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