Imagining the stifled life of Judith Shakespeare

Editor’s Note: Author Alexandra Didato is a student in the fall 2010 Women’s Studies Program Special Topics course, That Chick is Crazy: Women and Madness, at The University of Akron.

After reading Virginia Woolf’s “Thinking About Shakespeare’s Sister,” I couldn’t help but agree with her interpretation of what Shakespeare’s sister’s life would have been like.

Virginia Woolf

In her essay, Woolf argued that if Shakespeare had grown up with a sister who was equally as intelligent, her full intellectual potential would have never been reached. This would have resulted because of the  fact that during the 16th century, women were not given the same opportunities as men. Women were to be seen but not heard.

If Shakespeare’s sister, whom Woolf named Judith, had ever been caught reading a book, her parents would have told her to set it down and help prepare meals, sew clothing, or spend her time some other trivial household chore. Also, she probably would not have been able to nurture her intelligence because she would not have been sent to school.

Instead, she would have stayed at home helping take care of her family and performing household chores or simple tasks. Before she would even be given the chance to make something of herself or her life, she would be married off to a man she either barely knew or had never met. She would hardly be out of her teens and already expected to bear a child and start a family of her own.

Was this the life she wanted? Not likely.

Did society or her family care? Probably not.

Women during the Renaissance had expectations, expectations that if left unfulfilled resulted in their either appearing ludicrous, mad, or highly improper. Judith would have been stuck in a society where her creativity and intellect would have been stunted rather than able to flourish and blossom into something incredible. Any hope or desire to make something of her life by becoming a writer would have quickly been shot down.

If she were to try and go against the system created by the time period, she could have been beaten, she would have brought shame upon her family, and/or her behavior would have been frowned upon by society.

After long periods of having her creativity suppressed, who’s to say Judith wouldn’t have gone mad? To hold all of her passions and intellectual gifts inside without any outlet to express them would surely bring her great stress. She would have felt as trapped as a zoo animal locked inside a cage; no matter how hard her creativity tried to get out and be expressed, it could never escape the contours of her mind.

I’m sure that if I were to have grown up during the 16th century I would have had low self-esteem; I would have felt like nothing more than a mere housewife with no other role in life than to bear children and raise a family. Also, it’s hard for me to imagine how anyone could develop a sense of self-esteem if their thoughts, ideas, and dreams are either never heard by others or silenced.

I can only imagine what the real story of Judith Shakespeare would have been if she had truly existed. What I do know, is not only would her creativity have been suppressed, but this suppression would have inevitably led to some level of inner turmoil inside of Judith that would make her wonder if her high level of intellect as a woman in the 16th century truly mattered. Would this inner turmoil have led to some form of madness?

Like Virginia Woolf, we can only come up with our own theories on how Judith would have handled the restrictions on her intellect during the 16th century.

OC3? Or simply keeping up with the Joneses?

Editor’s Note: Author Michelle Booth is a student in the fall 2010 Women’s Studies Program Special Topics course, That Chick is Crazy: Women and Madness, at The University of Akron.

Recently while surfing the net, I came across an article that I found offensive.  The article written by Alison Finch, a self-declared self-esteem coach, is titled “Do You Suffer from OC3?”  It was written for her website

The basic premise of the article is that there are many young women out there who are overcome by feelings of jealousy and insecurity, and Finch Finch holds the cure — and the diagnosis, as it turns out.

Finch begins her article by describing Obsessive Compulsive Comparing and Competing Disorder, or OC3 as she nicknames it for those of us who can’t remember that many words.  She then goes on to compare OC3 with Attention Deficit Disorder (ADD) and Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD), adding the OCD definition that she obtained from Wikipedia. God forbid this woman would consult an actual medical journal.

Unfortunately, Finch fails to mention that OC3 is unlike OCD and ADD in that those are disorders recognized by the American Psychological Association, and that OC3 is something that she just made up, or “coined,” as she so eloquently puts it.

Finch goes on to describe OC3 by using remarks such as “OC3 is a condition that my experience suggests affects far more woman than men.” and “It seems to be more prevalent in younger woman (say, below the age of 35)…”  Finch later declares that OC3 is not a psychiatric disorder, but a psychological condition and that it is curable.

What??!! “That my experience suggests,” “it seems” and “curable”? What kind of statistical evidence backs this?  Was research of any kind done to obtain this information, or is Finch just completely pulling this out of her checkbook? 

At this point in the article I began to ask myself, who is this woman? And what gives her the authority to diagnose and “cure” such disorders?  As far as I can tell, those questions remain unanswered.  Finch Finch herself is not a psychologist, psychiatrist, or a medical doctor, but just an entrepreneur with a website that is oozing with advice about how to overcome OC3 and how to diagnose yourself by using her online questionnaires.  Gee, I wonder if the results of those questionnaires will lead you to place items into your online shopping cart. 

Finch says she has obtained her information about women through e-mails from the members of her website.  In one example she uses, a member talks about how she compares herself to other people and the possessions they have.  Another woman complains about how her boyfriend looks at other women and flirts with them, and how this makes her feel inadequate.  If Finch really had these women’s best interests at heart, shouldn’t her advice to them be to focus on themselves and to dump their loser boyfriends?      

But what does Finch recommend? What is her cure for her made-up condition, you may be asking.  Well, the following are some examples of her advice:

  • Observe and judge, instead of comparing and competing.  (Instead of being jealous of an attractive woman in a bar say to yourself “This is a great bar.  Wow, look at her she’s stunning and she has great boobs.  She obviously feels confident with the way she looks….”)
  • Give him the benefit of the doubt when he says, “it’s no big deal”.  (If your man appreciates attractive women, but claims to have feelings for you, believe him for a change!)
  • Read my Self-esteem eWorkbook “Boosting Your Self-worth in Social Situations.”
  • Don’t take on the world; it’s too big!  (If you try to compete with the whole world, you will inevitably feel worthless in comparison.)
  • Do not let yourself be “the jealous type”  (If you get jealous, it’s your problem.)

Maybe I’m missing something, but I wonder if Finch would be giving the same advice to men about comparing and competing or taking on the world.  This is not some new designer disorder created by Finch, but a very common feeling a lot of men, women, young, and old, sometimes feel in their lives, a normal case of keeping up with the Joneses.  Perhaps Finch Finch should stick to responding to the e-mails of her members instead of writing books and articles to cure the rest of us.  I, for one, am not interested.

Vaginas are the unknown — and some people at Polsky want to keep it that way

Editor’s Note: Author Beth Thomason is a student in the fall 2010 Women’s Studies Program Special Topics course, That Chick is Crazy: Women and Madness. She is also a member of Liberation in Progress.

It is no secret that our vaginas must be kept secret. This sort of don’t ask don’t tell policy has been engrained into the minds of women since the onset of puberty.

Sexual/reproductive health education is minimal and vague. We learn the basics, almost enough to keep us from embarrassing ourselves in social situations—but not quite. (I am reminded of a friend who said no one taught her what her clitoris was. At the age of 23 she thought, “Isn’t it where pee comes out?”)

The vagina is seen as a dirty, messy place. It is the unknown—and some people want to keep it that way.

This is the kind of attitude you would expect in an elementary school, maybe even a strict high school. But what about a public university? What about our very own University of Akron?

If you are not familiar with Liberation in Progress, you are probably familiar with their bake sales. If you have ever passed by a seemingly innocent table of baked goods and heard “CHOCOLATE VAGINAS, PENIS COOKIES!”—they are not calling you names; they’re just selling their delicious, anatomically correct treats.

LIP is the feminist/gender equality organization here on campus, and they have more than one reason for not making grandma’s boring peanut butter cookies to fund their organization.

As feminists, their goal is to de-mystify female anatomy that has been put under such scrutiny. With the help of a candy mold, they make these chocolate vaginas to say, “See? That’s not so bad, is it?” What women are told to be ashamed of and keep to themselves, they are putting out there for all to see — on a stick, bagged, sealed, and signed with a kiss.

These little vulvas are about as pornographic as a Ziggy cartoon, so anyone who is offended by their mere existence should question why they feel that way in the first place.

Learning doesn’t happen in comfort zones. Sometimes it’s necessary to challenge the beliefs and views that society has established within us in order to progress our thinking. If we all stuck with the idea that boys/girls have cooties, our species would be—not literally—screwed. The world would be flat, and lobotomies would be the sole cure for headaches.

What I’m getting at is, with all of these good (albeit somewhat obnoxious—but effective!) intentions that LIP has for doing these bake sales, why would someone feel the need to shut one down, ship it to the other side of campus, and forbid it ever to come back to a certain building ever again?

Yes, that’s right—LIP was kicked out of Polsky for selling chocolate vaginas. Not only are the said baked goods prohibited from the building—any type of sexual/reproductive health information is not allowed to be displayed for the following reasons:

  1. “There are high school students that come into the building.” Sorry, I was under the impression that teenage pregnancy rates were pretty high…but I guess we should keep teaching abstinence-only sex education, keep our fingers crossed, and hope for the best—right?
  2. Vaginas are obscene, disgusting, and offensive. That’s according to the WOMAN who kicked LIP’s bake sale off the premises. Yes. A woman said vaginas are offensive. Way to perpetuate society’s negatively stigmatized gender stereotypes.

I don’t know about you, but all this rage makes me hungry for a chocolate vagina and some social progress!

To find out more about LIP’s fight against censorship on campus, I encourage you all to attend one (or all) of their meetings/events. Check out their Facebook page for more information.

Summit College bans student feminist group’s bake sale

Vulva Pop that is part of Liberation in Progress’s bake sale to raise funds to help prevent violence against women

Liberation in Progress, the University of Akron’s student feminist group, has been banned from holding its bake sales in the Polsky Building.

The offense? Selling chocolate candy in the shape of a woman’s vulva.

When the group set up shop on Wednesday, a member of the administrative staff at the Polsky Building told LIP members that their candy products were “disgusting, obscene and inappropriate,” according to LIP President Lindsay Newton. Then they were told to pack up their products and leave. 

Later, LIP leaders were told they needed to obtain special permission from the dean of Summit College for their table promoting safe sex, permission they would get ONLY if the group assured administrators no graphic material would be part of the display.

The group also sold its products in Olin Hall without incident.

The bake sale was part of LIP’s No Woman Left Behind campaign, which asks supporters to pledge “to acknowledge that consent [to sex] cannot be given when intoxicated” and “to intervene if a woman is being taken advantage of at a bar, party or club . . . to assist any woman in need.”

LIP leaders took immediate action in protest of the Polsky ban.  They started circulating a petition, formed a STOP CENSORSHIP committee  and contacted editors at UA’s student newspaper, The Buchtelite.

As the group’s Facebook page noted, “Liberation In Progress exists to FIGHT against this kind of small minded discrimination! We are not going to sit quietly and allow this section of OUR campus to ban safe sex and positive body image awareness!

“Vulvas are NOT vulgar, disgusting, obscene or offensive! They are a part of the body, just like the face and toe nail! Keep in mind we are not displaying pornography, we are not displaying graphic images of REAL vaginas, we are selling chocolate that has been set in a mold that vaguely resembles a vulva.”

Anyone who would like to join with LIP in protesting the censorship can contact the organization at or visit the group’s Facebook page.