Owen Jones, UK Independent commentator, pinpoints sexism as the key to ‘rampant’ abuse leveled at women who speak up, speak out, and will not be put down whatever the invective. A predictable response dominates against articulate, determined, achievement-orientated women unafraid of power. Jones cites Louise Mensch, MP, viewed in some circles as an abrasive Conservative Party member, most recently featuring on the parliamentary committee reporting on Murdoch, the media and ‘hacking’.
Observing she is ‘a craven apologist for Rupert Murdoch, and deserves to be exposed as such’, Jones notes that this ‘does not distinguish [Mensch] from the Tory leadership, except that she is more honest about it [with] less power to act on her sycophancy’. She at least ‘had the courage’ to ‘ride to the much-maligned mogul’s defence’ on television’s Newsnight, only to receive a backlash constituted by ‘a torrent of violently sexist tweets’:
‘She was a “whore”, a “cold faced cold hearted bitch”, and far worse. “Louise Mensch … You would wouldn’t you?” tweeted Northern Irish “comedian” Martin Mor. “Given half a chance you’d strangle her!” Vice magazine proceeded to ask Occupy protesters if they’d have sex with her: just for the “lulz”, as the kids say.’
And, as Jones concludes: ‘No male cheerleader for the Murdochs – there are many – is subject to these chilling attacks.’ The same goes for journalism, he says, for although Jones is ‘no stranger to Twitter abuse’, his critics most often are ‘wound up’ by ‘what they regard as [his] excessively youthful appearance’ characterised by ‘Does your mum know you’re up this late?’ and ‘Shouldn’t you be doing your paper-round?’. Jones notes: ‘It is nothing compared with the poisonous misogynist vitriol that women in politics and journalism – such as colleague Laurie Penny – receive.’
Like commentators on online journals, Twitter ‘is an interesting insight into attitudes rampant in society, because it allows people to easily project venom most would never dream of screeching at a passerby in the street’. Twitter ‘… provides alarming evidence that sexism – of varying intensities – remains widespread among men’:
‘Whether purporting to be on the left or the right, there are all too many men who simply cannot bear to be lectured by a woman they passionately disagree with. “Who does this bitch think she is?” sums up their attitude; and if Twitter is anything to go by, what they say can be a lot more explicit than that.’
And although men may predominate in this form of discourse, women may also be implicated.
Returning, then, to Eleanor Roosevelt’s nomination of ‘age-old prejudice’. It is this – a phenomenon now termed ‘sexism’ – that dogged Hilary Clinton’s 2008 White House Bid. Misogynist invective came from the right, the left, and even her pre-selection opponent’s camp. Samantha Power, an Obama campaign worker, took the hit for the sexist comment emanating from the candidate’s office – but ended up on his Presidential staff in any event.
This phenomenon dogs the steps ofAustralia’s Prime Minister.
Childless – unwomanly or unnatural. Childfree – unwomanly and selfish. ‘Hard’, ‘uncaring’, ‘unfeeling’ – yet men alone (Bob Hawke, Malcolm Fraser) are allowed to cry or show emotion (Hawke, Kevin Rudd) and get away with it, even be praised for it. If a woman leader cries, she ‘can’t mix it’. If she resists tears, she’s ‘unwomanly’ or worse – even worse than Lady Macbeth, and who but a woman could be worse than this?
If she is assertive or simply able to stand up with conviction to deliver a message to the masses, she’s ‘tough as nails’. If she falters not a step, but an inch, a millimeter – she’s hopeless or ‘woeful’. And these are only a few – a mild few at that – of the misogynistic commentsAustralia’s Prime Minister has weathered.
Former Senator Bob Brown said it: ‘Quite a bit of the criticism [of the Prime Minister] is sexist and unfair and unrelenting …’ And when questioned by one commentator, the Prime Minister contrasted expectations of her predecessors:
‘… looking across Australia’s political history when Bob Hawke was there or Paul Keating … or John Howard …, I don’t recall there being constant demands for them to show more personality. I don’t remember people looking at John Howard and saying gee, I wish he’d be warmer and cuddlier and more humorous and more engaging in his press conferences. They looked at him and said, well he’s the bloke running the country, and I think the same standard should apply to me. I’m a woman running the country, I don’t ask people to come to the view that they want to have me round for dinner on Saturday night, that’s not what I’m here to do.’
Nonetheless, reason lies for hope that the prejudice is shifting. Not only did the Parliamentary Labor Party support the elevation of the first woman to the Prime Ministership. It shouldn’t go unnoticed that in the lead-up to the 2012 challenge, members of the caucus came out strongly in the Prime Minister’s support – Simon Crean, former leader and longtime parliamentarian, one of them. The ALP has long been seen as male-dominated, yet it has produced and supported the women coming forward as leaders, apart from the Liberal Party’s Kate Carnell, and Kerry Chikarovski as NSW Liberal Opposition leader (1998-2002) before her ousting by a male politician.
As Owen Jones concludes, responsibility lies upon men to end ‘the continuing scourge of sexism’, speaking out against it, not perpetuating it. This is not an invitation for men to ‘muscle in on’ the Women’s Movement. Rather, it is to recognise that ‘sexist abuse is a symptom, or a warning sign, of a society in which women overall are still not equal’. This inequality is colluded in and supported by those who attack the Prime Minister with invective rather than addressing policy issues as policy issues.
All who engage in the abuse or support it by failing to acknowledge it for what it is, standing up to speak out against it so as, ultimately, to end it, remain wedged in the territory of the ‘age-old prejudice’ Eleanor Roosevelt identified. This age-old prejudice not only militates against the rights of women holding posts of ‘high importance’ and power. It erodes the dignity and human rights of every woman. It demotes all women to the category of ‘non-persons’, denied the respect and rights to which every human being is entitled.
JAS © May 2012
‘This country is no matriarchy, nor are we in any danger of being governed by women,’ wrote Eleanor Roosevelt in a 1940 article published in the US magazine Good Housekeeping. ‘Can a woman be President of the United States?’ she asked, reiterating what she had ‘so often said’:
‘At present the answer is emphatically “No”. It will be a long time before a woman will have any chance of nomination or election.’
She concluded that even if ‘an emotional wave swept a woman into [the presidency], her election would be valueless, as she could never hold her following long enough to put over her program’:
‘It is hard enough for a man to do that, with all the traditional schooling men have had; for a woman, it would be impossible because of the age-old prejudice. In government, in business, and in the professions there may be a day when women will be looked upon as persons. We are, however, far from that day as yet.’
In 1940s Australia, the possibility of a woman as a political leader – whether Premier or Prime Minister – was equally remote. Not until 1943 was any woman elected to federal Parliament. Dorothy Tangney sat in the Senate, Enid Lyon in the House of Representatives, each the first woman ever to do so. Electors had put Edith Cowan into the WA Parliament some twenty years before and, following that lead, elections in other states saw occasional elevation of a woman as MP. Yet it took one of the territories – the ACT – to elect the first woman leader of any Australian government: on 11 May 1989 Rosemary Follett became Chief Minister. Carmen Lawrence (February 1990) and Joan Kirner (August 1990) followed as WA and Victorian Premier respectively; neither won an election as leader. Then the territories again showed the strength of voter sentiment by electing Kate Carnell minority government leader following the ALP’s 1995 election loss, whilst the NT elected Clare Martin in 2001 and again in 2005. In 2007 Anna Bligh became Queensland’s first woman Premier upon Peter Beattie’s retirement, then in 2009 was the first woman to win the Premiership of any state, serving until the 2012 Liberal National Party election win – with a man at the helm.
As for Prime Minister, names were bandied about over more than a decade before in June 2010 Julia Gillard took the post first by ALP parliamentary caucus vote, then through negotiations with independent members after the August 2010 election.This meant the ALP retained government, and she retained the top post.
Julia Gillard thus broke through the barrier recognised by Eleanor Roosevelt. Yet Eleanor Roosevelt saw more than simply gaining office as the goal. For her, it was necessary to make something of it, through implementing a policy programme of the leader’s own making. This, forRoosevelt, was a major barrier. ‘Age-old prejudice’ was the key.
How, then, does Australia’s first woman Prime Minister measure-up? Policy gains of the Australian government since 2010 election contradict Eleanor Roosevelt’s contention that a woman leader ‘could never hold her following long enough to put over her program’. Since coming to power the Gillard government has:
- Passed the climate change policy on carbon pricing and emissions, incorporating supports for householders and ways business can implement it whilst retaining productivity, and awarding $1.9 mill. toward geothermal exploration advancing renewable energy potential;
- Launched the National Broadband Network (NBN) aiming to ensure rural and remote access to contemporary communications along with urban dwellers and business;
- Negotiated a Mental Health National Partnership Agreement (NP), providing states and territories mental health project funding, commencing with $57.6 mill. over 5 years to NSW for services for those often ‘presenting at hospital emergency departments’ or at risk of ‘recycling’ ‘in and out of institutional settings’;
- Supported the Australian Service Worker (ASU)’s equal pay claim, endorsed by Fair Work Australia on 1 February 2012;
- Introduced the R&D Tax Credit policy aimed at generating high-wage, high-skill jobs through a 45% refundable Tax Credit for firms under a $20mill turnover, and a 40%r refundable Tax Credit for all others, retrospective to 1 July 2011;
- Passed ‘plain packaging’ laws effective December 2012, to ‘reduce the number of deaths from smoking-related diseases’, ‘giving [Australia] the best chance of having the lowest smoking rates’;
- Announced a new cash-payment plan replacing the Education Tax Refund, so ‘a typical family will get more than $720 extra each year’ from 1 January 2013, ensuring payment is automatic, ‘upfront’ and prior to the end of the tax year;
- Implemented and expanded a National Bowel Cancer Screening Program to reduce bowel cancer, and announced a ‘blitz’ on dental treatment waiting lists to cover 400,000 patients, ‘benefiting low income Australians’;
- Introduced the National Disability Insurance Scheme (NDIS), from July 2013 operating from ‘up to four locations across the country’ ensuring ‘about 10,000 people … will receive support … rising to 20,000’ by July 2014 and meaning, in the government’s words: ‘For the first time in Australia’s history people with significant and permanent disability will receive lifetime care and support, regardless of how they acquired their disability’.
Far from exhaustive, the list omits policies coming under significant humanitarian fire: the NT intervention or ‘second invasion’ and asylum seekers and refugees policy – although recently modified. However, here the Gillard government has pursued policies supported by the Prime Minister.
For Australia, then, Eleanor Roosevelt’s assertion that a woman will fail as political head through ‘not lasting’ sufficiently long to carry through a platform falls.
Yet despite substantial policy achievements, many of which have major community support, and despite their being gained whilst leading a minority government, a Sydney Morning Herald poll: ‘How do you rate Julia Gillard as prime minister?’ shows confounding results. Of 16,832 votes, 15% rate performance as ‘excellent’, 17% ‘good’, 7% ‘average’, with the remainder devoted to ‘poor’ – at 10%, and 51% ‘woeful’.
Limited to Fairfax newspaper readership, such polls can include multiple voting. Yet the figures prompt the question why, defying substantial policy outcomes and an undeniable capacity on the Prime Minister’s part to effect this, a not insubstantial number fail to acknowledge it?
Part II to come.
Dr Jocelynne A. Scutt is a Barrister & Human Rights Lawyer, and Visiting Professor at the University of Buckingham. Her books include The Sexual Gerrymander – Women and the Economics of Power and Taking a Stand – Women in Politics and Society.
On 13 and 14 April, the University of Newcastle hosted the conference ‘Moving Dangerously: Women and Travel, 1850-1950’. Organised by Dr Emma Short, two keynote addresses and eighteen parallel sessions held participants entranced, enlivened and enthused. Literature graduates and academics predominated. At the same time, an interdisciplinary flavour was much in evidence, through the literary theme’s being interspersed with papers presented by graduates, academics and practitioners in film, history, geography, anthropology, engineering and law. Air travel and travel by boat, riding on camels and bicycles, motoring and travelling by tube, taking buses and trains locally, venturing abroad in urban and metropolitan climes, or internationally – women were revealed as intrepid travellers, sometimes itinerant, often times perpetual. The dangers of travel and the notion of women as dangerous travellers were explored, along with women as initiators of travel, as inventors and designers of many modes of travel, and women as everything other than ‘only’ ‘armchair travellers’ filled two intense days of presentations, discussions and debates.
Participation in the conference confirmed that women remain committed to travel – by whatever means available. Women came from London, Newcastle, Germany, Canada, the United States, Scotland,Portugal and Madeira, Sweden, Spain, The Netherlands, Canary Islands, Australia, Poland, Switzerl, Italy, Wales – and north, south, west, east and central England. A plethora of universities was represented, as well as independent scholars contributing.
Avril Maddrell of the Universityof West England and Alexandra Peat of Franklin College, Switzerland presented keynote addresses. In ‘Women on the Move: Moving and Being Moved’, Dr Maddrell opened the conference, bringing a lyrical dimension to the notion and the reality of women travelling and women as travellers. Moving from place to place engages the traveller in ‘seeing the sights’ as well as ‘feeling’ them. Feeling and feelings are integral to the experience of travel, with women’s writing on and of their travels being incorporated into Dr Maddrell’s presentation to illustrate the travel experience as seen through women’s eyes, as heard and as felt by women’s bodies and women’s brains both physically and emotionally.
This setting of the scene was enhanced by Associate Professor Peat on the second day, when she took travelling to another dimension, in ‘The Limitless Horizon: Travelling in the Home’. The idea that the woman at home is nothing but ‘of the home’ was contested by reference to travel artifacts in the home; through furnishings as redolent of places far away – as in drapes and couches, wall hangings and bedding; by use o f cooking utensils such as the wok and bain-marie; so, too, styles of cooking and kitchen, breads and beverages. The challenge of the exotic nature of what is so often classed as ‘domestic’, together with the concept of the window as a ‘window to the world’ whilst also being a window into the world, affirmed both the vitality and the importance of seeing anew.
The renunciation of the tendency to be accepting of old, established ways of seeing was replicated in panel presentations. As is always the case, choice was difficult. The first day saw participants having to decide between ‘Middle Eastern Journeys’, ‘African Adventures’ and ‘Extreme Movements’, with the afternoon being a question of whether to attend ‘Class, Femininity and Travel’, ‘Empire and Travel’ or ‘Emancipatory Movements’, and, later, ‘Transatlantic Travels’, ‘Travel in the Press’ or ‘Movement Through Film’. For day two, decisions were equally complicated, with morning panels on ‘Modernist Movement I’, ‘Crossing the Boundaries of Eastern Europe’ and ‘Automotive Travel’, then ‘Autobiography and the Travelogue’, ‘Anthropology and/as Travel or ‘Politics and War’. The afternoon required decisions as to attending ‘Moving Through London’, ‘National Identity and Travel’ or ‘Modernist Movement II’.
Referring to some presentations rather than others presents as many conundrums, for even as to those sessions it was impossible to attend, the vigour of exchanges over coffee and tea, lunch, drinks and dinner was indicative of the high benchmark reached by all presenting and the content of all presentations. Nevertheless, for two that stepped outside the literary theme, Emma Baumhofer’s ‘On the Road: Passing Women inAmerica, 1890-1910’ and Nina Baker’s ‘Women Car Designers and Designing Cars for Women: The Arrol Galloway and the Volvo YCC’ were notable. An engineer, Baker looked at ‘designing women’ from the turn of the last century, illustrating her presentation with images of early motorised carriages which were not built to accommodate full skirts, yet which women drove, anyway, as well as contributing significantly to car design in those early days. Baker spoke, too, of the Volvo all-woman team which, although wrongly presented as a ‘first’ in terms of women car-designers, developed a prototype from which Volvo incorporated particular aspects and which remain integral to some Volvo models. In a completely different approach to ‘travel’, Baumhofer took as her focus women who ‘passed’ as men – taking men’s jobs, drinking in ‘all-male’ bars, swearing and gambling, marrying as men and being discovered, sometimes, only upon death. Women masqueraded as sailors, soldiers, pirates; worked in factories – as hard and as long as the men; changed names, identities and locations; and were the subject of scandal upon being ‘outed’ – whether alive or dead.
Meanwhile – one of the literary contributions to the conference, Ellen Turner’s ‘EM Hull’s Camping in the Sahara: Desert Romance Meets Desert Reality’ provided an insight into a woman-of-mystery of another kind. EM Hull’s famous sheik novels made both her and Rudolph Valentino famous – Hull for her graphic scenes of love-in-the-desert, Valentino for his depiction of Hull’s sheik who loves-in-the-desert. Hull’s pig-farmer husband simply ‘got on with it’ down on the farm, whilst Hull – and later she and their daughter – travelled the desert sands in (part at least) emulation of Hull’s heroines.
‘Love and romance’ in the context of travel and woman’s place was an element of two presentations on film, too. Andrew Hogan’s ‘Red Women on the Move: Soviet Representations of Women Travelling, 1925-35’ and Anna C. Sloan’s ‘Virgins inItaly: Tourism, Imperialism, and the American Women in 1950s Hollywood Melodrama’ sparked lively debate around the presentation and representation of women through film. Presenters and participants engaged in a thoughtful exchange on the role of ‘the journey’ both as figurative and literal cinema archetype in films featuring women protagonists, taking women forward in self-development, -confidence and -esteem, and ways in which that journey may be enhanced by travel into previously unknown climes.
In travelling, women show themselves to be brave and courageous, intrepid and innovative, inquisitive and, sometimes, supremacist, racist and even, perhaps, unbearable. ‘Moving Dangerously: Women and Travel, 1850-1950′ brought home so clearly the importance of exploring and affirming the many dimensions of women and women’s lives, all over the world.
Note: The conference programme in its entirety, including all titles of papers and presenters, may be found on the University of Newcastle website.
Dr Jocelynne A. Scutt’s books include No Fear of Flying – Women at Home and Abroad, one of twelve volumes in the ‘Women’s Voices, Women’s Lives’ series which contains autobiography by women of a broad range of backgrounds, ages and identities.
Despite pink’s high profile as a ‘girlie’ colour, in Pink and Blue: Telling the Girls from the Boys in America, Jo B. Paoletti points out: ”For centuries … children wore dainty white dresses up to age 6.’ Colours as sex/gender signifiers did not take hold until just before the first world war. Paoletti cites the June 1918 issue of trade publication Earnshaw’s Infants Department: ’The generally accepted rule is pink for the boys, and blue for the girls. The reason is that pink, being a more decided and stronger color, is more suitable for the boy, while blue, … more delicate and dainty, is prettier for the girl.’ Other publications considered blue to be ‘flattering for blonds’, whilst pink was the colour for brunettes. Alternatively, ‘blue was for blue-eyed babies, pink for [the] brown-eyed … ’ . Stores carrying infants’ clothes and associated products took the ‘pink is for boys’ line.
Contradictions inherent in ‘pink for girls, blue for boys’ exist, too, in directives as to ‘appropriate’ attire for boys and girls. Jeanne Maglaty of Washington’s Smithsonian Institute observes that childhood photographs of Franklin D. Roosevelt are ‘typical of his time’. Photographs from 1884 show him at two years, wearing an ankle-length white dress, his head a profusion of ringlets. Not until age 6 or 7 was a distinction made in dress: frocks for girls, short pants – later trousers – for boys. Within the last fifty years, dress distinction was neutralised by the coming of rompers – a trouser suit, generally with bib and braces. Then, both girls and boys wore trousers – reverting to the gender neutrality of Roosevelt’s time, albeit in the opposite direction.
Pink features not only in baby clothing. In the pop world, pink’s illustrious aura has no sex/gender distinction. Pinkney Anderson came out of South Carolina and the Indian Remedy Company’s travelling road as major force for jazz and blues. ‘Pink’ Anderson’s major albums include American Street Songs and Carolina Medicine Show Hokum & Blues. Anderson’s force as a musical power lives on through Pink Floyd, where ‘Pink’ is for Anderson, Floyd a tribute to Floyd Council.
Meanwhile, musical men have no ‘pink’ monopoly. Known universally by her stage name rather than ‘Alecia Beth Moore’, Pink turned victimisation in to survivorship, powerlessness into power. Like Anderson, she took her title from childhood, converting a bad experience into an expression of confidence:
‘It’s just a nickname that’s been following me my whole life. It was a mean thing at first, some kids at camp pulled my pants down and I blushed so much, and they were like, ‘Ha ha! Look at her! She’s pink!’ and then the movie Reservoir Dogs came out – and Mr Pink was the one with the smart mouth, so it just happened all over again … ’
Yet negative connotations have been attributed to the colour pink: pink has been getting a bad name as in PinkStinks, ‘the campaign for real role models’ where ‘the culture of pink’ is challenged in seeking to give girls ‘inspiration to achieve great things’.
The Observer’ s Zoe Woods reports on PinkStinks’ ‘… campaign against the toy industry’s narrow view of gender roles’ with Hamleys ceasing to label its floors in blue for boys, pink for girls, and rearranging toys ‘by type rather than gender’. Concerns about the commercialisation of the ‘pink is for girls’ phenomenon has made Disney shops a target, filled as they are with row upon row of pink tutus, pink fairy wings, pink wands, pink make-up cases with miniature pink lipstick tubes, powder puffs, hairclips, bows – alongside shops featuring lacy pink underwear including ‘trainer bras’.
Yet should the feminist fightback against what Peggy Orenstein, in Cinderella Ate My Daughter: Dispatches from the Front Lines of the New Girlie-Girl Culture, terms ‘the princess industrial complex’, be directed toward labelling pink as powerless and pernicious?
Pink’s association with power and strength is notable. Girl babies survive at far higher rates than do boy babies. Stanford, Yale and Brown medical schools’ research shows girls born preterm do better than boys, with premature birth creating ‘greater problems’ and producing more lasting brain effects in boys. Far from being ‘passive’, ‘submissive’, flaccid, inert or any of those other antonyms decrying pink, girl babies and girl children have strengths which may be overlooked. This does not mean these strengths are not there.
‘Tomboy’ exists because girls climb trees, swing from monkey-bars, play rough and tumble games including softball, basketball and hockey. Far from being ‘sissy’, skippy or skip-the-rope requires coordination, agility and muscle power. Even activities placed firmly into the domain of the ‘weak’ by those who abjure the tutu, dance is far from lacking strength and power. The ability to move to music is recognised, too, as a potent factor in gaining psychological equilibrium and sense of self, both vital to well-being.
So are affirmations of pink as a power signifier anti-feminist? Do those affirming pink’s power undercut girls and women’s ability to grow-up as humanbeings of strength and fortitude? Is there a generational divide here, as asserted in the controversy surrounding the ‘Slut Walk’ movement?
The controversy over ‘slut’ was not that those demurring or objecting did not support the original marchers in Canada, where a police officer unwisely asserted that rape was a caused by women ‘dressing like sluts’. Clearly, he was wrong. Rape is a consequence of male assertion of ‘right’ over the woman who says no or who does not say yes. Rather, the controversy related to whether ‘slut’ could be ‘reclaimed’ as a word affirming women and womanhood.
Unlike ‘mistress’, ‘spinster’, ‘loose woman’ and ‘pink’, ‘slut’ has never had a positive meaning, nor positive connotations for women. Once, a mistress was a woman of power in the household, a woman holding the larder and cellar keys, who ordered household operations, wielding strength through management and administration: no mean skill there. Once, a spinster span – preserving her independence through earning her own income, and spinsters challenged ‘men’s right’ to auction their wives in the marketplace. Loose women had agency and autonomy – walking free and independent, the property of no man.
Pink is a word of power. In the past, this was recognised. No reason for not doing so now.
‘Slut’ has ever meant ‘slattern’ – a dirty, sloppy, smelly and slovenly woman. Can that having no redeeming feature, applied against women by those having no capacity for recognising, or acknowledging, women’s strength, power, autonomy and agency – in general or in sexual terms – be ‘reclaimed’?
PinkStinks has supporters of all ages. Its ingenious inventors are sisters of 40, operating through social networks Facebook and Twitter. The Slut Marches did not comprise young or younger women alone. Nor did the divide fall on one or other side of generational lines.
PinkStinks’ concern is understandable. Yet will it advance young girls’ perception of themselves to be told their wish for pink is an indicator of a lack of identification with power and self-worth? Rather than put down pink – and girls with it, let it take its historical place as a colour of strength. Rather than putdowns in the playground, let’s encourage a culture affirming girls and women as indomitable.
The professional woman may be garbed in black, navy or red – whilst also recognising that pink is powerful.
Dr Jocelynne A. Scutt’s books include Growing Up Feminist – The New Generation of Australian Women, Growing Up Feminist Too – Raising Women, Raising Consciousness, Living Generously – Women Mentoring Women, and Breaking Through – Women, Work and Careers. She is presently researching the history of women’s bodies.
Recently, urgent necessity caused ‘chaos’ in Lower Regent Street when a bus drove the wrong way down that one-way thoroughfare. Upon sighting the Number 23 double-decker bus moving into oncoming traffic, were ‘forced to set up a roadblock’. Sergeant Izzy Harrison said she ‘had not seen anything like it in her 25-year career’. The driver was warned, but no arrest ensued. As Harrison explained: ‘When we stopped [the bus] the driver jumped off and said “sorry, I needed the loo”.’
Earlier, women took the ‘occupy’ movement in new directions, entering conveniences labeled ‘Gentlemen’ or ‘Men Only’ without regard to the niceties of obeying the signs. Carrying banners protesting ‘bladder injustice, Indian women celebrated International Women’s Day by ‘intruding’ into the Manas Chowk men’s toilet. For a time, at least, they did not jump from foot to foot in a ruse to prevent ‘accidents’ whilst waiting.
Evidencing town planner and architects’ lack of consideration for physiology or physique, the problem lies with space. Whether it be lavatories, loos, toilets, bathrooms, public conveniences – these facilities have a plethora of names – there is no plethora of the facilities themselves, at least for women.
The notoriety of queues outside women’s lavatories is worldwide. So too the lack of queues outside washrooms allocated to men. At the opera, cinema, pop concerts, Olympic events; at the showground, art galleries, the beach; at railway stations, coach stations, and almost anywhere in the city; in town halls and civic centres, country halls and shire halls; in court buildings and buildings housing tribunals, and in other public places; indeed, wherever human beings gather – too few loos for women. Everywhere, in every country, the problem is identical: too few loos labeled ‘ladies’ or, more bluntly, ‘women’.
Although culture and physiology do play a part, the major problem is not that women need lavatories more often than men, nor that women spend longer in cubicles than men do, whether they use cubicles or urinals. The major problem is that urinals take less space and women do not urinate standing up.
During the 1970s and early 1980s, women did take a stand, proving it was possible for women to ape men in this most intimate of human activities. In Australia, women proved the point in a sit in at Parliament House. Several stood to express (or lay bare) their prowess, shocking two Members of Parliament who braved the assembly. The demonstrators’ display did not, however, have the repercussions that may have been hoped for. Following the Parliament House demonstration, no reconfiguration of toilet blocks occurred, no architects took on board the possibilities of adapting the urinal to accommodate women, no greater number of female lavatories was erected in Canberra nor, indeed, anywhere. Nor did building designers follow-through by getting the message: that to ensure women equal access, more cubicles must be incorporated into ‘bathrooms’ for women.
Although a variety of ‘modified urinals and personal funnels has been invented to make it easier for women to urinate standing up’, none has become sufficiently widespread so as to ‘affect policy formation on potty parity’. In any event, at minimum equality requires cubicles-for-women in the numbers allotted to men’s urinals as well as the number of cubicles constructed in toilet blocks designed for men.
Nevertheless at least, today, the need for ‘toilets-for-women’ is accepted. Not so in the past. When the first public conveniences were erected in London in 1855, that women might require them was hardly acknowledged. ‘Polite company’ refused to accept that women’s physiology, like men’s, has a waste function; that women’s bodies, like those of men, engage in this most basic of human activities. George Jennings’ campaign for ‘Halting Stations’ (as he termed them) did not result in broadly-based recognition that when women, like men, need to ‘go’ – they, like men, need somewhere to go to!
The Victorian era spawned not only demonstrations and demands for women’s right to vote, but a massive struggle for women’s loos to be included in the building programme erecting men’s facilities throughout London, under- and overground. Yet to speak of this was akin, almost, to lese majesty. Just as Victoria Sax-Coburg-Gotha ‘was not amused’ at so much, it may be presumed she’d have been little amused at a contention that public conveniences should be built to accommodate women.
When in the late 19th century he campaigned expressly for ‘loos for women’, George Bernard Shaw discovered that ‘decency’ was offended. His call for women’s rights in the building of equal numbers of public lavatories met with little acclaimin those polite circles. Yet the polite along with the allegedly discourteous were equally assisted by Shaw’s focus on the inequity in providing for men whilst women were expected to control their bladders mercilessly.
The problem does not end there. Crib rooms and ablution blocks in mines, factories and ‘dirty’ workplaces have been noted for their ‘all male’ configuration. Yet such a constriction was not isolated there. ‘Lack of facilities’ was a time-honoured excuse for keeping women out of Parliament, the judiciary, universities and other spaces, places and jobs reserved ‘for men only’.
When, in 1985, the first woman was appointed to the County Court of Victoria, she found that loos for judges were labeled ‘Gentlemen’, whilst ‘Women’ applied to loos for court-cleaners. When, in the following decade, Glenda Jackson visited Australia after having been elected to Parliament as Member for Hampstead and Highgate, she spoke of ‘Members’ lavatories being allotted to men, whilst women had to seek toilet-access in less salubrious surroundings.
Even apart from job opportunities, this is not a trivial nor an inconsequential concern. In every culture, health and comfort are essential requirements, and culture can dictate more time for women than men spent in ‘going to the loo’. Physiology can make a difference, too. Ageing and incontinence often go hand in hand, and as women live longer, the problem is likely to be increased amongst the female population. And other stages of the lifecycle can be influential. Urinary tract infections contribute, along with menstruation and pregnancy. Additionally, women are more likely to take responsibility for changing babies and toddlers’ nappies, as well as taking older children to the lavatory.
Expelling waste is not the only imperative. Sadly, in too many unfortunate instances, restaurants and other venues seek to isolate breastfeeding women, as if feeding a baby and ‘going’ are somehow related. In a notorious Melbourne incident, a Casino security guard ordered a breastfeeding woman to remove from a café to the lavatory. When she objected, the then Premier, Jeff Kennett, endorsed the security guard’s action. In response, women held a ‘breastfeed-in’ on Spring Street’s Parliament House steps. Journalist Catherine Deveny wrote a column about her own breastfeeding experience: in devoting a day to the task, she found no objections, nor objectors, when she breastfed her youngster whilst tram-travelling, parkbench-sitting and even trying out the Myer cafeteria in Little Lonsdale Street.
Yet change is afoot. At Westminster, the situation has improved beyond measure – at least in comparison with the past. Now, there are several additional ‘lady members’ rooms’ – a euphemism for loos and showers. Elsewhere, for outdoor events and onsite construction, portable and freestanding ablution blocks are now designed to suit any specifications. The UK firm Port Container Services proclaims:
‘Port Container Services design and construct ablution blocks and deliver directly to your site. We have a range of designs available, though if you have a particular layout in mind we can create an ablution block or portable bathroom to your specifications. Our ablution blocks can be fitted with toilets, urinals, wash basins, benches, showers, fans and mirrors and come in a range of sizes. Our portable toilet blocks are useful at construction sites, holiday parks and music festivals …’
In the US, state and local legislatures have recognised ‘the washroom’ as vital. Some 21 of the 50 states, together with New York, Chicago and several other major cities, have passed ‘potty parity laws’. ‘Potty parity’ confirms that ‘equality’ in lavatories for women and men is not a question of equal cubicle numbers. Under the 2005 New York City ordinance, equality requires a ratio of two women’s cubicles for every cubicle provided for men. This conforms to international building standards which advocate the 2:1 ratio. Under some other ‘potty parity’ jurisdictions, ‘equality’ is not so generous, requiring only a 3:2 cubicle construction, although this is stated as a minimum.
Returning, now, to Regent Street, imagine George Bernard Shaw’s response. Along with police, he would not be advocating the busdriver’s arrest. He’d surely be taking once more to his pen and the streets, renewing his call for more public conveniences labeled ‘Women’. In the words of the Americans, let our voices rise too – in a plea for more ‘potty parity’. All women – like the women of Chicago and New York– deserve it.
Dr Jocelynne A. Scutt is a Barrister & Human Rights Lawyer, Filmmaker and Historian. Her books include The Sexual Gerrymander – Women and the Economics of Power and Taking a Stand – Women in Politics and Society. Footnotes for this blog are available from her on firstname.lastname@example.org
From her home in New York, at 120 Paine Avenue, New Rochelle, Carrie Chapman Catt writes to Mrs Ashby, a member of the International Woman’s Suffrage Alliance and a colleague in the struggle for women’s rights.
The date? 1 August 1945.
The subject? The Australian Women’s Charter.
Street is the Charter’s major proponent. In August, she is to be in London, following her attendance as Australia’s delegate at the San Francisco Conference of the UN.
‘I am anxious that you should give her a good chance to see and talk with you privately and at length,’ writes Chapman Catt. ‘Australian women have a dream that they should be able to get women all over the world to endorse their Charter and try to get it adopted in their respective lands …’
‘Please read the Australian Charter carefully,’ she asks.
Thirty years earlier, Rose Schneiderman of New York, NY, is calling for international cooperation, too. Writing in the April 1915 issue of Life and Labour, the journal of the USWTUL first edited by Alice Henry with Miles Franklin, she promotes women’s economic rights:
‘The suffragists have blazed the way for recognition of the economic value of women, value which cannot be enforced without political freedom backed by economic organization.’
Through her work with the WTUL, advocating equal pay and women’s industrial rights, Schneiderman affirms the broader dimensions of women’s struggle, strengthened when taken across international boundaries and combined with other demands.
Across centuries and across decades, Schneiderman, Chapman Catt and Street are not alone. In London in 1840, at the International Convention on Slavery, Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Lucretia Mott meet with women from Britain and the Empire. They are affronted and outraged at being required to downgrade their participation in the International Conference – a cause to which they are devoted through activism and intellect – through being hidden behind a curtain, listening to the debate from the gallery. Not only are women not entitled to be delegates. Not only are speaking rights denied them. They are not allowed to be seen.
The snub causes international rumblings. US women plan their first women’s conference forSeneca Falls, which takes place in 1848. Women’s wage justice is high on the agenda atSeneca Fallsand in Street’s Australian Women’s Charter, which affirms women’s right to engage in paid employment. Almost one hundred years later, Chapman Catt suggests that the old rights andwrongs set out in the Seneca Falls Declaration should be incorporated into the World Women’s Charter, forming the first chapter. Chapter two should incorporate the terms of the Australian Women’s Charter:
‘You should submit this rewritten Charter to such organisations inEnglandas seem most likely to join in a movement for endorsement and adoption. That Charter Mrs. Street could take with her wherever she goes and by such means as you think best, it should next be submitted to all countries …’
Fifty years after women meet at Seneca Falls, and almost fifty before debates about the content of the Women’s Charter, Life and Labor carries articles from women taking an internationalist view of the labour movement and women’s industrial struggle. Australians are contributors and even more closely associated with the journal. When in January 1906 she moves from Melbourne to Chicago, as first editor Henry brings with her journalistic expertise and respect gained in Australia. She brings along, too, her Women’s Movement activism and the support of confederates and mentors, Catherine Helen Spence amongst them. She carries letters of introduction from Spence to Susan B. Anthony, Jane Addams and Anna Garlin Spencer amongst others. She knows from direct experience, working internationally in the nineteenth and into the twentieth century, that the movement for women’s rights necessarily crosses national boundaries. So does Franklin. She joins Henry in the US in October of the same year, traveling via England. Soon she becomes joint editor of Life and Labor.
Over the decades of her absence from Australia, Henry maintains her links with women at home. She corresponds with Muriel Heagney and in 1935 her words appear in the forward to Are Men Taking Women’s Jobs?
’Now the national conscience has at length been touched regarding women … the results may react upon the whole field of industry that men too may be the sharers in the benefits.’
… Women have always been international in their approach to Women’s Movement activism. The struggle for the vote engaged women from all over the world – Australian women travelling to the United Kingdom,United States,Canada and Europe to join their sisters in the struggle. Australian women gained the vote and the right to stand for Parliament in South Australiain 1894, and inWestern Australia women gained the vote in 1899. In 1902, women gained the right to vote in federal elections through the passage of legislation through the federal Parliament, and in 1903 the first women in the British Empire to stand for Parliament did so in Australian federal elections. The year before, 1902, when Vida Goldstein travelled the United States, President Theodore Roosevelt demanded to see her – as the only woman in North America who had the right to vote.
Jessie Ackerman was one Northern Hemisphere activist who went the other way – travelling some five times to Australia, as a journalist, and writing about her experiences in the 19th and early 20th century.
This internationalism is important when, at times, Women’s Movement activists appear to believe international activism became prominent in the 1970s and onward, only …
This is an extract from Dr Jocelynne A. Scutt’s UNSW PhD thesis ‘Wage Rage – The Struggle for Equal Pay and Pay Equity’ 2007. Her 1979 SJD thesis was on ‘Evidentiary Issues of Consent in Rape’ with the University of Michigan.
Gone Missing? Alice Suter, Jennie Baines and Adela Pankhurst
The year? 1916.
The country? Australia.
The issue? Wheat shipped to Europe to feed the troops. Bread prices rising. Workers and the unemployed forced to pay rising prices, despite government controls. Agitation. Demonstrations. Street protests. Marches on Parliament.
The women? Alice Suter, Jennie Baines and Adela Pankhurst at the heart of the revolt.
Alice Suter, Jennie Baines and Adele Pankhurst in the Australian High Court
In 1917, the Australian High Court heard appeals against convictions of these three women. The appeals were upheld in a substantive win against federal defence laws. This was the first time the laws had been tested in their application to demonstrators, for it was the first time demonstrators had been prosecuted under them. The High Court said that their prosecution and conviction for having engaged in action ‘on the pretext of making known their grievances …’ was bad: no evidence before the Magistrates Court had showed their conduct as otherwise than engaged in to make known their grievances (and those of their audience assembled at Treasury Gardens, whom they led towards Spring Street and Parliament House) on the cost of bread. These cases have never been analysed until now (Scutt, 2011). The High Court report shows Alice Suter most clearly there, joint partner in the struggle. Her defiance of police, prosecutors, defence laws and the political system which sent men away to war was equal to that of the others, at least insofar as police, prosecutors and courts saw it. Yet in Baines’ ADB entry, Alice Suter is referred to as merely ‘another’:
For a month from 23 August 1917 [Jennie Baines] and Adela Pankhurst led marches organized by the militant Women’s Peace League to protest to the Federal government against profiteering and the prohibitive cost of living. On 30 August she, Adela Pankhurst and another were arrested; …
Alice Suter warrants no name, and is left out of leadership of marches all together, although nature of the women’s arrest and prosecution shows police must have seen her in that light. In Pankhurst’s ADB entry, she rates no mention at all – although neither does Jennie Baines, the High Court win is absent, and Pankhurst shares her entry with husband Tom Walsh. Consistently, despite entries for Pankhurst and Baines in The Australian Women’s Register, Alice Suter is absent. In a list of feminists and women activists on Women’s Web, she appears. The source is a passing reference to her in For Love or Money. She is named fleetingly, too, in a 1986 article by Smart.
Adela Pankhurst died at 76 years in Sydney in 1961. Jennie Baines died at 85 in Melbourne in 1951. Twenty-one when arrested and tried, Alice Suter may have lived until 1978: Victoria’s BDM records show an Alice Suter marrying Alfred Ford in 1939 and Alice Mary Ford, born to William Suter and Annie Skehen, dying in 1978 in Heidelberg, Victoria, aged 80. Did youth render her invisible or quench her activism? This still does not explain the feminist record’s almost total oversight of Alice Suter. Contemporary records are kinder: named as an appellant in the High Court, she features in newspaper articles recording the arrests, court hearings and outcomes. She will appear, too, in Australia security records. Her loss to herstory requires explanation – the patriarchal record remembers her.
Only now is the opportunity made to recover Alice Suter as she ought to have been recovered in the earlier affirmation of the importance of intrepid women who fought the system, refusing to give in. The Women’s Movement of the 20th century engaged in this task of recovery – choosing to recover some, whilst leaving by the wayside others who could and should be remembered.
Alice Suter’s disappearance is difficult to remedy. With Adela Pankhurst, her history, her family, her agitation in England preceding her antipodean rebellions, the notoriety surrounding her through her own actions, her mother’s views and the Prime Minister’s assertions of possible deportation … All this made Adela Pankhurst the more prominent, as with her marriage to Walsh, a marriage that, when known, surprised friends, foes, detractors and devotees. Her prominence in the patriarchal record leaves her open to feminist recovery: ironically, what the dominant culture sees as prominent brings her to the fore. Does it explain Alice Suter’s absence?
Like Adela Pankhurst, Jennie Baines had a past in England. She, too, was a £20/0/0 immigrant. Was this a factor? That an overseas history should influence the local record, and lack of it detract from the significance of a fellow-in-struggle’s existence, confirms a prominent Australian convention. The ‘cultural cringe’ meant all things existing in, or coming from, ‘home’ (England) or ‘over there’ (England) had far greater currency than any local production – including people. Gaining standing at home (Australia) necessitated going abroad – ‘back’ to Britain or to Europe, preferably London. Expatriates made a mark: recognised as ‘important’, acclaim was their reward in Australia’s (perceived) cultural desert.
Alice Suter may have been an immigrant herself. However, her name is missing from Freedoms Cause, with a contents listing of many from the British suffragettes’ struggle for the vote, albeit Jennie (as ‘Jenny’) Baines and Adela Pankhurst both appear – along with Vida Goldstein, that inclusion resting in her travelling to join the suffragettes, hence gaining UK status. If Alice Suter were born in England, youth may have stood in the way of gaining a profile in British suffragette circles. This would affirm a bias in giving weight, again, to the overseas over local: no profile ‘over there’ detracts from importance ‘here’.
So, perhaps Englishness wins out over local colour. English origins and activist past trumps home-grown rebel. For Adela Pankhurst, Jennie Baines and Alice Suter, notions of importance infused with dominant cultural perceptions, assertions and demands dictate what is ‘true’, what truly memorable, important and worthy of record. Alice Suter lost.
Yet with social media possibilities, it may be now that Alice Suter’s story can be told. Her history cannot be allowed to remain uncovered, her herstory should not lie without the public record it deserves. At least for her, the time has come for ousting patriarchal colonisation of the brain.
@alicesuter exists to recover information about ‘lost’ women such as Alice Suter. All and any contributions are welcome.
This article contains extracts from ‘The Woman Who Wasn’t There – Alice Suter, Mary Lamb and Shakespeare’s Sister’ by Jocelynne A. Scutt, published in The Rationalist, 2011.
The Hon. Dr Jocelynne A. Scutt is a barrister & human rights lawyer, filmmaker and historian. Her books include ‘The Sexual Gerrymander – Women and the Economics of Power’, ‘The Incredible Woman – Power and Sexual Politics’ (2 vols), ‘For Richer, For Poorer – Money, Marriage and Property Rights’. Her films include the DVD installation ‘Covered’ – http://theburqahdebates.com/
EUROPEAN AND NORTH AMERICAN CAUCUS STATEMENT
This Joint Statement of the European & Nth American Caucus to the Commission on the Status of Women in its 56th Session recognizes that many issues of fundamental importance to rural women & girls are already included in the draft text. Yet this is not the first time CSW has addressed the rights & position of rural women & girls; hence, action is all the more imperative. Here we emphasize issues & recommend language the Commission may like to adopt. Language is power and power effects change. Thus,
(1) Empowerment of rural & remote area women can be achieved only through the full implementation & enforcement of women’s rights as human rights for all women.
(2) Rural & remote area women & girls are disadvantaged in all member states, including developed & industrialized nations, and recognition of rural & remote area women & girls, including women & girl leaders, in all regions is vital.
(3) A significant proportion of rural & remote area women & girls are constituted by migrant women, including refugees & asylum seekers, indigenous women & women of all minorities.
(4) Marital status & particularly widowhood has a profound effect on women, and can negate or lessen seriously the rights of rural & remote area women.
(5) The effects of climate change & environmental exploitation & degradation are seriously affecting the human rights of all women & girls, particularly rural & remote area women & girls & those from small island & coastal nations.
(6) Natural disasters & disasters caused or exacerbated by human failures of commission & omission often have a proportionately greater impact upon rural & remote area women.
(7) Environmental exploitation & abuses, whether engaged in by nation states or corporations & other private sector bodies, including claims of ‘ownership’ of the genome, plant & animal, violate human rights & can constitute crimes against humanity.
(8) Military expenditure harms women& girls disproportionately and denies resources essential to eliminating violence against women and ending exploitation, abuse & discrimination against women & girls.
Consequently, the Commission on the Status of Women in the 56th session must:
First: Incorporate into all its resolutions, reviews & outcomes issues (1)-(8) as requiring urgent attention & constructive measures for the improvement of the status of rural & remote area women & girls, to guarantee all women & girls’ full human rights.
Secondly: In its resolutions require that member states, with the participation of women’s NGOs & civil society:
a) engage in constructive conversation with the United Nations in all its constituent bodies to formulate & advance policies to combat climate change and to end environmental exploitation & degradation, including environmental crimes and, within their own borders, formulate, implement & monitor policies accordingly;
b) ensure access of all women & girls, including rural & remote area women, to publicly funded & delivered health services, clean water & sanitation services, comprehensive education at all levels, decent work & labour conditions, childcare, affordable housing, transport & communication services as a priority is recognized in determining the distribution of resources;
c) affirm women’s reproductive rights and ensure women’s access to family planning services and girls’ access to education relating to health including sexual health;
d) legislate to include non-discrimination on the basis of all attributes & identities used to deny women & girls’ rights, including but not limited to marital status as well as sex/gender, age, pregnancy, lactation & family responsibilities in all areas of activity including employment, education, services & housing/accommodation;
e) end ‘land grabbing’ (by reference to CEDAW para 4.1), including the denial to separated & divorced women of their rightful entitlement to their share of marital or family assets, including real property;
f) end the violation of young women & girls’ rights through early marriage;
g) redirect military spending toward the goal of peace.
We urge the Commission to honour in this 56th session and in all its work the full content & vital importance of all NGO statements made this day and during this session.
This joint statement was made to the United Nations Commission on the Status of Women in its 56th session on 5 March 2012 in New York. It is included here as contemporary history/herstory involving women’s activism in the United Nations and at global level.
THE HISTORY & POLITICS OF THE WALLIS WINDSOR AFFAIR
WE, Madonna’s film of the Windsor-Warfield-Spencer-Simpson imbroglio, raises questions of the relationship of film to history, women’s role in history, and whether the history of ‘important’ women – or women ‘important’ through an ‘important’ man – has a place when ‘ordinary’ lives (or lives once seen as ordinary) are more often the subject of present day research.
WE has been nominated, rightly, for an Oscar in the category of costuming, though in no other category. The absence of such nominations is probably best understood in that the film script and its direction are particularly orientated toward a particular perspective – which appears to be Madonna’s personalised view. This does not necessarily translate into a universal or Academy appeal.
In Madonna’s WE two stories run side by side. Most attention plays on the New York story of ‘Wally’ – nicknamed in deference to her having been named for Wallis Simpson. This detracts from the power politics inherent in the ‘real’ story – Wallis and David (Edward) Windsor.
Wally, as with Wallis in her first marriage (to Warfield Spencer) is subjected to criminal assault at home. She connects with Wallis through the late 1990s New York auction where Wallis Windsor’s material trappings are sold. For Madonna, Wally’s story must have parallels with that of her predecessor, however, apart from violence in Wallis’ first marriage and Wally’s apparent reverence for the goods left behind on Wallis’ death, it is difficult to fathom them.
Nonetheless, Madonna’s sympathy for her subject is clear, and her recognition that, despite the lesser coverage, Wallis Windsor’s story is that which needs airing. WE points toward the likelihood that although David was content with the ‘love affair of the century’, Wallis was not so besotted. Rather, the ‘Constitutional Crisis’ (as it was and remains known) left Wallis locked into a relationship with a man who (apparently) adored her, but which denied her freedom, giving her little space to develop herself as anything other than the woman for whom a King gave up the crown. The triviality of a life lived as principal entertainer and helpmeet of an exiled British royal family member would anaesthetise many. At least Wallis Windsor did not want for financial security – so long as the adoration remained directed toward her.
Is all this suitable for soap opera rather than the seriousness of ‘true’ historical research and inquiry? The number of books, films and television hours made on the subject confirm its popularity for a general audience. Someone is buying the books and the cinema tickets, and watching at home! The variety of authors, directors, producers and television stations from whom and from which these biopics emanate confirms an abiding interest in the subject-matter: Wallis, David, The Crisis, The Family, The Firm …
WE does relay the beginnings and possibilities of a powerful film which promotes thinking as to appropriate topics for women’s history and directions it might take. A redeeming feature is Madonna’s seeking to tell the tale from a point of view less often recognised, much less valorised: that of Wallis Windsor (as she became) herself. The Duchess of Windsor’s own book, The Heart Has Its Reasons, published as a memoir in 1956, was apparently ghost-written and has been critiqued as rearranging facts, glossing over or avoiding motives and, in sum, re-writing reality. A King’s Story – David’s perspective – also had the help of a ghost-writer, although both she (Wallis) and he (David) are said to have been more directly involved.
Some books do purport to tell ‘her’ story: Greg King’s Wallis – The Uncommon Life of The Duchess of Windsor, 1999, 2003, Arum Press, London; Anne Sebba, That Woman – The Life of Wallis Simpson, Duchess of Windsor, 2011, Weidenfeld & Nicolson, London; and Hugo Vickers, Behind Closed Doors – The Tragic, Untold Story of the Duchess of Windsor, 2011, Hutchinson are examples. Although titles or subtitles don’t always convey content, these are an indicator of each author’s angle. Possibly, publicity predating the commencement of WE’s filming may well have led to the publication of the latter two. Similarly with Diana Mitford Guiness Mosley’s The Duchess of Windsor – A Memoir, 2012, Gibson Square Books, London. Curiously, this book bears Diana Mitford’s original family name on its cover, her later married name – Mosley – on the flyleaf and omits any reference at all to her second husband’s family name. Fortunately, she writes more in the style of a Mitford than Mosley or Guiness, a droll humour enlivening this slim volume.
Some, or indeed many, may believe that historians have something better to do than ‘buy into’ the politics surrounding the woman-become-famous-through-marriage (or, rather, infamous) and that there is so much to be done in reclaiming women’s history than spending time on Wallis and her ilk. Yet there are important issues here – of power and its ruthlessness, the politics of hypocrisy (it’s fine to have a mistress so long as she remains married to someone else, and there’s nothing wrong with three in a marriage or possible marriage), undercover attacks through allegations against the character of the woman who refuses to go along to get along, abandonment and the curtailing of freedom. These are not isolated in time. They have echoes in the past and the more recent past.
Although they may be or seem to be extreme examples of the control and curtailment of women’s lives, or so exclusive as to be disassociated from the lives of ‘real’ women, exploring the exercise of power and its operation in these instances may provide insights into power and control of and over women as a group. These insights may well justify our (or some of us) exploring the history of (some of) this exclusive band.
JAS © February 2012
The Hon. Dr Jocelynne A. Scutt is a Barrister & Human Rights Lawyer, historian and filmmaker. Her research includes the history of the struggle for equal pay, past and contemporary history of violence against women, and women and war.