Thursday, 15 August 2013

Why Does It Matter Who Is On Our Banknotes?

Money equals power. Money makes the world go round. The man who owns enough money can do just about anything he pleases with it (within the boundaries of physics). As much as we may detest this notion we cannot deny that a capitalist society thrives upon its ability to generate wealth. Currency has come to mean everything, right down to our basic survival. It is the greatest indicator of who has control in this country, and quite obviously that control still lies firmly in the hands of men alone.

“BUT,” you say “The Queen is on every bank note.” Queen Elizabeth was born into her role in society; she did not ask to be such a significant public figure and she certainly did not earn the right, unlike Charles Darwin (the esteemed English naturalist), Adam Smith (described as being one of the fathers of modern economics), Matthew Boulton and James Watt (whose advances in steam engine technology made a significant contribution to the progress of the Industrial Revolution), or Sir John Houblon (the first ever governor of the bank of England). Undoubtedly, our head of state has done a lot of good work for her subjects, but she is largely still a pawn in a patriarchal system, and has not contributed to the economic, scientific or political progression of British society. It’s like sticking Prince Charles on every note and saying it’s enough that he’s a bloke – the monarchy simply aren’t representative of all the people who built this country, because they mostly sat around and watched whilst everybody else made a fuss. And what if you happened to be really anti-monarchy? (That of course is a whole other very large and very complicated kettle of fish).

The real issue here is that women have contributed just as much to the British Empire as men have, and that fact is not being expressed anywhere, let alone on the backs of UK currency. Women’s history has been smothered by clandestine methods since the dawn of time – there’s a reason you don’t have knowledge of the female warriors who led armies into battles or the women who fought against all odds to lobby for vital changes in UK legislation. Did you know that those anonymously authored poems you have read were largely written by women? Did you even know that the first British person to go into space, Helen Sharman, was a woman?

Powerful, influential and successful women are derided by public opinion; they are measured by the virtue of how pleasing their appearances are and, inevitably, any outstanding contributions they make to society are succinctly diminished until their conquests barely existed at all.

And yes, to all of the naysayers and internet trolls (super cool individuals with full and gratifying lives), this is still happening: case-in-point, freelance journalist and campaigner Caroline Criado-Perez who successfully campaigned against the almighty force that is the Bank of England and won women a place on the ten pound note, after they decided to remove social reformer Elizabeth Fry from the five pound note. It is not only a victory for the people but one of symbolic worth, seeing as though an everyday woman (i.e. not her royal Madge) had only made the cut for the lowest common denominator amongst bank notes before; doubling a woman’s value is a big promotion. Jane Austen, the prolific author of classics such as ‘Pride and Prejudice’ and ‘Sense and Sensibility’, was added to the ranks of esteemed men deemed worthy of gracing the UK’s legal tender – but even she had to adopt a male name to achieve her virulent literary success.

What Caroline Criado-Perez did was revolutionary. She took on one the most ancient and powerful institutions in Great Britain and won. The response from many members of the public was congratulatory, but many others chose to attack an innocent woman in the wake of her success; at its peak, she received over fifty threats of violence, torture, rape and murder each day from internet trolls. These people may have been making empty threats, but what they really meant to say to Criado-Perez was this: “How dare you express your opinion? How dare you challenge a man’s authority? Stop making a fuss and shut up; nobody likes a woman with a big mouth. I’m a nasty little bully with nothing else better to do than to try and make you feel small. Oh, and BTW, you’re an ugly bitch, so what use are you to anybody?”

The plan was to degrade Criado-Perez to such an extent that she gave up campaigning, but the plan failed. We have to tiptoe around these cretinous people, maniacs who think it is okay to threaten to cut off a law abiding citizen’s head and breasts, amongst other grizzly things, just because they are sitting behind a computer screen. We do so out of a fear of being branded as misandrists or whiney bitches, but I for one believe that thousands of years of misogynist abuse is enough to warrant the arrest of a few socially decrepit individuals. It’s about time that society stood up against the harassment of women, not just online but in everyday life. Let’s face it, if this kind of thing happened in public we’d be worried about whether said internet trolls were up and coming serial killers, because truly, what sane person finds joy in such a pastime?

The absence of women from UK currency is just one of the countless examples whereby women are underrepresented; it is a tiny thread in a spider web of inequalities facing western women. The decision to take Elizabeth Fry off of the five pound note was just one of countless examples whereby the work of women is undervalued and overlooked; if we continue to let these apparently insignificant things slide women will continue to be the oppressed sex.

This time things will be different; Caroline Criado-Perez will be remembered for her good deeds and hailed as a pioneer for women’s equality. Let’s revel in her phenomenal achievement, celebrate all the wonderful men and women who contributed to her campaign, and look forward to many more future successes in the face of unfathomable adversity.

By Lora Jury

Saturday, 3 August 2013

It's A Troll's World

“Scary monsters are like Hula Hoops. They come in and out of fashion”-John Malkovich

Monsters are not really something we think about in daily life but it is fair to say that virtual trolling monster has become a harsh reality with the dawn of the new millennium. In line with the developments in feminism and the journey towards equality, opposition has grown hugely. Criticism of women was previously limited to tabloid newspapers and glossy magazines scrutinizing everything about women from their career choices to their bodies. We only have to take the recent ruthless criticism of Kim Kardashian’s weight gain-WHILST PREGNANT. Positively with the millennia advances in technology have made women suddenly more able to utilise accessible platforms to display their thoughts. Whilst overwhelmingly celebrated throughout society, the more visible opinions of influential women have led a small proportion, mostly men, quaking in their boots, desperate to silence the women fighting for equality. Named the faceless keyboard warriors, the ‘trolls’ as they have become commonly known, have prompted great debate.

Whilst trolling is not a new phenomenon, the regularity of it is. It hit the headlines of late, after the response of feminist writer Caroline Criado-Perez, whose three month campaign to see Jane Austen on the new £10 note was finally successful. The Bank of England conceded that it was of crucial importance that the faces on our money should reflect the faces in our society.Cue celebrations and dreams of ‘future banknotes featuring Mary Seacole and Rosalind Franklin’ swimming around in the minds of many in Britain. Things have taken a rather sinister with highly questionable individuals descending into the ‘twittersphere’ to vent violent abuse at Criado- Perez. Just two of the tweets read “this Perez one just needs a good smashing up the arse and she’ll be fine”, and “Everyone jump on the rape train > @CCriadoPerez is conductor”.

Even retyping these quotes makes me feel quite sick to my stomach. It worries me how many people feel that it is ok not only to disrespect women publicly but to threaten their safety, using physical sexual power over others as a threat. Whilst it could be said the most sensible solution would be to ignoring it , why should women or anybody for that matter have to accept it?The tweets threatening rape and violence did not even stop there, moving on to publishing her address on the micro-blogging site. This surely goes way beyond freedom of expression! What shocks me most about the case is that it wasn’t just one person but that so many were directing vitriol at women more generally throughout society. MP Stella Creasey was threatened, and columnist Grace Dent even received threats regarding a bomb that had allegedly been planted outside her home.

Legal action has been taken with two men in their twenties having subsequently been arrested for harassment. Scotland Yard has launched an inquiry and Tony Wang the general manager of Twitter UK is issuing personal apologies to the women affected. The actions are of both necessary and positive but it is essential that the real focus should be placed on how to prevent the problem in the future. have consequently spearheaded the petition for a report abuse button on twitter, stating that the current method of reporting abuse is ineffective and too time consuming. At the time of writing the number of signatures on the petition stood at 120,000.

Feminist writer Caitlin Moran (author of the excellent and thought provoking ‘How to be a woman’) has also subsequently called for a boycott of twitter on the 5th of August. Whilst solutions are pondered, we can all show our support by boycotting twitter on ‘trolliday’. As Owen Jones, writing recently in The Independent commented, “Trolls don’t run the internet; neither do abusive men who issue rape threats to get women to shut up. We are the majority. And if we stand firm, and shout back as one, we will win. I hope you’ll join me in shouting back.”

Yasmin Levy-Miller