International Women's Day (Thursday 8 March 2012) is a global day celebrating the economic, political and social achievements of women past, present and future. This is the place to praise the women who inspire you, whether they're friends relatives, historial figures or celebrities. On International Women's Day in 2011, Platform hosted a campaign to encourage people to blog about women they admire and the posts are still very much relevant one year later. And you don't need to be a woman to join this group!
Donna Smith puts the media coverage of gay politicians under the microscope in a new book based on research for her OU PhD.
Donna is a senior manager in the Faculty of Social Sciences as well as a tutor on DD131 and DD306. She’s just completed her PhD and poured her research findings into a book entitled Sex, Lies and Politics: Gay Politicians in the Press which offers analysis of the changing representation of gay politicians in the UK press from the 1950s onwards.
Here she talks to video camera about gay politicians, media coverage, public opinion and spin doctors…
Find out more:
Donna Smith puts the media coverage of gay politicians under the microscope in a new book based on research for her OU PhD. Donna is a senior manager in the Faculty of Social Sciences as well as a tutor on DD131 and DD306. She’s just completed her PhD and poured her research findings into a book entitled Sex, Lies and Politics: Gay Politicians in the Press which offers ...
The day first celebrated in 1965 is on the birthday of Florence Nightingale, who is regarded as the founder of nursing. A service will take place at Westminster Abbey on 12 May where a symbolic lamp is passes from one nurse to another, signifying the passing on of knowledge.
To find out more about some of the areas nurses work in, listen to extracts from the OU's Nursing qualifications in the OU's iTunes U:
- Living with visual Impairment
The video tracks on this album simulate what the world looks like to people with a range of visual impairments, and show good practice when acting as a sighted guide. The audio tracks offer personal perspectives from two people living with severe visual impairment.
Mental Health: Lennox Castle
What was it like living and working in the largest mental deficiency hospital in Britain? And what changes led to its relatively recent closure? Professor Joanna Bornat of The Open University's Faculty of Health and Social Care explains why the case study was selected for study and unpicks some of the issues that emerge.
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International Nurses' day takes place around the world and recognises the contribution nurses make in society. The day first celebrated in 1965 is on the birthday of Florence Nightingale, who is regarded as the founder of nursing. A service will take place at Westminster Abbey on 12 May where a symbolic lamp is passes from one nurse to another, ...
In this video Helen King, Professor of Classical Studies at the OU, talks to Documentally about ancient medicine and why Gladiator is one of her favourite films.
And here, in Classics Confidential, Professor King talks about the fascinating ancient story of Agnodike ‘the Flashing Midwife’, and its uses by medical practitioners in later eras.
Find out more:
- Helen is a contributor to the Wonders and Marvels blog, a place for specialists and non-specialists to revel in the stories of the past.
- More about Professor King
- Classical Studies - courses and qualifications
- Classical Studies - taster materials
In this video Helen King, Professor of Classical Studies at the OU, talks to Documentally about ancient medicine and why Gladiator is one of her favourite films. And here, in Classics Confidential, Professor King talks about the fascinating ancient story of Agnodike ‘the Flashing Midwife’, and its uses by medical practitioners in later ...
Caroline Boyle has competed in cycling events in two Olympic Games but now the Open University graduate – who’s currently studying Latin – faces a new challenge, to find a career which combines her sporty experience and classical qualifications.
But the difficulty she now faces, is carving a career out of her unique combination of skills. “My life experience is diametrically opposed to my academic qualifications. It will be a real challenge to find a profession which will accommodate what I have to offer particularly as my personnel circumstances restrict me to distance learning. But I am equally passionate about both sport and the arts and I want if I can to help diffuse the tension between the two which the forthcoming Olympics has undoubtedly spotlighted. There seems to be a myth that art and sport cannot coexist in harmony but for me they are inextricably linked.”
When Caroline left school she went to work at the local shipyard in Barrow-in-Furness. Along with many of her peers she studied towards a foundation degree in Engineering. “I found school pretty uninspiring which is perhaps why I opted for an apprenticeship underpinned by the subjects I had found more challenging.
"Likewise, it was this nascent desire to be pushed beyond my comfort zone that led me enter a triathlon when I was 20 on a borrowed bike … and I won it. I’d been a county level swimmer and middle distance runner in my teens, but surprisingly I posted the fastest time in the cycling element of the event. Instead of being average at three sports I decided to try to excel at one and chose to focus on cycling. So after finishing my apprenticeship I gave up my job to train full time.”
And the training paid off. Caroline had a fantastic cycling career under her maiden name of Alexander, competing in the Olympic Games in 1996 and 2000 and in the first ever mountain bike race in the Commonwealth Games in 2002. She also excelled in the World Cup finishing second overall on two occasions and won the European Championships. But the Olympic medal she coveted so much eluded her as she encountered mechanical problems in both Atlanta and Sydney, as well as crashing heavily in the 1996 Olympic road race.
Representing Scotland in the Commonwealth Games, she finished fifth in the road race and was cruelly denied victory in the mountain bike event when a slashed tyre forced her to withdraw despite having built up a commanding lead. “It was one of the few times in my sporting career that I’d managed to peak on the right day – an art form in its self!
'The OU was a great option for many of us here on the Furness peninsula when the shipyard downsized so I feel a certain degree of loyalty. In fact I can’t praise the OU enough'
"I had started to think about life after cycling and because I’d always been interested in antiquity, I had begun studying with the OU, initially to convert my foundation degree from Engineering to Humanities. I soon discovered that training and study really complemented each other, as the latter gave me something else to focus on, and helped me to keep my mind agile while my body was recovering.
“Scotland allowed me complete autonomy over my Commonwealth Games preparation, the bulk of which was spent at high altitude, and I had won a number of international races both on and off road in the build up, therefore I knew I was close to my best physically as well as mentally. A few days before my event Paula Radcliffe, who had so often been the bridesmaid, won the Commonwealth title, an achievement which I considered significant – I truly believed it would be my turn too!”
For the first year after she retired Caroline continued to train while studying 120 points with the OU. “Although I didn’t race I wanted to keep my options open and be fit enough to compete if I decided to make a comeback. The following year earning a living intervened and I only managed 60 points at Level 3 instead of the 120 I’d intended. Kids were the next obstacle to academia, Felicity in the summer of 2006 and Penelope at the close of 2009, before I finally took up the reins again in 2010 and graduated with a BA (Hons) in Humanities with Classical Studies and Literature in 2011. “
“Next on the agenda is postgraduate study," she added. "However, sadly the OU’s MA in Classical Studies is problematic for me as the most heavily weighted assignment is due in at the end of the school holidays - two young children and 60 points at postgraduate level is an excluded combination for me! The powers that be threw me a lifeline when they decided to postpone the final presentation of A860 until 2013 by which time Penelope will be old enough to go to Kindergarten, but whether further study in this field will enhance my employment prospects is open to debate.
“The OU is a fantastic institution and I’ll be loathed to go elsewhere. It’s reliable, superbly organised and you know exactly what you’re getting, plus I’ve had some fantastic support from my tutors. It was a great option for many of us here on the Furness peninsula when the shipyard downsized so I feel a certain degree of loyalty. In fact I can’t praise the OU enough, I’ve had such a positive experience. So much so that I decided to sign up for A397 Continuing classical Latin in 2012. Although a mere 30 pointer it has been quite an undertaking given that I had no previous Latin until last summer when I embarked on a correspondence course! But then I do like a challenge!”
Caroline will be attending London 2012’s mountain biking events, to enjoy the sport and meet up with friends who still race.
Caroline Boyle has competed in cycling events in two Olympic Games but now the Open University graduate – who’s currently studying Latin – faces a new challenge, to find a career which combines her sporty experience and classical qualifications. “The skills I gained as an athlete are directly transferable to study – discipline, drive and the ...
Marion Grenfell-Essam, 28, from Essex, has had ME since she was just 12 years old which means the smallest of tasks leave her utterly exhausted. But she’s found comfort in OU study, the flexibility of which allows her to work around her symptoms, and she plans on “studying for the rest of my life if I can.”
Forced to drop out of studying for a BSc in Applied Psychology at Cardiff University, Marion was overcome with depression. At the time, her mum was (and still is) studying towards a BSc in Psychology with the OU and “decided to bully me into finding an interest,” says Marion.
“She knew I had always expressed an interest in learning more about web design so she pestered me into signing up for T183 Design and the Web. That was the autumn of 2006 and I haven't looked back.”
“Certainly my intention with the BSc in Computing is to give myself the skills to be able to work from home on computing and web design projects. The BSc in Mathematics and Statistics is mostly for fun,” she says of working towards two degrees.
Support from tutors
“I think the thing I like most about OU study is the freedom; both the freedom when studying a particular course to go at the speed that suits me but also the freedom to choose what to study. I've always been interested in learning almost for its own sake so the ability to choose from numerous subjects is wonderful.
“I've found almost universal support from my tutors. When I've been having problems with the TMA deadlines they are always happy to give advice about my best options and the teaching quality has been excellent both in the year long and short courses.
Marion has had ME (Myalgic Encephalopathy) or Chronic Fatigue Syndrome (CFS) for 16 years and she’s learned to deal with the symptoms.
“The main symptom is fatigue. Joint and muscle pain is common, with visible twitching of muscles being relatively rare. Perhaps the most frustrating set of symptoms are the cognitive symptoms: problems with short-term memory, concentration and maintaining attention. Sufferers often complain of brain fog - the inability to focus properly.
'Perhaps the greatest support the OU gives me is home exams. I simply could never have completed any course with an exam if I had had to go to an exam centre'
“Most sufferers will experience headaches with many having to deal with migraines - basically headaches but with additional components: flashing light or auras, neck pain, light sensitivity, noise sensitivity, nausea even to the point of vomiting and skin sensitivity so that even light bed clothes can feel like someone is gripping their hand hard around your skin. Basically when it gets really bad your only option is go and lie down or lie propped up in a dark, quiet room.”
With day-to-day activities like eating and dressing making her tired, Marion sleeps a lot, but she can be awake in the early hours of the morning. So it’s the complete flexibility of OU study that allows her to work at her own pace and in short bursts if necessary, with support for her additional needs via the university's services for disabled students.
“Because I can't plan my good days and my bad weeks I can't always stick to the timetable. My tutors are always very supportive about giving me extensions if I think that a couple of extra weeks might make the difference between a partial TMA and no TMA. I find reading 12 size font just a little bit too small to be comfortable for me so the ability to read my Unit texts as pdfs where I can zoom to a size that works for me is great.
'Sometimes you just can't talk to your family and friends about what you're dealing with but you need to talk to someone and the other students on the forum always understand what you're facing'
“Where I want to read from the unit but would struggle to hold it open the OU provide me with comb-bound books so that they lie flat on my lap or table so I don't get hand strain keeping the book flattened to read. The use of iTMAs is a big bonus as it means I don't have to try and hand write anything with my sore muscles. At the tutorials my Learning Support team make sure I have a ground floor room close to the entrance so that I can easily walk the distance with the help of my walking stick.
“Perhaps the greatest support the OU gives me is home exams. I simply could never have completed any course with an exam if I had had to go to an exam centre. I can sit where I always sit to study with the light and noise levels set to my preferences and with my body supported to avoid muscle strain.
"I'm allowed 30 minutes of rest breaks so I tend to take at least two breaks of 10 minutes each and sometimes a third of the remaining 10 minutes depending on how tired I am and how the questions work out. I can use these 10 minutes simply to close my eyes and stop for 10 minutes or I can shift my papers and lie down on my sofa and catch 10 minutes sleep if need be.
“Because of the eye strain the OU provides me with large print exam papers on pink paper to avoid the glare off a white page.”
Reassurance that you're not alone
Marion’s an active member of the OUSA and Platform forums, which she finds “an enormous support”.
“Sometimes you just can't talk to your family and friends about what you're dealing with but you need to talk to someone and the other students on the forum always understand what you're facing. Even if they haven't gone through it themselves they usually have some sensible advice and often all that is really needed is the reassurance that you're not alone with having to deal with the consequences of this disease.”
Aside from study, Marion likes to read, watch TV shows from crime to sci-fi and has recently discovered blogging.
“Since January this year I've been feeling more hopeful for the future and felt that my brain state allowed me to at least string some sentences together. So I started by reading some of the blogs listed on Platform and when I felt I'd got a feel for it I took the plunge and wrote my first post.
“It allows me to crow about small accomplishments - like sleeping for nine hours and not two hours or 12 hours. It allows me to moan about the migraines or rave about a new book or TV show.
“With the short-term memory issues that go with ME it is generally impossible for me to remember what happened to me last week certainly not any further back and it is very easy to lose track of time between events. The ability to go back re-read posts to discover what I've been doing for the last three weeks or two months ago is a very useful by-product of keeping a blog.”
Marion Grenfell-Essam, 28, from Essex, has had ME since she was just 12 years old which means the smallest of tasks leave her utterly exhausted. But she’s found comfort in OU study, the flexibility of which allows her to work around her symptoms, and she plans on “studying for the rest of my life if I can.” Forced to drop out of studying for a BSc in Applied Psychology at ...
Julia Crouch started her career as director and playwright, retrained as a graphic designer to work from home and raise children and, after two creative writing courses with The Open University and support from her tutors, is now working full time as a writer and published author. Would she recommend OU study? “Absolutely,” she says, “the courses have completely changed my life.” Here, she talks to Platform and offers some tips to budding writers...
Little did Julia realise that when she stumbled on a magazine flyer advertising short courses with The Open University that it would lead to a professional writing career. With her third and youngest child at school, Julia had found herself at a crossroads.
“Having not written any fiction (apart from my picture books and plays) since I was a child, I had no idea where to start, or whether I was going to be any good at it. So I thought the A174 presented an ideal opportunity to find out.
"The commitment in terms of time and money was at just the right level for putting my toe in the water.
After a drama degree at Bristol University, Julia’s professional life started as a theatre director and playwright, but children changed that and she needed to work from home. She retrained at a local FE College and spent 10 years as a graphic/website designer but it was during an MA in Sequential Illustration at the University of Brighton that Julia realised she preferred writing over drawing.
'I think the major thing I took away with me was the ability to treat my writing seriously and to carve out time to do it'
“A174 was an ideal introduction and A215 taught me so much about the technical side of writing, as well as firing off all sorts of creative possibilities and opening up my reading and my critical thinking. I think the major thing I took away with me was the ability to treat my writing seriously and to carve out time to do it. The tutors were marvellous, and particularly good at giving me the confidence I so badly needed.
“The courses have completely changed my life - two years after completing A215, I had finished my second novel and got an agent and a three book deal with a major publisher, as well as a whole host of foreign sales. I was able to give up my other work and now I write full time, in between talking, reading and lecturing at festivals and courses.”
Julia says encouragement from her tutors played a key role in boosting her confidence and it was the suggestion to enter National Novel Writing Month – a scheme to write a whole novel in one month, without looking back at what you’ve written - that really set her going.
'The courses have completely changed my life - two years after completing A215, I had finished my second novel and got an agent and a three book deal with a major publisher'
“My A215 tutor John O'Donoghue suggested it to me, and I realised that, like A174, it presented a great, low-commitment way of finding out if I could write long fiction - just one month of heavy duty sprint – 1,700 words every day for the whole month of November.
“The idea is you never go back and read what you've written and you never edit - you just put your head down and write until, 50,000 words later, you have reached the very quick and dirty end of your story. After my second NaNoWriMo sprint, I spent a year editing what I had produced, and that formed the basis of my first published novel, Cuckoo.”
Julia’s second book, Every Vow You Break, is about to hit the shelves and she’s currently working hard on her third, mostly from a shed in the bottom of her Brighton garden.
"I now also have a much more varied life, with many more outings both on book business and for research and what I call 'feeding my beast' - living a life that nourishes my writing.
"I hope I'll get another book deal after this one (I'm shortly due to deliver the third out of the three) and that I can carry on writing books well into my dotage.”
Would Julia recommend OU study to others?
“Of course! Absolutely and unreservedly. Whether to get professional qualifications or to follow or develop an interest, it's a fantastic way of fitting study around a life. Particularly if that life involves a lot of evenings in on your own while your children sleep!”
- It's contradictory really - you have to have self-belief and a thick skin, but you also have to be able to accept and respond to criticism without getting defensive.
- You'll never have anything to edit until you have written it. So write first, THEN go back and edit. Never, ever let anyone see your work until you are happy with it. Then be prepared to change it again and again.
- I suppose the nutshell of that is be serious about your work, but don't be precious about it.
- Write every day. Read widely. Read fiction, read books about writing.
- Make sure you get enough exercise. Make sure you get out and see the world.
- The other thing to bear in mind is that EVERYONE I have met in publishing has been lovely. They are there to nurture and encourage good work. When you're on the outside looking in, it's easy to demonise those you see as the gatekeepers between you and publication. But they are there for a good reason. Listen to what they say.
You can find out more about Julia and her work at: juliacrouch.co.uk
Julia Crouch started her career as director and playwright, retrained as a graphic designer to work from home and raise children and, after two creative writing courses with The Open University and support from her tutors, is now working full time as a writer and published author. Would she recommend OU study? “Absolutely,” she says, “the courses have completely changed my ...
As well as dipping into stories from last year’s International Women’s Day, including blog posts from members of the OU community, you can learn how OU honorary graduate Kate Adie remembers a pioneering woman in a war zone; find out how Roxy Freeman grew up in a travelling family and ended up as the bestselling author of a memoir about her childhood; discover the women behind the OU’s success including archive audio from Anne Drake, the OU’s first occupational health nurse; and video clips from academics paying tribute to the inspiring women in their lives.
As OpenLearn takes a look at 60 of the world's most influential and pioneering women over the past 100 years with an interactive entitled The Real Women of the 20th Century, you can also read International Women’s Day-themed blog posts from Platform’s residential bloggers: Carrie Walton on how she’s been inspired by a family member she’s never even met and Society Matters blogger Raia Prokhovnik asks ‘does feminism still have something to offer?’
And over on iTunes U you can enjoy a collection of tracks about women in science, women in law and working mothers.
Find out more:
- International Women's Day group on Platform
- International Women's Day
- Study at the OU - Understanding society
Today, Thursday 8 March 2012, is International Women’s Day and we’re celebrating by giving a nod to all the women who inspire us. As well as dipping into stories from last year’s International Women’s Day, including blog posts from members of the OU community, you can learn how OU honorary graduate Kate Adie remembers a pioneering woman in a war zone; ...
Using the inspiring lens of Simone de Beauvoir's writing, Meg Barker reminds us of the risks we take if we enforce gender identity onto children and limit what they are able to become.
On International Women’s Day, with the theme ‘Connecting Girls, Inspiring Futures’, I would like to take the opportunity here to celebrate my own favourite feminist, Simone de Beauvoir (1908-1986). I will look back to the past to see if what she had to say about gender still holds today, and what her theories and key quotes might mean for the kinds of futures that we want to inspire – for girls and for everyone.
'One is not born, but rather one becomes, a woman'
Perhaps the most famous quote from de Beauvoir's writing on gender, The Second Sex, is this one. Here she is arguing, from autobiographical experience and from the available evidence at the time, that the things associated with womenhood (such as being passive, concerned with appearance, childlike and in need of protection, and wanting to care for others) are imposed upon women by society rather than being innate characteristics they are born with.
Current understandings of gender view it – like so much of human behaviour – as a complex biopsychosocial interweaving rather than something that can be simplistically put down to 'nature' or 'nurture'. Gender theory alerts us to the diversity of possible gendered identities and roles available, whilst emphasising the limited patterns of masculinity and femininity which we are pushed to repeat and repeat until they feel 'natural'. Biological findings on neuroplasticity reveal that the likely underlying brain processes are neural pathways which are strengthened by such repetitions. So we could say that gendered identity is a process of narrowing down from the possibilities which are available at birth.
There are, of course, some biological limits on what is possible from the start, which differ from person to person, but de Beauvoir emphasises the social limits which constrain these. Her focus here is on freedom, the fact of humanity that her partner, Jean-Paul Sartre, emphasised in his work. Sartre highlighted the importance in life of becoming aware of the meanings which are imposed upon us by others (societal assumptions about what people like us should be like, or family expectations about what we are going to do) and breaking free of these. De Beauvoir pointed out that such breaking through of 'the ceiling which is stretched over their heads' is easier for some than for others. Embracing one's freedom may be virtually impossible for those who are enslaved, and may be easier for some than others even in times and places where everyone is regarded as 'free'.
'The lie to which the adolescent girl is condemned is that she must pretend to be an object, and a fascinating one, when she senses herself as an uncertain, dissociated being, well aware of her blemishes.'
Focusing on this aspect of 'being an object' in particular, we can see that women are still regarded very much in terms of their appearance, although these days they are encouraged to beautify themselves for their own pleasure and 'fun' rather than explicitly for the pleasure of others. However, it is often difficult to disentangle the pleasure derived from feeling one looks good from the pleasure derived because someone else thinks you look good. Appearance is a key focus of women's magazines, and the ideals of feminine beauty are so narrow that many are excluded from it, and even minor deviations from it are considered remarkable (as in the recent Guardian article about models who 'break the mould').
The other focus in women's magazines, and in movies and TV shows aimed at women, are relationships with men. De Beauvoir comments that 'a great many adolescent girls when asked about their plans for the future, reply . . . “I want to get married”. But no young man considers marriage as his fundamental project'. Miranda on Sex and The City echoed this concern several decades later when she stormed out of a café complaining that all that her (very successful) friends talked about was men, but it is revealed later in the episode that she was only upset because she wasn't really over her ex-boyfriend.
'The less she exercises her freedom to understand, to grasp and discover the world about her, the less resources will she find within herself, the less will she dare to affirm herself as a subject.'
De Beauvoir argues that, in such ways, women are encouraged into 'being for others' rather than 'being for themselves'. Many women struggle to tune into their own desires and needs due to seeing pleasure as something to be gained from pleasing others, and put themselves through unhappiness or pain feeling that this is what they are supposed to do.
Responsibility can be scary
Of course we can question the benefits of both the 'for others' and 'for themselves' sides of the binary. It is problematic to feel that our only identity is in the role that we have in other people's lives (as many women find when they lose such roles), and troubling to have to constantly monitor their body and self to ensure that they are pleasing to others. On the other hand, as de Beauvoir pointed out, there are benefits to such a position: not having to feel responsible for your actions because you don't believe that you have power to affect the world, and real pleasure when you are approved of or desired. Being 'for themselves' (as men are encouraged to be) involves the weight of responsibility which comes from being called upon to make autonomous choices and to be self-sufficient and protective of others, when we may well actually feel scared, incapable and vulnerable ourselves. Also, as de Beauvoir suggested, mutual relationships are very difficult indeed if one person needs to be constantly affirmed as a beautiful object, or one person is constantly denying the other the freedom and responsibility that they have themselves.
De Beauvoir further (and perhaps controversially) highlights the role of women in limiting other women. She points out what a threat it can be for a mother to see a daughter breaking through and embracing their freedom and resisting the roles being thrust upon them in ways they were unable to do themselves. Perhaps we can relate this to the women-produced magazines that still welcome women in to a self-scrutinising, appearance- and relationship- obsessed world; as well as the tendency to point to the lack of freedom of women in 'other' places as a way of obscuring our own situation.
If people become their gender rather than being born into them, and if we regard freedom to become, without limitations, as a vital part of the picture, perhaps the important thing to do is open up possibilities for becoming as much as we can.
We could link this to recent pressures from intersex activists who have argued for intersex people (the 1-2% of people who are born with anatomy or physiology which differs from contemporary ideals of 'normal' male and female) to be able to make their own choices about the gendering (or not) of their bodies later in life, rather than having this imposed upon them with surgeries in childhood which often have no medical necessity, as has previously been the case.
There has been a furore in the media recently about families who have made similar decisions about apparently non-intersex children, demanding their right to decide upon their own gender later on in life rather than having it imposed upon them from birth. Many commentators have seen this as deeply problematic or even abusive. However, we could – from de Beauvoir's perspective – view it in another way: locating the problem in a society that enforces particular ideals of gender onto children; thus limiting what they are able to become.
Find out more
The following, more recent, books all raise interesting issues in these ongoing discussions:
- Caitlin Moran: How to be a woman
- Norah Vincent: Self made man
- Kate Bornstein: My gender workbook
- Cordelia Fine: Delusions of gender
Meg Barker 8 March 2012
Cartoon by Catherine Pain
Using the inspiring lens of Simone de Beauvoir's writing, Meg Barker reminds us of the risks we take if we enforce gender identity onto children and limit what they are able to become. On International Women’s Day, with the theme ‘Connecting Girls, Inspiring Futures’, I would like to take the opportunity here to celebrate my own favourite ...
The OU in Scotland and Oxfam are hosting a tea party to celebrate International Women's Day.
It will be held at the Oxfam Bookshop, 5 Royal Exchange Square in Glasgow City Centre and will include tea, fairtrade baking, talks on women and poverty, and raising money for a good cause!
The tea party takes place on Thursday 8 March from 6.45pm. Open University speakers include staff tutor Lore Gallastegi, who will be speaking about the OU Malawi Project, and AL Irene Hossack, who will be presenting some poetry.
They will be accompanied by Gill Scott from Glasgow Caledonian University, Katherine Trebeck from Oxfam UK and a speaker from the 'Tea in the Pot' women's drop-in centre.
The event will promote International Women's Day and is also a fundraiser for Oxfam.
Tickets, £4, are available from the Oxfam Bookshop directly or by telephoning the shop on 0141 248 9176 (between 10am and 6pm).
The OU in Scotland and Oxfam are hosting a tea party to celebrate International Women's Day. It will be held at the Oxfam Bookshop, 5 Royal Exchange Square in Glasgow City Centre and will include tea, fairtrade baking, talks on women and poverty, and raising money for a good cause! The tea party takes place on Thursday 8 March from 6.45pm. Open University speakers include staff tutor ...
March 8 marks International Women’s Day. But with many young women now believing feminism has either achieved its goals, or is irrelevant to their lives, Raia Prokhovnik asks if the day is something to celebrate or not.
Women’s football, rugby, and cricket in the UK is top class, and women’s boxing is rapidly gaining in popularity. You could also argue that young women want to throw off the censorious attitudes of second-wave feminists and wear make-up and high heels without needing to feel they are being objectified by men – and that women as well as men enjoy pornography.
What’s the case for? Well, the Daily Mail had a shocking article just a few days ago with the headline recently ‘Street gang girls now see group rape as “normal”. The conviction rate for rape still lies at around 6%, and 12% of recorded rape cases are listed by police as ‘no crimes’. Two women a week die in Britain as a result of domestic violence.
And despite the Equal Pay Act of over 30 years ago, women as a group still earn well below what men as a group earn for the same job. Maternity pay may give women time to be with their babies for a few short months, but women take maternity pay at the high risk of losing out in career progression. And While girls do better than boys at school and in higher education, the proportion of men to women in good jobs rapidly changes in men’s favour in the workplace, with a scarcity of women as high earners and in company boardrooms. A recent Guardian article reports calls for change by German female journalists, who face a workplace in which ‘only 2% of the editors-in-chief of 360 German daily and weekly newspapers are women’.
Stepping back from these headlines, feminists have put forward two really important points which are still relevant today. One is about the level playing field. Can women really be considered equal if they aren’t operating under equal conditions with really equal opportunities? The evidence above suggests that the playing field is not level or, in other words, there remain structural barriers to women’s equality. And is the value of ‘political correctness’ really to be dismissed so long as women aren’t situated on a level playing-field?
The second point is about distinguishing between how women want to see themselves and how they are seen. Women want to see themselves as individuals, as different from each other, and as in solidarity with other women, a Woman, whatever that might mean to them. They want to be equal but also different. But the absence of a level playing-field means that there are still strong social values circulating which assume that biological sex immediately tells you all sorts of things (negative things) about how any particular woman thinks, feels, behaves. There is still a lot of evidence that people make negative assumptions about what women are capable of in the workplace on this basis. This lowers expectations about what women can achieve, and women internalise that sense of inferiority. Or in other words, when women are essentialised – viewed not as individuals but only, and negatively, as part of a group defined primarily through their biology – inequality is seen as natural.
Another example of the disjunction between how women are seen, and how they want to see themselves and be seen, is found in the recent Slut Walks – in cities around the world women have protested against the view that it is OK to think that every woman wearing a short skirt is asking to be raped.
It's important, too, to remember that International Women’s Day is not only, or even primarily, about the situation for women and girls in the UK and other wealthy countries. It’s also about highlighting the importance of education for girls (denied in some countries), helping women directly with micro-credit schemes (giving women an independent earning potential), and working to eliminate the practice of female genital mutilation (prevalent in some countries).
Then there are vexed issues like Muslim women wearing the veil – should we see this as a cultural choice which women should be free to make, or as a patriarchal practice that takes away women’s independent identity? Is it about culture or about individual rights? All these are issues which need to be discussed and debated, and International Women’s Day marks a time which encourages reflection on them.
On balance, I think that it's well worth celebrating ‘Connecting Girls, Inspiring Futures’ , the theme of International Women's Day on 8 March.
If you are interested in the questions raised here, you might be interested in the Open University course, Living Political Ideas, where ideas about gender are considered in a debate over abortion in the US, and in a whole section of the course devoted to ‘The Body in Politics’.
Raia Prokhovnik, 6 March 2012
Dr Raia Prokhovnik is a Reader in Politics at the Open University.
Cartoon by Catherine Pain
March 8 marks International Women’s Day. But with many young women now believing feminism has either achieved its goals, or is irrelevant to their lives, Raia Prokhovnik asks if the day is something to celebrate or not. What’s the case against the relevance of feminism? Well, you could argue that women have the vote, are protected by the Equal Pay ...
This time last year I wrote a post for International Women’s Day about a woman who inspired me, and did it in a very self-centred and self-obsessed way – all about me. Well I was asked to do another one this year and decided to take a slightly different approach to it.
As a Christmas gift for my Dad this year I decided to begin working on the ‘Walton Family Tree’ (although I got too excited about it and ended up telling him everything, some surprise eh). I began work on it on Saturday 25th February and within 24 hours I felt like ‘d stumbled upon a part-read story; as it turns out a massive amount of research has already been done by other members of the family and I’m now in regular contact with my fourth cousin who lives in a beautiful looking part of Australia. While looking through all of the information I uncovered I came across a lady named Hannah Maria Walton.
She was my second great grandmother and was born in Durham in 1849, one of 10 children. She had her first child in 1869, an illegitimate son to an unknown father, then later married William Dixon and had two daughters with him (with we think, another illegitimate son in between the two girls). Hannah Maria must’ve parted ways with William Dixon as she’s found in the 1881 census as a resident at the Durham Union Workhouse with her eldest daughter Elizabeth in tow. It’s suspected that she might have died in the Workhouse but I need to visit the Durham Records Office to confirm that. Of course, you can only glean so much information from the records and there’s plenty more research to be done but I’ve developed somewhat of a fascination with my second great granny Hannah Maria.
Since I was a wee nipper I’ve always known that I had a safe and secure home to live in and that if, when leaving school I couldn’t find a job, I’d be supported by the government with jobseeker’s allowance or if I got the grades to go to university then I’d be provided a grant to pay for my fees and could take out a student loan to support me. As it turned out I left school, found a job, bought a house and THEN decided to go to uni (I’m unconventional if anything), but Hannah Maria didn’t have any of those options. She had her first child while unwed and working as a servant. There was no kind of support from the government, no social housing to provide her with a nice cosy place to stay and nothing to say that her family would be willing to support her in an age when illegitimate children were frowned upon (although surprisingly common).
'As far as I’m aware, I’m the first person on the Walton side of the family to get a degree but it’s not because I’m ‘clever’, it’s because the opportunities for my generation are just so much better'
There are people in Britain who grumble on about how hard their lives are and how little opportunities there are for them and how absurd it is that they’re going to have to PAY for their higher education (scandalous that the state only provides 16 years of free education, scandalous!) but in some ways for a lot of people we’ve never had it easier (I realise there are exceptions though and we still have a big problem with poverty and unemployment, I’m not suggesting otherwise before anyone chastises me).
I dread to think what life must have been like for Hannah Maria in the workhouse – separated from the one child she had to take with her and the three she had to leave behind, made to work endless hours in appalling conditions, sleeping on an uncomfortable iron bed and being given barely enough food to sustain her. My second great grandmother had a tremendously hard life of nothing but hard labour and heartache. Her first son had things slightly easier and as the generations have progressed each has been given more opportunities than the previous. As far as I’m aware, I’m the first person on the Walton side of the family to get a degree. I’m certainly the first to be doing anything higher than a degree but it’s not because I’m ‘clever’, it’s because the opportunities for my generation are just so much better than for hers.
If Hannah Maria could read and write she’d be ‘doing alright’ and her struggle inspires me. It inspires me because I’ll never have to deal with the same kind of life she had. I’ll probably never experience the poverty she had to endure but without it I wouldn’t be here.
I hope I can uncover more about Hannah Maria because I’d love to be able to fill in more of the gaps and understand more of the life she went through. I’d like to think that if she could see the result of her struggle in the generations she spawned she’d be proud of how her family has turned out and would be thankful for the lives she brought into the world. For me, Hannah Maria is an inspiration not because of what she achieved but because of what she endured. If you think life is tough these days, I bet it’s nothing compared to when she was alive.
This time last year I wrote a post for International Women’s Day about a woman who inspired me, and did it in a very self-centred and self-obsessed way – all about me. Well I was asked to do another one this year and decided to take a slightly different approach to it. I stand by my post last year, the 31-year-old version of me is still very much inspired by the ...
Journalist Kate Adie has thrown the spotlight on a female pioneer celebrated abroad but largely forgotten in her native Britain.
Inglis (pictured right) battled against the male establishment – first to qualify as a doctor, and then to establish the Scottish Women’s Hospitals for Foreign Service Committee, an organisation which provided all-female staff hospitals in France, Serbia and Russia during the First World War and helped provide better conditions for the wounded.
Kate Adie (pictured below) first heard about Elsie Inglis from her Serb translator as they took shelter from a bombardment during the Bosnian war.
Despite being celebrated overseas and being given a state funeral in Scotland, Inglis is one of a number of remarkable women whose names have been largely forgotten in their own country, she said.
Her lecture, entitled My good lady, go home and sit still!, was given on 21 February to a packed theatre at the National Gallery of Scotland, as part of the annual Edinburgh Lecture Series.
The theme of this year’s series is ‘Extraordinary People, Extraordinary Events’ and the series will conclude with a lecture in June by the Dalai Lama.
Journalist Kate Adie has thrown the spotlight on a female pioneer celebrated abroad but largely forgotten in her native Britain. In a talk given on behalf of the Open University in Scotland, she highlighted the achievements of Elsie Inglis who, like Adie, rose to prominence through her work in war zones. Inglis (pictured right) battled against the male establishment ...
Roxy Freeman grew up in a travelling family and learned to milk goats, ride horses, dance and forage for food. And then she stumbled on academia, which opened up a whole new world. Now an OU graduate and journalist with a bestselling memoir, Roxy talks to Platform about her journey...
“I grew up on the road, my family was always on the move and education was not a priority. I learned a lot of things growing up in a traveling family. But my skills were practical not academic. I could cook, milk goats, ride horses, look after babies and children, dance and forage for food.
“I value the lessons I learned as a child and they have helped me get on in life, but I craved more. I started my formal education at the age of 22. The first year was a struggle but learning for the first time was a revelation. It felt like someone had switched my brain on for the first time.
Roxy tried traditional university before she found the OU but couldn’t get along with the inflexible hours, the travel to campus and the inability to fit work around a rigid study plan.
“The timetable made it impossible for me to work at all. I had no financial support what so ever and lived a 40 minute drive away from the campus. I realised that there was no way I could support myself if I continued with the course. I couldn’t fulfill my study dreams, but I wasn’t ready to throw them away either, so started looking for an alternative option, something that would work around a part time job and was a bit more flexible. The OU sounded ideal. I found a course online and within just a few weeks received my first bundle of study material.”
Roxy studied for a BA in European Studies but confesses to not having a career plan when she started out. Little did she realise that her OU degree would help discover a passion for writing and open the door to a career in journalism.
'I found that changing my scenery often gave my studies an extra boost. None of my friends attending traditional universities had that freedom, and none of them graduated debt free like I did!'
“I wanted to know more about the continent I called home and the modules sounded interesting. I studied history, economics, governance and politics and did a diploma in Spanish language. By the time I graduated I knew I loved writing and research so I went on to do an NCTJ (National Council for Training of Journalists) certificate in journalism at a local college.”
But her OU journey wasn’t all plain sailing – it’s no mean feat studying in isolation and spending summers revising when your friends are enjoying holidays. But it was worth it, says Roxy.
“My OU study had its highs and its lows. It takes a hell of a lot of determination and dedication to complete a degree, especially when you’re doing most of it on your own. Sometimes it felt like an uphill battle, but I was lucky to have some excellent tutors that I could call or email when things got tough.
“My exams always seemed to fall at the end of summer, so when my friends were all enjoying their holidays and going to festivals I was locked away with a pile of books. But it also offered a lot of freedom. I spent a few months of every year abroad, I’d do some extra shifts at work and then pile all my books into my car and go to Ireland, France or Spain and stay with family or friends. I found that changing my scenery often gave my studies an extra boost. None of my friends attending traditional universities had that freedom, and none of them graduated debt free like I did!”
'Getting a degree gave me confidence in my writing and confidence in myself, without those things I would never have written my book'
Roxy gained new contacts following the article including an editor from Simon and Schuster who spotted the potential in both her writing and her personal story.
“A year later I completed my book, Little Gypsy: A Life of Freedom, a Time of Secrets. It went straight into the bestseller’s charts and has had some great reviews. Getting a degree gave me confidence in my writing and confidence in myself, without those things I would never have written my book.”
Roxy has also written on issues that travelers and gypsies face and hopes to help dispel some of the negative stereotypes.
“But I don’t want to only write about my life and experiences,” she says. “I love to write and I think a good writer can write about anything. One of my main passions is cooking and I love to write about food. I recently started a food blog, I love documenting my foodie exploits and sharing some of my foraging experiences.
What’s next for Roxy? She’s busy with journalism and writing and aspired to be a food writer one day, but for now she’s content to simply see what happens next.
“Little Gypsy caused quite a whirlwind, and six months after its release my life is only just settling down again. I’m not sure about embarking on another book just yet but when the inspiration takes me I’ll get to work.”
Find out more
Roxy Freeman grew up in a travelling family and learned to milk goats, ride horses, dance and forage for food. And then she stumbled on academia, which opened up a whole new world. Now an OU graduate and journalist with a bestselling memoir, Roxy talks to Platform about her journey... “I grew up on the road, my family was always on the move and education was not a priority. I learned a ...
Jan Owen carried on studying for her degree throughout a year of gruelling cancer treatment. Often pausing to think "what's the point?" she persevered and is glad she did. She's now celebrating being in remission and achieving an OU degree...
She said studying with the OU helped her battle through the long bouts of chemotherapy and radiotherapy. “It really gave me something to focus on,” she said. “And it’s made me realise how important education is and how much it broadens your horizons.”
Jan left school at 16 and worked in a bank. “Nobody in my family had gone to university, and I think I was just expected to leave school, get a job and get married."
But as she progressed in her work, increasingly she found that new entrants were graduates. “I might have had a bit of a chip on my shoulder. I thought 'everyone has a degree and I want one'.”
She began studying part-time for her degree in 2005, having already taken a foundation course with the OU in her 20s. But midway through her studies in June 2008, Jan was diagnosed with breast cancer. The illness was at an advanced stage and she underwent seven months of chemotherapy, a mastectomy, removal of lymph nodes in her left arm, reconstructive surgery, and five weeks of daily radiotherapy. She is currently part-way through five years of hormone therapy.
Throughout her treatment at Derriford Hospital, Plymouth, Jan refused to give up on her studies, and spent the long hours at the oncology unit poring over her books and writing essays. “I thought that if I stopped, I would never start up again,” she said. “With the prospect of facing my own death and leaving a husband a widower and three young children motherless, sometimes I found it hard to see the point in carrying on with my studies.
“Spending hours working on the assignments trying to meet deadlines often seemed unimportant in the great scheme of things. But I’m glad I persevered, and I had a very understanding tutor who extended deadlines when I needed them.”
Jan is currently in remission. She is enjoying the break from studying, but is considering going on to study for a Masters degree. “My husband Nigel’s got a Masters, and now I’m starting to think I want one too,” she said.
She believes her studies have made her a good role model for daughters Mair, 10, Ellie, 11, and Georgia, 13. “The Open University is an excellent model of how education should be. It keeps you motivated and makes you want to learn,” she said.
“It’s an excellent way to get a degree, and in this climate when higher education is getting more and more expensive, I would certainly recommend it.”
Jan Owen carried on studying for her degree throughout a year of gruelling cancer treatment. Often pausing to think "what's the point?" she persevered and is glad she did. She's now celebrating being in remission and achieving an OU degree... Jan, a bank clerk and mother-of-three from Landrake near Saltash, was awarded a 2:1 BA (Hons) in English Language and English ...
Tabea Müller is an OU graduate who studied in Hamburg, Germany. Keen to use her degree in the field, Tabea now works in a development role in Cameroon and writes regularly about her experiences for well-known German weekly newspaper Die Zeit...
More than 10 years ago Tabea Müller completed her BSc (Hons) with the OU. After digging into the theories of gender, development, environmental policy and social psychology she now works with women in Cameroon who hope to make better lives for themselves through education.
“After a hard working day on their farms or in the market, three dozen women aged between 30 and 75 still have an important date. Two to three times a week they go to their literacy course. They try to catch up on what they missed out on when they were younger, when their families had no money for education or it was simply not seen as important that a girl goes to school. The women are participants of the Women’s Economic Empowerment and Literacy Project (WEELP) of the Presbyterian Church in Cameroon (PCC) which we carry out in the north-west of the country, sponsored by Mission 21.
“It’s 8am. My Cameroonian colleague and I find a taxi and squeeze ourselves next to a number of other people into an old car. Muddy roads lead us through amazing landscapes. White morning clouds hang halfway between the clear, green mountains. Waterfalls rush down from the shiny rocks. What a beautiful country! On the roadside, women have already started to prepare their fish rolls and puff-puffs which swim in hot oil over a small fireplace. Our destination today is a small Sunday school house in a village in north-western Cameroon. The group of women greets us with stormy embraces, joyful voices and small dances.” Some hours later we find ourselves in discussions about the best food for pigs, current market prices as well as health issues of the newborn piglets,” says Tabea. “Women share their experiences, ask questions, learn together and try out new ideas. All of them are self employed farmers, small producers or traders who feed their families with their own small farms, animal rising or small market activities. What have they all come for?
“The women want to know: how can I improve my business performance? How can I stop hand-to-mouth living and overcome poverty? How can I gain independence and power over my own life and decisions?
“With WEELP, we use and update the various abilities and experiences women are already equipped with. We counsel and accompany women on their different journeys to make their dreams come true. We work with self employed women of all religious backgrounds and ages who have not be able to get much in the way of education so far.”
Through workshops and training the women gain new knowledge and confidence. The project puts emphasis on sustainable production methods to protect the health of the women and their families, to protect the environment and secure long-term use of natural resources. The women are encouraged to exchange their experiences, to learn from and support each other. And not at least, WEELP offers courses on adult literacy.
“We believe that with economic power, women will also gain more social power and self-esteem which can help to make the world a better place,” says Tabea. “It’s amazing to see how the project has changed women’s lives over the last two years. Little things, small initiatives can and do make a difference. The project is still very small scale and has a low budget. But many raindrops make an ocean. We are close to the people, work together with them, at their speed, according to their needs.”
Tabea has been living in Cameroon for two years now to manage the WEEL Project as well as to conduct training sessions and counsel the staff of the Women’s Work Department of the PCC.
“Beside my work here it’s wonderful to be embedded in this lively Cameroonian community, to be close to the people, to be embraced by their joy and sorrows, songs and dances, celebrations and laughter.”
But what lead Tabea to help improve the lives of women and their families in Cameroon, so far away from her native Germany?
“More than 10 years ago, without even dreaming of it, I laid the foundation stone of this mission when I completed my BSc (Hons) with the OU. After deeply digging into the theories of gender, development, environmental policy and social psychology, I now (sometimes even literally) dig with the women in the African soil and find myself faced with all the various, diverse, contradictory aspects I had studied – but now in the middle of the field!
“Empowering people, enriching lives, learning and discovering new things and improving living conditions are processes which never end and build bridges between different people and cultures. Out of my personal experience, the OU functions as such a bridge builder, together with the various study centres like the one in Hamburg, my former bridge to the OU.”
Tabea Müller is an OU graduate who studied in Hamburg, Germany. Keen to use her degree in the field, Tabea now works in a development role in Cameroon and writes regularly about her experiences for well-known German weekly newspaper Die Zeit... More than 10 years ago Tabea Müller completed her BSc (Hons) with the OU. After digging into the theories of gender, ...
The Guardian, for International Women's Day, published a list of the top 100 women and 11 of them are honorary graduates of The Open University. Not a bad tally!
For the full list see here and below are the 11 with an OU connection:
- Helen Bamber
- Camila Batmanghelidjh
- Jocelyn Bell Burnell
- Shami Chakrabarti
- Carol Ann Duffy
- Martha Lane Fox
- Kelly Holmes
- Tami Grey-Thompson
- Helena Kennedy
- Doris Lessing
- Mary Warnock
The Guardian, for International Women's Day, published a list of the top 100 women and 11 of them are honorary graduates of The Open University. Not a bad tally! For the full list see here and below are the 11 with an OU connection: Helen Bamber Camila Batmanghelidjh Jocelyn Bell Burnell Shami Chakrabarti Carol Ann Duffy Martha Lane Fox Kelly Holmes ...
The research, carried out by the Social Issues Research Centre (SIRC) and published on International Women's Day, based its findings on focus groups with mothers and grandmothers and a survey of 1,000 mothers.
Click here to read the full story.
The Changing Face of Motherhood report suggests that almost half of mothers believe the 1970s and 1980s were an easier age to raise a family. The research, carried out by the Social Issues Research Centre (SIRC) and published on International Women's Day, based its findings on focus groups with mothers and grandmothers and a survey of 1,000 mothers. Click here to read the full ...
Are we equal? James Bond stars Daniel Craig and Judi Dench feature in this video for International Women's Day...
Are we equal? James Bond stars Daniel Craig and Judi Dench feature in this video for International Women's Day... 3 Average: 3 (2 votes)
- Among national governments, 29 per cent do not have laws or policies to prevent violence against women
- Violence against women aged between 15 and 44 causes more deaths and disabilities than cancer, traffic accidents, malaria and war combined
For more statistics to mark International Women's Day 2011 see this Society Matters blog post.
Among national governments, 29 per cent do not have laws or policies to prevent violence against women Violence against women aged between 15 and 44 causes more deaths and disabilities than cancer, traffic accidents, malaria and war combined For more statistics to mark International Women's Day 2011 see this Society Matters blog post. 2 Average: 2 (1 vote)