Feet of Clay

Posted by on November 12, 2018 in Blog, History, Women's equality issues | 0 comments

 

Mary Read/wikipedia

We always wanted damesnet to be a forum for different views and discussion, so we are thrilled whenever we get a comment, even if it’s a dissenting one. This is what happened two weeks ago, when ‘Patricia’ picked us up, à propos Dame B’s review of the National Portrait Gallery’s Rebel Women Trail, for not covering Florence Nightingale, and not mentioning the more dubious aspects of the careers of Mary Seacole and Marie Stopes. The selection of women for the trail was down to the National Portrait Gallery, but in her reply Dame B also posed the question of whether posterity judged women more harshly than men.

I have been pondering the whole issue ever since, not least because I’ve realised that I screen women out from our daily tweets (damesnet@damesnet) if I’m aware (or become aware from reading their Wiki biogs) of activities I would not be happy to endorse, but that there are blatant contradictions in the criteria I apply. So where to set the bar?

To go back to the Marie Stopes example, there is no denying that her campaign for birth control improved the lives of thousands of women immeasurably. Even the rather florid prose of Married Love staked a claim for the importance of women’s right to enjoy sex. The eugenics are a problem, of course, and in any Mariestopia specky types like Mr Verity and I would not have been allowed to breed lest we hand down our myopia. But eugenics were then all the rage, and the fearful demonstration of what could happen if you followed these arguments to their logical conclusion was yet to come – by which time her support for the cause had somewhat abated.

Which brings us to the question of how ahistorical you can be in considering the reputations of our forebears, which is currently vexing campuses around the world as the statues of the great and the good come under challenge. Will we perhaps live to see a campaign to remove the statue of Winston Churchill from Parliament Square because of his bombing of Dresden? (Said to have been revenge for the bombing of Coventry, which he is alleged to have allowed so it would not reveal that Britain had cracked German codes – discuss.)

To be honest, I would never do a celebratory tweet about Margaret Thatcher. Great statesman she may have been (and I use ‘statesman’ advisedly), but I hold her personally responsible for so much that has damaged, and continues to damage, our country. I’ve realised, though, what an anomaly it is that I’ve tweeted gleefully about pirate Mary Read, whose career, let’s face it, was based on stealing and murdering. How easy it is to be so dazzled by female derring-do that you cannot see when moral iniquity lies behind it.

I have to hold my hand up to applying double standards, but as women have been at the sharp end of double standards for millennia perhaps there is a case for allowing this, for a few more centuries at least, and celebrating the spectacle of ‘worms turning’ across the globe.

Thank you, Patricia, for your stimulating comments!

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