by Kim Pederson…….
Truth or mythiction?
In mid-18th century England, a group of women decided to replace evenings of card playing and idle chatter with “conversation parties,” inviting illustrious men of letters to discuss literary and intellectual topics with them. One regular guest was scholar-botanist Benjamin Stillingfleet. His hostesses willingly overlooked his cheap blue worsted stockings (a type disdained by the elite) in order to have the benefit of his lively conversation. Those who considered it inappropriate for women to aspire to learning derisively called the group the “Blue Stocking Society.” [Merriam-Webster Word of the Day, September 3, 2015]
The English term “bluestocking” came into being, as the quote above notes, in the 1700s. The Blue Stocking Society formed because “women of society were beginning to express their boredom with being sent off to do their embroidery, rather than being invited to engage in conversation with the men.”
The tale is a half-truth, it seems. The story about Ben’s tacky socks and their role in the term’s genesis appears often. Yet, the Bas Bleu website asserts the association of female literary aspirations and legwear goes back to 15th century Venice. The phrase “bas bleu” (blue stocking) came into being in Paris in the late 1500s in a fervor of derogation for women who longed to exercise their brains. As Bas Bleu notes, “wearing warm-and-woolly dark blue worsted stockings—rather than the black silk stockings of formal, citified fashion—was the equivalent of wearing jeans today. It was the common denominator of casual dress.”
I’ve been thinking that blue stockings today might take on a different function. One simple (perhaps oversimple) way to encourage unity and cohesiveness among people is to unite them visually with clothing. The event staff at this weekend’s Key West Brewfest, for example, all wore bright orange t-shirts. Military organizations and some schools require uniforms to promote, among other things, a subliminal “we’re all in this together” message.
So what if everyone in the world donned identical blue stockings and wore them every day? I envision some initially scary but eventually beneficial things happening. First, we would all stop and take notice of one another, which rarely happens. Second, what might start out as a “oh, he or she is one of us” reaction would eventually become, through repeated observations, the realization that “everyone is one of us.”
This kind of evolution would be wonderful but I’m not sure human nature would allow it to happen. Unless we become the Borg, our differences, it seems, will always take precedence over our similarities. This means we will never relinquish our individuality, which is not entirely a bad thing given the wonders of personal creativity and the often-lethal ills of mob psychology. But it also means, as Dave Mason captured so well with his album title, we will always be “alone together.”
*”Rowlandson-Bluestockings” by Thomas Rowlandson. Licensed under Public Domain via Commons.
Visit Kim Pederson’s blog RatBlurt: Mostly Random Short-Attention-Span Musings