Wednesday, February 22, 2017

Lady Montagu

Lady Montagu was educated and self-motivated, “colorful” and independent. Not only was she tutored in a variety of subjects, but she also studied Latin by herself seeing as at the turn of the eighteenth century no one dared teach a girl such a respected language. She refused her arranged marriage, eloped, and then proceeded to live in a foreign country without her husband several times. While Lady Montagu never had cause to worry about her social standing, seeing as she was wealthy, beautiful, and amiable, she still penned many essays commenting on politics and feminism, even contributing some about moral cynicism. In her letters which she worked hard to collect, hand copying each one for her own records, she touches upon topics that were deemed for her time period “inappropriate” such as nudity, childbirth, undergarments, and the class system. My favorite quote from the selection of letters we read would have to be from the one describing her visit to the Turkish hot baths. She writes, “I was here convinced of the truth of a reflection I had often made, that if it was the fashion to go naked, the face would be hardly observed.” I find this conclusion very honest and intriguing, especially because nudity is something we continue to shy away from, as if our bodies are ugly or shameful. Lady Montagu, however, takes the face, which traditionally determines a woman’s beauty, and makes the statement that the body is even more brilliant, even more alluring.

Oftentimes feminism can be thought of in only one light: cries of “FREE THE NIPPLE” and “TAKE DOWN THE PATRIARCHY” accompanying crowds of women who are protesting for equal rights. And although this is a fine way to be heard and to provoke change, feminism, as a woman, can be supported more quietly too. When in Turkey, Lady Montagu describes her English garb as a “machine” that “was not in [her] own power to open” and so she adopts Turkish apparel which she thinks gives women the “entire liberty of following their inclinations.” Without any noise, Lady Montagu rids herself of her confining “stays” and frees herself both physically and mentally. What is more empowering than that simple act? Feminism is about forcing society to recognize women as equal, but it’s also about women finding confidence in themselves. The first article from The Guardian speaks to this, as some “young, highly educated Muslim women…may be choosing to wear the veil because it enables them” to integrate, to “signal their piety” and therefore feel more comfortable when interacting with others. Showing more skin and being aggressive against societal standards isn’t the only aspect of feminism that deserves attention; Lady Montagu reminds us that it’s also a movement charging us to both take pride in who we are as individuals and actively make decisions that we believe will benefit us. 

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