By Hannah Connolly
head of The Stack World's “Ally Month” and the wake of our Oakley Court Conference where we themed our roundtables, workshops and panels around the idea of ‘access’, we are looking at the ways women have been locked out of networks.
“There are only 21 pieces of art made by women in the National Gallery’s collection VS the staggering 2279 by male artists.”
From the governing bodies that make decisions about women's daily lives being male dominated by over 70%, to a huge 83% of senior architectural positions being held by men - an industry that quite literally dictates our existence, spaces in which we relax, work and live. It sparks the question: what are the networks locking women out today, who is at the top of them and what are the barriers blocking the path and preventing change?
These male dominated spaces have remained so through a series of legislative moves, exclusionary behaviours and unwillingness to change. Here are 8 ways women have been locked out of such networks.
“Architects literally shape living experiences. So it's understandably alarming to learn that for the vast majority of the time these spaces are designed by men.”
Setting the Bar
Going out for something as simple as a drink hasn't always been so easy for women. It wasn't until the 1980s, following a court case against a Soho wine bar spearheaded by solicitor Tess Gill and journalist Anna Coote, that laws banning the refusal of women being served alcohol if standing or drinking alone at bars, clubs and pubs were ruled unlawful.
Today, you can turn up alone or as part of a group for a drink in almost any venue of your choice, but ‘men only’ establishments very much still exist – particularly in London, and specifically designed to cater towards the ruling elite. Most of these clubs operate on a policy of yes to women visiting, but actively deny women as permanent members. However, some still refuse women’s entry altogether – most famously, White’s which counts the Prince of Wales, the Duke of Cambridge and former Prime Minister David Cameron amongst their roster.
Historically, alcohol and how it is served has also been routinely harnessed as a tool to oppress women or to do harm. Most recently the World Health Organisation released advice, that seemed more like something out of The Handmaid’s Tale than from a globally ‘unbiased’ organisation that has the health of all at its core, suggesting that infrastructure needed to be in place to help minimise or eradicate women of a ‘child bearing age’ from drinking.
A Sporting Chance
Women make up just 18% of qualified sport coaches in the UK and less than 9% of senior coaching roles, which is perhaps the reason as to why women participate in group sports on average 1.5 million times less on a monthly basis than men.
Like so many other historically male dominated networks, the barriers between women and the sporting industry run far deeper. Uniform has been a hotly contested aspect of late, and this week the Norwegian women’s handball team has been fined 150 euros per player by the European Handball Association for refusal to wear the style of bikinis typically worn during the game.
The International Handball Federation requires women to wear bottoms “with a close fit and cut on an upward angle toward the top of the leg”, specifying that the sides of the bikini bottoms should be no more than 4 inches long. This brings into question the upcoming Olympic Games in Tokyo and the validity of uniforms that inhibit women from playing comfortably or at least in a more balanced fashion that matches that of their male counterparts.
Breaking the News
The first woman to be a full-time salaried journalist on Fleet Street was Eliza Lynn Linton, who contributed to the Morning Chronicle from 1848, but it wouldn't be until 1944 that the BBC would hire its first female broadcast journalist, Audrey Russell. More recently, in direct response to the release of statistics detailing inequality at the BBC, the cooperation launched its 50:50 initiative in an ‘attempt’ to create gender parity. As of July 2021, the BBC has spent more than 1.1 million on legal fees on the ongoing equal-pay and race-inequality cases brought to court by previous and current employees.
Yet, representation is not the only issue women face in journalism, in a recent report released by RSF (Reporters Without Borders), the dangers associated with the job are dramatically higher for women. The internet has emerged as an extremely volatile impactor, with 73% of women that took part in the report declaring that the internet adds a new level of danger to their jobs. Take, for example, the words of Giles Coran, tweeted yesterday in the wake of Dawn Foster's tragic death, his employers at The Times, yet to say anything in response. The work place also comes in second for women writers and broadcasters, with 53% sharing they feel unsafe within their own offices due to sexual harassment and assault.
Changing the Landscape
It is hard to deny the all encompassing impact that architecture has on our daily lives, from the way we live, work, enjoy our free time or even the way we are educated, architects literally shape living experiences. So it's understandably alarming to learn that for the vast majority of the time these spaces are designed by men.
Charting womens’ presence in architecture is the AIA (American Institute of Architecture), reporting that in 1958 only 1% of registered architects were women, rising to 13.5% by 1999.
Looking at the data today, at a glance improvements towards parity can be seen, however where upper management or ownership of firms are concerned women only account for 17%, illustrating there is still a long way to go.
Painting the Picture
The art world too is rife with internal bias towards male artists and as a result the exclusion of women. Works by women make up only a small percentage of major permanent collections across Europe and the US, and womens work selling for significantly lower in comparison to men's pieces.
There are only 21 pieces of art made by women in the National Gallery’s collection vs the staggering 2279 by male artists. With only 2 works by women ever breaking into the top 100 auction sales of paintings despite women being the subject matter of over half of the 25 top selling pieces.
No Place Like Home
When it comes to buying their own homes women have faced an uphill battle. Historically biased obstacles have created foundations that allow for the restrictive internal structuring of banks that still impede women homeowners today.
The 1880s saw the introduction of legislation that allowed women to own property in their own right as well as the right to inherit, rather than property being transferred to the closest male heir. It wouldn't be until the turn of the next century that women were first allowed to borrow money towards purchasing their own home and would be as late as the 1970s before unmarried women were allowed to apply for a mortgage without banks requiring a male guarantor.
The Stack’s ongoing investigation into the difficulties women face when embarking on buying their own home revealed that some 80% of participants in our survey believed there was a negative bias towards single women.
A Best Selling Bias
‘Literature cannot be the business of a woman's life’. These are the words of poet laureate Robert Southey after reviewing a selection of prose sent by Charlotte Bronte, 10 years before she would write one of the best selling novels of all time, Jane Eyre (1847).
During the 18th and the 19th century female authors often wrote under the nom de plume 'By a Lady' or would adopt a male pseudonym, as writing was deemed as ‘un-ladylike’. This meant that a whole host of some of the best women authors in history wouldn’t live to see their own name printed on their novels.
A recent study of gender balance within the New York Times Best Sellers list also shows publishing is still awash with blatant gender bias, with women significantly leading the romance novel genre but continuing to be considerably underrepresented in other genres.
There are currently 223 women in the House of Commons with women making up a total of 28% of the current members of the House of Lords. An alarming statistic when considering that policies directly affecting women's lives on a day-to-day basis are made and voted on by a collective of political representatives that are 72% male.
It has been over 100 years since the first woman, Constance Markiewicz, was elected as a representative of the Labour Party in 1919, totalling 720 years of female exclusion from the British government since establishing its home in Westminster in the year 1200.
Some 10 years later in 1929, and the first female cabinet minister Margaret Grace Bondfield was elected, yet this percentage has only risen by 26% in the subsequent years with our current governing body being made up of only 27% female MPs.
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How male dominated spaces have cultivated the historic and contemporary locking-out of women from vital networks.
By Hannah Connolly
In 2012, Dr Torfeh was appointed as the UN Director of the Strategic Communication and Spokespersons Unit in Afghanistan. Here she shares her expertise with The Stack on the power shifts she thinks will occur there following the West’s recent withdrawal.