"The only thing a woman can own is knowledge..." Mrs Welsh (Blue Stockings)
Last night a couple of really good friends who I haven't caught up with for a while, invited me to the Press Night of Blue Stockings, the play they've been working on for the last few months at Shakespeare's Globe.
Although the play is not related to hair, I still found it relevant, for a number of reasons.Blue Stockings is set in Cambridge University in 1896 and is about the struggle for women to have the right to graduate.
One of my favourite scenes was a confrontation during in which one of the male students asks the women what exactly they're doing at Cambridge, before breaking into an astonishing, arrogant rant stating:
"We're not average men here. We are the future. The leaders. The establishment… We built this country. We made this nation..."
Why did I find this relevant?
Because it was true then, and continues to be true today.
The truth is, those men were "the future. The leaders" the history makers, the society shapers, essentially the power holders of the nation, and as such were privileged to be educated by other men considered to be the enlightened elite. Men like Dr Henry Maudsley, who we watch as he gives a very serious lecture stating:
“A woman who expends her energy exercising her brain does so at the expense of her vital organs, leaving her unfit for motherhood.”
For anyone reading/ hearing this statement today, it's packed full of ridiculousness. Where would I even begin? Do I even need to?
The concept that studying could leave you unfit for motherhood, the concept that your validation as a woman comes from being a mother, to think that this level of misogyny and ignorance was being practised and taught by some of the most 'intelligent' men on the planet, makes it easier for me to understand why there are still so many battles for equality that remain unfinished.
|Effigy of a woman on a bicycle at the Cambridge University protest 1897|
OK, so what's this got to do with hair?Well, I guess it's more to do with me as a woman, and especially as a black woman, than with hair. It reinforced my feelings that all the work that's gone into the current Origins Of The Afro Comb exhibition >here< is so very important.
In short, it made me think about how far things have come, for the exhibition to even be considered at Cambridge, let alone for me to be giving a talk there, as I did at the opening >here<. An exhibition like this would not have been considered in Cambridge 70 years ago. Now it's here and the first of it's kind, and you have the opportunity to be involved too!
Often when I think about 'women's rights' it's all too easy to brush it off as something I know about so I don't really need to be too concerned about it any more; but watching Blue Stockings was a bit like being pinched and forced to wake up out of my complacency. It wasn't until 1948, that the ladies at Girton College, Cambridge won the right to graduate.
That's post-World War II!!
That means that even if my great-grandmother were 'intelligent' enough to attend Cambridge, she would have been prevented from graduating due to her gender, that's before we even get into the issue race, but I'm not gona take it there today.
As a woman of African descent I feel I have a huge responsibility to make the most of any opportunity I have to place myself and others like me, as history makers and society shapers, whenever the opportunities arise.
If not, we will always be reliant on other people to talk about us, for us; and history has already shown us what gets said for the people with no voice.