Tuesday, 29 December 2009

Shopping centre in infantilising women shocker

I am banging my head against the wall at this story about a shopping centre in China that has created a car park just for women that has bigger spaces. See in the picture on the Telegraph site - it's called Lady Parking. Stunned.

So the idea seems to be that women need bigger parking spaces because they, in the words of an official from the shopping centre that built it, "have a different sense of distance". I suppose I am supposed to be pleased he/she didn't say "inferior sense of distance" but that's the notion behind it, and the story managed to find a "shopper" who used words to that effect.

That's ridiculous in itself - the notion that all women are bad parkers and need bigger spaces. They obviously haven't met my (male) neighbours. Some people are bad parkers and some are good, and it has nothing to do with their gender. I find it such a massive step backwards to continue using tired and lazy stereotypes. There's no evidence to back up their claims, the shopping centre just wanted an attempt at publicity. Employing "female parking attendants" to help women park? Women always bang their car doors when they open them? Stupid! They are saying that all women everywhere cannot park, there's no attempt to say that they are only referring to some women.

But the daft claims that this Lady Parking needed to be in pink and purple annoys me the most. Apparently pink and purple were picked because they are bright colours. What? Orange is a bright colour. Any colour is bright if you paint it right. No, they chose pink and purple because they are associated with girls. So this is a statement not just of women's inability to park but a low, infantilising move to make women look incompetent and childlike.

They could have made this new car park about creating a safe, supervised and well-lit space for women to come to a shopping centre confidently without fear of attack or harrassment. This car park will offer those things, but that seems to be by the by. Why would that have been so difficult?

Alternatively, they could have created a car park that had bigger spaces for ALL their shoppers, and not made it pink, and therefore helped out the male drivers too. But that wouldn't be a pat on the head to little women would it.

The last statment in the article is that there are 200 road deaths every day in China. It seems to me that maybe ALL of the country's drivers need better lessons, not just the women. I'd like to see if the stats for China match those of the UK - that young, male, drivers cause more accidents, not women.

Thursday, 3 December 2009

Loughborough campus lighting problem

Here is my draft letter to the Welfare Sabb in the Union (I reckon she's a good first port of call) about the lamentable darkness on campus and lack of university care about safety. They care more about lighting the all-weather sports pitches than paths through academic and residential areas!

I would like to raise the issue of poor street lighting on campus. With the evenings having drawn in, I've noticed that certain areas of campus are extremely badly lit. This makes me rather concerned for my personal safety, even at 4:30pm, for there are regularly used paths that are almost pitch black.

I'm a postgrad and work often in my office in Matthew Arnold building, next to Towers, into the evenings. I often walk to either the Music Centre or John Beckwith building and I find that the walk past Towers is unsafe. This is the worst area I have come across, yet alternative routes past the Bridgeman Centre for instance are almost as bad. Often, the only light available comes from indoors - through the window. It's been especially bad while Towers has been surrounded by fencing for the refurb - all the floodlights on the Towers walls are obscured. The areas I mention do not just contain academic buildings, but are throughways for residential areas, i.e. Butler Court, so it is likely that people use these paths until the early hours.

The main problem is that as a woman I am concerned for my safety and the safety of other women around. However, not only that, but with many cyclists using these paths who more often than not have no lights on their bikes, I am also concerned for anyone walking around who could get knocked over by a cyclist appearing out of the gloom, or someone could trip over uneven paving slabs.

I am quite dismayed that the lighting afforded for the sports pitches in East Park is dazzling, while pedestrian areas are in darkness. Personal safety should be a greater concern to the University than providing late night light to sports teams. I don't visit other parts of campus in the evenings so I'm not aware if this is a campus-wide problem.

I expect I sound like a moaning old local resident type writing to their local paper! But I think this is a very important issue and wondered whether it could be raised with the University?

Monday, 9 November 2009

Why I quit netball

In Year 5 and 6 at Cinnamon Brow primary school I was on the school first team for netball. I didn’t stick in one position; I think my main two were centre and goal defence. We played locally against nearby schools, and in Year 6 won a local competition against three other schools, called the Police Cup – I have a photo of the team with the police officer who presented them to us – PC Lockie (he later married one of the school teachers). We played Longbarn, Padgate and one other school – it might have been St Bridgets. In the same year we also beat the local might of St Margarets. They had always been known as the best school in our part of Warrington, and were to be feared. But we won 6-5 I think, in a friendly.

I always felt I was quite good at netball. I knew I wasn’t one of the best on my team, but we had played together a long time and had a good vibe. Then I went to high school, and from 30 girls in a year it went to 70, and it became much harder to get into the netball squad, because of course more girls wanted to play and the competition was higher. I lost interest a little. I remember the netball training being quite difficult there, in terms of the girls being a bit vicious, a bit rough. I also don’t think many of my friends at the high school were into netball. I tried other things, mainly athletics. I represented the school in 100m and discus, at Victoria Park. I came last, but I didn’t care at the time.

In the last term of Year 8 I moved to a girls’ school in the south. From 70 girls in a year, there were suddenly 150. And a lot of them played netball. One time sticks in my mind now. I went to lunch time practice. I was new; I spoke differently; I didn’t know many of the girls. I was put into a position – probably on the wing (to me, one of the lowest status positions). The girl I had to mark had ginger hair. She looked, to me, remarkably similar to another girl with ginger hair. In the rush of the game, I marked the other girl by mistake. She just looked at me and said, “why are you marking me?”. It felt quite mocking. I was mortified. Inside I was thinking “because you look like her!” but I didn’t say anything. I lost all confidence to get involved, for fear of making mistakes again. The competitiveness in the school extended into sport. The teacher, I feel, never gave me a chance to get some confidence, get to know the squad. She didn’t give me a look in at all, despite knowing I was the new girl. My friends and I came to call her “dragon lady” throughout our time at the school: too bad she was head of year, Latin teacher, PE teacher, German teacher…

Again few of my friends at this school were sporty. It was more like something to tolerate and bear until the end of the lesson. By Year 10 I was hanging out almost exclusively with a few indie, folky, quiet girls. I guess we mocked the ethos of the school, while pursuing our own academics. We were quite musical, and spent most of our time doing that. Sport wasn’t important. I never played netball again; I don’t even remember playing it in PE lessons in Year 10 and 11.

At university I considered joining the netball club: the mixed one, not the women's one - because I heard that the mixed one was more for fun, they didn't play in competitions so much, and so the standard wasn't as high. However, I couldn't play because they played at the same time as the bowling club, and that was my sport - I was good at it, enjoyed it, and got a place in the team, so I didn't want to give that up for another sport. I think also secretly I was relieved because I had come to think that my ability in netball would be rubbish - partly from the experiences at the girls' school, and partly because by then it had been years since I had played.

But, for the last nine year during my university life I have always wanted to find out about a low level, fun netball league I could and where it wouldn't matter how good I was. Problem is, I'm now at Loughborough University - even the staff have sporty careers, years of playing, keeping fit. I feel like I would not fit in at all - would not even get a look in, and if I didn get to play, would look stupid.

Lately I've heard about the intra-mural sport here, and it doesn't allow anyone who plays on the netball team to join in - so it's s slightly lower level, but still all the women who play other sports and are fit and at least 7 years younger than my sendentary body will be competing. So I'm reluctant to do that too.

If I really have to analyse it down to a single point, I think I am scared to try because the instant rejection I received at the girls' school made me think that I can't possibly be a potential netballer, and that playing a team sport is so totally about performance, confidence and success. This has also been one of the reasons why I stayed away from the staff football club all of last year - I'm going tonight for the first time. That's another post...

Tuesday, 6 October 2009

About-Face is an activist group in San Francisco with the aim to "equip girls and women with the tools to understand and resist the harmful media messages that affect self-esteem and body image"

They have a great video about sticking empowering/supportive messages on mirrors in store changing rooms, and suggest questions that girls should be asking of the media they encounter. Awesome resource.

Update on the bowling

This weekend I suggested to the bowling committee that we scrap the separate women's team in the cup competition and they agreed and it was voted in - so now the system is four teams of three bowlers, with a minimum of two women in the entire team, and women and men play together/against each other - no more gender distinctions. The support for a minimum quota of women was quite strong, mainly as lots of people thought 'girls arent very good bowlers' - not the most helpful!

And I came third in my division, out of 16 bowlers. I was the only woman to play in that division and to begin with I felt a little weird, like I was on the wrong lanes and had gone in the men's section by mistake, but I said that was silly and I got some good scores, including my personal best 611 series!

Thursday, 24 September 2009

Today I came across this blog called The Deal with Disability, written by Eva, a woman dealing with ableist reactions to her visible disability during her daily life. Very funny and full of videos of sometimes well-meaning but all slightly misguided people who treat Eva like a child. Worth reading.

Tuesday, 22 September 2009

I've had a break from studying, blogging and other important things this month while I have been moving house, doing my first conference...and I also became an aunty to Tristan who couldn't wait 9 months to enter the world and surprised us all at 31 weeks, but he is doing very well by all accounts and is 2 weeks old.

While there are certainly many work/study related things to talk about here, not least the conference I went to - very large educational conference where I met many of the big names in my field - today I want to sort out a few ideas in my head about my own sport, tenpin bowling, and the current structure of competitions at student level in the natonal league/cup.

The British Universities Tenpin Bowling Association runs a league cup every year (last year Loughborough came second) which involves 16 bowler from each club, split into four teams of four - A, B, C, women. while A, B and C are done on averages, thr womens team is basically there to take any women the club can get. For Loughborough, a small club, we struggled last year to find four women to compete. I guess the general idea behind having a separate women's team is a sort of affirmative action - you must field four women, otherwise many clubs won't play any women at all, because sadly it seems the case that there aren't many women who play bowling, and when they do they aren't as good as the men, it would seem. However, in the league cup women are allowed to play on the A, B and C teams instead of the women's team - although of course no men can play on the women's.

For Loughborough last year this meant that on one occasion I played on the C team (despite having a B team average) and Steph played on the B team once on another occasion (despite having a far superior average to many of the A team bowlers) while the womens team went one player short and sacrificed their points. That was the decision the then captain made.

I'm now captain and thinking about sorting out teams for this year's cup.

What I struggle to come to terms with is the need for affirmative action, and whether it does women's bowling more harm than good. What I really want to argue is that women should be treated the same as men, or rather, don't make any distinction on sex in this mixed competition. If women can play on the "men's" A, B and C teams, why have a women's team at all? Does it ensure that women get a chance to play? One rival team last year fielded a team of four women who all had little interest in bowling, were there quite literally to make up the numbers, while the club's two (I think) good women bowlers went on the B or C team. This is not what a competitive bowling team should be about.

Another thing I dislike is, from my point of view and also from, I assume (although I can't speak for her), the point of view of our bowler Steph (a 190+ average bowler): for me, as a B team average bowler, I would be very pleased to play for the B team and would try to work hard to keep a good average to get on that team. but if I play for the women's team if doesn't really matter what average I have, for I get a place on that team anyway. For Steph, last year she was better than all but one of the A team men bowlers, but was relegated to the women's team as though her potential contribution to the A team didn't mean anything. If Steph was a man she would have been straight onto the A team. But because we needed four women all in the same team, she could not have her A team place.

There has been talk of changing the format this year to four teams of three bowlers, but still maintaining the A, B, C, womens teams. I would much rather see A, B, C, D teams, perhaps with a minumum quota of four girls throughout if the affirmative action thing is so important. Whether it is or not... Yes it is crucial to offer both men and women a chance to play on the competitive team but when, as is often the case, you are scraping the barrel searching for women to make up the team, maybe have to settle for women who aren't really interested, but have to turn away some male bowlers who wish to play; this is surely not in the spirit of selecting a competitive team.

However, part of me thinks it is also tactical, that having the option of playing a top woman bowler on one of two different teams (A and womens) gives a captain the chance to rejig the teams to ensure maximum points. But for me, the politics of equality wins out over winning, so to speak.

The proposed changes to the format, a drop to 12 bowlers, says that the women's team can have two blind players, ie. would only need one woman (although any such team would have little chance of winning). What a joke. Why insist on a women's team if you only need one woman! Surely have four teams of three, any gender. So I'll suggest that we make an amendment and abolish the separate women's team and see what happens.

Wednesday, 19 August 2009

Trans Women in Sports

Edit: this was written mere hours before I heard about the controversy surrounding Caster Semenya. Here is an excellent post about some of the science implications in that case. I congratulate Semenya on her win in the 800m and wish her all the best.

At Shakesville today this was posted about the problems faced by trans women who wish to compete in women's sports. The issue that some media commentators seem to have (when do they not have issues?!) with trans sportswomen is their so-called advantage over cis women. Those poor little cis women have no chance against someone who used to be a man!

For a long time in women's sports, right through the 20th century, "mannish" women were treated with suspicion, mainly for potentially being lesbian (where masculine appearance = desire for women, wonderful logic), which we certainly can't have in ladies' sports, heavens no. Additionally, accusing a sportswoman of being lesbian could be fatal for her career. Cue spreading on the femininity thick to avoid accusations, whether lesbian or not.

This all was/is part of strategies to keep sport as a male domain. If women are seen to be able to compete in sports at a comparable standard to men - or even, forget about the men, women competing at all - they threaten the status of sports as places where boys learn to become men, where they can display their masculinity, or something.

But they didn't say that of course. On the outside, the reasons for attacking lesbians in sport were apparently because since lesbian clearly = more masculine (hmm), they would have an advantage over "normal" heterosexual women. So nows this spreads to trans women who are seen to have an advantage, despite no longer being under the influence of male hormones and losing any associated muscle mass. Because as we know, ALL men have superior muscle mass.

I also find it tedious that cis/straight women are considered to be weak, small, slow. This has been disproven, we know there is a significant overlap between the sizes of women and the sizes of men.

Two comment on the Shakesville thread I linked above have made me think.

1) What do these conservative commentators actually care about whether there are trans women, mannish lesbians, etc., in women's sports? Women's sports are a joke to many sports consumers, so why care? If a trans woman is "really" a man, as conservatives hatefully remind us, then she does not threaten the sports = male domain thing, does she, because she's not a "real woman", she's a man and so can't help with the "OMG women are growing as strong as men!" argument.

2) Where's the fear and hatred of trans men? Isn't that a more scary thing for the conservatives? Because trans men are really women, right, so that looks like women actually gaining a foothold in men's sports. But I guess one reason is that trans men are also a joke, they could never compete on the level of "real" men, will never get to the top levels, won't ever truly threaten those beefy macho men.

Its just one more thing that makes me see that heteronormativity, the link between sex, gender and desire, and maculinity/femininity being given tangible, natural and unchanging bodily and emotional qualities (when they seem more and more like a construction of a relationship) are three of the main barriers to equity in sports and elsewhere. Just end all this gender difference crap!

Tuesday, 18 August 2009

My Ph.D

I am a year into my Ph.D. The words I'd use to explain what I'm studying change day to day! Today, the key words are embodied subjectivities and empowering physicalities. I'm based in the Sport Pedagogy and Physical Education group in the Sport, Exercise and Health Sciences department at Loughborough University, UK. Although my research intends to further the steps taken towards equity and inclusion in physical education in UK secondary schools, in order to offer opportunities and participation for all young people, my interests focus on those things I mentioned in the last post, and seeking empowerment, being yourself. This is especially valid for young people, who are constantly developing their identities to fit who they are, want to be, or should be. I would hope that physical education - just that, education about the physical – is able to provide young people with empowering ways to use their bodies and feel good about them.

Should this involve physical activity? This is where I struggle. In my life physical activity has never played much of a part, certainly not something that contributes to my identity. All the thoughts I have about needing to exercise, shift a bit of flab now I’m two years from 30, I ignore them because they stem from media and consumerism that have a vested interest in making us feel bad about our bodies. I do play a competitive sport – Tenpin Bowling – that’s not particularly physical and doesn’t require a great body shape and fitness in order to succeed. But I haven’t failed in life because I stopped going to the gym or haven’t played a sweaty team game since my last disappointing netball games age 15 (why they were disappointing is another post).

I think it is not my place to say that young people should exercise – they get enough messages like that from their schools and government, who are monitoring the apparently declining health of the nation without having some university researcher come and make them feel bad too. Yet in my department, I am surrounded by researchers who have a history as a PE teacher – they all take for granted that exercise and sport are great and we must find ways to increase participation. Of course, this isn’t straightforward and the department tries to ensure equity and inclusion are central to pedagogical and curriculum developments. The basic premise is that current PE structures based on competitive sport are a left over from traditional school systems designed with middle/upper class boys – gentlemen in the making – in mind. Disciplining the body in order to prepare the mind for learning is also central to school ethos. The widely held belief now is that there is a crisis in PE, as young people dislike it, drop out, and are not lifelong active. Girls, reportedly, are the worst for participating, so Something Must Be Done.

But my memories of PE and sport colour my opinions on this. Health? Great – but don’t pressure young people into activity if it means nothing to them. But I do think that when young people do physical activity whether in or out of school, it should be in activities they want to do, in clothing they want to wear, with people, at times and in locations that are comfortable to them. This makes my Ph.D have an existential crisis. The things I want to learn from schools when I start data collection, and the things I want to think about improving, are unclear. Where I think I stand is that physical activity can have a place among other aspects of facilitating a happy and empowering attitude to the body. Healthy thoughts about the body, not straightforwardly healthy bodies through exercise. There is excellent feminist activist work by Dr. Kim Oliver who works with young women to critique and deconstruct the ideas they learn from media and cultural images about ideal bodies and controlling one’s own body. I’m currently looking towards incorporating some of the ideas she has on the place of activist work in PE.

Welcome to Bodies Out Of Place

Welcome to my new blog, Bodies Out Of Place.

The reason for this blog is mainly for exploring my thoughts around bodies and identities, leaning towards examining issues in physical activity and sport. But I'm also interested in the problems and joys of bodies and their experiences in a contradictory gendered and racialised society. I've called this blog Bodies Out Of Place because often spaces/geographies/environments are off-limits to certain bodies. Bodies that don't fit the norm are supposed to be hidden, or disciplined, pummelled into a different shape. Bodies that are fat, unsexy, queer, ugly, disabled, not white, not heterosexual, not middle class are "bad", hidden, and must be improved. Where are the places that all bodies can be safe, strong, celebrated?

This will also be a place for me to thrash out ideas for my research, talk about life as a Ph.D student, and tell stories about my memories of school sport and PE and my current experiences as an (inactive) adult. I believe that telling our own stories/narratives is crucial to a research process that seeks to find personal, lived, experiences and understand the multiple ways in which we all make sense of the discourses and practices structuring our worlds. It might become a research diary for the remaining two years of my Ph.D.

h/t to my friend at the Corporealities blog who posted the Huffington Post article on why academics should blog - it led to this!