It’s Women’s History Month, so we’re wondering who our contributors would like to take out for a nice cup of tea or pint while quizzing them about their life.
Boudicca. I would like her tips on being a double-hard bastard. Obviously, I’d be checking what she was putting in my pint (HISTORY LOLZ).
Mary Shelley. I’d like to tell her how much her legacy still means. That her literary reputation grows rather than dwindles. That there’s a campaign for her mother, Mary Wollstonecraft, to have a statue in their hometown of Newington Green, where I now live. That her mother is also considered a mother to feminism. Which is some pretty amazing mothering.
That Frankenstein is a seminal text not just for the entire horror genre but for gender politics. Which annoyingly, is still ‘a thing’. And how fucking ridiculous it is that what men do when they talk about her invention, is simply argue over the fact Frankenstein was the name of the doctor not the name of the monster, ignoring of course, that they are in fact, the monster.
Elizabeth of York, the mother of Henry VIII and the grandmother of Elizabeth I and the last of the Plantagenets. I’d want to know what choices she had to make to survive and what it was like living at the end of the 15th century.
For a cup of tea, it’d be Eleanor Roosevelt, who I’ve written a shedload about here. For a pint, it’d be Margaret ‘Unsinkable Molly’ Brown. Most of the stuff written about her is urban legend, but she’s one of those people where the truth is actually more interesting.
She campaigned for better rights for women and workers, and for education for children. And she was very active in efforts to rebuild France after the First World War and was awarded the Légion d’Honneur. Also, she survived the sinking of the Titanic and attempted to save others. That’s A+ work.
Dorothy Parker. I would love to sit in a New York bar with her and rip the world apart while wearing some kind of excellent hat.
Henrietta Carstairs: the first known person (not just woman, hurray!) to climb Brazil’s Sugar Loaf Mountain, in 1817. She climbed it in full petticoats and lace-up boots. She was a nanny and that is sadly just about all that is known about her. She deserves a hefty biography and a decent British (say, Merchant Ivory) film of her life. I’m even OK if Helena Bonham Carter takes the lead role.
Annie Oakley. SO MANY QUESTIONS.
Me and bawdy broad Marie Lloyd, ‘Queen of the Music Hall’ are going for a pint of stout, then I’m going to take notes as she sits among the cabbages and peas.
Harriet Tubman: It wouldn’t be a herbal tea or a weak beer for her – this woman was strong. She was a spy, an abolitionist (saving nearly 70 slave families using an underground network) and campaigned for women’s suffrage. And she did all this with a ‘massive headache’ after a slave owner hit her with a heavy metal weight when she was young. Then if anyone needed any other proof of her unbreakability, she looked after her parents in old age!
I’d probably get her some posh crisps or a cake too if she fancied. Particularly if she asked me what I did and I had to fess up to ‘wordplay’ and a few online petitions. Me: I’d like to do more but my hayfever can be quite debilitating. Her: *just staring at me*
Aphra Behn: the first woman in England to earn a living as a writer at a time when it was hard to be a professional writer even as a man. She was also a Royalist spy and vilified for her ‘loose morals’ by critics. I’m guessing we’d have lots to chat about.
Harriet Martineau. She is credited as the first female sociologist and journalist. There’s a plaque about that in Tynemouth near the sea in Newcastle, where we both used to live. We’d talk about how the sky was different every day through the window and about her travels in America speaking out against slavery. About how her uterine tumour was cured by mesmerism (she thought) and after five years writing on the sofa thinking she was dying, she was cured by this proto-hypnotism and went to build herself a house in Ambleside.
I’d ask her about how all the big bods of the day went to consult her about politics and the economy and how convenient it was having an ear trumpet so she could be selectively deaf when they talked rubbish. I’d ask her if she minded being pretty much forgotten now except for enthusiastic Victorian historians – though there was a play put on about her at Newcastle’s Live Theatre last year. I’m sure she’d point out that many women are forgotten but have their time again.
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