Thursday, October 27, 2005

On Monday I got a call at work from the Evening Standard. They asked me if I had any thoughts about ad exec Neil French’s comments about women being crap employees etc. etc. Basically they were asking me to write an angry letter, and the fact they had to ask indicates that women weren’t filling the ES mailbag with furious screeds, but were instead just rolling their eyes and getting on with their lives. I obliged, and they published my letter, and thankfully I wasn’t fired when I got to work the next day. I criticised the publishing industry for the lack of women at the top, despite editorial assistants being 95% female. By the time editors reach the stage where they’re commissioning, somehow 60% are men. By the time employees reach the board of directors, about 90% are male. Where do all the women go? And where do all the men come from? (My ex-boss, a female editorial director, emailed me to say ‘they mostly come from bookshops’. So I never should’ve left Borders after all…)

Last night I went to the House of Lords. I’ve always wanted to see the place, and it is beautiful inside. Really breathtaking. I was there for a talk organised by Abortion Rights UK, with speakers including several Labour MPs, Diane Holland, a trades unions representative; Jo Salmon, Women’s Officer for the NUS; Guardian columnist Zoe Williams and several others, including a woman from NOW. The venue was packed and we moved to a bigger room, which quickly became full and about half those attending had to stand for the full two hours. The meeting had been called to discuss the attempts being made by right-wing politicians to reduce the time limit on abortion, ostensibly to do away with ‘late term’ abortions (which receive a disproportionately high number of column inches despite accounting for 1-2% of all abortions performed). The speakers were inspiring, impassioned and articulate. Zoe Williams spoke about how the media represent abortion: as a tragedy, never as a reasonable option. No one on TV has abortions, unless it’s in a period drama and they go to a backstreet abortionist. No celebrity comes out and admits to having had one, although as 1 in 3 British women have terminated a pregnancy, we all know people who have. She mentioned in passing her own abortion, and a middle-aged Camilla Parker-Bowles doppelganger with pearl earrings spoke up cheerfully: ‘I’m the co-chair of Abortion Rights UK, and I had three abortions before the law came into force.’ There were women (and a few men) in their 60s and 70s, who had fought for the law to be changed in 1967, and defended it in the 1980s when it was under attack, and who expressed sadness to be here again, fighting again, when we shouldn’t have to.

Worldwide, over 80,000 women a year die as a direct result of backstreet abortions.

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