As you all know, the Bristol Women’s Literature Festival was set up to combat cultural femicide and we do everything we can to try and protest it and promote women’s creativity and history.
That’s why our founder has started a petition on Change.org to try and raise awareness of cultural femicide and how it plays a part in the recent decision to include seven men and only two women in the design for the new UK passports.
Cultural femicide is the process from which women are erased from our cultural landscape. The impact of it is to make women’s achievements, creativity, and historical importance invisible. And when women are invisible, that means women role models are lost, women’s revolutions and causes are lost, and the fact that women have shaped our society, our past, our present and our future is ignored.
Cultural femicide therefore has a huge impact on gender equality.
The UK Passport Office has announced its new design for our new passports. The pages of the passport are dedicated to celebrating great cultural figures and landmarks throughout history. And yet, only two of those figures are women: Elizabeth Scott and Ada Lovelace. Meanwhile, there are seven men.
What message does this send? That women’s achievements are secondary. That history belongs to great men, that we can’t celebrate an equal number of women and men on something as simple and yet as fundamental as a passport design.
Think of all the women who could have featured on the pages of your passport – women who have made significant contributions and who have changed the cultural, medical and political landscape of the UK. Suffragettes such as the Pankhursts, Emily Davidson and Sophia Duleep Singh. The women who changed and shaped history, such as Mary Seacole, Caroline Norton, Mary Wollstonecraft. The women who have had such an impact on culture and politics, Barbara Castle, Nancy Astor, Claudia Jones, Doreen Lawrence, Shami Chakrabati, Beatrice Webb, Millicent Fawcett. Scientific pioneers like Rosalind Franklin and Elizabeth Garret Anderson.
Then there are the writers and publishers: the Bronte sisters, Virginia Woolf, Jean Rhys, Aphra Behn, Jane Austen, Malorie Blackman, Mary Prince, George Eliot. The artists: Barbara Hepworth, Angelica Kauffmann, Leonora Carrington, Pauline Boty.
The list goes on and on and on. Perhaps you can add your own when you sign the petition.
In response to criticism that there were only two women in the design, Mark Thomson said that people were always going to want their favourite icon or rock star in the design.
But that’s not what we’re asking. We’re not asking for a specific, for a special favourite. We’re just asking to be present. We’re just asking for the cultural and historical achievements of women to be recognised. We’re not niche; we’re half the population. Our contributions to history and politics and science and the arts should not be side-lined but celebrated.
The continued erasure of women from our cultural spotlight has a huge impact on gender equality. It sends a message that the achievements of women and the influence we have had don’t matter. Are secondary. Are not as good, not as significant, not as important, as the achievements of men.
This erasure of women’s history has to stop. This is a chance to stop it.
Mark Thomson – please reconsider. Please re-consult on this design. This is your chance to make a stand for women’s representation. Please include more women in the design for the new passport. Let’s celebrate the contributions of women at the same time as we celebrate the contributions of men.
As the founder and director of the Bristol Women’s Literature Festival, this issue has special significance to me. But it is an issue for all women – an issue to say enough to cultural femicide, and to celebrate women’s lives.