Missing Elements

Rosalind Mitchison

  • Strategic Women: How do they manage in Scotland? by Elizabeth Gerver and Lesley Hart
    Aberdeen University Press, 216 pp, £9.95, June 1991, ISBN 0 08 037741 6
  • A Guid Cause: The Women’s Suffrage Movement in Scotland by Leah Leneman
    Aberdeen University Press, 304 pp, £11.95, June 1991, ISBN 0 08 041201 7
  • Marriage and Property: Women and Marital Customs in History edited by Elizabeth Craik
    Aberdeen University Press, 192 pp, £6.95, June 1991, ISBN 0 08 041205 X
  • A Woman’s Claim of Right in Scotland
    Polygon, 142 pp, £7.95, August 1991, ISBN 0 7486 6103 4
  • Nationalism in the Nineties edited by Tom Gallagher
    Polygon, 192 pp, £7.95, August 1991, ISBN 0 7486 6098 4
  • Cultural Weapons: Scotland and Survival in a New Europe by Christopher Harvie
    Polygon, 119 pp, £7.95, March 1992, ISBN 0 7486 6122 0
  • Literature and Nationalism edited by Vincent Newey and Ann Thompson
    Liverpool, 286 pp, £27.50, June 1991, ISBN 0 85323 057 9
  • The Invention of Scotland: The Stuart Myth of the Scottish Identity, 1638 to the present by Murray Pittock
    Routledge, 198 pp, £30.00, September 1991, ISBN 0 415 05586 5
  • Scotland: A New History by Michael Lynch
    Century, 499 pp, £18.99, August 1991, ISBN 0 7126 3413 4

In all our sets of mental pigeonholes there is one labelled ‘don’t bother’. It contains groups of people and of ideas to which we have decided not to pay attention. These books, in one way or another, relate to such groups.

Women are an obvious case. Yet, except in societies which kill off female babies or starve small girls, they cannot be dismissed as a minority. In all sorts of issues there is now official equality in rights between the sexes. Women really have the vote, nominally equal employment rights, and are recipients of health care, social security and advertisements for financial services. Even building societies have had to accept that they may hold mortgages. But there is still some exclusion of women’s activities from public acknowledgment. A woman who cares for other people’s children contributes to ‘national income’; one who cares for her own does not. When a man marries his housekeeper ‘national income’ is reduced. Till a few years ago the annual volume of statistics for Scotland classified the work-force in various industries under two heads, ‘total’ and ‘male’: was this an example of an extreme prudery which could not bring itself to use the word ‘female’? Most women who have jobs are not aware that their job will not be that recorded under ‘occupation’ at the registration of their death.

Aberdeen University Press has, with a flourish, produced a group of books on women’s affairs in Scotland. Strategic Women gives the views and experiences of a selection of women well placed in various careers. They have made it. Presumably at some point they came for a while up against the promotional block set by men convinced that it is in the interests of their particular organisation to recruit its higher ranks from only half of the available talent, yet their responses are surprisingly cheerful. There is an important qualification to their success story, however: less than half of them have children. It seems unlikely that a similar survey of successful men would reveal such a level of participation in family life.

A Guid Cause covers two sections of the pigeonhole: for the past, women, and for the present, Scotland. British historians of the struggle for the vote have concentrated on the English story. After all, political life culminates in London, so what is seen from London can be taken as the true picture. This view forgets the number of leading politicians who then sat for Scottish seats and had to keep up with Scottish events.

In the 19th century, Scottish political life concentrated on issues completely different from those paraded in England, so the view from London was then particularly distorting. On the issue of votes for women, the two countries drew together, but there were still differences. The power of the Church was much greater in Scotland, and at various levels the Scottish Church gave support to the movement. The most unexpected feature of the Scottish story was the organisation of male support. This came relatively late, when party views had become rigid, so it had little direct effect: but it meant that some of the delegations to London could not be totally ignored since they were of voters and in important seats. The violence of the women’s movement then, mild and ladylike as it was compared to more recent expressions of discontent, marks the important fact, now recognised, that those systematically excluded from political life have no obligation to respect political decisions.

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