Girls shun science when they have choice

His Royal Mouthpiece for the Liberal Media, Prince Harry, and bride-to-be Meghan Markle spent International Women’s Day encouraging young women to pursue STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) subjects and careers. Like much of the public, poor Harry has swallowed the lie that female underrepresentation in STEM is the result of gross gender stereotypes.

Real empiricists will know that there hasn’t been much evidence to support this hypothesis, which has become all too fashionable in recent times. Our country has a huge obsession with gender equality – and diversity, generally – as a measure of a progress. It is not that simple, though – and we all need to wake up and think a bit. Controversially, a recent study shows that in societies with more wealth and egalitarian policies, women are less likely to select STEM degrees. This has been called the “gender-equality paradox”, and it’s something most feminists don’t want to talk about.

Gender stereotypes are a brainless theory for STEM disparity, not least because girls do so well across academia. Aside from last year’s A Level results, they almost always outperform boys at school and university level education. This gives them more choice than their male counterparts to follow different career paths. That they do not pursue STEM is likely to reflect their own interests and ambitions over anything else.

When I was at school, I have to say, there was nothing that I wanted to be less than a scientist. Most of my teachers in this subject were oddballs – one had a poster about “The Dangers of Snogging”, among other quirks – and staring at bunsen burners did not exactly light my fire. The only thing that forced me away from STEM was the boredom of the periodic table.

Girls are much pickier than is acknowledged about what they study, and it’s time people stopped treating them as passive participants in the process of their education. One of my main bones of contention with modern feminism is that it is so focused on ideology that it sometimes overlooks stark reality. Its proponents are unable to form nuanced conclusions about data, which inadvertently makes women look less good at science. It’s not simply the case in STEM that “lots of men” = bad and “more women” = good. Disparity may be the consequence of a free society, not an oppressive one. It can be reflective of choice.

Third-wave feminists have a narrative to prove – that women are victims – and so will always try to explain gender inequality through these terms. This is a shame because education is one area where women are very much winning; we should be popping our champagne bottles over girls’ achievements, not acting as if Peter Stringfellow had become Minister for Education.

The truth about STEM, as I suspect Meghan Markle will know herself – is that many scientific careers simply aren’t that appetising to women. Staring at petri dishes all day? No thanks. Equations on the blackboard? Zzz. On his ‘STEM’ tour, Prince Harry rather hit on a point when he said of engineering: “we want to get away from [the idea] that it’s all men in overalls and oily rags”. Isn’t that the point? Personally, I wouldn’t want to be Billy Joel in the Uptown Girl video. But Christie Brinkley on his bike? Yes please.

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Amber Heard: stay away from the wrinklies!

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It baffles me time and time again why women will marry up.

And when I say ‘up’, I’m not talking about finances – because any sensible human being should be looking to improve his or her fortune. I refer to the delicate subject of age. For young women can’t stay away from older men.

The senior seducers have always been in demand – even though they almost certainly guarantee lacklustre results. Take today’s example: Amber Heard, the 30-year-old actress who fell for 52-year-old Johnny Depp. It was all fun and games, until the pair announced their separation after 15 months of marriage.

You might say that any number of problems could have caused the breakup, but I had doubts from the start. And the skepticism I held was not the type of typical skepticism you reserve for all Hollywood unions – instead, the result of my unreserved, unapologetic and very politically incorrect beliefs about age and relationships.

Heard and Depp have a 22-year age difference between them, which has always shown on the red carpet. And I know 52 isn’t old, but Depp is looking very Grungey Gramps these days – while Heard is beautiful and fresh-faced. When news of their romance first aired, I was alarmed to see that one of the most beautiful women in the world had essentially gone to the bargain bin of Hollywood men. She could have had her pick of anyone – male or female (Heard is bisexual), but only Jack Sparrow would do.

Anyway, I know, you can’t help who you fall in love with (*throws up into bin*), but sometimes these things deserve logical consideration. Particularly because in youth we are most energetic, and have better reserves to cut things off – and time to find someone new. But instead you see repeated instances of media women falling prey to the wrinklies -unfortunate when if you consider how many girls around the world look not only to starlets for fashion ideas, but life advice too. They might think that dating an older man is cool and sexy.

But it isn’t, and we women need to be more aspirational about our dating choices. We get a terribly rough deal in the relationship world when it comes to age. From the onset of our teenage years, we are told to go for older chaps because they are “mature”  – or another terribly dull thing that provides little compensation for the fact a perspective partner will – most likely – nod off before you (and I’m not just talking about sleep).

As if this isn’t unsatisfactory enough, as women get older, intuition and the Daily Mail frequently remind us just how unsexy we become. It doesn’t matter if you’re rich or industrial, try to get a snog anywhere and you become the nation’s favourite cougar.

If no one’s going to date you when you’re older, you may as well date down. And I’m imparting this advice to any woman of my age – which is close to Heard’s – because we might want to make the most of these wrinkle-free years to have some wrinkle-free fun (well, sort of). If you court a younger man, you inevitably circumvent the problems that come with the older types – namely that they’ll die earlier. Add to that the enjoyment of a young body that can do young things, like making lots of cups of tea for you. The only real time we women can really have a young man is in our youth (unless we’re Joan Collins), so we might as well use this time to eat all the metaphorical candy.

I hope that newly single Heard, back on the dating market, will take another look at the Hollywood menu of prospects: this time, only the deluxe will do.

Heels are going out of fashion. No need to worry, ladies.

54a752560309b_-_elle-high-heels-h-elhEven as a heel aficionado, I had some sympathy for the receptionist whose story was splashed all over the newspapers this week. Having worn flat shoes to PwC, she was sent home for not adhering to the company’s policy that female employees wear high heels.

PwC’s rather insensitive dress code has sparked an intense reaction, with vast numbers of men and women coming forward to recount their tales of uniform oppression. Perhaps the worst example of this is the photo of two bloody feet currently circulating around the internet, photographed after a waitress was made to wear stilettos to work.

The rage against high heels hasn’t ceased, and there is now even a petition to ensure no company ever forces its female staff to wear them again. Fair enough. But not enough. The Fawcett Society – which I thought might be to do with Charlie’s Angels, but is actually a charity that promotes gender equality – has set up a hashtag campaign to celebrate flat shoes. It’s called #FawcettFlatFridays, and encourages flat-shoe sporting women to show off their comfortable tootsies. Stella Creasy and the Women’s Equality Party have already taken part.

Interestingly enough, the more backlash heels get, the more concerned I am about their future. As a terribly short person, heels have been the saviour of my life. Not only giving me the illusion of height, but lifting me up into new levels of confidence and assurance. It sounds trivial, but people take you far more seriously when you’re not making eye contact with their crutch (no, really). Besides, they look fabulous.

But heels are dying out, for a variety of reasons. One of the most trivial is noise: in offices without carpets, heels can be very noisy – and marching about in them may be viewed as a type of social suicide.

Ultimately their plight is down to fashion changes, and I blame the hipsters. In Berlin – which is about as hipster as it gets – wearing heels will get you banned from bars. For German bouncers hate anything that says ‘I made an effort tonight’.

The UK isn’t all that different, and has somewhat of a fashion foreign exchange with Berlin – as the two largely swap ideas on what to wear. None of this has been lost on my generation – which now views heels like the plague, instead adopting Nike Airs, Converses or worse. I would list more trainer brands, but I don’t know any. For I find them ugly, naff and spent most of my childhood looking forward to getting out of them and into the big boys. Heels.

Alas, they are a dying breed. Even Victoria Beckham has been forced to concede that heels aren’t that cool anymore. She recently gave them up, saying that she needed to be more comfortable. But I think even Vicky knows that heels have lost their edge. There are photos of celebrities in Cannes, such as Kristen Stewart, marching about in her flats. Forget glamour, it’s all about comfort these days.

So you will see that PwC, as well as being archaic, was quite insular in its view of high heels. For the rest of the world is running as fast away as possible from them – while heel lovers desperately cling on. Of course we all must all be allowed to wear what we feel most comfortable in – but for some people, comfort is height. And high heels are a step-up to more than a glamorous image. So for all us stiletto-wears, let’s stand tall and proud.

There isn’t a statue of a woman outside Parliament. And?

Mahatma Gandhi statue erected in London’s Parliament Square

Isn’t awful? Doesn’t it make you want to gasp in outrage? There’s no statue of a woman outside parliament.

Feminist journalist Caroline Criado-Perez spotted this while out for a jog with her dog. As she sped past the area, something felt awry. Pausing for thought, she noticed that there were eleven statues, none of which were of women.

Criado-Perez’s not happy about this and has drawn up a petition to set matters right. “Put a statue of a suffragette in Parliament Square”, reads the thing on Change.Org.

The petition has gathered immense momentum, and – at the time of writing – had 69,000 supporters (out of the 75,000 it needs). This is no doubt thanks to its author’s past success getting Jane Austen on the £10 bank note, as well the numerous celebrity backers who won’t sleep until Parliament Square gets a dose of oestrogen. Signatories include Caroline Lucas, Emma Watson and J.K Rowling.

But does anyone actually care that Parliament Square doesn’t have a statue of a woman? I’m not convinced, particularly as it took a jog for someone as politically astute and educated as Criado-Perez to notice. This was not only slightly embarrassing, but demonstrates a sort of ambivalence about statues I expect many of us feel.

It doesn’t matter, anyway; the crusaders won’t rest until there’s a suffragette on Parliament Square. Their reasoning is simple; they believe omission is enough to belittle women’s contributions to society. And that young impressionable young girls might walk around the area, and have their dreams quashed upon noticing the lack of female statue.

Like I say, I struggle to accept that anyone’s that bothered. In fact, most of the people I know who trot around Parliament Square – aside from politicians – aren’t activists or those who might fall victim to sexist messages, but bumbag-wielding tourists. And they’re not thinking about gender inequality; more like, ‘how do I read this map?’ Or staring at a statue of their favourite historical bloke: Jan Smuts, perhaps (who?) or the 3RD Viscount Palmerston… Yeah.

This latest campaign is just another example of arbitrary feminism. In recent years, instead of trying to actual problems for women, such as FGM and arranged marriages, campaigners have become quite proficient at inventing issues (that aren’t really there). It’s a sort of empty nest syndrome of feminism: “what’s there to tidy up now?” Justified on the basis that these small issues matter. Let me tell you, they don’t. Unless you’re trying to get a Guardian column.

That there aren’t any statues of women at Parliament Square is of little consequence; a legacy of history, rather a representation of contemporary sexism. And I suspect the suffragettes who the campaigners wish to represent would have said, “come on, ladies. Haven’t you got better things to do?”

Selfie stupidity

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The world’s gone mad. At least, that’s the only conclusion I could come to after I saw yesterday’s ‘internet photo of the day’, and the bizarre responses that followed.

Across Twitter, a selfie of Emily Ratajkowski and Kim Kardashian had gone viral. In it, they stand in a bathroom with their breasts exposed, holding their middle fingers up to the camera. It is clearly a picture of two women who enjoy – and make money from – their sexuality. And, perhaps, they should have left it at that. Indeed, Kardashian has – for the most part.

But one of its subjects has long harboured ambitions to become a feminist icon. That is Ratajkowski. Since the photo has gone up, she’s bombarded her Twitter followers with pseudo-intellectual statements explaining its purpose, captioning the image: “However sexual our bodies may be, we need to hve the freedom as women to choose whn & how we express our sexuality”.

It’s not the first time Ratajkowski’s tried to play feminist. In February she penned a rambling, extremely dull essay for Lenny titled Baby Woman – all about her struggle trying to be ‘sexy on her own terms’. Pass the violin.

It was lauded across the Twittersphere; just like this photograph has been, where many are convinced it’s some sort of feminist statement. Those who have criticised it – such as Piers Morgan – have been hounded for not understanding the cause.

If there’s anyone here who doesn’t understand the cause, though, it’s Ratajkowski – who’s suffering somewhat of an identity crisis. On one hand, she wants to fight against the objectification and oppression of women’s bodies – yet happily profits from her ability to titillate men. This is a woman who appeared in one of the most sexist videos of all time – Blurred Lines, where she pranced around naked to appease the likes of of Robin Thicke et al. This career highlight did nothing to advance women’s rights – only to endorse art that treats demeans and dehumanises femkind.

In nonsensical Twitter posts, Ratajkowski says she wants ownership of her body – yet gladly accepts direction over its use. Indeed, the only acting role I can remember her having was in Gone Girl, where played the male protagonist’s mistress – her cameos mostly involving snogging and nudity. She milks her sexuality to get ahead, and depends on men’s desire to make a living. In spite of this she bemoans being sexualised on other people’s terms. As soon as you sign a contract to pose naked, you are being sexualised on someone’s terms. Either stop, or quit complaining.

I’m not saying don’t get your breasts out. Bloody hell, if I looked like Kardashian or Ratajkowski I’d do exactly the same. I would not, however, kid myself that what I was doing had some sort of deeper meaning to it, or was in any way helping others. If anything, through their work Kardashian and Ratajkowski have promoted unrealistic ideals for women – many of whom will never be able to achieve the look they both can. And despite really not having to, they have continued to advocate industries that treat us as pieces of meat. We will never get away from objectification when the world’s most powerful women continue to sell their bodies. They are not our sisters; they’re our rivals. And their latest publicity stunt is our latest setback.

Talk about breasts all you want, Jamie Oliver

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It’s no wonder babies in Britain aren’t being breastfed; their mothers are too busy waving pitchforks at Jamie Oliver. He’s been criticised this week after offering a fairly uncontroversial opinion. On LBC radio, the no-longer naked chef said the country’s low rates of breastfeeding were cause for concern – and he would campaign to improve them.

Unfortunately for Oliver, women are feeling more sensitive than ever about any claim ‘breast is best’. Over the last decade, the non-breastfeeding community has developed a faux-sense that society is ganging up on them; judging them for choosing alternative methods of feeding their babies. On learning of Oliver’s interview, many told him promptly to get back in the kitchen. “As somebody who has never done [breastfeeding], I don’t think he should be the face of this campaign”, said one grumpy listener. Others have accused him of ‘mansplaining’ – a strange, not particularly sexy-sounding term used to describe when men explain women’s issues. The general consensus across the internet was that because Oliver cannot breastfeed, he had no right to comment on the subject.

I’ve never breastfed either, but I certainly see this as no reason not to be quiet. And the same goes for Oliver. For starters, as the father of four children – with another on the way – he’s hardly removed from the trials and tribulations of caring for babies. Just because it wasn’t his breasts doing the work doesn’t stop him from empathising with the challenges of motherhood. Even more pertinently, Oliver is a chef – and we could all benefit from his opinion on dietary matters.

But if he wasn’t a father or a chef, we shouldn’t simply ban people from discussing topics because of their experiences. There are so many examples in life of people offering advice, when they will never need the advice themselves. For instance, should Professor Robert Winston be stopped from discussing pregnancy because he’ll never be pregnant? Should a chameleon expert not give advice to chameleon owners because they are not a chameleon? And so forth. It doesn’t make sense. We should all be entitled to make views on societal issues. We may even be able to more objectively examine them through our lack of experience.

What I find most depressing of all is that Oliver had something sensible to say on the topic of breastfeeding. He’d read the statistics. They tell a troubling story: that Britain has one of the world’s lowest rates of breastfeeding, with one in every 200 children reported to be breastfed until the age of 12 months. We have a shame culture, where breastfeeding mothers feel embarrassed to publicly feed their children. In some cases they have been ostracised and cast out from restaurants or other open spaces for engaging in this natural activity.

Clearly something has to change. But any sort of advocation of breastfeeding is now seen as oppressive to those who can’t do it. I understand that it’s difficult and painful for many women – but we must promote it more when it has so many positive health outcomes. It is a myth to think that the non-breastfeeding community is the silenced one; for years they have made known their difficulties. And they are wrong to assume that society judges them for this. But we must not be so sensitive to them as to whitewash the benefits of breastfeeding. It’s important – and if it takes a man to remind everyone of that fact, than so be it.

If I hear one more thing about periods, there may be blood

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I’m surprised menstruation didn’t get a mention at the Oscars

We need to stop talking about periods. Period. They’re a topic up there with climate change – because, let’s face it, no one wants to hear about either.

But hear about them, you will! Just yesterday I was doing a perfectly good job of minding my own business when I was advertised a ‘period package’.

It’s no surprise this product came into fruition: periods have become big business, with a constant wave of news stories about them. This week there was the tale of a Bristol firm offering time off for menstruating women, and a new iPhone app to get us discussing periods. Women’s magazines are littered with faux-sisterly articles around the subject. They’re meant to be reassuring, but often they make me want to climb into a corner and wave a little red flag. It’s not just men who don’t want to find out about other people’s periods, it’s me too! Women too!

In fact, if all the news about periods was a period I would grab a tampon a put a massive stop to it. I might be able to obtain such an instrument from my period package – which you’ve probably been wondering about.

It’s a practical set of items to help a woman survive menstruation, for only £7.95 per month. According to the period package – romantically titled the ‘Pink Parcel’ – to get through a menstrual cycle you need teabags, a pendant, eye make-up remover and mascara – as well as tampons. Where are the painkillers and wine, you ask. Not there, my friend. Not there.

This product is the final confirmation that the world has gone bleedin’ mad. Are periods the new PR? Perhaps. In fact, I am surprised that no actress at the Oscars used them to her advantage. If only Brie Larson had cried and said as she accepted her Best Actress award: “thank you, I’m on my period”. The claps that might have ensued.

Sure, no woman enjoys her period. (Except, I imagine, the one I met in a blood van in 2007 who told me she had opened her veins to the NHS 400 times.) Throughout history menstruation has been a taboo topic, so it’s nice that society will finally acknowledge this biological process.

But it’s gone too far. There is now too much talking about menstruation. It’s even seen as feminist to go into great detail about your period, although you’re mostly just giving ideas to companies about how to exploit your bodily functions (see Pink Parcel).

With all this honesty about periods, we’re not being honest about periods. They’re ugly. They’re functional. And – quite simply – they don’t make interesting conversation. They’re not even – as is often put – traumatic; for many of us simply a monthly nuisance, like council tax. So do we really need period packages? Constant societal dialogue? Days off work?

Probably not. Any more than someone needs public support for three-day diarrhoea, or any other mildly inconveniencing bodily function. Periods will never be made better through overanalysis – I frequently feel depressed rather than empowered when I read the latest column about a woman’s period. Because hers will be the most interesting in the world.

Sometimes we’d be better to accept this part of our anatomy without packaging it up as something more socially significant. And most certainly, we should not bore with the gore.