Wednesday, February 22, 2017

Lady Mary Wortley Montagu

     To be completely honest, I did not fully understand the letters when I first read them. I could not understand why she spoke of baths (at first I thought she was talking about the spa) and spent so much time dissecting the appearances of the women around her. My first impression was that Lady Montagu was materialistic and was solely interested in the outer beauty. Mrs. Hamovit's lecture, however, offered context not only to the letters but to her life as a whole. She discussed how Lady Montagu was called the "most colorful Englishwoman of her time," and at first I did not think anything of the word "colorful" until I learned that it meant promiscuous. After hearing her story, I could not help comparing her to Edna St. Vincent Millay. I find that there are different definitions of brazen women depending the time periods. Millay was characterized as bold and brave not only in her writing but in her lifestyle. Her actions, however, slightly differed from Lady Montagu's, yet they both were given the same label of adventurous women. Millay was openly bisexual and lived in an open marriage. In the 1600s, there was a different definition for defiant women, and Lady Montagu exemplified this by living away from her husband, adopting the Turkish dress, and writing about "intimate" topics such as pregnancy. I believe that her actions would not be as scrutinized nowadays and perhaps not even during Millay's time. Nonetheless, I still think that Lady Montagu was brave to have spoken at an even more conservative time.
    I became extremely intrigued with Lady Montagu's description of the baths and the nudity that surrounded  her, yet the amount of covering up the Turkish women did once in public. She explained that "this perpetual masquerade gives them entire liberty of following their inclinations without danger of discovery." I found this statement to be rather paradoxical. These women can bear their breasts and be comfortable around each other in the baths, yet once in public they were not "permitted to go in the streets without two muslins, one that covers her face all but her eyes and another that hides the whole dress of her head." How exactly would being confined to such clothing allow them more freedom? Given the time period, I could see why Lady Montagu would find their clothing liberating since her own English culture bounded her to tight corsets and girdles. While I do not fully understand the notion of freedom, the first article from The Guardian did explain a bit better this sense of freedom. It talked about how wearing a veil allow Muslim women to integrate society in which it signals their piety. On the other hand, the other articles talked about countries banning the veil and burkinis because the people wearing them are deemed dangerous and potential threats to the nation. Where is their signaled piety now? This is something I noticed and could not quite understand.
     Returning to Lady Montagu, I respected the fact that no men would dare approach or follow women around; however, this custom was closely related to the way the women dressed. In a way, I feel like the women were respected and not cat-called because their conservative demanded respect. As a 3rd wave feminist, this then rose a red flag (sorry Ms. Slater). For as long as I can remember, the way a woman dress has been dissected and thus given a label. Long skirts signified that she was a respectable lady while showing more legs or cleavage was "asking" for men to cat call them (the same can be said with rape cases). When I went to Colombia, I found this to be especially true. At home I was used to wearing shorts and feeling perfectly comfortable. I made the mistake of wearing shorts while walking the streets of Manizales. They were not short at all, and yet I felt as if I was naked with all the men gawking and whistling at me. I was only 14 at the time. I remember being so upset and uncomfortable that I begged my mom while sobbing if she could please buy me a pair of jeans to change into. This, however, is an experience that I disagree with whole-hearteningly, and not because of my actions but because of how the men objectified my 14-year-old self.

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