So, being the token woman in the house, I was asked to write a piece on feminism for the podcast.

Starting to write the title – Feminism – in my phone, autocorrect wrote – ‘Free Wimmin’.  There and then I thought, enough said. 

OK, don’t worry, I won’t be talking about feminism. 

I had to remind myself what it means.  ‘A range of socio-political movements and ideologies that aim to define and establish the political, economic, personal, and social equality of the sexes. Feminism holds the view that societies prioritize the male point of view and that women are treated unjustly in these societies. Efforts to change this include fighting against stereotypes and improving opportunities and outcomes for women.

So, any writing on this topic was not going to be short.  I decided to just detail a few thoughts relating to feminism today.

I recently gave a copy of Mary Beard’s book, ‘Women and Power’ to my young niece.  She is 18, drop dead gorgeous, as are all her friends, and she is in London at the moment, sending beautiful photos of herself drinking cocktails in a bar.  I was joking with my sister, who is missing her daughter, that she may not come home if she gets spotted by a modelling agency. 

 I wondered if being defined by our looks is what we want for our young people, especially women.  And of course, it isn’t.  My niece is off to university this autumn – brains and beauty.   A powerful combination you would think.

Mary Beard’s book talks about women not having power.  Brought about from classical times woman didn’t have power due to their lack of voice.  And putting misogyny aside, Beard says this lack of voice, in part, is due to men of Greece and Rome not appreciating the female voice for its sound or timbre, using high-pitched, whiny and strident, as put downs.  Nor appreciating what they had to say.  From Homer’s Odyssey we learn that silencing a female was an essential part of growing up as a man.

Beard says that since these times (and bearing in mind this classical period is so beloved by our leading public schools and consequently those people in power), women have been excluded from speaking with authority and from public speaking – markers of power and of power’s association with prestige – and perceived brilliance in speech making, debate and comment.   The Punch cartoon, Beard quotes, has a man saying ‘That’s an excellent suggestion, Miss Triggs. Perhaps one of the gentlemen here would like to make it.’  This reminds me of what Morag McLaren had to say last week about offering a voice and opinion in her singing career and being ignored or her idea underplayed. 

Beard believes that antiquity casts a shadow over our traditions of public speaking when we consider the timbre of the person’s voice or their authority to speak on a subject.  (Remember Margaret Thatcher having to lower the register of her voice?)   And Beard says that such language was an ‘active and loaded’ policy used against women by those who thought women were subversive and a threat to the state.  

Beard says that to rectify what has to happen for not only women but minorities, is a rethink on the nature of ‘spoken authority’, what constitutes it and to learn to hear it where we do.  And that power itself may need to be redefined, not just for women to be ‘resituated’ in power.

Mary Beard’s book came out in 2017, and here she was suggesting that females don’t have powerful voices.   We all remember Hilary Clinton back in 2016 and the amount of vitriol and abuse she received when standing for the position of President of the United States of America.  And in its wake was the Harvey Weinstein scandal.

If we consider women entering parliament as being a marker of success and power, back in 1987, a breakthrough year, 41 women were elected as members, with 21 of them from the Labour party.  In 2019, 220 women were elected to parliament, but still only a third of the total number of MPs. 

This year we have the resignation of one of the UK’s best known female politicians, Scotland’s First Minister Nicola Sturgeon, who has been a popular voice of authority but who has had her fair share of ‘put downs’.  And today we remember Afghanistan and its women who are being denied their voice. 

Women may have come a long way since ancient Greece, it has not been an easy road and feminism will have helped, but in 2023 women still needs feminism to continue fighting the good fight. 

I’m just off to make supper now but will be there to help in a minute. 


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