Wave of misogyny in British Universities

On Friday 15th November this article about sexism in British universities was published in the Guardian.  The article documents a number of incidents that have taken place in recent weeks where female student have been subject to threats of rape and assault, all justified with the phrase ‘just banter’.  For ‘educated’, ‘intelligent’ young men it seems raping women, treating them like objects, forcing them to miscarry are just all terribly funny and woe betide any woman who does not see the joke.  The article reveals not only a lack of respect for women, but also a violent hatred.

The article filled me with rage. After I read it I shook with anger at these young men who are going to leave university, go off into privileged positions in the world of work, probably get married and even have daughters, all without ever realising that women are equally human to them and have just the same rights to enter universities, succeed in the world of work and have sex on their own terms.  So many years after ‘women’s liberation’ how has it come to this?  

Two things struck me after the reading the article.  The first was that despite the fact a large number of the women academics I follow on twitter tweeted the article or made comments on it, not a single man did.  Could they really not have seen it, even though it was about the industry they work in?  Or was it just not important to them?

The second was about the responsibilities that we as academics have to combat sexism, racism and homophobia on campus.  This made me think about someone I know who is a student at the moment.  She told me that this term two of the three modules she is taking have NO readings from women on the reading lists – she is studying English and Film subjects with no shortage of women researchers.  Two of her lecturers could think of NOTHING that women had contributed to their areas of study.  That is so absurd and offensive.  If women are treated like that and represented like that inside the classroom, of course they are going to be derided outside it.  If male students see that their lecturers can overlook or despise the contribution of women to the important things that they study, why shouldn’t those same students think they can despise women in general?  I’m not saying for a single minute that putting a few books by women on a reading list is going to solve the problem of sexism but a concerted effort by university staff to represent women and people of colour at all times as worthy of respect would at least be a start.  


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Au pairing after the au pair scheme

This is a post about the research project I am currently working on written by Nicky Busch, the researcher working on the project.  It was first posted on the Birkbeck Research Blog

Au pairing after the au pair scheme: new migration rules and childcare in private homes in the UK

This post was contributed by Dr Nicky Busch, Research Fellow in the Department of Geography, Environment and Development Studies.

People in the UK work some of the longest hours in Europe and, for those with children, the difficulty in reconciling paid work with childcare involves not only time pressures but significant expense. It is no wonder that an increasing number of families in the UK have turned over their spare room (or in some cases a spare bed in the children’s room) to an au pair. After all, for between £65 and £100 a week, an au pair will look after children, cook, clean and generally be an extra pair of hands.

However, while au pairs do many of the same tasks as nannies, cleaners, maids and other domestic workers, au pairing has often been excluded from discussions of paid domestic labour as it is technically not defined as ‘work’. Au pairs have been understood in the media and in popular discourse as somewhere between students and working holiday makers and have generally been imagined as occupying a relatively privileged position without the same problems as domestic workers. This in part reflects the historical origins of the scheme: it was developed in the post-war years as a cultural exchange programme among European countries allowing young women – and it was only women – to travel to live ‘as an equal’ with a family in another country. They would provide help with household tasks in exchange for pocket money and the experience of living with a host family. The scheme was imagined as providing a small amount of extra household help to families facing the ‘servant crisis’, while also giving middle class young women training in running a home.

However, au pairing grew substantially during the 1990s and 2000s and au pairs are now depended upon by tens of thousands of British families to provide affordable, flexible childcare. The importance of au pairs as a source of childcare and domestic work – and recent changes to legislation covering au pairing in the UK – suggest the evaluation of au pairs as both privileged and protected needs to be revisited. The lives of au pairs, their working conditions and relationships with host families needs to be understood in light of changes to the scheme which mean that au pairs are now less differentiated from domestic workers and that they now lack protections in terms of remuneration and working conditions which previously existed.

The knowledge vacuum about this important form of migrant (mostly) female care and domestic work was a starting point for an ESRC funded research project on the au pair scheme being undertaken in the Department of Geography, Environment & Development Studies by Dr Rosie Cox and Dr Nicky Busch. We are particularly interested in the period since November 2008, when the au pair visa was abolished in the UK. This change, which was part of the move to the Points Based Immigration Scheme, meant sharply reduced government control of the au pair scheme just at the point when for many families in the UK, and elsewhere in Europe, the problem of balancing work and home life has led an increasing number of people to turn to low waged labour of migrant women to perform childcare and domestic labour.

The project to date has involved assessing the available data sets to find out what we do and what we do not know about the number of au pairs in the UK and talking to key informants such as policy makers and domestic worker organisations about the effects of changes to the scheme on the ground. We are now at the stage of the project where we interview au pairs and their host families to build as deep a picture as possible of the way the scheme works and how people involved experience being an au pair or being a host family. We will then use our data to produce and disseminate academic material.

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God fearing au pair needed

As part of our current research project on au pairs in the UK my Research Assistant and I are looking at the ads that are placed for au pairs and nannies as a way of seeing what sorts of work people are expected to do.  Some of the ads are straight forward and business like, some are distressing, some amusing.  My favourite so far is this pithy one posted on Gumtree last year, which is honest at least:


We are old parent from United State of America (Florida)but presently in United Kingdom (London) we need a experience Au pair and house keeper for our grand children.

Nothing we had seen so far compares to an ad recently discussed on Gawker:  http://gawker.com/5974543/you-are-not-qualified-to-be-this-queens-couples-nanny-and-heres-a-65+question-survey-to-prove-it .  A family in Queens, NY have developed an on-line survey with 65 questions to try to find a nanny they think is good enough for their children.  The story and the comments make for amusing reading but behind this outlandish display of an unreasonable recruitment practice is a much more humdrum story of attitudes towards childcarers  and other household workers which is revealed in the kinds of controls that this family appear to want to exercise over the nanny they will employ.

The ads we’ve been looking at (and our analysis is only just starting) tend to contain a long list of dos and don’ts: you Will be vegetarian, you Will NOT smoke, you Will clean the whole house three days a week and the kitchen every day etc  etc and very little by way of the normal information you would expect to get in a job ad.  Many employers are vague about salary, none mention leave entitlement and some are frankly illegal (specifying age, gender or nationality wanted).  And in the ones we’ve looked at so far employers are more likely to ask for a photo of the applicant than relevant qualifications.   Not only do these ads show employers want workers to carry out large amounts of (sometimes quite stressful) work for pay which is generally well below minimum wage, they also want to choose the precise character of the person they will employ.

This approach is endemic in the employment of domestic workers, particularly when they live-in and it is an aspect of the sector that makes it inherently problematic.  The fact that domestic workers live in and do tasks that other household members do for free seems to make it very difficult for some people to understand their work as WORK; deserving of all the rights, respect and rewards that any other job might.  And that includes a fair and reasonable recruitment process.

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I am mommy blogger hear me sell (and torture other mothers)

Have a look at this blog post by Janice and Sondra Cuban on the effects of ‘mommy bloggers’ on new mothers.


Sondra is an academic who has researched care workers and a relatively new mother.  She has become concerned about the effects of advice blogs on women.  The blogs both encourage consumption (of toys, clothes, etc for kids) and they frame housework as an absolute duty for women in order to sell cleaning products.  Mommy blogs work as the new advice manuals for housewives and their rhetoric is reminiscent of the 1950s but with the twist that being a ‘mommy’ has also got to be framed as ‘work’.Image

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The complications of ‘hiring a hubby’: New paper on handyman research in New Zealand

My most recent paper on my research project on Handymen and DIY in New Zealand has just been published.

The paper is available at  http://bit.ly/Q25lOO . Or if you’ve got access to Social and Cultural Geography it’s at http://www.tandfonline.com/doi/abs/10.1080/14649365.2012.704644 or contact me for a copy.

The complications of ‘hiring a hubby’: gender relations and the commoditisation of home maintenance in New Zealand

Abstract (in English, French and then Spanish)

This paper examines the commoditisation of traditionally male domestic tasks through interviews with handymen who own franchises in the company ‘Hire A Hubby’ in New Zealand and homeowners who have paid for home repair tasks to be done. Discussions of the commoditisation of traditionally female tasks in the home have revealed the emotional conflicts of paying others to care as well as the exploitative and degrading conditions that often arise when work takes place behind closed doors. By examining the working conditions and relationships involved when traditionally male tasks are paid for, the paper raises important questions about the valuing of reproductive labour and the production of gendered identities. The paper argues that whilst working conditions and rates of pay for ‘hubbies’ are better than those for people undertaking commoditised forms of traditionally female domestic labour, the negotiation of this work is still complex and implicated in gendered relations and identities. Working on the home was described by interviewees as an expression of care for family and a performance of the ‘right’ way to be a ‘Kiwi bloke’ and a father. Paying others to do this labour can imply a failure in a duty of care and in the performance of masculinity.

Cet article examine la banalisation des taches domestiques traditionnellement considérées comme masculines à partir des entretiens avec les «hommes à tout faire »qui sont teneurs de franchise dans l’entreprise «Hire a Hubby »en Nouvelle-Zélande ainsi que les propriétaires qui les ont embauchés. Les discussions de la banalisation des taches traditionnellement considérées comme féminines dans le contexte domestique ont déjà révélé les conflits émotionnels entrainés par le fait de payer les services de soin ainsi que les conditions de travail dégradantes et exploitantes quand le travail est à huis clos. Cet article fait naître les questions importantes au sujet de la valeur du travail reproductif et à la production des identités genrées en examinant les conditions de travail et les rapports personnels impliqués dans le travail traditionnellement masculin payé. Alors que les conditions de travail et les salaires pour les «Hubbies »soient meilleurs que pour ceux qui travaillent dans le monde de travail «féminin », ce travail «masculin »est néanmoins complexe et impliqué dans les relations et les identités genrées. Les personnes interviewées ont décrit les travaux bricoleurs comme des expressions de soin pour la famille ainsi qu’une performance de la «bonne »manière d’être un «gars kiwi [de la Nouvelle-Zélande] »et un père. Le fait de payer aux autres pour faire ces travaux peuvent laisser entendre qu’un homme ne réussit pas à combler ses devoirs et à performer «correctement »la masculinité.

Este articulo se examina la mercantilización de tareas domesticas tradicionalmente hechas por hombres utilizando entrevistas con manitas quienes son dueños de franquicias de la empresa ‘Alquiler un Marido’ en Nueva Zelanda y los propietarios quienes han pagados por hacer tareas de casa. Discusiones de la mercantilización de tareas tradicionalmente hechas por mujeres en el hogar han revelado los conflictos emocionales de pagar otros por cuidar además de las condiciones degradantes que se presentan cuando el trabajo ocurre atrás de puertas cerradas. Examinar las condiciones y relaciones involucrados cuando tareas tradicionalmente hechas por hombres están pagados, este articulo se presenta preguntas importantes sobre la valuación de trabajo reproductivo y la producción de identidades de género. El articulo se discute que mientras las condiciones de trabajo y las tarifas de pago para los ‘maridos’ están mejores que las para gente que emprenden trabajos domésticos tradicionalmente hechas por mujeres, la negociación de este trabajo todavía está compleja y implicada en relaciones y identidades de género. Trabajando en el hogar fue descrito por los respondientes como una expresión de cuidado para la familia y una representación de la manera ‘correcta’ ser un ‘tipo Kiwi’ y un padre. Pagando otros para hacer este trabajo puede implicar un fracaso en la obligación de cuidar y en la representación de masculinidad.

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About housework ….

I’m an academic who researches work in the home and who spends far too much time thinking about homes, housework and the relationship between home and work.

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