Honeyball’s Weekly Round-Up

Labour Party

There was good news at the start of this week, with a judge electing to ban Ryanair’s ‘sexy’ calendar. Following a complaint from consumer group Adecua, Spanish judge Amanda Cohen ruled that the women flight attendants who feature were being treated as “mere objects”. She said there was a “disconnection between the images used and the product being promoted”.

The ruling comes at the end of a difficult 6 months for the airline, with Chief Executive Michael O’Leary admitting in September that their “abrupt culture” needed to change. There was subsequent criticism of O’Leary for his comments about a female tweeter during an online Q&A, and in November he announced he would be performing a less public role. After falling behind Easyjet, Ryanair have also been forced to relent on many of their most unpopular policies.

It appears Cohen’s block on the calendar refers only to previous editions, meaning Ryanair are not prohibited from selling sexist merchandise in future. Nevertheless, as someone who has campaigned against the calendar in the past I am delighted to see someone standing up to O’Leary on this issue.

Although Ryanair say they will be appealing the decision I believe we are seeing the beginning of the end for many of their most arcane practices. As the world gets more socially liberal and consumers come to have higher expectations of services, things that might have been “cheeky” a few years ago now just seem cheap. There will be a delicious irony in watching O’Leary, who has in the past called environmentalists and others on the left “luddites marching us back to the 18th century”, having to make his company more politically correct in order to keep up.

The end of this week, meanwhile, saw plans by the government to impose a 75,000 yearly limit on EU workers. According to a leaked Home Office report a cap would bring down the number of migrants by 30,000. The proposals also include plans for a “national preference” approach, which would effectively prioritise British applicants for jobs.

With Romanian and Bulgarian citizens shortly to be granted freedom of movement, this is the latest in a string of government attempts to woo UKIP-leaning voters by playing on anxieties about “an influx of non-skilled workers”. Attempts last month to stop new migrants claiming benefits – as well as ongoing fear mongering about ‘health tourism’ – are part of the same strategy.

Being Europe is reciprocal – all member states have to take the rough with the smooth. As the Tories’ Coalition own partners pointed out, a 75,000 cap “can only happen by leaving the EU”. Picking and choosing which parts of the European project we want to be part of just isn’t possible.

Moreover, the facts about eastern European migrants show they are, on average, younger and more likely to be in work than Britons – and half as likely to claim benefits. Everything I’ve seen in my constituency in London suggests that European migrants are young, fit individuals with a strong work ethic. Far from being a drain on resources they are a huge benefit to our economy.

Proposals like those discussed this week are therefore both unworkable and unwarranted. They prevent us from having a serious conversation about migration and Europe, and instead represent dog whistle politics of the worst kind.

Michael O’Leary finally admits flaws in the Ryanair approach

Labour Party

Michael O’Leary’s admission at the weekend that Ryanair’s “abrupt culture” needs to change was very welcome.

In 2010 I suffered at the hands of this culture myself, after I criticised the airline’s promotion of ‘gentlemen’s clubs’ and its release of a ‘sexy calendar’ featuring female staff. By way of response I was treated to a highly personal attack by the company.

Although my particular experience is unusual I know I am far from alone in feeling aggrieved at O’Leary. Every day countless travellers endure anxiety and degradation at the hands of his airline. They do so because they want to travel abroad and for many on low incomes flying by Ryanair is their only option. Humiliation and discomfort is the price they have to pay.

For a long time O’Leary has delighted in the role of pantomime villain. He is openly contemptuous of women, of the environment, of his staff, of the government and of his customers. He revels in playing the demagogue – the outsider who demeans people by ‘giving them what they want’ – and is on record as saying that his customers will “crawl naked over broken glass” to get low fares.

The argument put forward by O’Leary – that he is doing something anti-elitist by allowing poorer people to fly – simply doesn’t wash. There is nothing progressive about exploiting people without much money when you can afford to treat them better – nor is there anything to be celebrated about thumbing your nose at those same people when they are forced to come back for more.

It is high time that O’Leary and Ryanair outgrew this phase in their development. As we move towards a fairer, more progressive type of capitalism businesses will increasingly need to recognise that their duties extend beyond meeting the bottom line. I therefore hope O’Leary’s comments this weekend were sincere – and I that they represent a genuine change of direction for his company.

Survey claims young women would rather be attractive than intelligent

Labour Party

If true, this is a very depressing story.

A survey of 1,142 women by the discount website http://www.MyVoucherCodes.co.uk has found that almost half of young women age 18 – 20 would prefer to have large breasts than high intelligence.

These young women apparently believe that bigger breasts would attract more men. Only 43 per cent felt that men would be ‘more interested’ in them if they had a higher IQ.

The researchers also found around 40 per cent of respondents would prefer to have a ‘slim figure’ than high intelligence, with many stating that it would make them feel ‘more confident’.

Almost the same percentage of people said they would swap their IQ in order to be their ‘ideal dress size’.

If borne out in practice, these findings are deeply worrying, showing as they do that today’s young women are far from happy. And it’s themselves they’re unhappy with.

As Kat Banyard from women’s group UK Feminista said in the Mail Online: ‘Women face unprecedented pressures to focus on their body.

‘Industries that focus on the way women look are flourishing – and that means that from a very early age, women are taught that the way they look matters more than what they do. 

‘The consequences of this can manifest in eating disorders or extreme measures such as plastic surgery.

‘These figures show that women still loathe their bodies on an industrial scale.’

It’s the same story when it comes to relationships. Most of those surveyed felt men ‘valued’ intelligence in women, although two thirds said they felt appearance was more important when attracting a partner.

The same was true in the workplace, with almost half believing that being ‘attractive’ would also further a woman in her career.

Almost 80 per cent also felt they were judged more on their appearance than their intelligence.

There is a view that young women’s lack of ease with their bodies and themselves results from celebrity culture. Also in the Mail Online, Mamta Saha, psychologist, said: ‘Celebrity culture is much more accessible than it ever was before. We are bombarded with images of beautiful women with enhanced features such as full lips and large chests.

‘It’s easy to look at these women and make the connection between the way they look and success – but this can turn into an unhealthy fixation.”

I am sure the fashion and beauty industries, our celebrity culture and images of women such as those on Page 3 of the Sun and the Ryanair calendar have all played a part in this appalling reduction of young women’s self esteem.

We live in a world where almost all available forms of communication massively encourage us to achieve physical perfection. While the fashion and beauty industries are obviously a large part of this, it is also true there is an all-pervasive social and physical ideal which allows little room for individuality unless you are very brave or determined not to go with the flow.

The result is a generation of unhappy young people seeking to reach a goal only a few can attain.

Commercial imperatives have to shoulder much of the blame for this. In order to continue to sell beauty products, fashion clothes, “diet” food and many quasi-medical items (to name but a few) people have to actually want to buy them. Making them feel bad about themselves is a successful advertising tactic.

I am minded to ask what kind of world do we live in when we deliberately depress people’s self worth in order to sell throw away goods?

Murdoch’s Sunday Sun continues to degrade women on Page Three

Labour Party

The new Sunday Sun has tragically continued with the usual offensive Page 3 female image.

Evidently Rupert Murdoch, along with his counterpart in the airline industry Michael O’Leary of Ryanair, thinks it is acceptable to publish pictures of naked, or nearly naked, women. While Murdoch does it in a family newspaper, O’Leary’s choice is a charity calendar.

Messrs Murdoch and O’Leary, let me, on behalf of very many other women, tell you that it is not acceptable to degrade and objectify women in this way. My recent blogpost on attitudes to women current at the Sun shows two interesting things – an apparent culture of bullying women at the newspaper and public dislike of Page Three. A survey conducted by Platform 51, previously called the Young Women’s Christian Association, demonstrated that a majority of women and a significant number of men do not like Page 3 pictures.

I recently received a long and heartfelt email from a young woman constituent called Tashelle Roberts. She is not a political activist or professional campaigner. She is quite simply a woman who is angry and upset at Page 3.

This is an slightly edited version of what she had to say.       

“I am writing to you to bring to your attention some of the extreme sexist publications, namely The Sun, The Daily Star and The Sport that allow features that degrade women in many ways – but these publications have been available to the general public – men women and children alike for 40 years and nothing has been done about it.

“Like all women in the United Kingdom I am offended and constantly humiliated by extreme sexist nature of British media.

“MP Clare Short tried to speak up against the way women are portrayed in the media 25 years ago – and was greeted by a room of male MPs who simply giggled at the mention of breasts and dismissed her views simply because she was a woman – She was called ‘fat, old, ugly and whiny’ by these papers which published humiliating pictures and articles of her.

“Please, don’t let history repeat itself!

“Page 3 portrays being a ‘page 3 girl’ or ‘page 3 idol’ as the most glamorous thing in the world – it plays on young girls minds and all young girls in the UK are exposed to page 3 from the time they are toddlers.
Then they reach puberty and everyone knows that being 11 or 12 is not the easiest. These girls experience what we all experience – being rejected by a crush, being told they are fat/short, loosing friends to other friends, parents getting divorced, being bullied/humiliated in front of a boy they may like – we have all experienced this and at the time it is seems like these are the biggest problems in the world – and while all these changes are taking place – these girls are still being exposed to Page 3. They pick up the paper and read how the Sun glamorises this profession and makes selling your body or showing your breasts seem like the easiest way to be a celebrity – and at that moment – the little girl thinks in need of attention thinks yes, this is what I am going to be when I grow up.

“So yes – these girls – some barely 18 years old, so choose to do this on their own accord – but the Sun, The Daily Star and The Sport – being so public and easily accessible – prepares them and builds up this state of mind in children so that they know nothing else. So when these children could have become doctors, lawyers, teachers or anything else they want to be – they have so much potential – daily access to this degrading media builds them up to believe this is all they are worth and although being 18 is considered legal – we all know what being a care free 18 year old was – Do they ever consider the consequences?

“The Sun promotes an idea of – nothing else working for you?? Well we pay you money to show your breasts and you’ll get tons of attention.

“These young girls of 11,12 think “yea I’ve got the boobs so I guess this is my way to fame and fortune”

“The above link is to an advertisement posted by the Sun on youtube advertising ‘Page 3’ – this video shows the disrespect the Sun gives normal ‘non-page-3’ women. These newspapers rate women simply by the size of their breasts and their waists and insult REAL women – the ones who have to do 3 jobs – look after their kids – make sure their husbands and family are happy.

“‘Legend has it that Murdoch was incandescent with rage when he saw the first bare breasts to grace his title. But the subsequent rise in paper sales – 1.5 million to 2.1 million in a year – rather soothed him.’ – BBC

“In other words the newspaper justifies using a young woman’s naked breasts to increase sales.”

The Guardian should not have accepted Ryanair sexist adverts

Labour Party

I am disappointed that the Guardian and the Independent accepted advertisements from Ryanair deemed sexist by the Advertising Standards Authority. I very much take the view that both these left-leaning titles should have been more careful about the advertising they allow on their pages. While I accept that times are hard, it is still important not to compromise for the sake of advertising revenue.

Two UK newspaper adverts for budget airline Ryanair have been banned after complaints from readers that they were sexist and objectified women. Having received 17 complaints, the ASA said they were likely to cause offence.

The ASA are absolutely right, and are to be congratulated for their stance. They have been very clear that these adverts must not appear again.

The adverts showed women posing in bra and pants with the headline “Red Hot Fares & Crew! One way from £9.99”.

The advertising watchdog found the women’s appearance, stance and gaze – together with the headline – would be seen as linking female cabin crew with sexually suggestive behaviour and breached the advertising practice code. “We considered that the ads were likely to cause widespread offence, when displayed in a national newspaper,” it said.

The airline had the brass neck to say the adverts promoted its cabin crew charity calendar and used images taken directly from it. This is the very same calendar I have attacked on many occasions on this blog. I have even debated the calendar with Ryanair boss Michael O’Leary on BBC Radio 4 Woman’s Hour. The calendar in its entirety is sexist and objectifies women.

Ryanair has, of course, been reprimanded by the ASA on a number of occasions over the years. The Guardian and Independent should, however, know better. I say this as a Guardian reader for over 40 years who has always enjoyed and respected its renowned women’s pages.

Ryanair Again

Labour Party

It’s that time of year again. But it’s nice to know that the reach of Ryanair’s infamous calendar has spread far and wide. You may like this piece on the NY Daily News.

BY Lindsay Goldwert

Thursday, November 3 2011, 12:50 PM

The airline Ryanair issued its annual Cabin Crew Charity Calendar on Wednesday filled with sexy women in lingerie and underwear.

The airline Ryanair issued its 2012 cabin Crew Charity Calendar on Wednesday filled with sexy women in lingerie and underwear.

Take our Poll

Ryanair calendar

Do you think the no-frills airline’s annual calendar is sexist?

The flight crew is taking off — its clothes, that is.

Dirt cheap airline Ryanair has released a their annual “Girls of Ryanair” calendar of bikini-clad female flight attendants.

Proceeds from the cheesecake calendar go to a charity that aids children withe the genetic skin ailment epidermolysis bullosa.

The airline was been putting out the calendar to raise money for various charities since 2008.

“The 2012 Ryanair Cabin Crew Charity Calendar is the sexiest ever, featuring 13 cabin crew stunners in swimwear and lingerie,” the airline crowed in a press release.

The calendar can be purchased in-flight for 10 euros ($14).                                                           

Critics of the calendars say that the skin shots are more about publicity for the ultra-cheap airline, best known for removing toilets on some flights to make room for more seats and charging big bucks for to check even one bag.

In 2009, Mary Honeyball, a Labour party leader in the UK, accused Ryanair of “sexualising” the airline industry in “a desperate bid for profits,” the Telegraph reported.

Michael O’Leary, the airline’s chief executive dencounced the female polititian as as “anti-fun” and sent her a copy of the calendar.”

Sadly the New York Daily News poll referred to above showed 89 % of respondents thought the calendar was ok while only 11% agreed with me. However, there is more to it than that. Since blog audiences are ultimately self-selective, I thought I’d look at Mumsnet. Almost all of their comments were on my side, from castigating O’Leary for the way he behaved during the “Women’s Hour” interview last year to objecting to the fact that the calendar’s models were Ryanair staff.

The Interview with Michael O’Leary

Labour Party

The exchange between Michael O’Leary and myself on “Woman’s Hour” yesterday has received some attention, including in the Times this morning. You can listen to the full  interview with Michael O’Leary presented by Jane Garvey by clicking the media player below:

Interestingly O’Leary felt unable to leave it there and produced this press release. This is what I sent out a my response:

Ryanair attacks Labour MEP following radio debate

 MEP defends her position following ‘cheap’ and ‘personal’ dig by O’Leary

London MEP Mary Honeyball has responded to a press release issued todayby Ryanair accusing her of “false claims” against his airline and calling her “dreary”.

Ms Honeyball said: ‘Rather than explaining its actions, Ryanair has responded to me by using cheap publicity slogans, which are potentially slanderous. If O’Leary and his team cannot think of anything useful to say, then perhaps they shouldn’t say anything at all’.

Appearing alongside Ryanair CEO Michael O’Leary on BBC Radio 4’s Women’s Hour yesterday Honeyball maintained that the Ryanair’s 2010 calendar, which features scantily clad young women in sexually provocative poses, is demeaning.

The women -all of whom are Ryanair employees – were, according to O’Leary, willing volunteers. However, O’Leary does not allow trade union representation at Ryanair, leading Mary Honeyball to wonder whether some of the young women faced pressure to strip off for the calendar. With no trade union to defend them, Mary questioned whether the young women could be especially prone to such coercion.

Replying to O’Leary’s jibe that she was just out to get “cheap publicity” Ms Honeyball said: ‘As an elected representative I have the right to draw people’s attention to matters like this. Since I currently sit on the Committee on Women’s Rights and Gender Equality in the European Parliament, it is my responsibility to speak out about issues important to women.’

When Mr. O’Leary pointed out that the proceeds from the calendar go to charity, Mary Honeyball said there were much better ways of raising money for good causes which did not involve demeaning images of women.’

And finally….I would like to thank Iain Dale for his congratulations on the work I do on human trafficking.  About the Ryanair calendar Iain, I’d be grateful if you listened to this “Woman’s Hour” piece. I made the same points that you considered flimsy arguments on LBC and O’Leary conspicuously failed to answer them. Maybe they weren’t so flimsy after all?

With Michael O’Leary on Woman’s Hour

Labour Party

 Earlier today I had my very own chance to confront Michael O’Leary, Ryanair’s CEO who thinks his scantily clad all female calendar is a bit of fun.  The interview on BBC Radio 4 “Woman’s Hour” with presenter Jane Garvey and O’Leary on the ‘phone from Dublin gave us the opportunity to explain our respective points of view. (I will post a link to the piece as soon as possible).

Nothing was said to change my mind that pictures of young females in suggestive poses is demeaning to women.  It is also a marketing tool for O’Leary who seems to think it’s perfectly acceptable to use virtually naked women in provocative poses to sell his no frills airline – cheap as long as you book well in advance.

Many of you will know that trade unions are not allowed in the Ryanair company.  This inevitably casts doubt on O’Leary’s claim that the young women posing for the calendar, all of them Ryanair employees, are willing volunteers.  With no recourse should any one of them decline to take part in his scheme, I feel I have to ask, are they volunteers or have they been press-ganged?  O’Leary conspicuously refused to answer this and would not deal with my question about lack of trade union representation at Ryanair.

Neither would he engage with the question of aircraft safety.  When Jane Garvey pointed out that one of the pictures in a Ryanair calendar showing a bikini clad female flight attendant blowing up a life jacket was not an appropriate way to treat the safety of air passengers, O’Leary merely reiterated that it was a bit of fun.

I’m glad I had the opportunity to talk to Mr O’Leary.  It’s good he raises money for charity (the proceeds from the calendar go to charities across Europe).  I just wish he would find a way of benefitting good causes which does not involve a bad cause, that of demeaning women.

Debating Ryanair´s Calendar on LBC

Labour Party

Further to my last post, last night I debated the Ryanair Calendar´s with Iain Dale  on London´s LBC Radio last night. It lasts 9 minutes – just press to listen here:-

Listen to my debate on Women’s Hour with Michael O’Leary – 10am

Labour Party

Those of you who’ve seen my blogs on Ryanair’s annual charity calendar, which feature female staff posing in skimpy bikinis, will know that, for me, this is little more than a cheap bid by Chief Executive Officer Michael O’Leary to boost his company’s profits. He claims that the main purpose of these calendars is to raise money for organisations such as KIDS in the UK and Tafel in Germany. But if this is true then why, I ask myself, the need for girls in bikinis?

In the wake of the launch of Ryanair’s 2011 edition of the calendar, I suggested to Mr. O’Leary that it might be more appropriate next time round if he, rather than his cabin staff, dressed up in next to nothing and took part in a sexy beach photo shoot.

He has so far declined to comment. However, later this morning I will have the chance to speak to Michael O’Leary directly. BBC Radio 4’s Women Hour will be hosting a debate between me and O’Leary, which means that for the first time I’ll be able to challenge his response to my comments that his charity calendars are sexualising the airline industry. O’Leary, who has never had a particularly profound way with words, dubbed me ‘anti-fun’ when my comments first hit the press two years ago.

You can listen to this debate here live at 10am.