Image: Elizabeth Nelson Gorman, left, with author Catherine Mayer at the Crescent Arts Centre, Belfast
Review: ‘Attack of the 50 Foot Women’ at the Crescent Arts Centre, hosted by the Belfast Book Festival
By Una Murphy
The midpoint in the Belfast Book Festival had a roomful of women (and a few men) heard Catherine Mayer author of ‘Attack of the 50ft Women’ confess she was thinking of changing the name of the book and calling it ‘Men Only’ instead.
The journalist, author and co-founder of the Women’s Equality Party said she wanted to engage more men in the discussion on the need for gender equality. She said men do not buy books with the word ‘women’ in the title. Catherine joked that she might rename her book “to get more men to read it”.
She co-founded the party with broadcaster Sandi Toksvig and warned the few men in the room “Don’t come up to me afterwards and say I am buying this book for my wife. I want men to read it.”
Catherine has just spent a gruelling stint on the campaign trail for the snap UK general election. “I haven’t had much sleep in the last six weeks”, she told Elizabeth Nelson Gorman from Ulster University who interviewed her at the event.
While Catherine said she thought that Conservative Leader and Prime Minister (for now) Theresa May is “ballsing it up”. She added that it was “still important to see women take on roles of power”.
The author said younger men appeared to be more receptive to gender equality than older men. She said that on the doorstep while canvassing for the Women’s Equality Party men over fifty would tell her “I will fetch the wife…younger men not so”.
She defended her party’s decision to stand against Conservative and Labour candidates, despite criticism of her party for splitting the progressive vote.
Catherine added: “Labour is much better for women than the Tories” but she appeared angry at attacks on WEP candidates who stood against Labour. She criticised the left for portraying itself as having “a monopoly on virtue”.
She talked about the Women Equality Party candidates who stood in Shipley in Yorkshire, where the party’s leader Sophie Walker won more than one thousand votes and in London where its candidate Nimco Ali, who had been a child refugee from Somalia and suffered genital mutilation, won more than 500 votes.
Catherine appeared to be happier with the attitude of the Green Party to the Women’s Equality Party standing candidates in the General Election, despite having policy differences on how best to deal with prostitution; the ‘Decriminalisation’ model such as that used in Germany – which the author said had led to pimps becoming richer, an increase in trafficking and no protection for sex workers – or the ‘Nordic’ model – a form of which had been introduced in Northern Ireland; which decriminalises the sale of sex but criminalises the people who buy it.
“Feminism tears itself into shreds about how to deal with prostitution. We should be able to debate these issues without falling out about it,” Catherine said.
She added: “There are no votes in prostitution. Women were more likely to vote on broader issues such health and education. The bigger picture is that women are more likely to be poor and hit twice has hard by austerity,” she said.
The author she said wanted the “structural and endemic” violence against women addressed by the education system and culturally
Responding to questions from the audience, Catherine said she would like a gender audit carried out by small companies as well as big companies, more awareness that employment advertised as having ‘job flexibility’ led to low paid mainly women workers taking these posts and she believed in the introduction of quotas as one way to overcome sex discrimination.