I do want to talk about "nasty" women. That word has been on my mind ever since I came home from New York. How it seems to have become a rallying cry for some women. How society has historically tended to demonize strong women or women with power. And I've been thinking about all the nasty women I know. And have known.
And even about those nasty women who are characters in books and plays I've read. My favourite being Goneril and Regan, the two elder daughters from Shakespeare's King Lear.
|Ian Holm as Lear. Victoria Hamilton, Amanda Redmond, and Barbara Flynn as Cordelia, Regan, and Goneril. source|
The classic interpretation of King Lear depicts the older daughters (plus the illegitimate son of the Earl of Gloucester) as the villains. But I've always felt sympathy for Goneril and Regan. And when I was still teaching, we used to have a lot of fun in my classes looking at the play from the point of view of family dynamics. Imagine growing up in the Lear household. I mean, those girls were nasty and manipulative because that's exactly the behaviour they learned from a self-centered, manipulative father. We used to have some rousing discussions about how daughters 'should' behave, about good parenting, about power and how to wield it judiciously. About strength and competency, and if society viewed strong, competent women differently from strong, competent men.
I'd sometimes relate the story from my first year as a department head when an angry student told me that the work I had just assigned was "ridiculously hard" (his words) and he was going to have a word with my department head. "Go ahead," I said, "I am the department head." Afterward, his buddy told me confidentially that the boy thought a male colleague of mine was the head because "he always wears a suit." Hmmm. I wore suits. But even though the school had a female principal, I didn't match his idea of someone in a position of authority.
I learned a lot about how to wield authority from that female principal whom I admired very much. She was smart, very smart. And not afraid to tell us when we had messed up, or when we had done something fabulous. I loved that about her. That plus the fact that we could have a giggle every now and then... about shoes. Unlike other bosses for whom I had worked, she could effortlessly draw a line between me the competent teacher and head, and me the shopper and shoe-lover. Like the time we interviewed K, a fabulous young teacher whom we really wanted to hire. And when K had left the interview room, and we both agreed that we'd be lucky to have her on "our team," I leaned closer to my principal and whispered, "And did you see her gorgeous shoes?" And my boss whispered back, "And the bag to match." Ha. Love that moment. That's how the rumour began in my school that you had to have good shoes to work in the English department. Not sure I didn't start that myself, actually.
I will say that this principal whom I admired was not universally liked. She really knew her stuff, followed board policy and expected her staff to do likewise. But she did not have the gift of bonhomie, was a bit reserved in large groups, generally in meetings got down to business instead of shooting the breeze. She was not a game player. And thus was not liked by those who saw these as admirable, even necessary, qualities in a boss. What a nasty, nasty woman! Ha.
Yep. I've known a lot of nasty women in my life. And learned a lot from each of them. But the original nasty woman in my life was my grandmother Sullivan. Five feet tall, red-haired with the cliché temper to go with it. She was smart, very smart in fact, sharp witted, and sharp tongued. We all loved her, but we also knew that you did not mess with Grammy. That's her below with my grandfather. He was a big man. But he didn't mess with Grammy either.
|My grandparents outside their North Devon home|
My grandmother Sullivan did not have an easy life. Her mother died when she was 15. And as the eldest daughter, she managed the home and her younger brothers and sisters who were 3, 5, 7,10 and 13 when their mother died. Later, she managed my grandfather Sullivan, too. I remember her telling me that she fended off Grampy's original proposal by telling him she wasn't prepared to marry a potato farmer; she'd grown up on a potato farm and knew what hard work it was. When he found something better to do, he could come back. So he did. He started his own successful well-drilling company, and handed it on, eventually, to their sons. That's their 1922 marriage certificate below. She was 23 when they married. And he was 30... and a "well digger" ... not a farmer.
|Copy of my grandparents' 1922 marriage certificate|
How about you, dear readers? Have you been influenced by so-called nasty women in your life? You know mothers, teachers, colleagues, or bosses who were unapologetically smart and strong and helped you learn to be strong too?
Linking up with Thursday Favourite Things Blog Hop at Katherine's Corner and Saturday Share Link-up at Not Dressed as Lamb.