This is a repost of the introduction to my previous blog, which I started in April this year, and can be found here.
Varium et mutabile, semper femina is a quotation taken from Book 4 of Virgil’s Aeneid. It roughly translates to “fickle and ever-changing is woman.” In the context of the poem, it is meant by Mercury (who is referring to Dido here) as an insult, designed to prod Aeneas into abandoning her on the island of Carthage as quickly as possible because goodness knows what she might do with her volatile woman brain! (As it happens, she does pile up their marriage bed and all his clothes, set them on fire, and stab herself through the chest with a sword, lying dead as the smoke from the flames curls up into the sky for Aeneas to anxiously watch as equally heartbroken he sails away to fulfil his destiny of founding Rome. This is tragic, and deeply upsetting for Aeneas and the reader, but it is also a beautiful, cathartic, piece of art, that entails Dido expressing her grief in a way that symbolises its depth.)
I fell in love with Classics when I fell in love with Aeneid 4, during a Year 13 Latin class in which we were reading this very part of the poem as a group. I remember this quote well because it sums up a male perspective on women that we see a lot: “Oh women, they’re so unstable! Always crying! Too volatile, in fact, to be given political or social responsibility.” It is a male impulse that lies behind every time a man has told me to “calm down” or “not to get so worked up all the time.” This always lighted an anger in me that I found hard to understand; was what they were saying really that wrong?
My sister was told by her first boyfriend (poor guy tbh I hope he never reads this) that sometimes she “emotionally overreacted to things.” She broke up with him quite soon after that. Again, it has taken me a while to understand why this caused my 17-year-old self such anger and an exceptionally fiery, defensive compassion for her at the time, but I think now I do. It is because when someone tells you to “calm down”, they are effectively saying that your emotional response is disproportionate to whatever has happened – that is, ultimately, that your mind and body are not working properly. That’s why it entails such an affront.
Female creativity, and female sexuality, have been repressed from being publicly expressed for thousands of years. That is not to say they have not always crept out in our personal lives – volumes of notebooks, hummed songs, the way we dress (everything is art if you think about it) and I am happy to observe that there have been thousands of women who have been able to wield political power and have a public outlet for their creativity. But in general, our instinctively more empathetic tendencies have meant that we have often felt solely responsible for and good at childcare, which involves absolutely endless time, love and energy, limiting the time we have to explore and express ourselves. It is incredible now that we have so many female artists in the Western mainstream media that weren’t there in such numbers before: actresses, poets, singers, dancers, visual artists, filmmakers, the list of artistic media goes on. In my opinion, the fact that, generally speaking, our sexuality is less constrained and more freely expressed has a direct relationship with the fact that worldwide our partners, brothers and fathers are increasingly seeing our public expressions of creativity as something to celebrate rather than something to police.
In myself, I have after various experiments with hormonal contraception (which unfortunately I am too sensitive to use for now; I have recently opted for the copper coil, which has been a dream) noticed the relationship between my menstrual cycle and my creativity. I feel most creative when I’m at the peak of fertility (my body literally yearning to make things) and most depressive in the two days before the catharsis of my period. Then the cycle begins again.
With this blog – entitled varium et mutabile, semper femina, an insult which I am choosing to reclaim as something that points up what exactly what I think makes women valuable and unique – I intend to contribute my thoughts on whatever I feel is important. It is likely to be mental health related for now, as that is where my energy is at the moment, but I place no constraints on its evolution: hopefully, it will be whatever it wants to be. I will also share pieces of art that I value; poems, books, paintings, plays, in case anyone else likes them too. Thanks for reading.