Friday, 8 March 2013

On Books and Women

Yesterday was World Book Day (leading to a slew of panicked posts on facebook starting with ‘My child’s just told me they have to dress up as a book character!’ and ending with, ‘I’ll send him as a normal boy, then,’ or ‘I’ve spent all night making mouse ears.’)

Today, it’s International Women’s Day, I’m told.

I can understand World Book Day. Not everyone is exposed to that many books. Even now children still manage to slip through school without ever learning to read, and adults get by day by day without society knowing they can’t do much more than spell their own name. You have to admire their resilience. I’d imagine that anyone clever enough to hide their illiteracy would be clever enough to learn to read, given the right encouragement. So promoting books and reading is an excellent thing. As a writer, I certainly believe in anything that encourages a person to pick up a book.

Books have only been around for the last two hundred years or so – and by that I don’t mean all books. I don’t mean the Lindisfarne Gospels or the contents of the British Library or Bibles and prayer books. I mean books. The kind of books that exploded with the advent of the railways, with W. H. Smiths setting up on stations, with Dickens writing books that went out in serialised chunks, where the next exciting instalment was waited for with baited breath by readers on the other side of the Atlantic. Books you can push into your pocket. Books you stack up in the bathroom to read in those private moments. Books in piles by your bed, books teetering out of the bookshelves, because books are cheap, books are easy to get hold of, books are given away free with newspapers and sold for pennies in charity shops, and lent and borrowed and read until the spines cracked, and then replaced because it’s that cheap and easy to do so.

But women, to my understanding, have been around for – well, take your pick. When exactly do you choose the moment that homo sapiens broke away from their relatives? Wikipedia, the fount of all human knowledge, tells me that ‘Archaic Homo sapiens,the forerunner of anatomically modern humans, evolved between 400,000and 250,000 years ago.’ So we’ve been there for a while. And that’s not forgetting that females didn’t pop into existence when homo sapiens decided to branch out and become its own species. Women have been on this earth for as long as men have been on this earth. Every person that has been born has encountered a woman at some point in their life.

Suffragettes on Bow Street,1913 (Leonard Bentley, flickr)
So why do we need a special day for women? Wikipedia, again, tells us that, ‘the sex ratio for the entire world population is 101 males to 100females.’ So there we are. I don’t think one extra man to every 100 females makes us exactly a minority. It probably makes for one disappointed man, but not much more than that. I don’t want to be hoist aloft for one day of the year and told that I’m special, that my opinion counts, that I’m worth my place in the world. I want this to be the reality every day, not because I’m female, but because I’m a person. Let’s not have one day a year of lauding women’s rights. Let’s not have feminism or girl power or reminders that we are special. We’re no more special than anyone else. How about 365 days of respecting everyone’s rights?


  1. definitely, women shouldn't have to have a day, I was pretty bothered about that too. first off no one even acknowledges it except a puny protest in D.C., second, it's not accomplishing anything. I think the problem is that women are thought of as a minority [though they're not] and treated as one [though they shouldn't be].

    1. Have you noticed how whenever there's a group of say, ten people, if three or four are women it starts to look like there are more women than men? It's weird. It really is as if women are actually a minority and so when they appear there seem to be more of them. How does that even happen?

    2. among adults, groups/friends tend to be homogenous in gender with a few exceptions...otherwise things get complicated. unless you're a college girl [who isn't me] and they're your drinking buddies/ you're trying to look cool.