Women Speak Out in… Birmingham

12 June 2010, Central Library, Chamberlain Square, Birmingham

Next stop for Women Speak Out was Birmingham – tucked away in a corner of the city’s Central Library, we were joined by Katie and Rachael, members of the local feminist group, Birmingham Feminists, to discuss everything from gender identity to what it’s like living in the ‘lap dancing capital of Europe’.  Here are some of the comments we picked up.

We talked about the connections between sexual orientation, gender and biological sex.  In particular we discussed stereotypes, and how people who do not fit in either biological sex challenge our views of male and female.

Stereotypes and assumptions

Rachael: I was 21 or 22 before I realised that people would make assumptions based on me being female.  We break the world down into categories because it’s easier for us that way.

Rachael: Men make you prove your footballing knowledge.

Katie: Maintenance men assume that you know nothing, but my Dad is a builder and I grew up learning things.

Rachael: Minorities do better in tests, in school, if the stereotypes aren’t invoked.  (At this point we discussed Bad Science and physiological effects.)

Are men and women different?

Rachael: It bothers me when I hear that ‘men and women are the same’. Men and women are different. I disagree when people say our identities are formed only via social constructs. Physically we are different – our brains are wired differently.  But that’s not an excuse for men to be more aggressive just because they’re physically bigger, nor for women to be passive because they’re smaller.

Katie: How much of the difference is socialised and how much is natural? Psychological studies in the area of crime have shown that people are born with certain genetic traits, but how they are expressed differs between people. So whilst two people may share aggressive traits, one may express that by being violent, another by being creative. So, whilst men may be more visual, this doesn’t mean we should accept that they will like watching porn, because this can be changed.

Clever women

Rachael: Most of my friends find that men either don’t like clever women, or make a big deal out of it – saying things like “this is Rachel, she’s really intelligent”.

Change

Rachael: Societal change is slow – takes hundreds of years.  But I’m generally against banning things.  Banning is a knee-jerk reaction.

Do you identify as a feminist?

Rachael: I do call myself a feminist, but with qualifiers. For me, it’s about equality, I’m not at the extreme, I’m not comfortable with banning things. I’m more of a humanist.

Katie: Yes, I’m a feminist.  I’m a Me feminist, and I take bits from other feminisms.

Rachael: When you’re younger you see things as black and white, but as you get older you see more shades of grey.

The general election

Katie: I was disappointed by the outcome of the General Election. We had a women-only hustings in Birmingham prior to the election, discussing women’s issues, and some of the answers given were quite gendered. There was a difference in the responses given by the female Green and Labour candidates and the male Lib Dem and UKIP candidates (the Conservative candidate didn’t attend, and the UKIP candidate sent a stand-in).

Rachael: I don’t like the attitude of male politicians who seem to think the laws don’t apply to them.

Role models

Rachael: Erica Berger, the character from the Milliuem books.  Those books contain a lot of strong women, but they also contain a lot of minor characters who just happen to be women, like a policewoman.

Sexual objectification

A large chunk of our discussion was given over to the increased sexual objectification of women in society, touching on prostitution, porn and lap dancing.

Rachael: British people have this obsession with Playboy etc, but we’re not comfortable discussing the reality of sex, chlamydia is on the rise, and there are more cases of HIV/Aids amongst women. Men don’t make a connection between the women who dance for them in lap dancing clubs and the women they actually have relationships with.

Katie: I have personal issues with porn which are separate from my feminism. When a woman says she finds being a lap dancer ‘empowering’, I don’t think I could say that, because the men watching wouldn’t see me as empowered. Same with feminist porn – a woman appearing in it may feel empowered, but is that what the viewer thinks?

Lap dancing

Birmingham is known as the lap dancing capital of Europe based on the number of clubs it has per square mile. It was felt this was difficult to reconcile with the city’s bid to become the UK’s Capital of Culture 2013.

Rachael: The location of lap dancing clubs in Birmingham is far more prominent than in say, Manchester. Here they’re right along the high street, along Broad Street (the main nightclub area), and there’s a lot of them.

Katie: I’m not really saying that lap-dancing should be behind closed doors, but I do think you shouldn’t be bombarded by it, so you can think clearly…

Rachael: It’s possible to put lap-dancing clubs out of town or in less obvious places.  While I’m not endorsing Spearmint Rhino, they have a more discreet club than the many clubs on Broad Street.

The problem isn’t just with lap dancing clubs on the night time streets of Birmingham – a lot of nightclubs and bars also promote the sexual humiliation and objectification of women.

Katie: Other bars start doing similar nights, like Ann Summers themes.  One of the sports pubs’ student nights had a game where they plied female students with free alcohol, got them to stand on a table, blindfolded them, put a bin-liner over them and asked them to take their clothes off under the bin bag.  It was only when the blindfold was taken off that the women realised the bin-liner was clear, and that everyone in the pub had been watching them strip.  No amount of free drinks is worth that.  The University managed to get that game banned.

Even at the alternative music clubs, things have got worse in the last few years, with women encouraged to appear as sex objects, but somehow this is seen as alright, because they also have tattoos and piercings, it’s seen as ‘alternative’.

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What do you think?

What are your thoughts on what we discussed? We’d love to get your comments and views – Women Speak Out is a chance to find out what issues are on women’s minds and what’s affecting you. You could leave your comments below, fill in our survey-style comment boxes, or take our quick poll.  The poll changes every month, so come back and try it again soon!

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1 Response to “Women Speak Out in… Birmingham”


  1. 1 Annabella Freeman June 18, 2010 at 15:15

    On a typical night in any town in Britain there are loads of women and young girls wandering around half naked with short skirts, low-cut tops etc. Any smart man wouldn’t bother going into those clubs when he can just stand around in the street and see the show for free!

    Yes maybe some of these clubs/bars objectify women but no one is forcing these women to go to these places. No one is forcing these girls to drink loads and strip (even if they thought it was a black bin liner). Whilst some of the clubs/bars may encourage the objectification of women, it’s the women themselves that participate in it. If a bar holds a wet t-shirt contest and no one enters then you don’t have a contest.

    Women can be their own worst enemy sometimes!


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