Nov 29 2011

Guardian: Pippa Middleton turns party planner – for the wrong decade

You know what is the important issue for feminism today? Pippa Middleton. (This isn’t true but I get to make a bum joke)

Sep 15 2011

Leaked memo on support from women for the coalition government

SOMEHOW, a policy document from No.10 on womenfolk’s attitudes to the Coalition Government has been leaked…


The problem
After extensive polling we have found that women don’t seem to like us. Cuts in public services will impact on women disproportionately and from the focus groups, women have told us that they find the House of Commons banter “prattish”. There is some suggestion that fear of privileged PR executives is a factor for most women. In addition, the group of old dears we assembled felt strongly that the choice of ‘safe words’ from Cabinet Ministers sent the wrong message as they weren’t adequately gender and ethnicity mainstreamed. Anecdotal views included the observations that this Government didn’t seem to know what it was doing and was destroying public services which would take generations to restore (But it is important to remember that this is purely anecdotal; and that we also found rather surprisingly that women’s views differ as much as men’s).

The messaging around addressing the deficit has not gone down well at all. Women resented being told to tighten their belts as many felt bloated after eating. We should perhaps consider a narrative centred on ‘loosing pounds’ to appeal to them.

After an integrated thought-shower, we generated a long list of ideas, including;

1. Restate an existing policy but press release it on pink paper and with a quote from Geri Halliwell (hard-working mother).

2. Back a campaign that Mumsnet is running. Research tells us that some women are mothers and those that aren’t are generally too jacked up on Magners with ice to vote anyway.

3. Event at No.10 for professional and high-achieving women; ladies love dressing up for parties. This event can include awards for contribution to their field and best dressed.

4. Cabinet members to wear more jumpers; particularly Aran ones.

5. Women like children (middle-class children exclusively), we have to make sure that we like children too. Get Igglepiggle to launch new education initiative whereby children can be taken on holiday during term time if the parents can demonstrate the trip will be educational and the deal was really good.

6. Further research into what women and other minorities think of us. Although women’s issues are certainly ‘niche’ they do seem to wield a certain power when it comes to voting. Polling at school gates and the Next sale queue should do it.

7. While we appreciate the Director of Strategy’s blue-skying, we’ve discovered that suggesting abolishing maternity leave didn’t go down well with women. We will however, look in to another rather radical solution, which will certainly address the problem head on, which is removing the vote from women.

Communications and messaging
8. Our polling shows the urgent need to up our game on communicating what we are already doing. Media profile is key so we will place strategic stories in key media. Initial ideas:

  • We recognise what women are doing already and most of them are menstruating. Let’s get out a story about the PM buying tampons for his wife and how he wasn’t embarrassed to do so. We should do more research into the menstruation market.
  • Support hard-working, reactionary women. Ensure that the lady MPs still front any work that restricts women’s rights à la Nadine Dorries. At all times think ‘What Would Loose Women Shriek’.
  • Check our comedy influences with focus groups. In hindsight it was a mistake to look to Michael Winner as a communications guru. Additionally, feedback from focus groups tells us that PMQ banter comes across as “private school ponces wanking in a tuck shop”. We’re talking to Michael McIntyre’s people.

Aug 31 2011

Guardian: How to close the pay gap (may involve arm-wrestling)

Me on the Guardian with some strategies for closing the pay-gap. Involves Dolly Parton.

Oct 25 2010

Where are the women in the ‘population control’ debate?

I wrote for the Guardian Science Blogs on the obsession with ‘population control’ by some in the green movement and the need to take a women’s rights approach. Read it here.

May 5 2010

Danny Dyer advises cutting women’s faces in Zoo

I don’t think I have the requisite expletives for this. But those fucking wankers at Zoo have published an ‘advice’ column suggesting that a guy who can’t get over his ex should cut her face “so then no one will want her”:

First spotted by @SarahDitum

The good people of Twitter got very angry about this and ‘Danny Dyer’ started trending pretty damn quickly. I, of course, complained to Zoo along with lots of other people. And I offered to collect the crowd-sourced contact details for the Zoo Editorial Staff and the magazine’s advertisers so that other people could complain as well (details at the bottom, I’ll come on to that).

By the end of the day, Zoo had offered a groveling apology (this is a link to Zoo’s website please go and leave a comment), Danny had said he was ‘misquoted’ and even the bloke who wrote the original letter came out of the woodwork (in a great post on this from Dr Petra). I really do believe that such a quick response came due to the involvement of social media in all this. Here’s the apology from Zoo:

Email response from Zoo Editor, sent by Claire Hodgson:

Dear Naomi,

Thank you for your email regarding this week’s issue.

Firstly, let me unreservedly apologise for the inappropriate and
indefensible response to a letter which appeared. I am very sorry for any
offence it has caused.

Danny Dyer, and everyone else that works on Zoo condemn any violence against women, and by way of a sincere apology we are making a donation to Women’s Aid.

An internal enquiry is underway to find out how this extremely regrettable production error occurred and I will be tightening up any procedures necessary to ensure it cannot happen again.

We have already posted an apology on our website and will also be printing a fuller apology in next week’s issue.


Tom Etherington

Zoo Magazine


Right, I’d like to make a couple of points….

1. Has any one noticed the line above the face slashy bit in Danny’s advice:

I’d suggest going out on a rampage…and smashing anything that moves

Now, when I first read this I thought it meant going around smashing things like bus shelters and cars. Then I realised that it said “anything that moves“, so men, women, children, animals, animate objects. I’m just saying, he might have a fucking problem.

Update: I didn’t believe this at first, but apparently ‘smashing’ means fucking. Which is much less disturbing… It just means he’s advocating sex with anything that moves; woman, man, child or animal. Yeah?

2. Danny Dyer has claimed that his words were taken out of context which makes me fascinated by what context would make face slashing acceptable…

…the other option is to cut off contact with your ex and face reality…?

Doubt it.

3. “Production error” my arse. Who accidentally lent on a keyboard and “slash a woman’s face” came out? If this stuff is being written in your office, you might want to remove any cutlery and sharp objects.

4. I would believe that this was a “production error” that had been left in by accident by some dumbass intern if it wasn’t for the fact that these errors seem to happen EVERY FUCKING WEEK. Last month, Dyer recommended setting fire to a woman. Another error? Or just business as usual in this wankstain of a rag.

So this is why I’m still recommending that you complain to Zoo and to their advertisers. Their ‘apology’ demonstrates that they are open to criticism and correction, they just have never got it so hard and fast before. Plus it didn’t just come from a bunch of ‘usual suspects’ who they have easily dismissed before. So let’s keep it up.

Below are the contact details which I am still happy to collect by crowd source (tweet them to me@naomimc) and repost as I get new ones.

And just to remind you who we are dealing with here….!

Zoo twitter: @ZOO_UK
Zoo email:
Tom Etherington, Editor:
Claire Hodgson, Editorial Asst:

Bauer Media, who own Zoo:
Jane Windsor, Corporate Communications:
Sarah Ewing, Consumer Magazines – Trade:
Jess Blake, Consumer Magazines – Consumer PR:
Genevieve Potter, Specialist Magazines (Peterborough):
Catherine Gort, Big City Network Radio:
Hermione Clulow (Braben), Magic & KISS:
Sarah Ewing, National Radio:

Zoo Advertisers
Virgin Media:
Love Film:
Public Relations:
Advertising and research:

Other good links on this story:
Ophelia Bottom (heh)
Dr Petra
Index on Censorship – Nigel Warburton guest post.

Apr 3 2010

The Male Brain – see how you like it…

Men! Ha! Aren't they stupid!

So, men eh? Always thinking about sex, leer at women, lie, can’t communicate, fall asleep after sex – you’re all the same and it’s hardwired into your brain. It’s like the punchlines from those dull, unfunny ’10 Jokes About Men!!’ emails I get forwarded every-so-often (and then think less of the person who sent it to me). But this is all coming from Dr Louann Brizendine in her new book ‘The Male Brain‘.

This book looks like the perfect example of how lazy, boring gender stereotyping harms men as well as women. Dr Brizendine already targeted women in the imaginately titled ‘The Female Brain‘ back in 2006 where she wrongly claimed that women use an average of 20,000 words a day compared with only 7,000 for men (link to a funny article from The Guardian on this). Indeed, she removed this claim from the paperback version after the journal Nature said that she had failed “to meet even the most basic standards of scientific accuracy and balance”. So its not looking good.

First up, I haven’t read the book and am not sure whether I’m really prepared to stump up £12.99 to read it and, importantly, check out her sources. On the otherhand, I don’t have much of a life…

However, on the basis of what I can glean from the articles about the book (which obviously contain no references), it seems like ‘men’ are portrayed somewhere between an Andy Capp cartoon and a vile concoction from the minds of Loose Women (for Americans; this is like The View but the co-hosts are replaced with all-female gnashing, orange cruise-ship singers and Fox News pundits).

This is probably the most telling two sentences from The Times piece:

“[Brizendine] a US talk-show regular, draws her sweeping conclusions from a wide array of scientific data as well as her 25-year experience as a practising psychiatrist. To make her book palatable for the non-scientific reader she mixes established scientific fact with more recent untested theories.”

And there in lies the problem. Fact mixed in with some bullshit.

I have no doubt that there is variation between male and female brains. At the very least females menstruate and estrogen is critically involved in the sexual differentiation of the brain. The problem I have is the massive, culturally-blind leap that is made from differences in brain morphology and neurochemistry and men shouting while they’re driving or leering at women in public.

This very interesting review study in Biological Psychiatry, looks at sex differences in brain structure, function and chemistry and finds that there are many simiarities but significant differences including regional differences, blood flow and hormone receptors. The significance of these differences is in the treatment of disorders NOT shopping traits:

“These sex-specific differences in the healthy brain highlight the need to evaluate sex differences in neuropsychiatric disorders especially those that differ in prevalence and symptoms between men and women.”

Therefore, it is important to understand sex differences in the brain in order to understand neuropsychiatric disorders better while, as the paper states, taking into account genetic and environmental influences.

But more than anything, I really hope that any self-respecting man reading these articles is dismayed. Those that can communicate, aren’t violent and aren’t ‘pervs’ (according to The Times of India) do exist. I’ve met them. Moreover, I am more than a little unsettled when supposed ‘male’ behaviour is very familiar to me such as when someone tells you they have a problem you try and come up with a solution. Surely that’s just rational?

Also the heady mix of fact and bullshit leads to terrible reporting in the press and headlines such as: ‘Why your man will NEVER understand how you feel‘ and ‘Men Fib, Cheat and are Obsessed with Sex‘. Really not particularly helpful and very far from scientific.

Mar 24 2010

Happy Ada Lovelace Day

Hedy Lamarr

Today is International Ada Lovelace Day, a day of blogging in celebration of women in science and technology. I’ve blogged a few times before about women in these areas including the myth of the computer science gene and women and open source.

So in honour of the day I want to say a little bit about Hedy Lamarr, an actor and engineer who helped invent an early form of spread spectrum communications technology, the basis for Wi-Fi.

She led a pretty amazing life and is one of the reasons I am writing this blog on my lap-top on my sofa (well, her and my utter laziness)

10 Facts about her:

  1. Born in 1914 in Vienna, her name was Hedwig
  2. Her mother was a pianist and her father a bank director.
  3. Her film career was stifled by her controlling husband, an arms manufacturer, so instead she set about learning about military technology.
  4. Although her husband was half-Jewish (she was also Jewish), he hung out with Hitler and Mussolini. This obviously didn’t sit easy with her and so she disguised herself as one of the maids and fled to Paris where she got a divorce and moved on to London.
  5. He was the first of six husbands.
  6. In London and then Hollywood, she went back to making films but got into developing a secret communication system with her neighbour, the avant garde composer George Antheil, after getting into a conversation about radio controlled torpedos.
  7. Her idea of “frequency hopping” was completely new and Antheil’s contribution was the suggested device for synchronization.
  8. It was ahead of its time but ended up becoming the basis of modern spread-spectrum communication technology such as most WiFi networks.
  9. She died in 2000 and in 2003, Boeing ran an ad campaign featuring her as a woman of science, not referring to her acting career.
  10. In 2005, the first ‘Inventors Day’ was held in German-speaking countries on 9 November, her birthday.

I think, I think I love her.

Feb 19 2010

Boobs and Woo

I’m quite ashamed to admit that I’ve been duped by complimentary and alternative medicine (CAM). A long while ago I mentioned to my general practitioner (GP) that I suffered from breast tenderness, or mild mastalgia, just prior and during my period (i.e. cyclical mastalgia). She suggested I try Evening Primrose Oil as that should help.

I thought fair enough and sauntered off to Boots to buy a jar. As it turns out, I’ve never actually got round to trying it. Then recently, with all of the hullabaloo around homeopathy, I decided to look up Evening Primrose Oil (EPO) on PubMed to find this:

Evidence-based management of Mastalgia: a meta-analysis of randomised trials

Which states:

“EPO did not offer any advantage over placebo in pain relief”

Now this pissed me off lots and lots. I had believed that my medically trained GP would suggest something that was evidence-based and had not done so because either a) she was unaware of the current evidence and/or was one of these CAM-peddling NHS doctors or b) she was trying to placebo my ass. Both of which are troubling.

Firstly, if it was because she was unaware/a CAM peddler then this undermines my trust in the medical opinion of NHS doctors (and none of this “but she was only a GP”). Not everyone is going to check their medical advice online or if they do they are more likely to come across pseudoscience and quackery than know where to look for a systematic review. We can’t check everything all the time and so generally we rely on the expertise of those we assume will have more knowledge than us.

Obviously this was a very minor aliment for me and so I didn’t check. Most people on finding out that they have a serious illness do and should investigate it as much as possible.

But secondly, if she was trying to palm me off with a placebo then I’m fucking livid. There is over-prescribing in certain areas of general practice because people go expecting an intervention for their health problem. I, however, didn’t want an intervention and mentioned the jublies pain as an aside.

If she knew that EPO only acted as a placebo not telling me has left me feeling stupid and lied to. If I had had all the information at the time I would have made a different decision on the basis that the tit ache isn’t that bad, just a mild annoyance, and chocolate is my preferred placebo.

This of course links nicely to homeopathy; if it is simply a placebo then doesn’t the positive outcome justify the means? The placebo effect is real and therefore if homeopathy works solely as a placebo can’t it still ‘help’?

The significance is displayed in my outrage at finding out that EPO has no evidence-base for treating bap pain. I felt stupid and disempowered. I had been made an unwilling victim of marketing over substance. And this is what is wrong about homeopathy; its marketing and spin masquerading as authoritative medical knowledge. It dupes individuals into thinking they are taking control of their own health when in fact they are not being given access to the full facts.

If you want to know what my GP should have done, here’s a handy guideline flow-chart from NHS Lothian (*cough* her Health Board).

For people with ouchy knockers there’s some helpful guidance here and here.

Feb 3 2010

The surrealist overdose

I guest blogged at Bright Green over the weekend, whoop here it is:

On Saturday at 10.23am hundreds of people across the country opened a small vial of pills and swallow them all. There was a group of 42 of these people in Edinburgh (video), but no emergency services were called and no deaths or complications were reported. This was because it was a mass overdose of homeopathic remedies.

The ‘Swallowers’, as they are delicately calling themselves, are conducting this stunt as part of the 10:23 campaign (hence the timing) which seeks to raise awareness about the case against homeopathy and those who supply it.

As one of the organisers of the London event, Carmen D’Cruz put it:

“The public have the right to know what we put into our bodies. “Freedom of choice” is not possible without the ability to make an informed decision. A large part of this campaign is to raise public awareness of what homeopathy actually is. Once people understand both sides of an argument, they are better able to make a real choice.”

Homeopathy was invented by Samuel Hahnemann, a German physician, in the late 18th century. It is based on the principle that “like cures like”, but significantly, that a substance taken in small amounts will cure the same symptoms it would cause if taken in large amounts. And when I say small amounts …

Homeopathic remedies are usually diluted to a factor of 30c, that is:


Or to give you some idea of what that represents; imagine a sphere of water with a diameter from the Earth to the Sun (a distance that takes light, yes light, about 8 minutes to travel), then imagine one single molecule of that sphere is an active ingredient of the substance that is supposed to cure you. Remember, it isn’t a drop; it’s a single molecule. THAT is what 30c looks like.

Homeopaths claim that this works because water “has a memory” which preserves the active ingredient through the dilutions due to a special shaking. After each dilution the mixture is vigorously agitated in a machine that delivers a calibrated amount of shaking (That last sentence was a direct quote from the Society of Homeopaths website, just in case anyone thinks I’m trying to make them sound stupid. I mean actively trying to make them sound stupid).

Many scientists say that the only possible impact of such remedies is as a placebo.

Therefore, there was no need to perform mouth-to-mouth on any Swallowers. But what are the implications? Raise awareness yes, but should these remedies be provided on the NHS? Should commercial businesses be able to sell them?

This is the second aim of the 10:23 campaign, targeting outlets such as Boots. As D’Cruz explains: “It’s a bit unethical for Boots to sell these pills in their medicine section whilst admitting they don’t work. They’re a trusted company. Why are they lying to their customers (or at least being ambiguous with the truth)?”

Many who wouldn’t go so far as to defend the “science” of homeopathy will at least espouse the positive effects of placebo. And indeed the effects of placebo are amazing and well documented. But should we market a product that we know is a placebo with a mythology of how it works? I would argue that this kind of marketing has a corrosive effect on the public’s understanding of science and medicine. Rather than empowering the patient, it dupes them in the time-honoured tradition of the snake-oils salesmen.

But this stunt has got some people’s backs up. “My inbox is full to the brim with people from all over telling me how much they enjoyed taking part,” says D’Cruz, “with only two people contacting me who were against what we were trying to do.”

“One of them was actually really lovely, and seemed glad that I’d replied in a sensible way (I suggested a couple of books she might find interesting to see things from my point of view if I wasn’t being articulate enough: Trick or Treatment and Bad Science). The other said I was an attention seeker and that I should be arrested. I’m pretty sure that was my mum. She’s got a really good sense of humour.”

To those who have taken homeopathic remedies and believe that they cured them, it is scientifically more likely that you experienced the placebo effect (you got better because you thought you were going to get better) or regression to the mean (you were going to get better anyway, like with a cold).

Now let’s not talk down the placebo effect, it is a truly amazing phenomenon. People have even got better with placebo surgery. It doesn’t mean that you were previously faking it; believing an intervention will make you better can really can make you better (listen to Dr Ben Goldacre’s two part radio programme on the placebo effect).

We can and should harness the power of the placebo effect without misleading people. And we should be just as uneasy with the aggressive marketing of the billion dollar homeopathy industry as we are of the (albeit bigger) billion pharmaceutical industry.

More on the overdose in Edinburgh
Follow 10:23 tweets: #1023

Feb 1 2010

OK, first and last iPad joke…

And a historical look at Apple vs Feminine Hygiene (boak) marketing. Hmmmm.

Via Society for Menstrual Cycle Research.