Category Archives: Feminism

Books Feminism History Women's history

Sex, love, marriage, a complicated story…

First published on Blogcritics

Reading The English in Love: The Intimate Story of an Emotional Revolution, which covers relationships, courtship and marriage from 1920 to 1970, with a particular focus on the period around the Second World War, is a powerful reminder that marriage has never been a fixed and stable structure, but has changed regularly, certainly with each 20th-century generation.

Author Claire Langhammer relies chiefly on individual accounts, often painfully frank and honest, looks into the guidance of “agony aunts” and other media reports, and occasionally official reports and studies, to conclude that over the total period of her study there was a significant shift from marriage as primarily an economic relationship – breadwinner support traded for the creation of a comfortable home –  towards a more “emotional”, demanding relationship even during the Fifties, which she suggests relationships were much less stable than we commonly suppose, meaning that the freewheeling Sixties were not marked by more demand for continuing love, but rather the transition of marriage into the late teens and early twenties, a reflection both of increasing wealth and less need to save for marriage, but that also that this was seen as an essential, normal step into adulthood.

Langhammer quotes a 1959 survey showing that a quarter of working class brides were teenagers on their wedding day; more than three-quarters were under 25. A telling item in the initial Boyfriend magazine in the same year tells the story of a young woman determined to do something with her life – transform and modernise her aunt’s cafe, which interferes with her love life. But eventually she finds a man who also wants to run a cafe, so they settled down together.

And particularly as the ideology of love and marriage going together, indeed being essential, spread, many of the same tensions and concerns we recognise in relationships today emerge.

One painfully honest ‘case history’ from the Mass Observation Survey from 1949 tells of a 19-year-old woman who has sex with a 24-year-old merchant seaman – although only after he reassures her he’s using a condom. “I agreed then. I didn’t want to but I liked him and he wanted to. He said: ‘You can’t be in love with me unless you will do it.”
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Feminism Politics

What I See when I look in the mirror…

I was delighted to be asked to participate in a project in which I was asked to answer this question.

You can find the video here.

Lots of great women have taken part and it’s regarded as a chain, so the next participant is Kat Molesworth at Housewife Confidential.

All women are invited to participate – you can contribute your own video… It’s an interesting question to contemplate.

And if you’d like to know more about the Green Party part of my life you can find snippets on my leader’s blog.

Books Feminism Politics

Matchwomen – founders of New Unionism…

First published on Blogcritics

Even if you have never studied history, you probably have some vague awareness of the Matchgirls’ Strike of 1888 in London – and think of poor waifs, frail girls and young women, victims of vile Victorian exploitation. If you have studied history, you were probably taught that the strike was led by middle-class Fabian, Annie Besant, who provided the leadership that the uneducated East End women simply could not have found from their own ranks.

In either case, what you should do is read Louise Raw’s Striking A Light: The Bryant and May Matchwomen and their Place in History , a spectacular but very readable account of epic original research that has uncovered a very different story from the traditional tale.

It is astonishing that so long after this iconic event no one before Raw had seriously tried to research it, and very sad that no one recorded the participants’ own views before it was too late – as Raw found had been for the Melbourne tailoresses’ strike of 1882-3 (which has considerable parallels with the later strike).

In fact to find out very much at all, Raw had to engage in some serious detective work, and find creative ways to recover knowledge apparently lost in the mists of time. A lot of her information came from the grandchildren of three of the matchwomen – two of the probably strike leaders, Mary Driscoll and Eliza Martin, and Martha Robertson. Raw combines this with census data and a close examination of contemporary accounts of the strike, to paint a picture of a spontaneous, but well-planned and executed, walkout by the women – their own choice, their own action.

Besant played a role, before the action, in attacking the management, which led them to try to force the women to sign letters attesting good treatment – which when the women resisted led to the sacking that precipitated the strike, and afterwards, in helping to collect strike pay (although the workers also found some of their own from their own community), but she was in no way a leader of the strike, and in fact, Raw shows convincingly, was actually opposed to the whole idea of a strike.

There’s much more to this book too than rewriting a colourful fragment of history – Raw says that New Unionism, a major part of British political history, should be dated back to the matchwomen, rather than the dockers’ strike the following year, as is traditional. The two were closely linked by more than geography – Raw makes a detailed case for the ties of marriage and community (both groups having large Irish continents) between matchwomen and dockers. And Raw quotes from a contemporary account of the dockers strike which has John Burns telling a mass meeting: “The matchgirls had formed a union and had got what they wanted, and so had the gas stokers at Beckton, and surely the Dock Labourers could do the same” to cries of “hear hear”. (p. 166)
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Books Feminism Politics Women's history

Victorian (and later) citizenship – inclusion and exclusion

Notes from Defining the Victorian Nation: Class, Race, Gender and the Reform Act of 1867 by Catherine Hall, Keith McClelland and Jane Rendall (2000)

From the Introduction, pp. 1-70
Quoting Margaret Mylne, writing in the Westminster Review 1941: “In my younger days it was considered rude to talk politics to the ladies. To introduce [the topic’ at a dinner party was a hint for us to retire and leave the gentlemen to such conversation and their bottle. But the excitement that prevailed all over the country at the prospect of the Reform Bill of 1832 broke down these distinctions, while the new, and it seemed to us, splendid idea of a ‘hustings at the Cross of Edinburgh’ drove its inhabitants, both male and female, half frantic with delight.” (p. 29)

From “The citizenship of women and the Reform Act of 1867” (Rendall, pp. 119-178)

p. 121 – “The reform crisis of 1830-2 prompted some consideration of women’s claim to the franchise. The Tory landowner from Halifax, Anne Lister, regretted in her diary that women of property were unable to exercise the vote, though they might, as she herself did, strive to influence the electoral process. In August 1832 a petition to the House of Commons from Mary Smith of Stanmore asked for the vote for ‘every unmarried woman having that pecuniary qualification whereby the other sex is entitled to the said franchise’. Matthew Davenport Hill, a radical Unitarian, endorsed women’s suffrage in his election campaign in 1832 in Hull. BUt the Reform Act for the first time defined the voter as ‘male'”

“In October 1865 the death of Lord Palmerston signalled the possibility of a renewal of interest in parliamentary reform, as Lord Russell, who was strongly committed to moderate reform, formed a new ministry. In November 1865 the Kensington Ladies Debating Society put on their agenda for discussion: Is the extension of the parliamentary suffrage to women desirable, and if so under what conditions?”

“p. 158 “The Education ACt of 1870 for England and Wales provided that women who were municipal and parish voters could also vote in school board elections. Any woman, married or not, could stand as a candidate… as Elizabeth Garrett and Emily Davies in London and Lydia Becker in Manchester did successfully in 1870, setting important precedents for the holding of public office. In Wales, Rose Mary Crawshay, wife of the Merthyr ironmaster, Robert Thompson Crawshay, and an active supporter of the women’s suffrage campaign, was elected a member of the Merthyr School Board in Match 1871…. In England and Wales, single or widowed women ratepayers were qualified to vote for and to become Poor Law Guardians, though none stood for office until 1875, when Martha Merrington was elected … in Kensington… But a high property qualification meant only the affluent were able to serve.”
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Books Feminism Women's history

Meeting Dora Russell and Margaret Oliphant

Reading Rosemary Dinnage’s Alone! Alone! Lives of Some Outsider Women, I was pleased to meet Dora Russell, one of the exes of Bertrand.

On English public schools she said: “I don’t see that you can get anywhere in creating a new society without getting rid of them. I’m not hostile to them; they do magnificent work in their field. But the you have it, in the heart of our society, a masculine hereditary tradition for generation aft generation; out of those schools come me , men who expect to take the highest posts in our society; and against that I don’t see how democracy, or women, are going to have any influence whatsoever.” (P86)

And on conservation and the natural world, for which she was a campaigner….” I wrote a review of a book recently on man’s responsibility for nature,and I said now that we’ve had a look at the cold moon, and our own earth in contrast, we realise what a precious thing we have here. We should be taking care of it, and enjoying it loving it; and to me this is worth everything else in the world that anybody could invent.” (P 283)

Also found interesting the life of Margaret Oliphant, forced by circumstance to be a journey woman writer when she might have been much more. Her second novel Margaret Maitland, “was unconventionally the story of a sturdy Scottish spinster – “we are not aware that the Maiden Aunt has ever before found so favourable representation in print” said the Athanaeum.” (P 245)

Feminism Morvan Politics

Why has Saone et Loire never sent a woman to the French parliament?

I keep an amateur interest in French politics, particularly in the region that I visit regularly. A story in my local paper, however, made me pay closer attention than usual – the department, I read, has never sent a female representative to parliament.

And while there are supposed to be statutory rules about gender balance of candidates, the conservative UMP is standing no women as main candidates in this month’s elections and only one alternate. (Although they do seem to have one “shared” female lead candidate.) The story above says that they explained they “rely on the experience of the outgoing members to ensure our chances of having elected officials” (these are all my translations, with machine help – I’m not an expert!).

I’m pleased to see that the Greens, when alternates are counted (each post has a main candidate and an alternate standing), have gender balance. Two of the five main candidates are women.

Jérôme Durain, quoted for the Socialists, and identified as a “reformer”, says women “still have difficulties in discussions where the codes are very male”. National Socialist Party policy is for them to have parity – the story doesn’t spell it out, but I’m guessing they haven’t achieved that in this department from the tone.

Oddly the National Front has women as three of its five candidates, despite the fact a rep said it “proposes a traditional vision of the position of women in society”.

The journalist concludes: “if parity is to improve women’s representation in public space, it is not necessarily a guarantee of social progress”.

The paper also ran another story quoting some of the female candidates on their views on the situation.

Isabelle Dechaume (who if I’ve read it right is a joint UMP and Parti radical candidate) says she is always asked how she can hold down a job, look after her children and do politics – but no one asks the men that.

A Socialist candidate, Cécile Untermaier, says women are never allowed to make mistakes, while men are.

A Green, Nicole Eschmann, says that the men stick together and women have to constantly defend their right to equal treatment.

Edith Gueugneau, a Left candidate, says: “Men feel still legitimate while for women more questions arise.”