Saturday, December 31, 2016

Film: Arrival

How would we communicate with aliens, if they ever made contact? Unless this question, along with physics, eternalism, linguistics, international relations and pacifism (or life, the universe and everything), sounds boring, you'll probably enjoy Arrival.

The new sci-fi film, directed by Denis Villeneuve (Enemy, Sicario, the upcoming Blade Runner reboot) and based on a short story by Ted Chiang, explores all the themes above and more. At the heart of it is the Sapir–Whorf hypothesis, which contends that the language we use determines - or at least significantly influences - our world view. This idea is probed and dissected to an extent that seems just right, enough that it engages non-experts without alienating us.

Familiar philosophical disputes mingle with this distinguishing linguistic concept to great effect, and Amy Adams' understated (and excellent) performance allows the film's musings on non-linear time, telepathy and existential purpose to stand out. A chalky colour palette - the film is largely monochrome other than jolts of spacesuit orange - also helps.

The soundtrack is worth mentioning. Jóhann Jóhannsson, whose work includes the scores for Sicario, The Theory of Everything and Icelandic TV series Trapped, has created twenty suitably atmospheric, other-worldly songs, while Max Richter's poignant 'On the Nature of Daylight' opens and closes the film. Although the latter track has already featured in Stranger Than Fiction and Shutter Island, among other films, its use in Arrival seems particularly appropriate: Richter describes his album The Blue Notebooks as both an exploration of dreams and 'a meditation on violence'.

Arrival is the latest in a series of fantastically thoughtful and visually stunning sci-fi films, from Christopher Nolan's Inception and Interstellar to Gravity, Ex Machina and The Martian. (Brit Marling's more tangled, offbeat offerings, including Another Earth and new Netflix series The OA, also come to mind.)

There are irritants, of course. In classic Hollywood style, American patriotism leads to the Chinese being lazily portrayed as belligerent and game-obsessed, while the US overall appears to be an impotent, wide-eyed participant. (Their almost pacifist positions are all the more laughable considering recent events.) Co-star Jeremy Renner's character is unfortunately let off the hook despite ultimately shabby behaviour. But these are tolerable flaws.

Unlike the magnificently sprawling Interstellar, Arrival is a complete whole. Similar to its portrayal of time, the film is self-contained; each component links to another in a satisfyingly neat manner. While other ambitious features offer bags of unsolvable riddles, most of the queries put forward here are actually given answers. This somehow only increases its rewatchability - as soon as the foggy ending cleared and credits rolled, I wanted to dive into the spherical tale all over again.


Tuesday, November 22, 2016

We are not all 'struggling with the same problems', and the Labour Party must acknowledge that

MP Stephen Kinnock has declared that the Labour Party should stop engaging in 'identity politics' and start including the white working class.

“The huge mistake we’ve made, we have played the game of identity politics and identified groups, whether it is by ethnicity or sexuality or whatever you might want to call it, rather than say, ‘we stand up for everyone in this country and that includes you, the white working class’, says Kinnock according to the Huffington Post.

“Every group is actually struggling with the same problems of social mobility, the same problems of disempowerment, the same problems of feeling that they are being left behind. It doesn’t matter what the color of your skin is or what your background is.

Apart from the fact he seems to have overlooked the glaringly obvious, which is that 'white working class' is an identity, Kinnock's statements are fundamentally wrong. Women are disproportionately affected by austerity: it hits us twice as hard. Cuts in funding for childcare, social housing and services for victims of domestic violence and sexual assault all attack women specifically. UN report concluded that Tory policies have “systematically violated” the rights of disabled people. The gender pay gap presses on, as does the lesser-known ethnic gap.

Although Kimberlé Crenshaw's concept of intersectionality has been watered down (largely by label-obsessed millennials who brand themselves 'intersectional feminists' without really knowing what that means), the Black theorist's study into interlocking oppressions is more relevant than ever as an analytical framework. 

We don't all struggle with the same problems. I will forever be unpacking the innumerable ways in which sex-based oppression has affected my life, but I will never experience the systemic disadvantages built into society that affect BAME people or disabled people. 

This is not to say we should ever fall into relying on the additive approach that Patricia Hill Collins warned against in Black Feminist Thought, which leads to Oppression Olympics. (Think 'How Privileged Are You?' Buzzfeed quizzes. Oppression isn't fun, don't make it cool in a race to the bottom.)

Instead, let's acknowledge that we are not all "left behind" to the same extent or in the same way, and that the Tory government uses different weapons for different groups. The NHS funding crisis, public sector job cuts and racist anti-immigrant rhetoric do not affect us all equally. 

Recognising 'identity', most usefully taken to mean the collection of immutable characteristics that determines our social groupings, does not stop us standing up for everyone in this country. In fact, it actually helps.

Sunday, September 11, 2016

11 New Ice Cream Trends

This was originally published on House & Garden.

Step aside, vanilla. We've moved on.
There's no better way of cooling yourself down in hot weather than grabbing an ice cream, but the usual supermarket fare can get dull. Why not mix things up by jumping on one of these exciting new trends? Once you've read The Social Media Guide to Food and our must-read pick of Instagram food trends, take a look at this batch of ice cream crazes and discover where you can get your hands on them. Post your indulgences on Instagram with our helpful photography tips and use the hashtag #hgicecream for a House & Garden double-tap.

Thursday, August 4, 2016

Social Media: Will you embrace Instagram Stories?

Instagram's new 'stories' update has boldly incorporated the main ideas of Snapchat. Will Grammers and Snappers ignore Instagram stories, abandon Snapchat in favour of the update or give in and simply add it to an ever-expanding list of social media duties?

my first Instagram story
This update is particularly shrewd as Instagram has, until now, been a space reserved for slick images. The more professional your photo, the better. Over the years, Instagram users have created an app-specific aesthetic (bright and minimalist overhead shots) typified by the grain bowl-filled feeds of clean eating gurus Deliciously Ella and Madeleine Shaw. These best practice rules (which I outlined in a House & Garden piece) are difficult to follow consistently and do not suit the lazy.

Snapchat, where we feel permitted to post dodgy selfies, clumsy photos and shaky videos, has been filling that 'lazy' gap competently - just about. Its closed off framework requiring users to add friends rather than follow is a factor thats set it apart but also severely limits mass appeal. Anyone normal beyond their teenage years feels uncomfortable adding people as friends without knowing them in real life. (Perhaps we should be worried that following strangers is more acceptable than befriending them, but social media etiquette is another discussion entirely.)

Indeed, teenagers set up 'finstagrams' years ago. These private Instagram accounts where teens would post selfies and imperfect photos - deemed 'fake' as opposed to their primary 'real' accounts, which are public - may well be deleted now.

The stories of Insta-celebs, while very slightly shabbier, will almost certainly continue to give the impression that they lead perfect lives. But this update does give us all more freedom on Instagram. Being less picky about what to post is probably a good thing.

So, will the update succeed? Or be largely forgotten, like the direct messaging capability? Let's look at the pros and cons.

Instagram stories

  • Two in one. You don't have to open another app. Pokemon Go players need all the battery they can save.
  • Glowing neon pen. Check out the third writing option. It looks cool. The marker style is nice too.
  • More text allowed.
  • Hide your story from specific people. A bit like customising the privacy settings of a post on Facebook, which is always useful when your entire extended family are friends with you.
  • More views. This is the big one. My first Instastory has already been viewed by 40 people, and I don't even have 40 friends on Snapchat. Great for loners/misanthropes/anyone who isn't a teenager.
  • Can't choose the number of seconds, as far as I can see, unlike Snapchat.
  • Lack of clarity generally. It's fairly easy to add to your story by mistake.

  • Incumbency. We're already using it, many have only just become accustomed.
  • Filters. This is the big one. Many of us open Snapchat simply to check out the latest filters, with 'beautifying' modifications and new voice changers being particularly popular. 
  • Fewer views. Snapchat friends < Instagram followers.
Considering filter ideas can easily be stolen, it doesn't look good for Snapchat. However, extensive research conducted by me (a Twitter poll with 14 votes) shows that most intend to ignore the update.

You can't blame them. Bloggers and writers with social media profiles to maintain must already keep up with Twitter, Facebook, Periscope, Vine, Pinterest, Tumblr, YouTube, Instagram and Snapchat. Spending weeks or months getting used it, as Food Stories pointed out, means Snapchat may not be easily dumped. 

Tuesday, August 2, 2016

Cucina Rustica: no gimmicks, just simple, locally sourced Italian food

“I was a chubby little Italian kid running around my family’s six restaurants.” That’s how Giorgio Fabian Honey describes his upbringing, and it’s this childhood that explains his passion for “good, honest, local food”.

Giorgio, who is based in Kentish Town, will soon open temporary restaurant Cucina Rustica in his local pub, The Rose & Crown. After taking on various roles in London restaurant businesses, from senior management to head chef, he decided to embark on a lone venture. Fortunately, pop-ups do not present the same challenges as permanent restaurants, which are notoriously prone to failure. Giorgio happily acknowledges that starting a pop-up avoids “all the hassle” and red tape. “This is the quickest way from getting an idea that’s in my head to another person’s mouth.”

The Italian chef is passionate about his neighbourhood, which reminds him of Italy’s provinces. “Fiercely local,” he summarises. “I feel people in Kentish Town want to get behind a local scene. People want to support local businesses.” This is where his attraction to hyperlocalism, the unique selling point of Cucina Rustica, develops.

“Italians have been doing the hyperlocal thing for decades, even centuries. My nan was telling me they don’t trade with money. They farm pigs and the next door neighbour farms tomatoes, so they trade a kilo of tomatoes for a couple of pork chops.” Giorgio believes in the ethos of “you scratch my back, I’ll scratch yours”, evoking the ‘shareconomy’ concept popularised during the recession.

North London produce is lovingly highlighted throughout the menu, which features sourdough bread from Muswell Hill fermented with the beer of a micro-brewer in N10, meat from a local butcher, pasta made in NW10, vegetable boxes from NW5 and Giorgio’s homegrown herbs and spices.

Traditional beef and pork meatballs in passata is his favourite item on the menu, though over half of it is suitable for vegetarians. One meat-free option is mozzarella and fresh fig bruschetta. I wonder whether the honey dressing is sourced locally, and after learning that it is not, I suggest asking the North London Beekeepers Association for leads. (Rumour has it that the honey made by Alexandra Road estate residents, which would be perfect, sells out instantly every year.)

Giorgio rejects the “gimmicky” food found on the pop-up scene, which is overflowing with meme-ified Instagram fodder. “People are trying to put comedic twists on things, naming burgers after famous actors. I thought it would be really great to concentrate on normal food.” Much like Padella, London’s hottest pasta bar, Cucina Rustica offers a respite from rainbow bagels, ramen burgers and Cronuts. Instead, simple Italian dishes are at the fore - and what’s not to like about that?

The Rose & Crown, 71-73 Torriano Ave, Kentish Town, NW5 2SG. From 2 August.

Monday, August 1, 2016

Are men oppressed by patriarchy? Discussing masculinities and the matrix of domination

A week ago I received a text from an ex-flatmate from university whose final year coincided with my second. I helped out a little with his dissertation, for which he got a brilliant first! Around the communal kitchen table, we often discussed gender, compulsory femininity, and how class interacts with these forces. 

I once painted his nails while we watched My Mad Fat Diary and he became very angry when I didn't have polish remover. He said I didn't understand how much shit he was going to get from his friends, that any expression of femininity was out of reach to him as a working class man.

After completing a masters at Cambridge, he is now looking at masculinity for a PhD thesis. When we spoke on the phone recently, he was happily on way to a date wearing mascara. He intends to enrol in an American university to start a new life as a more liberated man who cannot be identified as working class Mancunian and thus pigeon-holed.

This is his text (adapted very slightly to omit personal details):
"Hey, hope you're well. I was wondering if you could help me think through something. I just read a feminist critique of a book about masculinities in which the author's attitude  was it was absolutely important not to claim men are oppressed by patriarchy. I'm pretty convinced, however, that is exactly the reason men kill themselves: death is better than admitting sadness. It matters because I want to be certain of my epistemological footing before I write my PhD proposal. The best I can come up with is that patriarchy is like capitalism, in that there are winners and losers but ultimately America, for example, is more powerful than "insert poorer country". I'm sure you know far more about this than me, can give me a heads up please?"
Today I got round to replying by email:
I agree with the feminist source you read re: men being oppressed by the patriarchy. 
Men are not oppressed by the patriarchy. Do men experience disadvantages? Yes. Men feel emotionally restricted and put under pressure as breadwinners. But those disadvantages and limitations exist as drawbacks from a central purpose, which is to make men more powerful - opposing women's ‘hysteria’ and assuming financial control in the process. 
Let’s use the body image discussion as illustrative of the wider debate. We say women are put under enormous pressure to be thin. Every woman I’ve ever met feels that pressure and our weight informs all interactions with each other and with men. Girls know from a very young age that being anything other than skinny means being of lesser value. 
Men respond, ‘we also have to live up to expectations! When I look at a men’s magazine/comic/advert, I see a man with lots of muscles. That takes a lot of time, effort and resources, and can lead to men taking dodgy steroids, etc.'
1. Men are not *primarily* judged by their appearance to the extent that women are. The pressure is strong but a man who doesn’t have the physique of David Beckham isn’t seen as worthless. 
2. Looking physically strong, having muscles, is a power fantasy. Men are encouraged to have muscles, which makes them bigger and stronger than women (and even more intimidating), whereas women are coerced into making ourselves smaller and weaker, to physically take up less space. 
3. This power fantasy is a male fantasy. Men are encouraged to do look a certain way by other men. Who writes those comics and heads those advertising agencies? Men have built patriarchal structures; they didn’t just appear in a vacuum and they’re no mistake.  
The discussion above can be extrapolated to answer your wider question of whether men are oppressed under patriarchy for being men. 
A class based analysis is used for radical (not liberal) feminist theory. Men are the oppressor class. That doesn’t deny that individual men may be in worse positions than Theresa May. And you are not in a better position than Obama, despite your whiteness. Obviously, other axes of oppression are at play (cf Crenshaw on intersectionality, Patricia Hill Collins on the matrix of domination). 
But are men being oppressed by... men? Here I’d look at Connell on hegemonic masculinity and conclude that the hierarchy of masculinities exists to keep standards of masculinity high. Competing forms of masculinity mean that gender non-conforming men are marginalised and subordinated, but ultimately the process serves to reinforce gender and the power of men. 
Look into Michael Kimmel and absolutely read Frye's ‘Oppression’ piece.
I'll update if the conversation continues...

Wednesday, July 13, 2016

The Social Media Guide to Food

This piece was originally published over at HOUSE by House & Garden.

If you love food - whether that's eating, cooking or both - social media is indispensable.  Instagram, Snapchat, Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, YouTube, Tumblr... It's difficult to know where to start when there is such an overwhelming number of social media platforms and plenty of talented folk on every single one of them. 

Here's a list of our favourite social media movers and skakers in the food world. Whether it's useful cooking tips, stunning photography, creative recipe ideas or inspirational food styling you're looking for, bookmarking this guide will come in handy. If you think we've missed any out, please comment via Facebook below or let us know on Twitter @_houseandgarden. Dig in...

House & Garden

Us? Biased? Yes. Our food section is now better than ever with restaurant reviews, wine recommendations, a new series on cookery courses, cake decorating masterclasses and short cookery films - all exclusive to our website. Follow House & Garden on Instagram for beautiful imagery from the magazine and on Facebook and Twitter for inspirational and intelligent reading on the latest news and trends, sophisticated recipes and ideas on how to serve it all up in style.
Find us on
Facebook: @houseandgardenuk, Instagram: @houseandgardenuk, Twitter: @_houseandgardenPinterestYouTubeTumblr

Miss Foodwise 

Miss Foodwise is the pseudonym of Regula Ysewijn, a talented food stylist and self-confessed Anglophile from Flanders, the Dutch speaking part of Belgium. She is passionate about British food and its history, as evidenced by her beautiful cookbook,  Pride and Pudding: The History of British Puddings, Savoury and Sweet (see our favourite recipes from it). Follow Regula on Instagram for pies, antique jelly moulds and sourdough loaves, all photographed in her signature moody style.
Find her on
Instagram: @missfoodwise, Twitter: @missfoodwise, Facebook: @MissFoodwise, Pinterest: MissFoodwise

Smitten Kitchen

Smitten Kitchen Cookbook is one of the best. Full stop. We love Deb Perelman (read our interview with her). Her social media tagline is "the place to find your new favorite thing to cook", which is absolutely right; her recipes are inspired yet stunningly simple and totally doable. We're particularly excited about getting cooking tips and being taken on food tours by adding her on Snapchat.
Find her on
Instagram: @smittenkitchen, Facebook: @smittenkitchen, Pinterest: @smittenkitchen, Twitter: @smittenkitchen

Eating NYC

Tacos at Tacombi, sweet potato fries at byCHLOE., green tea noodles at Mission Chinese Food, brunch pizza at Rubirosa, freakshakes at Black Tap, babka at Sadelle's. Hungry yet? If you plan to visit New York or take an interest in food trends (most of them start in the Big Apple, after all), follow Eating NYC on Instagram and add Alexa on Snapchat.
Find her on
Instagram: @eatingnyc, Snapchat: Eatingnyc, Tumblr, Twitter: @EatingMyNYC, Facebook: @eatingmynyc

Olia Hercules

Authentic. That is the one word we'd use to describe London-based chef and food writer Olia Hercules. Born and raised in southern Ukraine, her award-winning 2015 cookbook Mamushka was a remarkable celebration of eatern European cooking. Olia's Instagram is made up of travel snaps, selfies and whatever else takes her fancy, and we love her feed for it.
Find her on
Twitter: @OliasGastronomy, Instagram: @oliahercules

Cravings in Amsterdam

Paola modestly describes her blog, Cravings in Amsterdam, as "easy recipes for everyday cooking". But it offers some of the most impeccable food styling we've ever seen - each dish is meticulously crafted to perfection. If you'd like to have a go at making an avocado rose, she has helpfully posted a tutorial video on Instagram. Add her on Snapchat to be taken on adventures in Amsterdam.
Find her on
Instagram: @cravingsinamsterdam, Snapchat: cravingsinams, Facebook: @cravingsinamsterdam

Click here to go to House & Garden and read on...

Friday, July 8, 2016

Is descriptive representation of women enough?

This essay was originally submitted in January 2015 as coursework for my Politics degree.

How much success has the Labour Party had in terms of representing women and promoting feminism in British politics?

There is a perceived apathy from the electorate towards mainstream politics, evidenced by the low general election turnouts of recent years and the rise of protests such as Occupy and Russell Brand’s anarcho-syndicalist views. One solution to this urgent problem is to look towards improving representation and addressing the issues that voters find to be most important. There has also been a recent revival of feminism, which suggests that the electorate - over half of which is female - would be reinvigorated by an increase in the representation of women and their interests in mainstream politics. To answer the question of how successful the Labour Party has been in terms of representing women and promoting feminism in British politics, this essay will be divided into two parts. 

The first part will analyse the representation of women in parliament using Pitkin’s concept of ‘descriptive representation’ (1967). I will proceed to assess the arguments against this type of representation and the measures employed by the Labour Party, paying particular attention to the controversial All-Women Shortlists. Part One also reviews the benefits of increased female representation from an electoral perspective, with help from the groundwork laid by Norris (1996) and the think tank Demos (Diplock and Wilkinson, 1997: 6). Part Two of the essay examines the Labour Party’s success in promoting feminism through policy by applying the lens of ‘substantive representation’ (Piktin, 1967). This will entail scrutiny of the opposing assertions that female Labour MPs are “attitudinally feminist” and that ‘Blair’s Babes’ were “spineless” (Childs, 2001;   Cowley and Childs, 2003). This essay argues that, with caveats, the Labour Party has made significant advancements in representing women but its promotion of feminism has been inadequate.

Part One: Representation

This essay will begin by assessing the Labour Party’s success in terms of representing women. In order to investigate this topic, we must first explore why representation is important. British political parties operate in a representative democracy, yet structural inequalities hinder the democratic value of this system. The outcome is that a patriarchal society produces a legislature dominated by men. One solution to this duplication of inequality is the notion of ‘descriptive representation’, otherwise named ‘the politics of presence’ (Pitkin, 1967; Phillips, 1995). This response, which advocates the use of institutional means such as quotas to reduce representational elitism, will be the focus of Part One. Descriptive representation has the advantage of being “intuitively appealing” in its common-sense understanding that “people who are disadvantaged by structural inequalities should be represented by people who share their positions of disadvantage” (Hayward, 2009: 114). This analysis is largely shared by social justice activists as ‘representation matters’ has become a slogan in feminist circles.

However, this answer is not evident to all, as opponents of proportionality make the case that “[a] representation is never a replica” (Pitkin, 1967: 66). Pitkin further criticises descriptive representation by noting that its proponents and those who favour proportional representation overlook “political action” and view the legislature as “passive” (1967: 64). This line of reasoning seems flawed due to its assumption that those who seek more accurate representation do not do so as means to effect change in political action. Genuine representation of minority groups or those who are oppressed, such as women, is regarded as important precisely to address women’s issues and introduce women’s perspectives on political concerns generally (Lovenduski, 2005: 19). Research by the Fawcett Society in 1996 showed that while both men and women prioritised the economy, women paid particular attention to “part-time work, low pay and pension rights” (Lovenduski, 1997: 709). This provides evidence that women can bring underrepresented perspectives to general political issues, which would indeed mean representation translating into political action. It seems that Pitkin’s critique of proportionalists is not applicable to those who seek to increase the representation of women in parliament.

One may conclude that representation is crucial to bringing women’s issues and perspectives into politics. Nonetheless, it must also be important to the Labour Party itself if we are to expect the party to implement specific measures. It is evident that taking steps to encourage female Labour candidates is likely to contribute to the Labour Party’s “modern and progressive” image (Cutts, Childs & Fieldhouse, 2008: 576). Potentially, motivation for improving female representation may be provided by the electoral benefits of appealing to women’s political interests. The Conservative Party have lost much of the ‘female vote’ recently despite women being more likely to vote Conservative traditionally - until 1979, the gender gap in voting was significantly in their favour (Norris, 1996: 335). This presents an electoral opportunity for Labour, particularly as women form  the majority of floating voters and have a higher voter turn-out (Diplock and Wilkinson, 1997: 6). It has been argued that improved representation was effective in securing women’s votes in 1997 for the Labour Party (Annesley and Gains, 2014). It seems that the representation of women must be prioritised in the run up to May 2015.

Although the 2010 general election supposedly did feature women’s issues prominently, having been dubbed the ‘Mumsnet election’ by The Times, this assessment would seem inaccurate. This is partly due to the lack of significant roles given to accomplished, frontbench female politicians such as Theresa May and Harriet Harman. “The leaders’ debates were all-male events which further sidelined women politicians and did not address women’s issues. […] Attempts to ‘woo’ women were an add-on to the campaign proper and the politicking was a largely male affair” (Campbell, 2012: 703). This “add-on” approach is insufficient and suggests that the Labour Party’s success in allowing or encouraging Labour women to appear at the forefront of mainstream politics has been limited. It can be deduced from Campbell’s remarks that Labour should consider creating platforms for female politicians, rather than solely participating in all-male events such as the leaders’ debates, and generally being more pro-active in emphasising women. This would distance the party from the ‘male, pale and stale’ impression of frontline party politics.

Perrigo (1996) delineates the incentivisation of the Labour Party to address gender issues, which began in 1979 when feminists joined the party and successfully mobilised during a crisis period. Labour ended the 1979 election with just 11 women MPs despite putting up 52 women candidates (Hills, 1981: 23). Hills gives a simple explanation for this: female candidates were generally not placed in safe seats, or even marginal ones. It would appear that the Labour Party’s “organisation, traditional alliances and culture all played a part in perpetuating this male domination” (Perrigo, 1996: 118). The history of the party was shaped by male unionised workers who were seen as “the model of the political activist”, while the conservative image of women as wives and mothers persisted. The election of Margaret Thatcher in 1979 created a new area of competition between the parties and helped force Labour to confront its culture of masculinity and stagnant position on women in politics.

To change these structural hindrances for women, Labour introduced several women’s committees and the Labour Women’s Action Committee (LWAC) materialised, the latter demanding that there be at least one woman on every parliamentary candidate shortlist (Perrigo, 1996). The Labour Party had even created a new cabinet position for female politicians by 1995, the Shadow Minister for Women, which was continued by the Conservative Party. Although the incumbent Minister for Women and Equalities, Nicky Morgan, may not actively pursue feminist policy, the creation of the post has had a lasting impact and Labour has succeeded in forging an enduring legacy. The LWAC’s call for quotas has been expanded by the party and now takes the form of All-Women Shortlists (AWS). In 1992, women occupied 9.2% of the seats in the House of Commons, whereas after the 2010 election women made up an unprecedented 22% of MPs (Baston, 2010: 36). Labour has “both the largest number and percentage of women MPs”, largely thanks to AWS (Ashe et al, 2010). These figures show that the party has succeeded in increasing women’s representation in Parliament.

“After the 1992 election a series of meetings were held to discuss the problem of the ‘vanishing women’. In the main, politicians blamed the media and the media blamed the politicians” (Diplock and Wilkinson, 1997: 7). This demonstrates the import of definite change being implemented, as the Labour Party’s actions in reshaping candidate selections did, to avoid the blame being shifted and the problem remaining unacknowledged. The Conservatives have failed in this respect. Cameron announced the introduction of their own AWS at the Speaker’s Conference, saying “the central party provides the shortlist to the association and it's my intention that if we continue as we are, that some of those shortlists will indeed be all-women shortlists”, yet there were none (Ashe et al, 2010). We must credit the Labour Party for following through where their competition has not. However, the AWS solution has come under attack. The media coverage regarding AWS in 2005 focussed on the Welsh constituency Blaenau Gwent, usually a Labour safe seat, where Labour Welsh Assembly Member Peter Law ran as an Independent candidate in protest against AWS and won. “This is what happens when you don’t listen”, Law declared (Cutts, Childs & Fieldhouse, 2008). Although this narrative was seized by the media, Cutts, Childs and Fieldhouse did not discover AWS to have been detrimental to the Party’s electoral chances elsewhere. 

Although Labour’s AWS were a bold reform, comparisons have been made between their effectiveness and that of quotas elsewhere. Through the use of similar measures, Sweden increased its proportion of female Parliamentarians from 14% in 1970 to 47% in 2008, while in the UK this figure rose from 9% to 20% over the same period (Krook, 2010: 107-108). Krook neglects to mention that an important factor for this is that, in the UK, only the Labour Party has adopted a clear course of action out of the three main parties, whereas several parties have implemented quotas in Sweden. This leads to the conclusion that Labour has been successful albeit its British counterparts have not. Elsewhere, Krook does convincingly propose that other quota strategies have been more suitable, such as the “twinning” and “zipping” seen in Scotland and Wales, which proved effective after AWS were ruled illegal in 1996. These both “conformed to reigning principles of equality” and were “tailored by individual parties to particular aspects of the mixed electoral system” (Krook, 2010: 133). 

Other objections levelled at AWS are more substantive. It is necessary to include the concept of ‘intersectionality’ first formed by Kimberlé Crenshaw (1989), which has become a key tenet of feminism, in our analysis of female representation. This theory establishes the importance of recognising the multiple axes of oppression that many women face, as typically “in sex discrimination cases, the focus is on race- and class-privileged women” (Crenshaw, 1989: 57). This intersectional lens proves useful as the problem has been highlighted by ethnic minority women in politics. Diane Abbott was the first Black woman to be elected to the House of Commons and an early supporter of AWS, yet commented: 
In the 1980s and 1990s, I was also a strong supporter of the campaign to get more women MPs in parliament. We succeeded in getting the Labour party to adopt the (controversial) policy of all-women shortlists. But, of all the women elected to parliament in 1997 on that system, not a single one was black. It seemed that "more women in parliament" meant "more white women”. (Abbott, 2008)
Research into the lack of Black and minority ethnic (BME) candidates, analysed using the framework of the “glass cliff”, has shown that “for ethnicity as for gender, equality in political representation of the U.K. population has not been achieved” (Kulich, Ryan and Haslam, 2014). We may conclude from these findings that the Labour Party has been moderately successful in terms of  increasing representation of women, but there is more to be done. Policies for the inclusion of more BME candidates - and BME women particularly, who encounter oppression on diverse levels - may be further investigated.

Part Two: Feminism

This essay will address the Labour Party’s success in promoting feminism in Part Two. In ‘The Concept of Representation’ (1967), Pitkin establishes four types of representation: authorised; descriptive; symbolic; and substantive. This essay intends to apply two of these categories to the Labour Party’s political relationship with women - descriptive, as seen in Part One, and substantive. The latter type can be described as “where the representative seeks to advance a group's policy preferences and interests” (Childs and Lovenduski, 2013), which is pertinent to the extent of Labour’s success in promoting feminism if we are to consider feminism the policy preference and interest of the female electorate. While I have considered Pitkin’s criticism of descriptive  representation overall outdated and irrelevant to the contemporary difficulty of representing women, we must nonetheless recognise the necessity for descriptive representation to accompany, or lead to, substantive representation.

Childs (2001) investigated whether the new Labour MPs were “attitudinally feminist” and contributed to the women’s substantive representation, or whether they were merely descriptive in their presence. This research was likely to have been prompted by the accusations of inactivity and weakness levelled at the 1997 intake of female Labour MPs. The use of AWS was called into question by other women; one long-serving Labour woman MP was quoted as seeing the behaviour of the new MPs as a “betrayal” of AWS and found the 65 new returns “very depressing” (Cowley and Childs, 2003: 345). However, research into the attitudes of the MPs in question revealed that over two-thirds of them self-identified as feminists and many of the rest were reluctant to adopt the label despite subscribing to the general principles of feminism (Childs, 2001). This led Childs to conclude that the presence of women would indeed lead to substantive representation, as proposed by Phillips in ‘The Politics of Presence’ (1995). 

On the other hand, the fact that New Labour’s women MPs were distinctly absent from the rebel ranks cannot be ignored. Only 17% of the newly elected Labour women voted against the whip, which can be measured against the figure of 44% for the rest of the Parliamentary Labour Party (Cowley and Childs, 2003: 349). Cowley and Childs (2003) rejected numerous explanations for this - including those based on sex, the MPs’ novelty and AWS - yet neither could they explain away the differences. Their research observed that the MPs’ own justifications were primarily that: a) women had a different, more cohesive style of politics, and b) women perceived the cost of disloyalty as greater than others did. While the reasons given may stem from understandable disparities in approach or perception, which are themselves produced by patriarchy’s female socialisation, the effects are nevertheless unsettling. The most striking case was that of the reduction in lone parent benefit, a policy that would be regarded by many as anti-feminist, where just one of the 47 rebels was a newly elected woman. Although Childs (2001) successfully disproved much of the essentialist criticism directed towards the female MPs, this instance would indicate that, contrary to Childs’ work (2002), Labour women did fail to represent female voters substantially.


The concepts of ‘descriptive’ and ‘substantive’ representation developed by Pitkin (1967) have framed this essay and helped to distinguish representing women and promoting feminism. Pitkin’s dismissal of descriptive representation assumed the represented to be male and was found not be applicable to women’s representation currently. It has been established that female perspectives differ from that of men (Lovenduski 1997; 2005); increased representation has been and is likely to remain electorally rewarding (Cutts, Childs & Fieldhouse, 2008; Diplock and Wilkinson, 1997; Annesley and Gains, 2014); and the 2010 election was a “male affair” (Campbell, 2012). These arguments amalgamate in the judgement that the Labour Party would benefit from constructing spaces for women in politics. Part One also delineated the party’s trajectory in terms of female representation and the changes it has made to dismantle the structural impediments for women (Hills, 1981; Perrigo, 1996). These include All-Women Shortlists, which were analysed regarding the Blaenau Gwent difficulties; the comparative success such quotas have experienced elsewhere (Krook, 2010); and the lack of BME women promoted in AWS (Abbott, 2008; Kulich, Ryan and Haslam, 2014).

Part Two interpreted ‘promoting feminism’ as a form of substantive representation. This involved reviewing findings that female MPs considered themselves ‘attitudinally feminist’ (Childs, 2001), as well as the claims - and subsequent rebuttals - that these women were ‘spineless’ (Cowley and Childs, 2003; Childs, 2002). I found that the lack of rebellion in the lone parent benefit case was sufficiently damaging to Childs’ argument, however. It is significant that the academia on this subject is confined to a relatively small number of female academics - most notably Childs (2001; 2002; 2003; 2008; 2010; 2013) and Lovenduski (1997; 2005; 2013). Childs herself notes the lack of research concerning the “feminised impact of women’s political presence” (2001: 183). There are many unexplored areas within the topic of feminism and the Labour Party; an investigation into whether women voters deem female politicians to represent them substantively as well as descriptively, for instance, would be revealing. To conclude, the Labour Party has been more successful than other British political parties in terms of representing women descriptively, although could be taking this further, yet the new female MPs have been insufficiently robust in their feminist influence over legislation and policy and the party’s promotion of it is limited.


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