Last week in an article in the New York Times, columnist Laura Collins Hughes referred to a recent performance of Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar.
No, not that performance. The one Hughes spoke of was at an all-girls high school. Not only were all the roles played by girls, the word “man” was changed to “girl” throughout the script.
“Thou art the ruins of the noblest girl that ever lived in the tide of times,” Mark Antony said over the dead body of Caesar, and I thought: When do we ever describe girls as noble? When, in the stories we tell, do we ever take them that seriously?
–from “When Women Won’t Accept Theatrical Manspreading”
by Laura Collins-Hughes, the New York Times, July 17, 2017
To which I say, “Right?!”
It started me thinking – or rather, it returned me to thinking, as it’s not my first time – how powerful language can be, especially the words we choose to describe ourselves.
I’ve been doing some reading into Stoicism (because I’m weird like that), partly because it reminds me of my dad. He was a calm, quiet Norwegian. A perfect fit for Stoicism.
But also… well, have you ever read something and thought to yourself, “Yes! This, right here! This is meeee!” (Squealed in a most stoic fashion, I assure you.)
You find out you’re not a weirdo after all. Someone — okay, someone in ancient times, but still, it’s someone — thinks the way you do. Only smarter and with a better vocabulary.
Stoicism is like that for me. But there’s one little problem: it’s a wee bit masculine. Oh hell, it’s all the way masculine. I mean, they were all men.
(Okay, fine. I realize there were some female Stoics, but we know very little about them, and they don’t appear to have written anything. Not so much as a grocery list.)
So after hearing of the plucky girls doing Shakespeare, I started changing the language of what I was reading.
The bravest sight in the world is to see a great man struggling against adversity.
The bravest sight in the world is to see a great woman struggling against adversity. ― Seneca, feminized
Granted, it’s a small change. Just one word. But that one word not only makes it more relevant to me, it’s done something more.
It got me to thinking: Maybe there are other women, maybe lots of women, who would like these Stoic thoughts too.
To tell the truth, I never felt I had much in common with other women. It wasn’t a gender issue, but more a mental one. I wasn’t as interested in the things they were (or what I thought they were – shopping, makeup, diets, fashion), which may explain why I always had more male friends than female.
But what if that was based on misplaced thinking?
Women are disturbed not by things, but by the view which they take of them. — Epictetus, feminized
Consider the basic Stoic principles of humility, self-control, equality, justice — are those strictly masculine ideals? Of course not. Do all women practice them? No, but then neither do all men. That’s why we call them ideals. (Also, did you notice how christian they sound? Again, ideally speaking.)
Okay, so what’s the big deal, you say. Just read “man” as humankind. If these ideas aren’t exclusively male, then neither should they be exclusively female.
To which I say, Geez fella, lighten up! After several centuries of language going your way, you can’t give us a few quotes of our own?
Because just as it is for an all-girl Julius Caesar, changing the pronouns makes the quotes more meaningful to the average female.
She who lives in harmony with herself lives in harmony with the universe.
— Marcus Aurelius, feminized
A nice concept, isn’t it? A woman living in harmony with herself?
Imagine if young women were hearing messages like that, rather than “Jeans that Make Your Butt Look Great!” (from Seventeen)
Of course, I realize we’re not in the habit of quoting philosophy to our kids, either to our daughters or our sons. That’s not my point.
(Though if you do quote philosophy to your kids, I want you to know how much I love you.)
My point is… well, I’m not sure what my point is. Let’s say it’s my wish. I wish we had a Stoic equivalent for women. Because Stoicism is far more than tweetable quotes, it’s a way of life.
I wish there had been a female Marcus Aurelius who wrote down all her thoughts on how to live a good and honorable life. Maybe Marcus had a second cousin, twice removed.
Let’s call her Marcia. Marcia Aurelius.
But what’s the use of wishing? (Wishing is not a Stoic-approved practice.) Maybe we don’t have ancient philosophies to bolster us up. That doesn’t mean we can’t make use of them, or alter them if need be.
Or — hey, how ’bout this? — what if we wrote our own Meditations?
One day, someone will find a wise woman’s diary — your diary — filled with ideas, admonitions, private reflections; Empowering words on how to be a good, noble woman.
I really wish we had something like that. Tell ya what – I’ll work on mine if you work on yours.
Waste no more time arguing about what a good woman should be. Be one. — Marcus Aurelius, feminized