Tag Archives: gender

The politics of power in (ir)responsible business

Birkbeck’s Responsible Business Centre seminar series discusses gender inequality and the mechanisms through which men and masculinities maintain their dominance in marketing and consumer research.

The second in the series of Birkbeck’s Responsible Business Centre research seminars was focused on the politics of power in (ir)responsible business: Men, masculinities and transnational patriarchies and the case of marketing and consumer research.

The seminar was led by Dr Wendy Hein, Senior Lecturer in Marketing, Birkbeck University of London. Dr Hein was joined by Professor Jeff Hearn from Hanken School of Economics, Finland, who recently co-authored a chapter in the book: ‘The Routledge Companion to Marketing and Feminism.’.

Transnational patriarchies are complex, structural and material issues that remain despite efforts of business to increase a focus on gender and intersectionality. Dr Hein provided perspectives on these structural and material complexities by naming and addressing transnational male-dominated patriarchies.

Increase in women’s representation = increase in young men’s crime?

Dr Hein began the seminar with a quote from Nick Fletcher MP, who made a speech at Westminster on International Men’s Day 25th November 2021.

“In recent years we have seen Doctor Who, Ghostbusters, Luke Skywalker, The Equalizer, all replaced by women, and men are left with the Krays and Tommy Shelby. Is there any wonder we are seeing so many young men committing crime?”

Dr Hein argued that while the cultural sphere has evolved, it has done so as a result of decades and histories of under-representation. Although representation has increased, this does not imply that women are equally represented. There are still industries and sectors where women are underrepresented in terms of roles and participation.

How important is gender equality?

Achieving gender equality is central to development, as Dr Hein explained by presenting the report findings from the UN: ‘Reaching gender-equal educational attainment and labour force participation would add US$4.4 trillion to global GDP by 2030’ which would in turn help to reduce poverty.

Gender equality is also critical in driving sustainable development in areas such as providing equal access to family planning and education on land rights and sustainability.

Gender inequality is still prevalent today and gender relations are still characterised by various types of male dominance on a global/transnational scale. Dr Hein put this into focus by discussing the reports that Afghanistan has recently banned girls from attending school. Women also remain the main care workers in positions that are unpaid. According to a report by Oxfam 2020 ‘women and girls put in 12.5 billion hours of unpaid care work each day—a contribution to the global economy of at least US$10.8 trillion a year, more than three times the size of the global tech industry’.

What is patriarchy or transpatriarchy and how does this relate to marketing?

The majority of research in marketing is about men and produced by men. As a result, men are often mentioned in the context of consumer culture but rarely gendered, thus forming an ‘absent presence’.

Dr Hein then discussed the role of patriarchy in transnational markets, including the worldwide flow of products, services, and finance. As a result, there is worldwide wealth inequality and international migration is widespread.

Dr Hein concluded the seminar by emphasising the importance of maintaining momentum on debates on critical study of men, masculinities and transpatriarchies. There is a greater need than ever before, since the World Economic Forum’s Global Gender Report stated that the ‘impact of Covid-19 has set gender equality back by another generation. It is now believed that it will take 135.6 years to reach gender equality’.

The focus of research should be on the superior position of transnational media, as well as transnational influence in private and public spheres. Unless we tackle these growing inequities and transnational structural inequalities, true sustainability will remain a goal for future generations.

Further Information:

Share

Office housework collective writing: an Astrea collaboration

This article was written by Kayleigh Woods Harley, project support coordinator in Birkbeck’s Strategic Projects Directorate. She chairs Birkbeck Astrea, a staff network for women, transgender and nonbinary people in professional and support roles. Astrea hosted Uracha Chatrakul Na Ayudhya and Aylin Kunter for a talk on office housework in May 2021 and this will be followed by a series of collective writing workshops to allow members to process their thoughts and feelings about office housework. The goal is to publish the writing in an academic journal on gender and work. In this blog Kayleigh talks about her experience of the first collective writing session in July 2021.

Photo of an academic's desk

I first came across the term ‘office housework’ during an Astrea event in May 2021, led by Aylin Kunter and Uracha Chatrakul Na Ayudhya, two academics who have collaborated in the past on the interactions between gender and work. Their talk was a natural extension of their previous research, but also a departure in that they were proposing to bring Astrea members along with them on a new strand exploring the particular experiences of professional services women, transgender and nonbinary people. I wasn’t familiar with the idea of office housework, nor aware that it tends to be undertaken by those with the least power in the workplace, making it an intersectional phenomenon. I now understand that office housework is all the tasks and responsibilities we carry out which are not part of our job description, nor are they rewarded or recognised as ‘work.’ And the more I thought about it, the more I realised I was doing it all the time.

So when Aylin and Uracha invited Astrea members to a collective writing session where we could think, through writing, about examples of office housework we had undertaken, I prepared a few notes ahead of time. Coming prepared to meetings is something I do often, as an extremely conscientious individual. You could argue that it’s a form of office housework, that feeling of always needing to go above and beyond to make sure you not only ‘turn up,’ but are ready to fully participate in a work-related meeting or interaction.

Photo of Aylin's desk

After some friendly deliberation over how to proceed and how long to give ourselves to write something, we muted our microphones and individually began to write. There was no script, no structure. Just write down what you feel, what you think. My mind turned from the stresses and worries of a normal workday and focused on one thing solidly for 30 minutes. It was possibly the fastest half hour of the day, and during that time I was engrossed, my mind completely engaged in the thinking-through of my subject. I was completely myself, by which I mean my authentic self, not my work self. This is a luxury I am rarely afforded.

The others had posted chat messages indicating they were ready to finish and even share their writing. Listening to them read their thoughts was a moment of pure connection. How brave they were for being able to write such honest things and to feel able to read them aloud! They could have chosen not to, and yet we each felt it was important to say what was on our minds, no matter how raw or emotional it might be. I read my piece, too, and felt immediately validated by their responses to it. How often do we take the time to say something uplifting or supportive to our colleagues? (Is doing so another form of office housework?) And yet I felt like the last hour or so had not felt difficult or straining, like a normal day spent at my living room table with my laptop open to my emails. It was a moment of true connection, of seeing and being seen for who I really am.

This feeling was not mine alone. Uracha affirmed, “For one hour today, I found myself being transported out of my daily chaotic work space into a safe and collective space through writing together and listening unreservedly to one another about office housework. It was truly freeing to be connected and to be heard, seen, and held.”

Astrea members can read more about the office housework project and find out when future collective workshops are scheduled on the Astrea SharePoint.

Share

Bernal Lecture 2020: Fifty Shades of Grey Matter

Clare Samson, Senior Associate Lecturer in Birkbeck’s Department of Biological Sciences reports on the annual Bernal lecture that was given by Cordelia Fine, Professor of History and Philosophy of Science on Monday 4 February, that explored whether there really is an essentially male and female brain.

photo of head bust printed

Professor J.D. Bernal is remembered for work on the social consequences of science as much as for his ground-breaking research, and these lectures have frequently focused on societal issues. The choice of Cordelia Fine, Professor of History and Philosophy of Science at the University of Melbourne, Australia as the 2020 lecturer echoes Bernal’s passionate advocacy of women in science; Fine’s choice of title, Fifty Shades of Grey Matter, proved an engaging one. Tickets ran out long before the lecture, which took place on Monday, 4 February 2020; the lecture theatre was packed, and Fine held her audience’s attention throughout.

Fine began by explaining how our 19th-century ancestors viewed the difference between the sexes. Less than 150 years ago, the overwhelming majority accepted that men and women were biologically determined for their different roles. In 1876 a Professor Edward Clarke wrote a best-selling book that suggested that ‘if a woman were to engage in the hard-intellectual labour of higher education, it would divert energy from her [clearly far more important] reproductive system’. Even progressive voices supporting women’s education claimed that it would help them become ‘more interesting wives and better mothers’. Scientific justification for these views often focused on one simple variable: brain size. Since an average male brain is significantly larger than a female one, they argued, one would expect women to be intellectually inferior.

It is easy to argue against that viewpoint, since we are not ruled by elephants or whales. This degree of bias seems bizarre to our ears, yet, as Fine explained, we all – even neurologists and psychologists – look, perhaps unconsciously, through biased lenses. Differences between male and female brains do exist, but they are highly complex and subtle ones. She identified three main biases: androcentrism, in which the masculine view of the world is taken as central; gender polarisation, in which the masculine and the feminine are seen as polar opposites; and biological essentialism, in which traits are seen as innate and biologically (often genetically) determined, rather than arising from both nature and nurture.

Much of the lecture focused on the way in which gender polarisation continues to affect both academic and popular science. This bias is seen in the proliferation of ‘pop psychology’ books, arguing that men are from Mars and women from Venus; that men are like waffles and women like spaghetti; or that there is some innate reason why men don’t listen and women can’t read maps. Academic books setting out reasons for this ‘essential difference’ between male and female brains are still being written, and still sell well.

She presented a case study of a paper in a reputable journal that seemed to show innate differences between the connectivity of male and female brains: that is, the way they are ‘wired’.  According to this paper, female brains have stronger connections between the right and left hemispheres of the brain, while male ones have stronger connections between each hemisphere. Fine noted that although the difference was there, it was a tiny one. All the pairs of ‘bell curves’ showing brain characteristics of the women and men in the study overlapped so greatly that any differences would be described as ‘modest’ at most. No differences justified the word ‘striking’ used in the paper’s title, and no correlations were given with behaviour. Press officers, however, see headlines rather than read graphs. Publication of this paper led to headlines such as ‘Men and women wired like different species – expert’ (New Zealand Times); ‘Yes, each sex is really from a different planet’ (Metro, UK); and even ‘Women crap at parking: official’ (The Register).

Gender polarisation is summed up in the idea of a single scale with ‘100% male’ and ‘100% female’ brains at opposite ends, suggesting that they are opposites and, at times, equating the ‘extreme male brain’ with autistic tendencies. It is possible to take a quiz to position your brain at some point between the ‘systemising’ male brain and the ‘empathising’ female one, but the results can be odd: Fine quoted a colleague who found, on taking the test, that he seemed to have ‘no brain at all’. Even popular psychology makes more sense if ‘systemising’ and ‘empathising’ are seen as different characteristics with no relationship to gender. The idea of men as stereotypically problem-solvers and women as collaborators should be consigned to the past. Each community – including the scientific community – will flourish best when it is diverse, open and able to identify and eliminate bias.

Further information:

Share

“We need more women to study computer science and build the future.”

Being a woman with a newborn in a male-dominated subject didn’t stop Camilla Graham Wood from achieving a first in Computing. She shares her story in this interview.

Birkbeck: What made you decide to return to university and study computer science?

Camilla: My decision to study computer science was quite a random one. I have no technical background, no science background. In fact, I’m terrible at maths as well. I think my ignorance as to what studying for a degree in computer science would truly involve was a huge benefit. If I knew what was in store, I’m not sure I would have signed up.

At the time I decided to enrol, I was working in legal aid and the then Justice Minister Chris Grayling’s devastating reforms were completely decimating access to justice. I was chatting with a colleague about our backup plans if we lost our jobs because the cuts were so severe. I thought that I might need another skill in addition to law.

I was listening to various podcasts and in one Sheryl Sandberg said that more women should study computer science, so I thought ok, I’ll give that a go. I looked up evening classes in London and came across Birkbeck. I signed up, got through the entry test, and who would have expected that five years later I’d graduate with a first?

How did you find your course, coming from a Law background?

The course was a shock in many ways. I was one of two or three women in a sea of men. I had no idea what the lecturers were talking about, particularly at the start of each course, so I furiously took detailed notes and then went back over them trying to understand what the hell binary digits were, for example. I remember being totally flummoxed even by the basics. I think that nowadays, with technology so pervasive in our lives, most people have a better base understanding than I did when I commenced my studies.

My legal background meant that I found the more theoretical side of the subject much easier. The practical side, such as Java and PHP were challenging and required a lot of practice. That’s one of the harder things when you’re working full time and have other commitments, is to find the time to go over and over something until you can’t work out why you found it so difficult at the start.

What was it like juggling a career with family life?

My partner has been amazingly supportive: he encouraged me to apply, which was good because it meant he couldn’t complain when for the next five years I spent three nights a week at Birkbeck and most of April to June revising. I think he was more excited when I finished than I was.

I didn’t get pregnant until the end of my course, and with working full-time and studying I was already used to having a limited social life. My baby was born in August, so I was quite heavily pregnant during summer exams. My sister said it was a benefit, as it meant I had two brains. That’s one way of looking at it.

The more amusing time was when I had a newborn and still had lectures to go to. I used to drive to Euston with my newborn in the back, meet my partner there who came from work, he’d drive her home and I’d try and stay awake in the lecture. It was pretty chaotic, but we all made it through. I’m sure a lot of those studying in the evening are balancing multiple things and just trying to keep everything moving forwards.

In that same lecture there was another woman who came with her young daughter. I thought that was far more impressive than what I was doing. What incredible drive to attend lectures and convince your daughter to come along too.

What would you say to women considering studying computer science?

We need more women to study computer science and build the future. It will be to the detriment of society if technologies continue to be developed and built predominantly by white men in California. We need diversity in computer science to ensure that discrimination and exclusion is not exacerbated in the future. We need women from all types of backgrounds to shape the face of technology tomorrow. I saw a lot of women going through the doors of Birkbeck, I hope that in the future more of them go into the Computer Science lectures.

Further Information:

Share