Saturday 25 July 2020

Mrs America and the ERA

Mrs America’ is a great ride. It is produced by FX in the USA. The acting is engrossing and persuasive. The script is taut and witty. The politics detailed. And it more or less looks like the 1970s. It concerns the progress of the Equal Rights Amendment in the USA at the time of active names such as Gloria Steinem (for) and Phyllis Schlafly (against).

But, I asked my husband, note the irony, what makes some women fight against the rights of (all) women? What makes one happily married conservative woman tread all over the advancements other women are making for the betterment of all adult females? 

He wasn’t sure. But, when watching Mrs America, the twin set and pearls brigade have really got the bit between their teeth. Why don’t they want equal rights with men? 

One of the arguments is that they don’t agree with abortion. And some ERA ( Equal Rights Amendment) lobbyists wanted safe abortion and a woman’s right to choose to be part of the ERA package. 

Baptists and other religious groups wouldn’t agree to abortion and they saw ERA as a link with casual sex ie an immoral act in their view. Some antifeminists have argued that feminism has resulted in changes to society's previous norms relating to sexuality, which they see as detrimental to traditional values.

Others felt that the man should be head of the household. Equal rights for women didn’t seem like equality to them but a search for power over men. Others believed their daughters would be drafted into the armed forces if they were recognised as equal to men.

Some antifeminists believed the ERA showed a denial of the differences between men and women and this change in people went against their biology. 

Antifeminists also frequently argued that feminism ignores rights issues unique to men. 

I haven’t yet read, anywhere, that antifeminists actively believe men to be superior to women. But the above women felt lesbians, gays, trans and other groups we now call LGBT were perverts and openly used that derogatory term to define LGBT.

It seems that to be antifeminist you believe the ideal happy family unit of father as head of the household and mother keeping house with children in tow would be endangered if women had equal rights alongside men.

Hence the battle for the Equal Rights Amendment Act. 

My mother, born 1924, supported my father financially through his university years. Yes. She went to work so that he could study. She said to me, more than once, ‘be independent of marriage, if needs be.’ Mum wasn’t against marriage but believed women should be able to earn enough ‘to be independent of marriage’. If needs be. She was an early feminist. 

In 1977 in the USA the ERA was on its way to being ratified until conservative, wealthy mother of six, Phyllis Schlafly, (brilliantly played by Cate Blanchett in ‘Mrs America’ ) protested with her conservative women followers in opposition to the ERA. These women argued that the ERA would 

1 disadvantage housewives 

2 cause women to be drafted into the armed forces 


3 lose protections such as post-divorce financial settlements for the woman and eliminate the tendency for mothers to obtain custody over their children in divorce cases.

But the ERA sought to end the legal distinctions between men and women in matters of employment, property and divorce. 

In the late 1970s five state legislatures (Idaho, Kentucky, Nebraska, Tennessee, and South Dakota) voted to revoke their ERA ratifications. Supporters of the ERA point to the lack of a specific guarantee in the Constitution for equal rights protections on the basis of sex. Amazingly the amendment has been reintroduced in every session of Congress since 1982.

As of January 2020, over 40 years since Schlafly argued against ERA, the bill had 224 co-sponsors.The House passed H.J. Res. 79 (Removing the deadline for the ratification of the equal rights amendment. 116th Congress [2019-2020] Committees: House - Judiciary) on February 13, 2020. So the ERA is still being fought.

On January 15, 2020, Virginia became the latest state to ratify the Equal Rights Amendment (ERA), a proposed amendment to the Constitution that guarantees equal rights for women. The required 38 states have now agreed to the ERA. A technical question over whether the required number agreed within an acceptable time frame is holding up the progress of the ERA. Republicans in the Senate are in no rush to ratify the ERA, it seems. And since the five above-mentioned states acted to rescind their prior approval the ERA is enjoying a revival - along with the much newer ‘Times Up’ #me too movements - but it is still not LAW in the USA.

And it’s not all fun and games for women in the UK. The Equal Pay Act of 1970 should have led to parity for women here. Iceland is ranked as the nation closest to achieving gender parity, having closed 88% of its gender gap, followed by Norway (84.2%), Finland (83.2%) and Sweden (82%). 

The World Economic Forum (WEF) said Albania, Canada, Costa Rica, Latvia, Switzerland, South Africa and Spain had all overtaken the UK in closing the gender gap in politics, economics, health and education since the 2018 audit. The WEF said the UK performed poorly because women were sparsely represented in politics – and on average men were still paid more than women.

I quote from the WEF’s findings on the global gender gap (as reported in Rupert Neate’s piece in The Guardian at the end of 2019):

“At the slow speed experienced over the period 2006–2020, it will take 257 years to close this gap.”

Friday 10 July 2020

Order groceries-check.Paint shed-check.Exercise-erm....

When lockdown began and friends said they were staying in for three months - which seemed like oceans of time - I made a mental list of all the things I could do in that twelve week block. And, of course, some on my list have been achieved. Alas, others haven’t even seen daylight. 

I remember one gorgeous, hot morning in early April. All three neighbouring houses were living their lives in their gardens. Johnson had already succumbed to coronavirus and my neighbours and I were discussing, over the garden fence, whether it would change his opinion of the NHS, which was saving his life, and turn support for it into reality. I was cynical.I doubted it. And I happily went about painting our shed in a smart shade of teal.

Over the next few days I managed to get new fence panels and a bench similarly painted. Richard dug up surplus plants which I sold from our garden gate - with hand sanitiser available - for charity. I had lots of energy at the start of lockdown. I saw other neighbours were giving away tomato plants, which I couldn’t easily get hold of, for a variety of reasons. So I collected them without hesitation and shared them. Walking up and down the middle of empty roads with my shopping trolley in the baking heat. Trading plants for other goods. This felt like being in another country. A different age.

And then the hard work started: I had sown dwarf French beans and courgettes. I also wanted to plant seed potatoes and broad beans. The ground, if you recall, was getting drier and drier. Thankfully we have a 120 foot hose. But digging in the heat on rock hard soil with my age-old back issue was challenging. 

Richard helped carry heavy pots on to the patio for me and I weeded our front garden too. But I had a fear. The fear of how we were going to feed ourselves since our local supermarket had failed to give us delivery slots despite the fact we were ‘priority’ customers. Much of my time in April was spent finding local suppliers who would deliver dairy ( Fine Cheese Company) beans and pulses ( Scoops) and flour, yeast, my favourite yogurt and ice cream ( Farm shops) and the dreaded disinfectant. I was lucky that our local WhatsApp group was truly supportive. They suggested other farm shops that delivered bulk items and they added my requirements to their own shopping lists. Our corner shop couldn’t cope with the rules of social distancing and its doors closed. It truly was hard trying to plan for simple things like getting in milk, butter and eggs. It had become second nature to pop to our little corner shop for such items. And trying to get the weekend Guardian or Observer was a fretful affair.

Also on my list of things to get done during lockdown was to 
a) learn how to make decent gravy instead of the hit-and-miss concoctions I was serving 
b) to get my writing out to competitions 
c) to encourage Richard to get painting again and
d) to sort boxes and boxes in our study bedroom and guest bedroom and sell some books.

It has taken me until the last fortnight to get my writing and culinary sauces honed to perfection. But I can safely tick them off my list. I even managed to get my w/e newspaper delivery sorted. Again, with great thanks to neighbours.

Throughout April and early May I was possibly over-concerned about our food requirements. And I had too much time for bright ideas. For instance I recall getting very tired taking books to sell to our front gate every morning. It was on top of hardening off dwarf French beans, tomatoes and courgettes. By 29th May I had put on 4 lb in weight but at least all my plants were in their growing positions and the garden was looking truly cared for. And I’d sold surplus books and plants and made money for charity.

Another friend was supplying me with heavy bags of bark, compost and gravel and he created legs for my raised beds so that I didn’t have to bend to weed them. But I needed to go for walks! The beauty of true summer afternoons is that you can sit in a deck chair, book and glass in hand, and simply enjoy the bees buzzing in the laburnum tree overhead. I’d achieved a lot by early June but I wasn’t keeping fit nor taking my permitted walks. I liked sitting under the tree too much. 

By late May my supermarket finally offered me regular delivery slots and the strain of not knowing what space to keep in the freezer nor of knowing which foods to reorder via neighbours was beginning to evaporate. And then the rains came. I managed to get a cold from hosting friends in our garden in the threatening drizzle. I think temperatures had dropped by 15 degrees or more over a couple of nights. But I was getting grocery deliveries! And I was doing zoom pub quizzes, zoom book group and online arty submissions. 

But I never did get around to doing a lot of sorting of boxes in our study and guest bedroom. Even in the wet weather I chose to do my exercises and sort recipes which would help me lose weight rather than go through paperwork. And because I’d got tired running the house and garden as well as being my husband’s carer and cook I took up my neighbours’ offer - they run a take away fish shop - to deliver to me on Fridays. Friends and I gathered at a distance in my garden for fish & chips,  or pizza instead, to help support the local pub. Take aways released me from cooking. And safe socialising outdoors was the way forward. 

At the end of June the speak-your-weight machine at our surgery told me that Richard was a lot healthier. His weight and blood pressure were excellent. But in feeding him up I’d overfed myself. Since my own terrible results told me I was too heavy I’ve lost weight again and have taken up a stricter exercise regime. My BMI is healthier too. But it’s all too easy to take your eye off the ball.

You would think that earthing up potatoes and doing gardening jobs, cleaning, cooking, walking to the chemist and taking Richard’s morning meals up two flights of stairs to him would take off the weight. I believe it would if I didn’t succumb to eating my homemade bread, apple crumble and carrot cake. I still have to learn the hard way, it seems.

From the beginning of July grocery shopping has been an altogether more relaxed activity. And local farm shop and meat deliveries have helped enormously. And from last week our corner shop reopened. That means I have choices and don’t now have to order goods to last a month. At one point I had a spread sheet showing all the groceries in our freezer, fridges and kitchen cupboards and how many freezer drawers were full or free. There are only two of us. It was like the planning  required when feeding an army.

I can be excused, then, from not ticking off everything on my ‘to do’ list. As lockdown eases, albeit temporarily, and my garden plants flower ( against the odds) and the home-grown veg is ready for picking one is apt to forget the efforts required to get to this point. At one time I thought my borders and patio were to be devoid of colour for most of 2020. But I was wrong. I thought I’d run out of milk. I was wrong. I thought we wouldn’t see friends again for a drink. I was wrong. I thought I wouldn’t manage running our house, home and garden. I was wrong. I thought I couldn’t make gravy. I was wrong.

Lockdown has given me the time to concentrate. I’ve managed to read for bookgroup, do my writing, submit some of my own art work even, and keep a roof over our heads. We haven’t gone without.
And this time of quiet and calm has made me appreciate my neighbours and neighbourhood. What kindly, supportive folk they are.

I am already missing the empty, traffic-free roads. I miss the Thursday evening clapathon. I miss ice cream left on my front step and bags of veg and cream teas from neighbours. And I miss sitting on my deckchair under my tree in the heat. But I don’t miss the uncertainty. Never again do I want to worry where my next litre of milk is coming from.

Next on my ‘to do’ list (still): sort those bloody boxes in our spare rooms...

Wednesday 8 July 2020

Happy 80th Ringo

It’s 7:00 a.m. as I write. I have been watching Ringo Starr’s 80th birthday ‘Peace & Love’ bash on You Tube. Why so early? The cat woke me up and the link to the lockdown concert was in my inbox. Good on yer Ringo. And he’s looking pretty good.

Which makes me think that of all the Beatles he’s not the one I’d have thought would still be making headlines when I was first aware of them as a little girl. He was, as a drummer, at the back! John was the front man and up to all sorts. Paul was co-anchor and he’s still going strong. But my favourite was always George. ‘While my guitar gently weeps’ and ‘Something’ are beautiful songs. When Concert for Bangladesh and ‘My Sweet Lord’ were released I was on the cusp of my teenage years. And it’s a magical feeling listening to these pieces from 1971. The songs are joyful and I was youthful. Those feelings can’t be bettered.

Watching the BBC’s Wimbledon Rewind - especially the Billy Jean King v Ann Jones match when Jones won the championship - was electric. Less so Virginia Wade’s win over Betty Stover. A much less exciting final. There was an incredible lack of energy which King and Jones had in bucket loads. And I remember willing Ann Jones on. She was a girl from the Midlands like me. At the time Billy Jean was, like Serena Williams now, winning everything. But on that day in 1969 it was a fantastic watch. And a championship win for Ann Jones was invigorating.

This week I saw the famous Nadal v Federer final on TV. This I’d heard such a lot about but, thank you BBC, the first time I’d seen it. Wimbledon Rewind has been great for missed matches. That brings me to pondering on what I was doing when these finals were being played.

For King v Jones I was still at school.
For Wade v Stover I was glad my final exams for my first degree were all over.
And it was the Queen’s jubilee in the week of my practical exams in the botany labs. Thank goodness all that’s a long time past. In my stubbornness I’d chosen science A levels and a science degree when I should have studied A level English meaning I would have truly shone at university.  I got a grade A in English. Yep. Odd decision. The heart of a scientist, the soul of an artist.

But for the 2008 Nadal v Federer final I was too busy to watch. I worked full time, paid the mortgage - and still enjoying what I thought was a very important job - raising children’s literacy levels - and there was little time for anything much besides during term time. No wonder I put on weight.

Irritatingly the build up to Borg v McEnroe  in the 1980 men’s finals is depicted in a sombre film of the same name released in 2017. I love seeing Borg - and Stefan Edberg - in the Wimbledon crowd. I don’t need to be told he was a misfit and I never finished watching that biopic. But I still have the the rewind match to watch. My, wasn’t McEnroe a New York brat? But a bloody good player. And these days so cheeky when he does the Wimbledon match commentary. He’s an interesting chap but was then under a lot of pressure to be no.1. The rock n roll at sixty biopic was a much more interesting portrayal of John McEnroe. I enjoy his narration and his tv presence much more now. And what was I doing in 1980? I’d just started teaching and not yet worn out by government interference. Itching to run a faculty of my own. And I do remember willing Borg on. A great match then and now.

Billy Jean King was another interesting subject for a biopic in ‘The Battle of the Sexes.’ This was a sympathetic depiction. And she fought on and off the tennis court. Dare I say ‘fair play’ to her?

At the time I wanted her to lose. She seemed too powerful. Yet without her energy and determination women would be paid far less for winning at Wimbledon.

In the 1960s and 1970s, the tournament winnings for women tennis players were much lower than the men’s winnings. In 1971, Billie Jean became the first woman athlete to earn over $100,000 in prize money.

From the Los Angeles Times, 2019:-

(She) has been fighting for equal rights and equal pay for women since she started her tennis career as a 16-year-old out of Long Beach. When King won the U.S. Open in 1972, she received $10,000. The men’s champion that year, Ilie Nastase, was paid $25,000. King said she would not play the following year unless the prize money was equal, and in 1973 the U.S. Open became the first major tournament to award equal prize money for male and female champions. Wimbledon was the last Grand Slam event to follow suit in 2007, making tennis one of the few sports to pay men and women equally.

So it takes guts, power and terrific ability to be Billy Jean. No wonder she won so many matches. I admire both she and McEnroe although they dominated play back then. I’m sure I’ll change towards Serena Williams in the future when she too has stopped dominating centre court. Oddly I want Federer to carry on winning for ever more. I don’t mind his domination of tennis. That’s just an emotional response to personality, I guess.

And hasn’t it been lovely to listen to Dan Maskell’s commentary for the greatest of the Wimbledon finals? We were in a safe pair of hands back then. But can you imagine an umpire today shouting at the crowd ‘Can someone tell those people to be quiet.’ An arrogance of the All England Club. Little Britain. Little Elitism.

Nostalgia isn’t all good. And Happy 80th Ringo! Some folks have longevity and earn  great affection over the years. Ringo is one such.

Friday 3 July 2020

The New Yorker and why I’m staying in splendid isolation.

A fascinating article in The New Yorker from May 2020 showed the issues and hurdles with pre-testing covid-19 drugs. Like the UK money ( lots of it) has been wasted in buying or testing with kits which give false positives. Even distilled water gave a positive reading for covid-19 with one such kit!

The decision to drop the usual pre-testing safety checks with potential covid-19 kits is risky. Carry on the usual safety checks and trials and it can take months before a preparation is deemed fit for use. Hurry the process too fast and labs end up with a test kit that just isn’t reliable. It’s worse to be told you don’t have the virus when you do - false negative - but false positives lead to unnecessary stress and possible hospitalisation and bed obstruction.

Our own world-beating testing system announced with Johnson’s usual bon homie and chronic lack of caution is where, exactly? 
The US and the UK have the worst figures for death rates from covid-19. I wonder why. ( I know why and I think it shows how deep our class divides are as well as chaotic laboratory utilisation and lack of urgency.) Merkle’s a scientist and they have the labs and they reacted VERY quickly to covid-19 in Germany. The results and comparisons between the UK and Germany are clear to see.

I won’t be going to the pub on 4th July - tomorrow. In England we are no closer to having a workable test and trace system. Until we know who on the bus, in the queue behind us, or sitting next to us in a hostelry has the virus and is infectious we’re taking huge risks. A friend of the family has waited weeks to see his wife who was in intensive care and only able to blink after ICU interventions. Yes she caught covid-19 from someone coughing over her in a bus queue. Since then she’s been in rehab. She can walk but can barely use her arms. And she’s a good ten years younger than us. After months apart she went home yesterday and was impaired physically and very weary.

If patients survive the virus sedative drugs used while on ventilators can turn recovery into a state of confusion and distress. Survivors can suffer PTSD, anxiety and depression. This is exactly what my husband is suffering from now- completely non covid-19 related. He had three diagnoses requiring surgery over a two month period last year. The surgery was minor but the after effects caused psychosis.

Do I really want to risk his catching covid-19 and risking another bout of mental illness as well as the very real physical damage the virus can create? Of course not!

I’m not neurotic. During my first degree studying plant biology a whole lab where we did our pracs had to be shut down. A Ph.D student had left a petri dish lid slightly off the culture he was growing. Next morning every other experimental culture was killed by the fungus or bacterium he’d let loose, inadvertently. The labs were in lockdown. Viruses, likewise, need a host and they spread fast looking for a victim in which to replicate. They are not landing on me.

I shall continue to keep my social distance and protect my already-suffering husband until we have a test and trace system or a vaccine. Whichever is the sooner. Sitting outside seems fine. But what if - at a pub - a glass has been touched after washing? And I put that glass to my lips? I think the risks are too high.