A daydream I had

Sometimes I daydream about spending time with historical figures. It is not because my real friends are crap; they are good enough. They simply lack the mystique required for daydreaming.

This particular fantasy begins, as most do, with a historical figure showing up on my doorstep. The set-up is largely irrelevant: it is a contrived scenario which allows everything to happen, much like a porn film but without any fucking.

“Hello,” says my visitor, “I am Mary Wollstonecraft. I hear you like to harbour time travellers in your imagination so you can show them around 21st century life. Do you mind if I stay with you?”

“Of course,” I beam, delighted by my new houseguest. “Come in, I’ll show you everything.”

Mary Wollstonecraft follows me into my kitchen. “This is a kettle for boiling water,” I say, brandishing the cheap white Tefal. “It runs on electricity. I’ll explain electricity properly later, but basically it’s how we fuel most things round here these days. It comes out of here.” I point to the plug, then run my hands along the wire.

We drink tea, and Mary Wollstonecraft looks politely baffled by my slightly confused attempt to explain the physics behind electricity. I worry slightly about taking her outside and having to talk her through how cars work. It doesn’t help that I have no idea how the internal combustion engine functions myself.

Next, I show Wollstonecraft my room. I have braced myself to explain television (“like a play, but everyone in the country can watch it in their houses! It runs on electricity, too. Remind me to explain electricity to you later.”) and the internet (“sort of like telegrams, except MUCH faster and you can said it yourself. Wait, you do have telegrams in your time, don’t you? Oh fuck it. It’s like letters except instant. And it runs on electricity, which I promise I’ll explain to you at some point.”). Wollstonecraft surveys the room, her eyes glancing over all of the features: the TV, the computer, the pile of dirty laundry in the corners.

Finally she pauses. She stares intently at the bookshelf.

“You still have books here?”

“We do,” I say. I shove my Kindle under yesterday’s newspaper. I don’t think I’m ready to tell her about ebooks.

With wonder, she runs her hands along my disorganised collection of books. “They are bound in paper,” she says quietly.

Her fingers alight on one particular book. Slowly she pulls it from the shelf.

A Vindication of the Rights of Woman.

“I wrote this book,” she whispers.

Bollocks, I think to myself. What if she hasn’t already written it? What if I have just created a temporal paradox in my daydream, and I’m going to have to spend the rest of this tube ride imagining some sort of situation where Mary Wollstonecraft develops memory loss before she goes back to her time and writes that book? I knew I should have put it in my handbag before I invited her into my fantasy.

“What year is it?” Wollstonecraft asks.

“2011,” I reply.

“That means I wrote this book more than 220 years ago,” she says. “Are you free now?”

“Let me show you,” I say. I am relieved. She is less concerned with understanding electricity and more interested in the state of modern gender roles. This will be much easier for me to talk about.

I take Mary Wollstonecraft to a high street. Her brow furrows in disgust at billboard after billboard advertising products to make women beautiful. Baubles and trinkets.

I sit her down and we read The Blank Slate together.

“So science has proved that women are naturally inferior after all?” Wollstonecraft sighs. She is tearful in her disappointment.

“Quite the opposite,” I say, handing her a copy of Delusions of Gender. “It’s just that there’s still a lot of people who think that women are weak and inferior and will speculate as to why with a Darwinian fairy tale–remind me to tell you about Darwin later. You were probably right with your assessment that it’s all down to how we treat women.”

“How does that affect women?” she asks.

I do not speak for quite some time. Silently, I roll us both cigarettes. Wollstonecraft does not smoke, and finds my perpetual smoking rather unpalatable, but I know she will need it for what I am about to show her.

“I am going to show you something horrible.” I pass her a copy of More magazine.

She reads it; I hear her periodically scoff and harrumph. As her hands start to shake with rage, I pass her the cigarette, lit. She takes a long drag.

“WHAT THE FUCK IS THIS SHIT?” exclaims Mary Wollstonecraft. The cigarette drops from between her lips and burns the paper.

“Seriously, what the fuck is this shit? It’s all just beauty regimes to attract a man, and shopping and fucking and it’s all about pleasing a shitting cockfuck arseholing cunthammer man!” Wollstonecraft, as conjured by my imagination, is somewhat less eloquent and rather more profane. She is completely right in her assessment of the magazine.

Wollstonecraft exhales in long puffs until her face is no longer puce. “I had vainly hoped that some things might have changed.”

“In a way, they have,” I say, by way of reassurance.

“They have not. You may claim to have nominal equality of the sexes, yet it is all the same. We still teach women inferiority and weakness. Women are still kept in a state of utter abjection!”

I nod.

“Mary Wollstonecraft, will you help me amend this?” I ask.

“I shall,” Wollstonecraft replies with smouldering determination.

A training montage ensues wherein I guide her through some of the more problematic aspects of her thinking, such as her attitude to the working class and her religiosity. I also teach her about things which were never discussed in her time, like sex toys and queer politics. She is a swift learner. As she is loudly decrying certain radical feminists for their transphobia, there is a crash at my front door.

Where once there stood a front door, there is now a woman clad entirely in red and black, wearing a belt of milk bottles with protruding rags. Framed in smoke, she is brandishing a weapon: a brass ray gun.

“Hello,” she says, “I’m Emma Goldman. I’m here to help you smash the patriarchy.”

Of course, the problems identified by Wollstonecraft two centuries ago cannot feasibly be solved with an imaginary time travelling steampunk anarcha feminist collective, so I will leave the narrative there.

There is still work to do. A lot of it. A Vindication of the Rights of Woman is largely as relevant today as it was when written. As Mary Wollstonecraft would say, fuck that shit. 

26 thoughts on “A daydream I had”

  1. Great piece, reminds me a little of a Q&A I did for the NUJ magazine – http://issuu.com/nujupload/docs/journalist_aug_sept . The question was which six people (alive or dead) would you invite to a dinner party. It took a while imagining before I came up with: Robert Anton Wilson, Noam Chomsky, Emma Goldman, Rudolf Rocker, Constance Markievicz and Aleister Crowley. Obviously, politics would be a big issue, but, in terms of a good dinner party, I could also see Crowley getting disgracefully drunk and letching on Constance, Emma trying to beat him off her with whatever was to hand. Bob Wilson laughing uproariously at the whole thing and Chomsky and Rocker off in a corner somewhere discussing the finer points of “Nationalism and Culture”.

    1. Glad I’m not the only one who imagines encounters with historical figures in high detail. I must come to your imaginary dinner parties sometime! 😀

  2. I would like you to please stop writing silly political blogs and dedicate all your time to the continuing adventures of time travelling steam punk Emma Goldman. Should could be joined by Wolstonecraft and perhaps the angry zombie of Emily Davison, riding a hijacked King’s horse to victory.

    1. I fully agree with this. Could someone make a tv series out of this please? I imagine it as an all-female Dr Who but with less faffing about with aliens and more getting right up in the patriarchy’s face. I think it is already my favourite show.

      1. That wasn’t a reference to it being remarkable for her, more of a reference to how Emma Goldman and Alexander Berkman’s proficiency with weaponry was rather notoriously bad.

  3. Not once was I ever, EVER taught inferiority or weakness and I seriously question the claim that girls in Britain are taught it today.

    Sometimes I wonder if today’s feminists live on a different planet. In my day it was about choice. You choose to accept how you live, how you think and how your respond. If a woman chooses to read More, Cosmo or Nuts etc then good for her, it’s her choice. Respect for having the choice to do so. It was always about having choice.

    The only disrespect I see for women who make alternative choices now is from feminists who do not make the same choices.

    This was not what feminism was about then, it shouldn’t be what feminism now is about either. I’m sad it’s being hijacked by people who feel the need to dictate to women in the same way the alleged patriarchy do.

    This was a really well written piece with beautiful imagery but its message is weakened with the lack of respect for women’s individual choices.

      1. “we women are not offered a choice?”

        Really? Do you really believe you have no choice but to conform to one section of the media’s perception of womanhood? Do you believe you do not have the ability to make a choice to purchase or conform or not?

        Pop culture has taught me nothing. I learned by reading books, newspapers and studying and not from popular culture. Surely education hasnt changed that much in the past 30 years? That was My right and My choice and yes I read More magazine for the ridiculous position of the month because it was a laugh. I at no point felt I had to conform to their images.

        Perhaps this is a generational thing because I cannot see how women today have no choice. They have the choice not to purchase said magazines. They have the choice not to conform to popular culture’s idea of femininity.

        Nobody forces you to participate in a pop culture society, that is a choice.

        I do agree that there are dangerous messages sent out by media on all aspects of life but as humans we have the choice to ignore it, not buy into that lifestyle or to consume as we see fit.

        I’ll be honest, I don’t think such radical feminism does much to promote the values you project. You are not offering choices and that damages your cause. Dictating how women should be and makings suggestions that they are not free thinking individuals is as dangerous as the media dictating to girls.

        You have such a wonderful talent with words and you have the means to educate but berating those who do choose to conform to a More magazine lifestyle does little to respect that girls have half a brain to realise that its not real life.

        In my opinion this does more damage to women or girls than a brief flirtation with tits ‘n’ ass glossies.

        1. I am not berating women’s choice. I am berating the hegemonic image of female sexuality.

          I’m glad you make every single choice a rational one. Most people do not. Most people absorb the dominant imagery around them and internalise the messages. And that is why publications like More are problematic.

    1. I’m not trying to cause a fracas, but when you say “Nobody forces you to participate in a pop culture society, that is a choice”, I wonder, how would you suggest avoiding it? I’m genuinely interested. You say you learned from books, newspapers and studying, but surely those things are not hermetically sealed against ‘pop culture’? How would you define pop culture anyway? I would include newspapers, personally. Also, people can and do study song lyrics, films, advertisements, fashion, graphic novels and more. So to say that studying is separate from pop culture is untrue. And reading is only one part of a person’s life. How can you avoid seeing billboards on the street, adverts in all forms of media, hearing other people around you discuss pop culture, and, even more difficult to avoid, discuss opinions and ideals influenced by pop culture without their awareness?
      I may be misunderstanding you, but it seems to me that you think that popular culture contains messages that are harmful to a woman’s self-image, but she is at liberty to disregard those messages.. What about ‘high’ culture then? You divide books and study from your conception of pop culture, but there’s plenty of books and lectures and academic articles that aren’t exactly supportive of women’s choices. Should we ignore those as well? It seems like you just want women to ignore everything in society that is hurtful to us. Which sounds like a great way to feel positive about society, I would love to hear how to achieve that level of denial.

  4. Sorry to burst your bubble but its actually highly likely she would have known of electricity (work by william gilbert, thomas browne and later benjamin franklin were all before and of her time). Additionally erasmus darwins ideas of evolution were around way before his grandson charles picked up the baton. Mary was in fact quite learned in these fields. Well, as for more/nuts magazine there was the contemporary equivalents then too. Please do not patronize your visitors from the past, they know more then you give credit for!

    1. Well, that makes it a lot easier for me to focus on the social conditions in 21st century England for future fantasies.

      I think Wollstonecraft might be a little irritated we’re STILL publishing More even if she had something in her time, though.

  5. I quite enjoyed this narrative. Save for the part when Wollstonecraft says “what the fuck is this shit!”. That is most out of character for her. She would have probably said something more akin to “Oh My grandfathers” or “Hell’s Bells”.

  6. “the problems identified by Wollstonecraft two centuries ago cannot feasibly be solved with an imaginary time travelling steampunk anarcha feminist collective”

    Don’t be so pessimistic, I reckon it’s worth a shot. I’m up for joining, and a friend of mine says she’ll make us capes.

  7. This is the best thing. And it should be continued as a webcomic. I would definitely read a webcomic about incarnations of Emma Goldman and Mary Wollstonecraft conjoured from your imagination fighting patriarchy with time travel and a brass ray gun.

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