within the community.

Fast forward to today and my life – I have a couple of children, run a business and feel most of the time like I am making it up as I go along. Society has mixed expectations of my roles and my support network is spread around the globe. While this is exciting it is also isolating and complicated.

As a kid I never imagined having my mother’s life because the world seemed so full of opportunities. The older I get the more I think my mother and I lived in very different times and I do wonder if my mother really fancied an adventure?

I think that as mothers and daughters we forget how fast and dramatically the lives of women have changed in only a few generations. I don’t know any women in my generation who would describe themselves as housewives. They call themselves so many different things like mothers, employees, entrepreneurs, friends, peers, colleagues, lovers and often all concurrently.

What would have been helpful for my mother to say to me is “Life for me is pretty much like my mother’s (your grandmother), but you are breaking new ground and all I can do is watch and cheer you on because I will not really understand your challenges.”

If mother had told me that she could not imagine living my life I suspect we may have found more common ground over the years. It seems to me that when someone acknowledges a lack of understanding about your life it is better than pretending you know. While my mother did not tell me these things I do admire the tenacity and patience of her and her peers as they invested in us to bring about social changes.

This blog is also published at www.whatcouldibe.org

Read More