Category Archives: Politics

Books History Politics Women's history

Notes from How Was It For You: Women, Sex, Love and Power in the 1960s by Virginia Nicholson

P. 89 – 1962

“Pain, humiliation, pride, regret, liberation, confusion: for women they were all part of the package, at a time when the sands were shifting fast, and a tide of sexual change was threatening to submerge the familiar moral landscape. 

And – here too – bias, intolerance, hatred, exclusion and injustice came with the deal. It wasn’t till later in the decade that someone found a word that summed up these attitudes: sexism.”

[Pauline M Leet, who contributed a paper entitled ‘Women and the Undergraduate’ to a student forum held in a Pennsylvania college, appears to have originated the term ‘sexism’, in November 1965.”

P. 105

Cuban missile crisis

“Sophie’s sense of apocalyptic hopelessness is echoed in many other accounts, such as that by Zena, a Cardiff schoolgirl:

“I was 14 at the time.. Someone burst into the classroom, exclaiming ‘Russia and America are at nuclear war!” In the hubbub that followed, I sat silent and can now recall the desolation I experienced that my family and friends (and I) would perish, with lives unlived and words unexpressed…”

P. 190 1965 “the traditional understanding of of sin and virtue was on the wane. The rising motion was that centuries of guilt, repression, shame, prohibition, stuffiness and double standards were being replaced by a new age of honesty, openness, spontaneity, empowerment and sexual freedom. In the era of op art, and the Wilson government’s ‘white heat’ of technology from which would emerge a newly forged Britain, the new freedoms appeared to be correspondingly black, white and streamlined.”

P. 192 “The Knack, also 1965, starring Rita Tushingham, was the tawdry, slapstick tale of Nancy, an out of town ingenue who became the object of desire for three misogynistic flatmates. The films ends with a disturbing sequence in which Nancy is portrayed as an unhinged singleton having rape delusions; the blokes, of course, are merely having ‘a bit of fun’. ‘Girls don’t get raped unless they want it,’ said one of them. The Knack’s director won the 1965 Palme d’Or at Cannes… Woody Allen’s hugely successful male wish fulfilment screenplay for What’s New, Pussycat? – a fantasy about a man besieged by lust-crazed females who all want to trap him into marriage – could have won an Oscar for its commodification of women.”

P. 193 Shrimpton’s public appearance at the Melbourne races, bare-legged in a mini-dress with no hat or gloves, provoked a press furore”

P. 210

“A glance through almost any generic women’s magazine mid-decade reveals the social aspirations of the mainstream middle-class wife… dinner parties were a minefield of taste and taxonomy: what cutlery to use for your avocado vinaigrette, which glass to drink your whisky from, what to talk about; how to serve coq au vin, trifle or Camembert with crackers… social rigidities were as coagulated as the chocolate mousse… Since it was first introduced into the UK in 1962, the Tupperware party had been a fixture on the young-wife circuit.”

P. 220

Jenny Diski; “Most women who lived through the early and late Sixties whether as political molls or psychedelic chicks can recall that they were mostly of ornamental, sexual, domestic or secretarial value to the men striking out for radical shores. The Left was never known for its willingness to embrace gender equality, but no more were the ‘heads’ r the entrepreneurs of the counterculture.”


The culture of male control was not confined to rich, powerful celebrities. The divorce courts highlighted extreme cases like that of a Mr Kenneth Cox who objected strenuously when his wife Dorothy became involved with a local Girl Guide and Brownie group. Having already prohibited Dorothy from getting a job, the dictatorial Xoc now refused to let her anywhere hear the Girl Guides. He also tried to force her to have sex. But both parties’ pleas for a divorce on the grounds of cruelty were rejected by the judge. Male jealousy and ownership of women were seen as legitimate.”

P. 222 “The journalist Virginia Ironside… “For women, it was absolutely grisly… I remember the sixties as an endless round of miserable promiscuity. It often seemed easier and, believe it or not, more polite, to sleep with a man than to chuck him out of your flat.’ And worse was to come. But in 1965 there was no solidarity, no channel and no vocabulary with which to express discontent. The sexual power struggle was still in its infancy.”

P. 257

“Far from being a hotbed of clever talk about feminism and the sisterhood, social life at university was … a cut-and-thrust competition to attract men. Sophie felt alienated by the idea of equality for women: … I thought about women as rivals and enemies and I actually thought that women were slightly inferior. The cool people to be with were the men. I didn’t want to be hanging around with a load of women…. I learnt to be quite good at pretending to be stupider than I was. So, I could still get high grades, and at the same time I could flirt with the blokes and seem unthreatening.”

P. 263 Juliet Mitchell wrote The Longest Revolution when she was 25 years old… draws on historical, anthropological and sociological strands of Marxist thinking to question and explain women as workers, as family members, as mothers, as partners and as fully contributing human beings: one half of the human race. Women were not, she reminded her readers, a minority, but fundamental to human existence… The ‘true’ woman and the ‘true family are images of peace and plenty: in actuality they may both be sites of violence and despair.”

P. 360 “The starry, romantic egotisme-a-deux of the 1960s is permeated with the ideal of coupledom… By the mid-1960s, 96% of women aged 45 were married. Almost half of those women had found a husband by the age of 21. And the days of parental intervention in their daughters’ choices were over, with comedienne Joyce Grenfell catching the 1969 mood: “Daddy and I are delighted that you are going to marry a middle-aged Portugese conjurer, darling. Bur are you sure he will make you happy?”

P. 409 1970 “the Family Planning Association finally changed its rules to allow contraceptive advice to be given to unmarried women. They also, in 1970, commissioned the poster that brought fame to everyone concerned, portraying a man in a jersey whose repentant expression and swollen tummy hardly needed its inspired caption: “would you be more careful if it was you that got pregnant?”

At the beginning of the decade, nearly 60% of girls who had been asked their opinions of pre-marital sex in a psychological survey considered that it was ‘Always wrong’. By 1970 that figure had dropped to under 15%.

Books Environmental politics History Politics Women's history

Notes from Reproduction: Antiquity to the Present Day

Fascinating, broad-ranging study

p. 67 “Aristotle … the crucial contrast between ancient and modern here is one of approach, not invention, as the Politics expounds an essentially ‘open’ form of population thinking, which emerged from a world comprising a multiplicity of autonomous city-states of varying size and constitution, unlike the ‘closed’ model of the 19th-century European nation-state. Fertility and mortality, the two cornerstones of modern demography, play a minor role in Aristotle’s considerations because, for him, mobility and shifting patterns of membership were the main shapers of any community.”

p. 71 “Plato decreed that his ideal polis should contain 5,040 citizen farmers, male heads of landed households….Aristotle’s Politics … took exception to the size of Magneia’s population. The territory required to sustain such a multitude of people is impossibly vast, he alleged. But Aristotle’s objections .. were not just practical. A key point of his programme is that in measuring the greatness of a polis, biggest is not best. Greatness is about happiness and prosperity, which is produced by effectiveness, not numbers.”

Exhibit 3

“one of the most influential and enduring ideas in the history of generation and reproduction: that one’s birth circumstances can shape the course of one’s life. This powerful and alluring concept developed in Babylonia and eventually spread far across Eurasia thanks to influential proponents such as Ptolemy in the Roman Empire, al-Biruni in the medieval Islamic world and Sacrobosco in the Latin West .. Babylonian scholars began reading the gods’ intentions in the night sky in the third millennium BC. For around 2,000 years after that, celestial divination was exclusively a method for ruulers to check that their actions and intentions met with divine favour; the gods did not concern themselves with the fate of individuals. However, in 484BC, the Persian king Darius severed royal ties with the Babylonian intelligentsia after a political revolt, and scholars had to find new clients, new sources of income and prestige. Over the next few decades, a radical reconceptualization of the night sky took place that enabled individual destinies to be foretold. The two earliest extant horoscopes both date to 410BC, and by 400BC, give or take five years, the constellations on the eclipse – the path of the moon – had become 12 zodiacal signs of exactly equal sizes. They bear essentially the same names today as they did then.”

p. 253 In the era before the 19th-century rise of national statistics, we find a conception of population that was more attentive to the heterogeneity of sub-populations and its importance. Early modern population thinking did not standardize populations, nor pretend to treat them equally. Distinctive histories and political, cultural and religious differences were recognized to shape what numerical information should be collected, on which groups, and its interpretation. From the 16th or the early 19th century, balancing the heterogeneity of memberships making up the population of a state was a fundamental ground of the form and legitimacy of government, and of arguments for democracy…it reminds us of a fruitful way of thinking about aggregate properties of societies and states, different from the one we now take for granted. Its open, bottom-up reasoning about human numbers focused on how sub-populations are formed, sustained and compromised in relation to others and to wider forces.”

p. 321 “forceps, according to Aveling, prompted a sudden increase in man-midwifery, including lecture courses on obstetrics for male practitioners, lying-in hospitals staffed by men; and men attending route births. The boom was swiftly met by criticism, often centred on the threat to women’s modesty… upon closer examination cannot bear the full weight of the shift from female to male birth attendants. Sarah Stone, practicising in Bristol in the 1720s, complained about all the anatomically trained man-midwives in business. “For dissecting the Dead, and being just and tender to the Living, are vastly different.” The Chamberlens had no disciples in the city in this period, so forceps were not the reason that Bristol matrons started routinely hiring man-midives. Second, man-midwives did not always advocate the new technology.. Third .. the Camberlen family mobilized not one new technology, but three: the Vectis, the filley and the forceps… Wilson suggests that the most fundamental shift was not technological but mental: the idea that a surgeon had a role in the delivery of a living baby.”

p. 332 – suggests part of a shift of a number of professions from female to male, e.g. alewives, as economic opportunities developed and also “a somewhat peculiar version of a bigger project: the Enlightenment attempt to improve the life chances of mothers and babies.”

p. 345 “During the 18th-century debates about population, doctors, clergymen, mathematicians, government bureaucrats and others developed methods which drew on a wide range of public and private records to quantify features of populations. These numerical techniques were part of a general effort to ameliorate suffering and death, and they stimulated comparisons, which in turn contributed to the new statistical idea of population and the role of reproduction in determining its size. At the beginning of the 19th-century, in the wake of the French Revolution and Malthus’s Essay, governments began to institute civil registration of births, deaths and marriages, as well as regular census, thus providing more uniform and inclusive accounts of the national population.”

p. 633 “Often misread as a technological determinist who overstated the role of biological sex difference in her call for ‘control of human fertility’, Firestone is more accurately understood as a theorist of consciousness. Among the first to articulate the principle that reproduction is neither outside history nor inside the body, Ifrestone argued that the social organisation of reproduction, rather than biological destiny, determined not only female but human potential.”

p. 635 Far from becoming free individuals within a new economy of contractual labour, modern science and medicine reinforced women’s subjugation to a sexual division of labour allegedly based in natural fact. Activities which have never been inherently debilitating – pregnancy is not a disease, childcare can be shared and maternity if not incompatible with paid employment – were redefined for many (not all) modern women in terms of biological destin6y, thus justifying their sequestration as wives and mothers within the timeless sphere of domesticity.”

p. 637 “from a feminist point of view, the possibility of theorizing identity, status, classificatory systems, kinship, ritual, language and group organisation as social technologies offered the important possibility of accounting for reproductive causality by means other than physiology… social organisation not only plays a causal role in the determination of reproductive outcomes, but must be seen as constitutive of reproductivity itself.”

p. 350 “The story of the ‘nuptiality valve’ in western Europe before 1850 is now familiar, with a sizeable component of women’s reproductive capacity under-exploited or unexploited because of the relatively late age of marriage, and a significant number of women never marrying. It has frequently been asserted that this nuptiality pattern acted as a safety vale in the creation of demographic homeostasis… if mortality is assumed to have been unstable… nuptiality must e the principle ‘driver’ of fertility. France in the period c. 1650-1800 exemplifies such n interrelationship. A demographic equilibrium continually re-established itself, despite disturbances large initiated by epidemics… for much of the late 17th and 18th centuries, the number of hearths in the Paris basin barely changed at all… demographers use the concept of an agricultural holding or craft workshop as fulfilling a function analogous to that of a territory in a bird population in which a new breeding pair I allowed to establish itself only once a next is vacated”

Books Environmental politics History

Notes from Landskipping by Anna Pavord

p. 109 William Cobbett’s “reports of his Rural Rides started to appear in 1821, in the pages of his journal, the Political register… rode with the eyes of a yeoman farmer, constantly appraising the capabilities of the land he was passing through. He appreciated well-grown crops, well-tended orchards, properly managed flocks. He was fantastically energetic, endlessly curious, splenetic, endearing in his lack of self-doubt… If only farmers would do things his way, sow more swedes, and sow that seed in drills rather than broadcast, then agriculture in Britain might yet be saved. ‘Cobbett’s Quackeries’, his enemies called these obsessions – for American corn (the maize that is now widely grown by farmers for cattle doffer), for robina as a fast-growing fuel, for straw plaiting as a way of providing an income for countrywomen. Why should Leghorn bonnets make Italy rich, when plaiting straw for the bonnets could equally well be done here in England?”

p. 111 “It was because of this sympathy with the labourer (the Political Register had a circulation of c. 60,000, mostly among working men) that Cobbett always felt happiest in relatively sheltered, well-wooded country. He felt no connection with the high, open landscape of the Cotswolds.. going towards Cirencester in October 1821, he noted fields ‘fenced with stone, laid together in walls without mortar or earth … There is very little wood here. The labourers seem miserably poor….in the high chalk lands round Salisbury, where fuel had to be bought, he remembered the miserable sight of the poor taking turns to make a fire so that four or five kettles could be boiled on the one flame. ‘What a winter life must those lead, whose turn it is not to make the fire.’”

p. 112 “The kind of landscape he responds to manifests itself in Mr Sloper’s farm at West Woody in Hampshire: ‘large tracts of turnips; clean land; stubbles ploughed up early; ploughing with oxen; and a very large and singularly fine flock of sheep. Everything that you see, land, stock, implements, fences, buildings; all do credit to the owner; bespeak his sound judgement, his industry, and care.” Cobbett likes a landscape to be productive, shipshape. “

p. 117 “Riding back to London from Dover on 3 September 1823, he notes the wretched condition of the labourers in the district: “Invariably have I observed, that the richer the soil, and the more destitute the woods; that is to say, the more purely a corn country, the more miserable the labourers.. In this beautiful island, every inch of land is appropriated by the rich. No hedges, no ditches, no commons, no grassy lanes: a country divided into great farms; a few trees surround the great farm-house. All the rest is bare of trees; and the wretched labourer has not a stick of wood, and has no place for a pig or cow to graze, or even to lie down upon. The rabbit countries are the countries for labouring men. There the ground is not so valuable.”

Books Politics

Notes from The Inner Level: How More Equal Societies Reduce Stress, Restore Sanity and Improve Everyone’s Wellbeing

p. 26 Perhaps because people tend to imagine that human beings have always lived in hierarchical societies, we rarely, if ever, stop to imagine what it would be like to belong to a community of near equals, free of the insecurities caused by class and status divisions. We assume that the only way to regain the confidence and social ease which we lack would be to increase our own status … in tribal societies without settled agriculture, in which people live in non-hierarchical communities, several studies have shown that blood pressure shows no tendency to rise with age… That was true even when comparisons were adjusted for the effects on blood pressure of things like diet, salt intake an obesity… recorded changes in blood pressure among nuns living in a closed order in Italy. Though they were eating much the same diet as the rest of the local population, the study found the had no rise in blood pressure as they aged during a 20-year follow-up period.”

p. 27 “people living in countries with bigger income differences between rich and poor are more prone to status anxiety. Regardless of individual income levels, people in more unequal societies became more worried about how they are seen and judged … particularly strong effects on people’s levels of stress hormones. … some people feel that social life is a constant battle with low self-esteem. Lacking in confidence and overcome by extreme shyness, they tend to withdraw from social life and often become depressed… the other common response is almost the opposite. Many people respond … by projecting an exaggeratedly positive view of themselves, apparently to conceal their self-doubt. Modesty .. tends to be replaced by narcissism and a kind of self-enhancement or self-promotion.”

p. 29 “it is mistaken to think that the hierarchy in the societies we analyse is meritocratic, ordering people by inherent ability … brain imaging techniques and our growing knowledge of the malleability of the human brain, have made it clear that the most important differences in ability result from an individual’s position in the social hierarchy, rather than being determinants of it.”

“Aspects of the cultural differences between classes seem to exist primarily to provide tests of status, almost for the purpose of identifying those who can be devalued and excluded.

“we can move towards a society which will cease to generate such intense and counterproductive feelings of insecurity and self-doubt by fostering a radical egalitarianism in terms of income class and power.”

p. 30 “however it is no longer possible to make suggestions of radical reform .. without also taking account of the urgent need for them to become environmentally sustainable”… “rather than having to tighten our belts and accept a deterioration in our real equality of life, we show that the key is to replace materialism – as a false source of wellbeing – with a way of life more fundamentally consistent with our human sociality.”

Books Politics

Notes from Rebuilding Britain’s Blitzed Cities: Hopeful Dreams, Stark Realities by Catherine Flinn

p. 152 We have also seen how the wartime rhetoric of positive planning carried an assumption that central government would logistically and financially assist the cities in the rebuilding process. In the end, quite the reverse occurred: the central government hampered the process at least as much as it helped, and a minimal, if not miniscule – amount of financial assistance was given to blitzed cities. The role of private investment has also been shown to have significant impact on the rebuilding of cities – logistically, financially and visually…. The discourse of blame still seen today is directed at architects and planners, but overlooks the economic constraints, the involvement of many different actors and the very different ideology of the postwar era.”

Books Environmental politics History

Notes from A Rich and Fertile Land: A History of Food in America

p. 66 Many historians consider a smallbook of recipes published by Amelia Simmons in 1796 to be the first American cooker book because it contains American ingredients married to British culinary practices. Simmon’s recipes call for maize (still called Indian meal), pumpkins and cranberries among others. Thomas Hariot, John Smith and William Bradford among the earliest Englishmen in America would have readily taken to these dishes, but other early colonists did so only out of necessity. All spoke of the abundance of native American foods and how well people could fare upon them. Hariot declared that “Indian corn yields 100 London bushels while in England wheat yields 40 … Plus one man can in 24 hours of labor produce enough to last 12 months. .. once maize reached Europe it was destined to be food for poor backcountry folks and food animals.”

p. 67 “Nor was the corn produced in the same way as that used at least y Native peoples of New England. No patches were cut out of nutrient-rich forests, then left to fallow. Instead, corn came to be grown as a commoditized crop in larger cleared fields, sent to powered gristmills and then sold cheaply. Thus was a pattern set for America’s food and the way that it was and is produced.”

p. 239 The overwhelming majority of the millions who streamed into the United States between 1880 and 1920 came from eastern, southern, north and central Europe. Italians, mostly from south of Rome and Sicily, numbered more than 5 million. One-third returned after making enough money to purchase a farm or business back home; some of these food companies then shipped products such as olive oil to America. Two million Jews who fled pogroms and conscription in Russia, Poland, Ukraine and Messarabia found their way to America… some 1.5 million Norwegians, Swedes, Finns and Danes fled poverty and political difficulties to settle in the rural and urban upper Midwest. Greeks, mainly from the poorest upland regions of the Peloponnese, numbered about 400,000 in the same period… some traditional foodways remained within communities. Germans had the most powerful effect on American food from the mid-19th century, as in lager beer, sausage culture, bread, sauerkraut. But if it comes to numbers of dining places, then one might argue for Chinese. in the 21st century there are roughly 41,000 Chinese restaurants in America, a number far outstripping hamburger and mid-level restaurant chains. .. famous for two Americanized dishes, chop suey and chow mien… Around 1890 New Yorkers, especially the ‘Bohemian’ crowd seeking new taste sensations, began going to Chinatown for these bargain dishes. The same happened in other cities such as Chicago, where cheap Chinese eateries opened in the red light district for louche clientele.”


p. 300 Hamburger chains abound., not so with hot dogs. … perhaps it is that from their beginning as street food in the late 19th century, hot dogs have ramified into many regional and local styles, their differences celebrated by local communities and widely noted in the press… the food chain from animals to factory may be in the hands of a relatively few restaurant and processing companies, but absolute hegemony, not the cultural kind at least, does not work.”