Update on My #MeToo Post (or how I am coping)

Back in 2018, after years of suppressing and not wanting to acknowledge what occurred, I finally decided to write what happened to me. Now, it may come as a shock, but not everything that occurred has been told. Some of it I probably won’t tell for a while (because legalities and all that), but some of it I can elaborate on.

When I had a neighbor/babysitter parade me around naked, telling her son that he would someday marry me, what I did not mention is that his sister, who was a teenager at that time, would then take me to her bedroom, molest and sexually assault me. Now, remember, I was 8 and she was a teenager. So, it is no wonder that I often still have issues regarding my sexual identity. Because, on the one hand, I do find myself attracted to women, I also wonder if it stems from what occurred then. Now, I sometimes will state that I am bisexual, and sometimes I don’t because, quite frankly, I don’t know. I don’t know if I will ever truly know. It should come as no surprise to anyone that anything of a sexual nature is something I struggle with and will probably always struggle with. Now, currently, I have been dating a wonderful man for over a year and while he doesn’t know of everything that has gone on in my past, he does now that I have been hurt. So he’s never pushed me and he’s let me just be comfortable with just being together (often, we fall asleep watching a film but then, we are both 40 and up). And you know what? That’s also perfectly fine. Sometimes it’s nice to cuddle, talk, and just be able to be comfortable with another person because that certainly feels more intimate than anything else. Now, the babysitter in question is dead. I have not shed one tear for her death and expect that I never will. Her daughter is still alive, but I don’t think she lives in the state and I hope I never see her again. Occasionally her brother, because he is still around, will send me friend requests on Facebook. I just delete and move on. And the reason I am so willing to move on from this part of my past, is because it’s the one I have worked through the most and I truly can state that it no longer bothers me. But if I ever met the son in person? I’d probably slap him.

As to the academic advisor, Helene Siebrits is still teaching. She is currently at Ohio State and she is the main reason that when I was applying to PhD programs, I just stopped. I found out when I was applying to schools I was interested in and I just couldn’t finish my application anymore. She has connections to many schools from people she has worked with through academia or professionally, plus students she has treated well. It would be impossible for me to be involved in any PhD program without coming into contact with her at some point. I had excellent letters of recommendation and the department at Ohio State was keen to meet me. But I couldn’t. And I don’t know if I will ever go on for a PhD. Because she was scarring. She inflicted injuries that are soul crushing. On a weekly basis, she would have me in her office, in Urbana-Champaign, and politely tell me that my existence was a mistake. People like me had no right to exist. People with depression had no place in Theatre or Academia. These were the weekly mantras I was forced to endure as Helene would drum into my head how utterly pointless my continuing existence was. Then the Costume Shop manager and the other Costume Professor, would do the same thing to me every other week, couched in terms of gentility (the other professor) and flat out disgust (the manager). It was a constant stream of being pointed out how ugly I was. How wrong I was. How I did not fit in. They spread a rumor that I was Autistic, but I apparently also slept with a professor for good grades/to get into the school. I purposefully sabotaged my grade in a class I was getting an A in to end up with a C JUST to dispel this rumor and I shouldn’t have. This professor that I supposedly slept with was Peter Davis. I never slept with him. I liked him, as a professor. I thought he was a pretty nice guy. But he also has a tendency to flirt with attractive students who are undergrads, which always made me uncomfortable as a student. I told him, in the Fall of 2009 what was going on-he didn’t care. He acted like he did, but he really didn’t. It took me years to figure out he is a narcissistic asshole and because I didn’t flatter him enough, I wasn’t worth his time (nor worthy of being moved from Costume Design to Theatre History because I did try to switch and while the Graduate School was all for it, it just wasn’t to be).

I was told to not socialize with any of the other Costume students. If I was seen socializing with them, or they found out, they would punish me. And I was punished. I was punished for hanging out with the Theatre History students. While the other Design grads avoided me like I had the plague, the Theatre History grads were the only ones in that entire department that didn’t give two fucks what Helene thought and have supported me and continue to support me. So, my loyalty always is to them FIRST because they kept me from killing myself. But my punishment was probably illegal. I had to work in the shop, but unable to log hours. So while the others worked 15-20 hrs a week in the shop, I was made to work twice that. Doing everything from cleaning the area, to cleaning the bathroom, to being loaned out to other departments. I’m fairly certain the other departments had no idea that I was doing all of that work without compensation. But any and every attempt I made to tell anyone in a position of authority within that department was met with silence. The only Design Head who gave a fuck was the Sound Guy. And he was going to put a stop to it. Then he died. And it was unexpected. And the abuse continued.

I routinely was called into “meetings” with the costume heads (Helene and the other two ladies) and yelled at. It was a constant stream of abuse. Helene would call me up and tell me that there had been a change of plans for homeroom on Fridays and to not bring my watercolors. Only for me to show up to class and have no watercolors when everyone else was going to paint. She did that all the time. She did it in order to verbally abuse me in front of the others. When we had projects and she did one on one evaluations, she would destroy my work and I would have to start over. So, when others got 2 weeks to work on a drawing for her, I had 4 days. Only once did I outsmart her. I never showed up when we were doing a project that required us to fill in shadows with dots. It was the only time I purposefully didn’t show up because I knew she would have destroyed my work and I just couldn’t. I just couldn’t keep seeing work I had done be torn up and told to start again, but given so much less time to complete it. Because, of course, I would have to work those extra hours without anyone knowing and would have even less time to finish. I had no life. I was depressed. And even the psychiatrist I was able to see on campus confronted Helene and she told him, in person, that it would be better for everyone in the Theatre Department if I would just kill myself. He came to her office and in front of me, she admitted to him what she thought of me. Just think about that. The head of the Costume Program openly admits she wants a student to kill themselves because it would be better for the entire department.

I don’t know why she wanted me dead. I still don’t understand. But I do know Helene is a racist. She is white and from South Africa. She was equally cruel to other Asians in the Theatre Design program. And I mean awful. One was gradating the year I arrived, but Helene would berate her for no reason. In front of the others, and often in front of me. She would do this in front of other professors and not one told her to stop it. The other was a girl in the Scenic program. Helene hated her as well. And yes, this is something I have longed to write and tell because it’s a problem that needs to be addressed in Academia. No supervisor has the right to treat students as if they don’t matter. Now, I loved designing Costumes. I still dream about fabrics and styles and they way fabric drapes or sounds when it moves. I have always loved dressing up. Next to Austen (and Kermit the Frog and David Bowie), costumes have been a huge part of my life for years and years. But my interests in History, English, and Theatre don’t end because I no longer do any costuming. Because I am a writer, I tend to do costume character sheets first when creating a character (so, the knowledge I gained has still worked out well). I focus on how they dress to figure out how they moved. And from that, how they act, speak, and everything else falls into place. And instead of an MFA, I got an MA in Costume Design. And, you know what, that’s just fine.

At the end of that first year, I was stripped of all financial aid and my graduate assistantship. The reason given was my grades. I petitioned the Gradate School for clarification. I was told that having and maintaining a GPA above 3.0 (mine was 3.4) was not grounds for being removed from any graduate program. I should mention I was put on probation the first semester for crying. An undergrad slapped me because I told her she had to show up for her duty on Wardrobe Crew on time instead of whenever she felt like it. She slapped me, threw me up against a wall, and threatened to kill me. I was put on probation. She was never punished. To this day, I have no interaction with her on Facebook and refuse to applaud anything she’s done when it comes up on my news feed from mutual friends. Oh, and per the Graduate School, the academic probation was also illegal. The probation and removal of financial assistance were both in violation of the Graduate School at UIUC. So, for clarification, Helen Siebrits illegally placed me on academic probation, then illegally removed me from my assistantship and barred me from the program per the Graduate School at University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. Crying is not an acceptable reason to place someone on academic probation. Crying is not an acceptable reason to remove someone from their assitanstship and bar them from the program. And yes, I did fight to stay. The Graduate School was behind me 200%. Everything was in my favor. I had the grades. The probation was not an acceptable reason, and when Helene tried to change it to me having depression, that was also deemed as an invalid excuse. The final thing I had over Helene is that I refused to sign away my rights to my assistantship and sign an agreement to be removed from the program. I never signed these forms which are a requirement by the Department and the Graduate Student BEFORE funding can be taken away. I never signed it. I still had funding taken away. Because, unfortunately, the final say was with the Department Head. He was leaving and didn’t care. He was moving to Texas and a different school. His replacement? He also didn’t care. They gave the excuse that I was physically unable to sign the forms and everything was taken away. I could have appealed and I probably would have won. But I just couldn’t handle it all anymore. Instead, in an act that can only be described as petty, Helene Siebrits destroyed my file, containing my letters of recommendation to the program. While the Graduate School has a record that they were received and they did exist, my file is gone. And I mean everything as in all hard copies. They cannot find my transcripts. They cannot find anything related to me and the Theatre Department. The last person to have the file was Helene Siebrits before it all was gone. And while I will be found to have attended the school and was in the program of MFA Costume Design (and I can and do have a copy of my official transcript), any and all mention of my name and the shows I worked on were removed from the department’s website. I am, for all purposes, erased from ever having existed at that school.

I stayed another year, taking classes I wanted to take. History classes, Ballet, Art. I worked 20 hrs a week in the Music and Performing Arts Library, and also did tutoring on the side for extra income. I was put on food stamps and went to a food pantry twice a month. I survived. I left that school with a 4.0 GPA and went to Kansas State, where I maintained a GPA above 3.2 and ended up with a 3.7 GPA (other schools, it would be considered Cum Laude, but for some stupid reason, the Theatre Department there doesn’t allow such honors to be bestowed on their grad students, only the undergrads). But you know what, I’m ok. I have taken more history classes than the average non-history major (if I could ever transfer those credit to another school, I’d have enough for an MA in History, which is scary). I had fun working at the library (I always do, to be perfectly honest). I enjoyed Kansas State. Didn’t particularly like the costume teacher nor her shop manager, but then they focused on the grad who got the assistantship while I was just the backup. Whatever. At the time I was hurt but now, I could care less.

No matter the abuse I suffered BEFORE grad school, being abused by your professor (and head of the program) IS soul crushing. Because it is. You cannot imagine how many similar stories of abuse I have read and heard from others, in all fields of study, that have traumatized generations of academics. I know people, who like me, just couldn’t continue anymore. Because the abuse, the lack of understanding of mental health issues, is an ongoing problem we need to talk about. Googling “abuse by a professor” brings up pages of examples. And how sad is that? What I experienced is not unique nor is it uncommon. There are so many examples of other grad and undergrad students being abused by professors and academic advisors. This is a culture of abuse that goes back centuries and needs to have it’s #MeToo moment too. And while the treatment I got at Kansas State was better, being ignored and forgotten that you even exist in the program is just as harmful (Thankfully, I was able to retain the Drama Therapy professor as my advisor and Sally Bailey is the best and sweetest advisor anyone could hope to have).

Academia has long needed people to stand up and talk about the abuse. It’s time we really push this narrative forward and start holding those accountable. And yes, just because Helene Seibrits has worked for people of color (and worked with them), doesn’t mean she still isn’t racist. She told me, on a weekly basis, to kill myself. She called me a Kaffir to my face, every week. Kaffir is, well, it’s a very derogatory and racist word meaning I am not white. She referred to me as the Kaffir, on speakerphone, to my psychiatrist AND a person from the Graduate School in my presence. She yelled that I was better off dead because I didn’t deserve to live. Was she ever aware she said this to not one, but 2 people? Probably not. But she was never punished by the Department and I know, because I was told, the Graduate School did issue a complaint against her on my behalf. They found her actions to be racist. But remember, no matter what the Gradate School dictated, it was up to the Theatre Department itself to rectify this issue And they never did. And in case you are wondering why I am focused on Siebrits, it’s because she is still probably abusing other students. She moves around every few years and my concern is that there are others like me who she has abused in the past and will abuse the future. She should not be teaching. She should not be a member of United Scenic Artists Union Local 829. She should not be allowed to hurt others. Because I was very close to killing myself when I was there. I almost didn’t live to see the end of that first year. That’s how much abuse I suffered under her. She is toxic.

How close is too close? My mom was on the verge of coming down, packing everything up, and taking me to a mental hospital for suicide watch. She lived over 3 hours away. Instead, I allowed my psychiatrist to check me into the Pavillion Foundation over Spring Break in 2010. He did this because he felt the Suicide Prevention Team at UIUC would not be adequate. I was there 5 days. I got help. I completed their outpatient program and continued to see my psychiatrist at UIUC the rest of that year, staying over the summer to continue treatment and the next year as well. THAT is the result of non stop emotional abuse.

Its’ important that I write about this because I, at least, had some help. I had the vet grads in my building who knew something was wrong. I had my theatre history friends who could tell that all was not well with me. I had a doctor that fought for the right to call Helene in front of a representative of the Graduate School because he wanted her hatred of me heard by someone in a position of authority. If I didn’t get the help, I would not be here. And that is a fact. I would have not been here to finish my novel. I would have not seen my brother get married. I would have not had the joy of seeing my niece grow up and seeing my nephew. Everything from Spring 2010 to now has been a gift because it was so easily lost. But mine is not the only tale. How many did not make it because of the abuse? They believe 50% of PhD students end up dropping out. Around 20-30% of Master’s do the same. They know, only because some come forward to talk about it, that around 8% think about suicide. And those are the ones that talk about it. And how much is from abuse? Probably a lot of it.

As for John Ortberg, it’s complicated. I have been lucky to talk and find support from Daniel Lavery, Ortberg’s son. I have had people who initially did not believe me in 2018, now believe me because they have realized that there is abuse at Menlo & Willow Creek Church. Friday, I make a statement to the South Barrington Police Department. And I am scared. I am terrified. Because last time I spoke to a cop about sexual abuse, I was 11 and the guy did zero time. But this isn’t about abuse and sexual assault has no statute of limitations. Will anything happen? I don’t know. Would I like something to happen? Sure. I want to know why. I want to know why those who knew this was happening helped. I want to know why Orberg did this to me. I want to know why Ortberg III was allowed to do what he did (and why his dad is ok with it). So, yeah, it’s a lot to deal with. I can’t tell you why anyone sexually abuses or sexually assaults a child. I can tell you that it’s extremely hard to come to terms with and I don’t know if it will ever be ok. Because you lose something when it happens.

Basically, I want answers. I want to know why Helene Siebrits is allowed to teach when she should not have the opportunity to abuse another student emotionally. I want to know why Willow Creek allowed abuse to happen from so many people in charge, for years. I want to know why Menlo reinstated Ortberg in 2020 when it’s clear he should not be in position of power. I want to know why the Theatre Department at UIUC allowed the abuse to happen, when there was evidence happening in front of their eyes. And yes, it’s a lot of questions that I have, but these are questions I need answered to be able to move on. I had some trolling recently, on another post (well, several) that have caused me to not sleep very well these past few days. I spent 40 minutes in the shower crying today because sometimes the memory of what happened at Willow Creek is still painful. And there are things that happened that I have never told my mom because I can’t. I can’t burden her with my pain.

So, I am coping. I am doing better than I thought I would be, but not here I want to be. Is this an issue I will revisit again in he future? Probably. Besides Ortberg, I still on occasion, have flashbacks to the abuse Siebrtis did and because it is fairly recent (still) it’s also a bit too close to the surface. Those are my main two scars and the ones that haunt me the most because there has been no closure for me. The abusive babysitter is dead. She can’t touch me. The neighbor who sexually molested me is dead. I have no issue being in my front yard anymore. Because I have closure on those parts of my past, I have healed from them. But Ortberg? I don’t know how long it will take, but I do want closure. And for Helene? I definitely want answers there. Because I was not the only person being abused by her at that time. And all of us deserve answers from her and from UIUC.

A Mary Anning Appreciation Post

WIN tickets to new movie Ammonite | The Senior | 2259
A Film loosely based on the life of Mary Anning released 2020.

When Ammonite was being talked about, I was excited. I am someone who has a yen for Dinosaurs (well, anything Paleontological to be perfectly honest), so a biopic on Mary Anning, the first [well-known] female Paleontologist, was excellent news! Then the premise was released and my heart sank in disappointment. Now, I have nothing against promoting Queer History and having it represented in the media (Gentleman Jack is a great example of Queer History done right), but I also feel it hurts the progress the LGTBQ+ Community when it is added for no other reason than to cause debates and it focuses the attention of the person on their genitalia (and what they did sexually or not) instead of their accomplishments. For example, Bohemian Rhapsody was touted as a Freddie Mercury & Queen biopic but shied away from any outwardly depiction of Freddie Mercury’s sexual preferences that weren’t heterosexual (notice the focus was more about his relationship with Mary Austin, with his band-mates taking second place, but very little mention was made over his male lovers or his partner, Jim Hutton). It would have been better, considering how much Freddie Mercury continues to influence the LGBTQ+ Community to show his same-sex relationships (both good & bad). Don’t get me wrong, I enjoyed Bohemian Rhapsody. I was thrilled that they got Rami Malek to play Freddie because it matters that a person of color play a person of color. And while I was happy he was nominated, and then won, it wasn’t as groundbreaking as I had hoped it would be. I wanted to know what parts of his personal journey helped shape him and his music. I mean, we know this happened but I would have liked to have been shown it. However, Rocket Man showed Elton John’s sexual preference as being part of who he is and how no one who truly loved him, cared who he slept with. We saw that he had relationships that were good and ones that were bad. And how they shaped him to be the man we see at the end of the film. Plus, we saw how the choices he made, both good and bad, influenced his music and his future relationships along the way. It was a biopic done right (especially the way they handle the incorporation of the music because it just worked so well).

Elton John Compares 'Rocketman' With 'Bohemian Rhapsody' - Variety
Taron Egerton as Elton John in Rocket Man (2019). Rami Malek as Freddie Mercury in Bohemian Rhapsody (2018). Courtesy of Variety.com

Mary Anning did not have a sexual relationship with Charlotte Murchinson. They meet, briefly, in Lyme Regis and corresponded over the years. This film, instead, tries to depict these two as star cross lovers torn apart by Society. Unless we want to infer that Mary was a female rake who could easily seduce a woman, make her fall in love, and then break her heart in a mere matter of weeks, we have problems with this film. Instead of celebrating the awesome story of a woman who contributed greatly to the field of Paleontology (Anning) and woman ho also contributed to the field of Geology (Murchinson), Director Frances Lee decides to focus on a “what if” sexual relationship. Thus boiling down any contributions these women made to science down to their sexuality. It is a form of erasure, in a way. Instead of looking at these women as intelligent scientists, Lee equates them as sexual creatures FIRST with some inclination towards scientific thought. Anning found the first intact Plesiosaur skeleton (think Loch Ness Monster). In 1811, when Mary was 12, she and her brother found a skull, which was roughly 4 foot long. She went on and found the rest of the skeleton a few months later. This ended up being an Ichthyosaur. The Anning family were known to sell fossils to collectors and to museums, so for the children to have found a specimen would not have been unusual. But what is most unusual is by 1820-1825, it was only Mary who was finding and selling the fossils, her brother having been apprenticed out (the father passed in 1812). She uncovered a Pterosaur in 1828 in the cliffs of Lyme Regis and this was first Pterosaur found outside of Germany at this time (Pterodacytylus macroynx). Mary excavated a transitionary fossil between sharks and rays/fish called Squaloraja in 1829. Anning was a self taught Paleontologist, Geologist, scientific illustrator, and Anatomist. Her discoveries have been long thought to have inspired Darwin’s Theory of Evolution. Mary Anning was recognized as one of the 10 most influential women scientists in Britain in 2010. Yet his film does nothing but consider all of these accomplishments as being less than important than who she may have slept with.

Portrait of a woman in bonnet and long dress holding rock hammer, pointing at fossil next to a spaniel dog lying on ground.
Mary Anning & Her Dog (Circa 1830s-1840s) attributed to Mr. Grey. Courtesy of National History Museum
Mary Anning (1799-1847)
One of the many scientific drawings done by Mary Anning. Courtesy of UCMP.Berkely.EDU

Of course, the reason Francis Lee has decided to portray Mary Anning as a lesbian is solely based on the fact she remained unmarried and there is no evidence she had any relationships (heterosexual or homosexual), which must mean she was hiding something. By tying her scientific contributions to her sexuality, Lee has, perhaps unintentionally, equated any woman’s contributions to Society as being sexually motivated. It may come as a shock, but contributions to Art, Science, History, etc are not necessarily tied to what we do in the privacy of our own home. Now, if her sexuality had been an influenced, say, her scientific interests then yes, I would have applauded it being shown if done right.

Mary was born in 1799 in Lyme Regis, and if the location sounds familiar, it was featured in Jane Austen’s Persuasion as the location of The Cobb where poor Miss Musgrove hurt herself. Lyme Regis (located in Dorset) is known for it’s plentiful shale deposits, which often contain fossils. Many tend to be small (like ammonites and other creatures), but sea creatures have been routinely found in the cliff facings as well. It was a popular (but waning) seaside resort town (Brighton having taken it’s place as the primary go-to area, with Bath being secondary). But, if you recall from any previous posts regarding Austen herself, in 1799 England was at war with the US. Her life, like that of Austen, was a life revolving around War coupled with the restrictions placed upon her by Society due to her sex. Because there is no writings (family or otherwise) to indicate she was ever in love, the conclusion must be she was a lesbian. The truth was she was one of 2 children (out of 10) who survived into adulthood. Her father died when she was fairly young and she and her brother, Joseph, took up the fossil hunting trade to generate an income. Odd how any man who was not married during this same period is not automatically labeled as being a homosexual (the hypocrisy of it all and yes, I am LOOKING at you Horace Walpole).

drawing of side view of a long thin skull with needle like teeth and a large eye socket
An 1814 drawing by Everard Home for the Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society depicting a Temnodontosaurus (originally Ichthyosaurus) skull found by Joseph & Mary Anning in 1811

Gera Lerner in her 1975 article in Feminist Studies asked how do notable women in history get written about, stressing the emphasis on how historians (in the 1970s) disregarded contributions of women overall: “Women of different classes have different historical experiences (5)”. Lerner also points out how women were viewed in the 19th Century were based on extensions of their normal duties. Education of the poor was seen as an extension of teaching children in the home. Which is still an issue we continue to face today. They “conducted their lives (5)” according to the male-dominated accepted role for them. Austen, being a writer, was acceptable because there were other women who were writing, and being published. Women writing primarily for women is fine because it doesn’t change the dominance of men in Society (especially since Austen’s brother Henry made the publishing deals, so while she wrote the books, he controlled hat happened to them). And yes, Mary Anning did fit into this role in her own way. She worked in a family run business started by her parents for extra income. Continuing this work as a means of generating an income after he death of her father would have been deemed as an acceptable position for a young girl and her brother because they had such a large family. Continuing to go this route when her brother was apprenticed elsewhere would have also been socially normal considering they were not part of the middle class, but were the working poor. Not being married, I have to state, was not an unusual occurrence for women at this time. Mary was one of 10 children. Her mother not only buried her husband, but eight of her children. Compare to the Austen Family, who had all he children survive into Adulthood (being middle class and having better access to food and medicine). Mary may have decided it would be better for her to continue to support her mother with fossil hunting than trying to find a husband and slip into extreme poverty (which was always the threat of any working woman, including Austen herself). On top of that, she had much less education than Austen and everything she did was primarily self-taught, whereas Austen had the support of a large family, that included members of the Aristocracy. Plus, I must point out that since this was a time of war, women outnumbered men so it would have been perfectly normal for there to be unmarried women over the age of 30 at this time (The Civil War in America produced a similar effect).

Sketch of house with two large front windows on either side of a front door and next to the steps leading up from the street to the door are two partially open cellar doors
June 1842 sketch of Mary Anning’s home in Lyme Regis by W. H. Prideaux and Edward Liddon. Courtesy of the BBC

When a generation of men have been killed, there will be a generation of women who will end up living alone. Mary died of Breast cancer in 1847 at the age of 47. She had not been welcomed into the Scientific community because she was a woman, but later generations have remembered and thought fondly of her. It is surprising that when she died, the Geological Society at that time spoke about her contributions, which is good, but also a bit sad it took her passing to get a bunch of men to acknowledge her importance to Science.But we must also remember is she had no male advocates who had the wealth, and influence, to see she was acknowledged better and more widely.

print of the Ladies of Llangollen
Sarah Ponsonby (left) and Lady Eleanor Butler, known as the Ladies of Llangollen, who were in a “Boston Marriage.” Lithograph by J.H. Lynch, 1830s. Public Domain

Mary and Charlotte meet briefly in 1825 ( a few weeks) and Mary meet her again in London in 1829. They corresponded as late as 1833, possibly up until Mary’s death in 1847. The relationship in the film Ammonite seems to be inspired by the relationship Mary Anning had with Frances Bell, who really did exist. But when Frances came to Lyme Regis to learn how to find and clean fossils from Mary, she was 14 and Mary 24. I highly doubt Mary saw Frances as a lover (unless we want to label her as a pedophile, which we don’t). Frances died young, at age 15 and Mary was, understandably, upset. Mary considered Frances one of her truest friends (possibly because they had a love of fossils). She may have considered Frances as her own personal protegee, seeing herself in a younger person. Instead, the film moves the actual time of the mid 1820s to 1840, but also makes Charlotte younger, naive, and incredibly stupid. It’s a slap in the face to any woman with a working mind.

This image has an empty alt attribute; its file name is Screen-Shot-2014-07-05-at-11.01.45-580x384.png
‘The Light of Science’ a satirical cartoon by Henry T De la Beche (1832) featuring Charlotte Murchison. Courtesy of Trowel Blazers


Charlotte Murchinson was born a full 11 years before Mary Anning in 1788 (but is portrayed much much younger in the film). Her father was a general and her mother was an amateur botanist. Charlotte married at the age of 27, which was considered fairly late in life, to a solider .They traveled Europe, where she made observations of the different geological features and botany. She had amassed a fossil collection of her own that was so diverse, leading men in the field of Geology would often use her specimens in their publications. While her husband focused on Geology (and became a member of the Royal Geological Society), Charlotte seemed to be more interested in minerals. She persisted and won the right to attend geological lectures at King’s College in 1831, which had been closed to women at that point. Charlotte was well traveled and her insights no doubt helped her husband in the field of geology She was no idiot as and was not the simpering weakling that she is being portrayed as. For any woman to demand to sit in on Geological lectures that are closed, and to have won the right to sit in on them, was no weak woman. She is also shown in the film to be incredibly stupid, bordering on extreme naivete, which is really gross.

Anne Lister - Wikipedia
Anne Lister by Joshua Horner, circa 1830. Public Domain

Besides Charlotte, Mary did have other friendship with women who were scientists as well. Mary Buckland being one such woman and Elizabeth Philpot the other. Instead of showing that Mary Anning had been surrounded by likewise minded women, Lee combines all these female friendships into one, but adds sex. I would have been much happier of the film was more about Mary befriending an unknown woman (a fictional character, if you will) and teaching her how she did what she did, or explaining how she hunts fossils, and develop that into a relationship (and possible Boston Marriage). It would have been more interesting, for me at any rate. Instead, we get a rough and not very feminine Mary, pissing in full view of the public, wiping her hands on her skirt, then handing a Cornish Pasty to Charlotte. So, Mary is being portrayed as “Butch” to counter the femininity of Charlotte (which is a sad troupe). She would ever have relieved herself in that way-she would have gone off a bit for privacy as any of us would do. Plus, there is an ocean, consisting of water, right there, to wash her hands off. Literally a body of water. And since she lived in Dorset, a Cornish Pasty IS NOT appropriate. Hand held eat pies did exist, but do be so specific as to a Cornish Pasty-just no. And let us also address that for a seaside town that was known to have a population of Black people, nary a one is ever seen. Lyme Regis was a popular seaside resort that was replaced by Bath (then Brighton), which means people from all classes (and yes, this includes Black people) lived there year round since before 1800. Especially since it was tied to Sailors and the Navy, which employed many Black people at this time. But, I must not forget that the director of this film is a man, who views the women in the film with the gaze of men. And if we want to portray her as a lesbian, then I would have no issue with it IF it were done with a little more finesse. Mary spent more time with Elizabeth Philpot and Mary Buckland than Charlotte. If a relationship would have occurred, I would have found it much more believable to have been either of these women than Charlotte because they were there longer, and also were the stronger relationships in Mary’s life. They even could have, because Mary really was found of Frances in real life, aged Frances up to be in her twenties and used that as a passionate, real-life relationship which ended in Frances’ death at a young age from something like pneumonia. Because that feels more true to the person who was Mary Anning, but also more true historically. And I would have had the guts to not only show Lyme Regis as being diverse, but would have made Frances not white. But then, I am wanting to make the film for women, and women of color, and not for the male gaze.

Out of the deep | Oxford University Museum of Natural History
A Plesiosaur hunting. Courtesy of Oxford University Museum of Natural History

Christobel Hasting stated “Note the wide eyes, the tumbling ringlets, the peaches-and-cream complexions of the protagonists. Then look at the narratives that posit same-gender sexuality as a source of inevitable pain and struggle” as a reoccurring theme in all Lesbian period dramas. Hastings, in this article (and it’s well-written, I highly recommend it) also discusses the erasure of POC from these pieces, which also erases them from the narrative overall. Now, when I first wrote and published this blog, I did not include any commentary on this and it is clearly a mistake on my part and I fully take on this blame. I truly wanted to focus on just how awful they portrayed Mary Anning (and Charlotte) that I neglected to think how it might be perceived to use a piece discussing the erasure of people of color and not address it. And yes, I should have and that is why I am editing this to include this discussion. Because, Dear Reader, I am not perfect and I want to own up when a mistake has been made (I also had to delete a comment and my response because the a troll trying to imitate another person then sent some truly awful email to me via this blog and that’s just vile and caused some serious metal health issues for me).

While I praise Gentleman Jack for its honesty, it IS one of these white period dramas written. But here Gentleman Jack succeeds it’s (dramatized) the real life story of Anne Lister and her relationship with her wife. Now, of course, the series could diversify the cast (and I would love it) because there was diversity in England at that time. It would be an easy thing to start to include and I think many of us would be thrilled by this. Now, previously, I had not included any commentary on that in this originally, but that was clearly a fault of mine because we should also address the erasure of any person of color in this narrative of period drama. As I am also aware that it’s an area that makes a lot of people uncomfortable. Its perhaps easier to make Queer History more palatable when the primary target audience are white conservatives (and possibly male). And hey, I get it. It’s easier to drum up sympathy for two white women in early Victorian England, then, say, two women in India or Africa or South America. Because it doesn’t seem to matter, which is really sad. Plus, setting it in the mid 19th C is all too easy. It’s a bit lazy, to be perfectly honest. Most view the 19th C as being an era of sexual repression to begin with, so tossing in any aspect of LGBTQ+ references makes an easy sell. So, yes, this film also lacks basic diversity. And I mean basic. Most period dramas showcasing the 19th century seem to leave out any person of color unless it revolves around the Civil War. Now, Hasting’s article went onto state that this way of filming period Lesbian dramas is done for a reason. That reason being filmmakers are pandering “to the male gaze, and preserve the patriarchal status quo.” Which is something I was probably aware of, but hadn’t really considered that this one way of pandering had to dominate everything at this point in time. Maybe because I had thought with more diverse filmmakers, things would get better (they are, but doesn’t it seem to take forever?). Because the 19th C lesbians are always white. There are always pretty ringlets, big petticoats, soft pale skin. And that seems to be a setting for the male porn gaze than anything else (because, let’s face it, minority representation in LGBTQ+ films is extremely rare to non-existent). After all, we are still dealing with dick jokes in the MCU (so, perhaps filmmakers are catering to teenage boys?)

COVID-19: Lyme Regis Fossil Festival is postponed | Lyme Regis Town Council
Ammnites on Lye Regis Coast. Courtesy of Lyme Regis Town Council

Now, for some reason (well, I know WHY but it’s still irksome) a person, using the name of someone who commented, then decided to send me emails that were truly vile. And I mean downright nasty that it made me cry and not sleep for the past three days. Right now, after spending 40 minutes crying in the shower, I am very close to losing it. And yes, that is scary. Friday is going to be an extremely hard day for me. I am gong to make a police report because of a post I made last year regarding John Ortberg. And yes, I am stressed out about it. There are things in the blog I did NOT make public because some of it is just too painful. When I made the decision to have the knowledge go public earlier this year, I knew there would be a backlash. I knew it. I had dealt with some of it last year, and even some the year before. But now, it’s not something anyone can be prepared for. I’ve gotten emails stating that I am a liar. I’ve had weird comments made on blog posts from when I first started (like 2 years ago) show recently. And the emails-they are the hardest. Now, wisely, if someone emails me off of this blog, it goes to a inbox on this site and sends a copy to my personal account. o, unless I respond from my personal account, you don’t have access to my email address (it’s worth paying the $100 yearly fee for this feature). But the emails range from sending me porn links, to accusing me of being a Qanon conspiracy theorist, to commenting on my whiteness (and not being a person of color), to things that are really not meant to see the light of day. Ever. And it’s currently hard for me to function. I have panic attacks. I am severely depressed. I cannot get my antidepressants because the doctor won’t write a new prescription unless she sees me AND she cannot see me for 3-4 months. I cannot work BECAUSE of the PTSD and Panic Attacks. So, fair warning, if you comment on this post, or email me, do not be shocked if it takes a long time for me to approve the comments. And this is me, the writer removing her mask, saying hey, right now I am really not OK. But I am trying.

2.3 million project for the Cobb at Lyme Regis- or it could face collapse |  Bridport and Lyme Regis News
The Cobb at Lyme Regis. Courtesy of Bridportnews.co.uk

“And sometimes, I have kept my feelings to myself, because I could find no language to describe them in”

Jane Austen (Sense & Sensibility)

Resources

Britiaicca.com

Unicversity of CAlifornia-Berkely (Paleontology Department)

Placing Women in History by G. Lerner. Feminist Studies, VOl 3 Issue 1/2 (Autumn 1975)

Introduction to Sociology, Chapter 12 (Gender, Sex, and Sexuality). Available on Opentextbc.ca

Feminist Perspectives on Sex and Gender by Mari Mikkola (2008 & 2017). Available on Plato.Standford.edu

Vanity Fair review of Ammonite (09/2020)

True History of Ammonite (Smithsonian Magazine August 2020)

LGTBQ+ Films: “It’s time for Lesbian love stories that aren’t white period dramas” by Christobel Hastings for Stylist.co.uk

Oxford University Museum of Natural History

Oceansofkansas.com

Lymeregistowncounsil.gov.uk

Newspapers.com