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.

Gender

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

20

78

98

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

171

446

617

Band 4/4T Analysts,
Section Managers.

366

682

1048

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

544

420

964

ITPS* Developers,
Programmers,
Consultants.

49

291

340

Temporary staff**

39

68

107

Totals

1189

1985

3174

* 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:

Salaries

Salary Band Groups Salary band Female Male Totals Female % Male %
Band 1+ 1: £87,556-
£159,690
20 78 98 20% 80%
Band 2/3 2: £68,189-
£120,924
171 446 617 28% 72%
3: £53,512-
£91,649
Band 4/4T 4: £37,344-
£70,015
366 682 1048 35% 65%
4T: £29,000-
£46,689
Band 5-7 5: £28,027-
£46,247
544 420 964 56% 44%
6: £20,256-
£37,640
7: £17,191-
£24,579

 

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 http://www.bankofengland.co.uk/about/Paqes/people/default.aspx. Details of their salaries are available on page 46 of the Bank’s Annual Report which is available to view at http://www.bankofenqland.co.uk/publications/Pages/annualreport/default.aspx

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

Ages

Age band %
<20

1

20-24

9

25-29

15

30-34

18

35-39

14

40-44

14

45-49

12

50-54

8

55-59

5

60-64

3

65+

1

Total

100

Ethnicity

Ethnicity group %
Asian/Asian British

10

Black/African/Caribbean/Black British

2

Mixed/Multiple Ethnic Group

2

White

77

Other Ethnic Group

1

Not Declared/Unknown

5

Prefer not to say

3

Total

100

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.

Religion

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.

Disability

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)

FoI to Bank of England

Yesterday’s post about staff makeup at the BBC was inspired because I was preparing a Freedom of Information request to the Bank of England (BoE).

The Women’s Room (TWR) (great initiative – encourage all women to join! (I’ve also been on at gender-variant people too)) have been petitioning the BoE to reconsider their decision to remove the only woman currently on English banknotes apart from the queen. As the BoE has given a completely inadequate response, TWR are now fundraising to launch a legal challenge on the basis that BoE has not fulfilled it’s obligations under the Equality Act.

I got to wondering about how many women work for the organisation. It seems most likely that their board of middle-aged, wealthy, white men, simply failed to consider equality issues when making the decision about who to next put on a banknote. Would an organisation with a diverse workforce make the same mistake? It will be interesting to see how much information the BoE holds, and what their employment policy is.

FoI request submitted on 13 June 2013, will provide an update when I receive a response, or after 20 days. Text of request is:

I would like to make a Freedom of Information request for the
information held on the staff makeup at the Bank of England (BOE).
My specific enquiries are as follows:

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) 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

 

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).

Assumptions:
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…

A terrible use of data

Last week, I got into a bit of a heated discussion with an admin on the facebook Vegonews[1] page. They had shared a graph, attributed to the website www.diseaseproof.com (though I’ve been unable to find it there), which I think is clearly designed to suggest a causative relationship where the data simply does not show one.

Here is the graph:

Graph attributed to diseaseproof.com which shows percentage of calories from unrefined plant foods and percentage of deaths from heart disease and cancer for the countries Hungary, USA, Belgium, Sweden, Finland, Portugal, Venezuela, Greece, Mexico, "Korea", Thailand and Laos.. It appears to show that as plant food consumption increases, the risk of dying from heart disease and cancer decreases.

Graph attributed to diseaseproof.com which shows percentage of calories from unrefined plant foods and percentage of deaths from heart disease and cancer for the countries Hungary, USA, Belgium, Sweden, Finland, Portugal, Venezuela, Greece, Mexico, “Korea”, Thailand and Laos.. It appears to show that as plant food consumption increases, the risk of dying from heart disease and cancer decreases.

Apart from the scaremongering “KILLER DISEASES” title, the first thing that struck me upon looking at this graph was that the countries on the left generally have a much higher living standard than those on the right, so people in those countries probably live longer, and thus are more likely to develop diseases such as heart disease and cancer, which tend to affect more people later in life. But that was just a hunch, and if I’m critiquing someone else’s use of data, I should probably have my own to counter with. So I headed over to http://esds.ac.uk/international/ and opened up the World Bank macro dataset “World Development Indicators[2]”. After about five minutes of selecting and downloading data, I had the following information:

Country  Life expectancy at birth (years)  GDP per capita, PPP (2005 international $)[3]
Hungary           74       16,958
United States           78       42,297
Belgium           80       32,808
Sweden           81       33,771
Finland           80       31,493
Portugal           79       21,660
Venezuela, RB           74       10,973
Greece           80       24,206
Mexico           77       12,441
Korea, Dem. Rep.           69  ..
Korea, Rep.           81       27,027
Thailand           74        7,673
Lao PDR           67        2,288

As you can see, I also included GDP for comparison. GDP as an indicator of development is massively abused, and is something I think we should be moving away from as much as possible[4], but for a quick exercise such as this, I think it is an acceptable shorthand for “can the average person afford to get enough food?”

I’ve also included both Koreas, as the original graph-designer somehow, astonishingly, neglected to specify which one they meant. Is it the famously secretive, dictatorial North Korea, with a life expectancy of 69 and not enough data for the World Bank to estimate their GDP? (though Wikipedia handily estimates it at $2.4k per capita). Or is it the democratic, high-standard-of-living South Korea, where you can expect to live to the ripe old age of 81?

Here’s my graph:

Graph showing life expectancy and GDP for the same countries as the previous graph,  Hungary, USA, Belgium, Sweden, Finland, Portugal, Venezuela, Greece, Mexico, Korea (South and North), Thailand and Lao. There is generally a higher GDP and life expectancy for the countries on the left, but no strong trend.

Graph showing life expectancy and GDP for the same countries as the previous graph, Hungary, USA, Belgium, Sweden, Finland, Portugal, Venezuela, Greece, Mexico, Korea (South and North), Thailand and Lao. There is generally a higher GDP and life expectancy for the countries on the left, but no strong trend.

Not the most conclusive graph in the world, but then I would say the same for the original, and sadly I’m sure there are many people who took it at face value. I took a couple of quick averages, splitting the countries into left-of-Greece (where we eat too little unrefined plant foods and die of heart disease and cancer) and right-of-Greece (where we eat nothing but vegetables and nobody gets cancer!). (I excluded both Koreas from this).

Left average life expectancy = 78, GDP = $27k

Right average life expectancy = 73, GDP = $7k

So the question becomes – would you rather die of heart disease at 78, or of something else (starvation, diarrhoea, pneumonia) at 73?

But the thing that most grates about this graph is the apparently random selection of countries. If you have enough data points (e.g. countries) then you can select the ones you want to make a relationship look like it exists where it doesn’t. So I undertook a similar exercise, and downloaded data for all 220 countries available from the World Bank on forested area (as a percentage of total land area) and risk of maternal death (% over a lifetime). And behold, I have found a terrible relationship! We must plant trees in order to save the poor mothers!

Graph of forested area as a percentage of total land area and likelihood of maternal death for the countries Brazil, Peru, Panama, Ecuador, Vanuatu, Nepal, India, Madagascar, Ghana, Burkina Faso, Rwanda, Uganda and Mali. The trends appear to show that as forested area decreases, the risk of maternal death increases.

Graph of forested area as a percentage of total land area and likelihood of maternal death for the countries Brazil, Peru, Panama, Ecuador, Vanuatu, Nepal, India, Madagascar, Ghana, Burkina Faso, Rwanda, Uganda and Mali. The trends appear to show that as forested area decreases, the risk of maternal death increases.

(I’d like to say that I didn’t spend a lot of time on this graph, but that would be a lie. It’s actually quite engrossing seeing what you can do once you decide your intention is to abuse the data).

Edited to add:

BadgerBrian points out in the comments that a scatterplot can be a much better visual tool for identifying whether there is a relationship between two variables. His graph here of the GDP and life expectancy of the 12 countries originally mentioned demonstrates this well: there is a strong positive correlation between increasing GDP and increasing life expectancy up until about $25k, then it flattens out (and the USA does a stellar job of having very high income and quite underwhelming life expectancy!) I’ve not been able to get the graph to display in the comments so here it is:

Scatterplot of GDP vs life expectancy for Hungary, USA, Belgium, Sweden, Finland, Portugal, Venezuela, Greece, Mexico, Thailand and Lao. Graph shows positive correlation between the variables up until $25k, where the relationship flattens out

Scatterplot of GDP vs life expectancy for Hungary, USA, Belgium, Sweden, Finland, Portugal, Venezuela, Greece, Mexico, Thailand and Lao.
Graph shows positive correlation between the variables up until $25k, where the relationship flattens out


[1] “Vegonews is about sharing the most up to date information on veg*nism, and to spread the immense benefits of a healthy and natural lifestyle. http://vegonews.com/”

[2] World Bank (2012): World Development Indicators (Edition: April 2012). ESDS International, University of Manchester. DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.5257/wb/wdi/2012-04

[3] In my original comment on facebook, I used GDP per capita, constant 2000 US$. I’ve changed this for PPP – Purchasing Power Parity, where the dollar amount of GDP is adjusted to reflect how much it actually costs to afford certain products in that particular country.

[4] For example, I argued at an Oxfam meeting last year that income should only be used as an measurement of a broader dimension “livelihoods”, rather than be a dimension itself, and will hopefully be using that in the framework for my PhD.