Border control: sexism in our passports

Nina Klaff calls out the government on their unrepresentative new passports

The government has come under  – not enough – fire after the unveiling of the new British passport, which includes illustrations of seven men and only two women.

It is important to understand that with a £400 million budget and a ten-year contract according to the BBC, they simply did not have the time nor the money to research this properly. Four hundred million pounds would only pay for 44,445 students’ annual tuition fees, so we can understand their financial constraints. The colosseum took 10 years. It simply isn’t enough time to design a tiny book.

And let’s not forget the huge compromise they made when they conceded to Caroline Criado-Perez’s social media campaign for a woman to appear on the £10 note – shock horror. It would be greedy of us to ask for more.

Can you imagine how long it would take to sift through the archives of the multitudes of important people in the last 500 years? After scrolling through hundreds of male names and picking out a shortlist over a port lunch, you would have thought that going through the female ones would have been a doddle, seeing as there are so few. It is commendable that they managed to find two!

Give them some credit for getting at least to E in the first name alphabet: Ada Lovelace, often remembered as the first computer programmer, and Elizabeth Scott, the first female architect to have designed an important public building, are represented.

Had the poor government’s team not been so exhausted after a trying exercise of coming to terms with the fact that there are women in the world, who not only exist, but actually do stuff, they may have considered including Emmeline Pankhurst, the leader of the suffragette movement, who would feature rather near Elizabeth Scott alphabetically.

If they were to venture further down the alphabet they may have learned about Florence Nightingale, the founder of modern nursing. Or George Eliot, a leading Victorian writer. Or Harriet Taylor, the campaigner for women’s rights. Or the author and philosopher Iris Murdoch.  Or Jane Austen, one of the most celebrated British authors of all time – but this was shut down by the director general of the Passport office, Mark Thomson, according to the BBC, who was frustrated that there was ‘always someone who wants their favourite rock band or icon in the book’. So I guess they’d have had to go with Jane Goodall, DBE, a primatologist, ethologist, anthropologist, and UN Messenger of Peace.

They could have chosen to celebrate Katie Price, a feat of modern medicine.

Or Lady Jane Grey, the Nine-Day Queen. Or Mary Wollstonecraft, who penned ‘A Vindication of the Rights of Women’. Or Nancy Astor, the first female Member of Parliament to take her seat. Or Octavia Hill, whom Tristram Hunt deems one of ‘the greatest social entrepreneurs in British history’. Or Philippa of Lancaster, whose marriage to the Portuguese King secured the Anglo-Portuguese Alliance.

Queen Elizabeth I, the Virgin Queen, could have been illustrated. Or Rosalind Franklin, a pioneer of X-ray and DNA research. Or Sandi Toksvig, who co-founded the Women’s Equality Party. Or Tracy Emin, part of the YBA (Young British Artists) movement.

There are not many British names beginning with U, W, X, or Y so we can forgive the government’s – and my – overlooking them.

But what about Victoria, our longest reigning Queen until September 2015? Or Zaha Hadid, DBE the first woman to win the Pritzker Architecture Prize, and the first woman to be awarded the RIBA Gold Medal award?

Or my mum?

Of course, they certainly couldn’t have been expected to rewrite history to include any of the small nothings a woman has done of note. Even I can see that Emily Davison’s laying her life under the king’s horse for votes for women amounts to little compared to painting quaint landscapes from out of your window (yes, you, John Constable).

Moreover, they only had 36 pages to play with, to be fair to them.  And they needed to ensure there was enough room for pictures of trains and castles.

But seriously folks, in the words of Stella Creasy, I’m ‘so tired of this shizzle’. They had 10 years and £400m. I had 2 hours and a cup of tea, and I’ve concluded that women exist. We don’t only exist 2/9ths of the time, either. We’re here, changing the world, birthing your children, and putting up with your shit 9/9ths of the time.

Give our foremothers the respect they deserve.

Illustration by April Bates

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