Tuesday, October 04, 2011

Letter to my MP

26th September 2011

Dear Mr Heald,

I am sad to be writing to you with a bee in my bonnet. I have seen much of your work lately in the Comet and heard tell of your involvement in Letchworth through friends and felt that you would provide the listening ear (and hopefully representative voice) that I am looking for. It is a very simple one, but no less shocking for that.

I am not a Daily Mail reader, but working in PR, my team and I read all the newspapers every morning, flagging interesting articles. I suppose you could say that reading The Daily Mail is our cross to bear. This morning my team flagged the following article: "At last, statistics that prove a sexist stereotype... Women are worse at parking", by Emily Andrews: http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-2041741/Sexist-stereotypes-Statistics-prove-women-worse-parking.html#ixzz1Z2iazMGQ. I have pasted below the offending article in case the Daily Mail sees sense and removes it from their site.

Upon reading the article, it is evident that the gender information that damns more than 50% of the population of this country was released by the Driving Standards Authority; a part of the Department for Transport.

And here is my complaint. The Department of Transport is paid by the people of of this country to provide services. At no point in its remit should it be attempting any sort of unnecessary PR - and certainly not engaging in stories that are so fundamentally prejudiced to a proportion of the population. If you are in any doubt as to the appropriateness of this data analysis, I would advise re-reading the piece, removing the gender delineations and replacing them with ethnic groups. I am sure you can see that that would be wholly inappropriate and something that while the Daily Mail might not hesitate to cover I believe the government would think twice about releasing or commenting upon.

I have a bit of an interest in feminist discussions, and so know of the multiple psychological research programmes that have discovered conclusively that women DO underperform in "male" classified tasks (maths, driving, spatial tests), but that this underperformance is entirely cancelled out (in fact reversed) when women are not subjected to the often only implied societal belief that they are expected to do worse.

To be explicit - it is exactly the perpetration of stories such as this that create the gender imbalance (and implicit female under achievement) of which they report.

As my MP I would very much value your taking this matter seriously and raising a debate in the appropriate government forums about the responsible analysis and presentation of government data, specifically with regard to continuing societal prejudices - whether gender-based or otherwise.

In the 21st century this article should have galled every reader, and the comments (often by women) beneath the article only serve to reinforce the importance of educating - both through classrooms and the mainstream media - women of their inherent ability to succeed, not fail.

Yours faithfully in anticipation of a response,

Emily Wearmouth

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