For a brief moment on Sunday morning I forgot what Mairi Kidd and Siobhán Parkinson were going to talk about, but as their chair Heather Parry reminded me, it was women. Mairi has written about 49 Scottish women in history in Warriors and Witches and Damn Rebel Bitches, while Siobhán’s slightly earlier book, Rocking the System, is about 20 Irish women.
Reading from their books, Mairi told the story about the doctor who turned out to have been a woman, while Siobhán chose her favourite of the twenty, a blood-guzzling woman who was first widowed at 15 before falling in love with a handsome man on a horse.
Siobhán – who published her book through the publishing company she started – couldn’t afford more than twenty women, as she wanted the book to be illustrated as well, and that’s as far as the money would go. Mairi seems to have struggled to keep it down to 49.
The chosen women didn’t have to be dead, but needed to be at least so old that what they had done was already in the past. Mairi pointed out that in Edinburgh there are more dog statues than statues of women. And also that before 1700 women’s voices appeared in writing much more than later, because of all the witch trials.
One question was who the two would choose from people living now, for a future version of their books. And who had they left out? In many cases some women had done similar things, in which case the most obvious one was picked. Asked who Mairi’s 50th would be, she reckons her grandmother. But she had put a long list at the back of her book, listing everyone she’d thought of but not been able to add.
Siobhán mentioned Bernadette Devlin, who had been in the news quite recently, and when Mairi said she can’t remember the 1970s, Siobhán can. She talked about an Ireland where contraceptives and divorces were illegal. She doesn’t believe things will go backwards now, but the state of things is not good.
We need to live the life we have, rather than the one we might wish for. We need to be a witness to what is going on.