Friday, 26 June 2015

The Forgotten Stories of Women

Maya Angelou
I wondered recently - Why are the lead characters of most fairy stories female and when were these stories written and who by?  
Is this because many of the traditional stories belong mostly to women and that women through the centuries passed down the oral traditions in ballads, songs and stories?  

Many characters in the old fairy tales though are now out-dated role models for today's young girls. They are not proactive or action women, but rather submissive ones, who have to respond to what life may throw at them. Meanwhile the action women are too often portrayed as either a deranged witch or a wicked step mother. 

Do these stories of pretty princesses in shiny pink frocks wishing for prince charming to kiss them one day have the best effect on young girls? They give the impression that success in life is about relying solely on good looks rather than what they can achieve in the world.  Looks fade while character and actions remain. Many of the real stories of women appear to be lost.    

I read of Agnes Broun, the mother of the famous Scottish poet Robert Burns, who introduced to him his love of songs. 
This meant Burns learned the joy of music and words and he later would become not only Scotland's greatest bard but one of the greatest poet of love, nature, and democratic political views. She passed on the old stories, rhythms and rhymes. Agnes gets little mention.

I began to realise that it was often through the women that stories and stories in song were passed down the generations.
I also read similar of Scottish poet James Hogg, who also learnt poetry and language from his mother's vast oral knowledge of the ballads and traditional tales. 

The week before this I had heard of folklorist Margaret Bennett who was key to influencing her talented musician son Martyn Bennett. I was at the wonderful opening concert at Celtic Connections 2014 which was the first orchestration of Martyn's incredible Grit album - one of the best concerts I have been at when I wondered where he got all these references for his music from, as if he'd pluck them out of the air - now I know it was from his mother. 

Her background is Scots/ Irish and on her mothers side from Skye and the Stewarts. Her father was a piper. Her talented son Martyn Bennett went with her everywhere and heard as a child all these traditional singers and pipers. Martyn sadly died at the young age of 32 and he was influential in the evolution of Celtic fusion music
Margaret Bennett

I read too of Mrs Bach, or rather Anna Magdelena, who was revealed as the author of the wonderful cello suites by forensic musicologist Professor Martin Jarvis of Charles Darwin university in Australia, in a recent film documentary by Glasgow films.
In the Age of Enlightenment (8TH Century’) most women would never write under their own name and so they have been forgotten by history.  Many women writers used pseudonyms.

Why have so many women's voices been lost or ignored?  One problem has been the lack of women reviewers. There is an unconscious bias with regard to literature - a male writer's book will be described as 'an epic sweep', while a women author has written 'a domestic drama'.

I remember my daughter asked if they might study a women author in her English class, to which the boys loudly protested!  Apparently 90% of books studied at school are by male authors! I feel sure it would be much better for girls to study English (and science subjects) separately to the boys. Studies have found that girls perform better in all girls classes, especially in the sciences.  Women read books by either men or women - wheras men mostly read male readers.

Agnes Broun kept a portrait of her poet son, Robert Burns, on her wall all her life. He died before her at the age of 37.    

These are only a tiny few examples of the many incredible lost voices of the many women who have inspired future generations.  There are a great many unsung women heroines of modern art, music and poetry. I began to realise that it was through the women that stories were being passed on. I attend Edinburgh book festival each August and I have been amazed and awed by the talented women authors who attend.