The women Prospect left out

by Chris Bertram on July 2, 2004

“The Guardian has reacted”:,11812,1252410,00.html to the sex imbalance of Prospect’s list of 100 “British” public intellectuals (“previously discussed here”: , with a list of women whom they might have included.



Otto 07.02.04 at 9:34 am

J K Rowling? Perhaps the recently deceased author of the Jennings novels should have been included in the original list.

The Guardian list does not attempt to produce the same sort of people as those on the original prospect list. Put another way, using the Guardian list criteria, one would have a Prospect list of several hundred.


dave heasman 07.02.04 at 10:05 am

Sturgeon’s Law seems to apply to both lists.

I thought the defence of Wilf Hutton over Polly Toynbee a bit hopeless. Toynbee :-
“is just a journalist, unlike Will Hutton, who has a great body of work behind him” Sheesh. “A great body of work”.


Backword Dave 07.02.04 at 8:07 pm

One might also note that a female “public” intellectual is rarely regarded with the same deference as her male counterpart. She is subjected to far more intimate scrutiny, be it Susan Greenfield’s mini skirts, or the personal life of Germaine Greer.

Clearly Laura Barton is unaware of the great A.C. Grayling hair debacle.


Ophelia Benson 07.02.04 at 9:10 pm

Oy. That list is so stupid it’s cringe-making. It’s hard to know which is worse – that only 12 women made it onto Prospect’s list, or that the Guardian one was so desperate to make its point that it threw in actors, singers, politicians, J K Rowling. It’s supposed to be a list of public intellectuals, not every woman anyone’s ever heard of.

Interesting though that Prospect said Marina Warner (along with Polly Toynbee) is the woman they’ve had most nominations for. As I said, she was the first person I looked for, and I was very surprised not to see her. That was a stupid omission. What was Prospect thinking…


harry 07.03.04 at 2:20 pm

I’m with Ophelia on this. Vivienne Westwood??? Is Hilary Wainwright too left wing, or just insufficiently creative?

But I have to confess that in my head Polly Toynbee never occurred to me (in the 5 minutes I thought about it). I don’t know which is worse –not to have thought of Polly Toynbee, or to have thought of her and rejected her while a) accepting Melanie Phillips and b) differenitating between her and Hutton on grounds of him having a ‘body of work’.


mc 07.03.04 at 8:06 pm

Ophelia: the “actors” in the Guardian list are only two, one of which is Vanessa Redgrave, “actor and campaigner”, and there’s a few campaigners in the Prospect list too so that appears to be counted as intellectual contribution; as for “singers”, there’s only one, PJ Harvey, and while she may have not made as relevant a contribution to culture as Brian Eno… well surely there’s also people who think Brian Eno is not to be counted as “intellectual” but “only” a musician.

A children’s author qualified in the Prospect list so I don’t see why JK Rowling couldn’t. Vivienne Westwood may be a bit of a stretch but if the emphasis is more on cultural impact and communication and then you add the criteria for “originality of contribution; ability to articulate or represent an important strand of British cultural life”… it does make sense.

The rest of the names don’t seem even that debatable to me. Rabbis, writers, museum directors, historians, architects, doesn’t seem it’s “any woman you’ve ever heard of”. It’s not a desperate list, and it does prove the point.

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