And, so, we have a jump to a book that I really, really didn’t enjoy. And that’s a real shame as the subject matter should have been just my thing.
Jeremy Scott brings to us a collection of short autobiographies about six inimitable women who dared to defy societal expectations on their behaviour and conduct – Victoria Woodhull, Mary Wollstonecraft, Aimee Semple McPherson, Edwina Mountbatten, Margaret Argyll and Coco Chanel.
Now, given the current climate, you would expect an objective to write the wrongs here, to lift these women from the stereotypical portrayals of them to one that showcases their intellectual achievements highlighting the hurdles they had to face from a society only too willing to objectify and gossip about them.
Not so. In fact, Jeremy has delivered a highly salacious account of these women’s lives, reductive representations of them, reducing them to little more than cartoonish stereotypes such as the vamp, the slut and the shrill. An undeniably offensive gesture given concerns on the representation of women.
By way of example…
Aimee Semple, the evangelist and media personality, is described by Jeremy – when she is a teenager – as “bee stung lips and a mouth made for kissing…flash(ing) a shapely calf…” This is simply not acceptable. You cannot describe a teenage girl in these terms; we cannot project an adult sexuality on underage girls.
Edwina Mountbatten doesn’t fare much better with Jeremy scathingly describing the debutante as, “overweight, even obese by today’s standards. Her face was beefy (and) she had an unflattering short bob…” I mean, please. It isn’t a progressive depiction when you reduce women like this.
Add to that, his depiction of the legendary Chanel as a morphine addict and the pioneering Mary Wollstonecraft as a shrill, high-maintenance girlfriend and perhaps you can see why I was shaking my head in disbelief at some sections.
There are also some bizarre gaps and omission of critical key data that would illuminate and inform the discussion immeasurably. For example, Jeremy finishes his chapter on Mary Wollstonecraft with the fact that she “whilst giving birth to a daughter – also named Mary.” And that’s it. There’s no mention whatsoever of who that Mary would grow up to be. What an example of Mary W’s legacy that her daughter would grow up to be Mary Shelley, author of Frankenstein, fulfiller of her mother’s legacy of women as writers that could change the world. But no. Not a breath of that.
It’s even worse for Margaret Argyll, a high society woman caught up in a scandalous divorce in the 1960s. Jeremy’s attention is all on Margaret’s sex life – who she slept with, where she partied, the photos she took… Now, if he was setting out to frame her as a sexually liberated woman, he fails to achieve this as he focuses the last chapter on her story on nymphomania, framing Margaret as a victim of a condition.
Yet all of this is highly skewed and speculative, especially as Jeremy makes no mention of a serious head injury that Margaret experienced, which, her friends believe, severely altered Margaret’s personality and behaviour, and may likely have been a critical factor in her liaisons. Why omit this? Maybe it simply didn’t fit the portrayal that Jeremy wanted – preferring instead to gossip about high society women, no different to what we see today in the tabloid press over Meghan.
I’ve no doubt that Jeremy would be most remarkably offended by my opinion on his book as he goes to great lengths to acknowledge his love for women in the preface; “my book was always intended as a homage to and celebration of these women…” Yet he does nothing but a disservice to them. I wish men would somehow control themselves from writing about women; they are not helping.