In this week's New Statesman: The weaker sex

Natasha Walter | Jonathan Rutherford | Jeanette Winterson | Jenni Murray | Naomi Wolf | Liz Jones |

the weaker sex

The meaning of the F-word

For this special New Statesman Sex issue, we ask 19 writers, activists and politicians: if feminists could campaign on only one issue over the next year, what should it be? The responses include:

Jenni Murray, presenter, BBC "Woman's Hour" Childcare

I find that the personal drives my political priority for campaigning. It was in 1972 that the women's liberation movement included 24-hour, free, quality childcare in its seven demands. Let's be pragmatic: maybe 24 hours is a little excessive. Most important, let's emphasise that this is a demand made not just by mothers, but by parents, because the care of children is not solely a woman's job.

Jeanette Winterson, author Getting into the boardroom

Get women on to boards. Men pretend that what they do is so hard . . . They should try walking in a pair of Louboutins while giving a presentation and running a family. (How about having a national Men's High-Heel Day, where we send them about their business as normal but in heels?) Just put women on the boards! We will soon find our way. No more excuses from the men. Change it now.

Stella Creasy, Labour MP for Walthamstow Personal safety

From fears about cuts to services for victims of rape or domestic violence to the impact of turning off street lighting and raising car parking charges and discomfort at the way in which women are portrayed in modern culture, the responses astounded us all. Some of these problems pre-date the coalition but bringing them together highlights how women are now under pressure from many different directions. It must be our choice to challenge this.

Naomi Wolf, author and political consultant Uphold the bill of rights

Feminists should campaign to end the department of homeland security and repeal the National Defence Authorisation Act and the Patriot Act, because there won't be any feminism or dissent of any kind if there ain't no bill of rights. First things first.

Liz Jones, columnist, Daily Mail Be honest about airbrushing

Women are being assaulted as never before by images of perfection. We need laws on retouching, with the unadulterated original posted on the internet as a sort of Dorian Gray flashback. Lack of self-esteem ruined my life, so let's stop it ruining any more.

Louise Mensch, Conservative MP for Corby Trafficking

Let the police, the CPS, the courts and politicians recognise what sexual trafficking is and the difference between prostitution and gang rape. It is part of the overall culture of hand-washing on sexual violence against women. Traffickers are slavers and rapists and they should go to prison for their entire lives, in recognition of the lives of the girls and women they have stolen.

Rob Delaney, comedian Education

Women outnumber men on our planet. And women create life inside their bodies. Yet misogyny and sexism, whose twin engines are fear and ignorance, continue to exist. We must deprive them of their fuel and that begins by educating women and men. The good news is that women and men start out as girls and boys, who are more fun to be around.

How to be a man: Jonathan Rutherford versus Natasha Walter

In the NS Cover Story, "The weaker sex", the editor of Soundings journal, Jonathan Rutherford, and the writer and campaigner Natasha Walter debate whether feminism has left masculine identity in the 21st century in crisis.

Rutherford argues that, in just over a single generation, the tenets of traditional male identity have collapsed:

Millions of skilled working-class jobs that once gave men status and purpose have gone. The male solidarity that was the backbone of the labour movement has gone. So has the family wage, and increasingly men can no longer follow their fathers and grandfathers in the role of family breadwinner. Old-fashioned, maybe, but any parent of the bride wants to know the prospects of their future son-in-law.

All these social changes - especially for those at the top and bottom ends - have had the effect of "a prolonged form of masculine adolescence without obligations of paternity or responsibility for others".

Rutherford finds that in politics, too, masculine identity has been stifled:

Last year when the party's Blue Labour tendency argued for a politics of masculinity, accusations that the idea was anti-women abruptly ended public discussion. As one tough-minded male Labour member advised the party, "Men do not debate feminism with women."

Responding to Rutherford, Natasha Walter, author of Living Dolls: the Return of Sexism, questions how we are to know whether feminism has been successful:

Are we to assume that feminism has done its job because it has increased the numbers of Labour MPs - or because men are now doing as much childcare as women at weekends? It is dangerously easy to pick out a small example of progress and use it to gloss over the enormous evidence of continuing inequality.

With latest figures from the Fawcett Society showing that women's unemployment is at a 25-year high, Walter argues that austerity measures are hitting women hardest:

Women's supposed emotional affinity for new kinds of service-sector work, which may start with their greater readiness to smile at customers but may translate into a greater readiness to wipe bottoms or clean lavatories, may be born of necessity rather than some natural ability to empathise or serve.

She ends with a warning that the debate cannot be turned into a competition to decide who feels most pain:

This is not the time for nostalgia for the good old days when men were worn down by being non-stop breadwinners and women by being non-stop unpaid homemakers. This is a time to try to find a more equal sharing of the burdens and the rewards of paid and unpaid work.

Jemima Khan: The marriage business

Also for the Cover Story, Jemima Khan reports on the booming business of arranged marriages in the UK.

With Muslim men bringing 12,000 women to Britain as spouses from the Middle East, career women are increasingly electing to become "co-wives":

[Mizan Raja, who runs a Muslim matrimony service in east London,] reckons he gets between five and ten requests every week from women who are "comfortable with the notion of a part-time man" . . . There is someone for everyone, but if you're female and over 30 or divorced, you may have to share. The same rules do not apply to men.

Khan finds that the online marriage scene, too, is flourishing - more than two million members use shadi.com, one of the world's largest portals. Unlike ordinary dating sites, these "seem designed to repel any skulking commitment-phobes". Khan notes:

Those registering are asked upfront: "Would you like to get married soon or within 12 months?" Users are asked to rate their religiousness, family status, class, complexion ("fair, medium, dark or wheatish"), income and, brutally, their weight - in exact kilograms.

Also in the Sex issue

In the NS interview, Mary Roach, the American author of Stiff, Spook and Bonk, talks about the science of sex; the NS reports on attempts by politicians and religious leaders to control our sex lives; Nichi Hodgson asks whether feminism is sexist, and Helen Lewis explores OkCupid, the dating website whose data reveals some unexpected prejudices.

Elsewhere in the New Statesman

All this plus Tim Montgomerie, founder of ConservativeHome, on his frustrations with the Tory party in an interview with George Eaton; Mehdi Hasan on Ken Livingstone's tax avoidance; Nelson Jones argues Cardinal Keith O'Brien's apocalyptic rhetoric on same-sex marriage shows he knows the argument has already been lost; Laurie Penny reports from Washington, DC on Rush Limbaugh, and in Critics, the leading historian Richard J Evans eviscerates A N Wilson's Hitler: a Short Biography.

Alice Gribbin is a Teaching-Writing Fellow at the Iowa Writers' Workshop. She was formerly the editorial assistant at the New Statesman.

Getty
Show Hide image

Air pollution: 5 steps to vanquishing an invisible killer

A new report looks at the economics of air pollution. 

110, 150, 520... These chilling statistics are the number of deaths attributable to particulate air pollution for the cities of Southampton, Nottingham and Birmingham in 2010 respectively. Or how about 40,000 - that is the total number of UK deaths per year that are attributable the combined effects of particulate matter (PM2.5) and Nitrogen Oxides (NOx).

This situation sucks, to say the very least. But while there are no dramatic images to stir up action, these deaths are preventable and we know their cause. Road traffic is the worst culprit. Traffic is responsible for 80 per cent of NOx on high pollution roads, with diesel engines contributing the bulk of the problem.

Now a new report by ResPublica has compiled a list of ways that city councils around the UK can help. The report argues that: “The onus is on cities to create plans that can meet the health and economic challenge within a short time-frame, and identify what they need from national government to do so.”

This is a diplomatic way of saying that current government action on the subject does not go far enough – and that cities must help prod them into gear. That includes poking holes in the government’s proposed plans for new “Clean Air Zones”.

Here are just five of the ways the report suggests letting the light in and the pollution out:

1. Clean up the draft Clean Air Zones framework

Last October, the government set out its draft plans for new Clean Air Zones in the UK’s five most polluted cities, Birmingham, Derby, Leeds, Nottingham and Southampton (excluding London - where other plans are afoot). These zones will charge “polluting” vehicles to enter and can be implemented with varying levels of intensity, with three options that include cars and one that does not.

But the report argues that there is still too much potential for polluters to play dirty with the rules. Car-charging zones must be mandatory for all cities that breach the current EU standards, the report argues (not just the suggested five). Otherwise national operators who own fleets of vehicles could simply relocate outdated buses or taxis to places where they don’t have to pay.  

Different vehicles should fall under the same rules, the report added. Otherwise, taking your car rather than the bus could suddenly seem like the cost-saving option.

2. Vouchers to vouch-safe the project’s success

The government is exploring a scrappage scheme for diesel cars, to help get the worst and oldest polluting vehicles off the road. But as the report points out, blanket scrappage could simply put a whole load of new fossil-fuel cars on the road.

Instead, ResPublica suggests using the revenue from the Clean Air Zone charges, plus hiked vehicle registration fees, to create “Pollution Reduction Vouchers”.

Low-income households with older cars, that would be liable to charging, could then use the vouchers to help secure alternative transport, buy a new and compliant car, or retrofit their existing vehicle with new technology.

3. Extend Vehicle Excise Duty

Vehicle Excise Duty is currently only tiered by how much CO2 pollution a car creates for the first year. After that it becomes a flat rate for all cars under £40,000. The report suggests changing this so that the most polluting vehicles for CO2, NOx and PM2.5 continue to pay higher rates throughout their life span.

For ClientEarth CEO James Thornton, changes to vehicle excise duty are key to moving people onto cleaner modes of transport: “We need a network of clean air zones to keep the most polluting diesel vehicles from the most polluted parts of our towns and cities and incentives such as a targeted scrappage scheme and changes to vehicle excise duty to move people onto cleaner modes of transport.”

4. Repurposed car parks

You would think city bosses would want less cars in the centre of town. But while less cars is good news for oxygen-breathers, it is bad news for city budgets reliant on parking charges. But using car parks to tap into new revenue from property development and joint ventures could help cities reverse this thinking.

5. Prioritise public awareness

Charge zones can be understandably unpopular. In 2008, a referendum in Manchester defeated the idea of congestion charging. So a big effort is needed to raise public awareness of the health crisis our roads have caused. Metro mayors should outline pollution plans in their manifestos, the report suggests. And cities can take advantage of their existing assets. For example in London there are plans to use electronics in the Underground to update travellers on the air pollution levels.

***

Change is already in the air. Southampton has used money from the Local Sustainable Travel Fund to run a successful messaging campaign. And in 2011 Nottingham City Council became the first city to implement a Workplace Parking levy – a scheme which has raised £35.3m to help extend its tram system, upgrade the station and purchase electric buses.

But many more “air necessities” are needed before we can forget about pollution’s worry and its strife.  

 

India Bourke is an environment writer and editorial assistant at the New Statesman.