Blue Stockings: highbrows and eyebrows

I went to see Blue Stockings at the Globe last night, appropriately with 2 other female Cambridge graduates (though none of us from Girton).

Blue Stockings is set around the time of the vote on women’s degrees, shamefully rejected by trainloads of over-educated and largely stupid men.  It’s a nice snapshot of the sorts of things that were happening then:  the sorts of women who went up to Girton, the abuse that they faced, the normal aspects of undergraduate life that they also faced, and so on.  The dialogue was well-written, and the intelligence behind it was clear.  However, it didn’t really get much beyond froth.  As my friend Phoebe remarked, this would make lovely Sunday evening BBC1 drama.  It really would – and I hope that the Beeb takes it up as a 6-parter (as long as they retain the writer, Jessica Swales).  Downton Abbey meets Socratic dialogues.

I found a couple of things disappointing – one was the alas-too-inevitable anachronistic language slips (‘gender’ instead of ‘sex’, for example).  The other, however, was I think more fundamental.  Eyebrows.

My eyebrows are prominent:  thick and black and uncompromising.  They are deeply unfashionable, although would cut a dash were I male.  The fashion is, of course, to have pencil-line-thin eyebrows – effected sometimes by plucking them all off and drawing on a pencil line.

As a bluestocking, I don’t care a fig about my eyebrows.  I certainly cannot understand why, unless in exceptional circumstances (even I agree about monobrows – male or female), anyone would go to the tortuous length of regular plucking.  I doubt that Edwardian bluestockings would have cared a fig about their eyebrows, either – or, indeed, about conforming to some sort of shallow social stereotype.

What a shame, then, that the costume department seems to be bent on making its characters look not like the individual, intellectual, society-be-damned women that they were, but like fashionable air-heads out for clubbing and leg-spreading.  Their eyebrows were immaculately plucked – not a thicky in sight.  (They were also over-made-up – far too much rouge.)

The men’s make up was much subtler and just looked as thought they weren’t wearing any.  But women these days cannot not wear make-up:  it’s simply unfeminine, isn’t it? Alas, I fear the make-up situation is getting worse.

(Another slightly odd thing was that one of the actors was black and dreadlocked. Now, there were black male students at Cambridge in the 1900s, generally Africans and definitely not with dreadlocks.  Suspension of disbelief is too stretched here.  Having a black, terribly high-class female student was, however, credible.)


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