Using ‘Ms’ is still a feminist issue

National Rail don't have a problem with women using Ms

“This will probably seem a bit silly.” That’s how I started the conversation with my bank manager in my hometown of Teignmouth that got me laughed out of his office.

“I want to change the name on my account from ‘Miss Cook’ to ‘Ms Cook’” I told him. At this point I expected him say “yes of course” and within a few clicks I would have the prefix on my bank statement that I use everywhere else. Instead he laughed. A lot. When he composed himself from the devastatingly witty joke he said, “You’re right. That does seem silly.”

My Caitlin Moran sexism alert was going off in my head. “This is sexism!” I thought. “And it’s happening to me.” Why does a bank manager in 2012 find a woman wanting to change her prefix funny? This should be an every day occurrence. I was under the illusion that Ms was the default honorific for women. Perhaps I just read too much of the Guardian, which in their style guide says, “use Ms for women subsequently unless they have expressed a preference for Miss or Mrs”. Well if the Guardian would call me Ms why are you laughing MR bank manager?

I tried to explain to him why I wanted to change it. It was simply because men are called ‘Mr’ their whole lives and I wanted to have a prefix I could use in the same way. Pretty logical I thought.

“But ‘Ms’ is for divorced women. Are you divorced?” – he thought he had me there. “No I’m not but I know lots of women who choose Ms.” He laughed again and dismissed me. I thanked him for his time and stormed out of the office in true Apprentice boardroom style.

I was riled. But I do get that on the scale of women’s rights issues it hardly even deserves a place. Being called ‘Miss’ or ‘Mrs’ is not something that’s going to make the pay gap widen, cause the conviction rate for rapists to lower or fuel street harassment. I was still annoyed though. I was at the bank anyway opening a savings account and it would have taken one minute.

When I went in the next week to cash a cheque, I asked the woman behind the counter to change the ‘Miss’ and she left the manager a message asking him to change it. He never did. By this point it was less about wanting to have a prefix and a name I could keep for my entire life – Ms Chloe Cook does have a certain ring to it – but more about the point that bank staff refused a customer’s request because it was a feminist issue.

The inevitable time came when I ran out of money for baked beans and vodka and needed to extend my student overdraft. I went into the meeting determined not to take no for an answer. That conversation ended, Me–“So you won’t change it?”. Him–“No.”

It turns out Bournemouth, where I go to university, is a pretty good place for gender equality. After all the trouble with the bank back in Devon a clerk behind the counter changed it within minutes. “They really wouldn’t change it?” she said. “That seems silly.”

Written for The People’s Republic of South Devon.


Podcast: Are modern Beauty Pageants degrading?

Protests outside the Miss World finals last November reignited fierce debate in the feminist community – with some women calling beauty pageants ‘empowering’ and others ‘degrading’.

As Miss England regional heats take place up and down the country, I talk to two opposing feminist activists and discuss whether the traditional feminist view is outdated.

Correction: When I say there is a ‘swimwear round’ in Miss England I meant to say ‘sportswear round‘.

Dorset police rape campaign totally misses the mark

One of the scaremongering campaign posters

Written for The Bournemouth Rock newspaper.

Trigger warning: discussion of rape and sexual assault.

Unless you’re a final year student stuck in limbo between the library and your semi-detached in Winton you will have seen the yellow triangles plastered around Bournemouth town centre. They are warning signs reminding us women to keep safe at night. Operation Protect, a campaign ran by Dorset Police, has been linked to the 50% drop in alcohol fuelled sex offences in Bournemouth, as well as winning a national policing award. Maybe there’s no denying that fall in rates and the campaign are linked, but there are still major drawbacks to its methods.

At first glance the main message is neither revolutionary nor controversial. Most of the posters emphasise the importance of getting home safely and knowing your limits – sound advice for everyday living. Two posters however, are misinformed and scaremongering. One of them shows cartoon stick figures captioned, “we met, he bought me a drink, we danced, he raped me”. It suggests that every man a woman ‘dares’ to dance with or accepts a drink from will sexually assault her. Both posters then state, “In most rape cases women know their attacker.” This is true, but Dorset Police have failed to put this in the right context. Most victims know their attackers because almost half of all rapes occur within relationships.

According to statistics by the Home Office about victim and perpetrator relationships, in the majority of all rapes reported the perpetrator and victim are partners at the time of attack. Ex-partners, dates and ‘other intimates’, meaning family members and close friends, commit a further 40%. Strangers account for 11% of attacks and 16% of rapes reported are perpetrated by acquaintances.

Nothing is factually wrong with what the posters are saying. But thanks to skewed media reporting the general public has an idea that rapes are committed by strangers hiding in bushes. Now the police are telling us that most of our male friends are waiting for their opportunity to attack. So us women have to now look out for strangers in bushes and male friends, acquaintances, doctors, lecturers, our hairdressers, that bloke we met at that party once and thought was alright – anyone who we already know. By saying that most rape victims know their attackers without explaining why is irresponsible. Not to mention that it paints all men out to be sexually violent.

The thing that angers me the most is that they had a chance to do something different. The whole campaign focuses on women making the right choices to prevent themselves from being raped and barely touches on telling rapists not to rape. Only in sexually violent crimes do people blame the victim. I could cover up head to foot in a bin liner, stop drinking alcohol and even stop flirting with men unless I wanted to have sex with them within the next half an hour and if I was raped someone, somewhere would still say it was my fault. That’s the kind of attitude rape victims have to deal with everyday and the police should be the first people to try and stop this, not fuel it.

Original article in the Bournemouth Rock page 11

¡Viva la–Feminist–Revolución!

Do you know feminism is fashionable? ©gaelx Flickr

I’m not a fairy and I don’t intend to become one. This isn’t new, I wasn’t a fairy when I was five either. Nor was I a princess or a massive pink marshmallow.

Really I should have been Thumbelina’s best mate from what the shops were trying to sell my Mum. I was a child who liked to play with Lego and that Lego didn’t need to be pink.

The thing is more and more people are seeing the damaging ways marketing executives are using gender stereotypes to flog their wares. Boys and girls are boxed in when it comes to buying for them and the way people treat them.

If you’ve taken a stroll down the toy aisle in Debenhams or any shop selling toys you will see what I mean. Doctor’s dress up outfits labeled ‘Boys’, green nurses outfits ‘for girls’. One aisle dedicated to building things, chemistry labs, toy cars. The other aisle has make up, tea sets and kitchenettes.

Boys are aggressive and make things happen whereas girls fritter away their time working on their looks and planning the perfect princess tea party. Surely no parent would tell their daughter that they can only ever be a hairdresser or beautician so why let it happen through the toys you choose?

More people are asking this question and this is in no way a new observation. The press has been a wash with stories on gender stereotyping recently. One charity set up to combat the ‘pinkification’ of girls is Pink Stinks and the founders, Emma and Abi Moore have been everywhere this week, Daybreak, Loose Women and the Independent magazine to name a few. People seem to have realised this is a problem.

So feminism is becoming fashionable. And people are listening to us. Just last week Hamley’s removed their ‘girls’ and ‘boys’ floor labels after blogger Laura Nelson wrote about it. If we carry on like this feminism could go mainstream. Even if it is just Liz Jones from the Daily Fail claiming she’s a feminist in a twisted and ill-informed way it’s something. It’s putting feminism back on the agenda when it was denounced for so long.

I run the feminist society at my university. In the first year we started we shied away from the word ‘feminist’ and used the cop-out name of Bournemouth University Students Against Sexism Society. Since calling ourselves Bournemouth Students’ FEMINIST Society we’ve doubled our membership. Grassroots activism groups have popped out all over the country and organisations like UKFeminista now run summer schools and have regional officers.

It’s not just a fad and it’s not just feminism. My generation is becoming increasingly politically minded. It’s more common now to have a proper chat about the government in the pub rather than who’s going out with who. Politics is catching out of desperation and dissatisfaction. There seems to be some kind of energy to it. At last people are getting het up and angry about things! There’s a socialist worker society and an activist society at Bournemouth University, possibly one of the least political institutions there is. Things are a changing and it’s about bloody time.

Written for The People’s Republic of South Devon.