Wednesday, February 22, 2017

Lady Mary Wortley Montagu

Lady Mary Wortley Montagu is another historic, feminist figure we learned about so far in class. She was born in the late 1600’s and had a mindset far older than her time. She was born to a highly upper class family and was a gifted poet and writer. When she came of age, she married the man of her choice rather than allowing her family to give her an arranged marriage, and moved with him to Turkey when he was appointed as a Turkish ambassador in 1716. Lady Mary enjoyed living in Turkey and the Turkish culture so much that when her husband moved back to England, she decided to stay in Turkey for another year on her own, despite the fact that she was pregnant.
As an upper class woman in the 1700’s, Lady Mary was bound to a certain set of rules that came along with her social status. Back then, it was not appropriate for women of her class to leave the house without a corset; women were not supposed to have financial independence in any way; and women were not looked at as equals in the least when compared to men. Lady Mary found a kind of freedom in Turkey that she did not have in England. In her Embassy Letters, that she wrote about the freedom she experienced in the Turkish Baths, which was a bathing place for Turkish women. She wrote about how all the women in the baths carelessly undressed themselves, without any insecurity of their bodies or in thinking they were showing too much skin. She describes how they persuaded her to take off her own dress, which included a corset, petticoat, and many more layers that hid her body. “I was a last forced to open my shirt, and show them my stays, which satisfied them very well, for I saw they believed I was so locked up in that machine, that it was not in my own power to open it, which contrivance they attributed to my husband. I was charmed with their civility and beauty…” (60). She compares her outfit, and specifically her corset, to a machine, that “locked her up” and held her body in place. The corset can surely be compared to a machine because it is a device that is made to trick people into thinking that the female body is much smaller and tighter than it actually is, and Lady Mary found freedom and excitement in being able to take it off in front of other people. Not only was this an example of sensual confidence, but a statement of freedom in which she defied the standards and rules that she was bound to for her whole life in England.
We also discussed how Lady Mary admired the freedom of the Turkish women, despite the fact that they were Muslim (as compared to her Protestantism), were of a different race, and had a starkly different appearance. She admired the head scarves that all the women wore, and wrote that she appreciated them because “there is no distinguishing the great lady from her slave and ‘tis impossible for the most jealous husband to know his wife when he meets her, and no man dare either touch or follow a woman in the street” (71). Rather than expressing disdain for the burka that many Muslim women wear, Lady Mary commended them because they gave women equality. She noted that they made all women look alike, and essentially rid them of their social status when they walked around in public. She added that it protected them from men on the streets because it covered their hair and face.
In the articles we received from The Guardian, we read about how some Muslim women too found freedom in wearing the headscarf, because it allowed them to be looked at as equals with men while also expressing their religion. I found this to be very interesting because for a lot of my life, when I saw a woman in a headscarf or full-face veil, I looked at them and thought that they must be oppressed by their religion; I never thought that it could be worn as an expression of freedom. I understand this now as an expression of freedom because every woman is entitled to wear what they want; the ability to choose what you wear is the freedom of expression, and I believe that should never be taken away. If a woman chooses to wear a headscarf because it makes her feel free and confident, then I believe that she should be free to do so. It makes me sad that some countries are banning full-face veils and burkinis because they do not approve of them. Not everything a woman wears is a statement; most of the time women wear what they wear because it is comfortable, it expresses who they are, and they are confident wearing it. This ideas applies to free women everywhere; from those wearing tank tops to the women wearing burkas.

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