“Behind every great man is a woman hovering in the shadows” is a frequently uttered statement. This is not a phrase used to describe Lise Meitner. The sun shone directly on her. Otto Hahn’s winning the Nobel prize for their work on nuclear fission shoved her under an umbrella. Lise Meitner’s rich life follows the long tradition of women being thrown to the wayside, their contributions to great works discounted.
This story made me think of Meg Woltizer’s 2003 book The Wife. A fictionalised version of the Nobel Prize for Literature is won by Joe Castleman, a man who would be nothing without his wife Joan, a woman once, decades ago, captured by his apparent genius as a well to do WASP princess studying at Smith College in the 1950s, with his Brooklyn accented James Joyce quoting ways. A budding writer herself, she was warned of the irrelevant, unread fate she was to expect. More about their marriage is unwrapped as the story progresses, and secrets revealed shake the certification of his creativity. Their story appears, on the surface, a product of their time,
but the book haunted me because of how untrue that notion is. Growing up, and still now, I have witnessed bright, articulate and cruelly underdeveloped women forgo their full potential for men. Maintaining the domestic sphere is still a responsibility for women. Despite the trails left blazing, Joan’s full contribution is blanked by the establishment, just like Lise’s. Of course, their situations are different so are the reasons why, but each figure faces a institutional, entrenched kind of gendered ignorance.
Although, embarrassingly enough, as a promising young woman myself, finding her way, I get the appeal of Joan’s presented role: the idea of finding a man, who’ll pluck you out of the crowd, cite you as his muse, devote his entire acceptance speech to you. Realising this, fumes of self-disgust choke me. To be this kind of woman, to be a care giver, a support system or a playmaker, is not a failing. Often, they are a necessity. Personally, I have reaped benefit, comfort from these figures. For the sake of ease and circumstance, my mother took on traditional feminine roles, thus enabling my father to peak professionally. Perhaps, due to knowing nothing else, I cannot attest to an alternative, but my mother’s delay in intellectual development seems to have benefitted mine.
While this soliloquy may seem like an almighty digression, as Lise Meitner’s story is not that of an aspiring suburbanite, as a case study, there exist parallels. Both hold varying truths about the systemic erasure of women, a failure to be fully visible, a complex human in all her glory. However, the variety of blockages are vast and complicated. These are highly private, personal choices, and require nuanced cultural overhaul. Dialogues have been taking place for centuries concerning this. But liberation from the pale, male and stale order of business is not going to be simple, to pretend otherwise is another injustice. This fight is not new; shields waving in battle. Each generation contributing their own plan of attack.
In Lise’s situation, the frustration is heightened because gender seems to be her only real, quantifiable barrier. Yes, one could attribute the lack of recognition to sociopolitical factors. Aggression against Jews was reaching its violent peak across Europe. Austrian anti-Semitism forced her to flee to Sweden, a place she adopted as her new home. But, in the end, as other forgotten female figures in history, there was a man blocking her view.
As I’m sure you’ll be aware, it is important to identify, and discuss at a great extent which Sex and The City main character you are, – I’m a cocktail of Miranda and Carrie. Similar conversations happen in my family. However, it was less Candace Bushnell, more The Seinfeld Chronicles.
If you were to ask my dad, he would declare himself a Jerry, and get offended when I’d accurately point out that he’s clearly a Newman, but he’d agree that my brother is a George. Attempts have been made to paint me a Kramer, but it’s too far fetched. It’s too easy to label those on the eccentric scale a Kramer. Perhaps, it is accurate, and I’m too biased to fully be able to disagree. However no matter your label, life ought to be a journey into transitioning into Elaine Benes.
To me, Elaine is the creme de la creme. Seinfeld would be absolutely nothing without her. Rumours have it that network executives at NBC refused to power on the with the show because of a lack of female characters. So, back to the drawing board Larry David and Jerry Seinfeld were sent. To me, this speaks volumes about comedy, but that is an another post entirely.
Initially, the issue was that Jerry and Larry didn’t believe they could create a amazing character. Writing women was out of their repertoire, which again is a whole can of worms being preserved for later. Inspiration for the best thing to happen to network television came from comedian Carol Leifer. For a funny and poignant read, I suggest you read her book When You Lie About Your Age The Terrorists Win. Personally, being close to basis of Elaine, reading her actual words, was transformative.
So, as said before, NBC’s pushed for this to happen. May we take a moment of silence to reflect on this groundbreaking decision? It was said before, and may I add, it cannot be repeated enough; Seinfeld, one of the most influential television programmes of all time, one of the most syndicated television programmes ever, would be something so different, without her. It would, and is, so mundane. To back myself up, in season four, there’s a few episodes without her, and simply, they are unbearable. It’s over an hour of demanding to know WHERE HAS ELAINE GONE? The answer? Maternity leave.
Elaine being based on a real person is uplifting. She’s not just devised by a roundtable of men, moulding of their flat ideals of the “funny woman”., Starting with a skeleton that was human, not just a blueprint of a male fantasy. Together, just like every other character on Seinfeld was formed; stemming from reality. Their conclusion was a weird, fleshed out person, a woman, complete with the same dash of bizarreness her counterparts. For example, nearly containing the same level of neurosis as George, but let’s face it, no one more does. Defined by his self second guessing, its his USP. Elaine is bizarre, in a way I know women to be.
In show’s early days, even the more traditional sit-com route of “the will they, wont they”, it was done with a sense of unique humour, and a general celebration of everything about half assed expressions of affection. The shift to more of a focus on the nature and form of Jerry and Elaine’s relationship was due to being unsure of the Seinfeld’s future, and with the possibility of cancellation looming, their reuniting was thought of as a neat little bow to tie around the show, not the most creative one.
The plot of The Deal is as followed; while wanting the best of both worlds, Jerry and Elaine put together an agreement so they can still be friends, have sex, but not be in a relationship. That part was deemed to messy. To ensure a sense of boundary, and to remove the creeping in of a grey area, a list of demands; no expectation of sleeping over after, no calls the day after, and so on.
While opting for this, that, but NOT the other, just like every storyline, concerning these themes before and after this, their attempts at having purely causal sex goes wrong.
When dealing with the evergreen problem of what to get someone you’re sleeping with for their birthday, Jerry decides to go down the impersonal road of cold hard cash. Appalled might be too gentle a word to express Elaine’s reaction.
“WHAT ARE YOU MY UNCLE?” She demands to know, envelope of cash in her hand; exactly $182.
Funnily enough, Kramer is the only one to get her a meaningful present; a hand crafted bench she longed for. As to not outshine his best friend, and get Elaine a more thoughtful gift, George, a man I have no understanding any woman should want to have sex with, presents Elaine with $91, exactly half the amount of cash Jerry gave to Elaine, exactly half as meaningful.
This is radical to me. Elaine expects things in relationships. She expects to be treated well, and to be given thoughtful birthday presents . This ought not be a radical declaration of intent, but, unfortunately, it is. This must speak volumes about me, as opposed to her, but I thinks thats why I love her, because I WISH I WAS AS COOL AS ELAINE. Channelling her is my daily task.
A boyfriend once presented me with cash for Christmas and my birthday. Never did I once think this odd. God, I want to shake myself, wishing I’d responded as she did.
I love most about her is her inability to suffer fools. She screams at Poppy, in his own restaurant, about how it was THE SUPREME COURT who gave her the right to choose what any woman does with her body.
It feels particularly poignant to me, to watch someone so unabashedly pro choice when it comes to abortion, more so by it being on network television.
If she is not feeling her beau, she will dump him. She’s not sentimental or flappy. She doesn’t cry and mope, she moves onto the next one.
She won’t have sex with you unless she deems you sponge worthy.
She doesn’t care about office birthdays.
She orders the big salad.
She manages to blag her way to the top of the J Peterman Catalog.
She hates men, but she’s not a lesbian.
She even hits rock bottom – swapping lives with George.
The list of reasons I love her are endless. For the sake of time, I must stop right here. It must be said, of course one must take her with a pinch of salt, because becoming more like Elaine might not be the best way to win influence and be the most popular person alive.
Although, the thought of being less of a please pleaser excites. It’s a nasty, hollow and selfish trait. It serves no one, not even yourself. It’s only glory to is to shine on your narcissistic tendencies.
Also, I love her for how she is like me. She’s angry and she’s insecure and she’s really going to let you know about it. She’s a woman with a soul like mine. But most distinctively, she doesn’t have any grace. Unless, of course, you ask Mr Pitt, but he eats his snickers with a fork so he can do one.
I wrote this during the electric summer of 2018. People were going wild for England, and its success during the World Cup, and how couldn’t let myself be a part of it.
To be a Scotland supporter during the World Cup is to be a villain, a necessary one; we push the story along, assuming the role of pantomime baddie. We rain on the parade. We’re grumpy, and we like it. Firstly, our experience is marred by never being there. Face it, we are shit at football.
My life has been free of Scotland being a participant in any major international football tournament (soothed a bit by our recent, relative success in rugby).It doesn’t really bother me in all honesty. However, the World Cup sweeps us all up into its mayhem. And as said before, Scotland supporters supply a purpose. It is sibling rivalry, if you like.
I spectated England fans spectating the Colombia versus England match. It was a heated atmosphere, a day marked by the lack of air conditioning. Joining them for the penalty shootout; the kaleidoscope of screams, hands on heads and shallow breaths. There was a sense of unification in the danger. I was pricked by jealousy. I wanted to be a part of it: a table with people who all felt the same, unified by the tornado of terror. The last kick was taken; the little deli burst at the seams.
My pity party continued, until I remembered something. To cheer for England would be wrong; it might seem petty not to, but it would be wrong. These people were being true to themselves. This was their team, their narrative, their joy.
Realising this, I recalled how important my connections to Scotland are, however as some say, even tenuous, to me. My father is a member of the Scottish diaspora in Bermuda: a group founded by 1950s immigrants in search of a warmer life. Culture was maintained by each other’s company as they cashed in the tropical ticket to what their birth lottery never gave them. Their winnings: public school education for their children, positions in world commerce and Sunday afternoons on pink beaches.
But it removed them from their home. There are societal similarities between the two places– mainly a dependency on alcohol for a good time. But, ultimately, parallels are few. Upheaval from one’s homeland will have an impact on the later generations. I am the later generations. At eleven, I was planted back on Scottish soil. My independence sprouted there. I have my roots there.
Supporting Scotland is summed up by my dad: “It is that glimmer of hope. It’s the feeling that you might actually win. It probably won’t happen, but it could. You are united by this feeling.”
This disconnection from Scotland lingers in me. It’s no epic tragedy but it leaves me a lost soul. My origins are not simple, nor are they heartbreaking. However, denying the importance of ones’ national story is foolish. Naively, we disregard it as xenophobic, trivial even. Although, once without one, it becomes something to be desired. I know I am Scottish; with my affinity for rain, the pinkish hue to my skin and my training in using curse words as terms of endearment. What else can I be?
Also, it must be said, England fans are so desperately, and unbelievably tedious with their declarations of “But, yeah, WE WON THE WAR” whenever defeated by Germany. I hold grudges for the same reasons people love Gareth Southgate, because I’m supposed too.
My friend Rachel has a dog. She loves them. I think she likes them more than she likes people. However, it must be said, it’s not really all that hard to be more lovable than a human. People seem to be marked by their stupidity, the endless examples are too limitless to sum up.
Dogs seem to be stupid, in my opinion. Their hobbies include chasing their tail, obsessing over sticks and, my personal favourite, eating excrement. A riotous good time for them can be found by visiting the literal watering hole of your downstairs loo, and they generally look too eager to eat their mushed up meat for dinner.
However, they wear their lack of intellect with a certain charm. Dogs’ foolishness has never caused for a major calamity. The worst thing they’ll do is bite you, or in the case of my two labradors, eat the dish you left on the counter, the very same thing you really wanted to eat for lunch tomorrow. Additionally, they might scare the literal life out of the rabbit you got for your ninth birthday, a week ago. However, you’ll be able to forgive them. It is the perfect revenge for your parents to order two pure bred dogs, artificially engineered for perfectly preserving game. There are countless dogs in shelters, but your silly human family went pedigree, over pound.
Dogs come in all shapes and sizes. Rachel’s dog is a teeny tiny tot, a shaggy white Chihuahua named Pancho. Currently, the raggedy rover resides in Australia, far away from her. Fun facts are limitless when it comes to that little ball of growls. My birthday, the 20th January, is his birthday. Apparently, he has minimal to no awareness of his size. His Myers-Briggs personality type is INJT. His idea of a perfect date is a stroll along the beach, fishing the evening off with a tapas style picnic.
Dogs, despite their stupidity, invoke major with affections. This renders the whole who is the master really question into hyper drive. For example, my grandmother regularly bankrupts herself when she’s believed her wee mongrel munched a sock. The heartbreak deepens when discovered the sock was merely behind the sofa. At least, the dog got a makeshift juice cleanse; she was looking a bit bloated.
Perhaps, this is reinforces my point about people’s stupidity. It also deepens the debate – are dogs overtly the master? This is an is mighty achievement, considering they cannot compute a diverse range of colour. Most importantly, they’ve never even contemplated leafing through a copy of The Prince by Machiavelli. All this attention, care and respect, without even the groundings in how to manipulate.
Thanks for joining me!
Good company in a journey makes the way seem shorter. — Izaak Walton