gillpolack (gillpolack) wrote,

telegraph operators

Life is full of the most curious juxtapositions. I wanted to argue and argue with a couple of friends this week for their assumption on reading a story of mine that the woman protagonist was somehow in the 1950s (this is where I say gloomily "You know who you are?") but I realised that it was just that we had very different perceptions of women's history. The 1950s was not quite what stereotypes have it as (nor what Mr Howard would like it to have been), and the history of women was not as bleak as stereotypes often say.

And here is where the happy coincidence happens. Thomas Jepsen sent me a site for Women's History month and it is all about women telegraph operators. OK, so it is not 1950s. But it is about work undertaken by women at a time when the modern popular stereotype limits that work to a very few areas. I have seen a lot more comments on girls as factory fodder and rural teachers than I have seen celebrations of women as telegraph operators.

This is *exactly* the sort of thing I was referring to when I suggested we need to see the past differently. Women have always been fabulous and done cool things. The thing about the fifties woman comment is that it is accepting a stereotype (in this case that working from home and cooking dinner = being a housewife, I think).

Anyhow, enjoy the women telegraph operators!

They made me think from a science fiction point of view. In SF stories what range of roles are women given? What does that say about the writer? Especially Asimov. Especially Asimov at age 18, in letter-writing mode. Check here:

One day I am going to go through the most influential SF authors and make an index of how even-handed they are to women. In honour of speshal_k it shall be called the DAMN Feminist index. It will list how many female characters in a novel or story, how many male characters, how many female characters as the chief dynamic in plot points, how many male characters as the chief dynamic in plot points, factoring in, of course, whether the plot point is major (saving the world) or minor (feeding someone who is about to save the world), and, in the world created by the book, how many occupations such as telegraph operators are held by women on a regular basis (not replacing a defunct father or brother with great courage in an emergency, for instance). I just did this informally for Babylon 5, and men still occupy more of the major stuff than women, and B5 was impressively even-handed compared with other SF shows. And that was the 90s, not the 50s.

Telegraph operators are important. Putting them into our fiction so that people can see how important they are and remember to look for them is also important. And yes, I am over-reacting to the comments on my story. This is intentional, because I wanted to use the comments to make a point. A lot of the "women in the home" stuff is part of a created memory of the past, and doesn't reflect what actually happened. It may well reflect who was given credit for what happened, but that is a different matter.

When you are creating your SF or fantasy worlds and when you are thinking of matters historical, remember those women who operated telegraphs and kept far-flung communities together and railways safe.

You can tell I am not teaching right now: I am all kinds of didactic.
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