Neo-retrofuturistic Feminism: Putting on my Blue Stockings

Portrait Badge of Emmeline Pankhurst - circa 1909 - Museum of London

Portrait Badge of Emmeline Pankhurst – circa 1909 – Museum of London

In this modern era, Feminism is often considered a bigger ‘f-word’ than any curse word, particularly  to people who don’t really understand what Feminism means. Many think it is now irrelevant, and that gender equality has come as far as it can go. Openly declaring yourself a feminist can bring down a shitstorm of hatred and abuse, particularly from cowards who hide behind the anonymity of the internet (by the way, that anonymity is just an illusion, and persistent threats can see haters prosecuted in Australia). So why would I keep harping on about this stale old topic?

Ask yourself this …. why do I honour the bravery of the Suffragettes?

People tend to see suffragettes in their stereotype of ‘blue stockings’. From Wikipedia:

A bluestocking is an educated, intellectual woman, more specifically a member of the 18th-century Blue Stockings Society led by the hostess and critic Elizabeth Montagu (1720–1800), the “Queen of the Blues”, and including Elizabeth Vesey (1715–91), Hester Chapone (1727–1801), and the classicist Elizabeth Carter (1717–1806). In the following generation came Hester Lynch Piozzi (1741–1821), Hannah More (1745–1833), and Frances Burney (1752–1840). Until the late 18th century, the term had referred to learned people of both sexes.  It subsequently was applied primarily to intellectual women, and the French equivalent bas bleu had a similar connotation.

The term later developed negative implications, and in some instances such women were stereotyped as being “frumpy”. The reference to blue stockings may arise from the time when woollen worsted stockings were informal dress, in contrast to formal, fashionable black silk stockings.

'Portraits in the Characters of the Muses in the Temple of Apollo' by Richard Samuel, including portraits of the Blue Stockings: Elizabeth Carter, Angelica Kauffman, Anna Laetitia Barbauld, Catharine Macaulay, Elizabeth Montagu, Elizabeth Griffith, Hannah More, Elizabeth Ann Sheridan and Charlotte Lennox.

‘Portraits in the Characters of the Muses in the Temple of Apollo’ by Richard Samuel, including portraits of the Blue Stockings: Elizabeth Carter, Angelica Kauffman, Anna Laetitia Barbauld, Catharine Macaulay, Elizabeth Montagu, Elizabeth Griffith, Hannah More, Elizabeth Ann Sheridan and Charlotte Lennox.

The Blue Stocking Society was never a formal society. Instead, gatherings were conducted to talk about literature and the arts ; unlike the suffragettes, politics was not the underlying discourse of these gatherings. The elegant and educated women  would have lively discussions, and these little parties were often attended by male guests. However, the women were supporting each other in their intellectual endeavours. Even though the discussion of politics was discouraged at the gatherings, the blue stocking women were working to give educated women a greater ‘voice’.

In a woman’s education little but outward accomplishments is regarded … sure the men are very imprudent to endeavor to make fools of those to whom they so much trust their honour and fortune, but it is in the nature of mankind to hazard their peace to secure power, and they know fools make the best slaves.

The blue stocking gatherings lost popularity as the suffragette movement gained momentum. It can be assumed that the educated women lost interest in quiet intellectual gatherings as they threw their support behind giving women rights. Pretty soon, they were being locked up for ‘disturbing the public order’ (now there is a statement with teeth in it).
Some people have asked me why would a clever woman want to suffer the indignities heaped upon the suffragettes, when she could have stayed at home and let men look after her. After counting to ten and taking a deep breath, I explain to them the realities of a woman’s existence before the suffragette movement.  No vote was the least of it; a woman had no rights at all, and even her children were not her own, they were her husband’s property. She couldn’t matriculate from university, a single woman couldn’t hold a job (marriage & motherhood was her job) without masculine approval from father or brother, she couldn’t inherit goods unless specifically mentioned in a will, when she married all her worldly possessions became the property of her husband. Her husband could beat her for no reason, and no one would think any less of him or help her if she asked for aid. A woman who did try to speak her mind could be jailed or placed in an insane asylum, with no questions asked and with no legal recourse to obtain her freedom. Her husband was responsible for her actions, and could face condemnation from his community if a woman acted in an improper manner (like wanting to learn mathematics). Women were automatically seen as weak in mind, morals and body, untrustworthy, fickle, and in need of a firm hand. They were basically second-class citizens. Oh yes, the majority of their men were really looking after them (please bear in mind that these men were indoctrinated into these behaviours, and were encouraged to confirm as much as the women).
This is why I am the Steampunk Feminist, and I write about neo-futuristic feminism in my Steampunk narratives. By ‘disturbing the public order’ in my writing, I hope to point out the gender inequalities that are still around today. It might seem that I am a bit of a nag (more gender stereotyping), but I am chipping away at an edifice that has been centuries in the making, and it will take some time to pull it down.
If you are interesting in Steampunk, I also have a Facebook site: https://www.facebook.com/SteampunkSunday?ref=hl
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1 Comment

Filed under Characterization, Steampunk, Steampunk Feminist, Stereotypes, Women in Science

One response to “Neo-retrofuturistic Feminism: Putting on my Blue Stockings

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