A series of interviews with working class women from west London - Part 3

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Sat, 17/03/2018 - 12:44am in


UK, Migration, Women

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We spoke with our friend Kulbir, a women worker originally from India, who has to survive below the radar.

But I have also learned that you cannot trust everyone. Like the visa agent. That was a big shock to me – that people like that can trick people and make lots of money and think they can get away with it. But I can fight back.

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A series of interviews with working class women from west London - Part 2

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Sun, 11/03/2018 - 6:34pm in


UK, Healthcare, Women

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AngryWorkers would like to share five stories of working women in the sprawling city of London in 2018. They are from a cross-section of people that we have met in our neck of the woods: the western suburban hinterland that is home to many migrants, new and old, who bust their asses at work and at home, who are on the frontlines of austerity and brexit policies, but who all live in relative obscurity.

I am a Liverpool supporter through and through. I was always more tomboyish than girlish. I hate handbags. I like football and boxing. I like Tupac. I like cage-fighting and unusual looking cars. But I do care.

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Book Review: Making Milk: The Past, Present and Future of Our Primary Food edited by Mathilde Cohen and Yoriko Otomo

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Fri, 09/03/2018 - 11:11pm in


Milk, Women

In Making Milk: The Past, Present and Future of Our Primary Food, editors Mathilde Cohen and Yoriko Otomo assemble a provocative collection of strong interdisciplinary scholarship to explore milks material, affective, historical, semantic, symbolic and economic relations, writes Jeanne Firth.

This review is published as part of a March 2018 endeavour, ‘A Month of Our Own: Amplifying Women’s Voices on LSE Review of Books’. If you would like to contribute to the project in this month or beyond, please contact us at Lsereviewofbooks@lse.ac.uk

Making Milk: The Past, Present and Future of Our Primary Food. Mathilde Cohen and Yoriko Otomo (eds). Bloomsbury. 2017.

Find this book: amazon-logo

French photographer Vincent Ferrané’s Milky Way (2017) documents the first months of his wife breastfeeding their child. In conversation about the intimate photographs, Ferrané shared:

… breastfeeding puts you back into the bigger history of humanity and life. Regardless of whether you are living in a capital city and you consider yourself as a modern person—or even post-modern and “connected”—these little suspended moments remind you that you are a “human-animal” (Fotoroom, 2017).

Ferrané’s comments suggest that milk does much more than provide nutrition to an infant, hinting at a question that animates the collection of essays in Making Milk: The Past, Present and Future of Our Primary Food: what work does milk do? Does milk (here, specifically breastmilk) somehow make or remake the experience of modernity or post-modernity? Who is reminded that they are a ‘human-animal’, and how does this reminding occur? And if these questions reveal some of milk’s unexpected aspects, what other work does it do?

Edited by Mathilde Cohen and Yoriko Otomo, the book is divided into four parts: ‘Drinking Milk: Histories and Representations’; ‘Making Milk: Technologies and Economies’; ‘Queering Milk: Male Feeding and Plant Milk’; and ‘Thinking about Plant Milk’. Peter Atkins of Liquid Materialities authors the foreword, and an essay by pioneering feminist-vegan thinker Carol J. Adams outlines a vegan ethics of care developed with Josephine Donovan. The collection brings these and other influential writers together with artists and doctoral students, providing a platform for strong scholarship by newcomers and established scholars alike.

The linkages between texts in each of the four parts are loose, and the two short articles included in Part Four feel truncated, leaving me with the lingering feeling that the robust discussions that had animated the book trickled off in the end. Folding the final texts into Part Three would be stronger structurally, but I imagine that the editors wanted to end with Matilda Arvidsson’s recipe for DIY plant milk as ‘part of a method of relational ethics of slowness, resistance and care’. More importantly, however, I appreciate how authors often reference other texts included in the book, drawing explicit connections or highlighting differences.

Image Credit: (Sheila Sund CC BY 2.0)

Within the collection, the editors ascribe to a non-biological definition of milk, ‘so as to encompass the full range of milk’s material, affective, historical, semantic, symbolic, and economic relations’. Practically, this means that the essays included are interdisciplinary, covering a wide range of scholarship. More conceptually, the authors’ use of a non-biological definition is key to the book’s successful contribution to critical thought. I love a thread of questioning that is tied to this definition: is milk a ‘natural’ substance? (echoed by the question ‘what is it?’ proposed by Greta Gaard in Chapter Eleven, which Gaard engages to challenge gender dualism and binary thinking). What is natural?

For instance, what does it mean that, ‘naturally’, some humans can digest lactose and others cannot? In ‘Plant Milk: From Obscurity to Visions of a Post-dairy Society’, Tobias Linné and Ally McCrow-Young draw on the work of Melanie DuPuis (2002) to argue that the history of milk being labelled as a ‘perfect’ food is deeply entwined with ideas about white racial superiority. As it is mostly people of colour who are genetically lactose intolerant, ‘the perfect whiteness of the food and the white body genetically capable of digesting it in large quantities became linked’.

Milk’s composition as a ‘natural’ substance is also key to the court case that Kofi Tirosh and Yair Eldan explore in ‘Milk, Adulteration, Disgust: Making Legal Meaning’. Israel’s largest dairy company Tnuva secretly added silicon to its long-life UHT milk to prevent foaming. Public outcry and a legal battle at the Supreme Court ensued. Class-action plaintiffs were unable to claim health-related harm as the milk was sold only for a short time, and any single consumer did not ingest a significant quantity of silicon. Instead, plaintiffs argued that ingesting silicon unknowingly infringed upon their autonomy, causing them to feel disgust.

As the authors explain, Tnuva ‘desecrated the very concept of milk—a food which is the paradigm of purity, giving, whiteness, and innocence’, linked heavily to histories in which milk production symbolised core values about Zionism and nation-building. Silicon (Si) is the eighth most common chemical element in the universe by mass: it is a ‘naturally’ occurring substance. But in Tnuva’s milk, silicon became unnatural, out of place, crossing the boundary of what gets to count as milk. This sort of boundary breaking is key to the authors’ framing of disgust, drawing on Mary Douglas’s work on food laws (1966), Julia Kristeva’s study of abjection that shows how ‘the disgusting object is not only what disrupts order but also what is subversive’ as well as Martha Nussbaum’s (2004) observation that, in law, ‘disgust tends to operate as a conservative force that affirms social boundaries and fixes power relations’. Disgust—here, a milky disgust—teaches us about a society’s values (William Miller, 1997). The question of ‘naturalness’ reveals how seemingly easy categories shift, bend or break down across geographies and cultural contexts.

Several essays are primarily historical, such as the chapters by Chloé Maillet, Andrea S. Wiley and Hannah Ryan. Richie Nimmo’s contribution traces the development of mechanical milking devices starting in the 1860s: from teat tubes to roller and pressure plates and eventually to various suction-based machines in the 1910-20s. This history may be one of Foucauldian discipline and biopower, but Nimmo emphasises a different dynamic that ‘is less easily seen—the extent to which the machines were also acted upon by the animal, in the sense that they were profoundly shaped by its stubborn and recalcitrant biocorporeality’. The early devices were extractive and failed because they were not attentive enough to the bodies and behaviours of cows. Developers realised over time that the machines needed to mimic a suckling calf to be successful. Here, resistance is most conspicuous in the complex biocorporeality of the cow itself.

As an educator, I eagerly noted possibilities for future syllabi: Julie P. Smith’s focus on economic markets in breastmilk would be useful for teaching on feminist economics, reproductive labour and critical debates on GDP and development. Gaard’s nuanced reflections on milk fauna and flora are a fantastic introduction to critical ecofeminism, trans*species ecology, plant agency, and—of particular relevance to my own work—to food justice and queer food justice. Mathilde Cohen’s discussion of ‘The Lactating Man’ is also one of the standout contributions of the book. Cohen’s analysis of breast—or chest—feeding invites diunital cognition (non-binary thinking) by challenging species divisions (most mammals, with few exceptions, have teats) and biology/culture. Cohen asks: ‘Could it be that because people are socialised to view lactation as an exclusively female enterprise that it is one?’

In the introduction, the editors begin with the claim that milk is inherently relational and interdependent, unusual in food as ‘it is produced by as well as for others’. I recently heard a mathematician on Radiolab assert that a glass of commercial milk in the United States includes milk from tens of thousands of cows, if not hundreds of thousands. Relaying this fact to friends and colleagues, reactions ranged from disgust to comfort. While some immediately viewed this as further evidence of the horrors of industrialised farming, another asked: ‘wouldn’t it be worse to know that you are drinking milk from a single, individual cow?’ Does that feel too personal, too relational?

Cohen and Otomo assert that milk is a relational substance, but, they contend, that does not mean that it is inherently tied to care. The authors are committed to interrogating how milk can be a ‘vector of oppression’, sometimes because of its relational nature. A focus on oppression and an interest in power and ethics are themes in the collection. The editors argue that thinking about milk is urgent in light of global crises of masculinity, food sovereignty and climate change.

In the several weeks I spent reading the text, I was personally attuned to the everyday relational aspects of milk: a friend with a premature infant needed a place to store pumped breastmilk, and our community mobilised to find storage space in a giant deep freezer across town. Pouring cream into my morning coffee, for the first time I imagined the thousands of calves who were not drinking this milk because I was. Thinking about milk in light of this collection, it is a slippery substance. Right at the moment of pinning it down, of assigning milk a definitive label and categorisation, its flow changes course. Slippages drip into unexpected places and open up new lines of inquiry, making milk indeed deserving of our attention and care.

Jeanne Firth is a graduate of the Gender Institute at LSE (MSc Gender, Development and Globalisation) and is currently a PhD research student in LSE’s Department of Geography and the Environment. She is on the founding staff team of Grow Dat Youth Farm www.growdatyouthfarm.org in New Orleans, and served as the organisation’s first Assistant Director. As part of her current ethnographic research, she has been studying Milk Money, a project of The John Besh Foundation which provides local farmers (and specifically a family-operated dairy farm) with micro-loans.

Note: This review gives the views of the author, and not the position of the LSE Review of Books blog, or of the London School of Economics. 


Underappreciated Articles By Women Philosophers 2008-2018

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Fri, 09/03/2018 - 1:59am in

In honor of International Women’s Day, I’d like to open up a space for readers to identify articles by women philosophers published over the past 10 years that they think warrant more attention than they’ve gotten.

Journal articles and chapter contributions to edited volumes are both welcome. The idea is to signal boost possibly overlooked work, so pointers to work published in less familiar or popular venues would be great.

Please include the title, author, and, if possible, a link to the article (or at least an abstract of it). Brief comments about why you’ve chosen it are encouraged.

Thank you.

P.S. If you are thinking of contributing something else to the comments here besides what’s being asked for, please see this first.


The post Underappreciated Articles By Women Philosophers 2008-2018 appeared first on Daily Nous.

Opportunity Doorways For Women (1976)

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Thu, 08/03/2018 - 8:24pm in

The Opportunity Doorway scheme for women was launched in 1976. Here's an excerpt from the council's literature:

"Scientific studies conducted by some of the finest minds in the Gentlemen's Science Club of Great Britain clearly show it’s not your fault that you were born female.

But that doesn’t mean you are entirely blameless for your irresponsible birth. Lazing around the house all day looking after infants and cleaning your husband's home is all well and good for a few years. But what happens after that, when you have become redundant?

Enter The Opportunity Doorway scheme, which has been designed specifically for you. It won't dig into your housekeeping allowance and you won’t have to worry about reading anything complicated; however, a head for heights is recommended."

See also: International Women's Day 1970, romance novels, birth, sexual reproduction in females and Bastard Lanes for single mothers.

A series of interviews with working class women from west London - Part 1

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Thu, 08/03/2018 - 10:10am in

image/png iconAngryWomenWorkers.png

To mark international women’s day...
AngryWorkers would like to share five stories of working women in the sprawling city of London in 2018. They are from a cross-section of people that we have met in our neck of the woods: the western suburban hinterland that is home to many migrants, new and old, who bust their asses at work and at home, who are on the frontlines of austerity and brexit policies, but who all live in relative obscurity.

Of course, now there is all this talk about Brexit. But I'm not afraid. I don't think they will ask me to leave. And in the worst case, I will go to another country and find another job. I don't think it will be a problem. In any case, I don't want to go back to Hungary.

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Book Review: A Brief History of Feminism by Antje Schrupp, illustrated by Patu

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Wed, 07/03/2018 - 11:13pm in

With A Brief History of Feminism, Antje Schrupp and illustrator Patu have crafted a graphic novel that traces the development of feminism from antiquity to the present day. While the book is primarily limited to offering an account of the evolution of European, Western feminist movements, this is nonetheless a fun, accessible and educational read that will give readers a thirst to learn more, finds Sonia J. Wieser

This review is published as part of a March 2018 endeavour, ‘A Month of Our Own: Amplifying Women’s Voices on LSE Review of Books’. If you would like to contribute to the project in this month or beyond, please contact us at Lsereviewofbooks@lse.ac.uk

A Brief History of Feminism. Antje Schrupp, illustrated by Patu (trans. by Sophie Lewis). MIT Press. 2017.

Find this book: amazon-logo

In times of the Women’s March, the #metoo revelations and the subsequent widening of the discussion around women’s rights and gender equality, the sheer number of available texts on the history of the evolution of this movement can be overwhelming. With their collaboration on A Brief History of Feminism, author Antje Schrupp and illustrator Patu have crafted a comprehensive graphic novel that takes the reader on a journey to discover the development of feminism from antiquity to the present day. It will leave you feeling entertained and educated, but at times also angry and definitely thirsting to learn more.

Unlike other books on feminism, this ‘brief’ history does not take women’s struggle to gain the right to vote as its starting point. With the main focus on European, Western feminism, it starts out in antiquity with references to Ancient Greece and the early days of Judeo-Christianity. It continues through the Middle Ages and the first records of women-led community life, early-modern feminism and the feminism of the Enlightenment. While these periods might not offer the widest choice of substantive texts of which it can be said with certainty that they were authored by women, tracing the evolution of feminism alongside that of patriarchy only makes sense.

The chapters become more substantial as the book turns to discuss early socialist feminism, the beginnings of an organised women’s movement, women’s wage labour and the struggle for women’s right to vote. The book continues on to chapters around sex and gender, autonomous women’s movements, and ends by dedicating short sections to intersectionality, queer feminism and third-wave feminism.

Image Credit: (Trishhhh CC by 2.0)

This comprehensive and artfully illustrated view of the history of feminism makes the book a really good read for anyone, no matter whether they are previously acquainted with the movement or not. A reader new to the topic gets an introduction that is fun and conducive to wanting to know more; the reader that is an expert will be delighted to find women ranging from Flora Tristan, who wrote about the oppression of the working class before Karl Marx, to Shulamith Firestone, who argued for the total abolition of the biological family in the 1970s, being placed under the spotlight.

Another incredible strength of this book is that it works with relatively few textual explanations of the illustrations. While the individual chapters offer brief introductions to set the context, most text is limited to the dialogues between the protagonists. This allows for an additional dimension to the story, as facial expressions, colloquial wording and the environment surrounding the speaker underline the content of what is being said. And this is especially important in the context of the oppression of women, as it is often that this is not performed through mere brute force, but more subtle means. For example, the book depicts an exchange between Mary Magdalene and Jesus, in which she questions the maleness of Jesus’s inner circle. Jesus responds, ‘Really, Mary, do you always have to be so negative?,’ while rolling his eyes (2).

While the aforementioned strengths make reading this book a fun and educational experience, the book also comes with certain weaknesses. It lacks a clear guide for the reader as to when the text is paraphrased to fit the style of a graphic novel or when it is directly quoting from a text. Given this, it is also unclear what sources the authors used for their research for their book. While excluding a bibliography or footnotes in the text might have been a conscious decision by the creators to keep the feeling of a graphic novel, it makes it much harder for an interested reader to pursue specific further reading. Furthermore, in times of harsh criticism of ‘feminism’ as a concept and the constant questioning of sources as ‘fake news’, a book may fare better if it is clearly shown on what basis it was written.

A space within the book that would be conducive for this guidance would be the introductory text. Already offering a great explanation of why the history of feminism matters and what it has to do with patriarchy, it also provides an opportunity for the authors to delve deeper into how to read the book and their thoughts on the sources. In so doing, they could also connect the introduction to the rest of the book more than is currently done.

A further point of criticism that could arise is the text’s sole focus on European, Western feminism. Some context to this lies in the somewhat limited translation of the title: in its original German version, the book is explicitly called ‘A Brief History of Feminism in the Euro-American Context’; this is reduced to only ‘A Brief History of Feminism’ in the English translation, which could lead a reader to expect equal treatment of all women’s movements across the globe. The authors do, however, make the limited scope of the book fairly clear in the introduction of the book. Furthermore, various chapters touch upon the fact that European, Western feminism is not the only important movement: as such, the book briefly discusses intra-feminist socio-economic divisions, mentions intersectionality and nods to further exploration of third-wave feminism.

Again, the graphic novel adds a layer here: the intra-feminist divide along socio-economic lines is underlined by images depicting women of colour speaking up against the dominance of white women in the agenda-setting of feminist movements. The authors furthermore try to be as fair to the topics as possible: as such, they do mention that when discussing intersectionality, one has to pay close attention to the cultural context in which the discussion is founded. For example, they mention that due to the history of the civil rights movement in the US, the interplay between race and gender looks different in the US-North American context than, for example, in Europe. However, in the end, while the authors try their best to include various feminist movements and clearly mention the scope of the book, it is still a limitation – and one that one would wish was less prevalent in books about feminism in general.

Overall, while this book is restricted to European, Western feminism and arguably lacks some signposting for the reader, it is still strongly recommended to anyone who wants to know more about where some of the ongoing struggles in the name of feminism are rooted. Its style makes it an easy introductory read for those newly interested in the topic and enjoyable for those who already know a bit more. One can only wish that further editions including other elements of the history of feminism will be published, so that the pleasure of reading works by Schrupp and Patu is prolonged.

Sonia J. Wieser is a graduate in MSc International Relations from the LSE and works at the intersection of finance and technology. She particularly enjoys reading and reviewing books about feminism and gender studies, critical approaches to work and technology as well as anything related to Russia and India. Read more by Sonia J. Wieser.

Note: This review gives the views of the author, and not the position of the LSE Review of Books blog, or of the London School of Economics. 

Conspiracy Theorist Alex Jones Accused of Sexual Harassment, Racism and Anti-Semitism by Former Employees

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Sat, 03/03/2018 - 5:30am in

I found this clip from the David Pakman Show, reporting that Alex Jones, the main man behind the conspiracy internet show, Infowars, has been accused of being a racist, anti-Semitic, misogynist perv by two former members of staff. One of these is a Black woman, Ashley Beckford, who claims that Jones and other members of senior management leered at her, made comments about her colour, called her ‘coon’ and that she was not given the same terms and conditions as the other members of staff, who weren’t Black. She also claims that she was being groomed for some kind of sexual relationship with Jones, who often appeared shirtless around her.

The other person suing Jones is Rob Jacobson, a Jewish guy, who had worked for Jones for 13 years before he was sacked. He claims that Jones regularly humiliated him because of his Jewish heritage, referring to him as ‘that Jewish individual’ or ‘the resident Jew’, and on occasion pronouncing his name ‘Yakobson’, presumably his attempt to imitate a Yiddish pronunciation.

Pakman, who is himself Jewish, makes fun of Jones, asking rhetorically how anybody could be surprised at these accusations, knowing what a sane individual Jones is. Behind him there’s a video playing of Jones ranting and banging the table like a foam-flecked Hitler on speed. He also jokes about how Jones’ behaviour must have been cause by the ‘male vitality pills’ he tries to flog on his wretched show. There is some good news for Jones, though. His audience are so paranoid and obsessed that everything’s a conspiracy, that they’ll believe this one is too.

His producer here goes on to raise the reasonable point that its doubtful how far these accusations can be trusted. Jacobson was working for him for 13 years before he was sacked, or released, and has only now come forward with these allegations. It might be a case of disgruntled employees trying to hit back at the employer who sacked them.

having said that, Black American women do suffer more from sexual harassment than White Americans, according to an article I read in Counterpunch. There’s a perception that Black women are ‘easy’, and so some White guys harass and sexually assault them, which they would not dare to do to a woman of their own colour.

The section of the video reporting this latest development with Jones and Infowars is relatively short. Most of the video is David Pakman promoting a self-help book. I realise he needs the money from sponsorship, but it is still irritating. Here’s the video:

Gabriel Rockhill on the Myth of American Democracy

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Fri, 02/03/2018 - 9:51pm in

A few months ago, the Franco-American philosopher Gabriel Rockhill published a very interesting piece in Counterpunch arguing that, contrary to how the country sees itself, America isn’t and has never been a democracy. He notes that the British imperialists, who founded the Thirteen Colonies, weren’t interested in spreading rights or democracy, and that the Founding Fathers were also anti-democratic. They were like most of the other Enlightenment thinkers in that they were keen to defend to property from the mass of the propertyless, whom they associated with misrule and the mob. He points out that at the time the suffrage only extended to men of property, and excluded the poor, women, First Nations and slaves. The notion that the country was a democracy first appeared with Andrew Jackson, who styled himself as a democrat purely as an electoral pose without doing anything to extend the franchise. He writes

Second, when the elite colonial ruling class decided to sever ties from their homeland and establish an independent state for themselves, they did not found it as a democracy. On the contrary, they were fervently and explicitly opposed to democracy, like the vast majority of European Enlightenment thinkers. They understood it to be a dangerous and chaotic form of uneducated mob rule. For the so-called “founding fathers,” the masses were not only incapable of ruling, but they were considered a threat to the hierarchical social structures purportedly necessary for good governance. In the words of John Adams, to take but one telling example, if the majority were given real power, they would redistribute wealth and dissolve the “subordination” so necessary for politics. When the eminent members of the landowning class met in 1787 to draw up a constitution, they regularly insisted in their debates on the need to establish a republic that kept at bay vile democracy, which was judged worse than “the filth of the common sewers” by the pro-Federalist editor William Cobbett. The new constitution provided for popular elections only in the House of Representatives, but in most states the right to vote was based on being a property owner, and women, the indigenous and slaves—meaning the overwhelming majority of the population—were simply excluded from the franchise. Senators were elected by state legislators, the President by electors chosen by the state legislators, and the Supreme Court was appointed by the President. It is in this context that Patrick Henry flatly proclaimed the most lucid of judgments: “it is not a democracy.” George Mason further clarified the situation by describing the newly independent country as “a despotic aristocracy.”

When the American republic slowly came to be relabeled as a “democracy,” there were no significant institutional modifications to justify the change in name. In other words, and this is the third point, the use of the term “democracy” to refer to an oligarchic republic simply meant that a different word was being used to describe the same basic phenomenon. This began around the time of “Indian killer” Andrew Jackson’s presidential campaign in the 1830s. Presenting himself as a ‘democrat,’ he put forth an image of himself as an average man of the people who was going to put a halt to the long reign of patricians from Virginia and Massachusetts. Slowly but surely, the term “democracy” came to be used as a public relations term to re-brand a plutocratic oligarchy as an electoral regime that serves the interest of the people or demos. Meanwhile, the American holocaust continued unabated, along with chattel slavery, colonial expansion and top-down class warfare.

He then goes to argue that America today is also not a democracy. It has elections, but in fact the American people aren’t governing themselves, but merely choosing which members of a plutocratic ruling class they want to govern them. And his last point is that the anti-democratic nature of American politics is shown very clearly in how often America has interfered in the elections of foreign nations – either through manipulation, or by invasion – when those countries haven’t elected the leaders America wants.

The article’s well worth reading, and is at https://www.counterpunch.org/2017/12/13/the-u-s-is-not-a-democracy-it-never-was/

Douglas Adams made a similar point in his Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy. On one of the fictional worlds described by the Guide, there are two races. The planet’s society is stratified, so that one of the races is the ruling class, and the other their subordinates. But it is a democracy. Ever so often, elections are held, in which the subordinate race goes off to vote for whichever members of the dominant race they want in power. But the position of the dominant race and their right to rule is never questioned.

I don’t know whether this is one of the other Hitchhiker books, or if it was just in the radio series. But it’s a good satirical description of the way western class politics works. It’s probably more true now than it was in Adams’ time, as the Blairites and the Tories come from the same middle class, and promote the same free market, neoliberal policies, which the rest of us are expected to support uncritically. It’s time to break this class monopoly on power.

A Month of Our Own: Amplifying Women’s Voices on LSE Review of Books

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Fri, 02/03/2018 - 12:25am in

8 March 2018 welcomes International Women’s Day, with this year’s theme being #PressforProgress. For the course of the month, LSE Review of Books will be centralising women’s voices, while also discussing wider issues surrounding diversity and inclusion in academic publishing. Managing Editor of the blog, Rosemary Deller, introduces the rationale and aims behind this endeavour. 

If you would like to contribute to this project in this month or beyond, please contact us at Lsereviewofbooks@lse.ac.uk

A Month of Our Own: Amplifying Women’s Voices on LSE Review of Books

Image Credit: Women’s March, 2018 (Erik Drost CC BY 2.0)

This month welcomes International Women’s Day (IWD), an annual event held on 8 March, and is also Women’s History Month in the USA. In the UK, the 2018 IWD celebrations hold particular significance as this year marks the centenary of 40 per cent of women in the UK succeeding in gaining a vote in national elections – although it would not be until 1928 that all women over the age of 21 had full voting rights with the Equal Franchise Act.

2018 was also, however, provocatively proposed by Kamila Shamsie as the ‘Year of Publishing Women’. Writing in the Guardian in 2015, the novelist called for publishers to exclusively release books by women in 2018 to begin redressing the long-standing gender imbalance within the publishing industry. In her article, Shamsie particularly focused on the ways in which books are selected, marketed and received, including the culture surrounding literary prizes. Yet, publishing is also a sector whose workers are predominantly women, but which experiences a continued gender pay gap with senior positions largely filled by men; a recent study has furthermore shown that the industry remains ’90 per cent white’. It is in this context that the November 2017 Building Inclusivity in Publishing event, held in London, explored how conscious and unconscious exclusions on the grounds of gender, race, sexuality, disability, class and regionalism, amongst other intersecting categories, not only impoverish the publishing world, but society more broadly.

And what about academic publishing? Much critical attention has been paid to the voices that continue to be broadcast at a higher volume across a variety of disciplines. Here at LSE, three PhD students in the International Relations department examined the reading materials studied as part of LSE IR courses at undergraduate and postgraduate levels: the results revealed a severe gender bias. Dr Alice Evans (Kings College, London) and Duncan Green, LSE Professor in Practice in International Development, have recently encouraged others to undertake an audit of their reading materials, giving consideration not only to gender, but also to the ways that race, geography and class inflect the figures. These studies and activities also complement wider moves and calls to ‘decolonise’ academia, as students at universities including LSE and UCL ask ‘why is my curriculum white?’.

The theme of this year’s International Women’s Day is #PressforProgress: encouraging us to call out and respond to continued inequalities that are typically structural in nature, but which require individual and collective action to address. Part of this arguably involves a reckoning with the potential problems in your own backyard. So, at the tail-end of 2017, as the Managing Editor of the LSE Review of Books blog since October 2015, I turned the lens on our output to see how the reviews published under my editorship were reflecting (and potentially contributing to) continued gender imbalances in academic publishing.

The results were disappointing, to put it mildly. Looking at reviews commissioned by and published on LSE Review of Books between January 2016 and December 2017, around two-thirds of featured books were authored by one or more men. Moreover, in parallel with the findings of the LSE IR audit, this was particularly distorted by the tendency for co-authored books to be predominantly male-authored: we published reviews of 62 books with two or more male authors. While 46 had a mixed gender authorship, only 19 books were edited or authored by two or more women. This imbalance narrowed when it came to contributors, yet there remains a 59 per cent/41 per cent split between men and women reviewers, respectively.

This audit is not as complete or ‘official’ a survey as that undertaken by my LSE colleagues. However, this cursory snapshot does parallel the gender bias that has been found to shape academia, and the social sciences in particular. Yet, especially in relation to the statistics regarding reviewers, it nonetheless instigated some reflection on my own responsibilities as editor of the LSE Review of Books blog. I had made the error of assuming that because I consider myself a feminist and attentive to issues surrounding exclusion, that this would translate into equal commissioning, equal representation: an inclusive reader and writer community. While this is hardly a revelatory point – indeed, this is belated recognition of what others have repeatedly and no doubt wearily underscored, especially in relation to racial inequalities – the audit made clear the dangers of a complacent faith in the alchemy of good intentions. In other words, the belief that simply by having ‘good’ thoughts and hopes and being ‘aware’ of inequality, this will magically engender diversity, inclusion, equity. It does not.

So, inspired by Shamsie’s call, critical discussions about widening the landscape of publishing, contemporary feminist movements, the theme of this year’s IWD, our own gender gap and other influences besides, LSE Review of Books is responding by running a month centring women’s voices. It is vital here to acknowledge that gender is certainly not lived or experienced as a binary construct limited to or encompassed by two categories of man/woman, masculinity/femininity; neither should gender be viewed as the intrinsic priority, the experience of which can be easily isolated from other intersecting oppressions and inequalities. We hope this will be reflected in some of our publishing this month as we also make some initial entry-points into considering converging exclusions in the publishing world.  While the aim to #PressforProgress cannot be achieved solely through temporary – and perhaps for some readers, tokenistic – endeavours, gestures can nonetheless be spurs for longer-term change and catalysts for crucial, continuing conversations.

Image Credit: (GGAADD CC BY SA 2.0)

To give some sense of the content you can anticipate over the course of the month as we put men on mute, our daily reviews will solely concern books authored, co-authored or edited by women, which will be evaluated by women contributors. The diversity of the reviews to be published – touching on such topics as critical race theory, human-animal studies, environmentalism, youth protest movements, the digital humanities, feminist histories and more – will hopefully make it clear that not only do #womenknowstuff across disciplines, methodologies and sub-fields, but also that this (admittedly ironic) hashtag should really be defunct for stating what we must all, surely, have realised.

Alongside this usual focus on book reviews, we’ll also be talking to several book authors about their new publications as well as reflecting on some of the figures who have served as notable inspiration when it comes to women’s voices within and beyond the academy. Concurrently, we’ll be turning the spotlight on some initiatives in publishing that are enabling the (re-) discovery of women authors from different eras and countries around the world.

Just as crucially, the month will include reflection on the critical role that the editing process can play in terms of foregrounding (but also silencing or obscuring) certain perspectives. I’ll be talking to book review editors about possible strategies for ensuring that more feminist voices are commissioned, without concurrently replicating the Anglo-American and/or Eurocentric focus that often inflects English-language publishing in academia. Yet, editing is not only about the subjects and individual books that we choose to showcase, but also about the nitty-gritty of working closely with language. As Dean Irvine and Smaro Kamboureli argue, ‘editing has been consistently integral to the creation, organization, and dissemination of knowledge in the arts and humanities, even though its indispensable function has not always been readily acknowledged’ (1) – and this is no less true of the social sciences. Since, as Kate Eichhorn and Heather Milne observe in the same collection, (copy-) editing is not only ‘work that first and foremost leads to the production of texts but […] work that produces social networks and forms of community’ (193), we’ll be hearing from a proponent of radical copy-editing as a means of ensuring that the language we utilise aligns with values of equity, inclusiveness and nonviolence – including thinking critically about how replicating the language of gendered and other binaries risks erasing lives and experiences.

We hope that some of this content will inspire reflection and dialogue – and also interest and enjoyment! At the same time, it does not cover all the issues that need to be considered when it comes to tackling exclusion and inequality in academic publishing. Furthermore, the topics that are considered in some form are certainly not to be seen as ‘ticked’ with a sigh of relief simply due the publishing of a single blog post on the subject. There are both further and different things to be said, but also gaps – or what might be viewed, less euphemistically, as failings or silences – in some of our coverage. We welcome debate and dialogue on this during and beyond this month. March has 31 days, but this conversation has no time limit.

Rosemary Deller is the Managing Editor of LSE Review of Books. She received a PhD in English and American Studies from the University of Manchester in 2015 for her thesis looking at co-constructions of gender and animality through representations of meat in contemporary culture. Prior to this, she studied Politics at undergraduate level at Newcastle University and has an MA in Gender Studies from Central European University, Budapest. Read more by Rosemary Deller.

This review gives the views of the author, and not the position of the London School of Economics.