Friday, June 23, 2006

The Green Fields of France

In a couple of weeks time (1st July) it will be the 90th anniversary of the Battle of the Somme. On the first day, the British Army lost 58,000 men, the worst single day in its history. By the end of the battle, which only ended in November because of the arrival of heavy snow, the British had suffered 420,000 casualties, the French, nearly 200,000 and German casualties were in the region of 500,000. The scale of this carnage is almost unimaginable. More than a million men in total killed, maimed, blinded and/or driven insane. And how many women? Er... none.

My grandfather took part in that battle. He was a sergeant, and a relatively old man in his late twenties. A German shell hit the trench that he was in, and killed everyone in his unit except him. A piece of flying shrapnel chopped off two of his fingers. He was very lucky (or was he unlucky? I can't decide). When he came to his senses and looked around, he must have seen a picture straight out of Dante's Inferno. There must have been chunks of human flesh sliding down the walls. He would have been drenched in blood, mainly other people's. He was probably picking bits of his friends' brains off his uniform. At some point he must have noticed his missing fingers and he managed to get himself to a medic, no doubt a minor achievement in itself. He survived the war, got married and had three daughters, one of whom was my mother. He died about a month before I was born, so I never met him.

The thing I didn't realise until very recently was that he, and the men who died in his trench, and most of the other 420,000 British casualties, couldn't even vote. Most of the men - British anyway - who fought in WWI didn't even have the right to vote. Did you know that? It doesn't seem to get mentioned very often. The only gender issue we remember from that time, a time when men were being exterminated by the million, is that women couldn't vote.

Soon after the war ended, Parliament passed the Representation of the People Act 1918. "...millions of returning soldiers were still not entitled to vote. This posed a dilemma for politicians since they could not withhold the vote from the very men who were considered to have fought to preserve British democracy. The Representation of the People Act 1918 widened suffrage by abolishing practically all property qualifications for men." The same Act also gave the vote to British women for the first time ever, "by enfranchising women over 30 who met minimum property qualifications. The enfranchisement of this latter group was accepted as recognition of the contribution made by women defence workers".

Women and the working class only got the vote because of the First World War. The Suffragettes had finally got what they wanted, and all because of the war, a war which they actively supported. Today, we are all supposed to hold the pre-war Suffragettes in religious reverence. These brave, nobly-struggling women, battling resolutely against a vicious Partriarchal, misogynistic society, blah, blah, blah.

Personally, I think the Suffragettes had a bloody nerve demanding the Vote. You find that shocking? Remember this: they weren't asking for Universal Suffrage - they were only asking for Women's Suffrage. They didn't want votes for everybody (and certainly not smelly working-class men like my grandfather). They only wanted votes for themselves. I'd like to ask them, 'Given that almost no-one else in this country can vote, what the hell makes you think you have the right to do it? Why are you special?' They would no doubt have justified themselves in terms of class. 'As a propertied gentlewoman of good family I should be able to vote on the same basis as my husband. And, no! We certainly do not want to give the vote to the labouring classes! That would never do!'

Modern feminists represent the pre-war campaign for Women's Suffrage as a struggle between men and women. It was no such thing. Queen Victoria was opposed to votes for women, and almost all male liberal thinkers were in favour of it. The Suffragettes' biggest intellectual gun was John Stuart Mill, but he wasn't alone. They also had the support of HG Wells, George Bernard Shaw, and many others. Consider on the other hand, Mary Augusta Ward, co-founder of the Women's National Anti-Suffrage League. Have you ever heard of The Men's League for Women's Suffrage? No? The Women's Suffrage debate has been grossly misrepresented by post-1960s feminists, who want to use the Suffragettes' reputation to justify themselves. Male support for women's suffrage - and women's opposition to it - have been air-brushed out of history. It certainly was not a struggle between men and women. It was far more complex than that. It is better represented as a struggle between Conservative and Progressive social forces, and the debate at the time stank of the Edwardian class system.

"It is worth noting that had women been enfranchised based upon the same requirements as men, they would have been in the majority." Very true, but why is that? Why was most of the adult British population in 1918 female? Very simple. Because most of the men were dead.

But the only gender issue we remember about that time is the bold struggle for Women's Suffrage. We've all been told a pack of lies.

Love Deuce

Well, it's Wimbledon time again, and while I'm no tennis fan, it's interesting to see that feminists will appropriate almost anything as another cause celebre to convince everyone how hard done by they are, even though Western middle-class women (because let's face it, that's who feminists are) wallow in privilege. An article in today's Independent, called 'The Big Question: Should women players get paid as much as men at Wimbledon?' is more even-handed than most I've come across.

There has been a furore over the last couple of decades because apparently the female players don't get paid as much as the male ones. At first sight this looks like a clear-cut case of injustice, and as with everything else that feminists say, we are being invited to take their statements at face value and not ask too many awkward questions. As a non-tennis fan, it wasn't until I read David Thomas' book Not Guilty: In defence of the Modern Man (remarkably difficult to get hold of it seems), that I discovered that the women only play the best of three sets, whereas the men play the best of five. So in other words, the men do more work. You don't hear the equal-pay harpies saying much about that. Today's article quotes Ian Ritchie, the new chief executive. "He points out that, because they played shorter matches, women players were actually paid more per game than men at the 2005 Championships. The last eight players in the women's singles took home £1,432 for every game they played, while the men were paid £993 per game." Hmm. So the women actually get paid more than the men. I see.

To be fair, it also quotes Billie-Jean King as saying "When Wimbledon first started off, women did play best of five sets, but a woman - probably wearing a corset - fainted, and the all-male board decided that we could only play best of three sets. We have offered to play five-set matches any time they want". She makes it sound like some kind of evil mysogynist conspiracy, which is no doubt exactly what she believes. But let's think about it. At the time when this fainting happened, the tennis authorities (all-male! Oh my God! The injustice!) had a choice. They could have ignored the incident and done nothing, but they might have found themselves facing the wrath of conservative and women's groups for their insensitive, uncaring negligence. They could have chosen to ban women from playing altogether. This would not have been unreasonable from their point of view, because they were leaving themselves open to public criticism, even litigation, if women used their facilities and got injured or became ill. They were potentially damned whatever they did, a position that men often find themselves in when dealing with women. What they did was actually very generous and reasonable at the time. They said to women, you can carry on playing tennis if you want, but we will relax the rules to make it easier for you. King and her fellow feminist harpies have a talent for making privilege sound like punishment.

I wonder if she really fainted anyway, or if she just wanted to throw the game because she was losing.

However, times have changed, and it seems to be a problem easily solved. Let's take King at her word. Everyone plays five sets and everyone gets paid the same, and if you faint or otherwise suffer, that's your own lookout. No female privileges.

Another juicy fact mentioned in the article was this: "The leading women - particularly if they are considered glamorous - are in huge demand by sponsors. Maria Sharapova earned more than £10m last year, most of it off the court. Maria Kirilenko, another 19-year-old Russian, is ranked only No 20 in the world but is set to make a fortune out of her looks".

One thing that the feminist equal pay lobby never mention is that women have many socially-acceptable ways of making money other than by working for it, whereas men do not. Men work because the only alternative open to them is complete social exclusion. If you want to know why men occupy most of the top jobs in society, it is because men have greater incentives to work hard and get ahead. By demanding ever more material goods in exchange for sexual access, women are largely responsible for creating those incentives. If the cap fits, wear it, honey.

While we're here, let's not forget the Glass Cellar: Men also occupy all of the lowest jobs in society too. When is the last time you had your bins emptied by a feminist?