It seems like not a day goes by without a dude inventing or creating something for society to hold dear and deeply respect. Here, there and other places, men have been inventing, founding and developing things since…quite a long time. That’shistory, bitches. Males have been at the forefront of birthing things for so long; the rugged, handsome backbone of technological progression since the industrial revolution, upon which we have all been enjoying our lengthy, bouncy piggyback toward peak oil and ecological collapse.
Put another way, our cultural lineages, governments and schools have long demanded that kids respect the **** (Latin: mentula), and tame the **** (Latin: cunnus) [see: Magnolia.] Women were also at the forefront of innovation in science, survival and making everyone’s lives more comfortable, of course, while raising children, being oppressed and too emotional to be allowed anything else. Then again, it’s not like they invented anything we like, or use regularly, or that’s made a huge life-or-death impact on human survival. Here are a few (even) lesser reported creations that have, for one reason or another, ended up as male legacies (but which Edison was either too busy ripping people off, or too dead, to take credit for.)
Attributed to: Parker Brothers
Invented by: Lizzie Magie
Back in the day when it was pretty much unheard of for women to be recognized as producers of creative or intellectual worth (specifically the 1800s…ish) Elizabeth ‘Lizzie’ Magie invented a board game called The Landlord’s Game. She was granted a patent, we can only assume begrudgingly, for her invention of a game that exposed the corrupt political economy of property ownership (what she called ‘land-grabbing’.) Magie was a follower of Henry George, a politician who was the main proponent of the ‘land-value tax’; George proposed that while everything that one creates is owned by that person, that which appears in nature is owned collectively. Therefore, land should not be owned by any of the lords.
The Landlord’s Game promoted Georgism and rent controls by demonstrating the monopolization of land via current practices, and the (temporary) inevitable doom of those, bar one, who played. It was designed to teach all those of board-game playing age (which is everyone who’s not either dying or just been born) about the inequalities in the political economy of Capitalist practices. Magie’s game became so popular and widespread (as widespread as any large-ish object could be in the US before planes existed) that it essentially went viral around North East US college campuses and social groups, and those who played it began a process of changing the rules and place names, drawing their own boards to fit their local areas. It wasn’t long before a Mr Charles Darrow saw its potential for commerce, copyrighted his altered version and the game based on Henry George’s principles became one owned by someone other than she who created it, with its purpose being to own as much land as possible in order to bankrupt everyone else. While this proved to be a commercially successful move, we will never know whether Darrow could spell the word ‘irony.’
Darrow sold the game to toy manufacturer Parker Brothers who named it Monopoly, and both parties reaped enormous profits. It’s reported that, to their credit, Parker Brothers met with Elizabeth Magie and paid her $500 for the patent, on the condition that they would also print and distribute the original version of The Landlord’s Game. However, Parker Brothers soon stopped promoting it, and all unsold copies were recalled and destroyed, while Monopoly as we now know it became perhaps the most played board game of all time.
In an interview with the Washington Post Magie had said, in reply to being asked how she felt about receiving only $500 and no royalties, that it was alright with her “if she never made a dime so long as the Henry George single tax idea was spread to the people of the country.” Where’s a hashtag when you need one? #justice4Magie
2. Computer programming
Attributed to: Alan Turing
Really: Ada Lovelace
Because he was an excellent human being who pioneered the physical manifestation of the first working computer – and because most other humans are lazy and like easy consumption of knowledge – everyone attributes the invention of computer science to Alan Turing. Turing’s life was a rich tapestry of groundbreaking innovation, Nazi-outsmarting, and persecution for loving people, and in the future will provide Spielberg with his latest epic ‘Turing: Exquisite Badass.’ While Turing did indeed pioneer the formalisation of algorithms, computer science, and the Turing machine (the first modern computer,) the invention of computer programming had been founded by Ada Lovelace a century earlier. And as history would have it, her name is not now shorthand for “the person who originated our ability to have all knowledge ever at our fingertips”, but for the coercion of a young woman into performing sexual acts on camera, that lots of people continue to watch and fetishise regardless. Though I’m still rooting for Ada ‘women-in-STEM-pioneer-and-historical-feminist-superstar’ Lovelace to catch on soon.
Lovelace had, in 1842-43, written the first proposed computer algorithm for Charles Babbage’s Analytical Engine, as notes to accompany her translation of a document describing the machine from Italian to English; together, Lovelace and Babbage were the critical forerunners to Turing’s theory and machine. Babbage, a renowned genius and polymath, had been so impressed by her intellectual abilities that he had chosen to work with her rather than other, well-regarded and established scientists of the time. Lovelace would explain the functions of the Analytical Machine in a way that other scientists could understand, and her notes containing the first computer programme were longer than the Italian document itself – she had performed this extra work on the side (whilst raising three children, of course.) She also speculated on the computer’s future ability to create CGI and complex music, while Babbage foresaw it only as a calculator. So we can also attribute all contemporary films, all electronic music and the Travoltify your name generator to her genius.
But, yeah. I hear Deep Throat is awesome too, if you’re into criminal activity.
3. Disappearing bed
Attributed to: William Lawrence Murphy
Really: Sarah E. Goode
This entry in the list may not appear to be as novel or culturally stimulating as some of the others, but considering the historical significance of the life of Sarah E. Goode, it needs noting that this lady-shun is a particularly bitter kick in the mons pubis. Goode was the first African-American woman to hold a US patent, for the Folding Cabinet Bed in 1885. Born into slavery in 1855, Goode gained freedom during the Civil War and quickly went about making history at just 30 years of age. She was then predictably ignored in favour of the white, male William Murphy less than 30 years later, after he added a hinge to the original concept. Now known as a Murphy bed, this patent, in the language of engineering and thievery, mansplains for us the process by which the ‘Great Man theory’ is justified.
Murphy’s 1912 patent was not for the storable ‘disappearing’ bed, but the pivot that allows the bed to attach to a wall at the bottom. It’s also sad to note that Murphy’s inspiration was as much his personal gratification (his genitals in particular) as it was practicality; having a bed which would fold into the wall would allow him to receive a love-interest into his one-room apartment without extending an abhorrent, disgusting invite to his ‘bedroom’, maintaining an undeniably necessary and unquestionably intact moral high ground (before then, presumably, retrieving the bed from the wall. Man’s got game.)
Goode’s motivation was rather more magnanimous; she owned a furniture store in Chicago, and, knowing that her working class customers had little space in their apartments, devised the design for a bed that would fold into a writing desk. Goode masterminded the design by which anyone, including Murphy, could have space to live more comfortably, while enjoying as much or as little moral high ground as they needed whilst being a writing-table richer.
The persistent, boring trope that women can’t do engineering or science or driving – because they don’t have the ‘right’ grey matter for spatial awareness or practicality underneath the avalanche of feminine emotion that is their every waking nightmare – was disproved by Goode’s quiet ingenuity almost a century and a half ago. Every time somebody rails on women for not being macho enough to combine cognition with motor function, I want them to imagine Sarah Goode, who survived slavery to become far more useful than them, staring them in their guilty eyes as she folds her bed neatly away and proceeds to write cheques on top of its casing.
4. Giraffe Bread
Attributed to: Sainsbury’s (kinda)
Really: Lily Robinson (3 and a half)
Tiny genius/child with common sense Lily Robinson was in a Sainsbury’s supermarket one day with (presumably) her legal guardian, and noticed the gaffe to end all gaffes. What is widely known as tiger bread in Europe (and in the US, dutch crunch,) in fact has the distinct pattern of the giraffe. Why it was named tiger bread, nobody knows (someone probably does), but anyway, whoever named it was an idiot. A silly poo-face idiot. Lily knew it, and she knew it well.
In her most serious crayon, Lily wrote to Sainsbury’s who, after immense interest on social media, saw the error of their ways and changed the name of the product to giraffe bread. Lily’s contribution was widely reported, to be fair, but at the time of writing there appears to be no discussion of potential employment, nor did she receive any royalties or compensation for her crucial PR and re-branding work for the company.
Attributed to: Edgar Wright & Simon Pegg
Really: Jessica Stevenson, Edgar Wright & Simon Pegg
The Blood and Ice Cream Trilogy is the most idiosyncratically named, critically successful and nerdtastically lovable trilogy to emerge from the British film industry since I have been conscious. In fact, I doubt any other British trilogies exist, and if they do that they’re fit to be researched for the purposes of being mentioned alongside it. Shaun of the Dead, Hot Fuzz and The World’s End lie somewhere between cult favourite and international moving image sensation on the global film smorgasbord, and in the last two decades have surely been the exports of which British people can be most proud. Massive credit for this duly goes to writer/director Edgar Wright, writer/director/lead actor Simon Pegg, and actor Nick Frost who leads the cast alongside him, forever providing the laughs and the heart of the story.
Due to these guys’ industry acclaim, the trilogy’s forerunner, and solidification of the creative team – TV series Spaced – is often attributed as another Pegg/Wright creative effort. Well, yes. But also NO! NO! NO!
Edgar Wright’s now-household name direction brought the writing of co-creators Simon Pegg and Jessica Hynes to life. Hynes (then Stevenson) played the co-lead and wrote 50% of the script, yet the percentage of credit given varies pathetically on an incompetent scale of casually sexist apathy. Spaced is one of the few comedy series in which an equal number of female characters exist, and are as funny and active as their male counterparts. In the height of the consumer backlash against women’s lib, during which buying the right tampons from your own salary = the end of sexism, Daisy Steiner was bringing us the cutting edge of women’s comedy under the clever guise of being ambitious, ambiguous, quite normal, suitably gross and frequently hilarious. That Hynes is not always remembered for her performance, writing skills and characterization is yet another example of society and history wreaking its petty revenge on womankind.
INT. FLAT (NOT BEDSIT) – DAY
The press jumps out of the window, laughing maniacally.
This is nowhere more evident than in the intended and luckily ill-fated McG takeover of Spaced for the US market, dubbed (naturally) McSpaced. Production companies Granada, Wonderland and Warner Bros. teamed up to remake the show for American television; not only did they fail to mention this to anyone involved in the original, but in their press material they noted Wright and Pegg as co-creators, omitting Hynes entirely. It makes me want to drown things.
6. Everybody’s Free (To Wear Sunscreen)
Attributed to: Baz Luhrmann/Kurt Vonnegut
Really: Mary Schmich
In 1999, director Baz Luhrmann inexplicably (unless you count money as a reason) released Something for Everybody, an album of mash ups of music from his films. One of the songs from the soundtrack of his Romeo & Juliet adaptation, Everybody’s Free by Quindon Tarver, was remixed with Australian voice actor Lee Perry reading a list of sage life advices and suggestions for young people, in as charismatic a solemn voice as is humanly possible. The result, Everybody’s Free (To Wear Sunscreen), was wildly popular with its intended market, becoming an instant classic, and now a nostalgia-wringing tool for everyone born between 1975 and 1990.
The face (or cochlea? Lobe?) of this emotive pocket of existential crisis-soothing is now undeniably male, named as Baz Luhrmann’s and audibly Perry’s. However, the lyrics “Remember compliments you receive. Forget the insults. If you succeed in doing this, tell me how,” come from a Chicago Times column written by Mary Schmich.
Schmich encourages everyone over the age of 26 to write a graduation speech, to dispense what they consider to be their most pertinent life advice. There seems to be little other reason for her writing this particular column other than she wanted to, and it might help others. And the spiritually-intense among us can be glad, though we might never have known that she did.
Portrayed as an actual commencement address, Schmich’s column had gone viral in the early days of the Internet, when the contagion of viral content was limited to emails called ‘chain emails’ (which usually threatened your life with murder-by-ghosts.) Though no one appears to be able to explain the process of how it came to be so, the speech was wrongly attributed to writer Kurt Vonnegut (in hindsight, probably ghosts.) Luhrmann and his production chums had received the email, and liked the speech so much that they used it verbatim in their remix. They had eventually, after some research, identified Schmich as the author, but rarely is her name mentioned in tandem with the song, which is credited only to Luhrmann, and Quindon Tarver who sings the chorus – omitting also Rozalla, the Zimbabwean artist whose original song Everybody’s Free (To Feel Good) was remixed.
I would have liked to hear Schmich’s, or at least a sage old woman’s, voice reading those words to me. So many wonderful cultural and societal goods have been offered to us by women, and so many men reap the glory and the benefits of them. As society gets ever more equal, and as that equality is simultaneously ever more precarious, we have both the opportunity and obligation to actively remember the women who have created for us.
Elizabeth The Third : Articles by elizabeththethird about the politics of the media. Often feminist readings of culture and communication, but also general reflections and critiques on the workings of our cultural landscape. Follow @elizabethethird