Margaret Whitford – obituary

The Guardian has published the following obituary, written by her friend and fellow academic Anne Seller:

My friend Margaret Whitford, who has died aged 64, lived the life of the mind to its fullest extent. She grew up in Cornwall and described her childhood as claustrophobic and isolated, saying that it was no surprise to later find herself living alone in a room full of books in a teeming metropolis.

Margaret was professor of French at Queen Mary, University of London; a founder member of the UK Society for Women in Philosophy; an author and translator; and a practising psychotherapist. Her vision and energy were pivotal in developing the new field of feminist philosophy. The radical nature of her life’s work was devoted to the development of ideas that would express and illuminate the experience of being a woman in a male-dominated world. Typically this included encouraging and respecting other women’s contributions.

After moving to London in 1977, Margaret lived in a council flat in Wapping. In 1987 she moved to a house in Stratford, east London, of Dickensian dinginess and dilapidation. When she finally admitted a TV licence officer indoors to prove there was no set, his report suggested she was telling the truth because the house “was too full of books”. But she was fully engaged with the world.

In the 1990s, Margaret moved to a light, airy flat, published prolifically, and developed a passion for contemporary art. In 2000, at a stage when most academics would be happy to recycle familiar ideas, she began training as a psychoanalytical psychotherapist, qualifying in 2005 when the effects of her ovarian cancer were particularly severe. Finding the right moment to move her clients on became a preoccupation as her cancer advanced.

One of the last memories I have of Margaret is her indicating a book on Pakistan, saying that she wanted to read it before she died. She did, and had a lively argument about it with an attending doctor. My final memory is of sitting with her waiting for the call to go into the hospice. She passed the time with a vigorous critique of the film Of Men and Gods. She never stopped thinking and never stopped caring. Her friends were like her family, and we will miss her laughter, generosity and conversation with its never-ending gift of fresh insights.

Her brother, Chris, survives her.

Feminist philosophers right again…

Okay, that’s possibly overstating it slightly.  But we posted in July about the worrying decision of the UK’s Equality and Human Rights Commission to intervene in four cases being taken to the European Court of Human Rights. These cases involved

  1. Being forbidden to wear a cross at work (Eweida, Chaplin);
  2. Being required to perform a public service without discriminating against gay people (McFarlane, Ladele).

In all four cases, UK courts had found that there was no discrimination on grounds of religion, and the EHRC’s press release suggested it was equally critical of the UK courts’ positions in all four cases. But now – vindication! – it has apparently changed its position.  The full consultation document is on the EHRC website, and says,

We propose to intervene in:

  • Eweida and Chaplin on the basis that the Courts may not have given sufficient weight to Article 9(2) of the Convention.
  • Ladele and Mcfarlane on the basis that the domestic courts came to the correct conclusions.

If you feel strongly about this, do respond to the consultation *by 5 September* to support the EHRC’s new position. I shall certainly be doing so.