The Heady Life of an NUWSS Organiser in 1909

Votes for Women, you say? Today is the perfect time for me to share some extracts from The World of an Insignificant Woman by Catherine Thackray, which is a biography of my great-grandmother Hilda Marjory Sharp (nee Ingle).

Marjory (as she was known) was born in 1882 and was a teacher and social worker. In 1909, when she was 27,  she secured work as a paid organiser for the National Union of Women’s Suffrage Societies, organising meetings, rallies and petitions. Her activities are detailed in Chapter 4 of the book. The excerpt below is taken from pages 78 to 81.

What is fascinating and slightly depressing about this account is how many of the free speech challenges faced by the NUWSS and Suffragettes remain today. The problem of people shouting down political speakers with whom they disagree still persists one hundred years later. And the comment from the Men’s League that they never suffered the same level of abuse as the women is echoed by our contemporary experience of female politicians receiving far more abuse on social media than their male counterparts.

You can buy The World of an Insignificant Womanonline as hardback or paperback, or download a free eBook in EPUB, Kindle, or PDF format.

Continue reading “The Heady Life of an NUWSS Organiser in 1909”

Big Little Lies, Of Its Time In Three Different Ways


Big Little Lies is an HBO TV show, based on the Liane Moriarty novel of the same name. It stars Nicole Kidman and Reese Witherspoon, and follows the woven lives of several families living in Monterrey, California.

It was first broadcast in the spring of 2017. Following huge recognition the Golden Globe Awards in January, I decided it was time for me to watch the box set.

Each family has a child attending the local Elementary School, and there’s a murder at a school fundraising gala. A death is announced in the very first scene of the very first episode, but neither the victim, the killer or their motive are revealed until the finale.

The show strikes me as being very much Of Its Time, an emblematic cultural artefact of Western culture at the end of the 2010s. I think it does this three different ways.

Continue reading “Big Little Lies, Of Its Time In Three Different Ways”

No Platform: Political Fly-Tipping

The debate about students and free speech has flared up again.  NUS LGBTQ officer Fran Cowling refused to share a platform with veteran human rights campaigner Peter Tatchell, acusing him of racism and transphobia.

Many people have pointed out that refusing to speak alongside someone is not the same as denying them a platform; others argue that it can amount to the same thing.

The standard argument against No Platform is that we should debate people we disagree with, because we will win the argument.  This is a point I have made in many contexts.  But there is a collary to this which is often glossed over:  No Platform just makes the bigots someone else’s problem.

No Platform is just a clever form of NIMBYism.  When students refuse to engage, the people with unsavoury views are not discredited to the extent that they fall out of the discourse.  Instead, they double-down.  Although they may be prevented from speaking in a particular place, they usually take their speech elsewhere. Continue reading “No Platform: Political Fly-Tipping”

Hooray for Trigger Warnings, Safe Spaces and Political Correctness

My post earlier this week about a feminist society apparently colluding in the silencing of women has been widely shared in the past few days.  There have been hundreds of new visitors to this blog.  With this in mind I think its worth me writing a little more about my views, lest people make incorrect assumptions.

In particular, it is worth noting that my post is not part of a wider pattern criticising feminism, feminists or anyone fighting for equality.  Instead, it is part of a fairly consistent pattern defending freedom of expression.  Previous posts about Goldsmiths College were in defence of the SU diversity officer Bahar Mustafa, charged (wrongly, in my opinion) under the Malicious Communications Act over her ill-judged but not illegal #KillAllWhiteMen tweets.

I have also seen my article discussed in the context of the perceived decline in critical thinking at universities, both in the United Kingdom and the United States. In September, Greg Lukianoff and Jonathan Haidt wrote a widely discussed Atlantic article ‘The Coddling of the American Mind‘ that is perhaps the most complete example of this, although there have been many others.

In all such articles, the concepts of ‘trigger warnings’ and ‘safe spaces’ are both held up as examples of what is wrong with today’s students. Continue reading “Hooray for Trigger Warnings, Safe Spaces and Political Correctness”

Why Are Goldsmiths’ Feminists Applauding the Silencing of Women?

There was another free speech skirmish on a UK university campus this week, when the ex-Muslim activist Maryam Namazie was heckled by students at an event at Goldsmiths College.

East London Lines, a online newspaper run by students including many from Goldsmiths, reported the incident after it happened, and have written a follow up in which I am quoted for English PEN.

I want to say a little more in a personal capacity.

The video of the event is available online. Continue reading “Why Are Goldsmiths’ Feminists Applauding the Silencing of Women?”

Patronising Pa’s Parenting Prolongs the Patriarchy

Every Friday I take some or all of my kids to a playgroup at the local church hall. It is run by a group of wonderful women, all retirees, and they charge a paltry £1 per family. Since I bring more children than most to the group, I always feel like I am gaming the system or abusing their goodwill. But no, they say, it’s a straight £1 no matter how many kids you bring. For that I also get a cup of tea plus juice and biscuits for the kids.

The group is advertised as a ‘Mother and Child Playgroup’. But I’m a father. Continue reading “Patronising Pa’s Parenting Prolongs the Patriarchy”

You’re not going out dressed like that!

this-girl-took-us-to-churchOn social media, a friend shares the above exchange, on the subject of sexual assault and the clothes women wear.  The responses to the guy who compares women’s bodies to a bank vault are as good a refutation of this line of thinking as any you will see. (h/t Noodlemaz, and here’s a link to the conversation on Tumblr if you want to reblog it.)

There was more debate in the comments to this image.  One person (again, a man) said that refraining from dressing in a provocative manner was just being “realistic” about human nature. He seemed not to have considered the idea that, as thinking beings, a man who forces himself on a woman is not succumbing to human nature, just accepting without question the worst messages of our sexist culture.

This is a blinkered outlook.  There is nothing to say that our society cannot be changed and made better.  Whenever anyone resorts to the idea that something is “human nature” we must remind them that this observation is unlikely to be correct… And even if it were, that should be the start of the conversation, not the end of it. Continue reading “You’re not going out dressed like that!”

The Weight Loss Cul-De-Sac

I’m subscribed to a charity request service for journalists. They send a message to the list asking for case studies to be included in their articles and features. Sometimes its possible to get a plug for your charity if you help the writer.

The stories in question are mainly for ‘Women’s Glossies’. Here’s a request I just received from a freelancer that is typical:

I am pulling together a really positive feature for a monthly glossy magazine called ‘why thinner isn’t always better’ and I am looking for some very specific women to talk to.

  • a woman who lost weight but has been left with lots of excess skin which she dislikes as much as the weight. Maybe she is waiting for surgery or would like to have it removed but can’t afford to/is afraid of the procedure
  • a woman who says that after she lost weight friends were jealous of her and behaved differently towards her

The message goes on, but you get the gist. The journalist signs off with this:

In all cases I will need a picture of the lady before she lost weight, when she was at her smallest and now.

In many other cases, the request for case studies is accompanied by the promise of a tasteful makeover and photo-shoot, courtesy of the magazine.

On the face of it, this looks like a positive and feminist article. It’s part of a backlash against the propaganda of the beauty industry, a billion-dollar complex that trades on women’s insecurities about their body image. Continue reading “The Weight Loss Cul-De-Sac”

Why I am glad that Malala did not win the Nobel Prize

I’m glad that Malala Yousafzai did not win the Nobel Peace Prize.

This is not because I do not applaud her bravery and support her fantastic campaigning work. Rather, I worry about the effect of thrusting the prize onto someone so young.

Previous Nobel Laureates have reported that winning the prize is incredibly disruptive to their career. Peter Higgs, who was awarded the Chemistry prize last week, tried to escape media inquiries. But they tracked him down eventually,

Our media is full of stories of child prodigies pressurised into excellence and unhappiness. Child actors regularly seem to end up in rehab units, and the career trajectory of child pop-stars like Britney Spears and Miley Cyrus makes everyone uneasy.  We angst over the plight of Royal babies, born into incredible wealth but no privacy. Continue reading “Why I am glad that Malala did not win the Nobel Prize”