Women and politics was high on the agenda at UN CSW 57, with attention being paid to politics in its broad and narrower sense. ‘Gender Sensitive Parliaments’ , discussing and debating the way to chage the culture of parliaments to ensure their responsiveness ‘to the needs and interests of both men and women in their structures, operations, methods and work’ was one topic holding enthralled all attending that side event. Another CSW 57 side event, also run by the Inter-Parliamentary Union (IPU), covered the way in which parliaments around the world have taken steps to ensure representation, or greater representation, of women as members, as cabinet members, as speaker, as whips, and in other posts of parliamentary authority.
Aotearoa/New Zealand was the first country in the world to grant women the vote, acceding in 1893 to women’s demands for the introduction of real democracy, where ‘democracy’ had, in the past, referred to government by men alone. South Australia was the first state-entity in the world to grant women not only the vote, but the right to stand for Parliament. In 1894 the South Australian Parliament had before it a Bill to extend the vote to women and one member, seeking to disrupt the process and impede passage of the Bill, introduced an amendment whereby the vote would be complemented by the right to stand. Unfortunately for him, and fortunately for the democratic cause, the Bill passed – with both rights included.
In 1902 Australia became the first country in the world to extend the vote to women, along with the right to stand for Parliament. In 1903, three women stood in the Australian election. Although none succeeded, Vida Goldstein – the first woman to register to stand for the Senate, gained a goodly swathe of votes. She stood three more times over the years, up to 1920, despite not gaining a seat.
Just as men do not accept that the right to vote is sufficient – Parliamentary representation must be possible for all men, or at least all men are entitled to seek parliamentary places – neither do women accept that the vote is enough. Democracy means that women and men must have the right to vote for women or men as members of Parliament. Democracy means that women and men must have the right to stand for Parliament.
In the 1970s, the Australian Women’s Movement raised the slogan: ‘A Woman’s Place is in the House – and in the Senate’. This encapsulated the demand for democratic representation: women should be able to take their place in the lower house, the House of Representatives, and in the upper house, the Senate. The demand extended, too, to the state and territory legislatures when they came into being in the Northern Territory and the ACT (Australian Capital Territory – Canberra).
Although women were elected to state Parliaments, beginning with Edith Cowan in Western Australia in 1921, the numbers were few. Women were elected to the federal Parliament for the first time in 1942 – Dorothy Tangney going into the Senate, and Enid Lyons into the House of Representatives. In the 1970s for the first time three women sat in the House of Representatives – Joan Child from Victoria, Ros Kelly from the ACT, and Jeanette McHugh from New South Wales, being elected in 1983. Although Joan Child had been elected earlier and other women had sat in the federal Parliament from other states at other times, Jeanette McHugh was the first NSW woman ever to be elected to that Parliament.
Why so few, and why has it taken so long for women to be elected? Australia has for the first time a woman Prime Minister, Julia Gillard, yet this came about not by chance but through the Australian Labor Party’s adoption on affirmative action in the parliamentary sphere. In the late 1980s, the ACT led the way, adopting a 50% standard in local legisature elections. There, the voting system enabled this to be introduced relatively simply: with two seats, Canberra and Fraser, and a ‘list’ system, the proposal was that lists should be constructed on a ‘woman, man, woman, man’ basis down the list. Women gained first place on the ballot because that is the way the party voted, so that there was no need to promote women artificially over men on the lists. Yet the principle was established.
It was more difficult in the states and NT, and federally, for Tasmania (with the Hare Clark system) alone operates under a system similar to that in the ACT. All other jurisdictions operate on the basis of ‘one seat, one member’. In the 1980s, however, ALP women organised to ensure passage through the ALP National Conference of a resolution committing to a quota of 30% women preselected for all state and federal elections. Joan Kirner, first woman Premier of Victoria, was a leading figure in this struggle. She and others established Emily’s List (Early Money is Like Yeast – it helps women rise) to provide funds for women candidates who adhere to feminist principles, in particular the right to abortion.
The UN CSW 57 side event looking at getting women into parliament covered a number of ways in which parliaments and legislatures have sought to effect this change. The British Labour Party runs ‘women’s lists’ – where women only are entitled to stand for selection – and not only in unwinnable seats. Women’s lists must be run in winnable and safe seats, too. Burkina Faso adopted a policy of granting public fund bonuses to political parties succeeding in having women elected under their banner. Other countries have set aside a certain number of parliamentary seats for women, some have introduced quotas – which must be met by having women stand and win seats representing general constituencies, some have simply called ‘quotas’ ‘targets’ – on the basis that ‘targets’ are more palatable than ‘quotas’ which is taken to imply the use of coercion or at least a firm hand. ‘Targets’ as seen as ‘softer’, something to be aimed for rather than (necessarily) achieved.
It may be significant that it is generally ‘newer’ democracies that have taken the most significant steps to ensure women’s parliamentary membership. Whether they have set down rules in constitutions or statutes, or simply articulated policies, many African countries, in particular, are leading the way to ensure that parliaments are not populated by men alone. In this, they are following rapidly in the steps of Scandinavian countries, with Rwanda having topped the list in having more women than men in the parliament and cabinet. Beginning with a quota requiring no fewer than 30% of women in parliamentary seats, at the first election under that regime, women held 44 of the 80 seats.
In the 1980s, Senator Susan Ryan of the Australian Parliament commissioned research into voters’ views of women and men parliamentarians. The outcome was salutary. A majority said they preferred female to male politicians, as they believed the former to be ‘more trustworthy’ and ‘honest’. Voters were more prepared to put their and their country’s future into the hands of women. Clearly, political parties which do not recognise the importance of promoting women into parliament and thence into positions of authority and power at all parliamentary levels, are missing a sigificant feature of politics today.
Promoting women into safe and winnable seats will bring to the parties so doing, the opportunity of taking power and governing the country. On the basis of Senator Ryan’s research, they will also be ensuring that the country’s governance will be all the more positive, productive and progressive.
Jocelynne A. Scutt (c) March 2013
Jocelynne Scutt’s book, Taking a Stand – Women in Politics and Society, was published in 1996 as one of the ten volumes, so far, in the ‘Women’s Voices, Women’s Lives’ series. In the volume, women speak of their involvement in politics, whether standing for parliament, campaigning for women’s rights, engaged in the struggle to end violence against women, or as members and officials active in the trade union movement.
In January the Greenwich University Centre for the Study of Play and Recreation launched ‘Children and the Law’ as a new strand in its programme. The conference introducing the strand was supported by the Centre together with the London Network for the History of Children, the Society for the Study of Childhood in the Past, the University of Greenwich Safeguarding Hub, and the Life-Cycles seminar, Institute of Historical Research. The flyer announcing the launch and conference noted that despite the uproar surrounding ‘the activities of sometime celebrity and BBC identity Jimmy Savile many ‘important questions have not been raised nor addressed’:
‘Why are the voices of the young not listened to or considered of value in the courts or in legal processes? Conversely, how could legal systems be better adapted to respond to the voices and concerns of the young, rather than excluding or labeling them through increased criminalisation or limitation of resources such as housing?’
‘Children’ includes both girls and boys, as the presentations during the day conference affirmed. Yet for historians concerned about women’s rights and the impact of the law on women, many had a particular resonance. Girls are recognised by the United Nations as being particularly disadvantaged the world over, simply by reason of being female. This was significant in the presentation by Dr Ishita Pande of Queen’s University, Ontario, entitled ‘Sexology, the Education of Desire and the Conduct of Childhood in Late Colonial India’ and the accompanying paper in that session, ‘Courtrooms and Truth Telling – What Chance a Child?’ by the author of this WHN Blog.
Dr Pande analysed sexological literature produced in India between 1891 and 1929. That period was selected because the age of consent was raised to twelve years for ‘women’ in 1891, and in 1929 ‘a path breaking law sought to restrain the marriage of “children” below fourteen’. How, asked Dr Pande, did ‘vernacular sexology help constitute, contest and disseminate norms of childhood’ in India. In this, she referred to the effect Havelock Ellis, through his research and writings, had in India – an effect that, participants noted, was profound throughout the Western World, extending not only into psychological and psychiatric discourse, but impacting on the law in the United States, Canada, the United Kingdom, Australia, Aotearoa/New Zealand as well as India.
The issue of child-brides and child-wives is one that continues to engage the law and social sciences today, as well as the United Nations in its efforts to gain recognition of the negative consequences of child marriage and its impact, particularly, on girl children. The Parliament and courts of the United Kingdom have been involved, with Parliament endeavouring to outlaw child marriage through immigration restrictions. The courts have, however, obliged the government to return to the legislative drafting board to ensure that legitimate, consensual arrangements between young adults are not impacted.
That the issues surrounding child marriage are not isolated to India was apparent in that Dr Pandit’s paper led to a lively discussion on child marriage in India and other parts of the subcontinent, its existence in other parts of the world, and its relevance to countries such as the United Kingdom and Australia in light of migration.
Children as offenders and as offended against was the subject of Dr Lily Chang’s paper and that of Penny Wilcox. Dr Chang, of Magdalene College, Cambridge, presented ‘in absentia’ under the title ‘Adjudicating War: Juvenile Offenders in Wartime China, 1937-1945′. She took as her subject the rise in juvenile crime following the First World War and Great Depression, and up to the War of Resistance fought by China against Japan. Her research was based on legal case records of juvenile offenders, previously unexamined, adjudicated by the ‘collaborationist’ Shaghai District Court for the First Special Area. In this, Dr Chang looked at war in its social impact on juveniles living in urban areas, and ‘how the Court attempted to challenge the liminal space occupied by juveniles within the legal sphere that once marked the parameters of childhood and adulthood’ by legal definition. She sought to illustrate how the war ‘crystallised’ the Court’s attempts to ‘introduce the process of a “legal construction of childhood” through an analysis of its legal reasoning towards juvenile offenders under wartime conditions’.
Solicitor Penny Wilcox looked at ‘Changes in Youth Justice post 1998′, subtitling her presentation ‘A Practitioner’s View’. The watershed year of 1998 was chosen because it was in 1998 that the major report Misspent Youth was published, leading to the establishment of the Youth Justice Board, the development of Youth Offending Teams, and ‘changes in custodial regimes’. Ms Wilcox emphasised the low age of criminal responsibility existing in the United Kingdom as contrasted with that existing elsewhere in the European Union, and focused on identifiable groups of young people, including youth ‘in care’, black and minority ethnic youth, youth with learning or other difficulties, and girls’. For girls, the notion that there is a rise in violence and, hence, violent crimes committed by girls, along with the rise of ‘girls in gangs’ is prevalent today, although this notion has been articulated in times past. Particularly in the nineteenth century, ’girls in gangs’ was written of in the United States as in the United Kingdom, and the rise (as it was seen) of ‘the Women’s Movement’ in the 1970s led to a spate of criminological and populist writing suggesting that this movement was ‘turning girls and women to crime’, particularly violent crime. Here, it is difficult to determine whether indeed numbers are ‘soaring’ (although generally violent crimes against the person remain stable over time), or whether courts and care agencies are treating girls and women differently in different periods.
The highlighting of ‘learning difficulties’ in Ms Wilcox presentation was prescient, for education consultant Katherine Marshall of Waltham Forest Dyslexia Association followed with her own presentation on issues relating to the law and dyslexia, and ways in which law and practice need to catch up with developing knowledge in the field. Although dyslexia has been seen as primarily a ‘boys’ learning issue’, Ms Marshall’s presentation made clear that this is not so. She posited that girls may be and have been more likely to be able to ‘cover up’ the condition, through being less visible in the education system or being consigned to educational streams where dyslexia was less evident.
Dr Lucy Bland of King’s College, London, provided introductory insights into her new field of research, ‘Adoption and Ethnicity: thoughts on the study of mixed-race GI babies in Second World War Britain’. She became interested in pursuing this research in consequence of a 2012 change announced by the United Kingdom government, that local authorities would be required to reduce delays in adoption by ‘no longer seeking the “perfect ethnic match”‘, otherwise known as ‘racial matching’ or ‘same race’ policy. Dr Bland’s presentation was particularly invigorating as she sought comment on the direction of her research and the way her research might be enhanced. To date, she has found little research into adoption and particularly the issues relating to GI babies in the United Kingdom.
The launch of the ‘Children and the Law’ stream was complemented by the launch of the University of Greenwich Safeguarding Hub, announced at the conference by its initiator, Janet Webb of the School of Health and Social Care. This is an important initiative, as is the inclusion of the ‘Children and the Law’ strand. Both have a significance in terms of current events, as well as providing avenues for exploration of history, particularly in relation to women and girls.
Jocelynne A. Scutt (c) February 2013
Dr Jocelynne A. Scutt is Visiting Professor at the University of Buckingham. A short piece on the issues raised by the Jimmy Savile revellations is published as ‘Charity, Celebrity and the Corporate Condonation of Child Sexual Abuse’, OnLine Opinion, 19 November 2012, http://www.onlineopinion.com.au/view.asp?article=14367 (accessed 19 November 2012)
With the coming of flight, women made an impact as pilots through the exploits of the United States’ Amelia Earhart, Australia’s Nancy-Bird Walton and their ilk. When aircraft became accessible to civilians for business and tourist travel, a new field of paid employment opened up for women. Initially, all roles went to men: men were pilots and men were ‘stewards’. As is so often the case, where new fields of employment open, women are rarely first in line. As also happens in service jobs, in particular, women enter the ranks, heralding a change of character in the employment, at least in the way it is perceived.
Internationally, men still held flight attendant posts as’stewards. This was so with the major Australian carrier, Qantas, with British Airways (BOAC as it was) and international airlines out of the United States. Nonetheless women moved in as ‘air hostesses’ – today known as ’flight attendants’, albeit this renaming came through a vigorous campaign which extended worldwide.
Since its inception, air travel has been a site for women’s activism. The transformation from ‘airhostess’ to ‘flight attendant’ brought about a sustained change in the way airlines promote their services. This campaign in the air was grounded in the contention that women should gain and hold posts at the same status level as their male counterparts, and that the job of flight attendant – whether occupied by a woman or a man – should be recognised as professional, an outcome of sustained training of individuals holding qualifications often including a facility in several languages as well as the standard requirement of health and safety certification.
At Brunel University in March 2012, the SHAW (Society for the History of Women of the Americas) conference, organised by Rachel Ritchie and Jay Kleinberg, brought into sharp focus the background to the struggle for women’s entry and recognition as professionals in the field. A keynote address and discussion concluded the conference, with Janet Morgan – a former flight attendant – speaking of her induction and experiences with Pan American or ‘PanAm’ (Pan American World Airways).
Swiftly, women became sought after as employees, with major and smaller airlines seeing women as major drawcards, for from the outset flight attracted male custom. Hence, the notion that women would be ideal to ‘serve’ passengers. This led to the highly publicised equal opportunity/anti-discrimination cases, run by women in the United States against Eastern Airlines, National Airlines and Continental Airlines. At the heart of these cases were rules set down by airline companies requiring flight attendants to conform to weight requirements, (non-married) marital status, dress and grooming standards which blatantly promoted them as sex objects.
Eastern Airlines was taken to the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EOC) for its weight restrictions: an ‘air hostess’, Jan Jarrell, claimed sex discrimination for having been dismissed for breaching the weight standards: 5’9″ in height, she exceeded the upward limit of 132 pounds by one or two pounds, despite the ‘limit’ being below that medically-approved for her height. Claims against Eastern and other airlines (Continental and National) hightlighted the danger women faced in the sky, not through the possibility of airline accidents, but because airline advertising campaigns promoted the notion that they were (as was claimed in one of these discrimination cases) ‘brothels in the sky’.
Slogans objected to included ‘I’m Carol, Fly Me’ and ‘We Really Move Our Tails for You’, which – atop age limitations (women were fired once they reached the age limit) and requirements that ‘hostesses’ should remain single (women were fired, too, if they married – and the employer discovered this ‘breach’) – not so subtly suggested that male passengers should think of the women as there not only to serve, but to service, their (almost) every need. This resulted in flight attendants being propositioned and even assaulted: one of the Eastern Airlines flight attendants resigned after having had her skirt torn off by a drunken passenger.
EEOC claims resulted in an end to marriage restrictions and age limitations (applied to women employees only), as well as an end to pregnancy discrimination.
Women’s airline activism carried over into the 1980s. An EEOC claim filed in the 1960s resulted in an eventual settlement for $ US 33mill. through the Federal Court in Illinois. United Airlines was reported as having agreed, through the settlement, to pay this amount in backpay and to reinstate 475 fight attendants who had been dismissed under the ‘no-marriage’ rule in the mid-1960s. One report noted that once approved by a federal judge, this would ‘end one of the nation’s oldest, most complex and emotional sex-discrimination cases’ which had ‘twice prompted rulings by the US Supreme Court’.
Parallel with this struggle, albeit commencing a decade later, women waged another airline war, this time for the right to be accepted as qualified to fly commercial aircraft. Deborah Wardley, an Australian pilot, made a claim through the then newly constituted Equal Opportunity Board under the Equal Opportunity Act 1977 (Victoria). Her claim on the basis of sex/gender discrimination applied by Ansett Airlines in rejecting her application to become an Ansett pilot, rested upon strong grounds. She held premier academic qualifications, had totted up more than the required number of flying hours, and excelled in sports as well as passing all the Ansett tests (including a psychological evaluation) with flying colours. Amongst other ‘reasons’, Ansett said that training her would be ‘wasted’ as she would have to resign or at least take time out for having children. This ignored the sometimes chequered careers of men trained as pilots by Ansett – who left for myriad reasons, some going to other airlines and some taking alternative employment opportunities in other fields.
Today, it remains relatively unusual to hear a female voice pronouncing ‘This is your captain speaking’, although the notion of women piloting planes is no longer foreign to the industry. Women continue to be prominent as flight attendants – their role enhanced, no doubt, by the fact that passengers no longer comprise mostly men, with a few women dotted here and there. The air is now open to women and men passengers, accessing the services of professionally trained and regarded flight attendants, who are no longer obliged to ‘fit’ a spectacularly limited vision of ‘what a woman is’ – at least in the sky.
Jocelynne A. Scutt (c) January 2013
‘Airline Ends Sex-bias Suit for $33 Million’, http://articles.chicagotribune.com/1986-07-10/news/8602190033_1_flight-attendants-eeoc-discrimination (accessed 11 January 2013)
Jocelynne A. Scutt, Growing Up Feminist – The New Generation of Australian Women, Angus & Robertson, 1986, Sydney, Australia, reprinted Artemis Publishing, 1996, Melbourne, Australia.
Body theorising gripped women’s studies for a time in the 1980s and 1990s. Books were written, papers delivered at conferences, newspaper columns and columnists pronounced upon the subject, theses were proposed and completed, PhDs were awarded, and the topic gripped – or seemed to grip – an entire generation of academics. Then, as is so often wont, the topic drifted into abyance.
The body has in past and present held centre stage in more than the academic sense. During the decades and more of the Inquisition, the body – particularly woman’s body – was central to sin. Kramer and Sprenger’s Malleus Malificarum - ‘The Hammer [or Anvil] of Witches’ determined that women’s bodies should not be covered in gorgeous draperies, fine costuming or jewellery. Yet covered should they be – particularly the hair, which was demonised as a source of vanity, pride, evil and error. Still, modestly dressed women were not safe, being destined to die along with their more worldly sisters, for the body was the problem for witch-finders (so called) and no covering could protect a targetted woman from the prickings of Kramer, Sprenger and their colleagues, including the English jurist Matthew Hale who not only sat on trials of witches, declaring witchcraft to be ‘real’ and so to be subject to the criminal law, but pronounced upon women’s perfidy in other regards, particularly in the field of sexual abuse and exploitation.
Centuries later, Zadie Smith’s On Beauty played with the ‘body’ theme in fiction, whilst a century before, the body in all its constituent parts – along with beauty – was both a subject for sniggering sentiment, with ‘naughty’ postcards being sold surreptitiously on street corners and in alleyways or at fun fairs and in seaside pavillions, as well as a serious topic ‘for the ladies’.
Beauty , what it is and how to Retain it, published in London, Sept., 1873 by Frederick Warne & Co, led the way, along with its companion volume, How to Dress on £15 a Year.
Written by ‘A Lady’, readers learned that beauty, being ‘one of the great powers of the world’ necessarily found its way into discussion ‘by the philosphers and poets of all ages’, so that writing about it in the latter half of the nineteenth century created difficulty. ‘A Lady’ was, nonetheless, up to the task.
No longer was the body to be treated ‘by all wise people’ with ‘contemptuous indifference’. Nor was it any longer to be considered ‘a sinful vanity’ to dwell in thought on ‘personal beauty’. Leaving Kramer and Sprenger in the darkness of history, ‘A Lady’ pronounced Christianity – no less – to have, in its fresh ‘muscularity’:
‘… restored to the human frame that due regard with all men owe to it; and the new and more artistic sense of beauty which undoubtedly sprang from the great Exhibition of 1851, has rendered people more inclined to discuss beauty as an important and valuable gift, which, like all other good gifts of Heaven, requires and deserves our careful attention.’
A Lady had firm ideas about what constitutes beauty. Albeit citing writers, philosphers, playwrights and poets from Aristotle to Plautus to Shakespeare, Longepierre, Byron, Spenser and Drayton, and observing that England ‘has been justly styled the land of beauty’, she deplored the failure of English women to take steps to ‘improve or preserve their beauty’. This, it is, that she sets out to remedy.
A ‘gently serpentine’ body is that for which we ought to strive. Affirmation for this standard is found in the words of Leigh Hunt, asserting just this, for stiffness ‘is utterly ungraceful’. Women should emulate the movements ‘of an unconscious child’ for these are ‘the perfection of grace; they are easy, unstudied, natural’.
As to figure, the waist and throat should be synchronised in their measurements, for the waist should be ‘twice the size of this tower of ivory’, the throat, which ’should be round, full, and pillar-like’. Shoulders ‘should be falling, and not too broad’ for very broad shoulders are a sign of masculine, not feminine, beauty. Nonetheless, shoulders ‘had better be broad than too narrow’. Why? For ‘any contraction across the chest gives a mean and pinched look to the person’.
Abjuring the exhortations that found support in the ante bellum south of the United States – as evidenced so well in Margaret Mitchell’s Gone with the Wind and in the visual representations displayed in Victor Fleming’s film (who can forget the scene of Vivienne Leigh as Scarlet being laced into her stays, clasping the bedpost whilst Hattie McDaniel tugs and pulls the strings tight, tightly, tighter …), A Lady contends sharply that twenty-seven inches is the signal waist ‘beauty’:
‘The figure should be easy; too small a waist is an actual deformity, and we may remind young ladies who labour under the delusion of thinking that a waist of eighteen inches is lovely, that that of the Venus de’ Medici, the acknowledged type of female beauty, measures twenty-seven inches.’
What is extraordinary about Beauty … , at least in present times when the bosom, bust or breasts are such a feature in the panoply of every plastic surgeon’s list of ‘to dos’ or, rather, ‘must dos’, is that this part of the body is entirely left out of the recitation of ‘form’. It is also instructive to observe the vast difference between then and now: perusing Beauty is a reminder that what is now known as ‘the beauty industry’ has existed for centuries, yet today’s manifestation of it is no improvement on the past and the resort to surgery that appears to be an everyday requirement was generally absent from 19th century recitations of what women were obliged to do to be ‘real’ women.
Chinese footbinding and other cultural attacks on women’s bodies – including the Inquisition, neck-stretching and female genital mutilation (FGM), along with 19th century psychiatric ‘cures’ including clitoredectomy and rhinoplasty - find no place in Beauty … Rather, A Lady concentrates upon posture, diet and ungents for the face and neck. Yet just as the ‘surgical’ changes to women’s bodies caused and cause serious damage, so too the pastes and creams applied. This is graphically described in Barbara Ewing’s Fraud one of the major protagonists ultimately suffers serious skin damage and facial disintegration from applying paste to whiten her complexion.
The field is rich with so many graphic indicators of the way that women’s bodies have ever been, and remain, sites for and of struggle. Women’s independence, autonomy, sense of self and wellbeing are located not only in the mind, but equally so in the body. For women it is clear that the purported disjunction between mind and body is fallacious. Wilhelm Fliess, longtime colleague and friend of Sigmund Freud, drew upon this fundamental connection in his work, a tale of horrors, a recitation of the way in which acts that would be classed as torture in other circumstances can be meted out upon women in the name of ‘cure’.
Beauty … reminds us that homilies such as ‘her face is her fortune’ and ‘no ugly women need apply’ have a resonance in the lives of women and the demands women face in everyday life whether in centuries past or present.
Jocelynne A. Scutt (c) January 2013
Jocelynne Scutt’s films include ‘Covered’ – A DVD Installation in 3 streams – ‘Debating the Scarf’, ‘Romancing the Veil’ and ‘Contradictions of Cover’, ‘A Greenshell Necklace’ (with Karen Buczynski-Lee), and ‘The Incredible Woman’ (with Karen Buczynski-Lee). She is currently researching the field of women’s bodies, women’s ‘beauty’ treatments’, and medical negligence in the field of body ‘enhancement’.
(Continued) – The ‘Montreal Massacre’
If more evidence is needed, upon entering a classroom where a male professor instructed 10 women and 48 men students, Lepine fired two shots into the ceiling, crying: ‘I want the women. I hate feminists.’ Sending the men from the room, he lined the women up against the wall, then fired upon them all, killing six and injuring the others. He continued the rampage by shooting dead women in the cafeteria, an office, and another classroom. At the final count, the dead included Genevieve Bergeron, 21; Helene Colgan, 23; Nathalie Croteau, 23; Barbara Daigneault, 22; Anne-Marie Edward, 21; Maud Haviernick, 29; Barbara Maria Klucznik, 31; Maryse Leclair, 23; Michele Richard, 21; Maryse Laganiere, 25, Anne-Marie Lemay, 22; Annie St.-Arneault, 23; Sonia Pelletier, 28; and Annie Turcotte, 21.
Some may see these events as isolated in the present, without historical precedent. Yet the denial of history is an easy way out of recognising the longevity of antagonism toward women’s right to education and entry into trades and professions alongside their male counterparts.
In 1910 the Sydney Morning Herald column ‘Puck’s Girdle’ carried the following item:
‘Frenchmen have hit upon a unique method of boycotting women from the professions usually held by men. The woman lawyer is fairly firmly established in Paris, but her confreres do not mean her to remain so, for the junior members of the Bar have entered into a solemn league not to propose marriage to any lady who follows a profession which belongs by tradition to the other sex. The movement has been joined by other professional men who are afraid of competition, and seems to be formed in all seriousness …’
Puck’s sense of humour prevailed, the column concluding:
‘Apparently it has not occurred to these gentleman that women who are capable of entering the learned professions would hardly be likely to listen to proposals of marriage from men who so openly confess their weakness and inefficiency.’
More than half a century before, in the 1860s, Sophia Jex-Blake and six would-be fellow medical students fought through theUnited Kingdom legal system for the right to be accepted as having a legitimate right to join the Edinburgh University student body. Sophia Jex-Blake had already successfully passed her first year of medicine, however, when the next half-dozen women sought to join her, the University decided it was ‘no place for a woman’ – much less seven of them. Finding refuge in University regulations referring to ‘persons’ with particular qualifications being entitled to enter, the University authorities decided that ‘person’ did not include ‘woman’, meaning the regulations precluded women’s entry. The only persons in existence – according to this ‘analysis’ – were men.
The University Visitor – a member of the House of Lords – had earlier determined that women were within the regulations. However, when the matter went to the House of Lords on appeal, he changed his mind: sitting as a Law Lord, he joined with his fellow judges in finding neither Sophia Jex-Blake nor her six fellow-claimants were ‘persons’. One of the judges said that as no woman had applied to the University before, this meant that universities were not meant to educate women. He overlooked the fact universities elsewhere – such as Bologna – had admitted women. He also avoided the fact that Sophia Jex-Blake had applied – and had been admitted one whole year before the further six applicants made their play for entry. Still, the idea that women were not ‘persons’ held sway, a refuge for courts and judges where women sought entry not only to university, but to professions – particularly the law.
When in 1899 Ada E. Evans applied to study law at the University of Sydney, she was allowed to enter: the spectre that she was not a person was not raised at that time. Her admission occurred, however, in the absence of the Dean, Professor Pitt Cobbett – who was overseas on sabbatical leave. Upon his return, doors slammed, chairs flew about the room and there was much banging on desks, Pitt Cobbett expostulating that Miss Evans should have been admitted to the medical faculty, a stream of study in which she (in his view) would be far better placed (she ‘did not have the physique for law and would find medicine more suitable’). Nevertheless, Miss Evans remained – to successfully complete her degree, graduating in 1902. The first woman law graduate in Australia, she did not go on to practice law, for the notion that she was not a person caught up with her: the Legal Practice Act referred to ‘persons’ with a law degree as entitled to practice. As a woman with a law degree, this did not include her. The Bar in England excluded her, too.
Others having applied to practice at the English Bar, Gwynth Bebb came forward as a ‘test case’, to be told officially – by the courts – that she was a non-person. The test case, Bebb v. Law Society, was decided in 1913. Bebb had graduated from Oxford University with a ‘first’ in law. Eventually, with the passage of the Sex Disqualification (Removal) Act 1919 (UK), the United Kingdom Parliament acceded to the notion that women, like men, could practice law.
A year previously, the passage of the Women’s Legal Status Act 1918 (NSW) enabled women to enter the legal profession in that state, with New South Wales being the last Australian jurisdiction to extend this right to women. This meant, however, that the ‘women are not persons’ notion was embedded: the Legal Practice Act having been taken to apply to men (as persons) only, required passage of an Act referring explicitly to ‘women’.
Why this fundamentalism, crossing national boundaries, when it comes to women and education? Perhaps the answer lies in the revealing comment made by one of the House of Lords judges in the Sophia Jex-Blake case; that ‘knowledge is power’.
For fundamentalists, power is both sexed and gendered. Hence, women and girls must remain outside the realm advancing them to knowledge. For fundamentalists, women, girls and power have no place. The shooting of Malala Yousufzai stands as another episode in the historical struggle of women against the patriarchal denial of women’s right to empowerment.
JAS © November 2012
Dr Jocelynne A. Scutt’s books include Women and the Law, Law Book Company/Thomson Regulatory, 1990, Sydney, Australia; The Sexual Gerrymander – Women and the Economics of Power, 1994, Spinifex Press, Melbourne, Australia; and The Incredible Woman – Women and the Politics of Power, 1998, Artemis Publishing, Melbourne, Australia.
This article first appeared in OnLine Opinion – ‘Fundamentalism versus Education – A Worldwide Women’s Struggle’, Online Opinion, 8 November 2012, http://www.onlineopinion.com.au/view.asp?article=14328&page=2
Malala Yousufzai, shot in the head on 9 October 2012 by a Taliban gunman, is reported to be ‘doing well’ at Queen Elizabeth Hospital, Birmingham, where she was flown after the attack. Her father says that now she is recovering, she will return to Pakistan. There, her family will continue to support her in her struggle for girls’ equal access to education.
A native of Pakistan’s Swat Valley, Malala Yousufzai is well-known beyond her home for speaking out against the Taliban’s repressive actions in denying girls and women the right to live freely and, in particular, to be educated. Her campaign against this oppression has drawn attention to Taliban actions too often resulting in atrocities and death. Consequently, her injuries – including a shattered skull and potential brain damage – have been suffered at Taliban hands. Today she stands as a victim and survivor of fundamentalism, a rallying-point for Pakistani girls seeking what should be theirs, automatically – the right to knowledge through schooling.
Now fifteen, at nine Malala Yousufzai began writing a BBC blog. Under a pseudonym she described life under the Taliban. Despite threats, her media appearances, along with her public speaking from platforms and footpaths, in the marketplace and in village centres, met with an award of a high-level civilian honour for her courage.
Her refusal to be quiet, her determination to use her brain as a thinking organ and her capacity for speech as a reason to speak out, made her a Taliban target. This had consequences for her associates and beneficiaries. The gunman’s sharp-shooting resulted in injuries not only to her, but to two other girls, all travelling in a school bus on their way home from classes. Although – or because – threatened by Malala Yousufzai’s voice, the Taliban is unrepentant and undeterred. Now, the Taliban vows to complete the attack by killing her. In Birmingham, police officers are patrolling outside the Queen Elizabeth Hospital to maintain her security.
Although the possibility of Malala and her family seeking refuge in the United Kingdom as asylum seekers has been raised, Mr Yousufzai rejects this, saying: ‘I first laughed at [the proposition] because all of our sacrifices, my personal [sacrifices], or this attack on my daughter, cannot have such a cheap purpose that we would go to some other country and live the rest of our life there.’ The Pakistan government, through Interior Minister Rehman Malik, has said Malala Yousufzai and her family will be protected upon returning to Pakistan.
In the Taliban’s eyes, Malala Yousufzai is ‘fair game’, because she has reached puberty. Accordingly, marriage is her sole purpose and she can have no life outside the home. Marriage and patriarchal silencing are her destiny. The doors of all educational institutions must be closed to her. So, too, must all and any access to or promotion of ‘Western thought’.
Pakistan is not isolated in harbouring fundamentalists targetting women and girls’ right to education. RAWA – the Revolutionary Association of the Women of Afghanistan – has the right to education as a central tenet. Active in setting up schools, training and employing teachers, and directing funding and other resources to ensure that as many girls and women as possible in Afghanistan access knowledge through schooling, RAWA has suffered at the hands of fundamentalists, too. In 1987, some ten years after RAWA was established ‘as an independent political/social organisation of Afghan women fighting for human rights and for social justice in Afghanistan’, RAWA’s leader, Meena, was assassinated. RAWA reports that in Quetta, Pakistan, Afghan agents employed by the KGB shot and killed her ‘in connivance with [the] fundamentalist band of Gulbuddin Hekmatyar’. Despite her death, Meena’s struggle for democratic and secular values in the governance of Afghanistan continues through RAWA’s work in organising and educating women. Every RAWA member and beneficiary remains in the sights of fundamentalist groups operating in the region.
Yet the West is not immune from the diktat that education and women should not mix and, where they do, violent action is necessary.
In September 2006, gunman Duane R. Morrison, 53, of Denver, ‘took six [teenage] girls hostage at a Colorado high school and killed one teenager as well as himself’. He aimed a shot at the floor, told the female students to line-up, and sexually assaulted some before killing 16-year-old Emily Keyes. These young women were his target: a male student said he and other male students were ‘forced … to leave the … classroom’:
‘”You could tell that he wanted the females … He tapped me on the shoulder and told me to leave the room. I told him, ‘I don’t want to leave’.” This student told NBC’s Today show that he “wanted to stay to give support to the girls in the classroom”, but was told to go or be shot.’
One month later, four female students – bound and shackled – were killed in an Amish schoolhouse in Pennsylvania. Before tying up eleven students, shooting the four dead ‘at close range’ and, finally, turning the gun on himself, the shooter – in possession of three guns, a stun gun, two knives and 600 rounds of ammunition – sent the boys outside. Police Commissioner Miller said the perpetrator ‘appeared to want to attack young female victims’. The seven surviving girls – ‘most badly wounded’ – had, together with their dead school-mates, been ‘lined up along a chalkboard’, ankles and wrists ‘bound with wire and plastic ties’. Charles Carl Roberts, 32, a ‘married father of three who drove a milk tanker truck’ was identified by police as the gunman.
The United Statesis not alone. Canada features in the litany of attacks against female students. The ‘Montreal Massacre’ occurred on 6 December 1989. Fourteen women were killed at the Ecole Polytechnique inQuebec. In his suicide note, written before entering the School of Engineering armed with a Stum Ruger Mini-14 semi-automatic rifle, Marc Lepine blamed his refusal for admission to the college on ‘affirmative action’ policies ‘promoted by feminists and their sympathisers’. His motive for the killings was expressed in this missive:
‘Please note that if I am committing suicide today … it is not for economic reasons … but for political reasons. For I have decided to send Ad Petres [to the fathers] the feminists who have ruined my life … The feminists always have a talent for enraging me. They want to retain the advantages of being women … while trying to grab those of men … They are so opportunistic that they neglect to profit from the knowledge accumulated by men throughout the ages. They always try to misrepresent them every time they can.’
Lepine attached a list/ of 19 women whom he intended to target, saying they had escaped through not ‘fitting in’ to his timeframe. The named women held non-traditional occupations, including Quebec’s ‘first’ woman police captain and ‘first’ woman fire-fighter. These women ‘nearly died today’, wrote Lepine, however ‘the lack of time (because I started too late) has allowed these radical feminists to survive’.
JAS (c) October 2012
Dr Jocelynne A. Scutt’s films include ‘A Greenshell Necklace’ and ‘The Incredible Woman’ (with Karen Buczynski-Lee) and ‘Covered’ – a DVD Installation in 3 streams – ”Debating the Scarf’, ‘Romancing the Veil’ and ‘The Contradictions of Cover’, which has been shown internationally and is scheduled for exhibition at New Hall Gallery, Cambridge, in March 2014.
This article first appeared in OnLine Opinion
8 November 2012, http://www.onlineopinion.com.au/view.asp?article=14328&page=2
In her book ‘There’s Always Been a Women’s Movement – This Century’, feminist Dr Dale Spender points out that at the end of the 19th century the English-speaking world was awash with women’s magazines, particularly those presenting a feminist perspective. ‘Time & Tide’, published in the United Kingdom, showcased feature writers whose articles addressed social, cultural and political issues and challenged patriachal orthodoxies. A regular column contrasted sentences for property crimes with sentences imposed on crimes against the person. The former outweighed in length and seriousness sentences handed down in respect of the latter. The tenor of this column was that crimes of violence – mainly rape and other sexual offences committed against women victims and survivors - were not taken seriously. At least, the seriousness with which they were taken was far less than the seriousness of property crimes. At this time, male property ownership far outweighed that of women: it was only during the last half of the 19th century that women’s right to own property during marriage was recognised by statute.
In Australia, the redoubtable feminist Louisa Lawson published ’The Dawn’ with an all-woman staff: writers, printers and page-setters. Through promoting women’s industry and right to engage in paid employment at all levels of publishing, Louisa Lawson ran into the demands of male trades unionists for ‘closed shops’: ironically, the trades unionists wanted to limit paidwork to members of unions. As there was no printers union for women at that time, women would – on the alter of trades union rights – be sacrificed to join the ranks of the unemployed. Louisa Lawson fought on, together with her staff. ‘The Dawn’ continued publication until 1912.
Vida Goldstein, in 1903 the first woman in the British Empire to stand for Parliament, ran ‘The Woman’s Sphere’ and ‘The Woman Voter’. Where Louisa Lawson concentrated upon issues such as criminal assault at home and other forms of domestic violence, Vida Goldstein mainly addressed women’s political rights in the sense of parliamentary representation and voting. These issues were the subject of feature articles and columns in both ‘The Dawn’ and ‘The Awakening Dawn’, however, true to their respective spheres of primary concern, Lawson and Goldstein made their publications their own: vehicles for expressions of women’s rights in the public world and the world of domesticity. For them, the personal was political and the political was personal.
In June 2012, women and magazines, and women’s magazines, was the subject of academic and activist debate and discussion in London, organised with support of Kingston University, Women’s History Network, The Women’s Library, London Metropolitan University and SHAW - Society for the History of Women in the Americas.
On 22 and 23 June at Kingston University, the conference ‘Women in Magazines: Research, Representation, Production and Consumption’ saw papers presented on myriad ways of seeing and understanding the magazine industry as impacting upon women. Keynote addresses were combined with streams featuring simultaneous panels ranging from ‘Women as Editors’ through ‘Targetting Specific Racial Groups’, ‘Women as Writers’ and ‘Discourses of Humour in Women’s Magazines’, along with many others.
Noliwe Rooks, Associate Director at Princeton University’s Center for African American Studies (and as from 1 July Associate Professor at Cornell University), gave a keynote address entitled ‘Black Women and “Real Beauty”: The Rise and Fall of the Dove Beauty Campaign’ analysing the way ‘black women’s bodies are used to market products to consumers who are not black, in a cultural moment, desperately seeking to evade race’. This sparked off extensive reflection, both in the session and outside it – in corridors, over coffee, lunch and dinner, and in other sessions - on magazine culture, advertising, beauty products and campaigns, and the place of women’s bodies and colour in promoting cultural sameness and difference.
Senior Lecturer in Sociology at the University of Manchester Penny Tinkler gave the second keynote address under the title ‘”What Every Reader Knows”: Using Girls’ and Women’s Magazines to Explore the Past’. She began by observing that girls’ and women’s magazines ‘exert a strange fascination’, leading to her being ‘drawn to study them’ whenever she undertakes historical research. Her presentation reflected upon the reasons for these magazines being ‘such an attractive and productive historical resource’, as well as considering ‘ways of using them to address questions about the past’. The session took on a practical perspective, with many questioners and discussants raising issues going directly to ways in which researchers might access women’s and girls’ magazines, where archival material might be found, and how these resources and sources may be used to expand upon knowledge and understandings of past and present.
One of the parallel sessions was particularly relevant to this perspective: Jayne Shacklady, post-graduate student at Edge Hill University, looked at the role of editor in girls’ magazines, focussing upon a particular edition of ‘The Girls’ Own Annual’ – the 1923 edition under Flora Klickman’s editorship (which spanned more than twenty years, from 1908 to 1930). In ’Flora Klickmann’s Editorial Interventions in “The Girl’s Own Paper”‘, Jayne Shacklady suggested that Flora Klickmann’s editorial position ‘allowed her to respond publicly to social changes experienced by the female readership and engage openly with topics such as women’s mental health, … interlacing the personal with the public and the domestic with the professional’. Klickmann ’addressed middle-class women’s concerns by utlising her autobiographical work and personal experience suggesting a blurring of notions of public and private’. Jayne Shacklady thus brought into the debate her own practical research into the archives of the magazine, with an eye directed toward the politics of editorship and the need to delve into the personal to determine upon the direction of particular publications. Women’s and girls’ magazines are thus revealed as a repository of information about the place of women-in-the-world as subjects and as operators in determining how women and girls might be represented.
This, then, comes full circle to Noliwe Rooks’ perspective on the way in which product manufacturers and advertisers may influence what appears in women’s magazines and how editorial direction may be enhanced or undercut by the broader demands of economics and women’s power (or otherwise) as editors and audience.
‘Women in Magazines’ began and ended on a high note, with participants glorying in the knowledge that the field is replete with research, perspectives of varying hue, and both academic and popular investigation. All this ensures that women’s and girls’ magazines will continue to provide a resource for historians, political scientists, psychologists and general researchers into women’s writing and editorship, and how publishers regard women and girls as readers and consumers.
JAS (c) July 2012
Dr Jocelynne A. Scutt’s research presently focuses on women’s bodies as sites for consumerism, medical and surgical intervention, and objects for ‘treatment’. The ‘moral panics’ brought to light by the (now somewhat old) ‘new’ criminology are being replicated in body panics directed toward women’s perceptions of body-as-real and body-in-need-of-treatment. Dr Scutt’s books include ‘Taking a Stand – Women in Politics & Society’.
The 1970s Women’s Liberation Movement saw 24 hour childcare as an essential plank of women’s rightful demands. Conservative forces wilfully interpreted this as indicative of a desire on the part of women to be free of motherhood: anyone who would listen was assailed with tales of women’s wishing to ‘dump’ their children in childcare centres for entire days. This was far from women’s aim. Recognising that many women shared motherhood responsibilities with the responsibilities of paidwork, and that many worked shifts, the demand was framed so as to incorp0rate egalitarian needs. With many women working in factories or as nurses, it was evident that childcare run from 9.00am to 5.00pm would not encompass the necessities of their daily lives. Even for women working ‘regular’ jobs and hours, leeway was necessary to ensure women could arrive at work on time and engage in paid employment that fitted into what was seen as the ‘ordinary’ working day.
Kindergartens long pre-dated the 1970s Movement, and childcare was part of government action during wartime, in particular. In both the First and Second World War, governments – local, regional/state and national – established centres for children who were below school age or who required after-school care. Kindergarten teachers and childcare workers devised forms of play and instruction that encouraged childhood development and recognised children’s right to benefit from childcare – even if the motive in establishing these centres was related to the war effort and the need to ensure that women could move into posts vacated by men joining up and going to the front.
Today, the right to play – for all children, girls and boys - has a firm place on the rights agenda. The Convention on the Rights of the Child – signed up to by all United Nations members apart from two (Somalia and the United States) incorporates this right specifically in Article 31. Play as a right can be read into other provisions of the Convention, as well. Presently, a committee comprising NGOs dedicated to affirming and supporting children and children’s rights is working on an agreed communique expanding upon or explaining the terms of Article 31. The aim is to ensure that Article 31 is acknowledged as central to children’s rights and to the Convention, and that the notion of ‘play’ as a right is not given a limited interpretation, nor subjugated to other provisions.
The work of the NGO committee was the subject of discussion at the 26th World Play Conference held in Estonia from 17-19 June 2012 at the University of Tallinn. Jan Van Gils, President of the International Council for Children’s Play (ICCP), led a lively discussion encompassing issues going to the nature of play, the right to leisure, and what these mean in principle and practice.
Play is critical to physical, social and psychological development of all children, girls and boys. Girls may be particularly susceptible to a narrowing or limiting of the scope of ‘play-rights’ in consequence of social or cultural demands. Cultural denial of girls to be outside or to run, jump and engage in outdoor activities cannot be allowed to override the principle of non-discrimination on the grounds of sex/gender which has a firm place in UN treaties, covenants and conventions and is applicable to children as well as adults. Girls’ right to play cannot, either, be subjugated to a notion that household tasks and duties take precedence. Indeed, the Convention on the Rights of the Child makes this clear. Article 1 provides that discrimination breaches the Convention.
The imagination children bring to play and their ability to make play ‘work’ in conditions that, at first glance, appear to be discouraging, was evident in many presentations and exchanges that followed. Dr Jennifer Cartmel’s presentation gave a particular insight into the capacity of children to play in an adult environment – both making the space their own and incorporating adult roles into their play. The initiative exhibited by girls, in particular, resonates in itself as well as providing insights into the way women’s lived histories are influencing girls’ appreciation of their own worth and the value of their own ideas.
Dr Cartmel (of Australia’s Griffith University) was assigned the task of providing play in a boardroom: a company wished to extend to their employees’ children a week of childcare on the business premises. This meant taking over a boardroom on the 18th floor of a busy office building. Armed with craft materials, cartons, fabric, masking tape and various items she saw as lending themselves to engaging children in play, Jennifer Cartmel advanced into a room that was set up for adult meetings, not children’s play. Ultimately, neither she nor the children were daunted: the children adapted to the space or, rather, adapted the space to themselves.
On the first day, one young girl requested ‘job descriptions’ which she saw as essential to organising play: clearly, the boardroom atmosphere appeared to have had some influence on her perception of play-in-the-space. Being eager to showcase the group’s talents, the child nominated job descriptions as a necessary foundation to the holding of a fashion parade, which duly went ahead, sans manufactured job descriptions. Recognising the importance of non-directed play and the necessity of the freedom to play, Jennifer Cartmel’s approach was not to impose upon the children or ‘dictate’ to them by her producing ‘duty lists’, but to provide scope for the children themselves to work out how they should undertake the various tasks and who should be assigned them.
Girls’ confidence in play settings was evidenced also in their approach to cubby-building. Constructing a canopied structure by adding swathes of material to a small tent, they commandeered the space for their meetings. Ensconced in the tent, they played out corporate roles – taking advantage of the ‘boardroom atmosphere’ rather than allowing it to limit the parameters of their play.
When window cleaners advanced up to the 18th floor on a pulley-and-plank system some of the children perceived as dangerous, one girl (with an offsider) invented a prototype harness. She explained to Dr Cartmel that the prototype would ensure safety for window cleaners working on all levels and particularly up high. She added, however, that she intended to preserve the harness and the ideas that had gone into its development – until she was older. Being a child, she said, there would be little chance of the prototype being taken seriously by government or manufacturers: ‘they won’t listen’, she said, because ‘they won’t take a child seriously’. However, she added, ‘they will when I’m older’. Then, the prototype would be seen for the valuable aid it should be.
So, history, women’s demands and children’s rights collide. This collision – both constructive and instructive – illustrates the way in which principle and theory become embedded in practice and the actuality of girls and women’s lives. The historical struggle by women for education and employment opportunities resonates with girls in their own world of play. The demand of women for the right of girls to an education, played out in the West and mirrored around the globe, presently occurring in Afghanistan (for example) with the work of RAWA (Revolutionary Association of the Women of Afghanistan), is vital to the advancement of girls’ right to be human. Play is a part of this and, as the work of those engaged in the ‘play’ movement indicates, the right of girls to play is fundamental. The space in which to exercise this right is a necessary component. The right to space cannot be denied on the grounds of sex, or age. Girls’ right to space to play is a right to be exercised – inside and out.
‘Growing Up Feminist – The New Generation of Australian Women’ and ‘Growing Up Feminist Too – Raising Women, Raising Consciousness’ are amongst the books in the Artemis ‘Women’s Voices, Women’s Lives’ series edited by Dr Jocelynne A. Scutt, whose mother was a kindergarten teacher - providing her daughters with a memorable childhood.
Margaret Bondfield (1873-1963) was the first Labour woman to become a cabinet Minister and the first UK cabinet Minister. The year was 1929, some six years after she had been elected to Parliament. It was not the first time Margaret Bondfield was to be a ‘first’. In the year she took her place in Parliament, she became the first woman to chair the Trades Union Congress (TUC), a consequence of her trade union activism and her commitment to trade unionism.
Yet this – commitment and activism – was not all that promoted Margaret Bondfield into posts where no woman had sat or stood before. It took tremendous will, a belief in herself and in the ideas and ideals she espoused, the courage to keep going when the going was tough – as it so often must have been – and the will to continue to affirm that politics, trade unionism and, indeed, engagement with the world of rights, power, influence and authority was right where women should be.
Not quite a century has passed since Margaret Bondfield made the great stride for women into the British Labour Party cabinet room. In 2029 celebrations of the feat will be significant, with Labour women affirming the central role played by this dedicated woman and her importance in advancing women’s rights and the rights of women to perform in the public arena. Yet will the revelry take place in circumstances where women share an equal number of places in cabinet, or in the Parliament? Although Labour is doing relatively well, with a woman as Deputy Leader (Harriet Harman) and, of some twenty-seven places, a dozen women serving in the shadow cabinet, will the numbers remain roughly equal from now on, and will there be another woman Prime Minister? Will there be 300+ women in Parliament, making up the numbers on both sides of the chamber?
To bring about the radical change needed to propel women into elections and safe or winnable seats and, hence, the possibility of women being there in numbers anyway akin to those of men, the Labour Party has adopted the running of ‘Women’s Lists’ for candidate selection in stipulated seats. In the upcoming round, Peterborough, Norwich, Carlisle, Redcar, Bristol West and Dover are committed to all-women lists, whilst Crewe and Nantwich, Cambridge, Chatham and Aylesford, North Windon and Bedford are running ‘open’ lists. All-women lists do not always ‘happen’ where they are scheduled to occur. Some grumbling or rumbling is heard occasionally within and without the Labour Party. Nonetheless, the principle is accepted ‘in principle’ that affirmative steps must be taken to ensure that women may be represented in Parliament in greater numbers and that the goal of equal representation may be met. Are there precedents?
When in the early 1940s Robert Menzies determined to create the Liberal Party of Australia by combining the United Australia Party (UAP) with smaller conservative-leaning groups, he faced a determined group of women when he sought support of the conservative women. They had terms and conditions, non-negotiable if their numbers were to strengthen Menzies’ proposed new political force. Their support was contingent upon Menzies (and his supporters) agreeing to affirmative action for women in the Party: places in the administrative wing and on the executive were to be ‘reserved’ for women, so that women would have a voice in Party policy and organisation. The women won their point, and Menzies secured their votes.
Years later, however, when the Australian Labor Party (ALP) was brought to acknowledge the need for affirmative action, setting the goal in the first instance as 30 per cent of women preselected for parliamentary seats at state and federal elections, Liberal Party women scoffed at the idea. Bronwyn Bishop, a Liberal MP who had striven for years to be preselected for a winnable seat – eventually succeeding – was particularly scathing. Her contention was that affirmative action was degrading for and to women: that women should succeed on ’merit’ and that positive steps to advance women would see inferior candidates who would always be regarded in this light through not ‘making it on their own’. The media was also divided.
At that time, a large slew of women were elected in what was seen as a ‘landslide’, when the Keating Government was defeated and John Howard came to power as Australian Prime Minister. On that basis, many contended that ‘merit’ had parachuted those women into Parliament and no other action was required. Yet the numbers did not persist, with subsequent elections resulting in some new members holding on to their seats, whilst others saw their seats returning to the left side of politics.
Meanwhile, women recognised the importance of funding and resources in running political campaigns: seats could not be won by talent alone. Early Money is Like Yeast – Emily’s List – was born in the United States to provide women candidates with basic funding, or at least ‘seeding grants’ to get their campaigns off the ground. Joan Kirner, the first woman Deputy Premier, then first woman Premier, of Victoria, was the leading force in bringing Emily’s List to Australia. Granted an AC (Companion of Australia in the Order of Australia awards – the ‘Australian CBE/OBEs’) in the June 2012 Honours List, Joan Kirner was quoted as saying she was looking eagerly for the next Victorian woman Premier: she did not want to remain the ‘first and only’. Emily’s List continues to support women candidates and, hoped Joan Kirner, it would ensure that women Premiers took their place in a long list begun with her ascension.
Is there any counterpart in the United Kingdom? The Conservative-Liberal-Democrat Coalition Government has its women members and women ministers. Yet the numbers are not equal: of twenty-three in the ministry, five are women: Therese May, the most senior, as Home Secretary, Baroness Warsi as Conservative Party Chair (presently standing down), Caroline Spellman, Environmental Secretary, Justine Greening, Transport Secretary, and Cheryl Gillan, Welsh Secretary. As for Members, the House of Commons comprises 650 MPs. Of these, 505 are men, with 145 women.
Some years ago, Lesley Abdulla established the 300 Club, organised to advance women’s parliamentary numbers. That goal lies distant, and does not appear to be on target for 2029. Recognising this, Labour Women’s Network (LWN) launched the Margaret Bondfield Club, with aims paralleling those of Emily’s List as well as, more broadly, being ‘a new way of doing more … in making sure women play a full part in the life of the Labour Party and its future’.
Power lies in the political arena, just as it does in law, business, ‘The City’ and all our institutions. Ultimately, however, these institutions will not be ‘ours’ in the sense of women and men having equal involvement, exercising equal authority, influence, rights and power – until women and men participate equally at all levels. History shows that capabilities, talent and ability are not enough. It remains to be seen what effect affirmative action may have in the longterm, and whether initiatives such as the Margaret Bondfield Club achieve their founders’ hopes.
Margaret Bondfield did her bit last century. LWN’s stated desire is that the Margaret Bondfield Club will do its bit in making room for a multiplicity of giant strides by women, for women, this century.
Dr Jocelynne A. Scutt is a filmmaker and historian, whose films include ‘The Incredible Woman’ and ‘A Greenshell Necklace’ (with Karen Buczynski-Lee) and the DVD Installation ‘Covered’ – www.theburqahdebates.com/ Her books include The Sexual Gerrymander – Women and the Economics of Power. She is a member of LWN.
The 31 May 2012 saw the University of Greenwich host ‘Youth, Recreation and Play’, a conference bringing together youth workers, school pupils, artists working on community arts projects, students from George Williams College and Greenwich University, and local and international academics from a range of disciplines. The conclusion of the conference saw Dr Mary Clare Martin, its organiser and founder (with Dr Keith Cranwell) of the Centre for the Study of Play and Recreation, launch the London Network for the History of Children.
Three plenary sessions – ‘Play and Legal Liability’, ‘Play, Space and Boundaries’ and ‘Empowering the Young? Citizenship and Activism’ sandwiched two streams. The first, ‘The Development of Youth Work’ included papers having an historical and socio-economic perspective, whilst the second, ‘Theoretical and Educational Developments’ focused on the socio-economic and the psychological vis-à-vis childhood development, youth and adult maturation, educational organisation, and the politics of education and employment policy.
Presentations from six Bedonwell Junior School students (three girls, three boys) opened the conference. They recounted their role and self-development through participation in and leadership of the school’s ‘Guardian Angels’ programme. Designed to support younger pupils by ensuring all have playtime companions, and to encourage positive caring and sharing together with principled citizenship within the school environment, Guardian Angels is a mentoring and skills awareness concept-in-practice consequent upon the work of Deputy Head Heather Soanes and June Vincent, SENCO. The students spoke of their leadership as Guardian Angels arising out of their ‘shadowing’ (as younger students) students holding the role before them and how they, in turn, mentored their own ‘shadows’.
Of particular interest to historians, sociologists and political scientists exploring women’s role was a session on ‘Youth Work Provision: Catering for Minorities?’ Anne Hughes of the University of Southampton and Dr Mary Clare Martin delivered papers on, respectively, ‘A Good Jew and a Good Englishman’: Religion in Jewish Boys’ and Girls’ Clubs, 1880-1930’, and ‘Disability and the Girl Guide Association 1900-1950: Heroic Patience or Active Engagement’.
Anne Hughes’ research and reflections on late nineteenth and early twentieth century creation of young people’s clubs by wealthy philanthropists, particularly in London’s Jewish community, will remind 2011 Women’s History Network Conference participants of the holdings in the Women’s Library. One of the Vera Douwie Scholars at the 2011 WHN conference revealed the existence of a significant archive, including written material and photographs, featuring East End clubs and their initiation and support by well-heeled West End Jewish women.
Anne Hughes highlighted the gendered-focus of the clubs, where ‘sports were a main focus of their activities’, however:
‘Within boys’ clubs, sport and militarism was the primary focus of the activities, with religious elements included as a way to promote sportsmanship or strength of body. For the girls’ clubs, religion was seen as a way to promote the ideals of femininity … [T]raditional English and Jewish notions of womanhood and manhood affected the inclusions of religious elements.’
Another side of ‘clubs for girls’ was evident in Mary Clare Martin’s trawling of Girl Guides’ archives to illuminate the ‘principle of inclusion’ enshrined in the Guide Law, ‘A Guide is a sister to every other Guide’ and how it worked in practice:
‘Many of the developments within the GGA [Girl Guides Association] began at grass roots level. From 1919, companies were founded in institutions. From 1921, an organization called Extension Guides was set up to enable “invalid, cripple, blind and deaf girls living in their own homes to become Guides”.’
‘Badge requirements were adapted to make it possible’ for Guides with a disability ‘to achieve’. As well, ‘special camps were organised for different groups’:
‘While the photo of a Guide in uniform lying in bed making a pretend camp fire might seem distant from the experiences of those who could move freely in the open air, the rhetoric emphasized how Guides were all one family, with only minor differences. Indeed, the association claimed that Guiding was the one thing which could dispel the sense of isolation and difference experienced by disabled Guides.’
Dr Martin’s analysis of archival records provided answers to questions including ‘whether images of heroic suffering and patience dominate over the more pro-active discourses emphasizing achievement and potential’, whether the GGA promoted ‘a medical or a social model of disability’, and whether Guides with a disability were ‘able to participate in the same activities as their peer group’. She observed that, as may be expected, the picture is complex:
‘Some accounts eulogize girls who were models of patience. One girl who had to lie in bed all the time made friends with the birds who flew in. In 1946, Daphne was presented with the “Badge of Fortitude”. She spent all her life in a plaster bed but could still do gardening from her spinal chair was “the friend of all the children in the neighourhood”. Nevertheless, pictures and stories of girls [with a disability] at camp also emphasized the value of the outdoor smells, sounds and relative freedom to blind girls, or how “higher-grade defectives” were almost the same as other Guides, and badge requirements should remain the same …’
A plenary session on the legal implications of play raised questions which continued through the day: whether, in play, girls and boys are treated differently, with stereotypes dogging the footsteps of the sexes when it comes to what, as children, they are permitted to do and what is affirmed or condemned. Edward Phillips (University of Greenwich) ‘Boys will be Boys: Legal Culpability for Sport and Horseplay’ led to participants questioning whether ‘girls will be girls’ is accepted within schools and the law as a positive or negative notion, and what relationship it might have to its ‘boys will be boys’ equivalent. Or is there any equivalence at all? Are girls as girls engaging in recreational activities in the school ground expected to conform to a more passive picture of performance so that stepping out of that role may lead to condemnation not experienced by boys?
‘Youth, Recreation and Play’ followed on from the January 2012 conference, ‘Rethinking the History of Childhood’. It anticipates another January conference for 2013, focusing on issues surrounding play, recreation and the law. This is particularly apposite, for both the January 2012 and the present conference highlighted the central role played by the law in childhood and the activities of childhood, not the least in recreation and play. Myriad questions rise in the field, too, for adults in recreational activities.
Note: The conference programme in its entirety, including all titles of papers and presenters, may be found on the Greenwich University website.
Dr Jocelynne A. Scutt’s books include Growing Up Feminist – The New Generation of Australian Women and Growing Up Feminist Too – Raising Women, Raising Consciousness, volumes in the Artemis ‘Women’s Voices, Women’s Lives’ series.