Sunday, 18 September 2011

A response to David Mitchell

In his column for the Review section of today's Observer, David Mitchell opined on how "ridiculous" it is that Julian Fellowes - writer of Downton Abbey - is angry about his wife being denied a hereditary title due to the fact that she's a woman:
"He's being ridiculous. I can't imagine how perfect everything else on earth would have to be – how full the world's bellies, how peaceful and prosperous the political outlook, how cured cancer – before it would be worth turning our attention to the fact that aristocratic women have fewer claims on meaningless courtesy titles than their brothers."

Um, yeah. Where to begin?

To start with, it's not to do with class: whether members of the aristocracy or gutter-dwellers, women's entitlement to equality shouldn't be marred by snobbery, or in Mitchell's case, contempt for the upper classes. This isn't a question of the whims of the aristocracy, it's a question of principle: the fact that we're talking about aristocratic titles musn't distract from the fact that this is an example of sexism that's written into our constitution. In a country that prides itself on pluralism, and the preservation of a strong and stable democracy, what's really "ridiculous" is that such ancient, established sexism can still be enshrined in law.

In dismissing the issue, Mitchell is perfectly illustrating a male - or even a human - tendency to disregard women's rights in the face of questions that are closer to their hearts; Mitchell's preoccupation with Fellowes and Downton, with its glamourising of social injustice, takes precedence over his consideration of a women's natural right to gender equality, in every sector of society. It's inconsiderate and, frankly, lazy to suggest that equality doesn't matter in light of all the bad things in the world; cancer, starvation in Africa, (god knows why this is on the list of things blighting the world but...) the political situation - these issues don't just magically cancel out every other lesser issue that faces us.
With that logic, we would all be walking round without shoes on, because "people in India can't afford shoes"; or choosing never to eat because "people in Africa are starving". The government could get away with just giving up on governing Britain, armed with the argument that there's bigger things to worry about, like, you know, orphans in Africa. The coalition have given up their day jobs; they're going to spend their time thinking really, really hard about the victims of AIDs. Because that would help.

The point is, this is an issue, like so many seemingly minor issues that face us daily, that we can actually tackle. Those of us - like Mitchell - who don't have degrees in medicine or bioengineering are never going to cure cancer or solve world hunger; what columnists and national figures like Mitchell can do is throw their weight behind achievable change. For god's sake, trivialising sexism - sexism that's built into our labyrinth-like constitution no less! - is such a waste of exquisite column space. A column in the Observer - can you imagine what you could do with that? Think, David, darling: you have a vehicle for achieving change, an articulate and witty voice that can be heard across the country. Use it for something better than rubbishing women's rights.

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