Tag Archives: Peter Slipper

Gender Wars

During the 1990s, I spent a lot of time researching the world of ‘first wave feminism’ for a biography of a woman called Maria Rye.  Maria was one of a number of middle class women who come together to campaign for women’s issues in the 1850s.  They started a club at Langham Place in London, published the English Woman’s Journal, and lobbied for improvements in women’s conditions: better employment opportunities, property rights for married women, access to higher education, and the right to vote.

The Langham Place group were gradualists; they didn’t throw themselves in front of horses or go on hunger strike, but argued their case rationally through public forums, petitions and the press.  There’s an essay on them on the Oxford Dictionary of National Biography website, for those with access to the site (outside the UK, it is only available to subscribers).

One of their leaders was Bessie Rayner Parkes (1829-1925).  Bessie’s father, Joseph Parkes, was the editor of the London Morning Chronicle and an ‘election agent’ for the Liberal Party – essentially a political fixer.  Like most men, he loved his strong willed daughter – but he was not a feminist.  His letters to her, now in the Bessie Rayner Parkes collection in Girton College, Cambridge, are wonderful: juicy with political gossip, lively accounts of a happy father-daughter relationship.  He treated her as his intellectual equal, supported her in many of her campaigns – but he drew the line at political equality for women.

I can’t find my notes from nearly 20 years ago, so I can only summarise, but the gist of his concern was to warn Bessie not to go too far on the path to equality because, he said, ‘You don’t realise how much men hate women.’  Decent men protected and cherished women, he said, as long as they stayed outside the public sphere, but if they ventured into it, those constraints of decency would fall away, and men would make women the objects of their hatred.

In a week when the Taliban in Pakistan have shot a 14-year-old girl because she wanted an education, it’s important to calibrate levels of misogyny.  But in terms of civil and legal status, the position of women in 1850s Britain was not greatly different from that of women in the Swat Valley today.

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5 Sex Scandals in Australian politics that didn’t make a blind bit of difference

Australians don’t do political sex scandals terribly well.  Perhaps it’s because Australia is a very secular society, and a good dose of Protestant prurience or Catholic guilt helps – Berlusconi’s strippers dressed as nuns.  And while not a classless society, few of our children spend their formative years in boarding schools under the rule of Matron, like the children of the British elite.  As for the French, in My Fair Lady Henry Higgins said that ‘The French don’t care what they do, actually, as long as they pronounce it properly’ – but even they seem finally to be taking Dominique Strauss-Kahn seriously.

Our current scandal involving the Speaker, Peter Slipper, rates a bit higher than usual, though it hardly scales the heights of Monica Lewinsky, John Edwards or most of the poor fools outed by News of the World over the years.  It is unusual though, because it (allegedly) involves homosexual, not heterosexual, activity, and because, since the numbers in the House of Representatives are so tight, it might actually bring down a government.

In the 19th century, Australian politics had its fair share of sexual hanky panky, but I can’t think of any that brought down an administration.  So here, for your delectation and delight, are 5 sex scandals that didn’t make a blind bit of difference to the stability of government. Continue reading