There are apparently just two women in 500 years of UK arts and culture history who are worth putting on the new UK passport.
John Constable and William Shakespeare are celebrated on the new UK passport.
As the lucky owner of two passports (the small matter of dual heritage, I’m not admitting to identity fraud here), there are more depictions of sea defences, windmills, trout, submarines, whales, planes and canalside engineering across my forms of identification than there is any mention of successful women.
Sadly this isn’t going to change any time soon, given reports about the new UK passport released this week.
The new passport, purporting to be a celebration of the nation’s arts and culture over the past 500 years, features just two women; Ada Lovelace and Elisabeth Scott.
As a huge fan of the Great British seaside – the smell of piss and chips, the polystyrene cups of winkles, the deckchairs, the penny arcades and perilous wooden slats – I am thrilled to see that Scott, the woman who designed the pavilion and theatre on Bournemouth pier, is getting her moment of maroon-covered glory.
New UK passport design features just two women. Architect Elisabeth Scott and mathematician Ada Lovelace only women in ‘Creative United Kingdom’ passport
There is also a lovely irony that in a celebration of arts and culture we have chosen to venerate Lovelace – a woman who grew up in a house where portraits of her infamous poet father Lord Byron were apparently hidden and all intellectual fervour was determinedly directed towards maths.
But it nevertheless rankles that half a millennium of national achievement is embodied by just two women; that, according to immigration minister James Brokenshire’s new document, female British accomplishment ended in 1972.
Are there really no female contemporaries to Anish Kapoor and Antony Gormley? Could we not have included, say, Tracey Emin, Maggi Hambling, Cornelia Parker, Tacita Dean, Sarah Lucas or Rachel Whiteread?
Barbara Hepworth, Bridget Riley or Mary Quant would have been a welcome illustration of women’s contribution to visual art. Alongside Shakespeare was there not room for Charlotte Bronte, JK Rowling, Shelagh Delaney or Muriel Spark?
Not to mention Aphra Behn, Christina Rossetti, Carol Ann Duffy, Jackie Kay, Mary Wollstonecraft or Virginia Woolf? As well as Sir Giles Gilbert Scott, could we not have celebrated modern multicultural Britain with the inclusion of British-Iraqi architect Zaha Hadid?
You may not like, admire or appreciate every aspect of female creative output over the past 500 years – really, there’s no reason why you should but it exists. The women are there. Platoons of creative, inspiring, ambitious and mechanically minded women changing the face, function and future of Britain.
You may say what does it matter? For most of us, a passport is little more than an embossed identity card to be lost down the side of filing cabinets and searched for wildly the night before a holiday.
Unless you’re facing a serious flight delay and lack of international currency there’s very little reason for someone to sit leafing through the pages of their passport staring at the pictures. But, of course, we do.
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I remember vividly the day I got my first New Zealand passport, as a spherical-faced 16-year-old, sitting on my kitchen floor, leaning against the washing machine and slowly turning the pages of this exotic document.
This was my portal into another country: another identity, a part of me as intrinsic as my eye colour. It said something about the country to which I, in part at least, belonged. And so I looked to this small black booklet for some clue as to what they held dear. What made them a nation.
For that reason, it is important to have representations of women in our public, prosaic, back-pocket world. That is why women such as Caroline Criado-Perez campaigned to get Jane Austen on the £10 note because it pushed women back into the day-to-day fabric of British life.
It puts between our fingers a routine reminder that women too made this country what it is. It acts as a clarion call to all other nations that we, in the UK, value our women.
That we recognise their achievements and celebrate their successes. That the bricks, beliefs, marks and memories that have built a nation are not the sole dominion of men.
I would love to hand over a passport at customs that made me proud to be British; that from its very pages wove together the best of our men and women, reflecting and celebrating what my female forebears had achieved.
Because, god knows, women have done more to define this nation than any crown-wearing golden lion or chain-humping rampant unicorn ever did. And those guys got the front page.