With Wimbledon fortnight underway, and equal prize money between men and women a given, it is worth looking back some 40 years at how women tennis players united to fight for and win equal pay. A new documentary – Battle of the Sexes – released in cinemas today, June 26, tells an entertaining story.
Writing in the Telegraph a couple of weeks ago, Sarah Crompton evokes that period well: “The contrasts are all there in strong saturated colours: the advertisements in which men call on their wives to iron their collars and starch their shirts in stark contrast to the glamorous Germaine Greer and Gloria Steinem leading equal pay rallies; the interviews with a young (Billie Jean) King focused on the wellbeing of her husband, while demeaningly ignoring her prowess on the tennis court.”
The article goes on to relate how in 1970 Billie Jean King had been at the centre of a group of women who challenged the US Tennis Association and set up their own tour to promote women’s tennis. Uniting with other women players during Wimbledon in 1973 they went on to fight for and win equal pay, “a principle that still exists in tennis as in few other sports”. At a time when women were being accused of “getting uppity and demanding equal rights”, “King knew that the argument for equal pay had to be based on equal value. If women were as entertaining and popular as the men, they deserved to be paid the same”.
A couple of months after Wimbledon 1973 “31,000 crowded the Houston Astrodrome to watch a $100,000 winner-takes-all contest between Bobby Riggs [a 55 year old former tennis pro and triple Wimbledon winner] and Billie Jean King, the so-called Battle of the Sexes. A further 100 million followed every point on TV. With repeats, it remains the most viewed tennis match of all time”. King won, and “as a New York Times editorial later put it: ‘in a single tennis match, Billie Jean King was able to do more for the cause of women than most feminists can achieve in a lifetime’ “.
I came across this story in the “Sun” today (not, I hasten to add, a rag I generally read)
This story is so sick it takes your breath away. Los Angeles based film company “Kick Ass Films” are offering life-long celibate Susan Boyle $1 million to lose her virginity on screen The boss of “Kick Ass” Mark Kulkis is on record as saying, “…after 47 years of virginity I’m sure Susan is also anxious to get something cracking as soon as possible.”
I, along with very many others, am pleased for Susan and wish her all the very best. I think that’s enough said. Her private life is her own.
You may have seen the blog which I have copied at the end of this post which went up on 5 December.
You will see that I put down a priority Written Question to the European Commission. This was, in fact, sent to the Commission on 3 December 2008. To date I have not heard anything back from either the relevant Commissioner or any Commission official.
I have therefore sent the following letter to Commissioner Androulla Vassiliou, the Cyprus Commissioner with responsibility for public health, feed and food safety and animal health and welfare (and incidentally a woman).
Dear Mrs Vassiliou,
WRITTEN QUESTION – ANSWER P-6662/08
You will recall that I submitted a priority Written Question to the Commission on 3 December 2008 about the website
I have not yet received a reply.
As you know from reading my Question, I am extremely concerned that a website developed and funded by the European Commission to teach children about farming in Europe uses an inappropriate image of a young female. The image in question shows an unhealthily thin and provocatively dressed girl who is used to guide visitors through the site.
Such an image is both an horrific gender stereotype and an unhealthy example to the very children for whom the site is intended. You will be aware that the European Parliament recently passed a report seeking to end the use of obvious gender stereotyping. Given this, I find the Commission’s seeming disregard for the views of the Parliament both worrying and insulting.
I have to say, the neglect of my Question has only added injury to the aforementioned insult.
I trust you will reply as a matter of urgency.
Mary Honeyball MEP
Earlier blog posted on 5 December 2008
This new website, developed and funded by the European Commission, came to my attention this week:http://www.farmland-thegame.eu/home_en.htmlThe site aims to teach children about farming in the Europe. Sadly it completely ruins any good work it does by using an image of an unhealthily thin and provocatively dressed young girl to guide users through the site.I find it both shocking and depressing that the Commission’s Department for Health and Consumer Protection finds it acceptable to promote their work by using this image. Not only is it a horrific gender stereotype but it is also an extremely unhealthy image to promote to children. In the recent gender stereotyping report passed by Parliament, my colleagues and I noted that children are particularly impressionable audiences and that promoting unhealthy and unrealistic body images can negatively affect young viewers’ self-perception.The DG Health evidently was not listening.I have written a priority question to the Commission asking them what they were thinking of when they made this site and how much it cost to develop. I am also currently rallying support in the Women’s Rights and Gender Equality Committee to take further action.
“I am a feminist” exclaimed the man pinned with the world’s hopes, Barack Obama, when he met two eminent experts on women’s rights last year.
One of these women, editor of America’s leading feminist magazine Ms. seems to have been convinced by this statement. The front cover of this month’s magazine has the President ripping off his inaugural day red tie and white shirt to reveal a t-shirt emblazoned with “This is what a feminist looks like”.
However, as the President sits down this week to an in-tray, of economic despair and two wars, will women’s issues be in the forefront of his mind?
Let’s hope so. In his first week, which incidentally shares the 36th anniversary of US women’s abortion rights, the President has pledged to rescind the Global Gag Rule that stops UN family planning programs receiving US federal funds. This rule has been the subject of political ping-pong for the past 25 years, initially put in by Reagan, rescinded by Clinton then reinstated by Bush. A telling example of how presidential powers set the lifelong agendas of women across the world.
Obama’s next planned move, in what is fast looking like a full set of political ping-pong, is to overturn the shameful decision, by the Supreme Court in Ledbetter v. Goodyear Tire Rubber, with a new Fair Pay Act. This will re-empower American women workers to sue for wage discrimination. In a country where parking attendants still make more than childcare workers, and there’s only one woman on the Supreme Court, this is some much needed equality legislation.
However, as we know from over 30 years of equality legislation in the UK and a widening pay gap, legislation can only go so far. American economist, Randy Albelda, points out in a recent article “The Macho Stimulus Plan” that in order to effect any real change government rhetoric must match the statute books. And so far, for all Obama’s oratory heights, in my opinion his triplets don’t look far enough past alliteration to make any great cause for feminisation. In Obama’s speech on stimulating the economy he spoke of “building roads, bridges and schools, developing eco friendly technologies”. But as these are construction based industries that are dominated by men (just 2.7 per cent of US construction workers are women) such fiscal stimulation is almost to the sole benefit of male workers. To rectify this Albelda proposes an additional stimulus plan for the female side of the economy: “caring for those who cannot care for themselves, healthcare and primary education are the very foundation of a civil society. Investing in these outcomes is as vital to our long-term economic health as airports, highways, wind turbines, and energy retrofitted buildings.” She points out that not only do these jobs disproportionately employ women, but “investments in direct care, education, and healthcare would also go a long way in alleviating poverty.”
Taking it a little closer to home let’s examine Obama the boss. How is the new president shaping up as a pro-female employer? Disappointingly, just five out of the 20 cabinet-level posts in his administration have gone to women. A number comparable to cabinets of the last previous presidents, which has earned the scorn of one journalist who claimed Obama’s feminist credentials as no more “impressive than any previous president”.
A measly one in four ratio in no way gives the voices of American women equal representation in the room where all the big decisions are being made. But it can be argued that Obama’s cabinet does not just have the responsibility of being representative in terms of gender, but also ethically, politically and in terms of people’s life experience.
According to the Fawcett Society ethnic minority women face double discrimination on the grounds of their gender and race. So Obama’s appointment of six black women as his closest aides and ambassadors pushes back barriers of discrimination beyond that of gender.
Nonetheless, rumbles of discontent amongst many women’s groups are already audible in the media. Co-founder of non-partisan women’s group New Agenda has accused the new president of taking “shocking steps backwards”.
The President’s choice of pastor Rick Warren to lead the invocation at his inauguration ceremony was also felt to be an affront by many liberal women’s groups who had previously backed Obama in his campaign. On this issue, I think people’s upset and confusion is justified. Choosing a pastor who preaches socially conservative views on abortion rights and gay marriage does not shout “I am a feminist” to me.
But President Obama got to his position and an approval rating of 80 percent, dramatically higher than either Clinton or Bush, not by making enemies but by finding common ground with people with whom he disagreed with on some issues. This is most certainly an outstanding skill to have as a diplomat and even as a politician, world leader and president. But will it will make for an outstanding feminist? We don’t have time to wait and see. Feminists of all political colours across the world need to put pressure on Obama to set about making concrete feminist policies and include the needs of women in all of his globally inspiring oratories. As one thing you can be sure of, is that pretty much every other interest group is doing that, right now.
You might be interested in this article on the BBC News website about closing the gender gap. The Nordic countries come out well in terms of equality, as does New Zealand.
If they can do it why can’t we?