Last night I was honoured to be asked to give the Toast to the Lassies at an annual Burns night supper:
Dear Wives and Girlfriends, Aunts and cousins, Mothers, Daughters and not forgetting our dearest Grandmothers.
I’d like to thank the men for allowing me to speak on their behalf while I propose this toast to the lassies.
This toast is going to take an unashamedly political tone and I take my cue from no less than Burns himself who in 1792 wrote The Rights of Women:
While Europe’s eye is fix’d on mighty things,
The fate of Empires and the fall of Kings;
While quacks of State must each produce his plan,
And even children lisp the Rights of Man;
Amid this mighty fuss just let me mention,
The Rights of Woman merit some attention.
Burns was writing at a time when the world was in a state of mighty flux. The French were revolting – they’re not so much now but they were revolting then. America was in the first decades of its new democracy, Britain was ruled by the Mad King George III with plots to get him overthrown and in Scotland this was known as the Year of the Sheep when Highlanders from Strathruthsdale drove around 6000 sheep off the land in protest of their declining fortunes and were dealt with by the Black Watch. Many in Scotland were fleeing to America to escape such poverty.
Burns was looking at a world in flux much as we are now. Our own Quacks of state are working out how to solve currency and financial problems. The Enlightenment,, the triumph of rationalism, was was seen as a being victorious over hereditary, feudal powers, is now causing so many problems in the form of bankers’ excess and environmental devastation: the rationalists progress being undermined by an Earth rebelling on the form of climate change, biodiversity collapse and exhausation of resources.
We’re at the apex of several crises, and just as the institutions of man are failing or in a state of rapid transformation, like Burns I feel we’re again being called to look more deeply at the Rights of Woman, and learn from their qualities that seem to hold the answer to so many of our problems today applicable today.
If we are on the brink of economic collapse, or if the economy is no longer to be the ruling guardian of our society, how much better to adopt a sense of community at which women are so adept. And if the environment is really giving way beneath our feet, how much better to adopt the feminine qualities of nurture and care: of each other and of our great Mother the Earth. And if all conventional solutions seem to be failing, how much better to trust an internal sense of rightness, the much famed feminine sense of intuition.
In his poem, Burns named the second right of woman as caution. That a sense of placidness, of peace that women keep should be honoured and respected by men. And men should be thankful that this quality exists because by honouring it, it makes us better men.
And it’s in that spirit I make this toast: that women, having presented a finer way of living than us gruff simple men could imagine for ourselves, need listening to more deeply now than ever.
So I’d like to ask the gentlemen to be upstanding and join in me in raising a glass: “To the Lassies”