Monday, 21 April 2014

The Voodoo View - Women in the Media (continued...)

Original vehicle signage, with instructions for use scrawled on by Inspector Helen Bourne Tagart, Aide de Camp for Commandant Mary Sophia Allen

Last blog on here, I had a good rant about the current spate of whining by pro-feminists complaining that women's voices aren't 'out there' in the mainstream media.

Above is an example of the mountain of stuff kept by former suffragette and Commandant of the Women's Auxiliary Police Force/vigilante/Hicks-botherer, Commandant Mary Sophia Allen. This mountain of stuff, packed none-too-neatly in a travelling trunk stamped HBT, for her second-in-command and long-term love interest Helen Tagart, contains news cuttings, letters, admins, booklets, posters, diaries, photographs, reports, autographs of various dictators she visited (with her usual shiny-boot-wearing uniformed buffoonery, to the general embarrassment of the British government), receipts, invoices and various other hoarder's guff that you would expect someone with minor OCD and a bit of professional narcissism to collate in their own lifetime.

This overload of insight has been entrusted to me to scan by her great-great-grand-nephews/nieces who have kept it stored away for the last half a century or more, and to consider using it for an authorised feature film project on their behalf about the well-meaning women's rights activist and anti-slavery awareness promoter, Miss Allen.

So far I'm about 25-30 hours into scanning and typing up anything handwritten, I'm up to 467 images, and only about a third of the way through it all.

What's clear so far is the sheer volume of women's monopoly over stories, writing and reviews in the media during the First and Second World War. Miss Allen subscribed to all the regional and international news clipping agencies, meaning that wherever her name was mentioned in the world, she was sent the original clipping - whether it was from Canada, New Zealand, Australia, Germany, Italy or Brazil. She would appear in the UK press on a daily basis. I've just spent three hours scanning cuttings from the middle of 1934 alone.

The woman damn near invented 'Googling yourself' before such a thing was conceivable.

But it's not just her own publications, letters and articles that meant women were represented in the press. Here's a review from a Leicester newspaper of her book 'Women at the Crossroads'.

Leicester Daily Mercury, 29 June 1934, review by Anna Bell of Commandant Mary Allen's book

Notice anything? Yes. The reviewer was also a woman - Anna Bell. With her name in a big old font too.

It's not an isolated incident...

John O'London's Weekly, 9 June 1934, review by Sylvia Lynd of 'Women at the Crossroads' by Mary Sophia Allen

Again, note the prominence of the reviewer's name and font size in the article above.

Aha, I hear you say. But I expect the men still had the upper hand, yes? I bet their reviews were published with their names above the book title and author's name, in an even bigger font!

Okay. Let's have a look at the reverse of the above cutting, in the John O'London's Weekly reviews:

John O'London's Weekly, 9 June 1934, review by Horace Thorogood of 'Short Stories, Scraps and Shavings' by George Bernard Shaw

Well, guess what? This piddling single column review on the right, of the esteemed George Bernard Shaw's collection of short stories, doesn't even have a full title, or Mr Shaw's full author name mentioned. The photograph is of neither the author or reviewer - it's of G.K. Chesterton, rumoured to have been caricatured by Shaw in one of his tales. And the name of the reviewer himself, Mr Horace Thorogood, bless him, only appears at the very bottom of the piece - in a font that you could easily read with an electron microscope at your disposal.

Note the partial article on the left, alongside Horace Thorogood's trivial offering. Bigger heading, bigger fonts, more columns - only a pity that Mary Allen's collecting of clippings didn't run to full pages. It's a review of 'Valleys of the Assassins' by Freya Stark, who as you can see from this tantalising snippet was apparently a bit of a Lady Lara Croft-type. She was inspired in her childhood by reading 'The Thousand and One Nights'. On her travels, she learned of other inspiring women, such as "...the story of Qadam Kheir, a lady of the Kulivand of Tarhan, who fought against the government... She was a beautiful woman, and married to her cousin.* They used to go out together to fight, and she could shoot from horseback like a man."

*(NB: Marrying one's cousin is not a prerequisite for pro-feminism)

According to Wiki, Freya Stark died in 1993, aged 100 years old. I expect she was pleased that she hadn't sat knitting and baking cupcakes for the first half of her life...

But I'm digressing. Anyway, what I'm illustrating, by the examples above, is that women got all the big splashy stories and reviews and attention-grabbing headlines in the 1930s. Men, like the unworthy George Bernard Shaw and Horace Thorogood, got shoved into small fonts and margins.

Makes you wonder what the gender of the editors and typesetters were at the time too.

I expect the male editors and typesetters were all away, peeling turnips in the trenches and stuff, or pushing up the daisies after last time.

However, in her review, Sylvia Lynd quotes Mary Allen's writing at the time in 1934, who feared that women were taking their 'new opportunities' too lightly and for granted:

'They have made little, she thinks, of their opportunities since they became voters. Are they able, "with their superior bodily health and mental training" she asks, to accomplish anything that their grandmothers could not do?'

Sylvia Lynd retaliates and points out that women had plenty at the time in 1934 to take pride in, including the Women's Institute and other societies that promoted health, welfare, comradeship, and prevented 'mental anarchy' in British culture.

Not to mention the ability to shove George Bernard Shaw and poor Mr Horace Thorogood into a smaller column of the newspaper.

But like Mary Allen was saying in 1934, today in 2014, eighty years on, those things like the ability to vote, knit a Women's Institute flag, bake a non-anarchist Victoria Sponge, and belittle the menfolk, aren't enough to satisfy the alpha-females among us.

Today, women want to be back in the big fonts and the wider columns. But surely, the daily schedule-obsessives cry, if you're dedicated to journalism and pursuing the media, you don't have time to be doing all the world-travelling and Prime-Minister-bothering and research and advocacy and awareness, that the likes of Mary Allen and Freya Stark were getting up to?

Well, Mary Allen pursued the media to the extent that she could appear in ten British broadsheet newspapers in ONE DAY. She also wrote numerous books on her life and career as a self-appointed Women's Police Commandant, replied to every article about herself in the 'Letters' section of every newspaper (trust me, I've got them right here), had inappropriate crushes on fascist dictators (who gave her autographed and dedicated photographs of themselves left, right and centre, like members of a dodgy international underground boy-band), and she trained women police around the globe.

Freya Stark had twenty-five books published in her lifetime. And lived to be a hundred.

Imagine if you lived that long and only sat blogging about how little recognition women get instead of becoming passionate about something, maybe doing a little research, politely bothering a few individuals, and possibly going out and doing something about it...

A little PM-bothering of my own...

Maybe Mary Allen managed all of that because she wasn't raising children, you pipe up? No. Instead she recruited and helped to train tens of thousands of women in the UK and beyond, most of them educated, well-heeled, fashionable ladies, some who drove their own cars and flew their own planes. I wonder how many sickies she had to cover...

Junior attempts to throw a sicky. Think this is extreme? She's only home-schooled...

I'm led to believe that there are a couple of TV researchers out there at the minute who would love to get their hands on Mary Allen's hoarded stuff handed down through her family, which quite literally hasn't seen the light of day since the 1950s. I'd share more of it otherwise, but you get the general gist.

And there'd be no point posting it where any savvy researcher could nab it for free, while her descendants are still surviving on only the reduced salad dressings from Marks&Spencer on their Lidl's gravadlax and caviar, and I can't afford to give Junior pocket money to save up towards the impending parkour/zombie apocalypse.

Nothing makes a dangerous outdoor sport safer than doing it one-handed with a camera...

All I can say is, if you can get through half of what I've had to get through so far about Mary Allen and women's rights, glorified by early 20th Century women journalists in articles such as the ones above in REALLY BIG FONTS while the men get teeny tiny crappy ones, without turning the TV onto 'Dave' and mainlining Jeremy Clarkson and Sean Kelly to restore your sanity, you're a better pro-feminist than I am :)

Speaking of which, must be nearly time for Top Gear. And those fancy dress outfits don't sew themselves...

Happy Easter. Screw the media. Remember to get out more :) xxx

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