You go, girlfriends

Women A Success Story8

This is not a regular film review, as Women: A Success Story is not a regular film. “A liberating tale for a new generation,” inspired by Joanna Williams’s book Women Vs Feminism, it was made by volunteers and funded by the Heritage Lottery Fund, Youth Social Action and the Jack Petchey Foundation; a community project that demands to be seen and shared and discussed, by women and men (there’s more about it here). Directed by Ceri Dingle, it has been put together by 100 volunteers, with 40 talking heads, all women, simply discussing and recalling their lives and experiences over nine decades of feminist progress. Its optimistic conclusion is somewhat foregone. This is not a time to niggle.

Each witness – ranging in age from 16 to 90 – is named in a caption, along with their date of birth, to help place them in their era. The documentary’s oldest participant is Elsie Holdsworth, born in 1928, and one of seven kids. She paints a vivid picture of life at the sharp end of the century, listing “one gaslight, two bedrooms, six children, no radio, no TV, no car, no hot water.” Her memory is pin-sharp and she provides valuable testimony from a pre-enlightenment age when, as a young woman, a job she took at Woolworth’s caused others to say she’s “climbing the social ladder, joining the elite.” (The loaded E-word is being bandied about again by today’s political class in this self-negating age of Brexit, but Elsie’s treatment at the hands of her peers seems almost comical to our modern ears – there’s a touch of “know your place” about such snarky opprobrium.)

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Among the more millennial talking heads is Caroline Cafasso, 21, an American who reflects the #MeToo generation when she observes that in her experience young women “consider many men to be dangerous towards women” and is rueful about being “stuck in hook-up culture.” Further insight from the young comes from Millie Small, 16, who offers another blithely alarming insight: “I don’t think pregnancy is a very big fear for people.”

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The film is split into clearly titled chapters – The Sexual Revolution and Freedom; Contraception: Free at Last; Mind the Gap – and makes sparing use of public-domain archive from patrician public information films to grout the witness footage (some of the more alarmist ones are from the binary certainty of America’s postwar period). This is not a film that dazzles with bells and whistles; it’s all about the content. That it was borne of a collective effort dovetails into the very subject matter. If there is a sisterhood, it might well be found herein.

Among the reassuringly ordinary witnesses, we meet the extraordinary Nadine Strossen, the first woman president of the American Civil Liberties Union (she objects to women who report rape being classed as “victims” in what she regards as a “persecutorial culture”); also Ivana Habazin, a nun who watched Rocky and took up boxing, thereafter becoming IBO middleweight champion; we may not be too surprised to see Joanna Williams herself, at a Suffragette Picnic in East London – where else? Activists abound. Take Mally Best, thrown out of school at 15, she took an engineering course at college, specialising in aviation and navigation (she was the only woman among 79 men). When she took her exam onboard a warship, male seamen were put on a three-hour curfew so they wouldn’t come into contact with a woman.

For ideological balance, there’s a former beauty queen, Miss Severn Diamond, now in her 50s, who discusses the rights and wrongs of calling female friends “honey.” A proud pageant finalist at 22, she embodies a different strain of female empowerment, saying she “never found men intimidating”. (She discusses motor racing’s hot-button “grid girl” issue too, failing to see the harm.) Meanwhile, Hilary Salt, a member of Council of the Institute and Faculty of Actuaries, declares herself against boardroom tokenism that she thinks is “degrading”. “To me,” she boldly states, “it doesn’t seem be of any advantage for me when I’m sitting on the Council, to be there with my vagina.”

Women A Success Story title

Other, more opaque issues are addressed, from FGM to man-hating and whether or not glamour modelling is simply just “a personal choice” (one participant says she thinks of herself as a woman “from the neck down”).

There’s also a fascinating tour of the now-closed Voice & Vote: Women’s Place in Parliament exhibition, where we learn that in 1918 the first woman MP Constance Markievicz, never took her seat in Parliament as she was a member of Sinn Fein and as such “would never take an oath of allegiance to a power I meant to overthrow.” (The first sitting MP was Conservative Nancy Astor in 1919.) Wallflowers are not in evidence.

Shocking facts arise; domestic abuse was not even investigated by the police in the 1950s, and wasn’t until the 1976 Domestic Violence and Matrimonial Proceedings Act – although rape in marriage continued to be legal until 1990s. Within that context it brings you up short to hear a 1967-born West Midlands bank manager stating, “If you see someone brushing your knee as sexual assault you have seriously lost the plot.” Another woman of similar age is strident on the subject: “We didn’t feel cowed, or worried, we just said no.”

All this and the memory of using a mangle to clean nappies in the 1960s. You might optimistically conclude that men have gone a long way towards being house-trained in the interim. You might prefer to come away from the film with the lingering and powerful image of the daughter of an Eritrean freedom fighter who emigrated to the UK in the late 60s and “grew up with the idea that there was no difference between women and men.”

Either way, man or woman, whatever your view, or gender, or vintage, this film gives plenty of food for thought, and deserves to be shared.

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Merry Christmas

christmas

Unbelievable. Apologies to anybody who comes here regularly, but the previous post descended into puerile abuse and I was forced to shut it down temporarily (for the record, unless he/she was also posting anonymously, this had nothing to do with “Stockhausen and Waterman”, none of whose comments I had to remove). This keeps happening. I’m going to continue blogging, but I’m going to have to leave Comment Moderation on, as I’m spending half my time removing anonymous abusive posts at the moment. It’s bloody tiresome, and it’s taking all the fun out of it. As previously stated, I write stuff on here because I enjoy it. Unfortunately, because it’s posted under my own name, and because I operate on the fringes of the public domain, this makes me fair game for abuse. “Collins, you’re a fucking knob,” ran the contribution that broke the camel’s back. How does one respond to that? “No, you are!” I’m sticking with the previous analogy: you’re round my house, talking about stuff, and if you’re round my house, you have a bit of respect for me, and for others. This is not a forum. Bad Science is a forum. The Comedy Forum is a forum. The British Sitcom Guide. Comment Is Free. Any number of BBC forums. But you have to register to join a forum, and you can be thrown out. Anybody can post on here, under any pseudonym they like, with no comeback, no email address. It’s actually more open than a forum. So the only way to stop a decent dialogue descending into abuse or just childish idiocy is to regulate it. I do so with a heavy heart, as it will involve a queueing system, and goes against my instinct for free speech. But I am so close to being worn down into the ground by it, it’s for the best. Those who seek to call me a fucking knob only do so because it’s public. If that luxury is taken away, they soon go away. (Calling someone a fucking knob in private is no fun, as who will be impressed if there’s no one to see or hear it?)

A statement

Sorry, I’ve been offline for most of the weekend, and I’ve missed a lot of the fun. I’m glad I had comment moderation on, as the holding pen is now full of anti-homeopathy enthusiasts trying to bring me down, and agreeing with the notion that a man who gave his daughter homeopathic treatment which did not save her life a “cunt”, which is a new low for this lobby. I should have known I’d been targeted again, as anyone who strays from the Bad Science status quo must be. What a lot of energy they spend on attacking. I mean, really, what’s the point of attacking me? I’d said my heart sank when I read the latest Goldacre piece, which it did, but I was careful not to get into an argument with him/them again, as I remember only too well how it played out last time. Stalemate is a nice way of putting it. I only wrote the pied wagtail entry to express the way the sight of a bird lifted my spirits during a bit of seasonal affective disorder, and how even the idea of another anti-homeopathy piece in a national newspaper sank it again. I choose birds.

Unfortunately, I’ve now read the lengthy thread about me on the Bad Science web forum (started by someone who actually posts sensibly on here about other subjects, with a handy link to come and get me – talk about backstabbing). It’s so full of bile and sarcasm (one person calls me a cunt, and says I only have my writing career through good fortune and not talent, which is pretty much what I say in my book), I’m quite exhausted by it all. If these people are so sure they are right, what threat am I?

Anyway, I’ve had to take the previous thread down and re-post it without the dialogue, as it had descended into name-calling and scoundrels misleadingly posting under other people’s names to stir things up, and in a moment of late-night madness I even decided to ban one person after his comments on the parent mentioned above (whatever you think of an issue, calling a man whose daughter had died a “cunt” smacks, if nothing else, of a complete lack of compassion – a quality I believe lies at the heart of all the political ideas I hold dear – also, and I know I’ve used it in the past, but the word does still offend some people). The act of removing the comments from the thread, which meant well, but led down a dark path, will look to the Bad Science regulars as if I have “taken my ball home” or something, or as if they have won. Well, in a very tiny way, they have won, yet again. They are tenacious. They take no prisoners. But I have won too, because by writing about anything but the h-word in the future, hopefully they will find someone else to belittle and patronise and attack. I hereby remove myself from the public debate on this matter.

I had one comment over the weekend from “bengoldacre” but I don’t believe it is from him. As ever, my personal email address appears for all to see on this website, and always has done, so even if I never blogged again, it would remain open to anyone who wished to challenge me or, frankly, call me a cunt, if that gives them a thrill. That’s the nature of these things. Oddly, it seems that the game is calling me a cunt in public, not in private, and no fun otherwise. I don’t mind being a cunt if a cunt is someone who enjoys the natural world and sometimes writes about it, and exhibits inconsistencies and changes his mind, and wonders aloud. I don’t even mind being one if a cunt is someone whose heartfelt views don’t stand up to rigorous scientific scrutiny. The message coming through from Bad Science is that if I dare to even allude to my views on homeopathy, they will be forced to shut me down. Such a sense of righteous purpose! One person on the BS forum was crowing about “marking” my previous God Delusion review a “D-minus” – what a glorious victory for science that was. If I am to write anything, I have to provide evidence and citations, as if writing in the Lancet, and yet, it was just on a blog. As I’ve said on many occasions, as a writer, I enjoy writing on here because it’s not for publication and doesn’t go through the usual filter of editors and sub-editors and fact-checkers, or, in TV, script editors and producers. That’s the fun of doing it. To write what I think, at any length, whenever I fancy it. Nobody is going to commission me to write about a science book or a religion book, so this is my only outlet to stray and experiment and go out of my depth.

Anyway I’m bored with the whole thing, and don’t have the strength for a fight. I wish I’d never mentioned the h-word (I think the BS believers call it “woo”, which I guess is a reference to it being “magic”), even in passing, on here. Please don’t bother visiting the Bad Science forum to counter house policy. It’s really not worth posting unless you’re one of the gang. Maybe there’s a gang here, too. A much nicer one.

Here’s a revolutionary idea: I have actually fixed it so that you can’t leave comments after this particular entry, which I’ll leave with you for a while. It is, as stated, a statement.

Downtime

I’m getting a bit tired of the little spurts of abuse I’m currently attracting, so I’m giving myself a few days off the blog. I’m on the radio all week anyway (10pm-1am, 6 Music, Mon-Fri; Rockumentary Rollercoaster one-off documentary, Radio 4, Tuesday Nov 13, 11.30am and on Listen Again thereafter for seven days), so feel free to get in touch. It’s amazing how quickly the fun goes out of all this when you are constantly niggled. When I’m feeling a bit less fragile, I’ll be back with more drivel. Your patience is appreciated.