EdBookFest: Caroline Criado-Perez


Rosemary Burnett introduced Caroline Criado-Perez with the thing she is most famous for: the campaign to put a woman on the English £10 note. Her book is titled Do It Like A Woman – And Change the World.

Criado-Perez explains that she wanted to challenge the, still prevalent idea, that ‘like a woman’ meant weak, feeble and incompetent. She started a hashtag on twitter with the phrase #doitlikeawoman to encourage women to celebrate and promote their achievements. Plenty of men then filled the tag with pictures of bad parking and out of control stereotypes, thereby proving her point that change was still needed and that the harmful stereotypes were still in place.

In her book she wanted to challenge stereotypes and look at how being female changes perspective. She has different sections in her book focusing on areas in which women are still challenged: leadership, speech, advocacy and choice. She was particularly interested in the problems of choice as often feminism focuses on celebrating the freedom to choose. However absolute freedom of choice is not something a woman can have in a patriarchy. Often we are forced to pick our battles and conform in some ways in order to push for progress in others. Criado-Perez decided that she had bigger battles to fight than body hair but other women do choose body hair as one of their battles.

Criado-Perez then speaks about how sexism in sports seeps into sports journalism. Different sports have journalist’s groups, which are essentially an informal union. At present women are not allowed into the boxing journalist’s group (despite Nicola Adams winning in London 2012). In some football clubs women are not allowed into certain areas, which includes the places where the players and managers speak to journalists, so women have to send male colleagues in to collect quotes. However this rule only applies to professional women; those who are cleaners and caterers or perform similar jobs are exempt from the ‘no women allowed’ rule. It even extends to agents. One female football agent, who was fairly successful, was not allowed to go to the annual dinner for all agents. She had to go to court and have her exclusion made illegal before she could attend a dinner party.

Discussion then turns to FGM in Liberia, where it was common but not ever talked about. One journalist wrote an article about the complications women face after undergoing FGM (ranging from an inability to have sex right through the death), which then blew up internationally. The men who tried to claim FGM was a good thing and something women should want to have done then turned around and threatened to perform it on the journalist as well as threatening her life. She had to go into hiding but she has now managed to push the Liberian government to make FGM illegal.

Rape and death threats are a common experience for female activists. Recently an Iranian woman posted a picture of herself without her hijab to facebook and tagged it ‘my stealthy freedom’. It then went viral with hundreds of women sending her pictures of themselves without their hijabs and talking about how they longed for the freedom to leave it at home. The woman who posted the first picture then received rape and death threats and men in state sponsored media called her a slut and suggested she had been raped and damaged by it. Criado-Perez has been threatened herself. The CPS took some of the perpetrators to court and prosecuted them under the Communications Act for sending direct threats. However it was not a simple process and the police handling the case were completely inept, losing evidence and dismissing the effects of the abuse. In the end Criado-Perez needed a stalking advocate to help her deal with the police. CPS also chose not to prosecute one of them for aggressive and terrifying stalking for the sole reason that she managed to conduct an interview on Newsnight without breaking down. Apparently her ability to hold it together for that short period meant that his threatening and illegal behaviour did not merit a punishment. Criado-Perez explains that there is a huge problem within the police with their perception of online harassment. The internet is not a strange new thing where nothing happens for real and online misogyny is simply a progression of ‘real life’ misogyny and has the same effects.

Criado-Perez has also founded The Women’s Room, which is a database of female experts collected into one place so that people in the media can find and contact them easily. The project started after she listened to two segments on the Today Programme about two female issues: teenage girls and contraception, and a breast cancer test. On both of these segments only men were invited to speak. The defence, at least for the second day, was that they couldn’t find a female breast cancer expert. The fact that Criado-Perez found 50 within half an hour just on Twitter suggests that they didn’t even bother to look.

Having female voices heard and seeing female role models is vitally important. Criado-Perez talks about experiments where they found that simply having to tick a box that says ‘female’ before a maths test lowers performance. In another they had two groups taking the same test in different rooms. In the first room the test was handed out by a woman who was portrayed as being bad at maths, in the second room it was a woman who was portrayed as being good at maths. The girls in the second room massively outperformed the girls in the first room. Putting a picture of a powerful woman at the back of a debate increases the quality and length of the speeches. Male role models are infinite and female ones are severely limited. The gender stereotypes we grow up with are not harmless; they have terrifyingly real consequences for just about every aspect of our lives.

Burnett mentions that Criado-Perez has recently been awarded an OBE and a Liberty Human Rights Campaigner of the Year Award. Criado-Perez says she’s proudest of the Liberty award. She had mixed feelings about accepting the OBE as it implies a certain link to the status quo but eventually decided that if the establishment opens a door for you it’s best to walk on through and cause a ruckus. Unfortunately she’s had to reschedule her investiture; she’s waiting for her mother to return from an MSF boat conducting refugee rescue patrols in the Mediterranean.

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