Today, journalists at Mark Allen Financial Media received an invitation to the launch of a report looking at women’s finance entitled … Wobbly Bits.
Wobbly Bits. Our first reaction was to ask whether the name was a joke. We assume it was well intended, but unfortunately, we believe the name of this report will tarnish all the hard work and resources that undoubtedly went into it.
We surveyed friends – the women AJ Bell are targeting with this campaign to close the gender investment and pension gaps – to find out what they thought of this name.
This is a selection of their reactions:
- “My instant reaction isn’t positive – it brings up my insecurities about my own wobbly bits.”
- “Women would never sign up to something called this, would they?”
- “This is not in line with the progressiveness we have seen in the financial services industry.”
- “There must have been so many other options but they are linking it to women’s bodies to attract attention.”
- Other words that came up were: ‘degrading’, ‘archaic’, ‘disciminatory’ and ‘boycott!’
A spokesperson for AJ Bell told us: “AJ Bell’s Money Matters campaign exists to encourage more women to engage with their finances and the campaign is led by female colleagues within the business. The campaign has been running since 2021 and has campaigned for inclusivity, with podcasts, articles and other resources all designed to help promote inclusivity when it comes to investing.”
We agree the Money Matters campaign carries out immensely important work and, yes, our survey respondents are looking at the name of the report in isolation and not the contents, but it also means our initial feelings about this name are vilified. This patronising title does not inspire confidence in us that the report will not fall into the lazy stereotypes surrounding women and investing.
The problems with it are multi-faceted. First, it is patronising. Do women need to be ‘reeled into’ reading financial reports by promises of woolly allusions to being a woman?
Second, we cannot understand why or how AJ Bell has managed to relate financial equity for women to women’s outer body parts. Women have fought against this tirelessly for years – to be taken seriously and not to be judged on how they look, but on their knowledge and expertise. The female body has been a site of discourse for far too long being picked apart, scrutinised and degraded. This does feel like one step forward and four steps back for this industry.
AJ Bell told us: “The report title puts a light-hearted twist on what can otherwise be a very serious, dry topic area.
“The name, Wobbly Bits, has been chosen to reclaim the term and make it about something more meaningful than a stereotype – and actually about something important like the huge gender pension gap or the impact that the menopause has on women’s career prospects.”
While AJ Bell might argue the use of the name ‘Wobbly Bits’ needs to be reclaimed, we suggest it need not have been used at all.
The third issue with the title is regarding syntax. ‘Wobbly bits’ is an insulting phrase, frequently picked on by mainstream media, and more-often-than-not accompanied by an unscrupulous member of the paparazzi’s zoomed-in shot of a female celebrity’s societally-perceived ‘flaws’.
Anybody interested in the role of syntax in relation to gender should check out Professor Robin Lakoff’s 1975 book entitled Language and the Women’s Place.
Within the article, Lakoff explains that women have a different way of speaking from men, often subconsciously using techniques such as hedging (hinting for somebody to do something, as opposed to asking them directly), the use of mitigators (‘I think’, ‘I feel’), and inessential qualifying (‘really’, ‘super’, ‘totally’). These techniques serve the purpose of sounding less authoritative.
And this is precisely what ‘Wobbly Bits’ does. It apologises for women’s flaws despite the fact the report itself is hard-hitting and important.
Indeed, AJ Bell said: “The report itself has a huge wealth of data, information and help for women to tackle the financial pitfalls that many face.”
This is absolutely true. However, we would respectfully disagree with the following: “We believe the name reflects these struggles while also providing context to them in an engaging way and we hope that people will judge the full research report on its content, not the title.”
It should go without saying we do not wish to judge the entire report for its bizarre title. Nor would we dream of trying to deter people from reading the report – this is the opposite from the desired outcome. But we launched our own Campaign for Better Governance to hold the industry to account where we deem it necessary. Without doing this, nothing would change.
And perhaps if we truly do want to inspire confidence in women investors, maybe stop chipping away at that very quality.