Women's News from the Web

In Deference to Men: Growing up in the 1950s

Women's eNews - Thu, 01/03/2019 - 17:32

Many moons ago during the middle of the twentieth century (before the gender expansion of today), learning to look and act like a proper young lady involved being self-effacing, self-limiting and docile. In my current lectures, when I tell my story of growing up more than a half-century ago, the younger women in the audience always roll their eyes in disbelief, while their elders nod at me in agreement and understanding, remembering their own all-to-similar experiences.

One account of growing up female in the 1950s was taped in a two-minute video interview with Letty Cottin Pogrebin, whose story is very much like mine. We both learned that ladylike postures, specifically with legs crossed either at the knees or ankles, and hands in lap, were typically mandatory for a female in mid-century society. But female restrictions went deeper than just posture, as we accepted the cultural norm of displaying deference to men in words and demeanor.

Showing this kind of deference was de rigueur for me growing up, as it was for Letty. Little girls were trained in mundane and monumental ways to take constricting, shrinking postures while boys were told to enlarge themselves and claim extra territory. This became such an unconscious reflex-action for girls wanting to fit in with their peers that the cultural pull was hard to counter.

One woman who dared to confront this norm describes how a male photographer came to her classroom of seven-year-old students to take their class picture. He adamantly insisted, despite this teacher’s protest, that each boy should sit in the chair like a “Captain,” with arms firmly set on arm rests, reaching out and forward toward the viewer, and with legs assuming the wide stance of one ankle overlapping the other knee, taking up additional horizontal space as well. The girls, on the other hand, were instructed by the photographer to sit demurely with legs crossed at the ankle, and hands folded onto their laps.

Two details from Linda Stein tapestry in her Sexism series

It was expected that this positioning, distinguishing boys from girls, would be accepted by the class without protest. But this teacher surprised the photographer by not giving ground, even to his rising anger, as we see in Daphne Harwood’s video.

It’s not unusual to see a man win an argument or get his way by raising his voice and getting angry. I saw it over and over as I grew to womanhood (even with my own father), and more recently during the Kavanaugh/Basey-Ford hearings. Emma Brockes expressed those hearings well in her recent column when she said:

“One of the discussion points to have come out of the Brett Kavanaugh hearings has been the question of anger and what women do with it – specifically, where and how they manage to stuff it down low so it doesn’t spill out and get them labelled as lunatics. Lindsey Graham can go the full Foghorn Leghorn; Kavanaugh can howl like a kid with his head stuck in railings; but to be heard, a woman must be demure and nonthreatening.”

Demure, nonthreatening –– and deferential: That’s what I learned to be as a young girl. Boys, it seemed to me, required a great deal of ego-building.

By the age of twelve, when I had my first real boyfriend, I knew how to make him feel better, stronger, smarter than me. Although a gifted athlete, I managed always to lose: I intentionally threw the bowling ball into the alley gutter and ping pong or tennis ball into the net. Losing, I learned, was the price to pay for popularity. The boy had to win. I thought that no self-respecting girl would want to be with a boy who wasn’t above her. And no boy would want a girl better than he.

And so, I was raised to take my place as a proper girl in our patriarchal society. I was contained, submissive and domesticated. I thought I would surely marry, have three children, and encourage my husband’s success. His ego, or any masculine ego, had precedence over mine. I mastered a wide-eyed look of adoration for my boyfriend as I said ‘Wow, you’re a plumber. Tell me about it. What do you do with faucets and drains?”

In my family, education wasn’t important for a girl; in fact, it could only get in the way of marriage. If I were intimidating or too smart, no boy would want me. To be desirable, I learned to balance my love for school with choosing a non-threatening (read “woman’s”) profession. I became a teacher. That was best, I was told, because it gave me “something to fall back on.” If my husband became ill or if I wanted to work after my children grew up, it was ideal. Since I loved making art, I became an art teacher.

And yet, though far from cognizance or articulation, thoughts and feelings kept cropping up: something wasn’t right. I needed answers for undefined questions. Why did I have to act differently when a boy entered the room? Why couldn’t I be proud of my education and abilities and not have to hide them? Was I signing my paintings “Linda J” (replacing “Stein” with my middle initial) in wait for my husband’s last name and his life (which would then become my life)? Why did society give boys so much more mobility, authority and respect, and why did girls accept such an unfair double standard?

When I asked a gym teacher at Music and Art High School why there was no female tennis team, he said it was because “tennis was bad for a girl’s heart.” But the absurdity of his answer didn’t register with me even though I played tennis for three hours every day after school without having a heart attack! These inconsistent sound bites went on as I grew up. At Pratt Institute graduate school, I said to an art teacher that I was going for a doctorate. He replied, ‘Why go for a doctorate? Why not just marry one?” Once again, I didn’t connect the dots. But the contradictions kept juggling in the back of my mind.

Practicing deference slowly began to grate on me. Gradually I saw that the gender rules of our society were mostly one-sided. I realized that I couldn’t fulfill my potential while putting so much effort into catering to the needs of another person.

I began to watch myself as if I were outside myself. With a male present, I saw that I spoke in a softer, cutesy voice, with less confidence. I had fewer opinions and hardly ever contradicted his manly assertions.

I sat in a constrained manner, cross-legged, poised and pretty, as if waiting to be discovered. I tended to fuse with my projection of male needs and desires. (If I thought a man were seeking a sexual liaison, I would automatically become more flirtatious and seemingly available, even if I were in a monogamous relationship and not really interested in any pursuit). I felt an invisible lid on my head, allowing me to go only so far and no further. I began to feel denied the freedom to hit the metaphorical ball as hard as I could, and, damn it, try to win!

Detail of Legs Together and Apart 925. The artist always modifies the comic’s original bubble text to address Gender Justice and Diversity

Slowly, with determination and the support of feminist writers, friends and therapy, the dots began to connect and I gradually started to change my behavior. It was difficult for me to give up the status of sex object since I didn’t know what would take its place.

But, with effort, I stopped trying so hard to please men. It helped me to ask myself if I would talk or behave the same way with a woman. My goal was to be as equally “real” in the company of either gender.

So, now, am I totally free of this Deference Syndrome? Am I as outspoken and confident with men as I am with women? Do I always try to win at ping pong?

My answer is a qualified “Yes,” though I know from reflecting on my behavior that I still have to carefully monitor my propensity to defer to men. I still struggle with my tendency to feel less important in their presence. I continue to need to remind myself to be confident and proud of my strengths and abilities.

Will relating freely and equally with men ever feel totally natural to me? These days, at least, I’m certainly hitting the ball over the net –– and winning.

Do you have a related story to tell? If so, please contact Linda Stein: Linda@lindastein.com or HAWT@haveartwilltravel.org

Linda Stein is a feminist artist, activist, educator, performer, and writer. She is the Founding President of the non-profit Have Art: Will Travel! Inc (HAWT) for Gender Justice, addressing bullying and diversity. HAWT currently oversees The Fluidity of Gender: Sculpture by Linda Stein (FoG) and Holocaust Heroes: Fierce Females – Tapestries and Sculpture by Linda Stein (H2F2), two traveling exhibitions with educational workshops. Two more exhibitions will travel soon: Displacement from Home: What to Leave, What to Take (DC4) and Sexism and Masculinities/Feminities: Exploring, Exploding, Expanding Gender Stereotypes (SMF). In 2018, Stein was honored as one of Women’s eNews’ 21 Leaders for the 21st Century. In 2017, Stein received the NYC Art Teachers Association/UFT Artist of the Year award, and in 2016, she received the Artist of the Year Award from the National Association of Women Artists.

I’ve received many responses to my 6/26/18 Womens eNews article, Legs Together and Apart, and would like to continue to share some of the 2-minute video interviews that were made with these responders. Please feel free to email me, and describe your own story, so that in future articles we can make generational comparisons.

Jameela Jamil: I was given whiter face in photographs

Women's News from the Web - Thu, 01/03/2019 - 12:58

Good Place actor apologises to fans for airbrushing and says old photos make her feel ‘gross’

Jameela Jamil has said looking back at airbrushed photos of herself makes her feel “gross”. The Good Place actor apologised to fans who would have seen the images and felt under pressure to be as thin as Jamil appeared.

She told Red magazine: “When I first started out in this industry, I didn’t know I was allowed to say no to airbrushing. I was given a whiter face, a little English nose and perfect skinny thighs. It makes me feel gross. I’m sorry to anyone who ever saw pictures of me like that and wanted to be thin like me.”

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US enters new phase as women change the face of Congress

Women's News from the Web - Thu, 01/03/2019 - 11:35

Record 102 women were sworn into the House as balance of power shifts in Washington, and Nancy Pelosi makes history as speaker again

Among the historic class of new congresspeople who took the oath of office in the US House of Representatives on Thursday are the first Native American women, the first Muslim women, the first black women elected from Massachusetts and Connecticut, the first Hispanic women elected from Texas, and the youngest woman to be elected to Congress.

There is a former NFL linebacker, a doctor and a climate scientist. There are a number of former members of the military and intelligence services, many of them women. There are seasoned veterans of past presidential administrations and a handful of political neophytes who never held office before running for Congress in 2018.

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The Guardian view on India’s temple dispute: faith and politics | Editorial

Women's News from the Web - Thu, 01/03/2019 - 08:36

The supreme court offered politicians the chance to do the right thing when it ruled that women of childbearing age should be able to enter the Sabarimala shrine. Instead, they have exploited the dispute

Under cover of darkness, and with the aid of police, two women in their 40s prayed at the Sabarimala temple in Kerala on Wednesday – avoiding thousands of protesters who have stopped others doing so. The day before, a chain of hundreds of thousands of women stretched 620km across the southern state, supporting the right to enter the shrine. Three months after the Indian supreme court’s landmark ruling lifted the bar on their entry, and years after the dispute began, this will not end the matter; violent protests erupted after the visit. The long-running dispute has been sharpened by recent developments, including the ruling Bharatiya Janata party’s fostering of Hindu nationalism and the #MeToo movement.

While many Hindu temples bar women who are menstruating, regarding them as unclean, Sabarimala has historically barred all women between 10 and 50 years old. Supporters of the ban argue that this respects the wishes of the deity enshrined there, Lord Ayyappa, who took an oath of celibacy. But it has been challenged repeatedly.

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Elizabeth Warren’s ‘likability’? The US media has learned nothing from 2016 | Arwa Mahdawi

Women's News from the Web - Thu, 01/03/2019 - 08:13

Sexist headlines seem intended to stoke vitriol against the senator running for president as they did towards Clinton

The countdown to the US 2020 election has only just begun, but it’s already starting to look like a hellish repeat of 2016.

On Monday, senator Elizabeth Warren became the first major Democrat to announce her intention to run for president. As you may be aware, Warren is a woman, which means that it is basically illegal not to compare her with Hillary Clinton, despite the two being very different politicians. It is also mandatory to analyse her “likability”, which we all know is the most important issue when it comes to female candidates. Indeed, less than 24 hours after Warren had announced her bid, Politico published a story headlined “Warren battles the ghosts of Hillary”. They publicised the story with a widely derided tweet, asking: “How does Elizabeth Warren avoid a Clinton redux – written off as too unlikable before her campaign gets off the ground?”

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Feminist Library saved from closure as supporters raise £35,000

Women's News from the Web - Thu, 01/03/2019 - 06:32

Redevelopment plans had threatened its future, but donations mean the volunteer-run archive in London can afford to move to new premises

Hundreds of supporters have come together to raise thousands of pounds to save London’s Feminist Library from closure, and help move the collection to new premises.

Founded in 1975 during the second wave of the women’s liberation movement, the archive brings together an extensive collection of feminist literature and “herstories” and is one of only three such facilities in the UK. In 2016 the library, which is a volunteer-run charity, was threatened with eviction from the building in Southwark where it has been housed for three decades, when the council announced it would begin charging rent – increasing its costs from a £12,000 annual service charge to £30,000 a year.

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Protests break out in India after two women enter temple

Women's News from the Web - Wed, 01/02/2019 - 03:58

Court ruling allows women to offer prayers in temple in Kerala after centuries-long ban

Protests have broken out in the Indian state of Kerala, where groups of angry traditionalists waving black flags blocked traffic and staged demonstrations outside government offices to oppose the entry of two women into a Hindu temple.

Police used teargas and water cannon to disperse the protesters outside government buildings in the state capital of Thiruvananthapuram, according to local news channels. The police intervened after clashes between Bharatiya Janata party and Communist party workers.

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Across America, racist and sexist monuments give way to a new future | Rebecca Solnit

Women's News from the Web - Wed, 01/02/2019 - 01:00

Our public landscape is undergoing a deep transformation. It’s not comprehensive or complete – but it’s a powerful foundation

If you took your history lessons from the street names and the names of bridges and buildings, rivers and towns, you would believe men, mostly white Protestants, did nearly everything that ever mattered. But that is slowly changing: our public landscape is undergoing a deep transformation. And it reflects the shift that is under way in our society, from Alaska to Florida. It’s not enough or comprehensive or complete – but it’s a beautiful start and a powerful foundation for more change to come.

In the spring of this year, New York City removed a statue of racist gynecologist J Marion Sims from Central Park, and in the fall, the city announced that a statue to Shirley Chisholm, the first black woman to serve in Congress, will be erected in Brooklyn. San Francisco removed a much-loathed monument that showed a Native American man being dominated by a Spanish priest this fall. And a month later, the city renamed the international terminal at San Francisco international airport after the Jewish gay rights leader Harvey Milk.

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What does it mean to be a woman? It is not just about femininity | Allison Gallagher

Women's News from the Web - Tue, 01/01/2019 - 14:07

There’s a particular tightrope that trans women are made to walk, a kind of exaggerated version of the one all women are

From as early as I can remember, I was told in no uncertain terms that things socially coded as feminine were off-limits for me. Assigned male at birth, the phrase “that’s not for boys” was one I heard with crushing regularity; and the sense of shame and dysphoria – heightened discomfort about my body and identity – stuck around for a long time.

I attended a Catholic, all-boys high school where toxic, teenage masculinity was inescapable, and I felt deeply uncomfortable about my relationship with maleness and masculinity throughout my adolescence, until I came out as a trans woman and began transitioning around 2012. I immediately felt more comfortable in my body, in my own skin. But something kind of funny happened when I began blurring the boundaries of what my identity could mean.

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Gender pay gap: companies under pressure to act in 2019

Women's News from the Web - Mon, 12/31/2018 - 22:37

Companies vowing to narrow the gap will need to demonstrate changes, say experts

It was billed as the biggest legislative game-changer for working women since the Equal Pay Act made it illegal to pay people of different sexes differently for the same job in 1970.

And for once, the hype may not have been overstated. Groundbreaking legislation that forced companies to reveal their gender pay gaps in 2018 for the first time has had an immediate and wide-ranging effect, but companies are likely to come under increased pressure to narrow the gap in 2019, according to data and experts.

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Apprehension on all sides before launch of Irish abortion services

Women's News from the Web - Mon, 12/31/2018 - 19:00

Legislation and logistics have been fast-tracked to turn last May’s vote into reality

Ireland is poised to roll out its first regular abortion services in the coming weeks in the wake of the referendum vote to lift the country’s near-total ban on abortion.

Politicians and officials fast-tracked legislation and logistical preparations to turn last year’s landslide vote in favour of liberalisation into reality for women who wish to terminate pregnancies.

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Was 2018 a turning point for women? Yes, it exposed what we’re up against | Suzanne Moore

Women's News from the Web - Mon, 12/31/2018 - 02:41

From the Presidents Club to Christine Blasey Ford, it’s not been a great year. But there were glimmers of hope, such as in Ireland

A pale, slouching Harvey Weinstein has so far escaped criminal charges for the allegations of sexual assault against him. A “millionaire” is given a three-year jail sentence for killing a woman, who died from the 40 horrific injuries he inflicted on her, including having bleach poured over her face, because this was said to be “consensual” rough sex. The incredibly brave Kurdish women who have faced down Islamic State have now been totally abandoned by Trump’s policy on Syria. This is how we end the year, and though there are those reluctant still to give up the narrative of sunlit progress, it’s not been a great one for women.

But there are so many great and good women out there who shine light into the darkness. I raise a glass to you for 2019

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A new start: Judy Murray on the 'baby Buddhist' who cured her terror of public speaking

Women's News from the Web - Mon, 12/31/2018 - 01:00

The tennis coach had always found conferences intimidating – until a workshop on women in sport inspired her to step outside her comfort zone

During the 2012 Olympics in London, I went along to a female coaching workshop in London. I had just started as the captain of Great Britain’s Fed Cup team and I took a few colleagues with me. It was the first time I had been at a coaching event that was dedicated to women’s sport and women in sport.

Sport is such a male-dominated world that every workshop, conference or certification course I had previously attended was an intimidating environment. It is never easy being in a minority. I would always find a seat at the back or in a corner; I never ventured to ask or answer a question; and I dreaded being singled out for a demonstration.

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A man I manage earns £20k more than me, and I can’t discuss it publicly | Anonymous

Women's News from the Web - Mon, 12/31/2018 - 00:00
We are being victimised by a culture of a pay secrecy that is wreaking havoc. I wish I had the courage to speak out

A Norwegian financial trade union might be an unlikely mouthpiece for challengers of the global gender pay gap, but earlier this year it became just that. In an advertisement designed to highlight the company’s commitment to fairness in a sector still dogged by inequality, kids took part in a social experiment in which they were videoed being instructed to complete a simple task, for which they were rewarded with jars of sweets. Though all children completed the assignment to a similar standard, the boys were given more sweets than the girls. The adult running the experiment subsequently explained to the perplexed youngsters that the difference was down to their gender. Girls’ work, so the stoic message went, is worth less than boys’.

The children took issue, displaying a spectrum of emotions from confusion and annoyance to distress and resentment. It’s not fair, they unanimously agreed, a little shy at first and then more adamantly. And you’d be hard pressed to find an adult who publicly disagrees. But our workplaces are not a televised social experiment. We’re not kids who are refreshingly unconstrained by social filters that tell us what is acceptable. We’re being victimised by a culture of pay secrecy. It’s distasteful to talk about money, and that silence is wreaking havoc.

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Women and ageing: 'I’ve developed the courage to live my own truth' – picture essay

Women's News from the Web - Sat, 12/29/2018 - 10:59

Seven Australians in their 50s, 60s and 70s challenge the notion that older women become invisible

Women have always had an acute awareness of growing old. In her acclaimed May 2015 essay The Insults of Age, Helen Garner explores the ways in which getting older means being erased from a culture that equates youth and beauty and beauty with value – a cruel and thankless algebra. “Your face is lined, and your hair is grey, so they think you are weak, deaf, helpless, ignorant and stupid,” she writes. “It is assumed that you have no opinions and no standards of behaviour, that nothing that happens in your vicinity is any of your business.”

When women lose cultural currency, they also pay for it in literal currency. According to a 2016 report from Monash University researchers, commissioned by the Lord Mayor’s Charitable Foundation, 34% of women aged over 60 live in permanent income poverty. In the same year a report from the Australian Human Rights Commission found that nearly one-third of workers 50 and over were discriminated against in the workforce, with older women being more adversely impacted than older men. And March 2018 figures from the Australian Bureau of Statistics found a 31% increase in older women experiencing homelessness since 2011, while men experiencing homelessness increased by 26%.

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The year in patriarchy: from Kavanaugh's fury to Serena William's catsuit | Arwa Mahdawi

Women's News from the Web - Sat, 12/29/2018 - 04:00

From pop culture to politics, 2018 was a year of extraordinary firsts for women. But the past year also proved progress isn’t linear with a deeply anti-feminist thread

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The Week in Patriarchy is a weekly roundup of what’s happening in the world of feminism and sexism. If you’re not already receiving it by email, make sure to subscribe.

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Mothers are being abused during childbirth. We need our own #MeToo | Sally Gimson

Women's News from the Web - Fri, 12/28/2018 - 01:00
Many women are scared to speak out about their treatment at the hands of medical professionals as they give birth

When I had my first baby by caesarean section, I woke up on the operating table. The pain was so extreme as they were cutting me open that as I was regaining consciousness my first thought was that I had gone to hell, and was being tortured. The pain was accompanied by a loud beating in my head. When I became more conscious, I realised that I had not been given enough anaesthetic, but I was paralysed and there were tubes in my mouth. Then I heard them say in German – because I was in eastern Berlin only a few years after the wall had come down – “She can have everything now.” Mercifully, I passed out. When I woke, I tried to say something in my faltering German. But they patted my hand, got my husband to show me my baby and pretended they hadn’t understood.

Related: Don’t tell women to shut up about childbirth. Sharing stories saves lives | Suzanne Moore

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Weekly Column: WRighteous

Women's eNews - Thu, 12/27/2018 - 15:04


The Year of You

I don’t just wish you a Happy New Year – I wish you an amazing year, an awe-inspiring year, a Holy Mother of Goddess Year.

The Year of YOU. 

A year filled with goodness and kindness and generosity and joy and love and peace and creativity and audacity, and yes, yes, goddess yes, great sex. 

A year where words become our weapon of choice and the pen proves – without a shadow of a doubt – to be much mightier than the sword. A year where we see our ballots out-numbering bullets, where silence is no longer golden, where being outspoken – bold and provocative – is all the rage, and being nasty and mean-spirited goes out of fashion.

A year when opening our arms outweighs the right to bear arms and all children run into their parents bare arms at the end of the day.

A year filled with magic and miracles; some unexpected wrong turns that turn into your mission; a year that brings you more than you expected, a year that proves once and for all that you are more than enough and it is high time – overdue time – that you know that you’re a gracious plenty with every single fiber in your stunning and glorious being.

A year that you stand up – stand tall – in your glorious sexy messy fierce and mighty power, that you strut your gorgeous stuff and you flutter your badass wings and you show the world what you are made of; a year where you stop putting yourself and your dreams on hold – a year where you stop shoving and hiding those dreams away in some drawer next to other dreams and never worn lingerie and love letters never sent.

A year of ‘no way am I putting this on the back burner because this has my name on it and yeah, you bet, I am going for it.’

A year when we take back our country because yes, it is our country to take back and WE ARE THE PEOPLE and no one – not one soul – has the right to take that from us, or to bully us or to stand in our way; a year where we take to the streets because, yes, the streets are ours to take.

A year where we rise up and rise strong and rise together and know that we are indeed the occasion that we are in fact rising up for; that we declare our worth, declare our value and no, we will not back down or cower or retreat because contrary to all fake rumors, fear and hate have absolutely no shelf life, and mean does not age well. 

This is the year where hand baskets go out of fashion, because we are not going to hell, we are going to raise hell.

This is the year we resist every single thing and every single human and every single action and every single deed holding us back from doing and creating what we were put on this earth to do: to be grand and epic and huge and to stand out, not stand behind.

This is the year where we stop saying behind every great man is a great woman because the hard core absolute truth is without us men would not be here – period, no pun intended.

This is the year we make a ruckus and own our lives outright and out-loud.

This is the year we open carry our lives.

amy ferris

author. writer. girl. Women’s eNews weekly columnist Amy Ferris is a highly accomplished author, screenwriter, television writer and editor. She was also honored by Women’s eNews as one of our ‘21 Leaders for the 21st Century‘ for 2018. Every Friday, you will continue to be invited into her world, where she will champion, encourage and inspire women to awaken to their greatness, as only she can, through passion, truth, hope, and humor — along with a heaping side of activism.


Spanish academic gets €1.5m EU grant to rescue 'women's writing'

Women's News from the Web - Wed, 12/26/2018 - 19:00

Project to bring recognition to women between 1500 and 1780 who wrote popular texts dismissed as minor

A Spanish academic has embarked on a five-year quest to rescue the works of female writers from the margins of European thought and give them the recognition they have been denied for centuries.

Carme Font, a lecturer in English literature at the Autonomous University of Barcelona, has been awarded a €1.5m (£1.35m) grant by the European Research Council to scour libraries, archives and private collections in search of letters, poems and reflections written by women from 1500 to 1780.

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Sylvia Pankhurst’s popularity shows the shifting nature of politics | Martin Kettle

Women's News from the Web - Wed, 12/26/2018 - 04:59

She was not the most celebrated suffragette at the time. History is as much about the present as the past

Newspapers are about the present not the past. It’s rare for a long-dead historical figure to make it into them, let alone twice in just a few days. That’s the sort of feat that only someone with instant name recognition like Winston Churchill would normally achieve. So when, just before Christmas, there were two separate news stories about Sylvia Pankhurst, it got me thinking about how we make use of our history nowadays and what it says about us.

The first Pankhurst story revealed that the former suffragette had written to the postmaster general in 1934 to complain about government phone-tapping. There was no firm suggestion that Pankhurst’s own phone might have been tapped. But her eye had been caught by a contemporary news report about post office eavesdropping, and she wrote to protest at an activity she felt was “opposed to the very best interests of the community and contrary to public policy”.

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