Whether women are the equal of men has been endlessly debated. Whether they have souls is a moot point. But can it be too much to ask for a definitive acknowledgement that at least they are animals?”
Speaking on Woman’s Hour today Bourke compared three crimes committed before the Times printed the letter. There was a grizzly incident in which a man plucked out his wife’s eye and was sentenced to 4 months in prison. A husband who had pushed his wife under the wheels of a dray, crushing her to death, received 3 months in prison. And a man who punched another man then stole his watch who was sentenced to 7 years in penal servitude and 40 lashes. Had the women involved been animals the men’s sentences would have been harsher. Bourke also puts the letter into context with the Contagious diseases act, passed in the 1860s giving policemen the right to stop any woman on the street he suspected of prostitution and force her to undergo a genital examination to determine if she were carrying any VD. This book is most definitely going on my Amazon wish list.
You can listen to Jane Garvey interview Joanne Bourke on Women’s Hour 26 minutes in. It is apparently available until 2099, so be quick.
‘What it means to be Human’ is published on 6th October 2011