‘What’s on TV tonight?’ – The Telegraph

Photo: BBC/Silver River

Photo: BBC/Silver River

The Ascent of Woman

BBC Two, 9.00pm; Wales, 11.15pm

By Catherine Gee

“There has never been a better time to be born a woman,” says Dr Amanda Foreman as she opens this four-part documentary series about the fairer sex. True, of course, but gender equality eludes women in many parts of the world and that is the premise of Foreman’s series – that the history of women is one of swings and reversions rather than a linear march of progress. She kicks off tonight’s opener with a fascinating explanation of the ebb and flow of women’s status through time – archaeological finds from Neolithic times in Anatolia, Turkey, for example, suggest a society in which women enjoyed near-equal status with men; ditto the ancient Sumerian culture in what is modern Iraq, until their privileges were stripped by Egyptian invaders in 2300 BC.

Dotted throughout are segments in which Foreman meets modern women from the areas she’s exploring to discuss the plight of their ancestors – it doesn’t bring intellectual weight to her argument, but their anecdotes do pack an emotional punch. Foreman is knowledgeable and her attention to historical detail impressive; it’s a compelling look at a subject worth exploring. VP

‘Pick of the day: The Ascent of Woman’ – The Sunday Times

Photo: Amanda Foreman

Photo: Amanda Foreman

The Ascent of Woman (BBC2, 9pm) 

The historian and biographer Dr Amanda Foreman really does want to rewrite history. In this series she sets out to show that a story of the world that excludes women “is an untruth that must be challenged.” In this first episode, titled Civilisation, her case studies include an Anatolian statue of a fleshy mother goddess, the Sumerian poet Enheduanna, who became the first author to be known by name, and the “ice maiden” preserved on the Russian steppe.

It is depressing, however, to see how quickly societies became obsessed with controlling women: the first law on veiling was written in Assyria 3,000 years ago; and it is hard to detect any female voices in ancient Athens because women, considered to be “imperfect”, were silenced. It is a serious look at a serious subject, its only gimmick a smart one: speaking to modern women from these grand civilisations about their feelings on the past and present.

‘Women’s equality dream comes true – 8,000 years ago’ – The Sunday Times

Photo: The Sunday Times

Photo: The Sunday Times

As a graduate student at Oxford I remember writing a throwaway sentence about Georgiana, Duchess of Devonshire, being a dilettante much addicted to “unhelpful dabbling” in politics. That was the standard line on her then: rich, pretty, oversexed, undereducated and willing to trade kisses for votes on behalf of the Whig party. Naturally such a person was unworthy of any serious study, especially anything to do with politics or power. If I’m honest, I think I was rather embarrassed by her. Georgiana seemed to be the kind of woman who confirmed every male prejudice about our fitness for public life.

I never questioned my own opinions until I was deep into my PhD thesis on attitudes to race in 18th-century England. I was interested in learning more about Earl Grey, the prime minister who as a young man in 1806 had proposed a motion to abolish the slave trade. While delving into his life I discovered his affair with Georgiana and her private letters about it.

 

The first time I read them it was like having a bucket of cold water thrown over my head. It was immediately apparent that everything I thought I knew about her was false. Worse, it was a vicious caricature of a brilliant, effective and tragic woman. I realised I had inadvertently colluded in the trashing of her reputation.

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‘The Ascent of Woman’ – Saturday Review | The Sunday Times

The Ascent of Woman

BBC Two, 9pm

There has never been a better time to be born a woman, says Dr Amanda Foreman. There are more female heads of government and more women running organisations today than at any time in history. It’s far from perfect, but it’s better than it was. In this fascinating series, she traces the ascent of women from ancient Mesopotamia to the present day, and asks why history became almost exclusively male, why almost every civilisation set limits on women’s sexuality, speech and freedom of movement, and why the status of women is so vulnerable to the dictates of politics, economics and religion. If you judge a civilisation by the way women were treated, she says, the ancient Greeks were as bad as the Taliban.

‘#TVforHE & #TVforTeachers – Pick of the Week – The Ascent of Woman’ – ERA

By Kirsten Sweeney

As part of ERA’s commitment to helping licence holders make best use of the material available to them, we have decided to start highlighting our ‘top pick’ each week.

The Ascent of Woman (starting Wednesday 2nd September, 9pm, BBC2) is a new series exploring the stories of women that have made, and changed, human history. Presented by Dr Amanda Foreman, the first episode considers civilisation from the view point of women. From the BBC:

Across Europe and the Near East, she uncovers a group of extraordinary women who created their own routes to power in male-dominated worlds. These include Enheduanna, the world’s first recorded author, the Ukok Ice Maiden, one of the great archaeological discoveries of the 20th century, and Hatshepsut, one of ancient Egypt’s most successful but most maligned ruling queens. Crucially, she also explores the darker legacy of gender inequality in ancient Greece, whose influential ideas on the inferiority of women have cast a long shadow over women’s lives across the globe to this day. Amanda’s approach aims to profoundly alter the accepted view of civilization once and for all.

Clips of the series could prove to be a useful History (or Herstory!) resource for secondary schools, but also could provoke discussion in a Further or Higher education seminar as to how and why we frame the past from a male perspective.

Follow the hashtag #TVforHE or #TVforTeachers and @EraResources for more lesson ideas. You can also follow the series through their dedicated Twitter account: @ascentofwoman

‘A History of Star-Crossed Lovers’ – The Wall Street Journal

ILLUSTRATION: THOMAS FUCHS

ILLUSTRATION: THOMAS FUCHS

Breaking up, as Lord Byron wrote in “When We Two Parted,” is devastating: “If I should meet thee/ After long years, / How should I greet thee?— / With silence and tears.” But there is something uniquely tragic about lovers separated by cruel circumstance. Their stories reappear in literature as a warning about fate, a celebration of idealism or a lament for lost love.

One of the oldest examples to come down to us is the thwarted union between the Roman emperor Titus (A.D. 40-81) and Berenice, princess of Judea and queen of Chalcis (A.D. 28-sometime after 81). Like Romeo and Juliet, their relationship was doomed from the outset. Berenice risked her life trying to preserve the peace between Romans and Jews in the period leading up to the First Jewish-Roman War, A.D. 66-73. Titus was the Roman general whose army was besieging Jerusalem. Nevertheless, the two fell passionately in love.

Their relationship survived Titus’ destruction of the Second Temple in 70 and the subsequent Roman slaughter of almost a million Jews. But when he inherited the throne in 79, Rome balked at the idea of a Jewish empress. Forced to choose between love and duty, Titus reluctantly chose duty, establishing a tradition of royal self-sacrifice that would continue untilEdward VIII abdicated in order to marry Wallis Simpson. Titus died—killed, possibly—two years into his reign. Berenice disappeared around the same time, her fate unknown.

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‘A Short History of Surfing’ – The Wall Street Journal

Photo: UNDERWOOD ARCHIVES/GETTY IMAGES

Photo: UNDERWOOD ARCHIVES/GETTY IMAGES

One of the great sights of the dog days of summer is a surfer riding the perfect wave. In those instants of frothy flight, athleticism and grace combine in pure harmony with the rhythms of the sea. It’s no wonder that the sport inspired its own musical genre, epitomized by the happy-go-lucky melodies of the Beach Boys. Indeed, “everybody’s gone surfin’. Surfin’ U.S.A.”

Perhaps because of its popularity as an escape, surfing is often mischaracterized as the refuge of the eternal beach bum, not the sport of kings (and queens)—which it is.

For the Hawaiians, who invented the sport, surfing was no mere pastime but a profound expression of their religion and culture. They called it “he’e nalu,” or “wave-sliding,” because it was about communing with the sea, not dominating it.

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‘America or Britain? It’s a tough choice for a mother to make’ – The Sunday Times

Photo: Krzysztof Puszczyński

Photo: Krzysztof Puszczyński

Some people need to recreate on the outside the loneliness and alienation that they feel within. The Italian novelist Italo Calvino put it quite succinctly: “The ideal place for me is the one in which it is most natural to live as a foreigner.”

That isn’t how I feel, even though I have spent all my life in the twilight of belonging. I am, to my core, an Anglo-American, neither wholly one identity nor wholly the other. I suppose you could call me a rootless cosmopolitan. Yet I have always felt the opposite. Being the “foreigner” in every place I’ve lived has made me love the two countries I call home all the more. I think that’s what originally led me to study history. As a child, floating somewhere between California and Dorset, I saw difference and similarity in a wholly different light from my peers. Nothing was completely familiar, and yet nothing was entirely foreign, either. As Rudyard Kipling wrote: “What do they of England know who only England know?”

Now that I have children of my own, I have had to think about this very deeply. Do I want them to be British, American or a hybrid like me? The decision goes beyond the question of which passport to have. Where they live and go to school will become the mould that produces the fully formed adult.

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‘The Lady of the House’ – PORTER Magazine

Photo: Jason Schmidt, Courtesy PORTER Magazine

Photo: Jason Schmidt, Courtesy PORTER Magazine

I have interviewed dozens of female politicians in my time, and the thing that stands out is how different they are from other women. In that one respect they are just like male politicians who, when you meet them, come across as a race apart from ordinary mortals. First and foremost, they are doers. There’s none of that second-guessing, procrastinating, or introspection that holds the rest of us back. Obstacles only make them try harder. To a woman (or man) they radiate a special combination of ego and energy that seems to propel them faster and higher than everyone else.

In the United States, there is no better example of this all-conquering breed than Nancy Pelosi, the Democratic Leader of the House of Representatives, the first female Speaker of the House and the highest-ranking political woman in American history. As she strides towards my table in the restaurant of the Regency Hotel in Manhattan, immaculately presented in powder blue, smile at the ready, it is like being drawn into a powerful tractor beam. When she speaks she’s so loud and full of purpose, it’s mesmerizing. Despite her slight stature, Pelosi has a diaphragm that could hit you at a thousand paces.

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