Many have called Oxford drama too pretentious, too intellectual; it is often said to cater to a small audience who all know the same in-jokes and philosophical puns. But I want to dissect the statement: what, or who, is this implied ‘Oxford person’?
Generally, it is male, publicly educated and a future MP or Mayor of London. These kinds of people do appear in Blue Stockings, and are presented as the quintessence of Oxbridge – but the play reveals another kind: women, not part of the university but fighting their way to become equally ‘Oxford’ or otherwise.
Blue Stockings sheds light on an issue hugely important in contemporary Oxford, but one that is rarely discussed: the place of women, both in and outside Oxford. Websites like ‘Misogyny Overheard at Oxford’ and ‘Everyday Sexism’ highlight contemporary chauvinism and poor treatment of women even in modern Oxford; at the same time, societies like ‘Oxford Women in Business’ and ‘WomCam’ show the solidarity and support women here receive.
With 2014 marking the 40th anniversary of Oxford University becoming co-educational – the moment at which women officially became part of ‘Oxford’ – now is the perfect time to stage Blue Stockings and show how far gender equality in education has come, and yet how much further it can go.
As a veteran of all-girls’ education, a Girl Guide, and called ‘Bluestocking’ by my feminist history teacher, I care deeply about the subject of female education. However, aside from the founding of St. Hilda’s I knew very little about the women’sâ€¨colleges before I began researching the play, and the information I uncovered about their studies, their lives andâ€¨their treatment by society at large was astounding.
Although â€¨the play is set in Cambridge, the situation in Oxford in 187â€¨9 was very similar and the characters’ behaviour reflect the realâ€¨attitudes of the time – people believed that educating a women â€¨would destroy her reproductive organs, for example, andâ€¨ Girton really was first housed in a farmhouse twenty miles â€¨from Cambridge.
The play provides a gripping and entertaining perspective on academic history, revealing our own past and showingâ€¨ what has changed and how we have progressed. The design will focus on the academic setting of the play, acting as a constant reminder of the women’s battle for the right to study. In addition, the history of LMH as an all-women’s college makes it particularly fitting, again highlighting the changes that have occurred within the college itself, such as becoming co-educational in 1978.
Blue Stockings premiered at the Globe last summer, and there have been very few student productions of it since. The play highlights a deeply significant issue of the modern world – Swale dedicated the piece to Malala Yousafzai – but does so in an engrossing, enlightening and very entertaining way. From the moment I read the piece I knew this was a play that could have an enormous impact in Oxford, teaching us so much about our history and what makes an ‘Oxford person’. For, notably, the play ends with a projection reading;
“Eventually the Senate succumbed to pressure and Cambridge awarded women the right to graduate.”
It was fifty years later, in 1948.’
We might add a cheeky footnote:
“Oxford did it in 1920.”
Blue Stockings runs at the Simpkins Lee Theatre at LMH from 21st – 24th of May (Wednesday – Saturday of 4th Week).