Wednesday, February 22, 2017

Lady Mary Wortley Montagu

Again in this class we look at Lady Mary Wortley Montagu as another woman who pushed back the societal norms of her time simply because she decided she could. It was her decisions like writing about what certain women wore under their clothes, nudity, childbirth, and sexual behavior that made her more interesting to me. These women, whether we know it or not, impact what we find acceptable today. The subject of sexuality alone has been underlying these past two Women's Studies presentations. We have discussed as a group how our society has been opening up to different sexual orientations, and women being more actively sexual, which was completely frowned upon in earlier times.  It was a reoccurring theme in Edna St. Vincent Millay's poems when she opened up about her many past lovers in the poem "What Lips My Lips Have Kissed", and about sin in the poem "The Penitent". Now, we have learned that Lady Mary Wortley Montagu was known as "the most colorful women of her time". At first I thought "colorful" meant ambitious and initiative. That she was an activist putting herself out there. But, it means she was profoundly sexually active with men aside from her husband, which was extremely uncommon at the time. Mrs. Hamovit described her marriage as "formal and impersonal" and now I can't blame her for the affairs when her marriage was simply business.
       Mrs. Hamovit started to explain Lady Mary's background, and it had cleared up the confusion I had had about her lifestyle. After I had finished reading the articles from "The Guardian", and the letters from the "Turkish Embassy Letters" I was asking myself; How do these two readings relate in any way? I understood how the articles discussed the political views on Muslim women's physical appearance, and religious freedom but in no way did I think that it connected to Lady Mary Wortley Montagu's letters describing the public baths, women in the Turkish Empire, and their cultural differences. In Mrs. Hamovit's presentation it became apparent that after living in a place so different from London, Lady Mary was able to adopt the clothes, and the language, and friends from her experiences so easily. Lady Mary so eloquently described the beauty she saw in all of the women she met and the places she had been. She explained how independent and liberated the women of Turkey were especially in the hot baths when she says, “Yet there was not the least wanton smile or immodest gesture amongst the. They walked and moved with the same majestic grace which Milton describes of our general mother”(59). This place was "in the state of nature"(59). All the women were naked head to toe, and none of them showed impoliteness toward Lady Mary.
The hot baths were a place of freedom away from men, and we talked about how the veils are also a way of expressing privilege. As observers today, it seems we look at women who decide to wear the veil as inferior, but it is exactly the opposite. Women who do wear veils habitually, choose to do it because it’s completely liberating for them. Lady Mary Wortley Montagu was open to different aspects of the Turkish culture. She made it okay to be interested in other perspectives and other cultural practices.

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