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Thought to be moderately diverting by Mr Stephen Tall

Mary Reid has tagged me with this ‘ere meme to ruminate publicly on my nominations for the Womens’ Blogger awards.

The People’s Republic has stayed silent on this so far because we are mindful of the ever-sage words of Don Liberali, who points out that the announcement of the Gender Balance Campaign Women Bloggers Award follows on the heels of the Cleggster’s call for the party to stop gazing at its navel. We believe this is a perfectly well made point as it stands, and are keen to avoid a practical demonstration from the Don of the difference between “introversion” and “extroversion”, using, perhaps, fingernails, or some like handy exemplar.

Nonetheless, a round-up of my mixed feelings on this subject is appropriate before I proceed. My first reaction was rather similar to Jonathan Calder’s. It is right and proper that the first suspicion attaching to these things is that they are some sort of reward for being a woman. Which naturally we do not like, having always managed to run an entire Republic perfectly well without any sort of special treatment. The onus is slightly on the organisers to show that this is a good idea. On one count, their failure to do so is deafening, because as Jennie Rigg points out, there are actually more women blogging in toto than men, and among them no shortage of political women bloggers. The rare beasts are the women who blog exclusively about politics and therefore fit easily into the Lib Dem blogosphere created by men, a hierarchical, categorising, one-track world of award categories, aggregators, round-ups and so forth. And it is a leetle crazy for the CGB to be saying, hm, there aren’t enough women bloggers who blog in the same way as men, therefore we should provide an award to encourage them to do so.

I don’t in any case hold with the notion that women will find the presence of an award particularly encouraging. To my mind it just makes the blogosphere look like even more of a closed club with its own unwritten conventions, social networks and quality controls than ever. If you’re a natural techie – male or female – and have that instant sense of entitlement to online presence, you’ll have no trouble blogging. If, like me, you’re not, you won’t see yourself as a natural blogger. There’s something about the printed word – even onscreen – that is still artificially mystical to the averagely technical person. I have written thousands upon thousands of words over the years in letters, in emails, in journals, in various private and public mental exercises. Writing is what I do, how I get through the day. The fact that someone as naturally inclined to splurge words as I am could look at the blogosphere even for one moment and see it as nothing particularly to do with me (granted that it didn’t then take me long to get stuck in) should tell its own story. Women, for a whole host of cultural reasons, are more inclined to assume that a self-sufficient system like the Lib Dem blogosphere has closed doors. But when I did start blogging properly I was almost instantly absorbed into the community, and what had looked, from the outside, like closed doors turned out to be no doors at all. This is the message we need to be putting across to women, that the doors aren’t there, not that there’s a chance they could win something if they get through them.

Having said all that, there are nominations I am itching to make, and so I have an alternative paradigm. I am going to try to see the award in terms of fostering a peculiarly female writing style, and a peculiarly female political style. Because women, on the whole, do write a little differently, and do politic a little differently. I am interested in the question of whether this will enable us, over time, to make a unique contribution to liberal discourse that the male-dominated blogosphere alone could not have made. Perhaps, if we invoke the spirit of Mary Wollstonecraft and gaze at our navels enough, we might discover what this contribution is.

I’m going to be a bit naughty and subvert the meme because not being, as I say, an instinctive blogger type, I don’t actually read that many blogs – of either gender or any allegiance. I will be interested to see what my tags come up with.

Best Lib Dem women’s blog

No question on this one – Charlotte’s my girl. She’s thoughtful, honest, wry, infectiously passionate, incredibly prolific and has an enviable knack of writing posts that attract world class comment threads, in which she is always a keen and facilitatory participant. There is something distinctively female about the way she writes as well – in the best possible way, she is asking her readership for its opinion, as much as pronouncing her own. And her position evolves as the discussion progresses as well (how rare is that?). If you don’t read her, you should. She’s easily a better blogger than many of the mediocre men out there who feel themselves entitled to vomit their inflexible opinions into the multiverse (well, this is a feminist topic; I can be a bit rude). Go girl.

I also love reading Bridget Fox and Paula Keaveney (Paula, to my dismay, seems to be inaccessible from the aggregator at this time).

Best Lib Dem womens’ blog post

Jo Christie-Smith on what female politicians should look like - made me think, made me stare, made me lose my . . . suit. Jo has told me on one of my own comment threads that there is a “tipping point” in positive discrimination; when a legislative body is composed of at least 30% women, the culture changes. More common sense, less aggression, less peacock display . . .  less suits? Roll on that day.

Best non-Lib Dem women’s blog

I’ve never met Jennie Rigg. But she strikes me as a force for good in the world. Her blog is hilarious and compassionate and liberal and warm and cynical (and purple); she is the perfect exemplar of the female blogger who mostly blogs about politics but not always. Her (happily increasingly) frequent contributions to Lib Dem Voice are also the apogee of constructive criticism. We all need a little Jennie in our lives.

Special mention

They’re not on there now, but Jo Anglezarke’s early goon-humour posts made me rock with laughter – I couldn’t comment on them appreciatively because at that point Jo was blogging on MySpace, and frankly the People’s Republic doesn’t need another interweb outlet to waste its life on. But it sometimes strikes me that fresh humour is desperately what the Lib Dem blogosphere needs, and I salute Jo accordingly.

Three women I would like to see blog

Dame Fiona Caldicott, Principal of Somerville College, Oxford

Jenni Murray

The Queen

My tags

These may overlap with others’ tags, so apologies in advance:

Andy Mayer


Jock Coats

Rob Fenwick

Will Howells

As two current threads on equality are unravelling to marvellous effect for one and all – by golly, we’ve learnt a lot - I thought it must be time to have a canter through the darker, cobwebbier corners of the People’s Republic and explain my own prejudices. Because I am aware in all discussions like those I have linked to, that I am coming from a slightly different angle, and if I sound a little ratty in what follows, I think it’s the cumulative effect of being subtly and continuously, over several years, told so. 

It’s a commonplace that some women are outraged when other women (particularly intelligent and beautiful ones, for some reason, as if that makes the tiniest bean of difference) claim not to be feminists. Jo A repeats this. On balance I would say that I am a feminist, for the simple reason that feminism grew out of the pressing need for equal pay, equal opportunities, and a healthier perception of the importance of women’s role as family-makers. We haven’t achieved those things, they are the sine qua non of a civilised society as all sane people agree, ergo, I am a feminist.

But I have never had any patience with the notion that I should therefore conform to angry and impassioned typecasting, react to all criticism as an insult to Woman, or that I should like some people more than others just because we have ovaries in common.* I understand – over the last day I have understood much better – why some women are absolutely compelled by their own histories to approach feminism in this way. Which is fine, but it doesn’t work for me, and no amount of hectoring will change that. That highly self-conscious feminism - wimminism, if you will -  seems to me to put limitations on the individual, and also undermines the dignity of womanhood in general. It is a simple psychological truth that as a set of people women are no less varied in temperament, in character, in beliefs, in thought patterns than men – why are we still inclined to straitjacket ourselves into one pattern of progressive womanhood? And I know I am not alone in this. For every nexus of wimminism, there is a hesitant woman on the sidelines saying in a very small voice, But that’s not me, that’s not how I think. Does that make me a bad person? Of course not. 

Wimminism is something I have only really become aware of since leaving university. I was in single-sex education from age 13, then went on to a college with a very proud women’s tradition (mutters, and Margaret Thatcher as an alumna, gyaaargh), and Oxbridge women are (let’s face it) an exceptionally mixed bag, so I had no trouble finding others like me who were more interested, always, in going ahead and doing the thing rather than talking about it. The flipside of this privileged upbringing, of course, is that while I am by no means from a wealthy background, and went to a state school, I nevertheless spent my formative years in a “nice” environment, where it was never intimated to me for a moment that I couldn’t be as good as or better than men. It’s a testament to my education, my parents and the happy socio-economic stars of my birth that I am extremely, extremely unscrewed-up about this.

But it has totally screwed me in another way. I can’t fit in with self-consciously feminist women now. Ever since leaving university, I have encountered a sense of being excluded from groups of women for somehow not being quite right, being a little bit frighteningly different. I wasn’t particularly a tomboy, I had and have perfectly good and sane relationships with both my parents, and I’m straight (well, straightish) – it’s not any of that. I just don’t fit into any of the pigeonholes that many women, it seems to me, actively seek to climb into in a sort of communal comfort exercise. As a result, I find I am far more natural and happy, far more myself, sitting around with a bunch of men than with a bunch of women, unless I go far enough back with the women to know that they accept me as I am. That automatic confidence that people will like you just isn’t there when I sit down with a group of women, because I know quite well that some of them are going to find me a bit odd, too rational, not angry enough, with altogether the wrong sense of humour, in short, just a little too damn much like a man. And the sense of personal slight I have occasionally encountered as a result does tend, to be honest, to put me off devoting my own resources to tackling inequality problems.

So for future reference, this is my pitch for equality. I think vocal feminism would do well to remember that human dignity – for everyone - lies in our being individuals. For that reason, and because feminism has not so far made those final steps towards equal pay and equal opportunity, I believe liberalism, and not feminism, is the creed that ultimately will change women’s lives, and it’s on that basis that I think we should proceed.

* I mean, that we both have ovaries. Two each, hopefully. Not that we share them. That would just be weird.

Can anyone tell me who precisely was responsible for coining the phrase “positive discrimination”? Google has been barren.

It is a phrase that attempts to evade responsibility for its own meaning. If it’s positive it can’t be that bad can it? Well yes, because a positive necessarily entrains a negative. Discrimination is still discrimination whatever zingy adjective you put in front of it. If we envisage positive discrimination as a possible route forward for our party, not only do we risk derision for undermining the whole basis of liberalism, we are also discriminating, and no-one who advocates it should be allowed to forget this.

We are discriminating against people who are unlucky enough to be born without ovaries (you poor blossoms) and people who are unlucky enough to be born with fewer dark skin pigments than others. Not good enough for us, I think.

Hm, I see that one of my very scarce fellow female bloggers, Jo Anglezarke, is using her blog to tout for Lib Dem dates.

Am I concerned that this will tend to undermine our future as serious, think-piece-oriented contenders in both the blogosphere and the party? Am I worried for Jo that she is letting too much personal information slip too quickly in the essentially public world of blogging?

Or am I just cross that I didn’t think of it first?

Following on from James Graham’s ‘Inter-generational equity with background of handbags’ moment, Alex Foster has an interesting poser – why have no women yet submitted video questions for the candidates, as invited by Chris ‘cunning as a’ Rennard?

Answer: because we are far too busy doing all the actual work to have time to video ourselves asking why other people aren’t doing it properly. And because we are plotting to kill you. All of you. And take over the world.


Actually, in all seriousness, as soon as I saw the Rennard clip I thought, “What a freaking gimmicky waste of time, why would anyone want to video themselves asking a question, what does it really add to the proceedings, when will we get our pointy heads round the idea that ‘innovative campaigning’ and ‘YouTube-compatible’ are not the same thing?” Yes, I thought all that. I did not think, “Hey, I could ask a question about Darth Vader and Spiderman. Cooooool.”

Personally, I’d rather write a question down and get a written answer, because you get more information and the respondent has to think about their answer more than they would if they were talking. I remain obdurately convinced that a clear writer is a clear thinker, but I realise it is just possible that I am clinging to a melting icesheet with an elitist tinge here.

So I wonder if it simply reflects the ratio of men to women who are (a) actively involved and (b) online as a matter of course. To play lazy-ass observational demographics for a moment, there’s a party spike in activist men under fortyish whose activism has a strong online bias, and another spike in activist women over fiftyish whose activism is founded in, er, real life or whatever it is called.

Fourteen men have submitted questions, and I wouldn’t be surprised if the ratio of male-to-female online active members is greater than 14-1. So at the moment, mathematically-speaking, less than one woman has filmed herself asking a question, which is probably why that clip isn’t being shown because it would freak people out.

Featured on Liberal Democrat Voice

I am momentarily distracted from the tasks of having girly-flu and buying up all the Wispa bars in Haringey borough ahead of Cllr Davies by the following discovery.

Focus Fodder retails a number of t-shirts bearing the legend “Lib Dem Blogger“.

But only, mark you, in the men’s range. Women wishing to purch-ase are limited to “working hard all year round”, venerating Paddy Ashdown as a sex god, or at best, being councillors. Pfah. Try harder, FF, immediately, lest you Feel My Wrath.

In other news, I am 55% right brained, 45% left, I am also 88% tortured genius, only 16% nerd (I demand a recount!) and my life is 42% off track, all of which make varying degrees of sense. Moreover, there is uncontainable excitement in t’Republic as we gain our first link from a search engine. And what were the search terms? “People are too boring” apparently. Hmph.


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