Monthnote October 2014

October has been an excellent month, and not only because I spent the first half of it on holiday. I went to New York and San Francisco. It was wonderful.

The view from our apartment in New York
The view from our apartment in New York

In San Francisco I gave a talk at Code for America, and met some people from 18F, both of which were brilliant experiences. I’ll write more about this separately.

When I got back, it transpired that the members of Sleater-Kinney, creators of the Official Rebecca Industries Corporate Song, have reunited. This is the best thing that’s happened since 2006, when they went on indefinite hiatus.

Back at work, I’m carrying on at the un-named big IT company. My work there has focused on central government until this point, so this month my colleagues and I started work on what they are doing, and what they can do, in health and local government.

I’m going to be doing some coaching on Healthbox‘s Health Social Innovators accelerator programme for social health ventures, which launched last week. I’m going to be helping the companies that want to work with the public sector. I’m not exactly sure what this will involve yet, because it’s going to be driven by the needs of the ventures on the programme, but I’m looking forward to finding out.

I’m also on the hunt for more work. This is the first time it’s happened and I’m finding that it makes me less stressed than I thought it would. The aforementioned holiday is probably helping with this. It makes me feel motivated and enthusiastic for the future. A good way to feel.

It’s also give me time to catch up on Rebecca Industries admin, of which there is a lot. But the less said about that, the better.

Music, kindness, and a government that listens to its people

This is my dissertation, which I wrote for my masters in Gender and Social Policy at the LSE, about 18 months ago.

Why I’m posting it

I’m publishing it here because it’s the thing I’ve made that I’m most proud of. Doing my masters alongside doing paid work was the most challenging and fulfilling project of my life so far. I get such a buzz from that kind of work (oh yes) and when this essay fell into place it was such a rush (really). It was also the most successful piece of academic work I’ve ever done in that (as I’m sure I’ll have told you if we have met) I got an outstanding distinction. 85! But more importantly than that, I feel it’s a piece that’s distinctively ‘me’. Close analysis of current government policy, using feminist political theory, tracing big concepts through to the nitty gritty of indicators/measurement.

I’m also publishing it because it makes me sad that this is a type of writing that doesn’t get read other than by students and teachers. Note that it’s written in a particular style which is not how I write outside academic work. Some parts make me cringe – both what I say and how I say it.

In both the dissertation and publishing it I was inspired by Sara Ahmed. Her work on happiness got me thinking about the topic. And now she blogs about complex subjects like that, I thought I would have a go too.

What it says, in the closest I can get to non-specialist language this afternoon

In summary, this is an analysis of the Office for National Statistics programme for Measuring National Wellbeing, using feminist political theory. I supported the ONS’s ambition to measure the success of countries/policy outside economic indicators, but I found their methodology lacking. I argued that the programme conceptualises national well-being as measurable, aggregative and individualistic. At the point I wrote my dissertation, the ONS basically collected together existing quantitative indicators of well-being. This ensured that the well-being of most citizens was incorporated in the programme, but obscured the complexity of the topic.

It particularly obscured interconnections and unpaid caring relationships between people, echoing the economic indicators of wellbeing that the programme places itself in opposition to. In my view, the programme’s inadequate acknowledgement of care and relationships as intrinsic to well-being invalidated its concept of well-being.  I then challenged the programme’s insistence that well-being must be measured quantitatively, because it relied on the assumption that individuals know and transparently express their emotional states.

When you add that all together, I argued, from a gender perspective, the programme could not be said to meet its aim of measuring national well-being.

Rebecca Kemp Wellbeing Dissertation (PDF)

I read Lean In and I thought it was moderately useful and very exclusionary

Lots of people ask my if I have read Lean In by Sheryl Sandberg and what I thought of it. I have read it. I thought it was moderately useful and very exclusionary.

I’m writing this from memory because I left my copy at home and if I don’t write it now I never will. I might have forgotten stuff, and it’s not referenced.

I published this on 28th February 2014 and edited it on 2nd March 2014, and have toughened it up against Sandberg. This is a result of my own reflection, reading Sara Ahmed on whiteness in feminist spaces, and talking with Ella Fitzsimmons.

Summary

Useful for white, middle class, heterosexual women in managerial labour, who are new to thinking about gender and the workplace. They and others may wish to disregard it based on exclusionary conception of white, middle class, heterosexual women as all women. EDIT: I do.

Good

I most liked the parts that were Sandberg’s personal recollections on things that have happened to her in the workplace. I also liked it when she turned this into practical things readers can do. These were the most interesting and helpful parts for me, and I would have liked more.

I like that it included lots of caveats about women taking more senior positions in organisations is just one part of reducing gender equality, that not everyone might want to do this, and so on.

Not good

I felt that it didn’t take enough account of other axes of inequality that affect women’s experience in the workplace. I felt that gender was taken out of other categories with which it intersects, like ‘race’, sexuality and class. As such ‘women’ seemed to really mean ‘white, middle class, heterosexual women’ – ie. women who’s primary indictor of difference is that they are cis female. These are the women who are most likely to be in workplaces like Sandberg’s, but are a minority of women as a whole. Linked to this, I wasn’t sure how the advice would translate to workplaces where work is more routine, and less populated by white, middle class, heterosexual women. 

I didn’t like the blind spot around family types and relationships. I felt there was an assumption that readers would be in heterosexual life partnerships, most likely with children, and other ways of negotiating family and relationships were not present.

In this, I have to be aware of my position as a white, middle class woman in managerial work, which may well mean that I found the book less problematic than if I had other characteristics. From this position, it is quite straightforward for me to take the relevant things and skim over the bits about families that don’t fit for me. I can see why others might prefer to throw the whole thing out because of the exclusionary conception of ‘women’.

EDIT: On reflection, I put myself in the ‘throw the whole thing out’ camp. When Sandberg renames it ‘Lean In If Being Cis Female Is Your Primary Marker of Difference’, I will look more favourably on it.

Better (on things to do at least)

I didn’t learn as much about different things to try at work as I did from Hardball for Women by Pat Heim and Susan K. Golant. Hardball for Women takes male socialisation to play sports versus female socialisation to play house as its central conceit. I didn’t love the psychology but I did love all the practical things it tells you to try. I am going to re-read it soon. I read it before I had spent much time thinking about intersectional feminism so it may well have the same bad stuff as Lean In. I’ll find out.

EDIT: On reflection, and skimming through Hardball for Women again, it should be re-titled ‘Hardball for Privileged Women’. So I’m saying goodbye to it too.

Ladies Rock!

There is now a beautiful collection of reflections, images and video about Girls Rock! and Ladies Rock! UK. I helped organise and run Ladies Rock! (exclamation mark because we mean business) in 2007. We supported 30 campers to learn to play an instrument, form a band, write a song and play a gig in the space of a weekend. It was a fabulous, exciting and challenging in equal measure.

This first of five videos by Laura Kidd captures some of the excitement and chaos and features a much younger me, in which I look and sound a lot like my brother.

I took so much away from that weekend but things that stick out are:

  • hearing all the amazing bands
  • that when planning events you need to build in time for people to relax as well as run around a large building making lots of noise
  • teaching bass even though I’ve never really played it
  • that sometimes people just need someone to give them instructions and that I shouldn’t have worried so much about whether that was consistent with being all egalitarian and a collective like
  • I wish we had called it something more inclusive than Ladies Rock!

And most of all, that I am so proud and happy to have played a role in helping people go from being scared of their new instruments to rocking out in just a couple of days.