Brainquake, Femquake, and Anne Brontë

Posted by Saraline , Tuesday, April 27, 2010 12:01 AM

In response to Boobquake, some people who disagreed with the idea came up with Brainquake:

"Everyday women and young girls are forced to 'show off cleavage' and more in order simply to be heard, to be seen, or to advance professionally. The web is already filled with images of naked women; the porn industry thrives online and many young girls are already vulnerable to predatory abuse. Violence against women and girls has a direct correlation to the sexualisation of women and girls. The extent of their sexualisation is evident in the hundreds of replies that pour into the 'Boobquake' Facebook page where women write, apologetically: 'I don’t have boobs, not fair' or 'Hey, I only have a C cup...' and 'What about those of us who no longer have cleavage? They sag too low.'"

"Brainquake's" creators say Sedighi's comment was no news to Iranian women, nor was it funny. They note that for the past 30 years, the Islamic Republic has violated women's rights with what they describe as repressive policies.

"Iranian women have fought back in various ways, one of which has been to dress 'subversively,' but as is evident in the Green Movement, it is not their 'beauty' or bodies that they have utilized in fighting against a brutal theocracy but their brains, their creativity, art, writings, etc."

Some people are offended by Brainquake because they feel that it encourages women to feel ashamed of their bodies. In an attempt to unite the two sides, maymay has come up with Femquake:

Both breasts and brains are good for humanity and deserve our respect. Don't coerce women into being proud of one over the other, or feeling ashamed of either! YES WE CAN all get along.[...]

Part of what that means is that every woman has the prerogative to do as she pleases, from showing off cleavage on Boobquake to showing off intellect on Brainquake. [...]

Regardless of your gender, please join Femquake on April 26th, by blogging, tweeting, and publicizing the achievements of women, whether physical, intellectual, or (preferably) both! Tag your blog post with "Femquake" and your tweets with #Femquake to participate.

Since I feel that she is often overshadowed by her sisters Charlotte and Emily, I am writing about Anne Brontë.

A few years ago when I read The Tenant of Wildfell Hall, I was surprised at how bad-ass the book was. It wouldn't be considered to be "bad-ass" now, but for the 19th century it was ahead of it's time. The book is about a single mother, Helen Graham, who moves into a new neighbourhood and supports herself by painting. One of her neighbours, Gilbert Markham, discovers that she was not widowed; she had left her husband and was hiding from him. Her real name was Helen Huntingdon. She had been unhappy in her marriage; her husband was an abusive alcoholic. She left him and took her son with her because she felt that her husband was a bad influence on him.

It is easy today to underestimate the extent to which the novel challenged existing social and legal structures. May Sinclair, in 1913, said that the slamming of Helen Huntingdon's bedroom door against her husband reverberated throughout Victorian England. Anne's heroine eventually leaves her husband to protect their young son from his influence. She supports herself and her son by painting, while living in hiding, fearful of discovery. In doing so, she violates not only social conventions, but also English law. At the time, a married woman had no independent legal existence, apart from her husband; could not own her own property, sue for divorce, or control custody of her children. If she attempted to live apart from him, her husband had the right to reclaim her. If she took their child with her, she was liable for kidnapping. In living off her own earnings, she was held to be stealing her husband's property, since any income she made was legally his.
-from The Oxford Companion to the Brontës, by Christine Alexander and Margaret Smith

You may wonder, as I did, why this daring and radical novel receives so little attention compared to Charlotte Brontë's Jane Eyre and Emily Brontë's Wuthering Heights. Well, it seems that the responsibility for this slight lies with Charlotte. After Anne's death at the young age of 29, Charlotte, who had been offended by the content of her sister's novel, prevented it from being republished.

"Wildfell Hall it hardly appears to me desirable to preserve," Charlotte wrote. "The choice of subject in that work is a mistake, it was too little consonant with the character, tastes and ideas of the gentle, retiring inexperienced writer." While Charlotte and Emily's novels continued to be published, The Tenant of Wildfell Hall fell off the radar. When it was finally republished (shortly before Charlotte's death) six years after the second edition, there were many omissions which weakened the novel. At this point Charlotte and Emily had gained literary fame while Anne remained unknown; having her novel butchered didn't help matters.

"My object in writing the following pages was not simply to amuse the Reader," Anne wrote in the preface to the second edition of The Tenant of Wildfell Hall. "Neither was it to gratify my own taste, nor yet to ingratiate myself with the Press and the Public: I wished to tell the truth, for truth always conveys its own moral to those who are able to receive it." Well, I hope that Anne Brontë will one day be seen as being equal to her sisters, which she was, and that the honesty in her novel will receive the recognition that it deserves.

8 Response to "Brainquake, Femquake, and Anne Brontë"

maymay Says:

Hi there. Where did you get your information that Feministing.com was behind Femquake? That isn't true.

Also, you wrote:

Some people are offended by Brainquake because they feel that it encourages women to feel ashamed of their bodies.

The creators of Brainquake seem to have good intentions to me, and none of them seem to be about shaming. However, many people who jumped to conclusions (perhaps from faulty information?) about either Boobquake or Brainquake were, indeed, talking a lot about sexual shaming.

For the record, I came up with Femquake on Sunday while watching feminist Twitterers I follow debate the shame issue. I'm unhappy with the divisiveness that sexual ideology continually causes among gender justice advocates, who seem to all share the same goal: equality regardless of one's gender identity or physical sex. And that's why I attempted to bring the two sides together by supporting—not denouncing—both efforts.

(That said, I do think the Brainquake founders could have done a better job being nicer about their protest. Also, I'm a man. And a feminist.)

Saraline Says:

I apologize for the misinformation about who came up with Femquake. I noticed that I was getting a few hits on my last entry about Boobquake when people were googling "boobquake feministing," and when I looked at the feministing site, I saw the link to Femquake there. That's why I thought that they created it. I will edit this post so that it has the accurate information momentarily.

As for saying that people were offended by Brainquake, I wasn't saying that I agree or that the creators of Femquake agree; I was saying that the creators of Femquake were trying to unite the people who felt differently about Boobquake and Brainquake, and your response to my post seems to indicate that I was correct about Femquake's intentions.

Saraline Says:

By the way, when I click on your name, it says that your profile isn't available. Is there a site that you want me to link to when I credit you for coming up with Femquake, or should I just say "some guy?" ;)

maymay Says:

I apologize for the misinformation about who came up with Femquake.

Totally understandable, and no offense taken. :)

when I looked at the feministing site, I saw the link to Femquake there

Oh! Really? Cool. I didn't see that. I'm trying to find it now but Google's signal is low thanks to being drowned out by the Boobquake debates. (Sigh.)

As for saying that people were offended by Brainquake, I wasn't saying that I agree or that the creators of Femquake agree; I was saying that the creators of Femquake were trying to unite the people who felt differently about Boobquake and Brainquake, and your response to my post seems to indicate that I was correct about Femquake's intentions.

You are, indeed, spot on. My turn to apologize if my comment gave you the wrong impression!

Wow, it is so easy to misunderstand one another, especially when all we have is text, isn't it? :)

I think we could all use a bit more practice in assuming good faith! Perhaps such practice would be "good for the movement." (To borrow a phrase.)

By the way, when I click on your name, it says that your profile isn't available.

Bah, that's because I don't like Blogger much.

Is there a site that you want me to link to when I credit you for coming up with Femquake, or should I just say "some guy?" ;)

"Some guy" is fine. Femquake isn't mine—it's the Internet's now. If you'd like to link, though, the original post introducing the idea is called Breasts AND brains are good for humanity & deserve respect! Introducing: Femquake.

Have a happy Tuesday. :)

maymay Says:

Oh, nevermind. I found the link from Feministing. Yaaay for Google site: and link: operators! I feel like I just leveled up in my Google-Fu.

Nathalie Says:

Hi, Saraline, it's Nathalie. Tenant was the last novel I finished and I thought it was great. It is a shame that her novels are not as popular, although I love JE and WH as novels. Have you read Agnes Grey? I'm hoping to get to that soon.

Talk to you soon!

Anonymous Says:

awesome. a man is leading the femquake charge. That's all great and lovely, but I guess I was hoping that it was a woman. If that makes me sexist, well, I guess maybe I am.

Not gonna lie, it means a little less to me now.

The point is still there and the point is a good one, but meh...some dude on the internet leading the charge on us uniting our boobs and our brains is just, IDK, ironic.

Thanks for the help, though.

Saraline Says:

Hi Nathalie. I haven't read Agnes Grey, but I do know that it's supposed to be more autobiographical than the Tenant of Wildfell Hall. I kind of wonder, though, after reading Anne's preface to TWH, if there were some influences from her life. She wrote that she was trying to be honest with her novel and about the flaws of the bad characters, and says "I know that such characters do exist." http://www.publicliterature.org/books/tenant_of_wildfell_hall/1

I wonder if the bad characters (specifically Helen's husband) were influenced by Anne's brother Branwell. Anne and Branwell both worked for the Robinson family as governess and tutor to the children. While they were there, Branwell had an affair with Mrs. Robinson and was fired when Mr. Robinson found out. Branwell returned to the Brontë home and became an alcoholic.

Maybe my theory is a little out there, but it would explain why Charlotte was so upset by this novel and why she prevented it from being republished.