Joy Molan covers the five key moments from Caroline Criado-Perez’s Festival of Ideas talk
Caroline is a vocal activist in the on-going struggle for equal representation of men and women, but she is perhaps better known for the violent and abusive hate mail she received following her most recent campaign…
In 2013, The Bank of England unveiled plans to replace Elizabeth Fry’s image with that of Winston Churchill’s on £5 notes. Whilst Winston Churchill is an undeniably important figure in the story of our national history, it was clear that, by removing any representation of women, the Bank of England were suggesting that our cultural history is the sole property and result of dead white males.
Caroline publicly criticised the Bank of England’s ill-thought out and frankly ridiculous decision and began a campaign to ensure that at least one woman remained on our currency.
The backlash of online abuse Caroline received in response to her efforts was truly shocking.
Throughout her campaign and work with the Bank of England, Caroline received rape threats and death threats on a daily basis, with trolls sharing her personal details on the internet. Much of the abuse Caroline received focused on her mouth and sexually violent means of silencing her, demonstrating a misogynistic fear and anxiety surrounding women’s voices in the public sphere.
On 7th January 2014, Isabella Sorley and John Nimmo pleaded guilty to sending ‘menacing’ and abusive messages and were later sentenced for their threatening online conduct.
Despite Caroline’s horrendous treatment, she was successful in her work and the Bank of England are currently in the process of placing Jane Austen on our £10 notes (which are in fact in greater circulation than £5 notes).
Since then, she has written a book called Do it like a woman…and change the world which contains a collection of stories about inspiring and pioneering women from around the world. She introduces readers to the first woman to cross the Antarctic alone, a female fighter pilot in Afghanistan, a Chilean revolutionary turned politician and an Iranian journalist who dared to defy the restrictions of her country’s conservative culture.
Promoting her new book and keen as ever to discuss female representation, Caroline visited Bristol’s Festival of Ideas and spoke with her audience about inspirational women and irritating sexism in day to day life. Here are five highlights from her talk:
Caroline On…”Annoying” Misogyny
In addition to discussing the harrowing cases of sexism in her book, Caroline also addressed the issue of “annoying” misogyny or “casual thoughtlessness”. Examples she gave of this included facts such as: until 2014 the US army did not have uniforms designed for women and in 2015 Greenpeace still do not provide female wet suits on their expeditions. Caroline demonstrated how these examples reinforce an attitude whereby male is seen as the default gender and female is seen as a special niche. By including stories from women at opposite ends of an extreme spectrum in her book, Caroline told the audience that she wanted to show how “the same beliefs underlie the ways in which women are mistreated around the world- the only difference is the extremity”.
Caroline On… The 1951 Convention of Refugees
Whilst praising the benefits of the “fantastic” Convention of Refugees (a document designed to provide help to the world’s most needy), Caroline outlined the document’s gendered flaws. As the document was written with the male experience in mind, Caroline told the audience how it is much easier for a man to claim asylum than for a woman. One of the key reasons for this is that asylum can only be claimed in cases where persecution is motivated by religion, sexuality or political beliefs. Persecution on the grounds of gender does not currently justify an asylum claim, despite the fact that FGM, forced marriage and sex trafficking are clearly gender based abuses. Women are also less likely to have the financial means to flee the country in which they are being persecuted in order claim asylum.
Caroline explained that although the Convention of Refugees was not intended to disadvantage women when it was drawn up in 1951, the fact that these obstacles for women remain and amendments have not been made, shows an unwillingness to help the millions of women being persecuted for their gender.
Caroline On…Shaving Her Armpits
Caroline controversially disagrees with the school of feminist thought which says, “I can choose to wax and shave and this doesn’t make me any less of a feminist”. Caroline explained her stance on this subject saying, she shared the view of second wave feminists who believed that this “choice” was a sign of “false consciousness”. She explained her point further saying, “you have to question the concept of free choice if everyone is making the same choice”. Caroline also admitted her “flaws” saying, “I shave my armpits. I am a terrible feminist”.
Caroline On…The Importance of Female Role Models
Caroline spoke about her interest in the study of female role models and how they effect women’s confidence, performance and self belief. She cited one study, which focused on women’s performances in maths tests, where one test was conducted by a stereotypically “ditsy” woman and the other by a woman who was “perceived to be competent in maths”. In the first test, women did considerably worse than men. However, in the second test, women out-performed the men and got considerably better results, therefore proving that we are susceptible to “stereotype threat”. It was also discovered that something as simple as ticking a box to declare your gender, led to women performing worse in maths tests. Caroline went on to link this to the importance of female role models in school, in business and in the media.
Caroline On…Who Inspires Her
When discussing which chapter of her book stayed with her the most, Caroline shared the the story of Rebecca Gomperts: a dutch doctor, who goes to countries where abortion is illegal and performs abortions in international waters. In Portugal, war ships were deployed to stop Rebecca from entering their waters and across the world she is viewed as a threat to national security. To find out more information about Rebecca’s brave and pioneering work, visit: http://www.womenonwaves.org/
Images: Norwegian Mission to the UN, UNICEF Ethiopia,Steve Rhodes and www.bankofengland.co.uk
Special thanks to Caroline Criado-Perez and the Festival of Ideas