Tuesday, 28 February 2017

Suffragettes in Trousers

I love Murdoch Mysteries, a television detective series set in early 1900s Toronto. Recently I enjoyed an episode (Victor, Victorian) which featured a group of women who regularly dressed up as men in order to experience the freedom of movement that men have. In their (not very convincing) disguises they went into clubs, they smoked and drank, they flagged down taxis. One character exclaimed excitedly about the attention and respect she received dressed as a man, which was clearly so very different from her usual experience.

It’s interesting to realise that in the UK women wearing trousers has been regarded as something controversial until very recently. It was not until 1995 that women barristers were allowed to wear trousers in court. Only four years later school girls were still being told that they could not wear trousers as part of their school uniforms. Forget that trousers are comfortable, practical, and allow freedom of movement, they were – and in some minds still are – what men wear. So it’s hardly surprising that when women seem to be breaking the rules about what women should and shouldn’t do, dress becomes a symbol of their dissent or disobedience, depending on your point of view. 

The dire results of women's emancipation - women in bloomers in the 1890s

You can see this in the case of the militant suffrage campaign. Between 1906 and 1914 women were doing all sorts of things usually held to be male preserves: attending and speaking up at political meetings, albeit at the risk of being brutally ejected; marching in demonstrations; addressing public meetings both indoors and out; and even using violence such as arson, window-breaking and assaults on politicians, to achieve their political ends. Inevitably, these female protestors were deemed to be unnatural, unsexed and mannish – and the quickest and clearest way to demonstrate their transgression was to depict them in trousers.


In fact, a few suffragettes did occasionally disguise themselves as men. In Bristol in 1913, Lilian Dove Wilcox dressed in “a soft felt hat, a dust coat, and trousers” to infiltrate a meeting of Bristol Liberal MP Charles Hobhouse. She was thrown out and “roughly treated” outside. (The Western Times, 22 June 1913). In Leeds in 1913 Lillian Lenton escaped from a house surrounded by police, dressed as a grocery-van boy. One suffragette, Clara Lambert, even had the audacity to enter the House of Commons dressed as a man – taking women’s determination to break out of the prison of imposed gender constrictions to the very heart of the male establishment.

Joan of Arc, a popular icon with suffragettes, in male attire.

You can read more about Clara Lambert and her Parliamentary escapade on the Dangerous Women Project blog. 

Friday, 24 February 2017

Silver Sound 24 February 2017: Dyslexia-Friendly Books

Today’s guests were Bristol crime thriller writer Helen Abbott (who writes as A A Abbott) and Alistair Sims, owner of the independent book shop, Books on the Hill in Clevedon, who talked about dyslexia-friendly books for adults.   

Helen has recently published two of her crime thrillers in dyslexia-friendly formats – The Bride’s Trail and The Vodka Trail. Helen explained that 10% of us have dyslexia and yet up until now no one has published dyslexia-friendly books for adults.   

Helen was inspired to produce her novels in a dyslexia-friendly format by Alistair Sims, who is himself dyslexic. People travel from miles around to buy dyslexia-friendly books for children and young adults from Books on the Hill, and Alistair is keen to see them printed for adults too. He’s also able to advise adult dyslexic readers and parents of dyslexic children on finding suitable reading material. In fact, whether you’re dyslexic or not, Alistair is happy to provide reading recommendations whatever your preferred genre – from fantasy to historical fiction to the classics…  

And dyslexia is no barrier to becoming a writer! Alistair is about to publish a collection of dark fantasy short stories. Other famous writing dyslexics include Jules Verne, Lewis Carroll and Octavia Estelle Butler. Actors Henry Winkler and Anthony Hopkins are also dyslexic, as was Picasso – and Einstein.  

As for what makes a dyslexia-friendly book, font design, font size, and the colour of the paper make a big difference, but so too does sentence structure. It does seem, however, that it is not difficult to produce dyslexia-friendly books, so perhaps it’s something in which independent authors like Helen can lead the way.

If you’d like to know what makes a dyslexia-friendly book, the British Dyslexia Association has produced a Style Guide, which also includes information on making websites accessible. You can find the Style Guide here.

Incidentally, I featured the music of The Kinks today – as I’m off to see Sunny Afternoon, the award-winning show about The Kinks’ rise to fame, soon – it’s on at the Bristol Hippodrome, 7 to 11 March!

Books on the Hill in Clevedon's website is here (and if you are dyslexic or have a query about dyslexia you can get in touch with Alistair through the website).

For more information on dyslexia see the British Dyslexia Association’s website

You can listen to a podcast of the show here (10 am to 11 am):-

Silver Sound is broadcast by BCfm Radio 93.2 fm between 10 am and mid day on Thursdays and Fridays. I’ll be back on the show on 31 March 2017 with another fabulous guest!