Philobiblon: October 2005

Monday, October 31, 2005

Carnival of Feminists - FINAL CALL

It is nearly here; on Wednesday, the second Carnival of Feminists will be on Personal Political.

And that's Wednesday Australian time, which means there's less than 24 hours to get in your nominations for feminist posts of all descriptions.

The guidelines: "The carnival aims to showcase the finest feminist posts from around the blogosphere. As you can tell from reading entries in the first edition, 'feminist' has a broad definition and subjects can range from the very personal to the traditionally political - and anything in between. There should be some sense that a post addresses women's place in the world."

(I'd add too that posts celebrating women's lives and positive contributions to the world are most welcome.)

Email nominations to (at) gmail (dot) com. Please put  'carnival' in the subject line.

Be there, or be square ... as they used to say in my school days.

Reasons for the future to hate us ...

... all that pointless packaging, all those little-used, little-wanted appliances, all those plastic, throwaway toys go into the ground and can be forgotten, can't they? Ah, it seems, no ...

Today's landfill regulations, ranging from liner construction to post-capping oversight, mean that disposal areas like WMI's GROWS are potentially less dangerous than the dumps of previous generations. But the fact remains that these systems are short-term solutions to the garbage problem. While they may not seem toxic now, all those underground cells packed with plastics, solvents, paints, batteries and other hazardous materials will someday have to be treated since the liners won't last forever. Most liners are expected to last somewhere between 30 and 50 years. That time frame just happens to coincide with the post-closure liability private landfill operators are subject to; 30 years after a site is shuttered, its owner is no longer responsible for contamination, the public is.

Presumably the same thing is being done in Britain, a particular worry on a small, crowded island.

And there's an air of inevitability about Britain spending £20 billion on a replacement nuclear weapon system. This is to maintain Britain's "independent nuclear deterrent - except it is actually entirely dependent on the US, so where's the independence?

The Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament is doing its best.

Review: Reading Families: Women's Literate Practice in Late Medieval England

Writing history without any sort of theoretical framework tends to produce what might be called the David Starkey outcome - everything that happens is the result of personal idiosyncrasy and chance. But the current academic fashion - to use theoretical jargon to obfuscate rather than communicate - has produced a problem with books that do have theories about why things happen: an apparently unbridgeable gap between serious academic public and the general reader. This results in texts designed to be read by an audience of at most a few score, with other interested bystanders standing around the edge of the opaque whirlpool, plunging in to the elbow occasionally, in the hope of extracting a nugget from the morass.

Rebecca Krug's Reading Families: Women's Literate Practice in Late Medieval England is a delightful departure from this trend. It sets out its theoretical grounding in a couple of pages in the introduction. This is practice theory, which, Krug says, "by focusing on the relationship between structure and individual ... allows me to consider women's involvement in literate culture less as a matter of violation (or oppression) and more as a process of negotiations and adjustment".*

She uses this theoretical basis, lightly but clearly, and with far less jargon than is common practice, to address four individuals or groups of medieval women and their encounters with the written word: Margaret Paston (the gentlewoman from the family whose letters have survived in surprising profusion), Margaret Beaufort (mother of Henry VII and patron of Caxton), the women Lollards at Norwich (who Krug says may not have been as "literate" as is commonly claimed), and the Bridgettine nuns at Syon Abbey (looking particularly at their personal ownership of books and what this implied about their relationship with them).

Krug presents Margaret Paston as a woman of impeccably gentle origins marrying (having been chosen at least in part for that status) a family that suffered from a hideous taint in medieval terms - that they might not have always had the same status, that one of the recent Paston ancestors had married a bondswoman (serf). Because of this her husband, John, a lawyer, was particularly keen to find and use written evidence to "prove" the family's status, finally confirmed in a proclamation by Edward IV recorded in 1466.

It was through him, probably, that Margaret was introduced to the practical use of writing, particularly letter writing, although she could not - probably - wield a pen herself. (But as Krug makes clear this was no particular handicap. Even fully literate men often used scribes - the mechanical process was not the important part of the exercise.)

And she thus learnt to use letters in a particular, quasi-legal way, that suited her audience, John, who was for months at a time in London while she was in Norfolk running the family estates. Krug analyses the letter in which Margaret comments on her first pregnancy - not communicating the news, which John already knew - but telling him to proclaim it to the world by wearing a ring with the image of St Margaret, traditionally associated with childbirth, and also noting that her mother-in-law had told local important people. "The letter functions as a witness to her social importance, a document that shows her husband the manner in which she reinforces his success visibly and publicly."

But, "later in her marriage, Margaret claim to employ direct quotation less in simple praise of her life and more to validate her understanding of situations. For example, in a 1449 letter written to John, she told him that Lord Moleyns had threatened to kidnap her if John refused to give up his claims to the estate at Gresham, where Margaret was staying. To ground her report in reality rather than exaggerated fear for her own safety, she notes that Lord Moleyn's men said that her kidnapping "xuld ben but a lytell hert-brennyng" to John." ... If her behaviour looked 'feminine' and hasty, her letter demonstrates that it is, in fact 'masculine' and judicious."

But Margaret was left a widow, and their son, John II became head of the family. And she suddenly ran up against a new audience. Krug explains:

"Margaret's authority depended ultimately on her husband's willingness to accept the validity of her interpretations, and her understanding of literate authority was ultimately based on a misrepresentation of her social position: she came to believe that her literate authority was a natural property of her person, rather than an 'effect of the network of social relations" ... Margaret [was forced ] to confront the family-dominated basis of her literate practice."

Her son became head of the family, but she controlled estates, and revenues, that would only pass to him on her death. And there was a further source of conflict. She'd learnt from her husband to place great store on written evidence, in a very lawyerly way, but their son, growing up in the royal court, had "witnessed the manner in which the Yorkist government made its decisions on the basis of royal favour rather than by judicious consideration of evidence" had a different approach.

So on August 21, 1449, in a castle under siege, Margaret wrote, under the shadow of overflying crossbow bolts, to her son to demand that he ask a high official to send "wryting" to guarantee the family's "lyfes and ther goodes". He responded three days later saying that the obtaining of letters and the saving of the estate were two entirely separate things. She wrote back accusing him of "dysworschep", denying that she wrote "fabyls and ymagynacyons" and resolutely affirming that she would continue to write.

She had stopped being a witness in court, and started to assert her own authority. Yet in one letter she also conceded that she could not do things that a man could do.

I've gone into this tale in some detail both because I find it fascinating, but also because it shows the way in which Krug teases out the changing social circumstances in which Margaret finds herself, and the ways in which she was able to work within, and, most importantly, change them by her own actions. She was neither, as some gross analyses would have her, a servant of the patriarchy that oppressed her, blinkered by false consciousness, nor a rebel against that patriarchy, but one person whose gender, family position and personal relationships all effected her interactions with the world around her, while it changed according to the actions she chose.

I won't, however, deal in the same detail with the other sections of the book, lest this post go on forever! On Margaret Beaufort one key point is her sponsorship of Caxton's translation and printing of the romance Blanchardyn and Eglantine. Her engagement with the text is usually described as political, but Krug argues that before her son's accession Margaret saw it as an idealised version of the world, exposing "the dangers of political factionalism but then affirming the ultimate safety and success of its hero". By the time she had it translated in English it was "commemorative: she herself came to read the romance as a text in which she could already see (and perhaps believed she had always already seen) Henry's accession of 1485."

But she also sponsored Latin texts that she probably only at best partly understood, and Krug argues that these had a ritualistic meaning. Engaging with the text, by reading or following while someone else read, had a protective function. Further, by reproducing and spreading texts, she was creating communities, of scholars and laypeople.

This is, Krug says, curiously like the Lollard women of Norwich (on the absolute opposite side of the religious controversies of the time). Clerical critics of vernacular texts thought they were revealing hidden knowledge that should be reserved for priests, which is, Krug suggests, particularly attractive as an idea to academics today, since their own social practices value texts for similar reasons (as "proof" and "data".)

"We have assumed that we know, without question, why someone would want a translation of a text ... in describing the literate practice of the women Lollards in Norwich circa 1430, this chapter shows how demands for vernacular texts emerged from the sense that engagement with the written word constituted spiritual identity. ... reading was certainly about learning but that learning was spiritually formative and not strictly rationative." Having God's work in your heart and in your home - and particularly in a communal space within that home that you shared with others, as more important than understanding it. (This reminds me of Pierre Bourdieu and his Algerian tribespeople using a strange, imported object - spoons - to "bring rain".)

The final purpose of Krug's work is to try to understand why a question at the centre of scholarship about 15th-century medieval women in England: why, when more and more were exposed to literate culture, and could read and write (if only by use of a scribe), did they not produce literary or religious texts?

Krug's answer? They may have indeed at times been stopped by lack of access to formal education, social mores or family restrictions, but additionally, and probably more importantly, this was for many not the most important use to which they could put their literacy skills. "Even if they might have imagined that literary writing would be useful, they were already busy with literate activities that seemed, to them, more obviously beneficial."

In Syon Abbey, the nuns, as, Krug reports, exposed by their controversy over their accusation of the "heretical" text of John Ryckes's Image of Love, had come to be trained to think of reading as a way to experience God. "They were of course cautioned to read and perform the liturgy 'accurately', emphasizing bodily obedience, but at the same time they were encouraged to distance themselves from other people and concentrate on books." (Rather than images, which were for less, lay, folks.) If you think you're experiencing God through reading, how can writing be better?

But even if you are not interested in the broader academic questions, or the theoretical route by which answers are reached, this is a wonderful book to read to grasp the place of writing in the lives of the women it portrays, in a world so very different from our own - a truth that Krug is keen to emphasise. Yet this is the time in which women were, I would argue, through this engagement with the written text, beginning the long, tortuous climb into the public world that is (more than ever before) open to us today.

This is not, as academic books go, hideously expensive, and I would hope - probably against hope - that an affordable paperback might be forthcoming.

(There's another review here.)

*Declaration of interest/bias - this theory, in a slightly different form, is one of the bases of my thesis in mass communications. And while I've come across many social theories in my time, while tripping lightly through the study of politics, sociology, history and related disciplines, it is the only one that I've ever felt came close to approximating to lived realities.

Sunday, October 30, 2005

A story for the papers

An article in the Observer wonders where is all the coverage of the Women of the Year awards. (Male) Editors everywhere are scratching their heads trying to find stories that will appeal to women, but these struggle to make much impact at all. Instead we get endless pap about hairstyles (as a friend was complaining last night), and of course make-up, and Kate Moss.

Minette Marrin in The Times has some very sensible things to say about sexual "morality". Why is it still so hard to say that as long as sex is safe, between consenting adults and doesn't involve betrayal of someone else, it is absolutely not society's business to worry about it?

Traditional sexuality morality — meaning sexual restraint, particularly for women — was based on that connection between sex and conception: it evolved to protect paternity and patrimony. Now the connection has all but disappeared, as has patrimony, and the less connection, the less restraint and the more empty the morality.
For this reason Christian moralists and others are doomed to failure with their quixotic hopes of getting people to say no to sex or to save themselves for married monogamy; they might as well try to put a genie back in his lamp. Because higamous, hogamous we are mostly not monogamous, and we no longer have any reproductive reason even to try to pretend that we are.

And trying to do so only does harm, particularly to women, since somehow it always ends up being their fault, I'd add.

A little more personal and social history

As part of the process of revamping my website, I've posted two new pieces of my early journalism, covering the social history of southern NSW.

They're both profiles. One is of Miss Dorothy Ross, AM, for whom the adjective "indomitable" might have been invented. Most famous as the national head of the (Australian) Country Women's Association (roughly the equivalent of the British Women's Institute), she so terrified another journalist of my acquaintance that the journalist burst into tears at the thought of having to speak to her. (Although this was the local "Agoniser", which liked to employ 17-year-olds.)

The other is the only male profile I've posted, of
Curly Heckendorf, a Burma Railway survivor who came back and almost single-handedly built up his region - and reputedly never spoke about his experiences. This in some ways is the worst piece, in that you can see me struggling to get him to open up, but it has, I think, a certain raw truth about it.

Both are now sadly dead, and I've included links to obituaries.

Saturday, October 29, 2005

Clueless businesses

Just trying to buy a couple of domain names for a planned project.

First Mr/Ms Easyspace, you didn't get my business because I don't think my marital status is any of your business. (The titles on offer for registration were Mr/Mrs/Miss/Dr. They obviously haven't emerged from the 1950s!)

Then another mob wanted me to enter all my personal details on a non-secure website, and yet another lot wanted me to register all my details before telling me what they wanted to charge me. Really folks - surely these are business basics.

Anyway, I finally went with 1&1 Internet Lrd, who didn't commit any of these errors. Now, go on, tell me your horror stories about THEM!

Yours exasperatedly ....

Gossip and melodrama

Miss Frances Williams Wynn is getting right into the gossip today, about the Gunnings - poor Irish girls who married remarkably well, becoming respectively the Countess of Coventry and the Duchess of Argyll. (Each of those links will also take you to an image of the "celebrated beauties" of their day.)

There's also a dastardly male rape plot foiled (not of course that Miss Frances is so explicit - but were she a Victorian I'm sure she wouldn't even have said this much).

Two (more) books to read, and an interesting thesis

The ends of Constantinople and Venice - this review takes them together, recommends both, then suggests:

Cities are entering a new golden age. Like the great city states of 15th-century Italy, modern cities such as New York and Hong Kong have become dynamos of wealth and creativity, increasingly distinct in tempo and mentality from their surrounding state.

I'd put London in that grouping too. The geographers say that Bangkok is the most extreme "primate" city - drawing in all the wealth and skills from the national hinterland, but London must come close to its rival in that category.

It is an interesting thought that this might be necesssary for a great city - this article suggests Paris and Moscow haven't managed it, so have been dragged down by their hinterland.

I'd really not care to live anywhere in the UK except in London (well except maybe Oxford and Cambridge, but university towns are a special case). The rest really is a different country.

Weekend reading

From the excellent Financial Times weekend magazine (excellent book reviews - often of books not highlighted elsewhere), a balanced outline of the great project of the redevelopment of Stratford in East London as a whole city within a city - something much bigger than just the Olympics. Can the planners finally get it right?


I know I point to Matthew Parris just about every week, but he so often has worthwhile things to say:

Every age produces its small, sick crop of brutes. Every culture reaps among its harvests the tares of human failure. Every body of human beings has its leg ulcers.
And they need excuses, these pathetic riff-raff. Every blood-lust needs to rationalise. Even the least human among us is human enough to seek reasons for our brutality. There will always be young men whose heads and lives are so comprehensively messed up that they are crazed by the urge to wound, destroy and kill.

He's referring to the case of the killing of Jody Dobrowski, and homophobia - something being promoted by the Pope. Yet, as he says, the new "religious hatred" law would stop the tackling of the spreading of that very hatred and "justification" for violence.


In today's Guardian, Mary Beard produces a satisfying review of the new television series about Rome, a subject sure to fill acres of newsprint, but seldom as well as this:
"There is also, I suspect, a particularly 21st-century imperative behind the rash of recent "Romes", from Gladiator on. In the world of publicly sanctioned multiculturalism (excellent, in many ways, as that is), popular representations of cultural difference have become increasingly dangerous and heavily policed. All the old ways of celebrating "our" identity against the peculiar habits - often the eating ones - of the outside world now seem a bit risky. ...
...that past cannot answer back, has no government machinery on its side (or not usually), and you can do what you like with it. If they were portraying a modern religion, the lurid, blood-soaked representations of Roman paganism in the new Rome would probably end with the director up before the beak on a charge of "incitement to religious hatred". As it is, it's only Rome, so it doesn't count."

And she points out the uncomfortable fact for directors: "The Roman senate banned the eating of dormice in 115 BC." (Read the whole review to find out why that matters.)

Friday, October 28, 2005

Tomorrow's projects

Get a Bluetooth phone to talk to a Bluetooth PDA.
Get the phone and the PDA to talk to the home computer.
Get the Wifi on the PDA working.
Get a folding keyboard to talk to the PDA.

If you get a post that is one long scream, don't be surprised.

Any tips from experience much appreciated ...

This reminds me of reading during the week that Google might be going to provide free WiFi all over San Francisco. Here - maybe - is the future: total connectivity.

Now if there was just genuine "plug and play" to go with it.

A reminder of how bad things were ...

before anti-discrimination legislation:

Today we are appalled by the story told in "North Country," a film that chronicles the first class-action lawsuit brought for sexual harassment. The suit was led by Lois Jenson, a single mother trying to provide for her family, who became one of the first women to work at Minnesota's Eveleth Mines.

The sexual harassment she and other women at Eveleth Mines suffered in the 1970s and '80s was, indeed, appalling. They endured lewd jokes, taunting and unwelcome physical contact. One female employee opened her locker to find sexual fluids on her personal belongings. Others experienced stalking and threatened assault outside of the workplace....

It brings back nasty memories - although nothing as concerted as this. I've dealt with Playboys scattered around the workplace; a really unpleasant calender (which disappeared when we put up one with an equivalent picture of a male); and endless innuendo. It reminds me that workplaces have, at least outwardly, really improved in the past 20 years.

One abortion myth debunked

In today's Guardian, a study from the British Medical Journal that found that women who've had an abortion during a first pregnancy are less likely to be depressed than those who had a child.

The authors studied the history of more than 1,000 women, aged between 14 and 24 in 1979, who either aborted the foetus during their first pregnancy or chose to have the baby between 1970 and 1992.

The women were interviewed over several years to establish whether their decision was linked to later depression. The abortion group had a significantly higher education and income and lower total family size. The group with the highest risk of depression was that among women who went on to have their baby before 1980.

"Some women who undergo abortion will also experience clinical levels of depression. However, other research has found pre-existing mental health is the more important predictor of mental health after pregnancy, regardless of how the pregnancy is resolved."

This reminds me to highlight the excellent blog Abortion Clinic Days - which speaks of the difficult realities of women trying to get an abortion in America today.

Friday Femmes Fatales No 29

Where are all the female bloggers? Here, in my weekly "top ten" posts. I'm now approaching a collection of 300.

Starting today with a cheering laugh, Madeleine Begun Kane, who has the adorable tagline "A Limerick A Day Keeps Republicans At Bay", is waiting to hear from the grand jury inquiry (headed by Patrick Fitzgerald) into "Plamegate", turned, as usual, to verse:

I keep scanning the Net
For some news from Pat Fitz.
If he don't indict soon,
I may go on the fritz. ...

Read on to find out just what is sublime ...

Then, for the serious stuff, it seems right to begin with Pogblog's tribute to Rosa Parks, a woman who really made a difference.

Jo's Journal examines a proposal for legal prostitution in Oxford. While I think this is a complex issue, a small university city does seem a rather odd place to start (at least now universities are mixed-sex institutions).

Half Changed World looks at how unpaid internships transmit class privilege. (Something close to my heart, since, as I've commented before, this is certainly an important factor in the nature of British journalists.)

Can feminists talk to conservative Christians? The question is posed by The Happy Feminist. Then, still on the feminist side, Miram on Playground Revolution ponders the issues of mothers in the workplace.

Tory Convert sets out her theory of political engagement, and with it why she's opted for the (British) Conservative Party.

Carrie on Stay Free! suggests that the New Puritans, as identified by the Guardian, should direct their criticisms at the system, rather than individuals.

Turning personal, on Dot Moms, Melita struggles with the addictiveness of television for toddlers. And I was cringing in sympathy with TC on Tiny Coconut when she made the sort of social slip that haunts your nightmares.

Girl in Greenwood has decided, however, after a short piece of practical experience, that it might be better to be an aunty than a mom.

(Another "baker's decade" this week - there's so much great stuff out there ....)


You can find the last edition of Femmes Fatales here.


Don't forget the Carnival of Feminists No 2, coming up on Personal Political on Wednesday. Follow the link for the guidelines and nominate your best recent post now! And if you missed No 1, it is here.


Nominations (including self-nominations) for Femmes Fatales are also hugely welcome - I'll probably get to you eventually anyway, but why not hurry along the process?

Thursday, October 27, 2005

How many witches?

A fascinating debate is running on the Women's Studies list about witches - specifically the number executed in the last millennia in Europe, with estimates running from 20,000 to 200,000 - a figure of 9 million that has been floating round has been dismissed (it seems to me sensibly enough) as ridiculous.

One of the most debated books has been Robin Briggs. Witches and Neighbors: the Social and Cultural Context of European Witchcraft. For balance a broadly positive review and mainly negative one.

We were also directed to an online edition (with explanation) of the Malleus Maleficarum.

It is not a subject I've got into myself - it seems like such well-trodden ground.

Great men in old age

This is the subject of Miss Frances Williams Wynn's musings today - her particular examples being the Duke of Marlborough and Admiral Barrington.

You can only wish that Robert Mugabe had read them. (Or to be serious, click here.)

Wednesday, October 26, 2005

A (small) Japanese revolution

Japan is one of the worst societies on earth for rigid gender roles, from what I've seen and heard. It is no wonder its birth rate is so low, when women can expect to be left at home with the children while salarymen husbands stay away for 18 hours a day or more. But there are few real opportunities either, for women in the workplace.

So it is pleasantly ironic that the dearth of male births in the imperial family looks set to force a change in the succession law to allow the first empress since 1771. "If the rules are changed, Princess Aiko, Emperor Akihito’s three-year-old granddaughter, could one day become reigning empress."

There could even be a Thai Queen on the throne at the same time, since the succession law there has also been changed. (And in Thailand the whole situation is complicated because there is no rule of primogeniture - the tradition is that a palace coterie conduct something resembling an election.)

Does this suck?

An interesting linguistic debate about the word "sucks", as a term of insult.

I tend to think of it as a very American usage, but I was surprised that the author found many occurrences in English English:

A Google search of the British newspaper The Guardian Unlimited turned up 1,285 examples of the word in headlines, e.g., "Big Brother series six sucks big time" (June 19, 2005); "Chanel ad 'sucks' says FCUK ad man" (Dec. 6, 2004); "Move over Hoover, this robot sucks" (Nov. 25, 2004).

Still, it is still at home in America: "According to the Sept. 29 USA Today, "Boston Red Sox fans wearing T-shirts that say 'Yankees Suck' will be asked to turn them inside-out before entering Fenway Park."

So I guess the opposition can just pick on the spectators with the inside-out shirts ...

This I presume is for this mysterious "World Series", that the world has never heard of.

Warning to 'colonials' ...

... thinking of moving to Britain. There are mutterings that ancestral rights of residence (usually the birth of a grandparent in the UK) could be abolished.

(And I regularly give thanks to my great grandmother, who, family tradition suggests, "went back to England to have the baby". Although now I think about it I'm not sure if this can be true - given the length and discomfort of the journey at the start of the 20th century, and the family's tradesmen (locksmith) status.)

More women writers pop up

At the history conference on the weekend, there was some discussion of the stage that the study of Renaissance (or early modern) women writers had reached. The broad framework seems to be that there are three: discovery and initial propogation (i.e. the publishing of their works in an accessible form); detailed study of them as women writers; then insertion into the general canon. (Which some would say is the stage we are/should be at now.)

Yet stage one under this schema is far from over. The latest issue of the excellent web-based Early Modern Literary Studies (one of the pioneers in this area, I believe) introduces Jane Cavendish and Elizabeth Brackley, the oldest daughters of the William, Duke of Newcastle (who married the redoubtable Margaret Cavendish, who is now virtually an industry all of her own). But the younger generation are certainly new to me.

The two are the only known collaborative female dramatists of the period, and their verse and dramatic works are known to have been composed during the years that the English Civil War was fought, rather than during the Interregnum. Their works are, therefore, particularly valuable to both literary and historical researchers of the period because they simultaneously play with established generic conventions and tell us a great deal at first hand about the conditions of aristocratic life during the seventeenth-century national meltdown.

This seems to me to support a vaguely formed theory in my head - which I'd like to explore at length some time - that through the early modern period there are extensive female networks, running mainly but not exclusively through families, that encouraged education and literary production.
Link found on Early Modern Notes.

Tuesday, October 25, 2005

Women's studies or gender studies?

An interesting study of the Canadian debate. I'm in two minds on the issue - certainly masculinity needs to be studied, if only to ensure that it is problematised and regarded not as "the norm" against women are judged - but on the other hand I have sympathy with the idea that losing a female focus focus risks making women again invisible.

Book review: The Gender Politics of ICT

Every year the internet and its associated technologies seem to have a bigger place in our world, in our lives; it sometimes seems that screen life is life. That's as true for women as it is for men. And you'd think if you were a young person thinking about setting out on a career, or an older person thinking about a new one, it would be a logical place to look. Yet the percentage of women employed in what is inelegantly called ICT (information and communication technology) is actually going down, a study of seven states across the European Union has found.

The figures are reported in the first paper of a new book, The Gender Politics of ICT, edited by Jacqueline Archibald, Judy Emms, Frances Grundy, Janet Payne and Eva Turner. It consists of the papers from the 6th International Women into Computing Conference and, commendably, was published within weeks of the gathering. (One of the great problems of most books on the sociology of the wired world is that by the time they've been through the whole publishing mill they're hopelessly out of date.)

But this is as up-to-date as it could possibly be, and also wide-ranging. Often books about the technological world are US-centric, with perhaps a token nod to Britain, Australia and Canada, but this text ranges widely across Europe, "old" and "new" and even extends to Japan and Nigeria.

Eva Turner goes looking to see how women in computing is regarded in the Czech Republic, her country of origin. It is not a pretty picture. Turner says:

"...when I requested an interview with the Minister for Infomatics and explained that I am interested in questions of Gender and Computing, the minister's secretary said to me 'I can already envisage what you look like'. (tak to us Vas dovedu predstavit). I did not ask what his image of me actually was.

As that passage suggests, while there are plenty of dry, but necessary, statistics and theoretical analyses in this text, it also has the immediacy and freshness of a good personal presentation. It is uneven, as you'd expect, but it is I'd suggest it is essential for anyone interested not just in "gender and computers", but anyone seeking up-to-date information on the computer industry in general.

The central theme running through the book is "where are the women?", not just in "computing", but in related areas such as engineering and general science. A number of answers emerge. The most obvious, perhaps, is that many computing jobs demand long hours, to the extreme even of "sleeping at your desk", that make them almost impossible for women with family responsibilities. So even women who enter the industry tend to drop out at this point in their lives.

Then there's the culture issue (with which I can sympathise, since the media is much the same). A group of researchers looking at women in IT in the North West of England found that women "had to distance themselves from their gender in the effort to blend in ... and such an astounding level of fear and loathing towards them that it is remarkable that any women at all persevere with an IT career". Their interviewees spoke of having to drink with the boys, ignore sexual banter and talk about football, just to fit in.

But there's also a bigger problem of identity. Juliet Webster writes about engineering being more "gender authentic" for men. Many of the men she interviews "provided little or no account of their choice - precisely because there is nothing remarkable for a man about choosing to be an engineer. By contrast virtually all of the women I interviewed have a story to tell about why they made the choice: like not having children as a woman, it demands an explanation". Is this the same in IT? I suspect it is.

Answers to these problems are rather thinner on the ground. Rosa Michaelson outlines the European Commission's process of "gender mainstreaming", addressed broadly at the "leaky pipeline of female scientists". (I'm one of those, having done a first science degree then fled in other direction as fast as possible.) Her report is broadly positive, yet this of course is only one area of employment.

In Norway, Hilde Corneliussen studied a group of non-specialist women studying computing, and asked the interesting question: did they get pleasure out of it, and why? The answer was a clear "yes" - mainly because they "discovered they could manage and they could learn", but this was a surprise, because they had internalised a societal belief that computers were not for their gender - this was almost a forbidden pleasure to the women. Corneliussen suggests: "For the future, why not invite women to computer education by telling them that "You might even fall in love with the technology!"

So why does the lack of women matter - in addition to the obvious loss of opportunities?

A number of papers in the collection address this issue. Katherine R.B. Greyson looked at how students, given a choice, constructed pedagogic agents, and found, perhaps unsurprisingly, that they were most comfortable with avatars (I learnt the jargon is "Intelligent Agents" or "embodied Communication Agents") that resembled themselves in race, body shape etcetera. Yet existing agents tended to stereotypical gender designs and either white or racially ambiguous. Her study implies that if mono-cultural agents are producers, the result too will be monocultural, and geneder-stereotyped.

Another issue is addressed by Tanja Carstensen and Gabriele Winker, who look at the potential of the internet for the women's movement and activists - unlikely to be fully realised if insufficient numbers of women are at least comfortable with IT. I don't entirely agree with their conclusion that "women's policy networks use the Internet particularly for finding and providing information, but that interactive options such as forums and chats, and thereby potential for discussion and opinion-forming are little used. Political action via the net is almost completely non-existent."

In terms of actively spreading information I think of Women's E-news, in terms of campaigning of the Justice for Linda campaign, in terms of simple grassroots activism of Radical Geek's Bombing for Choice. (You'll find my link on the bottom of the sidebar.) I might even proclaim my own humble effort of the Carnival of Feminists as a networking effort.

Nonetheless, I think it would be fair to say that women’s groups have been slower to adopt the technology and its possibilities than would be ideal, and women bloggers, in particular, and for understandable reasons have not pushed themselves forward as far as they might have.

Which brings me to blogs - and the one paper on this subject. (Even conferences have a lag-time, and I'd hazard a guess the next will have a lot more.) The paper is by Tess Pierce who takes a heavily theoretical approach in trying to compare "cybergrrls" and "cyberfeminists", and finds "two conflicting narratives. One ... operates on a sophisticated theoretical level of feminism and technoscience, with Donna Haraway's cyborg as central character. The other integrates women's everyday lives with the actual use of communication for political organising."

The study then uses three rather odd examples (for this purpose) - in blogs from Iran (Notes of an Iranian Girl), Iraq (Baghdad Burning) and Afghanistan (The Upper Echelon of Happiness). To be frank, I found little here of use, but one has to sympathise with the theorist trying to keep up with something as fast moving as the world of blogs.

There's more, as the telemarketers always say, that I haven't got room to include here - on issues of computing and technology ethics, on pedagogic methods and how these might impact specifically on female students, and on the democratic possibility of involving users in software design. This is an essential collection for anyone who wants to think about the nature of the computer society that we are creating - and there's many an IT boss who'd benefit from even a cursory browse of its contents.

Published by Middlesex University Press, you can get the book on Amazon UK or directly (and most easily) from one of the editors.


The First Carnival of Feminists has made it on to the MSNBC linklog. Thanks Will.

Now dragging myself out to lunch, an hour after getting up. (The joys of working nights - though only for another three and a half weeks!) I always order spaghetti carbonara, on the ground that it is bacon and eggs, so you can almost call it breakfast.

Coming up this afternoon - I'm writing it here because then I'll have to get it done - a review of an excellent book on women in computing. Also in the pipeline is a rave review of a book about a women in medieval England.

They're written in my head - just got to get them into Blogger. (Would be nice if you could just plug in a lead.)

A heroine of 1381

Well that is stretching it a little, but I like the tale of Margery Starre, who in Cambridge on June 16, amidst the English Peasants' Revolt of 1381 (Wat Tyler's), tossed the ashes of burnt documents to the winds, cring "away with the learning of clerks! away with it!"

(From "The Imaginary Society: Women in 1381", Journal of British Studies 40 (April 2001), pp. 159-183.

Monday, October 24, 2005

First call for the Second Carnival of Feminists

The next Carnival of Feminists, the second, will be hosted on Personal Political on 2 November.

The call for submissions is already up . If you've got a great post already up send it along, or if you've had one brewing in the back of your mind for a while, get it into the blogosphere in time.

If you inexplicably missed the first Carnival it is here.

And you'll always be able to find out about the carnival on its home page.

Starting slowly

There's an entirely sensible campaign now in the UK to encourage people to switch off appliances left on standby, saving both greenhouse gas emmissions and money.

I try hard to be environmentally friendly - low-energy light bulbs and appliances, using cycling and public transport etc, but I confess my computer CPU isn't switched off from one week to the next. (Although I do switch off the screen.)

The problem is it takes so long to fire it up again. And it seems strange that this problem hasn't been solved - it is one of the primary annoyances of computing. And it also drives us mad at work, where an average of several crashes per computer per working day (usually right on deadline) wastes huge amounts of time in restarting. (I used to believe the claim that Apples never crashed - Hah!)

But finally, it appears, there is a solution in sight. About time!

Following the woman-bashing script

Australian editors are traditionally interested in the Northern Territory only for crocodile wrestling stories and lurid murder trials, the latter category in which the Falconio murder trial definitely falls.

(A brief summary: a British couple were driving along an Outback highway. She reports that their car was flagged down, the man was shot, she was tied up, but fled and hid in the bush for five hours, before flagging down a passing truck. The boyfriend is presumed dead, but no body has been found.)

As might be predicted, media coverage depicting Darwin as "Hicksville" has upset the locals. The Chief Justice is ensuring he gets his name in all the papers, asking of the writer of the offending article: "How did he get out? Presumably by horse and carriage?" Entirely in line with the script.

Also in line with the script, all aspects of the reputation of the dead man's partner is being trashed in court, despite the fact that she is a victim of forced imprisonment, serious assault etc and spent many hours in fear of her life. The fact that all of the details she gave of her ordeal, no doubt in a state of shock soon after, and subsequently, don't exactly square up, is hardly a surprise. From what I know of the nature of memory in shocking circumstances (some from personal experience), she will have eventually constructed out of fragmentary memories a coherent narrative for herself; there's nothing solid about memory.

Actually, she's already been found guilty of not being sufficiently "womanly" - ie breaking down in public - just like Lindy Chamberlain.

Some characters met ...

.. at Saturday's conference.

Bishop Francis Godwin, author of the (posthumously published in 1638) Man in the Moone, which might be called the first piece of science fiction. His central character, writing what is structured as autobiography,, "translated from the Spanish", is a priest who reports on training swan-like birds to carry him on their annual migration to the moon. There he finds a utopia with no disease, no crime etc, and is told that anyone who shows any problems is shipped down to Earth, thus explaining why it is is such a sinful place.

John Wilkins, the first secretary of the Royal Society, who knew its author, actually revised a scientific paper to take account of it. The book, taken at face value by most readers, went through more than 20 editions in the next two centuries, also being translated into French, German and Dutch. Jules Verne and Edgar Allen Poe both read it.

Robert Recorde (c.1510-1558) "the most important teacher of mathematics of the English Renaissance, also a neo-Platonist. He wrote books, in English (importantly) on arithmetic, astronomy and algebra, some in the form of what would now be called "teach yourself". Claim was laid for him as having "laid the foundation for mathematics and technical learning in general society". He was also a civil servant and got himself into trouble in Ireland, eventually dying in prison.

Sir George Beeston who was knighted after fighting with Drake et al against the Spanish Armada, and has a lovely tomb in St Boniface Church in Bunbury.

William Cornysh (or Cornish, a Renaissance musician, introduced by a researcher who has the lovely plan to research the lives of "nobodies", one being an anonymous person - a delightful idea.

The idea of David Rizzio, the Italian, supposed to be the lover of Mary, Queen of Scots, who was murdered with such dramatic political consequencies. He was seen as the prototype for the Italian lovers and Catholic villians of Elizabethan and later drama.

I also learnt about the contradictory funeral monuments of the wonderful Elizabeth Hoby, and the way people used almanacs as frameworks for their "diaries", also sometimes commenting when the weather forcast was wrong!

Sunday, October 23, 2005

Traditional and untraditional history

I spent yesterday at the Roehampton University Renaissance Lives Annual Conference, which was brilliant. I really liked the fact that the sessions didn't mostly consist of papers being read out, but of short off-the-cuff explanations of research, followed by wide discussion.

And the discussion, while sometimes focused on detail - with lots of excellent stuff about women's lives - was mostly about the big issues of writing about history - are biographies and biographers writing about archetypes or individual lives; can you recover historical emotions? what is autobiography/life-writing (is using this description for a tomb taking things too far?); do biographical subjects still have agency after their death? what impact will technology have on the discipline (more focus on communal rather than individual lives through the ability to analyse large amounts of data was the answer given, although I think inter-discipinarianism is more important personally) - the description of this as "thick historicism" was accurate, I thought.

But the day started with what someone later labelled "classic 19th-century old historicism", with David Starkey talking about his biography of Henry VIII. You had to give him marks as a performer, there was more than a hint of mischief-making, and it certainly woke up everyone first thing in the morning, so I guess you could say he did his job.

But I wasn't the only one bristling at the statement "all historical progress depends on sons quarrelling with their fathers", while the claim that historians "from council houses" just couldn't understand war, the aristocracy and the like certainly did raised others' blood pressure. (This was despite the fact that he later contradicted the "sons" remark by attributing the entire English Reformation to Anne Boleyn, or at least to Henry's sexual desire for her! He claimed the only "Protestants" in England before her influence were a small number - who "would have fitted into a Portakabin" - at the "fleapit" of Cambridge. Not from what I know of the London of the time ...)

But, as I said, it was entertaining.

A newspaper finds a positive trend ...

... hold the front page. The Observer proclaims the rise of the New Puritan - "A generation of young, educated and opinionated people determined to sidestep the consumerist perils of modern life."

It also runs a scare story about the new drinking laws, but it also manages to conclude that a significant group of young people are trying to live in a healthy, green way. (I tend to agree, in part I guess because I'm a bit of one myself (without the "young" bit).

Saturday, October 22, 2005

Tuck into the duck

Two nicely matched articles in today's Guardian - wondering why society today is so gullible - focusing particularly on bird flu hysteria. When the front page of The Sun is taken up by a death of a bird meaning, in its terminology, the feathered kind, there must be a new "dead parrot" sketch in there somewhere - but then again, perhaps it is beyond parody.

I could hardly believe that anyone had given this stuff a thought, until I went into my local small Sainsbury this evening and found poultry of all descriptions covered in half-price or less stickers. Just had a very nice expensive free-range duck breast fillet (baked in honey and mustard-seed mustard in case you were wondering) that usually would have been £3. It cost me £1.20 - I foresee poultry meat being the predominate source of protein in my diet in the immediate future.

Then, the Guardian, debunking one scare (while it continues elsewhere to promote bird flu) runs an expose on the lab that keeps finding MRSA everywhere. Funnily enough, none of the other, accredited labs, which happen to be run by trained scientists, can.

So all those poor senior citizens terrified out of their wits - that if they touched an NHS door-handle they were going to die - were misled by their newspapers. It'd be nice to think the pensioners will know better next time.

In other news, as (nearly) always Matthew Parris offers an original take on the news. You mightn't have thought it was possible to find a new angle on the Tory leadership contest, but he has, and although I've only been resident in England for seven years and wouldn't presume therefore to claim to more than dimly understand the class system (although I'm sure it is still going strong): it is that the rise of David Cameron is the return of the toffs.

Hooray for the Daily Mail

No, not a sentiment you'll see often on this blog, but I am talking historically. In the Twenties, I've learnt from a biography of the palaeontologist Dorothea Bate (of which more soon), it financed "to the tune of some "thousands of pounds" (rather a lot then) the archaeological excavation of the Roman fortress and ampitheatre at Caerleon in Wales.

Of course the pay-off was exclusive news, but as a promotional method it makes a nice change from free CDs, DVDs and other dross now falling, it seems, out of every newspaper in the land. They're one of the reasons I'm switching over to entirely web-based newspaper reading - such a horrible waste of resources, when they go straight from the shop to the bin, without even emerging from the plastic wrapper.

Perhaps someone could revive this as a promotional method? (I say in hope rather than expectation - would no doubt be considered far too high-brow.)

The sound of a wit

Today's Diaries of a Lady of Quality entry is actually a letter from Lord Alvaney, who seems to me a self-conscious wit, as he makes fun of the doubtful virtues of taking the waters at Buxton, still a big tourist centre.

"Animated by the appetite, which even the diluent powers of common water, assisted by the vibrations of diurnal exercise and the collisive hilarity of reciprocal salutation, would give to a body obstructed by gluttony and rest — they devour with deleterious hunger a farinaceous sponge, the interstices of which are inundated with butter, which might smile at the peristaltic exertions of an elephant, and of which the digestion would be no less an evil than the obstruction."

Pretentious maybe, but it is still rather fun in its orotund syllables. (Yes, I had to look up farinaceous too - "Made from, rich in, or consisting of starch". Anyone know what dish is being insulted - just bread?)

Friday, October 21, 2005

Yes, it is 'Trafalgar Day'

No prizes for guessing who is the subject of the Oxford Dictionary of National Biography's daily feature. (That link will only work for a couple of days.)

But I'd like to spare a thought for Nelson's poor wife (while Lady Hamilton gets to swan around in all of the glamorous reflected glory).

...Nelson married Frances Nisbet at Nevis on 11 March 1787. In June the Boreas sailed for home, soon followed by Mrs Nelson in a merchant ship. Nelson and his wife spent the next five years in England on half-pay, much of the time with his father in Norfolk. Frances, who had lived all her life in the West Indies, was severely tried by Norfolk winters in a draughty parsonage ...

[then he was a humble junior naval officer. By the time he was a national hero ...}

...In September [1802] Lady Hamilton had bought for him Merton Place, Surrey, and there he now settled with the Hamiltons. His relatives were frequent visitors, having swiftly deserted Lady Nelson and echoed Emma Hamilton's spiteful remarks about her; only his old father declined to break off relations with her. He died in 1802, and that summer Nelson and the Hamiltons went on a triumphal progress across England and south Wales.

The worst century?

The Uncertainty Principle poses an interesting question: which was the worst century to live in? He's talking Britain; it would be interesting to do an international listing.

TUP agrees with Channel Four that it was the 14th century, with that nasty little visit by the Black Death, but I suspect it might have been the 5th or 6th AD - when the glories of the Roman empire were still a near memory, and everything was falling apart.

(Either pretty well puts hysteria about bird flu, al-Qa'ida and similar in perspective.)

That's within recorded history - most of the millennia of human existence before that must have been pretty equal in misery. I know they say the early farmers were worse of in terms of nutrition etc, but given the fear and uncertainty that we lived in during our hunter-gatherer existence, that couldn't have been a ball of laughs either.

The imperfect conjunction of technology and bodies

The planned new British ID cards have scraped through the Commons, although with a bit of luck the Lords will block them. Even the experts don't think they'll be sufficiently reliable, the Guardian reports today:

Mr Tavano also noted the shortcomings of biometric data. "If you play the guitar, if you're a mason, or when you grow old, your fingerprints can change so they do not match biometric data already stored," he told Guardian Unlimited. Under the scheme, face, iris and fingerprint scans will be used to identify people.

Just imagine - you get to the airport after the London-Sydney flight, and The Computer decides your iris scan means you're not you. Maybe the failure rate is only one in 10,000, but look at the queue at Heathrow and imagine how many that means every day.

Getting even darker, an image of America as a threatened rabbit warren, ala Watership Down. (A book I confess I've never read, but given its seemingly essential place in the English psyche I probably should.

Finally, the ad man who is happy to dismiss more than half of the human race as 'crap'. Yes, it is the usual, female, half.

Actually, I bet if you pinned him down, he'd say anyone who wasn't a carbon copy of himself was "crap", so probably in his world view there are half a dozen people aren't. We all know the type - they only promote people who are identikit pictures of themselves, because that's all they can manage to deal with. If you've got breasts, by definition you're not like them. (No, I haven't known any women like that, although I have dealt with women who were the opposite - only unthreatening young males need apply.)

Friday Femmes Fatales No 28

Where are all the female bloggers? Here, in my weekly "top ten" posts. I'm now approaching a collection of 300.

FFF seems to be multicultural in the broadest sense of the term this week.

First, to what I can proudly proclaim as a Femmes Fatales first, from OC Hairball a pictorial post from a women's skateboarding competition. A bit further down the blog there's also some great surfing pics, from a day when broken boards seem to have been just about the norm - must have been pretty hairy out there!

Then Dangereuse Trilingue, who lives up to at least the latter half of her name, is having daytime "nightmares" about an unusual subject. This post's in English - if you'd like French she's also writing about a meeting of bloggers. (A good way to find new bloggers in French, if you fancy.) And her design is an interesting variation on the usual string listing.

Finally, in terms of linguistic leaps, With All Due Respect is written by JCB, "an outspoken Puerto Rican, lesbian lawyer". She blogs in Spanish and English (sorry you'll have to explore the Spanish for yourself - some French and a bit of very rusty Thai are as far as my linguistic skills extend). She finds a mirror exposing her kaleidoscopic soul.

Meanwhile, Vicki on Just in From Cowtown, (and she's got a lovely cowskin logo to match) wonders if some people are too smart to blog. Then, Mary Ann on Five Wells looks at the digital divide, within, not between, countries, reminding us that broadband is still nowhere in sight for many - including some trying, ever so patiently, to read our websites and blogs.

Turning political, Ancrene Wiseass offers a couple of suggestions for grassroots action. (If you need a hint about her name, she's a medievalist, or on the way to being one.) On Blackfeminism, Tiffany writes about the Bill Bennett thing.

Noli Irritare Leones has a discussion of clerical sexual misconduct, which reminds me of a case that as a journalist I couldn't report. It was brought to my attention several years after the magistrates' court had thrown it out. (The magistrate played golf with the priest and race was also a factor.) The problem is court reports only have libel protection if they are "contemporaneous", and I couldn't work out how to make it work legally. Still one of my great regrets as a journalist.

Then, like many people, I try to buy and eat organic whenever possible, but you do have to wonder how much of it is fake, or at least not quite what you are paying for. Conflict Girl has the bad news on organic food.

If that's left you a bit depressed, visit Candida Cruikshanks, "CEO of Wealth Bondage", she'll deliver a quick sharp shock to snap you out of it.

Turning personal, This Woman Writes has a heartfelt post about the issues arising from open adoption (which as I understand it means the birth mother stays in contact). Adoption is something that affects my family, and while I think open adoption is a great idea for the children, it obviously isn't easy.


If you were counting you'll realise you got a "baker's decade" of posts today (11), but since many of these bloggers linked to the first Carnival of Feminists, I wanted to give them all a run.

You might be wondering about the difference between the carnival and FFF. In the Friday collection I'm introducing new women bloggers - on any and every subject - each week, but the carnival is a twice-monthly collection of the best explicitly feminist posts from around the blogosphere. Also, each edition of the carnival will have a different host - you can find more about it here.


You can find the last edition of Femmes Fatales here.

Nominations (including self-nominations) for Femmes Fatales (as for the carnival) are hugely welcome - I'll probably get to you eventually anyway, but why not hurry along the process?

Thursday, October 20, 2005

Tales from the highlands

My Lady of Quality is, I'm afraid, being rather un-PC today, telling Sir Walter Scott stories.

Leave it to the rats

Australia plans to take away even more human rights - the right to life of anyone who's known a terrorist, however, innocently. (That's not me saying that, but the Law Society of NSW, hardly a radical group). From the Sydney Morning Herald:

Mr McIntyre told ABC Radio that police would be able to obtain a preventative detention order "without a person being reasonably suspected of committing of an offence".
The orders may only have been granted on the basis that the person is an associate of someone suspected of possible involvement in terrorist activities, he said.
"If the [police] are armed with one of these [orders] ... and if this person attempts to flee the arrest, he can be shot and fatally shot," Mr McIntyre said.
"The police might knock on the door and [the person] might leg it out the back door without even being told why the police are there, and under these provisions they can be called on to stop and if they don't stop, they can be shot."

But that's enough depressing news for the day. Instead, you might prefer an interesting read, a psychologist's conclusions about religion, or the wonderful story of the rat that, despite being fitted with a radio-tracker, managed to give "a whole team of expert rat-catchers" the run-around for 18 months.

They used to say that cockroaches would take over the world, but I think my money might be on order rodentia.

Wednesday, October 19, 2005

Revolutionary derring-do

Miss Williams Wynn has some lovely tales of revolutionary narrow escapes and poignant tragedy in today's diary entry. I particularly liked her image of the pathetic, poor aritocratic emigrée in London:

In 1814 I saw Madame de Sirent, a little hump-backed old woman, a stray lady of the bed chamber to the Duchesse d'Angouleme, at the reception or sad mock drawing-room, which she held in South Audley Street, in a small two-roomed house which the Comte d'Artois had hired. A few days after they departed for Paris.

(As you'd expect, Miss Williams Wynn is distinctly on the side of the aristos.)

But if you'd prefer a bit of action, check out today's full post. It is long and has lots of French in it (but still easily comprehensible). If I get time later tonight I'll attempt to add a translation in the comments and to find out a bit more about the Sirents.

Changing media

Interesting new use for a blog: direct reports from a union picket line. (Found via an Alternet story.)

Still in media, Alastair Campbell, Blair's ex-spin doctor, is to take over the news for a week. Talk about poacher turned game-keeper. Still, two interesting women, an athlete, Dame Kelly Holmes, and the singer Ms Dynamite, are also going to get a go. Newspapers are increasingly having to focus on celebrities - interesting television is going the same way.

Finally, in a small sign of the sort of complications that will arise as this increasingly becomes "one world", gmail is going to have to become googlemail for new addresses in the UK, because someone already claims the name.

When you think about it, it is amazing this worldwide network doesn't have more of these sorts of clashes. I've just bought a domain name for what will be my professional site, (yes, not very imaginative, but easy to remember) and the whole process was remarkably simple. (At the moment I've still got it directed to my personal site.) And I couldn't get .com as well, which I probably would have done, because it has already been taken by a three-year-old in America.

The Carnival of Feminists No 1

Welcome! to the first Carnival of Feminists. In this show there are no captive animals or "freak" displays, but plenty of passion, lots of fun, and more than the odd bit of juggling of life.

Since there's no sexism here, I'm going to begin the carnival with a post by a man, Bora, aka Coturnix, on Science and Politics. He attended ConvergeSouth and here reports on a session on blog hierarchies, which got into that inevitable "where are the women bloggers" question. The temperature rose, fast.

And while I'm on gatherings of bloggers, I have to include a post setting out plans for next year's BlogHerCon, on Surfette.

Gold-star polemic

But if that's all a bit moderate and reasonable for you, I'm going to proceed quickly to the gold-star "get into 'em and tear 'em to pieces" section, where no punch is pulled. Those carrying twin copies of the "I'm easily offended" gene, you've been warned.

Feministe deconstructs the life plan of a "single Christian girl", who's realised "what a silly mistake her autonomy was". Kameron on Brutal Women, meanwhile, gets into the real meaning of advice to women to think about babies today.

I Blame the Patriarchy is not letting some adversity get her down in "Die Barbie", about a new wardrobe, for adults. (Really! I mean who would?!) In the "other commercial matters" category, Green Fairy reports on a new service, marketed to men, that sends flowers to your girlfriend, so you don't have to remember her birthday.

Jessica on Feministing, meanwhile, notes how encouraging girls to study science and math(s), and to develop leadership skills, has got a company labelled "pro-abortion and pro-lesbian".

Personal Political - in a post not suitable for rabbit-lovers - notes how one word in what is supposed to be a news story (not an opinion piece) is there to denigrate a feminist and her theory. Still on the media, Nella on Feminist Rage tackles a one-sided article about how women are leaving it 'too late' to have a family'.

Political politics

In the world of traditional politics,
Antonia of Antonia's Blog had the misfortune to have to attend the (British) Conservative Party annual conference, where she tried to find a place for social policy between the DD T-shirt wearers. (That's for David Davis, one of the contenders for the leadership, for those who missed the excitement but note the clever double entendre). It's the first feminist wrap-up I've seen, and a very solid one it is too.

Also on British politics, Emma on Gender Geek explains what's wrong with the law on women trafficked into prostitution.

I've deliberately restricted the number of US Supreme Court posts, for fear of them taking over, but I'll let Bitch PhD set out the case for why its composition matters, particularly for women, and particularly for pregnant women. Then Pseudo-Adrienne on Alas, a Blog, sets out the feminist case against Harriet Miers, while Amanda on Pandagon suggests the Right can't trust any woman it can't ruin.

Then, proving that feminists can be critical even of their icons, What Do I Know? describes her disillusionment with Judith Miller. And Moorish Girl explains why a female advocate of a Moroccan republic shouldn't be held up as an human rights advocate. (The sort of republic she wants is an Islamic one.)

On the positive side, Luighsearch on Feminist Forum sets out the good news from Norway. Also, Miss Mabrouk of Egypt reports on a scheme helping poor women in Cairo and Black Looks reports on a campaign for women's rights across Africa.

Personal politics

Heading into the "personal is political" category, Ms B. on Volsunga asks: If we were truly equal to men, considered by men to be worthy partners, would it matter if we had hairy legs?

Carla on Pre-emptive Karma is tackling the difficult issue of how to prepare children for relatives with restrictive belief systems. Growup_blowaway on Feminist Rage, meanwhile, tells the tale of a boy who at age five has all "girly" things torn away from him. On the same site, Conuly asks why all the toddler girls she sees are dressed in pink?

Deepa on Teashop on the Moon wonders if the limitations applied to girls in the books of Enid Blyton should disqualify them for modern readers?

Still in the wardrobe department, Vanessa on Feministing asks if breasts can really replace CD racks? The Countess, meanwhile, wonders about men who can only deal with relationships with plastic dolls, and Emmy on Gender Geek confronts the popular stereotypes about male sexuality.

Getting more serious, Noli Irritare Leones looks at the issues around possible childhood vaccination against the virus that causes cervical cancer. I can only hope common sense here, after hearing a debate, on Radio 4!, in which a woman was arguing that this shouldn't happen, because it would encourage girls to have sex!

Earmarks in Early Modern Culture looks at an advertisement by a Dutch insurance company designed, so it said, to promote men's involvement in childcare. The Dad got to go abseiling, the mother to wear an apron. How does that work again? she asks.

Office politics

On 11D, a plea to allow tears in the workplace. (I sympathise - I cry when I'm angry, not when I'm sad. I've often been angry at work.)

Scribblingwoman reports on the case of a female editor sacked from an "alternative" magazine for putting a breast on the cover. It seems the fact that a baby was attached, and the associated article was trying to reduce hang-ups about breast-feeding, was no explanation.

Then in the computer world, Jill/txt wonders why the component, and the game centre, are called "mother"?

Political philosophy

On Mind the Gap, Winter Woods asks the vital question how do we counter anti-feminist rhetoric? Still on a philosophical bent, on Wee Hours, TW sets out why feminism matters, but individualism does too.

Biting Beaver, in her Den, has a close encounter with the spirit of Andrea Dworkin. Didn't Hillary do something similar, and doesn't this mean Biting Beaver is now in line for the US presidency?

Hugo Schwyzer - yep, another bloke - offers "a Caffeinated Musing on Christianity and Feminism". Morgaine, on The Goddess, meanwhile, sets out in historical terms the damage Christianity has inflicted on women.

On A View From A Broad, an explanation of why arming women wouldn't deal with the problem of rape. In a related post, Sour Duck claims the right for feminists to be angry, even on their blogs.

Remembering politics

Regular readers of my blog will know that one of my favourite questions is: why do women seem to keep disappearing from history? But many bloggers are doing their part to recover forgotten women and ensure those in the public eye stay there.

On Clews: The True Crime Blog, Laura writes about an essay by Celia Laighton Thaxter (1835-1894), "in her lifetime one of the most famous women poets". Yet a famous factual essay she wrote has come to be labelled "fiction", and is mined by other writers.

Pinko Feminist Hellcat, meanwhile, looks back to the Iceland women's strike of 1974. And it could be about to happen again!

Then, using the host's right of one link, I'll point to my post on Hille Feyken, a 15-year-old who came up with her own plan to save the embattled Anabaptist stronghold of Munster in 1534 and carried it out with considerable elan. She was betrayed, however, and met her death with the same fervent courage.

And since Sharon on Early Modern Notes was my first blogging mentor, I'm going to bend the rules for her to go back to the delightful tale of the upper-class female highwaywoman.

Finally, and a fine note to finish on, Uma on Indian Writing records awards honouring social activists, including a seven-year-old girl campaigning against child marriage.

So that's it, the carnival is over, until next time - which will be on Personal Political in two weeks' time - that's November 2 - email (at) gmail (dot) com. (And any time you want to know what is happening with the carnival, check the home page. I'm particularly looking for an American blogger to host the edition of November 16 - any volunteers? After that maybe India or Africa or the Middle East?)

Thanks very much to all who sent nominations and to those who spread the word.

I've done my best to get writers' names, blog names and posts' intentions correct. If I've failed, please email and I'll fix it as soon as possible.

And if you don't think you should be here at all, perhaps you're one of those people who say: "I'm not a feminist but ..." The news is, YOU ARE!

(The Carnival is listed on the Truth Laid Bear ubercarnival. You can find other carnivals at The Blog Carnival.)

Tuesday, October 18, 2005

The Carnival of Feminists - FINAL CALL

I need your nomination (of your own or others' posts) for the inaugural Carnival of Feminists, which will go up here in the early hours of Wednesday morning (British time). That means the deadline is tonight!

There's more about the carnival here.

I'm defining "feminist" broadly - posts need not be explicitly political, but there should be some sense in a post addressing women's place in the world. Posts should also be more than a collection of links, and include substantial original content.

Drop a note in the comments here, or email me at natalieben (at) gmail (dot) com.


Life-long learning, at 96

I've studied both with "standard age" undergraduate and post-graduate students and with "mature-age" ones, and know which group as a whole I prefer to work with. One of the wonderful things about our current age is the push towards life-long learning.

Perhaps the most dedicated student I've ever known was a woman of 60-odd. She'd left school at 11 (!) because her mother needed help with the younger kids, but she read all of her own kids' university textbooks with more enthusiasm than they did and, when they'd all finished, she was finally persuaded to try herself. She was lacking in confidence, but absolutely dedicated and very quick to grasp new concepts.

So I enjoyed the story in today's Guardian about the 96-year-old master's student. (It's his second masters - he thinks a PhD is a bit much to take on.)

Also in today's Guardian, a piece by George Monbiot on why you shouldn't eat Brazilian beef - it is eating the Amazon.

And in the Independent, the man who made himself famous, in the Andy Warhol sense, with an advert on eBay.

Completing the round-up, in The Times Libby Purves writes about the wonderful founder of the Kids Company.

Monday, October 17, 2005

Catherine Bowen and the Gower Ghost

Since I'm in Wales, might as well go back to a couple more centuries, to 1655, and the case of a "Gower ghost", which I learnt about at an IHR seminar.

Except ghost is not quite the right word, since the haunting was by the spirit of a living man, Henry Bowen, husband of the target of the apparition, Catherine, so it should be called, I learnt, a spectre.

He had been a colonel in Cromwell's New Model Army, but was becoming increasingly extreme in his religion, heading towards antinomianism, and, it seems, having effectively left Catherine and moved to County Cork in Ireland, while she lived in a very isolated house at Llanrhidian, in what seems to have been a largely female household. (The place is pronounced nothing like it looks - my phonetic attempt was "Flanellen" - but I'm probably very bad at hearing Welsh.)

An account of the haunting was not printed until 1691, in the last of the 135 (!) books of Richard Baxter, a text designed to prove the "certainty of the world of spirits".

The paper was mostly concerned with the complicated religious politics and politics politics around the case, but I of course found the gender aspects fascinating. Sadly no account by Catherine survives - only two independent clerical male accounts.

They indicate that over several nights the spectre of Henry did all of the usual "ghostly" things, but going even further "manhandled" the women present - leaving bruises (but did not get into full stream when male ministers were present) and tried to get Catherine into bed with it. (A Freudian might make something of this.)

I'm rather tempted, however, to see it as a neat way to finally rid yourself of an unwanted husband. (I asked and was told they never lived together again.)

I could find nothing of the story on the net; an account was apparently written by the novelist Elizabeth Bowen in 1942 (Bowen's Court), but this, based on family tradition, was dismissed as of little value.

Oww, feel that social put-down ...

In the British Library this afternoon, reading A History of Fox-hunting in the Wynnstay County: From this Beginning of this Century to the End of the Season of 1884-5, "printed for private circulation only":

The Sporting magazine of 1800 lists all of the packs of foxhounds in England. "Beside these there were other packs that hunted the fox, though unknown beyond their own district, probably trencher-fed, good hunting hounds, though possibly not very fast, nevertheless showing a great deal of sport to Squires and Yeomen in their drab breeches and very brown top boots, which were duly taken down from their accustomed hook on the 'house place' ceiling when they were wanted to be worn in the chase." (p15, original itals)

Explaining "trencher-fed proved easy: "hounds which are kept privately, then brought together on hunt days to form a pack".

I assume the "very" brown boots refers to farmyard muck? And the breeches didn't have the attentions of a gentleman's "man" and a squad of laundrymaids to get them white?

As a contrast there is at the front of the book an elegant picture of Louisa Alexandria, Lady Williams Wynn, in a very tight riding outfit (although of course a skirt for riding sidesaddle), whip in hand, with her arm thrown casually around a favourite dog, which is sitting on what looks like a hall table. She is, I think, if I've got all of the geneology right, the wife of Miss Frances Williams Wynn's brother's son.

I get the feeling Miss Frances was not, however, the huntin' and fishin' sort - perhaps that's why she didn't get married. More research will hopefully shed more light on this.

Surprising honesty from China

The Sydney Morning Herald reports on the Chinese space programme, which has just delivered two astronauts safely back to earth:

The newspaper Beijing News said Nie and Fei would undergo 40 minutes of medical check-ups after landing. "After several days of flying in space, the astronauts may look wan and sallow, so medical staff will put make-up on them to make them look ruddy," the newspaper said.

On a serious note, statistics in a piece on an American soup kitchen from the Guardian:
According to the US census bureau, poverty has been on the rise for the past four years, despite a robust economy. The number of people living in poverty increased last year to 12.7% of the population, some 37m people, the highest percentage in the developed world. Since Mr Bush took office an additional 5.4m have slipped below the poverty line. In 1970, the rate was 11.1%. Almost 8% of white people are classified as below the poverty line and almost 25% of African Americans.

The Guardian has also found that British American Tobacco has a secret factory in North Korea. Not that it really makes the involvement of Ken Clarke, former health secretary and Tory leadership candidate, any worse than it was already.

Sunday, October 16, 2005

An HTML frenzy

I'm now in the middle of an HTML frenzy, revamping my personal website and setting up a couple more. If you have Firefox, or Netscape, or an unusual browser set-up and have a spare minute, could you go to the page and see if it looks OK?

So far I've only done the first page, but intend to revamp the entire website to match eventually.

Anyone contemplating the same thing, I can recommend this template, from Steve's templates (free); I've found using it pleasantly intuitive.

Have you got your Carnival of Feminists nominations in yet?

If you're having a lazy Sunday night, or reading this as you're trying to get into gear on Monday morning, DON'T FORGET.

I need your nomination (of your own or others' posts) for the inaugural Carnival of Feminists, which will go up here in the early hours of Wednesday morning (British time). That means the deadline is Tuesday night!

There's more about the carnival here.

I'm defining "feminist" broadly - posts need not be explicitly political, but there should be some sense in a post addressing women's place in the world. Posts should also be more than a collection of links, and include substantial original content.

Drop a note in the comments here, or email me at natalieben (at) gmail (dot) com.


Back in the good old days, when the children were thrashed and the women bashed ...

Shock, horror, the streets are awash with violence, we're all cowering in our homes behind bars - yet another report from a "think-tank" tells us.

Oddly enough, I just came home on a central London night bus, and walked a kilometre from the stop, and I wasn't even murdered on the way.

The Observer today, reports however, that the Wave Foundation (new to me) has concluded we're now "25 times more likely to be a victim of violent crime now compared to the Fifties. Based on official police statistics, the study calculated that in 1950 there were 47 violent offences per thousand people compared to 1,158 for 2003/2004".

It looks like the full report is not out until Monday, but I think I - and I bet you - have already spotted the enormous hole in it.

How much domestic violence made it to the violent crime statistics in the Fifites? Just about none.

How much child abuse made it to the violent crime statistics in the Fifties?
So close to none as to make no difference.

How many kids been beat up by older kids for the lunch money made it to the crime statistics in the Fifties? None. (Now of course the kids have iPods and mobile phones stolen, so a police report goes in.)

And if a kid beat up another kid in the playground then? Well it was "character building". Now it is "call the police".

It's not that I'm saying the police involvement in all of these things is bad - indeed it reflects the fact that we are a far less violence-tolerant society than we used to be.

And that shows in the statistics, which right-wing think tanks and the Daily Mail use to scare witless those people who haven't got the sense to see through the headlines. (The Observer really should know better.)

A carnival of (or on) Speed

History Carnival No 18 is now up on Acephalous. It's unlike any history carnival you've ever seen before. (My drunken Greek symposium - tame in comparison - is here, should you be seeking a comparison.)

I might call it the History Carnival on speed, but that might disqualify Acephalous from leadership of the British Conservative Party, and I wouldn't want to do anything so nasty ... (or nice).

Saturday, October 15, 2005

Science imitating art

A new invention has caught up with Harry Potter - paper on which you can (quite cheaply) print moving images. This is really what you call media convergence - a book can do everything a screen can, or to put it around the other way, a screen can become a book.

Then a book professional, The Grumpy Old Bookman (he's not that bad really!), finds a print on demand publisher who can handle coffeetable books and, he suggests, presents lots of new cultural possibilities.

Finally in the science roundup, the glorious saga of Homo floriensis (universally known to newspapers around the world as "the Hobbitt"). For the detailed professional view, I'd recommend the blogger Johan Hawks, parts one and two. The short answer is to the puzzle, it seems, is "more data needed". But that's never stopped the popular media reporting a story at length and with "definitive answers".

No, I'm not including bird flu in my science/technology round-up - the whole thing is just one enormous beat-up. The risk of a flu pandemic now is probably lower than for the past century, because we're far better prepared to meet it. But I bet there're plenty of internet fraudsters selling all sort of junk out there, profiting from the scare stories.