Sunday, 8 March 2009

in praise of bluestockings past and present...

joan of arc, made gorgeous by jean seberg in her 1957 portrayal...

8 march has long been celebrated throughout the world as international womens day so it seems fitting that today i should continue this mini theme of ambivalent attitudes to women with a personal homage to just some of the inspiring, fearless, daring, brilliant and notorious females that have stalked the edges of the history books.

the names most familiar to us now are almost more myth than reality as if their activities so disturb the expectations of what should be achieved by women that they have become caricatured as witches, savages or lunatics.

boudicca, portrayed here by alex kingston, leader of the infamous rebellion by the iceni against the romans in 61AD, defeated the Roman 9th legion and destroyed the capital of Roman Britain, then at Colchester, as well as london and Verulamium.

but all too often they have simply slipped from the public consciousness, relegated to footnotes in obscure theses or so-called feminist book shelves in libraries and bookstores that doubtless marginalise them further. nothing the matter with feminism you understand - i rather regard myself as one - but i do wonder how many people wander into such sections unless they are already converts to the cause.

instead, i'd quite like their heroic, literary or scientific adventures to be the stuff of genderless interest, alongside the well known and well loved figures that school children read about and hold in high esteem and which invariably tend to be male.

so forgive meif today i rather shamelessly promote the daring deeds, exploits and inventions of the female of the species - take it good naturedly in the spirit of modernity, equality and egalitarianism with which it is intended.

vive la femme....!!

isabella eberhardt, writer, traveller, orientalist, she lived much of her short life posing as a man in the Algerian desert as a nomad and disciple of Sufism.

simone weil, sister of the better known andre, philosopher, ascetic, mystic, social and political activist. precocious student, she learned greek and sanskrit before her teens, and despite her pacifism fought in the spanish civil war and later joined the french resistance.

gertrude bell, archaeologist, linguist, cartographer, arabist and the greatest mountaineer of her age. the only female political officer in the british forces during ww1, her work in the middle east alongside laurence of arabia led to the formation of present day iran and iraq from the borders of ancient mesopotamia. no stranger to controversy or contradiction, she was also a member of the anti-suffrage league!

katherine stinson, dubbed the flying schoolgirl by the press, was the 4th female in the usa to receive a pilots licence in 1912 and the first woman to perform a loop. she flew a Curtiss JN-4D "Jenny" for fundraising tours for the Red Cross during World War I & was an ambulance driver at the front!

olympic fencer and pilot, joanna de tuscan was the first woman to fence sabre, the first female fencer to compete in pants, was captain of the 1936 US olympic team, AND fought as a WW2 pilot!

katherine hepburn, elegant, androgynous, effortlessly portraying the modern woman, she is most definitely a classic bluestockings style icon...

...alongside that other glorious example of non-conformist female of the silver screen, less graceful perhaps but every bit as beautiful to me at any rate.

margaret rutherford, comic actress and national treasure, her joi de vivre and exhuberant performances in blithe spirit, the importance of being earnest, passport to pimlico & her classic miss marple, belie much sadness in her personal life.

lets end this little homage with forgotten surrealist painter and novelist leonora carrington, rebel, maverick, author of the fabulous 'the hearing trumpet', and last i heard, still alive well into her 90's!!

leonora was a british debutante who ran off with max ernst, hung out with picasso, fled the nazis and escaped from a psychiatric hospital via a submarine rescue by her nanny.

an inspiration to us all....


Yewtree said...

I love Leonora Carrington (and was absolutely gutted when the film Carrington turned out be about Dora).

I've heard of Simone Weil but not André.

An excellent selection of bluestockings. Hurrah!

Bluestocking said...

why thank you! heartening to see such an interest in the daring deeds and fascinating antics of such dusty old fossils!!!

leonora is a particular favourite of mine - young though she is yet, she has managed to pack such a lot in....

Anthroslug said...

If I may suggest a couple more that are worthy of the list:

Margaret Mead - while there is controversy concerning her 1928 book "Coming of Age in Somoa", it is nonetheless the case that her work forced the anthropological world to take notice, impacted the view of what anthropology is and can be within a modern academic and political setting (and especially has impacted the way that anthropologists view the relationship between their discipline and the western cultures that they had previously shyed away from studying), and has inspired generations of athnogrpahers (both men and women). By any measure she has been a significant thinker and researcher.

Marie Curie - What more need be said than this: She was the first person to receive two nobel prizes. Period (or full-stop, if you're reading this in the UK). Certainly there is so much more that could be said about her, all of it interesting, much of it inspirational, but the fact that she acheived what she did at a time when there was a good deal of bias against women as researchers and scientists speaks to the true talent and genius of this particular woman.

Bluestocking said...

anthroslug - 2 excellent additions indeed. it has already been commented that i dont seem to have nearly enough scientists on the list i put together so im happy to start putting that right - marie curie is a spur to put women back into the dawn of scientific advancement! thank you!

margaret mead is another outrageous omission from the list...she is now in there amidst the other controversial women of old - whilst diggin at Etton causeway in Cambridgeshire many many years ago, each of our site huts were named after great women, one of which was la mead. im trying hard to recall the other 3 great memory you know....

Bluestocking said...

the etton causeway site huts and tool kits dedicated to great ladies of archaeologies have now come back to me, jogged mainly by a visit to yewtrees blog pagans for archaeology and its handy list of women in archaeology posted for IWD!

so here they are, a postscript and addition to this ever growing list of fabulous bluestockings -

margaret mead - thanks anthroslug!

kathleen kenyon - founder of BS at Jerusalem & Jericho & of IA

margaret murray - the 1st female egyptologist at manchester museum!

mary leakey - director od olduvia gorge & mum of richard.

vive la femme indeed...

Witless Wonder said...

As usual Ms. E you have hit the nail effectively on it's head! There are of course too many women too numerous to mention - but I must complement you on your addition of Margaret Rutherford. She is my own style icon - oh the joy of stiff tweeds and a pair of stout brogues.
I am also pleased to see our dear sister's face - Emmeline - plastered around Manchester at the moment. Why do we not have a statue of her in this city???