Sisterhood and Solidarity

April 12th, 2007

Around ten months ago I started writing about Feminism on my livejournal. I didn’t call it writing about Feminism - I was just getting frustrated at trying to talk to some of the men in my life about how much I hated the overly-sexualised images of women in advertising, and talking a bit about how the covers of novels in the UK would show lots of sexualised images of women, but the only ones with sexualised images of men were erotica or romance novels. I just wanted to present out what I thought someplace without being interrupted.

Veterans of writing about “Women’s Issues” can probably predict what happened at that point.

Outrage that I would post about it, “what about the men”, “this isn’t important”… One person left a bunch of comments that were “Men get it much harder than women - look at how reproductive freedom is all about women” and got pounced on by various of my female friends for that. His response was to take his ball and go home - he deleted every comment on my LJ and banned me from posting on his.

Good times, those.

I kept dipping my toes into the water - afraid to say I was writing anything about Feminism while actually continuing to do so. I can’t quite remember at which point I decided it was okay to say I was a Feminist and to refuse to not say I was a Feminist, but I did, and things went along as they do.

To be perfectly blunt, this has not been met with much support from my friends.

There’s been nasty little posts about how all Feminists are sexist and hate men and hate SAHM and want women to be put ahead of men, followed by friends all agreeing that this is true, even after I’ve said I’m a Feminist. (In their defense, they continue to read, to question, to listen, but I still can’t get over that sting.) There’s been long comments that basically say “I’m not listening to anything you have to say or even waiting for you to clarify the point. I know exactly what you’re saying, and it’s wrong - so I’m not going to even read anything else you write in response to this comment” where the commentator had taken a perfectly reasonable suggestion (”let’s not judge our female politicians on who they’re sleeping with”) and inflated it into something else (”we should only vote for women and never judge them on their platforms”). I’ve had the concern trolls, the person who took me by the hand and said “I’m worried about how much anger you’re expressing - you can’t change the world, you know. You need to let it go, for your health”, the incredibly bitter discussion where I had to spell out to my partner that “women’s issues” aren’t exactly a special-interest when they discuss 51% of the population (as opposed to higher education issues, which discuss about 12% when last I checked the stats). I’ve had the shunning, and the attempts to trip me up, and the “you don’t care about men at all, you’re ruining valentine’s day by writing about Violence against Women, and you’re just one step short of advocating intolerance against men.”

I started FDBB because I wanted a place where I could write and not get attacked by the people who have known me for five or ten years for, it feels, daring to step out of line. This isn’t really what’s going on with all of the attacks on me, but the ones that attack me personally, that tell me I’m a bad person, that say things like “I thought you were nice“… those ones feel like a slap in the face because these are my friends.

I didn’t think anyone would read me here, but it was a nice thought.

What’s happened here is that there has been this (to me) huge outpouring of support. There have been links to individual posts and to this blog in particular, with “read this, it’s good” attached. There’s been thoughtful comments that say “I understand, I know what you mean, I’ve been here too”. There’s been emails that say “you are one of us”, “you are welcome here”, “you are good enough”.

I…

I’ve been feeling so alone, like I’ve been rolling a rock uphill and every day the rock gets heavier and the hill gets higher. I’ve been feeling like it would be so much easier to just stop caring and stop fighting and stop trying and just let it go and make life easier. I’ve been feeling so damned tired. To quote someone else who got so damned tired, I just wanted to put down the damned teaspoon and stop trying to empty the ocean. I just wanted to walk away.

To have started this blog and gotten such support, from people I’ve been reading for months, from people I thought would think I was writing such simple and easy concepts, from people who I thought would tell me to go away and come back when I was a grown-up Feminist… I can’t even tell you how it feels. I just can’t. It’s so much support, so much solidarity.

So much Sisterhood.

I’ve never understood what that meant before.

I don’t intend to make a lot of personal posts - I have a livejournal to dither in, after all, but this one, I felt, needed to be made.

I think I can pick up the teaspoon again. I don’t know how long I’ll be here, but I won’t give up hope yet.

Thank you.

Because Rape Jokes Are Always Funny, Take II

April 9th, 2007

A few months ago someone took me off his flist, and one of the reasons he gave me for doing so was that I had become “humourless”. I found this charge a bit odd - I mean, I still find exactly the same kind of lame humour I found funny last year funny this year, I still celebrate with glee Talk Like A Pirate Day and Sneak Like A Ninja Day. I still giggle when I read The Wotch. What the hell?

Oh. Maybe it’s that I don’t find this funny. Not even on April Fool’s Day.

Katie Conservative, another WIN member, said the march also aims to reclaim nighties from cross-dressing men who have bogarted white,crocheted, old-fashioned nighties for far too long.
“My vagina told me that for too long, men have taken things that are rightfully ours,”Conservative said. “Tonight we take back nighties just like we took back hairy armpits and stilettos, even though trannies are still trying to steal them too.”
Near the end of the march, chaos broke out when Ostrich’s vagina crawled from under flowing white nightie, stole a loudspeaker and went on a rampage.
“How dare you act like you know what I have to say,” the vagina screamed down Richmond Row.
“You don’t know me, bee-otch,” it squealed. “You can’t even see me through all this hair you’ve let over-grow. Think of me. I can’t even breathe down here!”
Upon seeing the chaos, London Police Chief Murray Faulkner stopped greasing his nightstick and intervened.
He grabbed the loudspeaker from Ostrich’s wild vagina and took it into a dark alley to teach it a lesson.
To Ostrich’s dismay, the vagina followed, giggling as it said, “I love it when a man in uniform takes control.”

Women were delighted to see groups of men standing on the sidewalks in support.
“It was so great to see men supporting us in our nighties and helping us to spread vagina peace and love,” Conservative said.
One man held a sign that read, “Yeah baby, I’ll take back your nightie anytime!”
What the marchers couldn’t see was that the men were using their penises as the beat off to the women in their long, flowing garbs.
“It takes a little imagination, but once you picture them without the nasty dreadlocks, the hideous piercings, the hairy pits and the beards, some of them are actually kinda hot,” said Cocky McFratboy, while taking a break from masturbating.
The event ended when a man sent WIN into a screaming, tribal frenzy by yelling, “You want an opinion! With a push-up bra, you could actually have a nice rack of lamb going on there!”

It’s from the April Fool’s Edition of the University of Western Ontario’s Gazette, the student run paper.

This is what I’m supposed to find funny in order to not be considered a “humourless feminist”? This?

Does it become more funny if you know the names they’re using are very similar to names of two major feminists on campus, one of whom suggested they stop making sexist and racist and homophobic commentary and claiming it as “funny”?

Oh, ha ha. I’m laughing. Yeah.

I think I’m going to pull the covers back over my head.

Right after I email the Gazette Editor-in-Chief, Ian Van Den Hurk at gazette.editor@uwo.ca, and equity services at equity@uwo.ca.

For more information, read the entire article.

[hat-tip to Juxta Feminist Cafe

“She Who Has The Gold Makes The Rules”… no, wait, that wasn’t it

April 7th, 2007

 Blog Against TheocracyThis weekend is Blog Against Theocracy weekend (I didn’t know either).

I guess what gets to me about the increasing use of Christian Rhetoric and the like in our politicians is the way that the words are twisted out of their actual meaning and into something else. The Bible was written in an entirely different time and place, and it pains me to hear those words so commonly abused.

I am not a Christian, but I have studied the Bible. I think studying it is important, and gives us the lessons and words in context. We can’t pretend the Bible hasn’t affected our world. I think teaching the Bible and the messages in it with proper historical and socio-economic background would eliminate so many of the problems with the current theocracy bent in the US and elsewhere.

I wrote this some time ago for livejournal, but I don’t think it becomes any less meaningful over time.

I just want to get this out of the way because man it’s come up a lot lately.

YO EVERYONE! If you’re going to quote something in the Bible, can you please try and remember it’s socio-political background and take that into account when attempting to sort out its meaning?

Thus, the statement “Turn the other cheek” does not mean “walk away from a problem”. Not in the context in which Jesus said it, not in that place, in that time. It doesn’t mean “Let them hit you again until they stop”, either, which is what used to be told to some women who complained about domestic violence to some pastors and some priests.

The quote:

Matthew 5:38-48

“You have heard that it was said, ‘Eye for eye, and tooth for tooth.’ But I tell you, Do not resist an evil person. If someone strikes you on the right cheek, turn to him the other also.And if someone wants to sue you and take your tunic, let him have your cloak as well. If someone forces you to go one mile, go with him two miles. Give to the one who asks you, and do not turn away from the one who wants to borrow from you.”

If someone has struck you on the right cheek, chances are they’ve used the left hand to do so. In the culture Jesus was raised in, in the culture he was preaching to, hitting someone with the left hand was the height of… rudeness, arrogance, indicating that someone was so incredibly beneath you that you could hit them with the same hand you used to wipe yourself with after going to the bathroom. It was the hand you used for unclean tasks because the hand was unclean.

What that quote means, in context, is if someone has treated you with such disrespect that they see you as unclean, tell them to hit you again with the right hand - to touch you as though you weren’t unclean, to treat you as though you weren’t seen that way.

The other possibility, of course, is that they’ve backhanded you. As this website says: Backhanding does not happen in a fair face-off. Backhanding is an insult, punishment, or just plain abuse. Back then it represented a clear situation of oppression or dominance.

Offer the other cheek. You are not fighting back, but neither are you meekly taking it. You are asking for more. You may get it or you may not, but either way you’ve made a point or two. You are not exactly what they think you are, and you know it; you are a person, and deserve more equal treatment and respect as a person; you are aware of the truth behind the fraud. You are amplifying awareness of, and insulting,their bullying behaviour and the system that allows it.

The follow up quote, about the tunic and the cloak? If you owed someone money, they would take your tunic at night, every night until you paid the money, leaving you just your cloak to wear. (Consider that - I owe the bank money through my credit card right now. If they could show up every night until I paid off my balance and take my shirt but leave me my coat?) This was, again, Jesus telling people to stand up and point out the unfairness of what was going on.

The last part there, the walking a second mile: Romans could require any subject of the Empire to carry a soldier’s pack for a mile. This was saying something different than the other two… It was saying make yourself noticed, because anyone who would willingly agree to walk a second mile with the soldier would, one would hope, be noticed by the soldier - and the soldier would want to find out why, would want to talk, would then learn about this pack-animal that he’d chosen at random.

These things taken out of context lose all their meaning and can be twisted around. Jesus was not a non-violent person - one can see that in the Scriptures. A man who violently throws people out a temple isn’t non-violent. But he also didn’t go around insisting that everyone had to grab the nearest weapon and beat everyone into submission. What Jesus is saying here is simple:

Treat others with respect. Require others treat you with respect.

Or, the more familiar - “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.”

It makes me so sad how often that message is lost in the background.

[A similar point was made during Blog Against Sexual Violence Day here, about not using the Bible to justify victims of abuse suffering in silence. I highly encourage you to read it as well.]

Blog Against Sexual Violence Day - How You Can Prevent Rape

April 5th, 2007

Blog Against Sexual Violence logoEverybody agrees that rape is a bad thing.

Whether it’s being used as a threat, being employed in combat, happens to your friend, your sister, your cousin, that woman across the street, the man who works at your local pub, we all agree: rape is bad. It’s wrong. It’s the worst crime that can be committed against a person, to the point where people will use it to describe severe emotional trauma. “I felt violated - it was like I was raped. It was like my soul was raped.”

Rape is bad.

What is a subject of intense disagreement is “What is rape?” The answer to this completely covers the spectrum, from Bill Napoli’s insistence that rape only counts if it happens to a virginal Christian woman and involves much violence and sodomy to “It’s rape if you feel at all pressured”. We don’t agree. We’re all talking about something entirely different, and this is where problems are happening. This is where people get confused.

This is where we get two conflicting ideas: that all rapists are horrible monsters, and that men should fear being falsely accused of rape.

As long as we keep having these conflicting definitions and ideas of rape, we can’t talk about rape. It stays undefined by society. The law may say one thing, but people say and feel and think and believe another. All the “no means no” advertisements in the world aren’t going to make a difference when we don’t even agree on what “no” is.

What I think is important if we’re going to move forward on this is to discuss what we’re taught about rape, and how we’re taught it.

Media Depictions of Rape

When I think about rape on t.v., in movies, and in books, I’m always reminded of The Accused. For those that haven’t seen it, the movie is about a “trashy” woman who is brutally gang raped. It begins with her running from the bar where it happened, screaming and naked, and ends with one of the men who watched the whole thing telling what he saw, narrating the event as the viewing audience watches his flashback.

More often than not, the media depicts the “stranger rape” - the violence, the monster in the alleyway, the woman struggling and screaming and begging to be let go. There’s bruising, sometimes blood. She’s often shown as a complete wreck afterwards.

Quite often when the media does show an acquaintance or date rape scene, things are just as cut and dried. She definitely struggles. He uses excessive force, is shown to be violent beforehand, or she’s shown being drugged. She’s usually begging him to stop, or is crying. She’s often shown as a complete wreck afterwards.

This creates an image of what is a “proper” and “real” rape, and how an “actual” rape victim will react. It makes a very clear image of an “actual” rapist, as well - he’s a monster.

How To Avoid Rape - What We Tell Women

I did several Google searches on “how to avoid rape” and “how to prevent rape“, since these will be more objective than my recollections of what I was taught, but all the sites I looked at supported the same sorts of things:

Avoid situations and lifestyles that could lead you to be raped.”

Women are often told:

- Don’t go out drinking
- Don’t go into dark places
- Always get ID from anyone you let into your flat to do any work
- Watch what you wear (”Avoid dressing seductively: “Action”, they say, “speaks louder than words”. When a woman or girl dresses half-naked, she is saying through her action, “I am available to any man that needs me”. When you dress seductively, you are exposing yourself to the danger of being raped.“)
- Fight back as hard as you can, as strongly as you can
- Don’t go out alone

In other words, the vast majority of the things women are told are designed to prevent Stranger Rape - the rapist-as-monster. They’re also presented often as a set of rules that will “prevent” a woman from being raped - don’t do this, don’t do that, listen to me and you’ll be safe.

How To Not Rape A Woman - What We Tell Men

There are significantly less hits for “How Not To Rape“.

Having spoken to several men on the topic, what I’ve gathered they’re taught is:

- No means no
- Don’t hit women

In other words, men are taught about how to not “date rape” a woman.

These are three entirely different, very simplified, ideas about rape. They primarily put the onus on women - the implication is that only certain types of women get raped, only certain types of behaviour lead to women being raped, and women have to react in certain ways in order to be considered a true victim of rape.

This makes it easy to spot the victim, spot the rapist. It means never having to consider what rape is about, what rape statistics show us. Rape victims vary from infants and toddlers up to great grandmothers in long term care homes. The vast majority of them know their rapist. A significant number are related to their rapist.

As long as we fall into these ideas that “no means no” is the only thing men have to learn about preventing rape, we perpetuate the idea that men don’t need to, or can’t, learn anything else.

As I’ve said before, I think better of men than that.

This is what I think needs to change:

How To Avoid Being Raped

- Don’t blame the victim. A woman dressing sexy is not an invitation to every man. Even if she’s going out with the express intention of picking up a man for sex that night, she is not expressing intention to have sex with every man she sees. A woman going out drinking with friends, or strangers, or on her own, is not inviting herself to be used sexually by every man who sees her. She’s simply going out and drinking. Saying yes to some sex, or some sexual acts, is not saying yes to every sexual act, to all sex. Sometimes, not fighting just means the victim was too scared.
- Communicate, to the best of your ability, what you mean, what you want, and what you’re comfortable with in regards to sex and sexual play.
- If you are attacked by a stranger, do whatever it takes to stay alive.

How To Avoid Raping Someone

- Act at all times like the women you’re with are people. A woman dressing sexy may mean she wants to have sex - but it doesn’t necessarily mean she wants to have sex with you. If she’s falling down drunk, it doesn’t mean it’s a good idea to have sex with her. If you’re falling down drunk, it doesn’t mean it’s a good idea to have sex with her. Remember - alcohol impairs your judgement too, and what may be a clear communicator of “no” when you’re sober may not seem like it when you’re drunk.
- Communicate, to the best of your ability, what you mean, what you want, and what you’re comfortable with in regards to sex and sexual play.
- 60% of communication is in body language. Don’t pretend this isn’t true. If the person you’re with is acting uncomfortable ask them if they’re uncomfortable. If the person you’re with is pushing you away, ask them if they’re uncomfortable. If the person you’re with is shaking their head, ask them if they’re uncomfortable. Men are not monsters. They are not animals. They are not driven wild with lust at the sight of an attractive woman. They will not die of blue balls if they don’t get sex right now. It is not a hardship to ask someone who is behaving uncomfortably if they are okay with things. To say otherwise is to say bad things about men, and you may want to question the motives of people who are doing this.

Yes, we can change the world. Tell your friends what I’ve said. Tell them that rapists are not the monsters who leap out from dark alleys. Tell them that women can be raped by men who refuse to acknowledge a shove away, who conveniently forget when a woman’s told him she doesn’t want sex, who takes a drunk woman to bed even though she’s too drunk to stand, who assume her short skirt is an invitation, who act like men are animals who cannot control themselves, their sex drive, their lust. Tell them that in these simple actions, in these refusals to blame the victim, in these decisions to treat women like they’re people and men like they aren’t monsters, we can change the world.

Tell them.

April 5th, 2007

I apologise for not responding to the thoughtful comments on my previous post. They changed my hours at work, and I’ve had less time to do things as a result.

I’ll do my best to respond tonight. After a nice long nap.

The Radical Idea That Men Are Not Monsters

March 28th, 2007

Have I even mentioned how much I appreciate y’all? Because I do. A lot.

Especially those of you who disagree with me. Because no matter how much you disagree with me, no one has ever left comments for me like this:

Anonymous said…

Im not a rapist but its women like you I want to throw down, rape, and beat half to death. You are a slut and as a slut you wear or dont wear clothes that men can get into with little work involved. If you dont want to get raped then dont be a whore. Just remember not to long ago women didnt have rights and delt with being raped. People like you make me sick. Looking for others to blame when it is all your fault. Omg dont touch me because im opening my legs for you and rubbing myself. Its women like you who need to be lynched. You rant and rave about thoes mens faults and whatnot. here is the facts: Men are animals. Period. We try to do our part not to grab women and what not but if your showing it off and a mans cock becomes to hard he is going to jump.. Rape is a 2 way street. If you women wear real clothes and not ones with your pussys hanging out we might be able to control our cocks. If you dont like this comment thats because your an air headed women and I cant fix that… byz

Anonymous said…

i agree with the anomymous one, if you cant keep your legs closed, we cant keep our dicks under control. you need to get the picture that this isnt a perfect world, and you cant walk around with your legs hanging open like the doors to a church, because men are going to force into the mass. if you dont want to get raped, dont wear something that makes men want to fuck you, because we do want to fuck you, and you should do your part to stop us, or stfu and spread em.

Anonymous said…

i suppose women are exempt from trying to help themselves? you women want to be so helpless it is sad, step up and defend yourselves and have the common sense not to jog at 5 am, or wear a skirt that exposes your genetalia, or get drunk at a party with people you dont know, take some responsibility for yourselves, or stop ranting and deal with 20 cocks in your ass.

Anonymous said…

This is the real world, not your fantasy dream land. Everyone has their own fucking agenda on what their perfect world should be like. If you want to prance around the neighborhood in a mini skirt then go ahead but know that in some guy’s ideal world you deserve a hard cock up your ass if he so desires. If you want a change then stop sitting on your ass complaining like a bitch. Or get raped and die already.

Those comments were all made to an oft-repeated meme of “Don’t Rape Her“. You may have seen it but the gist of it is “If you see a woman and you want sex with her and she doesn’t with you, don’t rape her”, with specific examples.

Women who write about feminism on the internet are getting increasingly used to these sorts of comments. I haven’t collected any yet, but I originally set Feminints Don’t Bake Bread to have to approve every comment. I haven’t the patience or the emotional fortitude to deal with someone telling me to “get raped and die” for writing a blog. One prominent feminist blogger had a man show up on her doorstep to threaten her. Physically, in real life, showed up at her home, over her blog.

Over writing about the radical idea that women are people.

The amount of hate that’s directed at Feminism and Feminists leaves me breathless. I don’t know what, precisely, is so terrifying about writing about women instead of men. I don’t know how writing that men are not animals, are not monsters, and can control themselves at the sight of an attractive woman could drive someone to threaten someone else. I don’t know, at all, what the problem is.

I ask again, why is it that feminists are the ones that supposedly hate men? We’re the ones that think they’re capable of keeping themselves under control.

Even if there are so many commentators that seem to want to prove us wrong.

A reminder: April 5 is Blog Against Sexual Violence Day

Blog Against Sexual Violence logo

Where’s My Extra Piece of the Pie?

March 26th, 2007

Privilege is not:

- an extra piece of cake after dinner
- life handed to you on a silver platter
- getting everything you ever wanted, including a pony and a new pair of skates

I just wanted to get that out of the way before anyone decided that’s what I’m about to write.

Feminism talks a lot about ‘male privilege’ and I think it’s something that many people misunderstand. I can get that – the word privilege reminds me of my parents letting my brother stay up late because he was the older one, and that if I was just good enough I’d get an extra helping of ice cream. It reminds me of being told “driving is a privilege, not a right”. No wonder it gets people’s hackles up.

The problem at that point is that they don’t want to listen to what is meant by using the word.

So, I’m going to define it using something else. I’m going to talk about heterosexual privilege instead, and then use *that* as the gateway into what feminists really mean when they say ‘male privilege’.

Things Life Does Not Guarantee You Just Because You’re Hetero

- A relationship with a member of the opposite gender
- A *happy* relationship with a member of the opposite gender
- Marriage
- Kids
- Extra butter on your popcorn at the movie theatre

Things that you get just because you *are* hetero:

When you feel like listening to music, the vast majority of love songs will be about your type of relationship – from “He Thinks He’ll Keep Her” to “She’s in love with the Boy” to “He Stopped Loving Her Today”. It’s the “default”. I can think of a couple of love songs that could be considered lesbian songs (Melissa Etheridge is the only thing coming to mind right now, although “I Kissed A Girl” keeps running through my head). I can’t think of any that would be for gay men.

If you’re able to think of any, may I point out they’re the exceptions?

When you feel like watching a movie, the vast majority of romantic movies will be about your type of relationship – “When Harry Met Sally”, “The English Patient”, “The Riverhouse”. If I think about it, I can think of one gay romance that made the medium screen *as a romance* - Mambo Italiano. (I haven’t seen it.) I think there’s been a couple of lesbian romances that have made the big screen, but I can’t think of the titles.

If you’re able to think of any, may I point out they’re the exceptions?

When you walk down the street and look at advertisements, you’re going to primarily see advertisements depicting your type of relationship – the de Beers diamond ads, advertisements for romantic restaurants.

When you talk about being “in a relationship” – unless people know you’re gay – they’re going to assume you’re talking about a hetero relationship.

Purchasing valentine’s day cards – “To my wonderful husband, from your loving wife”.

If you get married, your marriage will be acknowledged by the vast majority of governments in the world. Off hand, I can’t think of any that won’t.

If you’re in a relationship, you can walk hand in hand down the street with little fear of attack. You can kiss your partner in the street without fear of attack. People will not think you’re doing it to make a political statement, to offend their children, or to titillate them.

No one will ever accuse of you being a HUG = Hetero Until Graduation.

Being heterosexual is considered the default. It’s not that you get any guarantees in life, it’s that you’re invisible. You don’t stand out because you’re just assumed to exist. No one is doing an “ex-het” movement. No one is telling your parents that you’re hetero because you were abused as a child. Whereas some families may have issues because of who you’re involved, it will be based on who that person is, not what gender they are. And while many families won’t turn their back on a child who is gay, there are still families that do.

No one will stand outside of your wedding, or your funeral, holding up a sign saying “God Hates Hets”.

That’s what heterosexual privilege is.

When feminists talk about privilege, they aren’t talking about how men/whites/heterosexuals/middle-classed/Westerners have charmed existences. They’re saying that men/whites/heterosexuals/middle-classed/Westerners are considered the “default setting”. They’re considered normal. They pass.

Being that I’m at least three, if not four, of those things, I really wish it did mean an extra bowl of ice cream every day. Instead, it just means that I can walk down the street and not notice how the world is designed with me in mind.

March 24th, 2007

“So whenever you give alms, do not sound a trumpet before you, as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and in the streets, so that they may be praised by others. Truly I tell you, they have received their reward. But when you give alms, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing, so that your alms may be done in secret; and your Father who sees in secret will reward you.

“And whenever you pray, do not be like the hypocrites; for they love to stand and pray in the synagogues and at the street corners, so that they may be seen by others. Truly I tell you, they have received their reward. But whenever you pray, go into your room and shut the door and pray to your Father who is in secret; and your Father who sees in secret will reward you.

“When you are praying, do not heap up empty phrases as the Gentiles do; for they think that they will be heard because of their many words. Do not be like them, for your Father knows what you need before you ask him.
(Matthew 6.2-8, NRSV)

I remember this passage from early in my childhood. It was couched in the old language of the King James bible then. Its a message that I so sublimated that I had trouble finding the actual passage when I started this entry.

The message of doing what’s important without letting people know has been a part of my thinking for most of my life. Be it in acts of charity and compassion or faith or politics or my own personal life I don’t talk about how I express these things. I don’t talk about what I do.

Over the course of the last year I’ve watched Anna renew her interest in Feminism. I’ve read over her shoulder and talked at length with her. I’ve learned a great deal. I’ve also had to do a lot of thinking.

A year ago I thought of myself as a feminist. If asked I might have even said as much. The last year has forced to question whether or not I really am a Feminist.

I have seen in countless discussions men claiming to be Feminists and making points that are baldly misogynistic. I Blame the Patriarchy discusses these so called Feminists. I’ve seen time and again how little I understand what being a Feminist really is. Mikey in the comments of this post is a prime example. I wonder how different I am from the men who claim to be Feminists while harbouring scorn and contempt in their hearts.

Better not to “sound a trumpet” and instead learn and discuss and act the part of a Feminist as best I understand. Let those men, the hypocrites, bleat out what they supposedly are. Let me be judged on my quiet actions, or so I thought.

Its been pointed out to me that I’m conceding a battle for the very word Feminist in doing that. I also realise that I’m taking the lesson of Yeshua* too far. Humility is all well and good but nothing comes before compassion. Everyday in Feminist discussions men who cal themselves Feminists are preaching hate. Its not enough to be learning how to think as a Feminist even if I try act like one. Not if I allow myself to be less than one.

I haven’t claimed to be a Feminist to anyone except Anna in about a year, quite possibly much longer. It was a mistake. I gave power to the messages of hate male, so called Feminists, are preaching by my silence. I allowed the word to me stolen from me. I may not know very much yet, I may not be very good at it yet, but I am a Feminist. I believe in the radical idea that women are people.

*-A brief explanation of names. The name Joshua is the english equivalent of Jesus. By the same token Jesus is the Greek equivalent of the Hebrew name Yeshua.

Coloured Silences

March 23rd, 2007

My history knowledge has not improved if the only people in it are all white.

When I originally set out to write about women in history this month, not only did I foolishly think I would be able to pull off a post every weekday (I had goals, dreams, plans….), I also thought I would write something balanced. I have a whole list of important women in history that cross time periods and social barriers and continents and colours, and so many of them that weren’t European, American, or Canadian were completely off my radar.

But what’s been even sadder, to me, has been that so few of the women that make up the history I know are Black. Or Native. Or Asian. These women seem to have disappeared for me entirely.

And what’s sadder than that - until this past year, I never noticed.

The first time I learned about someone in history as specifically a Black Woman was through a rant over on, of all places, Fandom Wank. There, I learned about Harriet Tubman, a black woman during the time of slavery. I learned she was part of the Underground Railway, and that when she was helping slaves to escape to Canada, she carried a gun with her. If they faltered, if they said they wanted to stop, were too tired, too scared, whatever, she would pull out the gun, point it at them, and say “You will live free or die here.”

That’s it. She’s the only non-White woman who enters into my knowledge of history with a name, with some bit of information, with an anecdote, that isn’t from China.

And I didn’t even notice.

I have a history degree. I have deliberately spent most of my adult life learning about dead people, and my blind spots were such that I noticed the lack of women’s voices, but not the lack of black voices, and even less the lack of native voices, because I’ve never had to notice. I’ve never had to be aware of their absence. When I look into history to see someone like me, I can look at Eleanor, at Artemisia, at Anastasia Romanov, at Laura Secord, at so many white women, and for all that their voices are few and rare and often overlooked, they’re there. They exist.

I don’t know the name of one Native Canadian woman in history. I took Canadian history for two years. How is that possible?

It’s the silences, I think, that define what we feel is important, and what we feel is not. If you think that the history of women is important, you’ll notice the silences. If you think the history of Black women, of Native women, of Asian women, of Mexican and Jewish and South American women are important, you’ll notice the silences.

I’ve noticed the silences.

I want to learn.

Sex, Rape - to some people, i guess they’re the same thing

March 23rd, 2007

There seems to be a great deal going on in this article.

Appeal Judge Draws Fire Over Sex Consent [Look, it’s news from Australia!]

APPEAL court judges have erased an alleged rapist’s criminal record after ruling that a man could not rape and have consensual sex with a woman in the same encounter….At trial, the jury heard the 54-year-old defendant drove the woman to a location as a favour, saying “it will cost you”. Shetestified he took her to an isolated area and partially undressed her,then forced her to perform fellatio and have intercourse. The defendant argued the woman consented and the jury verdict was “unreasonable”.

Having done some reading, the jury apparently agreed the sex was non-consensual because she had a condition that caused all vaginal sex to be painful for her.

In his judgment, Chief Justice John Doyle said there was “no satisfactory explanation” for the verdicts, because the charges came from the same evidence.

Which is where my brain starts to get a bit broken.

First - heck yeah! She said she didn’t consent to either sex act, so why won’t the jury believe on both?

Second - what? I’ll have you know that I can be quite happy to have oral sex with someone and not feel up to anything else. One sex act can be consented to and it doesn’t mean I’m going to do anything else. If that second sex act is forced on me it’s still rape.

Yesterday,the State Government vowed to table new laws, wherein sex would become rape as soon as consent was withdrawn – even if the act had already begun.

Darn skippy.

Opposition legal affairs spokeswoman Isobel Redmond warned the new laws may interfere in people’s private lives. “When reading the legislation, one gets the feeling even married couples will need to sign a contract before they have sex,” she said. “You reach a point where you’re trying to legislate for every human behaviour. It’s not possible and it doesn’t lead to justice.”

Wow.

Yeah. Because (wait for it):

OBVIOUSLY it is a big huge deal to say to your sexual partner “Is this what you want?” OBVIOUSLY we will RUIN MARRIED SEX if we insist that no does in fact mean no. That no means no if I’ve had sex with you before, that no means no if I’ve had sex with you five minutes ago, that no means no IF I MARRIED YOU.

Where does Isobel Redmond get the idea that being sure your partner is wanting what you’re doing is such a horrible burden? Isn’t that supposed to be part of the fun?

In related news:

Blog Against Sexual Violence logo

“I thought other women weren’t interested in sports and I thought they didn’t get it.”

March 20th, 2007

I continue to run myself ragged, hence the silence on Women’s History.

So, instead, I will direct you to this, the story of Kathrine Switzer the first woman to run the Boston Marathon.

About three miles into the race, the press truck caught up to Switzer, who was running with Briggs and her burly boyfriend, Tom Miller. When the photographers noticed a woman in the race with an official number, the cameras started to click. And something clicked inside a BAA official, Jock Semple, who jumped off the truck and ran at Switzer in an attempt to tear off her number.

“Get the hell out of my race and give me that number!” shouted Semple, one of the race’s top competitors during the 1930s.

Fortunately for Switzer, Semple only ripped a tiny corner of her number off. And when he tried again, Miller intervened, laying a shoulder block into Semple that sent the 64-year-old Scotsman sprawling to the pavement.

Semple got back on the press truck. As the vehicle left to rejoin the lead pack, Semple shook his fist and yelled, “You’re in deep trouble!”

The whole thing is a fascinating read.

Minding My Gap

March 15th, 2007

I’ve been attempting for the better part of a week now to try and write up a history of Women’s Shelters. It’s been… difficult, to say the least.

The first difficulty has been in deciding what counts as a Woman’s Shelter. Previous to anything opening specifically for women, there were homeless shelters that many battered women would go to. There were also advocacy groups and store-front advice providers (like the Citizen’s Advice Bureau in the UK) that would allow women to stay there when they had no place else to go. Often, women would just open their homes to other women who needed a place to stay. Do these count? They weren’t specifically done with an eye to ending domestic violence, but at the same time, they did help women get out of bad domestic situations, even temporarily.

The second difficulty comes from the contradictions that sprout up when trying to determine when the “first” shelter specifically for battered women opened. I’ve had dates and locations varying from the early 60s to the late 70s, from the UK to California, Chicago, or Massachusettes. I’ve found little to nothing almost anywhere else I’ve looked.

This is a history that takes place in the lifetime of my parents, and I still can’t find out what really happened. When did the idea that Battered Women needed a place to go get publicly acknowledged? When did the fact that beating a wife was wrong become a commonly-accepted idea? When did hotlines and national advocacy groups start with the idea of ending wife abuse?

I can’t find it, and this gap in my history frustrates me.

What I can safely tell you is this:

A second wave of feminism had kicked off, expanding the focus from legal equal rights (such as the right to vote and hold property) to include ‘actual’ rights (such as equality and balance in child-raising and housework). One of the ways that they did this was to just get women talking to each other about things. Groups of women would get together and talk about various subjects, like how they felt about having children, or what they thought about their husbands’ contributions to the housework. They were called Conciousness-Raising Groups, and they were modelled after groups with the same goals in the Civil Rights movement.

The point of this was for women to realise that their problems were shared problems. Arguing about the housework wasn’t something that was unique to one woman just having a difference of opinion with her husband - most men at the time weren’t helping with the housework. Women in these groups would discuss how this was a universal problem, and only universal solutions would fix it. In talking about these things, they realised how “the personal is political” - what happens in your personal life is affected by the overall society that you’re raised in.

When I started looking for information on Women’s Shelters and realised that they had started cropping up at around the same time that Consciousness-Raising Groups were discussing the societal pressures that lead to sexism and mistreatment of women, I thought it would be easy to find and point to some sort of causal link. I was certain there would be research I could at least get the edges of and dig further into later on.

Maybe there is, and I just haven’t found it.

Either way, I leave it there for you: I can’t tell you when or why specific places for women to go to when they were battered started cropping up. I can’t tell you when the idea that beating your wife was wrong came about.

I just know I’m damn glad it did.

Thanks, Feminism.

If truth is beauty, why don’t people get their hair done in the library?

March 12th, 2007

Beauty is a weird thing. And a contentious subject. Look at the whole size zero thing that’s currently rampaging through the papers. Beauty is, and always has been, something important and long debated. It’s a fact of life that you can go far with a pretty face or a good figure.

I missed all those girl traits – I actually don’t have that bad a body image. I’m no looker (It has been claimed I’m beautiful, I’m sure that’s a matter of perspective…) but I’m not about to through myself into the land of plastic surgery or anything like that. I am me. The universe made me the way I am. I learned this looking at a photo of my great great great grandmother. I have her eyes. Her eyebrows. The resemblance is strong enough, that you’d think we were sisters. I look a little like my mum. A hint of my granny. My face carries history – mine and my family’s. It’s an odd mix of genetics (you can see the little pieces of where I’ve come from) and history. There’s a reason why I have such a badly broken nose or the scar on my eye. As I get older, I’ll get lines and creases. Little markers of the life I have lived. And that doesn’t bother me.

I know that I’ll never be universally beautiful. And I’ll not be one of those women who resorts to plastic surgery (I have contemplated getting my nose fixed, but that’s only cause it would possibly cure my migraines) and ends up looking like a cat who’s been sat next to a firework that’s just gone off – all huge eyes and startled expression. I’ll continue to be me, but me marked and stained by time.

This is how I currently see myself:

I’m short. But I kinda like being short. I tend to like my guys taller that me, so this is a bonus! Plus, I’m the same height as Wolverine is in the comics…

I’m podgy. I’m a size 14/16, which is positively awful to the fashion world. I have a little podgy belly, chubby cheeks and a comfy sized arse. I could stand to lose probably about 2 stone. But to be horrendously honest, I don’t care. I like the way I am. I go out at the chest (lots), in at the waist (a bit) and out at the hips. I could starve myself forever and I’d never be thin. I have, as they have been called, wide, childbearing hips. I have a solid bone structure. I’m a Pict – short and dark and broad.

My face is…well…me. I’ve been told that my best feature is my eyes and I tend to agree. Huge, dark, expressive. I have a crooked nose. I have those little quirks that only those who know me exceptionally well ever pick up on – the dimples in my ears, the mole on my lower lip. I get dimples in my cheeks when I properly smile.

All this, it’s part of me. And, yeah, maybe I would be more conventionally beautiful if I had implants and tucks and laser procedures. But I think I’d lose part of my individuality. I’d be sacrificing myself in the pursuit of something else. Someone else.

Men and women (mostly women, but no one’s safe from a little vanity) spend a ridiculous amount of money trying to become more perfect. More beautiful. And yes…some people are universally beautiful. Some people will turn heads wherever they go. Good luck to them. Genetics and lifestyle clicked together and everyone sees how beautiful they are. But some people are only beautiful to those who love them. My granny told me this. If you love someone who is universally beautiful, they are beautiful to you because you see the flaws. You know the dimples and moles and little imperfections that make up who they are. And that’s the beautiful part – you know the secret of their flaws. And if you love someone who isn’t beautiful, they become beautiful because their features become precious. You’ve kissed and held and gazed at their face, and you can see the beauty that everyone else missed. And again that’s part of the beauty – you know the secret, that they are truly beautiful.

Maybe it’s because I’ve spent so much time working on what’s inside me. I worry about the flaws in my personality and in my soul, rather than the thickness of my waist or the shininess of my hair. I understand the need to look good – of course I do. But it’s not everything. And sometimes, in our pursuit of perfection, we miss the beauty that’s already there.

The fashion world can rage as it will. It can tell me that unless I’m 5ft 10ins, 7 stone, leggy, pale, and with cheekbones that you could use to cut meat, I’m not a worthwhile person. But I’m never going to believe it. And, to quote Melle, the more they go on about a size zero epitomising beauty, the more I want to eat lard to better jiggle my rolls of fat at them. It you are a size zero, be happy, be healthy, be well. But the same goes for anyone else, no matter what size or shape or colour they are. Because there is beauty there. Real beauty.

Look at my friends: Every shape and size imaginable, and something beautiful about every single one of them: Don’s gentle smile; Anna’s curvy figure; Kirsty’s cheeky grin; James’ eyes. Seriously, I could go on. My friends are people who are beautiful.

After all, I’m shallow. Aren’t we all?

“So, when do we get a Men’s History Month?” - Blog Against Sexism Day 2007

March 8th, 2007

Blog Against Sexism DayIt’s inevitable, isn’t it? I mean, one writes about Women’s History Month and one is instantly asked “So, when is Men’s History Month?” Or, to be specific:

Can we have a men’s history month too? And talk about manly manly things? The history I teach is weighted to be representative of the whole population, not just men and not just white men. Every mainstream History 101 book that I know of being in use is well weighted to over represent minorities and women to compensate for past disparities. Which is just fine. But if most freshmen 101 history classes are well weighted to be a fair representation, then why the special month?

Why the special month indeed.

I decided to take a quick look at the syllabi (syllabuses?) of several History courses, trying to get a sense from them what sort of overview they were doing and how women were being considered within them. To be clear, the classes I looked at were limited to North American university classes, and those I could find online. It’s not the best representation, but it at least gives us something to look at. Frankly, it’s harder to find them online than I was expecting. I tried to look only at introductory courses, but rarely did they make it clear what they were teaching. Instead, I focused on courses teaching Medieval History, although one of my examples is an intro course.

The first one I looked at was “Poets, Priests, & Paladins: Views of the Medieval World“, a 300-level course on Medieval Europe. This time period (500 - 1500) includes Eleanor of Aquitaine, Mellisande, Margery Kempe, Joan of Arc, Clare of Assisi, and Hilda of Whitby. Women were founding and living in religious orders, they were going on crusade (as washer women), they were troubadours, they were weaving great tapestries, they were raising up their own armies and defending their own and their husband’s land… it’s a great time for a class that includes women, right?

Too bad this one only brings any attention to “Women’s Roles” on the 22nd day of class.

Of all the source material and the texts mentioned specifically in the syllabus, only one is about women, and it’s about Christine de Pizan. It’s not clear if it includes samples of her writing or not.

It does, however, manage to focus three different days on medieval faith, monks, and the papacy, and dedicates much of the reading to Arthur and the Round Table.

This isn’t striking me as a “fair representation”.

But that’s just one course, at one university. Let’s look at another.

Medieval History is another 300-level course, again in the same time period.

This course does a little bit better, at least in the syllabus. There are mentions of actual women - Hilda of Whitby, Heloise, and Eleanor - and some acknowledgement that women were a part of the culture at the time. But there’s still an entire class dedicated to the Status of Women (instead of it being spread out through the coursework, as one would think it should be), there’s no mention of any other women, Hilda is only mentioned in relation to Bede, and Eleanor gets seven classes dedicated to her in some way. There’s a “special” question on the status of women during the time of Bede, but all other questions focus on Bede entirely.

This class really looks like it’s falling into that trap I was talking about before of not knowing how to integrate women into the narrative. There seems to be no source material that is written by women, and making Eleanor so incredibly important makes her seem like the only woman of note in the time period. With a survey course, you’re not going to get into the nitty-gritty, but some acknowledgement that women were doing things other than being written about by Bede and having sex with Henry II would be nice.

But it’s definitely a step up from the first one.

The last class I looked at was “World History for Teachers” [DOC]. Because it’s a doc, I’ll quote a bit from the syllabus here:

Objectives:

1) Students will develop strong foundational knowledge of all major civilizations and societies in world history.
2) Students will be able to make inter-civilizational comparisons, especially regarding the major themes of world history, e.g. economic development, political organization, belief systems, use of technology, etc.

Textbooks:
The following books are required for this course:

1) Stearns, Peter N. (2006) World Civilizations: The Global Experience, 5th edition
2) Packet of readings from The 100: A Ranking of the Most Influential Persons in History

I want to take note of that packet of readings there.

In the course of 13 weeks, it manages to mention two women. Elizabeth and Isabella.

Two.

September 11th gets an entire day of course material dedicated to it, but in a list of the influential people that the course will look at, women are tacked on to “The Rise of the West”.

*sigh*

Of the fourteen syllabi I looked at, only one seemed to have any real attempt at integrating women into the narrative, giving women their own voices, and treating women like they did more than get married. Unsurprisingly (to me), it was an advanced level seminar course with a very lengthy reading list. Heck, looking at it, I want to take this course.

To say that history as it’s taught right now in North America is somehow balanced to include women’s voices seems to me to be, at best, a naive comment and, at worst, a comment to how wilfully blind the person making it is to the way women’s voices are silenced in the historical narrative.

So, when is men’s history month?

As they say: The other 11 months of the year.

And that, my friends, is what sexism is.

Sincerely - What About The Men?

March 8th, 2007

I meant to mention this yesterday but I got distracted by the Hacksaw Incident.

I often get responses (sometimes frustrated, sometimes not) of people saying “You do know that sexism happens to men too, right?” There’s implications in that sentence that really bother me - that I’ve somehow managed not to notice the way that men are told to behave, even though I’ve written about it; and that somehow I should either be writing about sexism towards men more often, or just stop writing about sexism towards women. There’s an implication in there of “well, it’s happening to everyone, so just stop focusing so much on women!” (As though women, being half of everyone, are somehow not as important as men, being the other half of everyone.)

I end up wondering - why should I stop focusing so much on women? What’s stopping the person pointing this out to me from writing their own blog entries about sexism against men?

Blog Against Sexism DayMarch 8th (which is today in my world) is Blog Against Sexism Day.

Sexism happens to men, too. Write about it, should you want to bring attention to it. In your blog, in a comment here, wherever. Raise up your voices and tell us about it.

I write about sexism against women because I think it’s become so much a part of our culture that we don’t notice how bad it is. That’s my take on things. I’d like to hear yours, fleshed out into something a little bit more concrete than “it happens to men, too, you know.”

Yes, I know.

Tell me more.

Artemisia - Portrait of the Artist as a Failed Women’s History Subject

March 6th, 2007

I think it’s kinda sad that the most defining thing about Artemisia Gentileschi is that she was raped. I studied her both in history class and in Art History, and the whole rape-trial thing seems to be the defining stuff. She was raped by her mentor and teacher, who, upon finding out she was a virgin, told her he’d marry her. She continued to be taught by him and have a consensual sexual relationship with him on that promise (well, consensual here isn’t necessarily the word I’d use - she apparently felt she was so shamed that she had to have him marry her, and he kept promising he would). Her father found out, and her mentor was tried for rape. Artemisia was tortured quite violently and refused to recant the accusation. Her rapist was convicted and banished for life, which meant about four months in reality since he had friends in high places. She left Rome, taking a friend who agreed to marry her to protect her honour, and made an attempt to move on.

But the thing that makes Artemisia interesting to me is that, in a time when women weren’t encouraged to be artists, and when those who were artists were primarily portrait painters, she was famous and well known enough to be part of the Accademia dell’Arte del Disegno - the first woman to be accepted. She painted Old Testament women (see: Judith over there on the left) at a time when religious art depicting women focused on Mary Mother of God and Mary Magdalene. She returns to Judith time and again, a story in itself which is very violent and out of character for women in the Bible.

(To sum up Judith in a few sentences, she was a Jewish woman during the time of a war against the Jews. The leader of the other side was Holofernes, and he was the key to the other side’s power. Judith went to his tent and offered herself to him as a concubine. He accepted, and they had sex. As soon as she was certain Holofernes was asleep, she cut off his head. Shortest story ever, I know. Go read up on it, it’s interesting.)

Artemisia was a friend to Galileo, and had Cosmo de Medici as a patron. She worked with Michelangelo Buonarroti the Younger, who was related to the famous Michelangelo, and helped with the ceiling paintings on a celebration of Michaelangelo’s work. She was well-respected in the art world of Florence, until her debts ran too high and her patron died. She returned to Rome some years later and was lauded there as an outstanding painter, with more high-level patrons. Eventually she numbered Charles I of England amongst them, who commissioned her to paint important ceilings in his court.

The frustrating thing about her career, as fascinating as it is, is how much it was completely ignored after her death. There was little mention of her art for centuries of study afterwards. After her death, verses were written about sexual scandal, but not about her abilities as an artist (”By painting one likeness after another/ I earned no end of merit in the world/ While, to carve two horns upon my husband’s head/I put down the brush and took a chisel instead.”). Her work was attributed to her father or to her mentors, but rarely to her. It’s only in recent decades that her art is being recognised as hers.

Artemisia is, I think, where Women’s History really starts to fall down. As I said, I studied her in two different classes, but most of what I could remember about her without any checking was she had been raped, and she painted Judith a lot. It’s a classic example of people pushing a woman into a history class without really knowing where to put her or how to emphasis her. She was an amazing artist at a time when women in the industry were few and far between, and what matters about her is she was raped? I think not.

What matters about Artemisia is she was an amazing artist who painted strong women well.

A Whirlwind Tour through the Life of Eleanor of Aquitaine

March 2nd, 2007

Eleanor of Aquitaine is one of my heroes. She ended up Queen of both France and England, went on Crusade (and led to the next call for Crusade specifically saying ‘No Women Allowed’ by having opinions and stuff), helped her sons rebel against her second husband, ended up locked in a tower for a few years, and then traveled around chunks of Europe ensuring her sons had brides and ransoms paid and all sorts of fun stuff. Not a bad life at all.

Eleanor ended up married to the heir to the throne of France almost immediately after inheriting the Duchy of Aquitaine. Her father had petitioned for the King to protect Eleanor because it was a time when unmarried heiresses were often kidnapped, raped, and forced into marriage. The King politely waited until the men mourning Eleanor’s father had left the room before expressing absolute delight that this thorn in his side was gone and plotting what the wedding would look like. {I love how randomly cruel people could be at this time period. Ask me some day about the party that was held by Anne Boleyn’s family when Catherine of Aragon died. History really *is* fun!}

At first everything looked good between Eleanor and her newly-crowned husband, Louis. Then the Crusades started, and Eleanor brought about 300 women with her and insisted that they were going to accompany the men on their way to liberate Jerusalem. This didn’t go over very well (since, you know, women were bad in the eyes of the Church). Adding to the tension Eleanor ran into her Uncle Raymond while on Crusade and seemed much more interested in him than her husband. When Raymond made a suggestion on strategy that Louis disagreed with but Eleanor supported, Louis insisted that Eleanor take his side. Her response: “Screw that – I support Raymond.” This, also, didn’t go over well, and Louis took Eleanor away from there by force.

This was basically the end of their marriage, although it struggled along for a few more years. They had a couple of daughters, but the marriage ended up annulled in 1152, leaving Eleanor once again a major land holder at the age of 30. (Hmm… sexual peak, anyone?)

Eleanor’s first decision shocked Europe even more than the annulment did – she married a man 10 years younger than her who was leading a rebellion against the King of England in support of his mother’s (and ultimately his own) claim to the throne. With Eleanor’s land and troop support, Henry Plantagenet would ultimately fight King Stephen to a standstill, and become King of England himself in 1154.

For probably the same reasons that any marriage between two strong-minded people with opinions and stuff can fall apart (aided in no small part by Henry’s constant affairs), the marriage became a battleground fought through their sons. Eleanor encouraged them to rebel against their father in order to claim land and power from Henry before he died and to reclaim for herself her land of Aquitaine. Henry put the rebellion down and locked Eleanor in a tower for the next fifteen years. {Okay, the tower had a castle attached to it – and there was more than one place she was locked up – but isn’t it more interesting to think of her sitting at the window, watching the days go by, wishing for someone to climb up her hair and rescue her?)

Eventually, Henry died, and Eleanor was freed by Richard the Lion-heart to return to being an important force in English and European politics. She helped raised the infamous ransom that would free Richard when he was being held captive by the French, helped fetch home Richard’s bride, and helped support John when he inherited Richard’s throne. (I’m over-simplifying here – John and Eleanor had an incredibly bad relationship, but she was determined that one of her sons would rule England and John was all she had left after Richard died.)

We’re talking about a woman who, at the age of 70, took a dangerous trip over the Pyrenees Mountains. Eleanor died in her 80s, still respected for her political power and acumen throughout Europe.

If I’m going to live to be 83, I want to do it with that much vim and vigor. Her influence was instrumental (heh) in setting up the Age of Troubadours and the Courts of Love. During her rebellion against Henry, she was 50. She never gave up, she never surrendered, and she completely rocks my socks off.

[If you find Eleanor interesting, you may want to read “While Christ and His Saints Slept” and “Time and Chance” by Sharon Kay Penman.]

- Bibliography –

Almost all of this information was from memory, but dates were checked and details confirmed at various websites.

I also read “Eleanor of Aquitaine – By the Wrath of God, Queen of England” by Alison Weir.

Eleanor and the Troubadours both are included in “Uppity Women of Medieval Times” by Vicki Leon, which you should read because it’s great and treats history like it’s actually fun.

Is It Really Her Story?

March 1st, 2007

On a recent LJ post a friend of mine wrote, she stated in passing, quite emphatically, that she didn’t like the term herstory – it’s history, damn it. I wasn’t quite sure how to respond to that – on the one hand, I don’t like the word herstory either, but on the other hand, I do support Women’s History and classes that focus exclusively on that. Here we are, in Women’s History Month (the 20th one since its inception in the US in 1987 – and after deciding I was going to do a bunch of posting for it I was embarrassed to find out that Women’s History Month in Canada is in October), and people continue to ask why it’s necessary – why aren’t we just integrating women’s history into the core curriculum of history? Why are we making it separate?

The first reason is that we’re still playing catch up with a bunch of things that people just don’t know or don’t realise. Like, for example, that the term feminism was first used in France in 1405 to describe the writing of Christine de Pisan. Before I started looking into Women’s History, I had never heard of Black Farm Woman (Schwarze Hofmannin in German), and I’ve studied the Peasant Revolts that she was a big part of. I’ve heard of Joan of Arc, of course, and studied her as well, but I’ve never seen anything on the other women who followed her, either driven by faith, madness, or ambition. I knew of Isabella & Ferdinand, but had no idea of Isabella’s reputation as a Warrior Queen who rode into battle.

Secondly, what’s being done to integrate women into history classes is being done poorly. Students walk away from classes complaining that they just learned about certain women “because they’re women – not because they did anything”. (As though they don’t learn about Prime Ministers just because they’re Prime Ministers, regardless of how little they accomplished. Kim Campbell, anyone?) Where women fit into history isn’t being shown as part of the greater whole of history, put tacked in, and no one is learning anything from it.

Thirdly, and related to the first two reasons – educators don’t know as much about Women’s History as they would need to in order to properly integrate it into classrooms. When teachers don’t yet know the details of what Black Farm Woman did, they don’t know how to add her into the study of the Peasant Revolts, The Reformation, and Luther. She seems pushed in because she’s an unknown, still, to the teacher.

But this only talks of learning about certain women in history – pointing out the importance of women like Queen Melissande, who ruled Jerusalem during the same crusade that brought Eleanor of Aquitaine to the city. But other things are included in Women’s History, things that might not necessarily need to be included in your overall comprehensive This Is History class. And just like we can take classes that specialise in Maritime History, or History of Politics, or History of Christianity, classes like Women’s History or a History of Feminism can be illuminating and interesting.

To me, it seems like educators are fumbling around, attempting to work out a way of teaching about women’s contributions without overwhelming the course or making it An Issue. And whereas I can understand the arguments against Women’s History Month and specific classes about Women, I think that they will still be necessary as long as educators continue to not know how to integrate their classes properly.

In order to talk about Women’s History in all its permutations, I’m going to write about two different types of history this month: the history of important women, and the history of women – that is, things that are specifically related to women or are specifically put forward by them. Examples of the former are easy – Eleanor of Aquitaine, Melissande, Black Farm Woman – all women that are fascinating in their own right, not only for what they did but why. The latter will include things like the history of Women’s Shelters (called Refuges in Australia), how women got the vote, women’s contributions to the Crusades, and prostitution (not that all prostitutes are women).

I hope this is something you will find interesting to read along with. Knowledge of history isn’t expected or required, and I’ll answer any questions I can. I’m still learning myself, despite my studies of history, and I want to learn how to make history interesting to other people, as well as myself.

About Melle

March 31st, 2006

Melle is a geeky butch dyke in her mid-twenties. Although she’s been living in Scotland since 2004, she’s still Belgian to the core, and will vigorously defend herself from accusations of being Dutch. Although she has become cynical and bitter in her old age, she has been trying to get back in touch with her inner idealist. She likes to talk about (gender)queer issues and class issues, and also to swear a lot.