By Rebecca O’Brien Bluestocking Editor 2017-18
Since we began publishing online ten years ago Bluestocking has celebrated many different influential female figures in history and the present day. The main aim of the journal has been to raise the profile of those who have rarely been recognised, to tell the stories of those well-known, and to explain that while women’s achievements have been stifled they have contributed importantly to academia and history.
Perhaps the most important theme for understanding the realities of these women’s lives is to see how several kinds of oppression affect their narratives. This was exemplified in our recent article on Pocahontas by Olivia Dehnavi. Olivia shows how Pocahontas’ story has been whitewashed by colonial myths, romanticised and objectified. Olivia explains too how native women were integral in teaching the incoming white settlers, an undervaluing which continues to this day in the exploitation of indigenous peoples. Sophie Dowle’s interview with Lalla Essaydi shows a modern take on this struggle against colonial stereotyping by confronting viewers with their cultural assumptions of women. She fights against the views of women as weak and in need of rescuing, or jezebels that need to be brought under control.
This approach has led to a greater understanding of women’s subordination rather than it being presented as clear cut. Lalla Essaydi explained how in an attempt to prevent sexual violence the West has presented Middle Eastern women as victims and Middle Eastern men as depraved thereby making Arab men more protective of Arab women. This was further explored in Rebecca Gregory’s interview with historian Bettany Hughes as she explained that while women may be explored in history, they are often categorised in emotional terms. She wishes to explore historic figures without romanticising their achievements showing that there is further complication when discussing female role models.
The complexities of the patriarchy were also deconstructed in Eleanor Franzen’s article about Beowulf. She showed how it hinted at effect of Christianity on the role of women in a previously Pagan society. She further described women’s role as peace-makers in the early medieval period and how this became more sophisticated by enabling women to shape the course of civilisation. The complexity of female role models was also explored by Anna Simpson’s article discussing Queen Elizabeth I as she used female stereotypes such as the obsession with her virginity to her advantage. Furthermore, the segregation of genders worked to the advantage of the women in the Elizabethan court as they were consequently able to exert some political power. As Anna artfully describes: “whilst conforming to gender stereotypes, she manipulated them to retain rule for herself, as a woman”.
Bluestocking has always covered a myriad of areas in which women have thrived and influenced. This edition shows how Gertrude Stein influenced several artistic geniuses (Picasso, Hemmingway, Matisse and Cezanne), but also was an artist in her own right, as seen in her cubist literature. Maddie Geddes-Barton showed how integral Jocelyn Bell was to the discovery of pulsars which has led to international timekeepers that improve the definition of terrestrial time (the time standard on the surface of the earth). Even though she was incredibly involved in this scientific discovery she was overlooked for the Nobel Prize in 1974 which was given to two of her colleagues, showing how female achievements are often not recognised. When writing about Hillary Clinton, Imogen Runswick-Cole showed how even when women have contributed significantly to world politics, they will still be reduced to their looks, rather than her political achievements. As Clinton poignantly put it: “If I want to knock a story off the front page, I just change my hairstyle”.
Over these last ten years this journal has celebrated and recognised many achievements of women throughout history and today. We have shown how influential women have been in many different areas; art, literature, politics and science, to name just a few. These women are complicated characters, and they aren’t perfect. However, their contribution to civilisation must be recognised as equal to the male geniuses who we are taught of at school.
Please see a selection of our articles to celebrate our Tenth Anniversary
Rebecca Rolfe: https://indiancountrymedianetwork.com
Harem No.2: http://www.artnet.com/artists/lalla-essaydi/
Jocelyn Bell Burnell: https://www.biography.com/people/jocelyn-bell-bur-nell-9206018