Event Review – Ladies That Tweet…may want to think about it first.

Last Tuesday I attended an event in Bristol Called ‘Ladies that Tweet’ – one of those networking evenings for women who use social media in business to meet, discuss, be inspired and learn some helpful tips about the use of social media in business and marketing.

Obviously, being a women’s event, there was bound to be some talk of the difficulties women face in the workplace, and I realise there are many. There are still huge pay differences between men and women, there is also an enormous difference between the number of men and women in managerial and directorial positions – and this is especially true in the world of marketing.

Before attending the event, I had been reading a report by McKinsey & Company entitled ‘Women at the Top of Corporations: Making it Happen’ (available online) which found, among many worrying statistics regarding employment for women that ‘women are still underrepresented in corporate boards and barely present in executive communities’. Having previously worked for the Equality and Human Rights commission, I have read many such reports.

The issue of gender inequality is a troubling one, not just in management and marketing, but across many career sectors, right across Europe. After the networking (and cocktails – always a bonus!) there were three female speakers from various media backgrounds; an email marketer who runs workshops about online marketing and social media, a sex blogger turned novelist who had been horribly and unfairly hounded and bullied by the press after they publicly revealed her identity, and a woman who had recently started a company to try and change the male dominated marketing world, after being inspired by the hit series, Mad Men (which I am currently obsessed with by the way, and has raised many a gender related debate between me and my partner).

So far, so good.

The email marketer and blogger were both eloquent, professional, and raised some valid points for debate, as well as giving some great advice about handling the media, and making the most out of social media in the world of business, which is, after all, what the event was all about.

However, the speaker from the world of marketing, for want of a better word, shocked me. As did the reactions from other attendees on Twitter after the event, although, given we had just been told about the pitfalls of non-polite social media interaction, maybe they were simply worried about the repercussions of critical comment - as in fact I am in publishing this piece on-line.

I did pause to think about it, especially after the advice given in the event about the dangers of opinion pieces on the web. Also, as it was a networking function, I suppose it would be safer and less hassle to keep my opinion to myself.

However, I am a writer, and the issues raised by this speaker really did both trouble and anger me. I fully expect that many people will disagree, which they are completely free to do, in the same way that I am free to express my opinion. So here it is.

In a word, this woman was simply sexist. Initially, I could see her point. She had worked in marketing companies that were male dominated, and where, as in many marketing agencies, the content produced had been decided, in the main, by men. And regarding Mad Men, I have read some genuinely interesting and well researched discussions on the topic surrounding whether the world of advertising has really changed since Don Draper’s (the main character, if you haven’t seen it, and I recommend you do!) day, i.e., the early sixties.

As a topic of discussion, it was potentially an interesting one. But researched and structured debate this was not.

She opened by asking everyone in the room to raise their hand if they were a feminist. Bearing in mind this is a bunch of women who have come straight from work, who don’t know each other, and, if they were anything like me, currently quite focussed on the bowls of sweets on the table, (I would like to point out the event was brilliantly organised, the venue was lovely, and the other speakers, as well as the attendees were very interesting. It was largely a great event) so, for whatever reason you care to choose, only half the room put their hands up.

Thus began the casual sexism, man bashing, bad research and patronising of women. In my view anyway, as I said, many of the comments on twitter implied that lots of the attendees agreed, and didn’t have a problem with it at all.

The half of the room who didn’t raise a hand were met with the comment; ‘Well that’s just sad. Didn’t you want us to get the vote?’ The speaker then proceeded to profess the freedom of modern women to shout C***, which yes, is true, but totally inappropriate in a meeting about social media, as it would have been if a man had said the same thing.

She also showed a succession of slides which patronised the crap out of men in the same way that she complains they do to women. You know the type of thing, the funny pictures people post of Facebook, like a man has one button you push to get all his behaviours, we have lots. Wonderfully illustrated with a photo of one button, with the word ‘Man’ under it, and a photo of lots of buttons, with the word ‘Woman’ under it. Hilarious and informative, right?

She continued to speak about the way we should market to women because when a man goes in a shop, it’s to get one item, but women like to go with their friends, wander around in a haphazard fashion, like some neon-light befuzzled moth with a credit card, and always ‘with friends so they can ask each other, does my bum look big in this?’

This was illustrated with a floor-plan of a shop and a straight line mapping a man’s linear movement towards his item of choice, juxtaposed with a big wobbly squiggle to illustrate a woman wandering here there and everywhere, distracted, presumably by all the bags, shoes and other pretty, irresistible trinkets.

I’m sure there is some truth to this, but how can you moan about sexist stereotypes and put that up?

This was followed by an image of Mel Gibson shaving his legs in the film ‘What Women Want’. Another great and reliable source to illustrate the real problems women face concerning inequality.

There was also scientific reference, again backed up with a lovely illustration. ‘Men and women use different parts of their brain’.
So far so psychologically tested to be true, in some ways.
‘Men use the right side, and women use the whole thing’.

Hmm, not so well researched.

The problem I had with this whole discussion, and the reason why I felt the need to write something about it, is that it was badly researched, totally contradictory, and belittled the genuine inequality that both women and men face at the hands of sexist, capitalist marketing structures.

In my opinion, many women have an aversion to shouting about being a feminist because it conjures up this sort of thing. Angry, irrational women shouting, stereotyping and man bashing. There is no reasoned debate, little research and a lot of sexism and female chauvinism. And that hurts the cause of real feminists.

I understand feminism to be the desire for equality. And whatever your gender, and however passionate you are about a topic, you should be fair, and assess the evidence. Then you should rationally go about solving the problem.

Marketing is always going to portray people, men and women, in an unrealistic light because it aims to sell you a lifestyle you don’t already have. It also aims to sell you things you don’t need and an image of someone else, who’s prettier/thinner/ healthier/more organised/more stylish/whatever.

That’s capitalism for you.

It also sells to you in the same way this woman did, so I guess judging from the many positive reactions afterward, she’s very good at her job. It bombards you with pictures, distractions, half-baked studies and fictional or misrepresented statistics presented as ‘proper’ science. It also sells you things using catchy little hooks - like calling your company MadWomen, and offering to measure market trends with the patronisingly named ‘Femometer’.

Consistently fair market research should look at and measure the audience over-all  and use those stats to target efficiently.  However, a biased marketer will be able to sell just as well with this kind of quirky crap.

You can’t condemn one kind of sexist selling and simultaneously replace it with another and expound it as moral and a push for equality.

It is this kind of thing that ensures the difficulties women encounter due to gender stay as they are, or swing entirely the other way so we take over and gain the unfair advantage in the workplace that men currently occupy.

And neither of those options is good enough.

I hope Ladies that Tweet enjoys much future success, as there really were some interesting points raised. I just think they should be careful who they put up to speak, or what was otherwise an interesting evening full of intelligent, interesting and talented women will descend into nonsense.

And that would really be a shame.

Event Review – Voices from Another Part of Town: Celebrating 50 years of Caribbean Independence @Watershed Bristol

Bunny Marret – What a Legend.

I had a great time last night at Watershed’s ‘Voices from Another Part of Town’ event!

The evening was organised to celebrate the 50th anniversary of Trinidad, Tobago and Jamaica’s Independence, and comprised of extracts from a documentary film about St. Pauls – ‘Voices from Another Part of Town’, produced for the BBC by Gavin Barrie in 1981 following the infamous St. Pauls Riots. The documentary recorded the thoughts and opinions of both young and old Caribbean residents in the area.

My Mother came over to England from Trinidad in the seventies, like many other women, to train as a nurse. I now live in St. Pauls, and it was really fascinating to see just how far the area has come since the eighties.

It was also really interesting to see how attitudes have changed, and how Caribbean culture has infiltrated Bristol’s urban culture and been adopted by the city’s young people, down to the many white youths who live in the area that have adopted a sort of amalgam of Caribbean and British accents. The arrival of Cabot Circus has also made a difference to the area in recent years, which has done a lot for the housing prices and the desirability of the area.

There were numerous complaints from the older generation in the film about the difficulty for Caribbean residents in finding work, and the assertion that putting your address down as St. Pauls on job applications was inclined to lead to immediate rejection.

This situation has no doubt improved in St. Pauls, and attitudes towards Caribbean immigrants have changed. The film made me realise just how difficult it must have been for my mother when she first came to England, being in a completely foreign country, initially without friends or family. You can see why St. Pauls is still such a predominantly Caribbean area; it’s nice to feel at home, and it’s easiest to do that if you are with people who share similar experiences and backgrounds. It was very moving to hear fathers speaking of the dream that maybe their children could one day have a job in the area, and employ some of their friends.

The documentary showed a garage in St. Pauls, run by Caribbean residents, which was, at the time, the only business of its kind in the area. It is still there, and running as such, but thankfully there are now many businesses run by, and for, the areas Caribbean residents.

The other amazing part of the documentary was the musical performances by Bunny Marrett (whose launch party for his new record ‘I’m Free’ followed the event) and the spoken word performances by some of the youth in the area.

It was the passion and frustration about their inability to find work, and the judgements passed on them by British residents following the riots that I found really interesting. The anger that drove the improvisation and beat spoke volumes, and spoken word is now something that has passed well into the Bristol underground music scene, with English youths mimicking the accent and style in performances all around the city. The purpose of the genre is still to vent frustrations and anger towards society and it is fitting that this accent and performance style has now been picked up by youth from other cultures in the UK. With recession, cuts to benefits, youth advice centres and facilities as well as high levels of unemployment, their frustrations are very similar to those experienced by Caribbean residents in St. Pauls 30 years ago.

‘Voices from Another Part of Town’ included a very interesting interview with a young man who spoke about the Caribbean community in Bristol feeling like the lowest of the low. He said he felt their only purpose was to make the working -class feel better, mentioning comments by the poorest members of British society at the time that relayed the attitude, ‘well at least we aren’t like these boys’.

Many of those interviewed also felt sure that it was society’s expectations, or lack of, that led to the anger and aggression of the Caribbean youth, and in part, to the riots. It is difficult not to draw a parallel between the situation in St. Pauls in the eighties, and the similar aggression and low expectation of the disenfranchised and often impoverished inner city youth today, (and the nations fear of ‘hoodies’ and the like) which many have implied may have led in part to last year’s riots.

The importance of race in that sentiment may have mellowed, but with unemployment so high, and so many of what were the working class now unable to find work, claiming benefits and living in the cheaper areas of Bristol with a reputation for trouble, the problem itself hasn’t disappeared. British youth are just as angry as the residents of St. Pauls were in the eighties. And with the government continually and increasingly penalising the poorest, the problem is shifting from racism to classism, and that isn’t an improvement at all.

It was great seeing so many people of Caribbean descent in the audience, as well as people of other cultures, all enjoying the film, and the great music afterwards. Bristol is a beautifully multicultural city, and everyone at the event seemed to be having a great time. There was an amazing atmosphere, and it was a wonderful experience to be able to celebrate my culture at such an event. It also reminded me just what an amazing and brave woman my mother is to have taken the leap of faith to come over here forty years ago.

Despite its problems, I am very proud to be British, I’m proud of my Caribbean heritage, and I love the lively, friendly and vibrant atmosphere of St. Pauls. It’s our parent’s determination, optimism, sense of humour and hard work that has made that possible, and had made St. Pauls, and the change in attitudes towards people of Caribbean descent what they are today.

‘Voices from Another Part of Town’ was part of ‘Radical Bristol’, Celebrating Watershed’s  30th Birthday. As ever, there are lots of interesting events on at Watershed, check it out! Visit Watershed Bristol

Would you like some manners with that pint, sir?

And we’re all like this.

Before I say anything else, I would like to make one thing clear. I am not a mad feminist. I am generally concerned about the usual things women have cause to moan about – gender pay gaps, the fact that us ladies are often written off as old and past it much younger than men (I mean look at poor Moira Stewart. They would never have done that to Trevor McDonald), the unfair advantage given to beautiful women (and men for that matter) in most areas of life, that sort of thing.

I also like watching Sex and the City, but despite what most men think, I don’t wish to emulate their shallow consumer driven lifestyle. I’m not even particularly interested in shoes. Wearing sky high heels only means I can’t get as drunk as I would like on nights out, so I’ll stick with flats, thank you very much. However, I do wish to voice a concern that has given me much grief this week. And the concern is men. Not in general you understand, but men in the work place – in my work place to be precise.

This is partly my own fault (and I shouldn’t be the least bit surprised) as I have ended up doing a ‘blokes’ job. I am manager of a group of mainly male employees, which for the most part, they don’t seem to like one bit. I am currently managing a pub, which before me was run by a group of middle aged men who had all known each other for years and who, despite their little fallings out and disagreements, at least all gave each other’s opinions equal weight because for all intents and purposes, they were cut from the same cloth.

The other unhelpful factor in my transition is that before becoming manager I worked in the same pub as a barmaid. And everyone loves a young barmaid.

Barmaids get you drunk, look pretty and pretend to flirt with you a bit. However, if we then end up in charge, in a position to throw you out or make business decisions, apparently we just aren’t fun anymore. Barmaids aren’t supposed to understand anything about business, and as soon as they hint that they do, they aren’t to be trusted.

I have managed to get this attitude from all sides. Customers, workmates, and generally any man who thinks he could do the job better. Which is just about everyone. Because they’ve all been in a pub before. And apparently, that qualifies you to run one.

Didn’t Britain used to be full of landladies? You know, those great British treasures in the vein of Peggy Mitchell, off Eastenders. Bit of a battleaxe, but good fun and took no nonsense, except off those ape-like sons of hers, but at least they could help her lug barrels about. I used to quite like Peggy Mitchell.

But along with numerous other stereotypically British traditions, this one seems to have died. And I suppose I am quite young to be taking on such a job, but give me a bloody break! I have so far been patronised, openly bitched about and argued with, ‘advised’ that I am going about things the wrong way, or simply ignored completely.

I arranged a meeting with an employment lawyer a few days ago, which the bookkeeper (a man in his forties) decided to sit in on. And they were a well-known reputable firm. Did this arsehole look at me once? Did he bollocks. After his initial poorly disguised shock that I was the manager in the first place, he proceeded to give me a fleeting glance every few minutes, and direct all the answers to my questions to the bookkeeper.

I felt like a kid at a grown-ups dinner table, to be seen and not heard. I eventually forced him to direct his attention to me by pointing out that I had called him in, and I was potentially going to hire, and pay him. I had to be downright pushy, which really annoyed me. I did not hire him, by the way.

It’s the same with the assistant manager. Despite reps, delivery men, contractors, accounts people or anyone else knowing I am the manager, and that I am usually the one that arranged the bloody meeting, they will still refer all questions and answers to the assistant, simply because he’s male. And I think I’m picking up some manly aggression due to it.

I now spend practically all my time with men. I work with them and due to most of my friends being connected with work, as most peoples are, I end up spending my free time with them. For Gods sake, I live with two blokes also.

I’m starting to crave a Sex and the City marathon and a night out in high heels.

Despite my horror at the prospect, it seems you can be as ballsy as you like, but the old skills hold true. The quickest way to get men to do anything is the tried and tested trick of flattering their ego, and making them think it was their idea first, whilst batting your eyelashes a bit.

So take note of this fellas. Women are only manipulative because you don’t fucking listen. And, Mr Lawyer, if a woman is potentially paying your wages, look her in the face for Christ’s sake.

Women aren’t stupid, and we are perfectly capable of doing our jobs. And the bits we don’t want to do, we’ll make you do – and we’ll make you think it was your own brilliant idea in the first place.

And you’ll have no one to blame but yourselves.