As part of the Aye Write festival, I went along to hear two inspirational feminists. One was Gina Rippon, talking about her book 'The Gendered Brain', which unpacks outdated gender stereotypes by utilising new, cutting-edge neuroscience. Alongside her was an angry Caroline Criado Perez was talking about her ground-breaking book, 'Invisible Women: Exposing Data Bias in a World Designed by Men', which ought to be the handbook for all of us, but particularly legislators, public policy wonks, the higher education sector and councils.
Criado Perez's book explores in detail the data bias against women in many areas from public toilets to medicine. She makes it clear that a world designed for men is not, in most cases, the result of deliberate discrimination or malicious intent, but since time immemorial the male and his body has been set as the default position for design.
I understand her anger. I don't know which is worse: deliberate bias, or the casual categorisation of women as an insignificant variety of men. The results can, and have been, fatal. Criado Perez began researching data bias after discovering that medical data around heart attacks was based on male symptoms, causing clinicians to miss heart attack cases in women since their symptoms were considered 'atypical'. The average women is an 'outlier' she said.
Gina Rippon, professor of cognitive neuroimaging, was less angry, but just as forceful, fascinating and enlightening. The latest technology on neuroscience, she said, shatters the myth of the gendered brain. It was satisfying to hear my own intuitions about gender stereotypes backed up by science. There is no such thing as the 'female brain'.
It is impossible here to do justice to both books. But if you're sick to the back teeth of being told that the feminist movement has done its work – that we inhabit a Fukuyama-style, end-point of women's liberation – these two books are for you.
Vescere bracis meis
Watching and listening to Brexit news is a despairing and humiliating experience for the UK. It's increasingly clear that Brexit is an unmitigated disaster. Peter Oborne, the journalist and broadcaster, once a strong Brexiteer, has undergone a heartfelt conversion: 'Now we must swallow our pride,' he declared, 'and think again'. We can only pray that others follow suit, but a hae ma doots.
Has anything useful emerged from this disastrous fiasco? Nothing much other than we will never again trust a politician with a background from Eton and Oxbridge. I'm sure many already have a visceral distrust of the likes of Johnson and Rees-Mogg, based on an understandable resentment of their privileged background. But the problem has always been the thought that such a privileged background has afforded them a world-class education, the likes of which is beyond most of us. This falsehood has been brutally unmasked.
Eton and Oxbridge are not producing politicians with a proper grounding in the rudiments of contemporary society, but superficial fantasists armed with the twin talents of blagging and networking. This is the result of a selection system that prevents already privileged students from encountering the realities of contemporary society, and a curriculum that encourages a broad but shallow understanding of every subject.
I've been to ghastly dinner parties with such folk, whose prandial repertoire is to drop classical and literary references into just about any conversation. They triumphantly give the impression that they are 'well read', safe in the knowledge that they will never be challenged, particularly by someone like me, and especially if these quotes can be delivered in a dead language of Southern Europe. As Veblen would have said, this is precisely the mark of a conspicuously useless education. Politicians with such a background have become a menace, as Brexit has made perfectly clear. So to you, Boris and Jacob: vescere bracis meis
Last Wednesday, friends and I attended a gig at the CCA in Glasgow. It was a fantastic evening of new music by young women. The venue itself is wonderful and has great acoustics for live music. I've always loved the CCA, not only as a centre of creativity and the arts, but as a place to eat and chat in a space which is both lively and tranquil at the same time. It was formed within the Grecian Chambers created by Alexander 'Greek' Thomson and the fabulous interior is a fusion of classicism with 'contemporary cool'.
My only complaint, without going into detail, was the state of the toilets. The CCA has 'gender neutral toilets with cubicles' next door to 'gender neutral toilets with urinals', (formerly known as 'the gents', and still is…). A trip to the loo was not a pleasant experience, primarily because 'gender neutral toilets with cubicles' (formerly known as 'the ladies') have become mixed-sex toilets. I know this may sound like a trivial complaint, but excretory functions, and their associated rituals, are carried out quite differently by the sexes, which is why we had segregated toilets in the first place.
In the halcyon days of the Disability Discrimination Act (replaced by the Equality Act 2010), consultation and wide-spread debate around alterations to the built environment led, after many years, to designated toilets accessible to people with a wide range of disabilities. Nothing similar has taken place to protect vulnerable people these days, other than labels slapped on toilet doors in public places, and that's about it.
There is a growing, grumbling resentment about protected spaces for women, but a resentment directed at the wrong folk. It should be directed at legislators, politicians, at the public policy process and its guidance, which did not recognise the importance of female-only provision nor the need for properly funded structures for gender neutral. My advice to the authorities would be to read Criado-Perez's terrific chapter on this vexed matter.