Saturday, 2 April 2011

'B' is for...BLUESTOCKING

I considered writing a bodacious blog about books. Books are my life. But then I had a thought. After all these months of blogging, Hubby asked me last week, why is your blog called ‘Bluestocking mum.’ So today, on the second day of the A-Z challenge, ‘B’ is for Bluestocking.

According to the Oxford definition, a Bluestocking is a woman with strong scholarly or literary interests.
The Bluestocking Society was founded in the early 1750s by Elizabeth Montagu (2 October 1718 – 25 August 1800.)

Being from a wealthy family, she had strong ties to the British peerage and intellectual life and when she married Edward Montagu, a wealthy man with extensive holdings she became one of the wealthiest women of her era. However she devoted this wealth to fostering English and Scottish literature and relief of the poor. And along with her friend, Elizabeth Vesey and several others they organised a women's literary discussion group - The Bluestocking Society - a revolutionary step away from traditional, non-intellectual, women's activities at that time.

The story goes that they invited various eminent men to attend, including the botanist, translator and publisher Benjamin Stillingfleet. Stillingfleet was not rich enough to have the proper formal dress, which included black silk stockings, so he attended in everyday blue worsted stockings.

They may have been fashionable glamorous people, but their work focused on the life of the mind. Through their correspondence, parties and meetings they rebranded the idea of sociability to embrace women's right to education and enlarged the boundaries of what women could think, write, and do. And thus the term ‘Bluestocking’ came to refer to the informal quality of the gatherings and the emphasis on conversation over fashion.

Until the late 18th century, the term referred to learned people of both sexes. However it subsequently became applied primarily to intellectual women. In time the name Bluestocking was applied solely to women of pedantic literary tastes. For a period, Bluestocking was a denigratory term, an insult, so much so, that it helped create a climate for generations of women who lived in fear of being labelled a 'bluestocking.' In the 19th century, the Brontë sisters and Mary Ann Evans (George Eliot) felt it necessary to hide their genius under male pseudonyms; in the 20th century the word conjured up images of desiccated female dons. The original 'blues' were much more various than this stereotype suggests, but their dilemmas about intellect, fashion and femininity are still with us today.

When I was researching, I discovered a couple of points from the archives that might to make you smile:
"Women don't become bluestockings until men have tired of looking at their legs.”

And, former British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher was described by the BBC in 1957 as "very pretty, and dresses most attractively. Very feminine ... her main charm was that she does not look like a career woman."

This is where my own experiences are relevant. Smart women have always had a problem. If you're clever and plain you can be dismissed as a bluestocking; high-minded but unable to get a man. If you're clever and sexy you're ten times worse, a bitch, you sleep your way to the top – perish the thought - a career woman. Fifteen years ago when I was appointed Branch Manager of Lloyds Bank Newport, Shropshire, there were very few women Bank Managers around. There was a fair amount of bitching about why I was given the role; I’d never worked in a bank before and goodness, I was only twenty seven. I was a woman. And oh yes, I was blonde.

I knew my appointment was controversial and had a huge desire to ‘prove myself.’ Intensely conscious of my image, I toned down my appearance, reverted to my natural brown hair colour instead of blond and had it cut in a bob and dressed in dark, business-like suits, wore tights/stockings on my legs(never bare-legged,) and natural peachy shades of makeup (no bright coloured lipsticks.) These were all attempts for me to be taken seriously.

I took over the role from a fifty seven year old dinosaur of a Manager who used to intimidate his customers and throw things at his staff. His lending was exemplary (no-one would dare default!) but he was not the future of Lloyds Bank. And in the fullness of time I was able to show why I got the job; on merit, because I was good with people. My role was about customer service, developing the staff, and sales, sales, sales. The bank was changing. The organism that adapts will survive.

Intellectual women have increased greatly in number since the Bluestocking days. Some 55% of new entrants to university are women and outnumber men at every level up to PhD. But from my own experiences I see how the struggle for the right to be clever, sexy and feminine goes on. The original 'Bluestockings' were our foremothers, the missing link in an unbroken chain of female creativity. Their work should never be forgotten.

So there’s my ‘B’ word. ‘B’ for Bluestocking.

Until another day

Bye for now

xx

25 comments:

Jan Morrison said...

I love this! I'm definitely a bluestocking mum, grandmum, woman and worker!
Jan Morrison
ps - do us lot a favour, luv? Get rid of your word verification at least for the length of April? puhleez!

Fran said...

B is for Baileys! You and I both know that!

Julia Smith said...

GREAT post. I'm a bluestocking through and through. I live in my head and barely give a thought to what my outer packaging looks like - or even requires. That actually has to change in the near future due to parts wearing thin.

You might be interested in a set of posts I did a few years ago on actors' sexualization versus talent:

Post 1

Post 2

Mari G said...

Interesting post & thank you for the definition of bluestocking. I had only been guessing the meaning up to this..
Would consider myself a bluestocking mum too.

mountainear said...

Don't think I'm member but this sounds like a 'club' I'd like to be part of!

TIGGYWINKLE said...

What a great informative blog.I think I slot comfortably in there. Must read more about the A-Z challenge. I just wish there was 48 hours in a day!

Tyrean Martinson said...

Interesting and informative post!

Suzanne Jones said...

Terrific post - loved the history and learning more about your work at the bank.

XX

CAMILLA said...

A very interesting and informative post, loved reading this Angel.

xx

Sarah Ketley said...

Hi thanks for the blog follow,

I love your blog, such a nice background! hurrah for bluestockings. *grin*

Great post

Sarah

Bev Hankins said...

Love this post. Thanks for giving more background on the term bluestocking. I was familiar with it, but now I know a lot more.

Stopping by on the A-Z Challenge. Here's my Letter B: http://myreadersblock.blogspot.com/2011/04/z-blogging-challenge-letter-b.html [I actually did do mine on books....]

Talli Roland said...

A great B word! :)

Funny - I knew I was following you, and when I saw your other empty blog, it was tres confusing. :) Glad I figured it out.

Siv Maria said...

"Women don't become bluestockings until men have tired of looking at their legs.” Love that! Great B-word :)

Bz said...

Wow, great post! Really educating - I didn't know that, and I was really happy to read your post and learn so much :) Thank you!

Hilary Melton-Butcher said...

Hi Great post . love the information .. Stillingfleet's blue stockings started it all off - never heard of him either .. so interesting ..

The bank must have changed! - cheers Hilary

bayou said...

Why didn't I think of that? A German Blaustrumpf is so well known! But I never translated it into bluestocking. Looking forward to C now :-).

Carrie Dair said...

Fantastic post!!! I love history, books, and powerful women. And what a great inspiration these women are in their treatment of females across the classes. Just wonderful. Glad to meet you. Thanks for stopping by my blog. See you on C :)

Caroline said...

Great post BSM! Love history - it's just so interesting. My niece once said she hated history at school. To this day I still can't quite beleive how anyone can say that! Caroline x

Jolene Perry said...

That was awesome. And I want those shoes...

Jennee said...

Wow this is really interesting! I love the history! Well written too!

Name: Luana Krause said...

I love you blog! The image on your home page is very cool! Interesting post about the history of the Blue Stocking Society. Looking forward to future posts.

Madeleine said...

LOL! Great post and very relevant to you :O)

Elle Strauss said...

So interesting. Love your blog name!

Shannon Lawrence said...

I'd never heard the term Bluestocking before this post (and your blog). Fascinating to learn about the history. It is a shame that women must work twice as hard just to prove they've earned it.

Serendipity's Library said...

Very interesting post. I would love to belong to the blue stocking society.