Blood vs semen

Following my post yesterday about sanitary products, I was thinking about whether they really would be freely available if men[1] had periods. Whilst racking my brains for a suitable comparison, I suddenly realised there is a gooey liquid that male-assigned people produce in abundance, that can cause great embarassment during those awkward teenage years, and that many of them probably wish they could stop producing altogether – semen.

If roles were reversed, would blood be the thing that it was ok to leave in your sheets and your underwear for your parents to wash? Sure, few people would want it on their trousers, but if it happened, it wouldn’t be that big a deal? And it might leave a bit of a stain, but everyone would know it only takes a bit of soaking in cold water, or a gentle scrub, to get it out. No big deal.

And if girls produced semen[2], would there be special disposable receptacles for them to squirt it into, to discreetly fold up and throw away, lest anyone know that they’ve allowed their body to do this thing that it naturally does?

Someone on twitter questioned the validity of this comparison, on the basis that girls don’t choose to bleed, but boys could stop producing semen if they wanted (whether teenage boys would agree with that is another matter!). But to me, that supports my case even further. If period blood were the result of girls having a wank, it would be even less acceptable for anyone know that you’ve produced any. Even though this is something our bodies just do, that many women (and especially female-assigned others) actively hate and want to stop; we are still expected to hide it away, as though we’ve done something wrong.

Whether the details of this comparison stand up to greater scrutiny, it certainly reflects the patriarchal standard that what boys’ bodies do is normal, and what girls’ bodies do is wrong and should be carefully controlled.

[1] All usual ciscentric disclaimers apply!
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[2] I feel the need to say something about female ejaculation here, but can we just agree that it’s a rare enough case to not warrant throwing out this whole argument?
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Sanitary products on the NHS

Inspired by a current twitter chat being held by The Women’s Room, and with huge credit to Jessica Burton who blew my mind at BiCon2013 and has turned me into a periods fanatic, here are some thoughts:

It’s often said that “if men had periods, all sanitary products would be free on the NHS and we’d get time off from work for PMT”. I do think this is a handy, populist (if rather ciscentric [1]) catchphrase to highlight the impact of patriarchy on society. But.

But is it actually true? Would tampons and towels be handed out freely on the NHS? Or would we have a different attitude towards periods entirely? Perhaps such that sanitary products weren’t even considered necessary?

One of the things I learnt about in Jessica’s session at BiCon was the history of the “feminine hygiene” industry. It seems that pre-WWI, workers in factories would bleed onto straw on the floor (and many other things too, presumably partly to deny them labour breaks), which would be swept away at the end of the day. Periods weren’t hidden, bleeding was just another thing that some people’s bodies did. After the Great War, some enterprising folks realised that they could market bandages as sanitary pads, and keep some bandage factories open. Part of that marketing was about making pads seem medically beneficial and essential for hygiene, and appealling to middle-class sensibilities by being all discreet. Even modern advertising for sanitary products has a weird prudishness and revolves around secrecy and hiding the fact that you’re bleeding.

So, when the question came up, as it inevitably would, about whether sanitary products should be available on the NHS, most people said yes. It’s true that this is an economic issue that disproportionately affects women – a perfect example of patriarchy in action – but what I’d never really considered before is whether sanitary products are actually necessary. It is perfectly sanitary to reuse cloth pads (whether bought or home-made), or simply bleed into clothing. Blood doesn’t always stain, and when it does, it is the simplest of stains to remove, by soaking in cold water, or giving a light scrub. I have recently found that, apart from sometimes on the first night of my period, I can easily go a whole night sans sanitary products without blood getting on clothes or sheets, and then ‘release’ it into the toilet the next morning. Yay for gravity!

In practice, I use a mooncup, for economic, comfort and environmental reasons. If sanitary products were to be provided on the NHS (or simply made VAT-free), then I would certainly prefer for re-useable products to be the default, with a special case made for needing disposable ones.

But what I would really like to see, is a society where we are encouraged to talk about bleeding (how many people cringed at the mention of releasing blood into the toilet?), where young people – not just girls – are able to discuss what periods actually mean, how they work and why anyone should be expected to hide their menstrual cycle. Perhaps then more people would question whether they, or the NHS[2], need to spend millions of pounds on these products.

[1] It’s ciscentric because it implies that only women, and all women (between adolescence and menopause) experience menstruation. Trans men and gender queer people may menstruate. If you look beyond simply the process of bleeding, and think about menstrual cycles and thus the underlying hormones involved, then it makes sense to consider menstruation of trans women too. There are fascinating things here around gender, sex, fertility etc., which I think are completely lost due to the way that we segregate female-assigned pre-adolesents to teach them the bare minimum about periods, and ignore everyone else along with wider issues.
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[2] NHS money doesn’t come from nowhere, it is still our money after all!
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Bank of England FOI reply

A few weeks ago I submitted an FOI request to the Bank of England, following a discussion on Twitter with The Women’s Room and Caroline Criado Perez about the lack on women on their board, and whether that helped contribute to the decision to remove the last woman from our banknotes[1]. We surmised that it would be unlikely that such a decision would be made in an organisation that had a large proportion of women working in senior positions.

These are the questions I asked:

1) Information held on the number of males and the number of females employed full time as staff by the BOE, their seniority of position and salary band.[2]

2) Information held on the representation of different age, gender, ethnicity, religion, and disability within staff and freelancers (if applicable) of the BOE.

3) Any details of Equality Impact Assessments (EIAs) that were conducted under the three previous public sector equality duties (race equality duty, gender equality duty and disability equality duty), which were in force until April 2011 when the new single public sector equality duty (PSED) came into force and replaced them.

4) The BOE Human Resources Policy on Equal Opportunity of Employment and details of hiring procedures to ensure employment on basis of merit and equality of opportunity

Last night, 20 working days after I submitted my request, I got a response. 20 days is the legal deadline for responding to FOIs, note I received an email from What Do They Know, the website I used to facilitate my request, at 18:17.

The full response is available as a PDF, but is not presented in the easiest format, so here is a summary. I have had to manually copy tables, line by line, into Excel, as I cannot get any software to recognise the tables in the PDF. Arg.

1) Information held on the number of males and the number of females employed full time as staff by the BOE, their seniority of position and salary band.


Salary Band Groups Examples Female Male Totals
Band 1+ Head of Division,




Band 2/3 Senior Manager,
Senior Economist,
Technical Specialist.




Band 4/4T Analysts,
Section Managers.




Band 5-7 Senior Clerical Staff,
Research Assistants,
Support Staff.




ITPS* Developers,




Temporary staff**








* Information Technology staff, **includes vacation staff, sandwich students etc.

My immediate thought is that there’s probably a big difference in job spec and salary between “support staff” and “senior clerical staff”.

The information on salary bands is held in a separate document, which I’ve copied by hand into a new table (I think perhaps they underestimated how much I am willing to procrastinate from studying). I’ve taken out the details for temporary staff (no salary details) and IT staff (too many bands), and then pasted them into the table:


Salary Band Groups Salary band Female Male Totals Female % Male %
Band 1+ 1: £87,556-
20 78 98 20% 80%
Band 2/3 2: £68,189-
171 446 617 28% 72%
3: £53,512-
Band 4/4T 4: £37,344-
366 682 1048 35% 65%
4T: £29,000-
Band 5-7 5: £28,027-
544 420 964 56% 44%
6: £20,256-
7: £17,191-


There is certainly an enormous difference between £17k and £46k, as anyone who’s survived on a salary below £20k will tell you (in London, as these appear to be due to later pages on ‘regional salaries’). Even the median salaries of £21k and £37k between bands 5 and 7 is huge. I will make a follow-up request about this, as I don’t think it satisfies my original query to lump these bands together.

You will also find information about the Bank’s Executive Team (above Band 1+) on our website at Details of their salaries are available on page 46 of the Bank’s Annual Report which is available to view at

2) Information held on the representation of different age, gender, ethnicity, religion, and disability within staff and freelancers (if applicable) of the BOE.


Age band %

























Ethnicity group %
Asian/Asian British


Black/African/Caribbean/Black British


Mixed/Multiple Ethnic Group




Other Ethnic Group


Not Declared/Unknown


Prefer not to say




As expected, the Bank is overwhelmingly white, but it’s hard to say whether that’s an accurate reflection of local diversity in the offices.


Diversity detail disclosure is reliant on staff declaration and, as we have only recently started to collect data on religious belief, we are unable to supply any complete data at this stage. However, what we can tell you is that of our employees who have completed their details, 46% described themselves as Christian. We also have smaller groups of staff who declare their religious beliefs as Buddhist, Hindu, Jain, Jewish, Muslim and Sikh.

And largely Christian. The BBC FOI with faith details has 22% of staff declaring themselves as Christian.


This information is also reliant on staff disclosure. As at end June 2013, 47% of staff had declared their disability status; 2% of these classified themselves as disabled.

Again, this is lower than the 3.8% of BBC staff who define themselves as disabled. According to DWP, 16% of working age adults have a disability.

Equality Impact Assesments

In relation to Item 3, in view of the evolving nature of the earlier legislation to which you refer and its application to the Bank, and the absence of an express provision in that legislation entitled ‘public sector equality duty1, could you please clarify in accordance with section 1(3) of the Fol Act which precise duty(ies) under the earlier legislation you are referring to. This should help the Bank to ascertain whether it might hold any relevant information.

I’m not going to follow up this request, as I think the information I really want is held in the previous questions (albeit they have answered in a way that does not yet satisfy me).

I have had to copy each link, paste it in plain text, and edit individual characters, because the links in the document they sent are not only not live, but not clearly readable by copying them. They appear to have written up the document, printed it out on paper, and then scanned it, to get a PDF.

These are the people in charge of our money.

[1] Dear mansplainers: apart from the Queen. Seriously, don’t be that guy.

[2] I wouldn’t use “males” and “females” to respond to people usually, it’s kind of icky. But I was following language styles from successful FOI requests to the BBC.

Rape jokes and rapists

This has been all over tumblr and other places for years, but I had reason to read it again today, and I want my own copy to be able to refer back to. With thanks to the author, Jessica V and the blog it originated from, Shakesville:

To all those who don’t think rape jokes are a problem.

I get it, you’re a decent guy. I can even believe it. You’ve never raped anybody. You would never rape anybody. You’re upset that all these feminists are trying to accuse you of doing something or connect you to doing something that, as far as you’re concerned, you’ve never done and would never condone.

And they’ve told you about triggers, and PTSD, and how one in six women is a survivor, and you get it. You do. But you can’t let every time someone gets all upset get in the way of you having a good time, right?

So fine. If all those arguments aren’t doing anything for you, let me tell you this. And I tell you this because I genuinely believe you mean it when you say you don’t want to hurt anybody, and you don’t see the harm, and that it’s important to you to do your best to be a decent and good person. And I genuinely believe you when you say you would never associate with a rapist and you think rape really is a very bad thing.

Because this is why I refuse to take rape jokes sitting down-

6% of college age men, slightly over 1 in 20, will admit to raping someone in anonymous surveys, as long as the word “rape” isn’t used in the description of the act.

6% of college age men will admit to actually being rapists when asked.

A lot of people accuse feminists of thinking that all men are rapists. That’s not true. But do you know who think all men are rapists?

Rapists do.

They really do. In psychological study, the profiling, the studies, it comes out again and again.

Virtually all rapists genuinely believe that all men rape, and other men just keep it hushed up better. And more, these people who really are rapists are constantly reaffirmed in their belief about the rest of mankind being rapists like them by things like rape jokes, that dismiss and normalize the idea of rape.

If one in twenty guys is a real and true rapist, and you have any amount of social activity with other guys like yourself, really cool guy, then it is almost a statistical certainty that one time hanging out with friends and their friends, playing Halo with a bunch of guys online, in a WoW guild, or elsewhere, you were talking to a rapist. Not your fault. You can’t tell a rapist apart any better than anyone else can. It’s not like they announce themselves.

But, here’s the thing. It’s very likely that in some of these interactions with these guys, at some point or another someone told a rape joke. You, decent guy that you are, understood that they didn’t mean it, and it was just a joke. And so you laughed.

And, decent guy who would never condone rape, who would step in and stop rape if he saw it, who understands that rape is awful and wrong and bad, when you laughed?

That rapist who was in the group with you, that rapist thought that you were on his side. That rapist knew that you were a rapist like him. And he felt validated, and he felt he was among his comrades.

You. The rapist’s comrade.

And if that doesn’t make you feel sick to your stomach, if that doesn’t make you want to throw up, if that doesn’t disturb you or bother you or make you feel like maybe you should at least consider not participating in that kind of humor anymore…

Well, maybe you aren’t as opposed to rapists as you claim.

(I have removed references to Penny Arcade as I think it stands on its own as a message about rape culture)

Employment at the BBC

I was perusing BBC Freedom of Information requests (as you do) which are helpfully compiled for all to see. And have compiled these stats:

Staff makeup
Majority (British, English, Scottish, Welsh white): 82.6%
BME: 12.3%
Other white: 5.1%

Disciplinary & grievances cases by ethnicity:
Majority 60%  (78)
BME 35%  (46)
Other white 2%  (2)
Unknown 3%   (4)

BME people are 12% of staff but 35% of grievances? That is a HUGE disparity, and something I hope the BBC is actively working on.

Average salaries by gender:
Male £41,816
Female £36,827
For top two salary bands (£190k+), 38 men and 7 women.

So it seems to me there is a LOT to do on equalities work at the BBC (and I would imagine, most public-sector organisations). I just wonder how we can expect profit-driven private companies to fully enact equality legislation and reduce discrimination, when even our greatest public organisations can’t do it?

Big edit to add actual proper statistical analysis from the lovely Brian (oh how helpful it is to have a statistician to hand!). In his words:

As you suspected the Grievance/Displinary incidence is not independent of the ethnicity of the employee as the statistical Chi-squared test for a contigency table is highly significant (p<0.0001).

Assume each Grievance/Displinary incident is a different person.
Exclude unknowns
Look at BME vs Other

If anyone would like to look at the data, let me know, but everything you need to run the same tests is available via the links above.

It would be really interesting to find out more about this relationship and try to pick out what it is that gives such a higher incidence of grievance/disciplinary rate for BME staff at the BBC. That’ll be for another day and another FOI, I guess…

European Parliament Info(less) Graphic

I saw this image on facebook, on the European Parliament’s page. They describe it as an “infography” but I would argue that it is just a pretty picture with some statistics written on.

European Parliament poster on gender equality which simply lists the following statistics: Men: CEOs 98%, Executive board members 91%, Employment rate 76%, University graduates 40%, Working parents 90%, Part-time workers 25%, Average salary  € 34,377.00 Women: CEOs 2%, Executive board members 9%, Employment rate 63%, University graduates 60%, Working parents 66%, Part-time workers 75%, Average salary   € 26,390.00

European Parliament poster on gender equality which simply lists the following statistics: Men: CEOs 98%, Executive board members 91%, Employment rate 76%, University graduates 40%, Working parents 90%, Part-time workers 25%, Average salary € 34,377.00
Women: CEOs 2%, Executive board members 9%, Employment rate 63%, University graduates 60%, Working parents 66%, Part-time workers 75%, Average salary € 26,390.00

The point of infographics is that it is easier for our brains to parse information in visual form rather than as text. I would argue this is especially true of the sorts of images that pop up on our news feeds and that  we might only glance at for a few seconds before we move on. It is far less impactful for me to say that only 2.4% of CEOs are women and 97.6% are men, than simply to show this graph:

Stacked bar chart showing CEOs by gender: 2.4% women and 97.6% men

Stacked bar chart showing CEOs by gender: 2.4% women and 97.6% men

So I took it upon myself to copy out their statistics and, in the quickest, dirtiest way possible, put some visuals into their image. I sincerely apologise for how ugly this is, it was achieved using Excel, Paint and Publisher in the shortest time possible (I should really be studying). A designer I am not. But I find it astonishing that any designer would go to the trouble of making the poster and not including the data in a visual format:

European Parliament poster on gender equality with graphical representation of statistics included. For salary, the data point for men (€ 34,377 is taken to be 100%)

European Parliament poster on gender equality with graphical representation of statistics included. For salary, the data point for men (€ 34,377) is taken to be 100%.