My regular lunch buddy (now deceased) was an older man when I first met him. Every Thursday — week in and week out — for 17 years I’d convene with John Fisher at that toniest of Winter Park eateries, Andros Restaurant, to break bread and discuss and laugh over the human condition. Once or twice a year we’d fantasize over whom we’d invite for that dream dinner of eight. Twain, Jefferson, Voltaire and Montaigne were a few of my regulars. Oh, and, of course, Ava Gardner.
I’ve been thinking of late about the nature of beauty, women, intelligence and what makes a woman particularly attractive/desirable. As a history aficionado, I’ve been intrigued for some time about the idea of how much further advanced we’d be as a species if mankind had universally treated womankind with respect, dignity and equality. Males for thousands of years have treated women as inferior. That this injustice is well documented historically is undeniable, that it was/is a setback developmentally for our species, a travesty.
Aside: The Islamic world will never amount to much until it accepts/promotes its women as equal to men.
It brings up a question that I’ve asked over the years from any number of my students. Where did such male discrimination originate? Is it an innate bias that men have to be culturally taught not to practice? Organized religion is an incredibly complicit factor. “Let the women learn in silence with all subjection. But I suffer not a woman to teach, nor to usurp authority over the man, but to be in silence. For Adam was first formed, then Eve.” I Timothy 2:11-14. What biblical gibberish. What injustice. And what a setback for humanity. Regardless of its origins, male sexism has not served our species well and has been unequivocally wretched for women.
It’s interesting to read of the isolated instances in history where a civilization treated its females with greater equality. Ancient Egypt, for example, was surprisingly accepting of females and by the standards of contemporary cultures then, almost enlightened. The Etruscans of seventh century B.C. Italy were quite liberated and scandalized the Ancient Greek world. “Why, Etruscan women actually speak in public meetings! Damned if they don’t!”
But such historical examples number, arguably, fewer than the fingers on one hand. Mostly women experienced (literally/figuratively) the oppressive male boot on the back of their neck. But examples do exist of exceptional women achieving greatness in a man’s world.
I propose a dinner table of beauty and brains, of talent, verve, intellect and saucy, sexy repartee. Hot women with history! Cleopatra, of course. Not the Liz Taylor caricature, but the wily Cleopatra of charm and intelligence. Pericles’ mistress Aspasia, an unquestioned beauty with brains. Socrates sought her out for conversation. Mistresses had infinitely more freedom than Greek wives. The last administrator of the Library of Alexandria, the pagan Hypatia. Brilliant, strong, an incredible intellect. Rioting Christians in 415 A.D. dragged her from her carriage, stripped her naked and scrapped the skin from her entire body with pottery shards. They then burned the library. Eleanor of Aquitaine. What a woman! Unbelievable for any age. And Mary Wollstonecraft, 18th century Brit, author of the “Vindication of the Rights of Women.”
I’d add Emily Dickinson (cuz I love her poetry so!) and on my immediate left, the inestimable Dorothy Parker forever pouring forth both champagne and quips.
And, Ava Gardner on my right. Of course.
All wonderfully female.