By Bluestocking Editors
Rebecca Gregory, General Editor
There is a real buzz about the term ‘Bluestocking’ at the moment. Not only have we as a journal grown in dynamism and scope, with new articles, events, design and patronage; but the other day on ODNB, the featured article was, I noticed, on one of the original members of the Bluestocking group ; and last month saw the opening of the National Portrait Gallery’s wonderful exhibition, ‘Brilliant Women: Eighteenth Century Bluestockings’. Why the sudden revival of this once derogatory term?
It seems clear that as we emerge from the battle of female empowerment in the world that we inhabit, and as the dust settles on the militant female campaigning of previous decades; there is still room for the celebration of exceptional women, in whatever their field, with regards to their donations and creations. This is new-wave ‘feminism’, beyond justification and beyond now outdated war cries of misogyny. It is about recognition and recovery, the restoration of female achievement to its rightful place at the forefront of innovation in the arts, sciences and humanities.
In this new climate, our writers have been able to reassess their subjects not just as women, but as powerful and talented individuals in whatever their field of technical or artistic expertise. I hope that each would be proud to have been lauded a ‘Bluestocking’, even if the term came before their time; and would like to propose the current journal editors, designers and publicity staff, as they hand over to a new team this term, as twenty-first century Bluestockings in their own right.
Kate Bowden, Humanities Editor
Feminist thinkers have often, particularly in recent decades, closely examined the way in which women perceive their bodies and have fought against the pressures to conform to a feminine ideal. Writers such as Naomi Wolf and Germaine Greer have all quite rightly confronted body shapes and sizes that have been sold as perfection. This issue of Bluestocking, however, approaches the female body from a different angle. The work of Iris Marion Young , analysed in Lauren Steyn’s article, focuses not on the way that women look, but rather on the way that they use their bodies, and challenges the misapprehension that society has been labouring under that the female physique is naturally weaker than that of men.
The twentieth century was full of women who challenged their societies, and few were fierier than Margaret Sanger . Though a hugely controversial figure, Jos Gibbons’s article shows that, more than anything else, Sanger will be remembered for her fight for birth control to be brought to women across the world, and was imprisoned eight times before she was finally able to set up the still hugely influential Planned Parenthood.
It was not, of course, just the twentieth century that saw important female thinkers making their mark. Born in approximately 1100, Heloise was, according to Diana Jeske’s article, famous for her learning throughout France by the age of seventeen. In a re-evaluation of this passionate figure as a woman independent from her famous lover, Abelard, Jeske shows how Heloise’s philosophical thought on intention and sin was, like much of the work of the women featured in Bluestocking, not only heartfelt but revolutionary.
Susannah Darby, Arts Editor
The process of creation, even in the most favourable circumstances, is often acknowledged to be a tortuous one, since all artists strive for recognition from an often hostile audience. The challenges that female artists have faced seem so much greater than those of their male contemporaries, that one wonders how women managed to create anything at all. As this issue of Bluestocking shows, women have reacted to these challenges in a variety of ways, and have often gone on to create work that is truly exceptional.
All three articles offer us new perspectives on the work of figures who have achieved renown. Dorothy Parker’s poetry is celebrated for its wit and epigrammatic turns that defy expectation. Jade Broughton finds these characteristics in Parker’s short stories, open ended and ambiguous narratives that explore both the profound loneliness and the communicative possibilities of the modern age. Few would deny the significance of Virginia Woolf’s novels, but Joanna Kieschnick draws our attention to Woolf’s often overlooked corpus of essays, particularly A Room of One’s Own, in which she examines the question of ‘women in fiction’, a thought provoking study of literature written both by and about women, raising many questions still pertinent today.
While both Parker and Woolf try to develop a distinctively female creative voice; Marissa Pueschel examines the trials and tribulations that two of the nineteenth century’s greatest female composers, Fanny Hensel and Clara Schumann , faced in getting their voices heard. Hensel found an audience in the privacy of the century’s salon culture, turning her genius towards composing lied and piano works suitable for more intimate performance while Schumann toured Europe, achieving standing renown as a concert pianist and raising the profile of her compositional work.
The richness of these women’s careers makes inspirational reading. Whether they chose to mock and point out inconsistencies like Parker; work within their circumscribed roles like Hensel; or break into male dominated worlds such as composition or literature, all three rose to the challenges of gender and creation in a dynamic and exciting way.
Clare Barnard, Science Editor
In a quote which heads one of our articles, Margaret Rossier notes that ‘a woman scientist was a contradiction in terms’. The scientific articles in this issue detail the experiences of women in Physics across the 19th and 20th centuries, illustrating the obstacles faced and overcome by female scientists.
Mary Fairfax Somerville became ‘the Queen of Science’, despite her father confiscating her candles (fearing for her sanity as she stayed up late to consume Euclid’s Elements of Geometry) and her first husbandÕs lack of support (deeming women to be of inferior intellect to men). Being of Jewish ancestry and working in Germany during the late 1930s, Lise Meitner’s career was disrupted by discrimination of her race as well as her gender and it is unfortunate that although her rationalisation of nuclear fission was astounding, few recognise her name.
But, like all satisfying stories, we are able to provide a happy ending with the work of Captain Grace Hopper in developing computer programming for the masses. Her work continues to be relevant to the programmes we use regularly today. Hopper was awarded the first ‘Man of the Year’ prize by the US Data Processing and Management Association, demonstrating the importance of female scientists despite a lack of the formal recognition of women researchers by academia and industry for over a century.