Philobiblon: March 2006

Friday, March 31, 2006

Friday Femme Fatales No. 50

Break out the balloons and the streamers - we reach a total collection of 500 women bloggers. (Yes there are millions out there, this just seeks to highlight a nice range of them and give them a bit of publicity.

Why "femmes fatales?" Because these are killer posts, selected for great ideas and great writing, general interest and variety.

First off, unusually, I'm going to start with a whole blog, rather than a particular post, since it would be unfair to single any one out: Reading Middlemarch is a group blog of women (at least I think they are all women) reading George Eliot's masterpiece, and reflecting on it as they go. A great idea - and it would be fascinating if someone wanted to do something similar with a feminist classic - say The Female Eunuch? (Just a thought... I'm already committed to a variety of projects for about 23 hours a day.)

Turning back to the politics - well I have too, even if with a heavy heart - but let's start with a positive story: on Avast! Feminist Conspiracy! (which proves from its title that irony is alive and well in America - whew!) an account of the campaign of Tammy Duckworth, "a disabled combat veteran and a woman of color, running on the kind of democratic platform that many of us joined the party for".

Also on a note of celebration, Mikaila on The Pan Collective (a women's blog "on Caribbean life" makes her first blog post, celebrating Jamaica's first female Prime Minister - the Honorable Portia Simpson Miller.

Now I think Hecate on her blog should stop pulling her punches, say what she really thinks, as on the case of the Wiccan high priests versus a Great Falls, South Carolina town council. "The basic premise is that if xians aren't allowed to shove their religion down everyone else's throat, then the xians are being persecuted," she says.

Belledame222 on Fetch My Axe (know the feeling) reflects on sex, porn, oh, all those issues around sex-positive feminism.

Turning to the artistic side, Lisa Call is, I guess you'd say, an artistic quilter, or an artist who quilts...? Forgive me; not my area. But she's tracked the movement of her Welcome to Parker and given us a peak.

Then to the heartbreaking work - in this case medical - side. On Lost in Sasazuka, Kim is a final-year medical student on placement in the "deepest darkest Northern Territory" (Australia). And this is her quite technical, but deeply moving, account of the attempts to treat a young child, a case of 'third world' lifestyle - dirty water & overcrowding, managed with with 'first world' knowledge and resources.

Staying in warmer parts, That Girl in Samoa attends a movie premiere, a rather special premiere, of the the first Pacific Island feature length film, Sione's Wedding.

Finally, a fun link for readers who have lots of computer power to burn - mine is still groaning. (If you're on dial-up DO NOT CLICK.) On i-Anya Angela Thomas has a Tibetan-themed music sim.

And next week, we'll continue on, towards the 1,000 mark....


If you missed last week's edition, it is here.


Please: In the next week if you read, or write, a post by a woman blogger and think "that deserves a wider audience" (particularly someone who doesn't yet get many hits), drop a comment here.

It really does make my life easier!

The Carnival of Feminists makes the mainstream media

Finally, a mainstream media article that gets beyond Belle Du Jour as a female blogger - indeed to the Carnival of Feminists. Kira Cochrane in the Guardian today explores the phenomenon of feminist blogging, and, yes, I do get in a quote or two as founder of the carnival. Others mentioned include Feministing, Bitch PhD, the F-word, Pandagon, AngryBlackBitch, MindtheGapCardiff and Gendergeek.

I've made all of those links, because the Guardian didn't. It's probably the single most web-friendly newspaper in the world, but it still has some way to go...

(Thanks to Clare on The Ninth Wave who drew my attention to it.)

Another fundamentally anti-female culture...

A Japanese feminist has beenbanned from speaking at a lecture series by the Tokyo Municipal Government:

"Last July, Professor Ueno was chosen by a citizens’ group in the Greater Tokyo district of Kokubunji as the first speaker in a series of lectures on human rights; the events were to be sponsored by the Tokyo Metropolitan Government. But according to the group, Tokyo officials objected to the choice of Ueno because she might use the phrase "gender-free" – a poorly defined term originally intended to mean free from sexual bias. The citizen’s group refused to find another speaker and instead cancelled the series of events. ...
"Gender-free" is an imported English phrase that has been used in Japan since the mid-1990s. Some progressive teachers and local education authorities have used the phrase to promote liberal sex education, and the mixed listing of boys and girls on school roll calls. The latter is contentious in Japan where traditionally boys' names are read out first.

Nothing like telling kids from an early age who is regarded as important...


I eat organic food (as much as I can, while also trying to take account of "food miles") primarily because I think the form of farming needs to be encouraged. (And organic yoghurt tastes MUCH better than the plastic non-organic stuff.) But like the author of this article whether there is any actual direct harm from the pesticides in food I'm not sure. But he offers an interesting parallel:

He cited the long-burning, but now resolved, debate about the health impact of smoking: "An official at Brown & Williamson, a cigarette maker now owned by RJ Reynolds, once noted in a memo: 'Doubt is our product since it is the best means of competing with the "body of fact" that exists in the mind of the general public.' Toward that end, the tobacco manufacturers dissected every study, highlighted every question, magnified every flaw, cast every possible doubt every possible time ... It was all a charade, of course, because the real science was inexorable. But the uncertainty campaign was effective: it delayed public-health protections, and compensation for tobacco's victims, for decades."
Pesticide campaigners say that they see some parallels in their own struggle to get pesticides banned or severely restricted.

You might make the same parallel with those proclaiming their doubts about the reality of global warming.


Some interesting figures on immigration, legal and illegal:

* There are between 310,000 and 570,000 illegal immigrants in the UK, according to Home Office estimates
* If allowed to live legally, they would pay more than £1bn in tax each year
* Migrants fill 90% of low-paid jobs in London and account for 29% of the capital's workforce. London is the UK's fastest-growing region
* Legal migrants comprise 8.7% of the population, but contribute 10.2% of all taxes. Each immigrant pays an average of £7,203 in tax, compared with £6,861 for non-migrant workers
* There were 25,715 people claiming asylum last year. If allowed to work, they would generate £123m for the Treasury

Thursday, March 30, 2006

Wealth and poverty

A very curious afternoon of Green canvassing today, from the Regent's Park council estate - and some lovely polite pensioners - over 100 metres or so to the extreme wealth of the Georgian mansions lining the park. Not much luck there, it seems the rich are still in Barbados, or in the office working to pay for all of this. If anyone is at home it is usually "the staff".

Not quite as bad as Manila, where (when I was there anyway) there was a corrugated-iron shanty town in the shadow of the presidential palace, but close.

Seems an appropriate point to direct attention to this article on the measurement of poverty, which argues for adopting a poverty line that measures relative poverty. (And incidentally tells of the career of an obviously very formidable woman, Mollie Orshansky.)

A 'bargain' First Folio

Should you happen to have a spare £3.5m or so, an extraordinarily rare Shakespeare First Folio is being auctioned on July 13.

Printed in 1623, seven years after Shakespeare's death, the folio was assembled and edited by John Heminges and Henry Condell, fellow actors who performed with Shakespeare in the King's Men, the company for which he wrote. The folio contains 36 plays, 18 of which - including Macbeth, Twelfth Night, The Tempest, The Taming of the Shrew and As You Like It - had never been printed before and, were it not for their appearance in the folio, would most probably have been lost forever. On its publication, the folio sold for around 20 shillings (equivalent to approximately £100 today).

Coincidentally, I've recently been reading about the edition in the small but astonishingly informative pamphlet that accompanied the Folger Shakespeare Library exhibition in 1991. (P.W. Blayney, The First Folio of Shakespeare, Folger Library, Washington, 1991.)

There are about 240 surviving copies (the "about" is because in the 19th century collectors and booksellers gathered together fragments - sometimes from different editions). Half of them are held by the Folger, and they have been studied in truly exhaustive detail, to the point where the number of typesettersrs, and the pages they prepared, have been convincingly identified.

The one being sold in the summer is one of only two in the original binding to be held in private hands. One of the "public" original versions has quite a tale. Under an agreement of 1611, it was donated to Sir Thomas Bodley's library in Oxford, one of a batch of books sent to the University's binder on 17 Feb 1624. It was sold by the library as a duplicate(!) in the 1660s, but luckily bought back in 1905, when the price was no doubt considerably lower than it would be today.

Should the budget in July not quite stretch to £3.5 million, you can view an online version.

Wednesday, March 29, 2006

Test your reading skills ...

I'm drooping over the keyboard, having spent my day dashing around, and around, and around Camden, helping to sort out nomination papers for the total of 54 candidates the Green Party is hoping to stand (so everyone will have the chance to give us their three votes). For those who claim civil society is dead, or that community spirit is, it is lovely to see the response of people when you knock on the door asking for their signature. They are really pleasant and helpful, even when they aren't Green voters.

But a couple of little gems from the Inbox:

Test your ability to read 17th-century handwriting, and learn how to do it better - a great idea. There are seven documents, rated into three levels of difficulty. You type your reading in, and the site compares it to the "perfect" one. Too tired to even think about trying it, but I will. (Although whether I share the results might depend on how I do...!)

Then, we've already learnt to think about food miles, but this article goes further in saying we should look at the "fuel consumption" of everything we eat. Food for thought. Guess I'd better join that 10-year waiting list for an allotment...

Is fashion sex, or is sex fashion?

I read a comment this morning from someone who's been reading the new Women's Review of Books, about the "raunch culture", on the "sexualisation of fashion". And in one of those epiphanies you sometimes get when half-asleep and caffeine-deprived, I thought: "But fashion has always been sexualised!"

Now I'm a little more awake, and with some tea inside me, I still think that's the case. (Not always what happens with such flash thoughts.) The examples are far too multiple to quote, but think of everything from Tudor codpieces on men, to Victorian bustles, designed, off course, to accentuate women's buttocks.

I find a lot of the feminist criticisim of so-called "raunch" culture offensive, because it reeks of the environment in which I grew up, in which women felt they could and should "police" the behaviour of other women to fit within very narrow confines of what was "respectable". "Tut, tut, mutton dressed up as lamb," was one of the favourite ones, for any woman judged to be wearing clothing "too young" for her.

And many woman lived - and some do still live - in fear of breaking these rules. I recall once being in a hairdresser's in Walthamstow (east London) when a classic blue rinse set lady came in in a flap. She gone out without an umbrella and it had started raining. Her "set", the armour-plated fixing of her hair into a helmet, which she paid for once a week as a sign of respectability, was in danger of being ruined. She wanted a rain hat. No one had one, but the hairdresser offered her a shower cap instead. A look of pure horror crossed the woman's face. "I couldn't go out in THAT. It is not the proper thing."

She was really, genuinely panicking about not looking "right", "respectable".

Whereas I frequently, should I need to go out in the morning, to say walk a dog, stagger out in whatever odd collection of clothing happens to be piled at the end of the bed, with no more attention to my hair than my fingers run through it, and if anyone doesn't like it, tough.

And I mostly wear hipster jeans, because ones with higher waists never fit my shape. (One woman at a bus-stop in central London once told me: "You should be ashamed of yourself at your age with those jeans," and I laughed - genuinely laughed. Because I've been empowered to do so.)

Of course some women, particularly young women, are stressed by pressures to show off their bodies when they are uncomfortable with them, and they need to be told and retold "wear what you want". But attacking other young women for wearing what they want, if that happens to be T-shirts with sexy slogans or midriff-baring tops, is only playing into the hands of the puritan rightwingers, those who are training their girls in ways like this, turning them into "young ladies" of VIctorian form - and with narrowed, restricted Victorian brains to match.

Wear what you like, and tell other women to do the same! And then tell them they look good!

Tuesday, March 28, 2006

How to put your best ear forward for the Green Party

Found a new twist to the doorstop canvassing game this afternoon, on a road of Georgian terraces split into multiple, some of them very multiple, flats fitted with video intercoms. This is also a very busy road, with lots of buses and trucks, and generally noisy traffic. And rain - of course - I'm the rain god of canvassers - was making it worse.

So one presses the buzzer, assumes a polite but friendly expression, and tries not to look like a would-be Big Brother contestant while delivering a friendly explanation of your presence. But what to do after you've finished the initial speel? Your only hope of hearing their response is to stick you ear right up to the speaker, so that the person inside is getting a really attractive view of your ear canal.

Mmmm... still trying to work that one out.

But for a relatively unpromising part of Regent's Park got some really positive responses to the Green Party message, and got posters into a couple of really brilliant placed windows, so it was worth an afternoon in the rain.

Labour fails on the environment (again)

I do try to find good environmental news, really I do, but the bad news keeps coming thick and fast.

First, finally, the Labour Government is having to admit its much-trumpeted environmental policy is in tatters:

Labour had set a target of reducing CO2 levels by 20% by 2010, but Margaret Beckett, the environment secretary, will say it is no longer possible. The totemic policy has been an important weapon in Tony Blair's claim to be a world leader willing to go further than others on climate change...
Publishing the government's much delayed climate change review today, Mrs Beckett will say the government believes the UK can achieve only a cut of between 15% and 18% of the 1990 UK emissions.
Ministers will say this still means the government will reach its separate commitment under the Kyoto protocol of cutting CO2 emissions by at least 12.5%. But even reaching the 15-18% reductions depends on the outcome of complex EU negotiations on caps on emissions by heavy energy users in industry, including the electricity generators.

And in Africa, one of the areas where all of that heating is likely to cause the most immediate damage, a lake that is an important hippo habitat is threatened by supermarket demand for out-of-season vegetables and flowers in the West:

According to scientists, the increasing demand for water to irrigate Kenyan farmland is draining Lake Naivasha and destroying the habitat of the hippos that live there.
They say that within five years the lake may be nothing more than a putrid, muddy pond, and that most of its hippos could be dead.
In the past two years hippo numbers have slumped by more than 25 per cent because of the fall in water levels. In 2004 there were 1,500 but this year there are only 1,100.


But the good news: there are plans for a contraceptive pill that will reduce cancer risk AND be designed for a life without menstruation. Sounds brilliant to me. That's provided, of course, the anti-abortion types don't manage to scuttle it, because it happens to contain the same drug as that used for chemical abortions.

Hello! You don't want abortions? That means you need contraception ... (Although of course what you really want, we know, is to stop people having sex, except when they are planning babies, and then only in the missionary position, with no pleasure for the woman whatsoever... because you think that is what a white-bearded man in the sky wants.)
Finally, a fascinating, if sad, piece about a woman who lived as a man for two years, after having allegedly kidnapped her children after a custody dispute. Until the 20th-century this could be surprisingly easy - as cases from Hannah Snell to James Barry show, but today, with largely androgenous clothing, it must be a lot harder to carry off.


... if this blog is shaking slightly, and making a loud, dentist-drill-style noise. That's the council workmen downstairs making a thorough meal of demolishing a brick wall that is about 6m long and less than 2m high. Five of them, in a whole day yesterday, managed to demolish about a third of it, using a jackhammer with a brick-bolster-style attachment. Or at least one of them used that, one picked up each brick as it came off, and the others stood around and stereotypically leant on their brooms. It is windier today, so they are leaning into the doorways for shelter instead.

Give me a mid-size sledgehammer and crowbar and I'd have done it single-handed in a day. (OK, I'd be sore after, but then I spend most of my day swinging a keyboard.)

Council workmen are easy targets to take a swing at, and generally I try not to do that, but watching it at close hand is painful. (Not to mention in this case hard on the ears.)

Monday, March 27, 2006

Check out Isabella and the dangerous (male) mermaids

With a hat-tip to Sharon on Early Modern Notes, nice to note that the bulk of the work of my favourite poet, Isabella Whitney, is now readily accessible online, via Representative Poetry Online. (Although there does seem to be a problem with the "Sweet Nosegay" link, which I've emailed them about. That is particularly important since it is the text hardest to otherwise obtain.)

A sample, from Isabella's warning to "all maids in love", about men, of course...

Beware of fair and painted talk,
beware of flattering tongues:
The Mermaids do pretend no good
for all their pleasant songs.

Some use the tears of crocodiles,
contrary to their heart:
And if they cannot always weep,
they wet their cheeks by art.

Ovid, within his Art of Love,
doth teach them this same knack
To wet their hand and touch their eyes,
so oft as tears they lack.

There are plenty of other poets there, from the 7th-century AD onwards. (And a not-bad representation of women.)

Elsewhere, from the inbox: the second edition of The Letters of William Herle, the Elizabethan intelligencer and diplomat, with "20 newly discovered letters".

And Jim Chevallier, who posts a wonderful weekly miscellany on the 18th-century email list, has started collecting them on a website. It is particularly strong on recipes: You can learn how to bake a chicken into a lizard or, for those who think the past was polite, Floozy's Flatulence.

The 'perfect flood' is on its way

This is being billed as a "test of the systems", and it is good to know that the systems are being tested, but it is hard not to also see it as a prediction:

A perfect storm is about to gather off the east coast of Britain, whipping up the sea and menacing the coastline with gales and torrential downpours. Before long, it will head south and make landfall, sending a wave of water up the Thames estuary, battering the hotchpotch of flood defences erected since Victorian times.
The surge will trigger an alert to raise the Thames barrier, but downstream widespread breaches and floods are expected. Where the most vulnerable areas will be is anyone's guess....
The virtual storm lies at the heart of an unprecedented £5.5m experiment involving the Environment Agency, the Met Office and eight universities to test cutting-edge artificial intelligence systems designed to foresee dangerous storm surges.

Of course Britain might be able to manage such a thing, but you can't but wonder about Bangladesh, or most African states, or indeed when you look at say Thailand and the tsunami, even apparently relatively developed Asian states.
The law has been changed to give the state responsibility for children who are in care until the age of 21. (Previously they were on their own at the age of 16.) But it seems the reality is different.
Now men should be warned: you may find this next item distressing - a South African woman has invented a female condom that would attach itself to a rapist that could only be surgically removed. Well it is pretty distressing to women, too, that rape should be considered such a danger that someone might even consider this. (And how the rapist would react when he discovered he's been "caught" doesn't bear thinking about.)
But finally, a touch of schadenfreude - an "Egyptian 1,300BC statue" has been reidentified as having been made in Bolton in 2003. As I've been told before, such identifications are often an art not a science.

Sunday, March 26, 2006

Two theatre reviews to check out

Just a note that there are two new theatre reviews over on My London Your London, of Gaudeamus or A Very Liberal Education, at the Arcola, Dalston, and Animal Farm: A Fairy Story at the Courtyard Kings Cross. Both written by my classy, well-trained (if unpaid) "staff".

Time to boycott the anti-female Observer

Once again, the Observer is proving its anti-female credentials, basically repeating the ridiculous Prospect article on which I commented earlier this week, and calling it, ridiculously, academic. Now I think most people would agree that an academic article is one that appears in a peer-reviewed journal, which Prospect certainly isn't. If I were still buying newspapers, I would be boycotting the Observer, which with its anti-abortion and anti-working women stance is looking more like the Sunday Mail every week!
An interesting piece in the Sunday Times on online shopping, which basically argues that online, people are "harder" shoppers, shopping around more and less prone to impulse buys. Although what it fails to mention is eBay - which has certainly changed the way I shop. If I decided, as I did say the other day, that I wanted a thermos, it was the first place I went, and I had what I wanted in five minutes - much less hassle than sloping down the shops.
Finally, another in the "name and shame" category, from today's Independent:

Stephen Ladyman, the transport minister responsible for green fuels, drives a new diesel-powered Alfa Romeo GT. He has a passion for sports cars and motorbikes. And he is being blamed for personally resisting plans to subsidise the purchase of cars with low carbon dioxide emissions such as the Citroën C1 and Toyota Aygo.

Sounds like a good protest target for me....

The ruling abbesses

First little gem from the Mediev-L email list, the information that there were German mini-states ruled only by women (abbesses) for hundreds of years.

"...the female abbey of Essen which lasted 873-1803, and was I believe territorially the largest of them. ... The bucolic town of Essen was founded in the tenth century by the abbess Hedwig I. ... It became a principality of the empire in 1275. The ruling abbess was assisted by a chapter of ten other nuns, who were largely aristocratic...
Here is a snip from the 14th century.
Kunigunde II of Berg 1328-1336
Katarina of La Marck 1336-1360
Irmgard II of Bruch 1360-1370
Elizabeth III of Nassau 1370-1412"

I'm keen to find a source to find out more. (In English - can't do German, sorry!)

Saturday, March 25, 2006

Morning reading

This first link must come with a health warning - some could find it distressing. Karen Armstong provides an account of her mother's horrific, slow, struggling death.

She found it increasingly difficult to speak, but the one thing she said frequently and with clarity was that she wanted to die. It was her last - indeed her only - wish. Thirteen years ago, when in good health, she had made a living will, which stated that, when the time came, she did not wish her life to be prolonged artificially.

Yet the hospital could not let her go... So often the story you hear. The only reassuring thought is that this is going to have to change, given the rapid advances in medical science that otherwise will see vast numbers of people in this situation. The hospice movement has shown the way, but it either has to rapidly expand (tough since it is still - scandalously - largely funded by donations) or else hospitals are going to have to come to terms with the fact that it is time for some people to die, and to let them go, peacefully.
Getting the bad news over together, there has been a rapid increase in the number of glacial earthquakes at both poles, suggesting the ice is melting and breaking up faster than has been predicted:

The annual number of glacial earthquakes recorded in Greenland between 1993 and 2002 was between six and 15. In 2003 seismologists recorded 20 glacial earthquakes. In 2004 they monitored 24 and for the first 10 months of 2005 they recorded 32.
The latest seismic study, published today in the journal Science, found that in a single area of north-western Greenland scientists recorded just one quake between 1993 and 1999. But they monitored more than two dozen quakes between 2000 and 2005.

But some good environmental news - showing what is possible. This is an oddly written story, but the basic message is that simple conservation measures have reduced Japan's water consumption by 10 per cent in just five years. Surely a model for what you could do also for electricity...
Finally, a preview of what is sure to be a good old historical row: Tristram Hunt's view of how the 200th anniversary of the abolition of slavery in Britain should be celebrated. John Prescott has been put in charge.

Friday, March 24, 2006

Friday Femme Fatales No. 49

"Where are all the female bloggers?" HERE, in my weekly "top ten" - all women bloggers who are new to me. Why "femmes fatales?" Because these are killer posts, selected for great ideas and great writing, general interest and variety.

"Putting your money where your mouth is" is something we often plan to do, but I anyway, don't always live up to. So good on Rachel K. on Rachel's Random Ramblings for doing her bit to "stop the Christian fascist tyranny" by making sure that she buys a new computer through, at least, the least-bad possible manufacturer and supplier. (Thanks to Penny for that link, despite our recent disagreement on another topic!)

Blue Girl in a Red State, is, however, selling, not buying. A brilliant image, and some interesting thoughts on the state of the US deficit.

And something else to buy: on BlondebutBright some information of a Kenyan jewelry-making project that provides work for disadvantaged women. A great gift idea, for yourself or others!

Then on to an antidote to that Christian fascist tyranny - although one you'd prefer didn't exist: on The Fat Lady Sings a powerful argument for the cervical cancer vaccine.

On to more debatable issues: Veronica on Aldahlia debates sex-positive feminism and what it might or should mean. Then on Feminist Law Professors, why is it that the selection of a few female candidates has led to the Democrats being labelled the 'mommy party'?

But if, after reading that, you need cheering up, hop over to the wonderfully named Climacteric Clambake, and check out the miracle of the uterine wall.

And then check out Bad Feminist's lists of feminist crushes - in other words a collection of role models to look up to. It includes Cecilia Fire Thunder, first female president of the Oglala Sioux tribe of South Dakota, who plans to beat the abortion ban in South Dakota by setting up a clinic on (sovereign) tribal land.

ON the group blog Power Is The Ability Not To Have to Please, Jen Spillane reports on yet more horrific damage to American women's rights to their own body - this time rape victims being denied emergency contraception.

OK - that's enough being miserable - a determinedly cheerful run to finish off:

If you're feeling hungry enjoy The Blythe Spirit's triumph with feta-stuffed chicken.

If you fancy a taste of country life, check out the ladybugs on the shores of Lake Michigan with Nancy White on Full Circling the Globe.

(If you were counting, you'll find that's 11 this week. That's to make up for the sex-change operation I performed on Joida on Buried Voices last week. Thanks for being a sport about it! It was bound to happen sooner or later.)


If you missed last week's edition, it is here.


Please: In the next week if you read, or write, a post by a woman blogger and think "that deserves a wider audience" (particularly someone who doesn't yet get many hits), drop a comment here.

More right-wing, anti-female tripe

Prospect in the UK magazine started out as an interesting new project that presented views from across the political spectrum. I took it for several years, but dropped it as it looked more and more rightwing, a trend that seems to be continuing, judging by the Working girls article in this month's issue.

It claims that women's "fully equal access" to professional opportunities (ha!) has three results:
1. The "death of the sisterhood": "an end to the millennia during which women of all classes shared the same major life experiences to a far greater degree than did their men.
2. The end of "female altruism" - "The period from the mid-19th to the mid-20th century was a golden age for the "caring" sector in one major respect. It had the pick of the country's most brilliant, energetic and ambitious women, who worked in it as paid employees, but who also gave enormous amounts of time for free. Now, increasingly, they do neither."
3. A "shortage" of babies: "In most developed countries, birth rates are well below replacement level."

My response:
1. Women never were a "sisterhood", never were allowed to be a sisterhood - because their primarily allegiance was, or was supposed to be, the male to whom they were attached. In competing to get and keep a man, they were forced into opposition with each other, and societal structures pushed them to police each other to enforce "appropriate" female behaviour.
2. Alternatively, of course, you could call this the end to the exploitation of women pushed, by lack of other opportunities, to use their skills and talents for no pay and precious little recognition.
3. The birth rate figure is true, but given the huge number of humans in the world no bad thing. And anyway, the Scandanavia states have shown that if you provide sufficient incentives in terms maternity and paternity pay and leave, you'll get to something close to replacement rate.

This sort of pernicious stuff needs to be challenged, although it is extremely difficult to get anything in the mainstream media, given the views of the average male editor. (Funny how all this equality hasn't produced a flood of female editors...)

A list of email lists

Can't imagine why I haven't found this before: a site listing early modern history email lists. There are also list for modern history, and a periodicals listing, and divisions by century.

Of course why I think it a good idea to add to the several hundred emails I get in a day is a question - haven't had any tea yet this morning...

An acute observer

As promised, only an hour or so late, I've just posted the second half of Miss Frances William Wynn's account of The Old Woman of Delamere Forest.

In it, she shows herself once again to be an acute observer of human nature. She lacks our vocabulary to talk about mental illness, but she's very aware of some of the dividing lines:

In the strange tale of the old woman, I cannot help believing there was much of self-delusion, and that, when that was removed, she had recourse to falsehood to bolster up her fallen credit: but it seems to me quite impossible to say exactly where delusion ended and deception began. I see that my sister and I should not fix the boundary at the same place: she has more faith in the old liar than I can have.

Miss Williams Wynn certainly paints a strong picture of the women's character, which reminds me, rather too closely really, of someone I know.

Remember: be nice to your sister or else...

Deep in early modern ballads today, I came across an account of a beauty of a morality tale. It is the story of a rich woman who mocked her poor sister who had just given birth to twins. (There was a belief around at the time that twins had to have been begotten by different fathers.)

But the rich woman got her comuppance. Immediately. She gave birth, all in one go, to 365 children - one, of course, for each day of the year.

It is called The Lamenting Lady, a broadside (the "newspapers" of the day) printed for Henry Gosson about 1620.

Of course it raises the question of how gullible people were then? Did they read it in the way we read stories about Elvis being alive? Or did they read this as "fact"? Probably a bit of both really - just like today. Ihear these faint sounds of "Blue suede shoes..."

UPDATE: (Really shouldn't do "half-asleep blogging") Sorry, forgot the reference: This is from Shaaber, M.A. Some Forerunners of the Newspaper in England 1476-1622, Frank Cass and Co., London, 1966, p. 150, which surprisingly enough is the best source I've found on the subject, even if hardly a recent one.

Thursday, March 23, 2006

Not the Budget edition

I listened to Gordon Brown's Budget speech yesterday, and David Cameron's response (whatever happened to the end of yahoo-boo politics? - he might have done himself good with his party members, but I doubt the country was impressed.) I was luxuriating in the thought that I wasn't that evening at a newspaper, and wouldn't be running around trying to match up case studies with their pictures, or trying to make sense of two sets of contradictory figures on tax on some form of investment trust I'd never heard of. Budget day is usually the worst day on a newspaper, and somehow I doubt the vast bulk of readers appreciate their 24-page lift-outs with lots of stuff that will probably have been proved wrong within a week, when everyone has read the fine print.

But I will comment on one, much-telegraphed, figure - the miserable, almost useless, rise of £45 in road tax for the worst-polluting vehicles. That is for most of them less than the equivalent of a tank of fuel, as a deterrent roughly the equivalent to being whipped with a wet feather. If you multiplied that rise by 10 it might start to have an effect, and I'ld judge, would be broadly popular. Even other drivers don't enjoy being bullied by drivers of near-tanks like the enormous Range Rovers.
Elsewhere, I'm sure I glimpsed a flash of pink and a whiggly tail flying past my window: The Times has a post-particularly nasty murder comment piece that doesn't say "lock 'em up and throw away the key". Camilla Cavendish writes that jails need to be turned into proper schools, quoting some interesting if unsurprising stats:

More than half of offenders are at or below the expected reading level of an 11-year-old. Nearly half were excluded from school. More than half do not have the skills required for 96 per cent of jobs, according to the Prison Reform Trust, and only one in five is able to complete a job application form.

Then, possibly the most important news of the day, although only the Independent has it on its front (web) page, there's been a breakthrough in research into rice blast fungus, which "destroys enough food to feed 60 million people".

Home-schooling and back to nature in the 19th century

Miss Frances Williams Wynn, my 19th-century blogger, is getting back into the Gothic tale again. At least the the old woman of Delamere forest heads in that direction. It starts as the tale of an educated, independent woman who decides to make an independent life on waste land for herself and her daughter, whom she is "homeschooling".

It is quite a tale - and I promise to post the denouncement later today....

Wednesday, March 22, 2006

Reasons to be grumpy

I can almost never remember my dreams, which I consider to be a very good thing, but for some reason I woke up remembering a stupid, annoying one this morning - "got out of the wrong side of the bed" is the traditional phrase - so if I'm a bit grumpy today, forgive me.

But my day wasn't improved by reading about the latest shooting atrocity in America: a 15-year-old boy gunned down with a shotgun - shot by his neighbour then "finished off" at close range. His crime? Running on the lawn. The context?

A child is killed by a gun every three hours in America. According to the latest statistics, nearly 1,000 children under 19 are shot dead every year. Another 800 use guns to commit suicide, and more than 160 die in firearm accidents.
Forty per cent of American households own guns, but those guns are 22 times more likely to be involved in an accidental shooting, or 11 times more likely to be used in a suicide, than in self-defence. On average, more than 80 Americans are killed by gunfire every day.

But, as the story makes clear, gun control has entirely disappeared from the American agenda - indeed controls are being relaxed. So this killer, who his neighbours knew to be unbalanced, was allowed to have a lethal weapon that could be casually unleashed on a child.

Then in Britain, the number of 16-year-olds not in any form of training has risen, from 9.4 to 12.6 per cent. This is the "underclass", and they'll stay that way unless they can somehow be lured back into education.

The figures come in the wake of a report from the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development which showed that the UK was 27th out of 29 industrialised nations in terms of the percentage of youngsters staying on after 16. Those figures were described as a "scandal" by David Miliband, who was Schools minister at the time - but today's report shows the percentage who go straight from school either on to the streets or unskilled employment is growing.

Now just about everyone I know is saying, "next weekend, next weekend" life will feel better. It is almost a mantra. That's because we'll suddenly get another hour of daylight when the clocks go forward. Why we are deprived of it all winter in Britain is one of those great little mysteries. But there is a Bill (albeit a private members' bill with almost no hope of passing) now in the Lords to give us that extra daylight.

Either way, I promise to get some more cheerful stories soon....

Carnival of Feminists No XI is up ...

... and it is, as ever, a spectacular collection. Please help to spread the word...

Among the posts that took my fancy are one about how humour in the form of insults isn't humour at all on (Oddly enough my post on patriarchy over at Blogcritics has been attracting a whole lot of commenters notable for their lack of a sense of humour ...)

There are several enormously powerful posts from America on the threats to the rights to abortion and contraception, while the UK bloggers are focusing on issues of rape and sexual assault.

But the highlight of those I've read so far is that by Mega on Days In a Wanna Be Punk's Life. She addresses a commenter who called her a "female chauvinist" and thanks him for his concern about her underwear and her menstrual status.

But I won't point you to any others - please do go and read a great selection on Angry for a Reason, who has done a great job!

Tuesday, March 21, 2006

Those printing nuns at Syon...

William Caxton started printing in England, then his sidekick De Worde took over, and whosh, next thing you know you are drowning in a sea of Elizabethan pamphlets, nearly all printed by men, with the odd widow thrown in. That's right, isn't it?

Well oddly enough, it seems there are some unmarried women in the tale, but, surprise, surprise, they've disappeared...

"Single-leaf prints were multiple reproductions of the same image, often accmpanied by xylographic text, that is, with text produced in relief print from a wood-block, painstakingly cut letter by letter ..."

On the Continent the Bridgettine order was well-known for producing these for devotional purposes, with many surviving example being associated with a general chapter held in 1487 at Gnadenberg in the Upper Palatine. There are also a number of English examples, probably printed at the rich and important Syon abbey, in Isleworth (up the Thames from London).

Block books, "printed from wood-blocks, were once thought to represent an interim stage between single-;eaf prints and books printed with moveable type. Paper analysis has shown, however, that block books cannot be dated any earlier than 1460-1470, post-dating the invention of printing with moveable type for at least a ecade. .. generally considered a more primtive technology, but it may not have been so regarded when both were new ad existed side by side."

From: Driver, M.W. The Image in Print: Book Illustration in Late MedievaL England and its Sources, The British Library, 2004.

(Although I suppose to fair, gender issues aren't the only thing at work here; they were on the "wrong" side, religious-wise.)

The cost of motherhood: 40 per cent disadvantge

It is something that still raises my blood pressure thinking about it. My poor Mum, who was never very high in self-confidence and ego, really wanted a job as an estate agent, and would have been very good at it, because she was really good at people.

It would have been her first real "career" job, after taking a range of part-time secretarial posts when I was young, so that she was always able to take me to and pick me up from school. But I was now 11, and other possibilities beckoned. The choice was down between her and a male applicant, but the employer chose the man, telling Mum that "your child might get sick or something". Mum never went for another professional job.

Now the same employer mightn't actually say that flat out, but it seems his compatriots are still thinking it...

The review concluded that mothers were the most disadvantaged group in the job market, after calculating which groups face the biggest “penalties” when analysing data dating back to 1974.
It was found that mothers with young children have a 40 per cent disadvantage. The next most disadvantaged groups were Pakistani and Bangladeshi women, with a 30 per cent disadvantage, and mothers with children over 11 years, at almost 20 per cent.

Then of course there are other disdvantages. The Guardian gets a bloke to list his ten favourite verse novels. Nine of them are by blokes; one is by a long-dead woman, Elizabeth Barrett Browning.

That's the power of the "old media", but the new can be as bad: Amazon is in hot water, in an uncomfortable reminder of the potential power of these new virtual behmouths, over the anti-abortion slant of its search results:

Campaigners complained that requests for information on abortion generated the response "Did you mean adoption?" at the top of the page. They expressed their suspicion that Amazon was tampering with its search results to appease pro-life groups, and expressing what appeared to be an "editorial position".
Amazon has hurriedly taken down the question but continues to risk the ire of pro-choice groups because adoption is still listed as a related topic. Customers are not offered listings on abortion when they search on adoption.

Then Afghanistan - remember that? George Bush's success story? Well the UN is tell refugees don't come home because of the parlous state of the security and general situations. Is it any wonder the US can't catch Bin Laden?

Finally - I do try to get one bit of good news in the round-up, a lovely profile of Janet Todd:

From the trend-setting encyclopaedia of women writers that she brought out in 1984, through the seven-volume edition of the works of Aphra Behn (a Mother of the English Novel), a seven-volume edition of the works of Mary Wollstonecraft (with Marilyn Butler), to the nine-volume Jane Austen edition (currently under way with CUP), Todd has tramped the Himalayan ranges of her subject. She is the kind of academic who, unlike most of her colleagues, will leave monuments behind her. Useful monuments.

Monday, March 20, 2006

Truth, the naked truth

I know the world has been waiting on tenterhooks to find out the meaning of the emblem of the 16th-century printer Thomas Creede: well meet "Truth". That's who it is. (That's according to Bigmore and Wyman A Bibliography of Printing, Volume I, p. 148-9.)

Creede himself wasn't however, above the odd porkie: in 1595 he was fined and put on a £40 bond for having kept an apprentice without enfranchising him after the proper period.

Now you are going to ask why she's naked - well beyond the obvious answer of "sales".

Marina Warner's brilliant Monuments and Maidens tells me:

"In general, mediaeval Christian iconography did not represent Truth naked: following rather the more traditional imagery of the virtues, it depicted her as a clothed virgin.
In language, however, the association of truth with disclosure is very ancient indeed, and this metaphor, when applied anthropomorphically, was translated into nakedness. .. Horace speaks of nuda veritas and Petronius of nuda virtus... truth possesses an eschatological body, transfigured and innocent, "sprung out of the earth", she is also primordial and aboriginal, like nature ..."

Warner traces her through Alberti, Botticelli's The Calumny of Apelles and to the pageant at which Elizabeth was welcomed to London in 1559, although then Truth wore white silk. (pp. 317-9)

Regular readers won't be surprised to know I now have a new question: can anyone suggest a good/standard text for the history of Oxford and Cambridge Universities, covering particularly the late 16th century? (This is traditionally where I say you are all scholars and gentlepersons and worth more money...)

A question of rhyme

It is not that history repeats itself, exactly, just that the same debates come up again and again. So it was that when "English literature" was just getting established in the 16th century, there was a concerted struggle over whether poetry should rhyme.

"But the question of rhyme was nor simply a small technical question about the following of ancient models. It was a fundamental element in the definition of poetry itself and the question of its relationship to the other half of the liveral arts, the quadrivium, those arts concerned with measure and proportion. The opponents of rhyme -- among whom we may principally number William Webbe and Thomas Campion, along with Ascham himself -- all acknowledge the close relationship of poetry to rhetoric, or eloquence in general, and thereby agree that poetry has been a principal source of civil order." (in Kinney (ed) The Cambridge Companion to English Literature 1500-1600, CUP, p. 42)

Webbe was seeking "the means, which we yet want, to discern between good writers and bad, but perhaps also challenge from the rude multitude of rustical rhymers, who will be called poets, the right practice and orderly course of true poetry." (From A Discourse of English Poetry, 1586, quoted p. 265.)

Looking at some of the rhymes I'm working on now, I kind of wish that they'd won at the time, rather than blank verse having had to wait until the 20th century to win out.

Three of the four pamphlets I'm looking at that are "elegies" for Dame Helen Branch (who died aged 90 in 1594) give her burial date. One doesn't, which has led me to think that it is likely to have been the earlies, produced before the funeral.

But it has the following lines ...

The yeare was fifteene hundreth, ninetie foure,
And grateful Abchurch hath her bones in store.

Now does "in store" suggest something temporary? There were - for reasons on which I am unclear - 18 days between her death and her funeral. (The only possibly explanation I have is that London had been hit by massive, exceptional storms in the weeks before her death, which might have disrupted things?)

Or is it "in store" just because it rhymes with "foure"?

There may be no answer to this, but I am open to suggestions...

Sunday, March 19, 2006

Patriarchy comes out of the closet

There's a fascinating insight into the mindset of the patriarchy, or at least of one of its defenders, in Foreign Policy this month. Phillip Longman's argument in a nutshell is that only the rule of the fathers will ensure that large numbers of children are born. Therefore we must have a full on, father-knows-best-and-rules-all (probably with a heavy leather belt), patriarchy.

Throughout the broad sweep of human history, there are many examples of people, or classes of people, who chose to avoid the costs of parenthood. Indeed, falling fertility is a recurring tendency of human civilization. Why then did humans not become extinct long ago? The short answer is patriarchy.
Patriarchy does not simply mean that men rule. Indeed, it is a particular value system that not only requires men to marry but to marry a woman of proper station. It competes with many other male visions of the good life, and for that reason alone is prone to come in cycles.

The fallacies are obvious. One is that Earth can continue to support an infinitely increasing population, until, presumably, each person has just enough space to stand. That's so obviously ridiculous -- when the world's ecosystems are already showing severe signs of collapse -- that it hardly requires a response.

But let's for a moment follow his social Darwinism, and consider the claim that societies that outbreed other societies will eventually come to rule them, which seems thus far to have done India and China little good. What has finally started to lift them is education, training, investment in people -- things that are only possible with relatively small families. For what is needed today is clearly a skilled, educated workforce.

Longman manages to provide no evidence for his claim that sheer numbers are important, beyond suggesting that America's problems in Iraq come because it hasn't got enough people for the military. (Not that they don't want to join the military because it suddenly looks like a lousy career option, to be fighting an unwinnable, unpopular war.) Although he does manage to drag the fall of the Roman Empire, always a conservative classic, even though it undermines his own argument: "What was once the Roman Empire remained populated. Only the composition of the population changed."

But, Longman claims, since children always turned out like their parents (how then did we get to such a "parlous" state of affairs?) the patriarchy is going to win anyway, so everything's all right, since every citizen will soon believe in a "patriarchal God [who] commands family members to suppress their individualism and submit to father."

One of the other (many) faults in his argument? Oh, yes, that the West is not still a patriarchy - a place ruled by men. Funnily enough, women are still astonishingly thin on the ground in positions of real power in governments, in businesses, in pretty well anywhere at all. Funnily enough, the only states that might have a reasonable claim to have grown beyond patriarchy are the Scandinavian countries. And they - with excellent parental pay and conditions, childcare etc, are the states getting closest to replacement rates of reproduction.

Perhaps the answer is not to grow the patriarchy, but to genuinely get rid of it, if you do in fact want to encourage women to have children?

A satisfying afternoon's work

An afternoon canvassing for the Greens in Kentish Town and Highgate - a collection of 35 Green and possible Green voters logged, from about 100 people at home and an equal number of leaflets left for those who weren't. Highlights included the guy who "works for the Tory party", and the man who'd been really annoyed by Conservative canvassers earlier in the week and who was hence easily won over. Not a bad run at all.

Nostalgia and the printer's art

I'm old enough, just, to have worked with compositors in the back room of a newspaper, marking up copy for them to typeset, directing the paste-down process, and signing pages off "the stone".

It was the comps at the Cootamundra Herald who taught me a range of (fairly) standard correction marks: the stroke through a letter to delete, the upward-pointing arrow at the relevant spot for insert, # for a space, a circle around a dot for a full point (full stop).

But I hadn't realised, until reading Phillip Gaskell's New Introduction to Bibliography: The Classic Manual of Bibliography, which covers EVERYTHING you could conceivably want to know about the actual production of books through the past 500 years or so, that these all date back to the 16th century. (I also learnt that the arrow is called a "caret".)

Nice to think that through so much change some things stay the same. Whether this will survive the age of Word "track-changes" I'm not sure. Would be nice to think they would - one small piece of continuity...

A headline, but no substance, to a 'green' budget measure

GORDON BROWN will intensify the battle for Britain’s green voters with a range of new environmental taxes in this week’s budget, including a rise in road tax for “gas-guzzling” cars and large four-wheel-drive vehicles.
The chancellor is to create a new top rate of vehicle excise duty for the worst polluters, taking it up to about £185. The measure would probably apply to vehicles that emit more than 250 grams of carbon dioxide (CO2) per kilometre driven.
At the moment, the top rate of road tax on private cars applies to those emitting more than 185g of CO2 per kilometre. Owners of diesel cars in this band pay £170 a year while owners of petrol-driven cars pay £165.

The headline "gunning for gas-guzzlers" looks great. But £10 to £20 a year; what a total cop-out! (One can only hope this will be one of those leaks that will be boosted in the Budget for another spin-doctor headline.)

Tim Yeo, the senior Conservative MP who chairs the committee, said: "If we are going to deter people from buying and using such vehicles in towns then we should be looking at road tax levels of up to £5,000."

Here, here! (And I might add, which the Conservatives won't, the level has to be so punitive that the resale value drops out of these vehicles - that's one way to REALLY discourage people from buying them.)

And, yes, before anyone asks, I'm happy to allow for exemptions to normal tax levels for people who can show that they really need them, eg genuine farmers; a 5-acre paddock for Petronella's pony mustn't count.

Just one more reminder why: evidence from 1930s diaries show the effects of climate change. (I'm sure I've read that story before, but what the hell, it is a good one.)
The Queen being in Australia takes me back, to my first "big" job as a journalist (covering her visit to Albury in 1988). Widespread apathy about royalty was already evident then and it seems nothing has changed except among the few oddities who always go into paroxyms of puppyish devotion on such occasions. Even John Howard, despite all of his attempts to take Australia back to the 1950s, hasn't managed to change that.

Really, it is time Australia got its own head of state, surely.

Saturday, March 18, 2006

Get your nominations in for Carnival of Feminists No 11

You've only got a day to do it - the deadline for certain consideration of nominations is midnight tomorrow night ...

A short guide to learning about an early modern pamphlet

Today, at the British Library, I think I really, finally, after a couple of days of flailing around, finally worked out how to approach this simply and systematically. (With a lot of thanks to my commenter Clanger, who sent me in many of the right directions.) So, in case this is of use to anyone else (and for my own future reference), here it is:

Imagine you've just found, say in a catalogue, a pamphlet or broadside from the 16th or 17th century that you want to know more about, but all you've got at this time is probably an extended title. (And a secondary literature search indicates no one has written anything on it.)

Walk through the rather gloomy doors of the Rare Books Reading Room at the BL, then:

1. Search the English Short Title Catalogue, which is available online at the BL, and I believe most decent uni libraries, to find out particularly where copies are held. There is also a print version. (This will also provide lots more technical data - write it all down, it may make some sense eventually.)

2. If somewhere accessible to you, it is best to get the pamphlet itself, as the actual artefact will tell you more than any copy. (Handwritten annotations often don't come out on copies.) However, if a trip to the US to consult one pamphlet is out of the question - and lots of them are in America - see if it has been microfilmed (which all of the ones I've encountered have been.)

3. But stop - don't get out the microfilm without checking Early English Books Online - a completely separate database (don't you wish it was linked to the Short Title Catalogue). All of the microfilmed Early English Books 1475-1650 are on this - taken from the microfilm, but far easier to handle, and to print ... (even at the ridiculous BL price of 20p a sheet.)

4. To find out more, try checking the Register of the Company of Stationers (ed. Arber), which is on Open Access in the rare books reading room. (The above two databases may only be available in there too - not sure about that.)

5. If you are trying to find an author only identified by initials, try The Dictionary of Anonymous and Pseudonymous English literature by Samuel Halkett and John Laing.

(If you are wondering what I've been researching there is a listing here.)

Looks simple, doesn't it. But my search was complicated by the fact that the BL's copy of Monodia appeared to have been printed with another work by the same author, The Sacrifice of Isaac which was first printed two years earlier. (And it appears that the person who put the stamps on it when it entered the BL thought so too.) The numbering of the leaves of the printing runs A3, A5 etc, then the next item starts B1 etc. And the font and general style seems to be identical.

But it is catalogued separately, and the only other known copy, in the Huntington, has a different call number and also appears separate. I finally solved the mystery by looking at the EEBO image of Isaac, which shows the numbering of it starts at B because there are eight pages of prefatory matter - a letter to the reader, to two of his "beloved friendes" (for which, I think read patrons), and a stray sonnet. These have leaf numbering with "As".

(Leaf numbering, BTW, means that each sheet has its own number, rather than each side, and it usually seems to start with a letter, followed by a number.)

So now I've got lots of info, and a whole heap of new research questions.

There's one I'm hoping anyone who's read this far might be able to help me with, specifically the following woodcut image, which is found on both of the elegies of Helen Branch printed by Thomas Creede.

Not quite sure how that is going to come out, so to describe it, the image is of an apparently naked woman holding an open book, wearing a crown over long hair flowing down her back, and striding right foot forward. Behind her is a cloud from which descends a hand holding a sheath of hay/brush (?) that is almost running down her back, or perhaps striking her. The Latin around it reads: Viressit Vvlnere Veritas.

It may be that this is used on other Creede books, maybe all - that's one of Monday's projects, but I'd still like to know what it shows...

I'd also love if anyone could point me in the direction of a work dealing with woodcuts and other decorations (fancy letters etc) of these books and pamphlets ...!

Look before you walk: it is simple really

Boris Johnson is writing today in the Guardian about his collision as a cyclist with a French tourist. (More of the Tories' "green" campaign no doubt... although to be fair I believe does genuinely regularly cycle, unlike David Cameron, who does so for photo opportunities.)

But I do sympathise, having just, while cycling back from the British Library, avoided by millimetres a collision. This wasn't exactly a pedestrian, but a man washing his car (parked illegally close to the intersection with a major road), who stepped back to admire his greenhouse gas-producer, right into my path.

In a micro-second I had to decide whether I could afford to swerve around him, which I couldn't, as another car could easily come belting around the corner. Instead I yelled loudly, which made him jump out of the way, just in time.

There are more and more cyclists getting around in London, which is great, you just wish people like this would wake up to the fact that relying on hearing to judge whether it is safe to step into the road, is not a safe option. And as for the jaywalking mobile phone-users, well I won't get started on those...

The women of the Bayeux tapestry

When you really look at history, it is amazing how many women you CAN find. In today's Guardian a review of The Bayeux Tapestry: The Life Story of a Masterpiece by Carola Hicks.

Hicks makes an elegant and intriguing counter-claim for a female patron, a woman who was herself an expert in this historically feminine artistic medium, and had a personal stake in finding a subtle accommodation between Saxon and Norman accounts of the conquest: Edith, widow of Edward the Confessor and sister of the defeated king Harold, who was reconciled to the conqueror's regime after 1066 as an honoured Saxon survivor among the new Norman aristocracy.

The tapestry's iconic status also precipitated bitter battles among 18th and 19th-century historians, dividing English from French, male from female. Two redoubtable women give this story its heart. The engaging and astute Eliza Stothard first encountered the tapestry on her honeymoon in 1818, her artist husband having been commissioned to paint an exact copy for the Society of Antiquaries, only to find herself dogged by a false accusation that she had stolen a fragment of the fabric. She was finally exonerated just before her death, by now a prolifically successful historical novelist, at the age of 92. And Elizabeth Wardle, wife of a master dyer from Leek in Staffordshire who was one of William Morris's closest collaborators, led a team of 37 women to create a full-scale replica of the entire tapestry, "so that England should have a copy of its own".

Friday, March 17, 2006

Friday Femmes Fatales No. 48

"Where are all the female bloggers?" HERE, in my weekly "top ten" - all women bloggers who are new to me. Why "femmes fatales?" Because these are killer posts, selected for great ideas and great writing, general interest and variety.

First up, staying local, and I can't imagine how I've missed this blog for so long, Annie Mole on Going Underground reports on how financial scandal and public figures have been going together for a long time. The post above that has a great collection of fashion victims spotted in the London "metro" system.

Staying with history, Mapletree7 on Book of the Day reviews Jared Diamond's Collapse: How Societies Choose to Fail or Succeed.

Stopping in to the modern era, the Era of The Blog, Maxine on Petrona looks at what they can, and can't do. She has great hopes for Web 3.0 though, and describes the current state of the blogoverse as "cornucopia", which brings me to On Letting Me Be, with a reflection on the difficulty of making choices.

Now I was talking to a journalist this week about blogging as a political organising tool. I know of a couple of prominent examples, but not as many as I like. Unfortunately I've only just found this great post on Muse and Fury in which Actiongirls, a student and community group based out of the University of Windsor in Southwestern Ontario, Canada expresses their anger, and calls for action against, media violence against women.

Sthreeling on Speaking Feminism in India is meanwhile reflecting on the long-term prevalence of "Eve-teasing", and what needs to be done to finally deal with it. She's speaking at a general level, but Annie on Known Turf, in an enormously powerful post, sets out exactly what the rules of behaviours should be, and the punishments.

Turning theoretical, Joida on Buried Voices reflects on the nature of a patriarchal society and what a truly equal society might look like.

On the personal-practical side, on My Red Passion, Single Mom finds inspiration in a book about women getting serious about money. Nice girls don't get rich, she decides.

Finally, perhaps I should lighten up to finish: "It" on The Golden Notebooks reports what happened when she tried to give away some furniture in New York.


If you missed last week's edition, it is here.


Please: In the next week if you read, or write, a post by a woman blogger and think "that deserves a wider audience" (particularly someone who doesn't yet get many hits), drop a comment here.

And don't forget, the 11th Carnival of Feminists is coming up next Wedesday on Angry for a Reason. "The themes, if you should choose to accept one of them, are Radical Feminism OR International Feminism." Nominations should be sent to burrowtheklown AT gmail dot com.

Tick off the new experience

Well this evening I cycled to the first cricket net of the season while wearing long johns. The temperature was zero degrees, or at least close enough to that as to make no difference.

That definitely counts as a new experience. It wasn't on my list of things to do - like visiting Persepolis or riding the Trans-Siberian - but it was a new experience.

Sex tourism and blank verse

In a production of Shakepeare that gets the delivery right, the language itself is magical, fantasmagorical. As a member of the audience you can just sit and let the flow of words reach deep inside, to tug at the core of your being.

That's what you expect when you go to see a production by the Royal Shakespeare Company, and that's what you get with Trade, one of the plays of its "New Work" season, which has just arrived at the Soho Theatre in London. It is just that the topic -- women sex tourists -- might be not quite what you are expecting.

This is the dialogue of a rap song, turned to blank verse. The characters pick up each others' words and bounce them off each other in a rapid-fire song that is music without tune. The writer, Debbie Tucker Green, will definitely be someone to watch.

The scene is a stretch of perfect white sand - just like the brochures - and it opens with three bored women - the kind of "massage, hair-breading, jewelry-sellers" you've seen on beaches from Vietnam to The Gambia. Jets roar overhead, money jingles, but none of it is going to them. READ MORE

The end of the Blairs?

Tony Blair is looking more frazzled and fragile by the day, but it is Sir Ian, who really, surely can't last much longer. The Metropolitan Police Commission is now facing questioning under caution over the shooting by his officers of the Jean Charles de Menezes, the innocent electrician who was simply in the wrong place at the wrong time.

Si Ian reacted at the time as though this was a minor unfortunate incident, as though the two-year-old hadn't made it to the pottie on time. Since then he's demonstrated further his sheer cloddishness (comments on the Soham murders) and, again, his total disrespect - indeed seemingly lack of awareness of the existence of - basic human rights, such as privacy, by secretly taping conversations with his superiors.

But this might, hopefully, be the final straw to get rid of a dangerously incompetent man: he has two defences - he didn't know what was going on in his own force, or he lied about it. Good choice.

BTW: for non-British readers, these Blairs aren't related, even though it sometimes looks like they are.
Try to always find some good news, and today's is a campaign against forced marriages.

THE actress and writer Meera Syal attacked forced marriages yesterday and told parents to stop sacrificing their children’s lives. Syal, star of The Kumars at No 42, joined a government campaign that warns parents that they face prosecution if they force their children into marriage.
Television commercials and press advertisements will spearhead a drive to educate them about the difference between arranged and forced marriages. They will feature two hands wearing wedding rings chained together.

Beware of lending money to royalty ...

My 19th-century "blogger", Frances Williams Wynn, is today spreading some gossip about French royalty and their hangers-on, and one in particular:

A Miss W., who some fifty years ago was an admired singer on the English stage, made a conquest of a Mr. A., a man of large property, who married her. Whether the lady's character was not immaculate, or whether, the march of intellect not having begun, actresses of the best character were not yet reckoned fit society for ladies, does not appear; certain it is that, finding she could not get any society in England, the A.'s went to establish themselves at Versailles, where they took a fine house, gave fetes, &c. &c. His wealth gave splendour; her beauty, her singing, her dancing, gave charm.

The Polignacs came to her fetes, and afterwards introduced her to the little society, to the intimate reunions, of which Marie Antoinette was a constant member. When adversity befell this object of admiration, of almost idolatry, Mrs. A. devoted herself, her talents and (better than all) her purse to her service. It was chiefly during the Queen's melancholy abode in the Temple that Mrs. A. most exerted herself. In bribes, in various means employed for the relief of the poor Queen, she expended between 30,000 and 40,000 sterling.

This of course was taken under the name of a loan, and soon after the Restoration Mrs. A. made a demand upon Louis XVIII.: every item of her account was discussed and most allowed, till they came to a very large bribe given to the minister of police, one to the gaoler, and bribes to various persons, to manage the escape of the Dauphin and the substitution of a dying child in his place.

Louis XVIII. Would not agree to this article, and insisted upon its being erased from the account as the condition upon which he would order the gradual liquidation of the rest of the debt. To this condition Mrs. A. would not accede: Louis XVIII. died: the accounts were again brought forward. Charles X. was just going to give the order for
paying the debt by instalments when the revolution came, and Mrs. A. seems now further than ever from obtaining any part of her money.

Don't suppose anyone has any idea of who Mrs. A might be?

French royalty is one subject that I've never really got into, although Miss Williams Wynn's words today do remind me of that delightful, whimsical little Steinbeck novel, The Short Reign of Pippin IV. Quite unlike his other work, but good fun.

Thursday, March 16, 2006

The (Women's) Long March

A book to look out for, The Long March by Sun Shuyun:

The day her period came, a few weeks later, "I felt as if a millstone had been lifted from my neck. I promptly climbed up a mulberry tree and got a wad of leaves. Standing there, I wanted to shout to the world, 'I'm not pregnant! I'm not pregnant!'" The women, she said, "dreaded pregnancy more than the plague".
Recalling those times, Wang, now 91, still had a look of pain on her gentle face, when I tracked her down at the start of my journey retracing the Long March. ...
Wang saw one woman go into labour while marching, with the baby's head dangling out. Another had a difficult birth with Chiang's troops in hot pursuit, and bombs dropping like rain. As if afraid of the violent world, the baby refused to come out. A whole regiment of the rearguard was ordered to put up a fierce fight for more than two hours and lost a dozen men. After all their pain, however, the women were not allowed to keep their babies. It was the rule with the First Army: a crying baby could endanger the troops. The tiny boy whose arrival cost a dozen soldiers's lives was left on a bed of straw in the abandoned house where he was born.

And if you're not going to find time to read the book, at least check out the article; it is a wonderful example of oral history.
Who'd have thought it, Anatole Kaletsky, very well-informed, but right-wing economist, is effectively: advocating a boycott of the supermarkets.

As one of the prosperous burghers of Central London, I sorely miss the freshly baked bread, high-quality charcuterie and organic smoked salmon that used to be available in my local grocer’s and do not appreciate Tesco’s alternative "offer" of a dozen varieties of cheap washing powder, tinned tuna and sliced bread. I therefore yield to no one in my dislike of Tesco’s bullying tactics and its philistinism towards food.

Is this the fall of the Roman Empire?

The problem with bad news on climate change is that it just keeps stacking up and up, and the media, inevitably, gets bored with what seems to be "more of the same". This is probably why the Arctic ice pack story hasn't got anything like the attention it deserved this week.

Sea ice in the Arctic has failed to re-form for the second consecutive winter...
The greatest fear is that an environmental "positive feedback" has kicked in, where global warming melts ice which in itself causes the seas to warm still further as more sunlight is absorbed by a dark ocean rather than being reflected by white ice....
Although sea levels are not affected by melting sea ice - which floats on the ocean - the Arctic ice cover is thought to be a key moderator of the northern hemisphere's climate. It helps to stabilise the massive land glaciers and ice sheets of Greenland which have the capacity to raise sea levels dramatically.

If that isn't scary enough for you, the killer line is on the end of the article - that this outcome is predicted by climate change models, but under those models it was not supposed to happen for "a few decades yet".

I've joined the Green Party, got involved in other small ways with environmental work, with the thought that I was doing my bit to prevent catastrophe after I was dead. After reading and thinking about this story, however, I had a flash of a serious thought, for the first time, whether I should buy 10 acres in some carefully calculated spot (somewhere high up, but not likely to get too hot), build a bloody great wall around it, and learn how to get self-sufficient, fast.

I've read a bit around the fall of the Roman Empire. They didn't believe it could happen either - at least not in their lifetimes.

But hey, I have had one tiny success. I'm often at the British Library, where they supply thick, clear plastic bags for people to carry supplies into the reading rooms, which can be easily checked by staff. Every evening, there are stacks of these scattered around the locker room and cloak room, where readers have dumped them. Many of these same readers come back the next day and pick up a pristine new one, although I've found by experience they can easily last for months.

So I left a comment in the appropriate box and yesterday got back an email:

Your suggestion of a notice encouraging readers to re-use their clear plastic bags, when using the Library, is very much appreciated. Your comments have been forwarded to the relevant section requesting a notice be placed in the cloak room. It is hoped that this will soon be in place.

Might have saved about one cube of ice there; a "drop in the ocean" is the phrase that comes to mind.

Wednesday, March 15, 2006

Nostalgia for the 20th-century

If, to form a relationship with a play, you demand to be wooed with perfect red roses, entertained by fireworks, and seduced by the image of a perfect life, then The Leningrad Siege is not for you. Jose Sanchis Sinisterra's creation, making its English-language debut at Wilton's Music Hall, instead sidles up to you, laughs crazily, wobbles, then drifts around in a haze, penetrating yet indeterminate, like an old lady's lavender water.

Yet if you relax, hold out your hand, and allow yourself to be led into this story of two old ladies living out a confused, often fantastical, "reality" in an old theatre that's falling apart around them - you'll find you're exploring the whole of 20th-century European history from an intelligent, if oddly tilted, perspective.

On one level this is a familiar tale. Natalia (Dierdra Morris) was the ditzy blonde star actress, the mistress of the Great Nestor, the theatre's director, who died -- centre-stage, as he'd lived -- in a mysterious fall. (Or at least the women think it was mysterious; they wonder if it was murder.) Priscilla (Rosemary McHale) was the faithful but frustrated wife of the firebrand, who though he was aging had continued to proclaim, with all of the familiar formulae, the cause of the Revolution. READ MORE

It keeps getting better ...

... the wealth of information on the web, I mean.
There are now six new survey of London volumes at British History online, covering Westminster, Soho and Mayfair.

Solid enough history, pity about the misogyny...

Divorced, beheaded, died; divorced, beheaded, survived -- this is a mantra that few English school students could have avoided learning at some point. They might have even enjoyed finding out about Henry VIII and the frisson of sex and danger that surrounded him; so different to the monarch they know, in her sensible shoes and frumpy hats.

But it can be a bit hard keeping those Cs and Ks straight, so the writers of Divorced Beheaded Died, which premiered last night at the Jermyn Street Theatre, have kept it simple, only putting the first three on stage. Catherine of Aragon (Melanie Dagg), Anne Boleyn (Stephanie Fastre) and Jane Seymour (Frederica Dunstan) are in some sort of heavenly waiting room; you might call it Limbo, but we never get to that level of theological sophistication.

They are the caricatures you remember from high school history: Catherine's the solemn, humorless one with a strong foreign (if rather indeterminate) accent; Anne's all sex and temper; Jane's all simper and stupidity. They think it is 1536, but suddenly Mary Boleyn -- Anne’s sister -- joins them in this curious room, and they learn it is 1543.

There's news to catch up on. So for an hour there's a potted history lesson, with multiple flashbacks to the earlier years of Henry's reign. It is more or less a comedy, if of the rather obvious kind, with many of the jokes coming from the use of contemporary slang and putdowns by women in Tudor dress. In such a production "What century are you living in?" is a dead cert for a laugh, but not exactly an original one. READ MORE

Architects just don't get it

Had cause yesterday visit the shiny new University College London, completed less than a year ago, which I look out at from my window every morning,(and have a nice little haematoma in my arm to to prove it). It left me reflecting anew on how really, really poor most architects are, particularly at getting the details right for human and environmental issues. (The weird sickly green colour of the outside of the building is another subject altogether.)

Sure it has a lovely airy atrium - that's well enough (although the fancy main electronic door was out of order, in a rather permanent-looking way - so you had to push open the heavy side doors. I can't imagine how little old ladies on sticks manage that, since they are seriously heavy.)

Most of the main out-patient facilities are on the first and second floor, sensibly enough, but when I approached reception I was directed to "lift to the left". So, wholly unnecessarily, I took one of the large bank of lifts up one floor, with a flood of other people.

As you'd expect in a hospital a good percentage of these were frail aged, in wheelchairs, on crutches etc - people who needed the lift. But a majority of them were like me - people who had no need for lift, whose health would have benefited from the stairs.

Out of curiosity on the way out I went looking for them. It was a serpentine path, through several sets of doors, having to dodge trolleys outside the lifts dedicated to them. And the stairs are already dingy and uninviting. They might as well have a sign on them "Don't Use Me!" There were no more than half a dozen people on them, all staff.

This is what you call designing to damage the environment and public health. Put the lift beside the stairs - stairs first in most people's path - and you help both. It isn't rocket science. (And in buildings that aren't hospitals, hide the lifts and make the stairs highly prominent.)

Tuesday, March 14, 2006

Green AND feminist

You'll often find posts about environmental issues, and even more frequently about feminism, here; nice to be able to combine the two:

Juliet Davenport's Good Energy churns out wind, solar and small-scale hydroelectric energy. Lizzie Vann's Organix Brands produces organic baby meals. Su Hardy's Mooncup provides reusable sanitary protection to protect forests from being cut for paper pulp. Safia Minney's People Tree sells glamorous women's fashion--from office suits to party dresses--that aren't made by exploited garment workers.
One of them will win the first Women in Ethical Business award, a new annual prize for a female CEO to be announced in London on March 16.

Good advice from Erasmus and Colet

From De ratione studii (1511), written by Erasmus and John Colet, setting out plans for the studies at St Paul's School: a teacher should not be "content with the standard ten or twelve authors, but would require a veritable universe of learning".

It seems to me that sums up the real arrival of the Renaissance, or if you prefer humanist learning, in England.

And it ties rather neatly with a recent IHR seminar that I hadn't got around to writing up: "Humanism, reading and political writing", presented by Daniel Wakelin. It was in the late medieval seminar, so the Latin went straight over my head, and it was a bit earlier than I'm now really looking at, 15th-century rather than 16th, but it was interesting, the main argument being (as I understood it) that while humanism has been accused of being an "apology for princes", it was merely a technique and approach that could be used for a variety of political purposes.

(Quote from The Cambridge Companion to English Literature 1500-1600 A. Kinney, ed. p. 7. Pace earlier discussions, from what I've read thus far this is an unusually lucid and sensible volume; technical terms are used and explained, but not thrown at the reader as though this were a paintball contest - a refreshing change from some of the other "English studies" stuff I've been reading recently.

Monday, March 13, 2006

How to make a woman (and a story) disappear...

Interesting piece in The Times today about Margaret, second Duchess of Portland, an Enlightenment giant:

The duchess, with her inquiring mind, combining a passion for science with a love of the arts and, operating within a network of the most creative, forward-thinking figures of the age, was "the embodiment of the Enlightenment", according to Derek Adlam, the curator of the remaining Portland collection. Her original collection "if it had survived would have had the potential to be one of the great museum collections that would have grown into a national institution, and she would have been famous. It would be the Portland Museum, which would have been equal to the British Museum."
Before her death, however, she issued instructions that because of the expense of her elder son’s political career, her other son’s debts and her children’s general lack of enthusiasm for maintaining the collection, it should be sold off. At the London auction there were more than 4,000 lots. Lisa Gee, the director of the gallery, wonders what might have happened if the duchess had been a man. "She had no ego about this thing that she had done," she says. "You could argue that a more masculine personality might have insisted the collection remain intact as a monument to himself. But she wanted to do right by her kids."

You won't, however, have found the story on The Times's webpage. There doesn't appear to be any arts pointer at all on the front webpage. Under "women", however, there's: "Fashion - from trends to catwalk collections; Sarah Jessica Parker - sex and the pity; Hollywood idols - the real deals". That's just in case anyone thought this was THE Times.

An unmissable read...

"I was recently at an academic talk where a brief fight broke out between professors over the number of Holy Prepuces (The Greatest Genital Relic Ever Sold) littering medieval Europe–that is, how many churches claimed to have the bit of foreskin that Jesus had cut off during his circumcision.”

What better introduction could there be to Carnivaleque No XII, now up on Alun's eponymous blog.

Well there might be a better one:

"The history of all times, and of today especially teaches that ... women will be forgotten if they forget to think about themselves."

Yep, it is a special themed edition for Women's History Month, so even if you don't consider yourself a historian, or even a history reader, I reckon you'll find something of interest.

(And thanks to Alun for giving me a prominent place...)

Is 'Red' America destroying itself by removing its women's autonomy?

Just been reading a couple of brilliant posts that I've got to share:

The most interesting male feminist blogger on the web (that I know of), Hugo Schywzer, has a great post about the reality of the pressure of sexual double-standards on students' lives as first-generation immigrants in America:

It is Brumberg who first drew my attention to statistics about menarche, marriage, and the loss of virginity. She points out that a century ago, girls menstruated for the first time at an average age of 16 and got married at an average age of around 21. Today, girls menstruate at an average age of just under 12 and get married for the first time at just over 25.
...Here's where it gets interesting. A century ago, the time between the onset of puberty and marriage was but five years; today it's close to fifteen. If a contemporary young woman is trying to "wait" until marriage to lose her virginity, she is waiting -- in a very real sense -- three times as long as women did in her great-great grandmother's era!

And of course that same pressure on women's viriginity is being applied across American society.

And that is happening at the same time as access to birth control and abortion is being restricted, indeed when the government is trying to take control of women's bodies. (Heo Cwaeth is - and good on her - determined to fight; in that posts she powerfully draws together a number of events to find that the US government has declared war on women.)

I am now dedicated to learning how to fight in myriad ways, and you can bet your bottom dollar that any attempted rapist will be short at least one dangling participle at the end of the exchange. I encourage you to do the same. I have volunteered my home in a blue state as a safe haven for my already enslaved sisters in South Dakota, and soon to be enslaved sisters in other red states. I encourage those of you who can to do the same. We have been told for millenia that emotion is bad, only reason is accepted. We have then been presented with "reason" that is merely the systematized emotion of others. Let the pharisees call their hate "reason," it's time for us to act. I ask you, what's more reasonable than responding to the very real threat of physical violence than learning how to inflict injuries of your own? What's more reasonable than opening up your home and your life to runaway slaves?

That leaves me thinking about what the fundamentalists are doing to America, and if they really get it. Yes, they are trying to take utter control of women's bodies (and minds) and turn them into Stepford wives. And they think that will produce some sort of Fifties Brady Bunch idyll.

But what is it going to do to the economics of America, or at least these states? If you force women (and men) not to have sex outside marriage (for fear of pregnancy, if nothing else, having restricted and often ended access to birth control) they will, inevitably, marry young.

And that will stop them getting education, stop them participating to their full capacity in the workplace, in short cost them vast amounts of money. To consider a British study:

A 24-year-old mid-skilled woman giving birth would, she found, earn a staggering £560,000 less at today's prices over her lifetime than a childless counterpart. Giving birth at 28 would only cost £165,000.

Now of course that is a loss to the individual woman, but it is also a loss to society.

This isn't the 1950s. To compete economically, to maintain a "developed" lifestyle, you need a highly educated, flexible workforce operating to its full intellectual and creative potential. If you greatly restrict the contribution of half of them - and as we know from the Third World, when you restrict the education of women you tend to cut the educational attainment of their children - you are going to be very ill-equipped to compete.

The American "red" states, where the fundamentalists wield real power, might be sending themselves back to the Fifties in more ways than one. They might in effect be, by choice "under-developing" themselves, taking themselves back to poverty and "Third World" economic status.

Wonder what the right-wing extreme capitalist types with whom they are politically aligned make of that?

UPDATE: Moving this to a third continent, to demonstrate what having babies does to the income and employment prospects of women, read Blogger on the Cast Iron Balcony (who is in Australia).