Patriarchy and the Establishment of ‘Objective Facts’: The Narrative is Already Gendered by @LucyAllenFWR

Cross-posted from Reading Medieval Texts

‘The Fall of Icarus,’ c. 1560-70.

Every now and again, because I don’t know any better, I end up engaging with my favourite brand of Idiot on the Internet, the intellectual mansplainer. You know the sort of thing: you mention you’re studying late-medieval women’s reading, and they start to explain to you how Derrida helped them understand why it’d be better to read Chaucer. Or Shakespeare. Or, you mention gendered violence and they explain – more in sorrow than in anger – that men have always fought wars while women stayed home raised the babies, and history really teaches us how bad men have always had it. If you’re lucky – and I’m sometimes very lucky, because writing like a dyslexic does have a delightful tendency to make people underestimate you – they’ll eventually offer to dazzle you with the beauty of their logic. Ingrained in this discourse will be terms like ‘playing devil’s advocate’ or ‘the inherent bias of women’s studies’ or ‘the importance of looking at things objectively,’ or ‘letting the facts speak for themselves’.

It’ll all sound terribly, terribly educated and impartial.

Except, you’ll have the sneaking sense it isn’t.

We’re encouraged to believe that education teaches us how to argue impartially, how to set aside personal bias, and find objective truths (or at the very least, falsify obviously biased and incomplete perceptions of truth). But I think we ignore a fundamental inequality before we even begin to debate.

The image at the top of this page is a painting, once attributed to Breugel, and the subject of a poem by Auden. Both painting and poem make the point that, while the Greek myth traditionally centres on Icarus, the rash boy who escaped prison in Crete on wings made of wax and then fell to his death because he flew too close to the sun, the tragedy is only personal. If you take the perspective of the ploughman in the foreground of the picture, or the ‘expensive delicate ship’ in the ocean, the object falling out of the sky and the pair of limbs just visible in the bottom right corner of the painting are unimportant.

This is – I would argue – a really blokey way of looking at myth, or narrative at all. For the painter, for Auden – for William Carlos Williams, who thought Auden’s poem was just so damn awesome he’d have a crack at it too – this perspective is novel and exciting. There is a strong sense of these men giving themselves a pat on the back for imagining the scene in such a new and unusual way, with the supposed ‘main character’ reduced to a speck in the corner.

Both history and fiction de-centre women’s views a lot of the time. Researching medieval women, you spend a lot of time looking at the negative space between men’s communications to get a sense of the position of women. Establishing a valid narrative often requires a lot of caveats, a lot of uncertainty, because the perspective that is so strikingly novel in the Icarus painting is just plain normal here. This de-centred position isn’t a rhetorical or logical posture, a debate-team tactic you can congratulate yourself for knowing – it’s the default place from which you have to begin.

But there’s something even more problematic about the way the narratives we’re used to hearing when we hear about women in the past shape the way we interpret those women. I’m reading a medieval romance at the moment, which is supposedly an exploration of how men and women uphold truth and justice. In theory, it’s a lovely story of how truth wins out over treachery. In reality, I think it’s a story of how female truth is constantly de-centred, never accepted as objective fact.

This romance is full to bursting with untrustworthy male characters. The best of them – the hero of the piece – has no qualms about impersonating a monk in order to extract a confession on false pretenses. This character, the Earl of Tolous, falls precipitously ‘in love’ with his enemy’s wife on the strength of a description of her physical charms. He even accepts a sworn oath of manly loyalty from one of his enemy’s prisoners because this man is willing to promise him a glimpse of the beloved (aka, stalking 101).


from the Belles Heures of the Duc du Berry. Image from this site.

The meeting is set up for the woman’s chapel. She turns up, dressed in her most expensive clothes, while he comes disguised as a hermit so that her husband’s men won’t discover him. Keeping perfectly in-character, he begs her for alms, and she gives him a handful of coins and a gold ring. And then she leaves again.

This woman demonstrates over and over that she’s utterly true to her word: in fact, she has a totally objective view of the truth, insisting upon telling her villainous husband when he’s legally and morally wrong, and refusing to break a vow of secrecy even when it could save her life. This aspect of her character is repeatedly set to one side by the other characters – except two chillingly manipulative would-be rapists who set out to blackmail her into committing adultery and, when she refuses, frame her for adultery anyway. This is the point at which Our Noble Hero really shows his mettle … by completely failing to take her innocence on trust. Instead, he leans on the Old Boys’ network, and fixes things with the woman’s confessor so that he can diguise himself as a monk, sneak into the confessional, and interrogate the woman about her guilt or innocence in the guise of her confessor. It’s charming, isn’t it? And needless to say, the entire establishment who refused to believe the woman are perfectly convinced by the word of a man who’s just impersonated a monk.

Despite this cornucopia of male distrustworthiness, the narrative manipulates us to think much harder – and much more suspiciously – about the motives of the woman at the centre of the story. It’s a classic ‘yes, but what did she do to encourage him’ story. As you can imagine, the suspicion focuses on that scene in the chapel when she gives the man who loves her – her husband’s enemy – not only coins, but also a ring. In medieval England, the connotations of this donation are sufficiently ambiguous to make things interesting. In a society where people still do an awful lot of payment-in-kind, it’s not exactly unusual for rich ladies to give pieces of jewellery as alms. And rings do not necessarily symbolise love: they range in purpose, from romantic tokens engraved with mottos, to reliqueries designed to hold bits of dead saint, to the even more passion-killing administrative function of signet rings used to seal boring documents.

For example, check out how many rings this girl’s mother is wearing! Portrait of A Lady With Her Daughter, Barthel Bruyn the Elder (c. 1540).


Image from wikipedia commons.

The narrative manipulates us to focus much more energy on the ambiguities of this scene than we do on the straightforward – but, narratively less pivotal – evidence of the male characters’ failure to remain true to their words. After all, it’s the first meeting between the hero and heroine, the first opportunity for us to see whether the heroine will be tempted to betray her husband, or whether she’ll betray the man who loves her to her husband. So, it encourages us to second-guess her motives, to put the evidence of her truthfulness to the side for a moment and dig into the narrative ambiguity. In short, the romance reinforces the idea that women’s truth is to be de-centred and women are to be second-guessed.

This gendered pattern – this narrative structure we find again and again in paintings and fiction and historical narrative – forms the cultural context we all bring with us when we sit down to argue about ‘objective facts’ or to hammer out the ‘truth of the situation’ with the mansplainers. At best, we’re conditioned to expect we’ll have to reconstruct women’s experiences from the margins, from the negative spaces. At worst, we inherit narratives about women that are already prompting us to second-guess those women’s experiences, to categorise them as dubious, uncertain, and problematic.

When I argue with mansplainers about history, or feminism, I’m happy to argue objectively, to play by the rules. But I think we also need to realize that it’s rather easier to make a rhetorical posture of giving up your central position to explore the evidence if that’s something novel and strange to you. It would be too much to say that traditional narratives – in history and in fiction – gaslight us into disbelieving women, but we need to recognise that there is a hierarchy there. When we start to argue about how to establish of ‘objective facts,’ we need to recognise that the ground we’re arguing over is already uneven.


Reading Medieval Books! I rant about women in literature and history, occasionally pausing for breath to be snarky about right-wing misogynists. I promise pretty pictures of manuscripts and a cavalier attitude to sentence structure. [@LucyAllenFWR]

Women and Folk Art in the Eyes of Male Artists: Yet more Cultural Femicide by @LucyAllenFWR



(cross-posted with permission from Reading Medieval Books)



This post isn’t my idea, but came about when I read a comment by the brilliant Bee Jones earlier today.

She wrote:

“I have just watched The Culture Show on catch-up. All about a Tate exhibition of Folk Art. The introduction explained that it was going to focus on the real lived democracy of art which has always existed outside the art establishment. Great, I thought, this will be celebrating the explosion of women’s creativity we see every day, all over social media etc etc…but NOPE. You’ve guessed it, the programme didn’t feature a single woman artist, or even mention that women have long been underappreciated for their talent, despite being EVERYWHERE making beautiful things. So this post is about celebrating the fantastic women who regularly astonish me with their creative skills. Please feel free to share this and add your own.”

I think this is a great idea.

I’ve just watched the programme she’s referring to – it’s up for another week, so feel free to check it out if you particularly wish to be patronized by a couple of blokes. They start out with some working definitions of folk art, before oh-so-hilariously ‘insulting’ each other by applying the term to their own work. From this, we moved on to the Tate’s Folk Exhibition, which is open through the summer. There’s a nice review of the exhibitionhere.

Our two presenters, Jeremy Deller and Alan Kane, stared at the first display, which was absolutely fascinating: a wall of objects once used as shop signs, and ranging from a beautiful, giant gilded key, to a teapot marked with fading lettering, to a pair of humble shoes. Apparently, all of this was very funny. “Anything that’s bigger or smaller than it should be is automatically funny,” commented Deller, begging a reference to Freud. After this, “we’re off to Blackpool, perhaps the spiritual home of British folk art today,” and I began to sense a pattern. The presenters explained they were looking for anything they liked the look of, “anything that makes us laugh,” basically. Here we got our first glimpse of women: as the voiceover wittered on about folk ritual, the camera lingered on a middle-aged woman wiggling her bum cheekily at us. Oh, these Northerners and their down-to-earth folk humour! Stopping by a stall selling fake tattoos, Deller tried his hand at the popular voice, explaining, “these tattoos, they’re basically like Warhols … I think, for me, that’s like what artists do, they take something from popular culture and do something with it”. It was about as convincing as David Cameron trying to tell us he, like, thinks that Inbetweeners show is more or less Shakespeare.

Everything to do with folk art, we were told, was ‘fun’. Oh, such fun. A T-shirt, wittily printed with a sexist joke about wives and terrorists, obviously merited being included in all of the hilarity. Seriously, if you watch this bit, it comes with a health warning, because I think I have strained my eyebrow muscles from listening to these two pontificate about unselfconscious art while looking at a T-shirt reading ‘I beat anorexia’ they’d claimed as a ‘public art work’. Nothing so folksy as sweat-shop-produced misogyny.

I’m not going to go through the whole thing – you get the gist. It was massively patronizing, with one eye on the audience snickering along with the Proper Artists. Towards the end, I held out hope we’d left the snickering behind as both men, looking at sculptured figureheads, so far forgot themselves as to sound genuinely impressed. But not for long: “it’s a classic figurehead, to have the top half person, bottom half boat … and maybe with one or two breasts exposed … preferably two! Hur hur”. One of Deller’s childhood highlights, we’re told, was a visit to the Cutty Sark, memorable for “a whole row of these topless women … I thought that was pretty cool!”

It’s perhaps no surprise, given the way this programme treated misogyny as ever so funny, that there wasn’t any discussion of women and folk art.

Back in the Tate exhibition, the presenters mentioned a woman’s name for the first time: Charlotte Alice Springall, who, with her husband-to-be Herbery Bellamy, pieced together a beautiful quilt in just one year (known, you’ll be shocked to discover, as ‘The Bellamy Quilt’). This was, apparently, very funny too: “they obviously didn’t work” sniggered the presenters, before moving swiftly on to discuss another group of people who made art (apparently), because they had nothing better to do: modern-day prisoners.

No, really. I’d say I found the juxtaposition telling of their impression of the restrictions of women’s lives, but I’m not sure they’d thought that deeply.

This was the point where I really got annoyed – because quilting is a hugely important form of folk art, which has historically been practised by women, and which has a very rich social as well as artistic history. Quilts often don’t survive, because textiles eventually wear out or rot, but the V&A tells me this quilt of the story of Tristram and Iseult was made c. 1360-1400. That’s a full century earlier than the most famous writtenEnglish version of the story, in Malory’s Morte Darthur.

In the past, women needed to make quilts – not because they ‘didn’t work,’ but because it was a practical way to recycle fabric and a necessary means of keeping warm. But they also turned quilting into an art form, as the York museum of quilting will show you. It’s only fairly recently that quilts have been treated seriously as art works. In the last century, for example, Lucy M. Boston (who also wrote beautiful children’s books)  declined to have her quilts exhibited at Kettle’s Yard Folk Museum in Cambridge, because she felt they were things to be used, not art to be exhibited.

In fact, barely five minutes had gone by, after Bee posted her response to this show, before women were swapping images of work they’d made. I’ve got permission to share this beautiful quilt, made by the author Cassandra Parkin.



And here’s the one she’s working on now:

quilt 2

Aren’t they beautiful?

I love Bee’s idea, and if you would like to add images or comments about women’s art – whether you’ve made it, your friend made it, or you just happen to love it, I’d enjoy that. And please consider sharing Bee’s post with people you know: we could discover some brand new women folk artists!

There is now a hashtag, Artbywomen, where you can share images, links or anything else you like about women’s art, especially women’s folk art. Enjoy!


Reading Medieval Books! I rant about women in literature and history, occasionally pausing for breath to be snarky about right-wing misogynists. I promise pretty pictures of manuscripts and a cavalier attitude to sentence structure. [@LucyAllenFWR]

The Making of the Suppressed Histories Archive

The Making of the Suppressed Histories Archives

Max Dashu in 1979For forty years, Max Dashú has researched global women’s history and cultural studies. Her legendary Archives now hold a collection of over 15,000 slides, with tens of thousands more images in hard copy and digital format, as well as text files, maps and books. Dashú has created 130 slide presentations: thirty are international surveys of topics such as Female Rebels and MavericksThe European Conquests, andPriestesses. The others look at women’s history by country or region, chronologically. She has done these visual presentations for all kinds of audiences, from feminist bookstores and community centers to universities, public1976 brochureschools, libraries, museums, prisons, galleries, festivals, and conferences.

In the fall of 1969, in the midst of the anti-war  movement and with the ascent of women’s liberation, Max Dashú left behind a full scholarship to began research as an independent scholar on global women’s history, mother-right, patriarchy, and the origins of domination. Women’s Studies did not yet exist, women’s hstory was literally treated as a joke, and the academic climate was hostile to raising questions about women’s status and the suppression of female power. Dashú began scouring libraries for evidence of women’s leadership and other social patterns that fell outside the claimed universality of male domination.

She focused on the missing center of women from a global perspective, seeking to understand how domination worked in terms of gender, class and ethnicity. She intuited that the broadest Suppressed Histories brochure, 1980expressions of female leadership were retained in the Indigenous world, among the same cultures that had been disregarded and disparaged by classical scholarship, and this proved out. Women’s leadership often crossed the boundaries of political, religious, economic, and artistic spheres as laid down in the classic “Western Civ” worldview. This pattern was one of many pointers toward a different cultural paradigm. And it is the oral histories of the aboriginal peoples that provide the substance of these suppressed histories and flesh out women’s contributions and spheres of power.

Dashu’s research in archaeology showed that neolithic iconography overwhelmingly emphasized Suppressed Histories Archives brochure, 1984women, in a qualitatively different way than modern media. She found that women in indigenous societies typically had more freedom than women in feudal and colonial systems, and that all present-day matrilineages occur in indigenous societies. Abundant indicators showed that male domination of women correlated with domination by class, ethnicity, and other socio-political hierarchies. Historical patterns emerged of upper classes being more invested in patrilineage, multiple wives, and constraining women’s bodies and behavior than commoners or indigenous peoples. That is why the Romans called the ruling classes patricians; why veiling and female seclusion began with the Indo-European elite, and why footbinding and corsets began with aristocrats, long before these customs spread to other classes and cultures.

Dashú found that public female spheres of power tended to concentrate in areas of spiritual leadership and, conversely, that banning the priestess was a keystone to deepening the cultural colonization of women through religion. A more profound level of domination was possible than could be achieved through violence and coercion, if only women could be induced to believe that their oppression was divinely ordained and to acquiesce to an idolatry of the masculine –and to all-male religious authorities.

Witch persecutions emerged as another pattern of attack against female power, solidarity, pWitch Hunts slideshowrotest and resistance. Persecution of medicine people was a crucial tactic of colonizers to break the spirit of countries they were invading. This repression went hand in hand with forced conversions and outlawing indigenous religion, or the spiritual practices of subordinated classes and peoples. Women shamans, diviners, and medicine women have often been at the forefront of liberation movements. (See “Priestesses and Political Power”  and Rebel Shamans )

In 1973 Dashú became historical consultant for Donna Deitch, who was then at UCLA, working on one of the first feminist documentaries,Woman to Woman. She opened up the opportunity to collect images from university libraries in southern California and to learn copy photography in the process. The result was the initial collection of about 300 slides, seedlings of the Suppressed Histories Archives.

Dashu got a camera and began to photograph more images. She created slideshows and presented them at women’s bookstores, centers, coffeehouses. The first showing, Matriarchives, took place in 1974 at A Woman’s Place bookstore in Oakland, California, backed by live music by Sandy Ajida, Kay Sato, and Cindy Fitzpatrick. The Women of Power presentation premiered at Full Moon Coffeehouse in San Francisco in 1975, and was also shown at Mountain Moving Café in Portland and Mother-Right bookstore in Santa Cruz. In 1976 this growing women’s history collection took the name of The Suppressed Histories Archives. Year by year by year, thousands of new slides were added to the Archives, along with new articles, graphics and maps in the hard copy files.

Over the next three decades, Dashú continued to research and teach and archive historic images ofAfroAsian Goddess women. She investigated mother-right cultures, priestesses, female shamans, witches and the witch hunts, goddess veneration, Indigenous philosophies of spirit, female elders and chieftains; patterns of conquest and colonization, the role of captivity and slavery and class systems in developing patriarchy, and the uses of religion in intensifying male domination. She looked at patterns of racist and sexist bias in the way the archaeological  and historical record had been evaluated, and called attention to disregarded cultural riches in the Sahara, Ecuador, Sumatra, Indiana, Nubia, Siberia, Utah, Ireland, Ethopia, and Portugal.

Dashú began to present guest lectures at universities in 1981, while continuing to teach through grassroots venues: community centers, women’s conferences and festivals, public schools and libraries, and the occasional prison, gallery, and museum. She presented at women’s centers at Northwestern, Stanford, Princeton, UC-Berkeley, University of Wisconsin, and many other universities around the US. She gave keynote addresses at the Pagan Studies Conference at Claremont University (2008), the New Jersey Coalition for Battered Women (Rutgers, 2005), California State University at Chico (2000), Association for Women and Mythology (2009), and Women’s Voices for a Change (Swarthmore, 2013). She presented at international conferences in Rila, Bulgaria; Glastonbury, England; Hambacher Schloss, Germany and San Marcos, Texas, and gave slide talks in Spanish at the Museo de San Miguel de Allende, Centro de Justicia Global, and other Mexican venues. She has presented at conferences of the National Women’s Studies Association and the American Academy of Religion.

The Suppressed Histories website went online in 2000, reaching a vastly expanded audience. Today it attracts 2000 brochurereaders from every country and 80,000 hits a month. It features dozens of articles, book excerpts, interviews, and video clips from the dvds Women’s Power in Global Perspective and Woman Shaman: the Ancients. Some articles have been translated into Dutch, French, Italian, and Hungarian on other websites. Others are available in Spanish on the SHA site, with more to come.

Dashú’s critique of Cynthia Eller’s The Myth of Matriarchal Prehistory has had an international impact since it was published in 2001–and later reprinted in the British journal Feminist Thealogy (Sheffield Press, 2006). Dashú was the first to stand up and challenge Eller’s attacks on Goddess scholars at the Gender and Archaeology Conference in 2002. She follows some sixty scholarly listservs, corresponding with scholars around the world, and fielding queries from other researchers. She continues to present visual talks around North America, especially to grassroots audiences.

In 1978 Dashú began writing The Secret History of the Witches, a reconstruction of pagan European tradition, especially goddess veneration and female spiritual leadership. Her aim in this sourcebook was to investigate What Happened in Europe: to document how the European witch hunts arose and their cultural impact on women. By 2000 she had written 2000 pages of  manuscript, with illustrations and maps. In the decades since Dashú began writing The Secret History of the Witches, significant cultural turnings have occurred: a resurgence of Goddess reverence and, on a larger scale, Christian fundamentalism, church-state patriarchy and authoritarianism, and even new Crusades and torture-trials. This book will be a resource for the restoration of authentic cultural roots that predate hierarchical religions and to uproot the cultural poisons that continue to sow violence and destruction. Getting the first volume into print is the current priority for the Archives.

Meanwhile, the Archives is moving to digitize the slide collection, and to expand the image galleries, articles, and videos on the SHA website. Suppressed Histories Archives has attracted a large audience (130,000 at this writing) on the Facebook page, with daily posts of images, links, and information.


Suppressed Histories Archive : The Suppressed Histories Archives uncovers the realities of women’s lives, internationally and across time, asking questions about patriarchy and slavery, conquest and aboriginality. About mother-right, female spheres of power, indigenous philosophies of spirit– and the historical chemistry of their repression. Even more important, their role in resisting oppression. A global perspective on women’s history offers fresh and diverse conceptions of women’s power, as well as of men and gender borders. It overturns stereotypes of race and class, and the structures of domination that enforce them. It digs under the usual story of lords and rulers, looking for hidden strands, and reweaves knowledge from the divided fields of history, archaeology, linguistics and folk tradition. So we cast a wide arc, looking for patterns and gaps and contradictions which, where vested power interests are at stake, are trigger points for controversy. Some of the flashpoints are women’s power; neolithic female figurines; gender-egalitarian mother-right cultures; patriarchy; witch-hunts; “heresies” such as goddess veneration or shamans; and the rise and fall of empires, including the doctrines of supremacy and inferiority that prop up all systems of domination.



Remembering Women in History by @CeliaHubbartt

(cross-posted from du erkennst mich nicht)


Throughout time, women have done extraordinary things, yet remain quite unknown to the public. Here are two women who deserve to be known by all.

  •  Alexandra David-Néel (1868-1969)

Alexandra David-Néel as a teenager.

This French explorer, spiritualist, Buddhist, anarchist and writer has done more in her life than most people could dream of. She traveled to Lhasa, Tibet when it was forbidden to foreigners. She wrote over 30 books about her travels, philosophy and Eastern religion.

David-Néel, whose desire for freedom and spirituality, began her adventures by traveling around Europe before the age of 18 on her own. During this time, she studied at Madame Blavatsky’sTheosophical Society.

Throughout her travels, she went to India, became an opera singer in Vietnam, traveled to Sikkim, where she met her lifelong traveling companion, a Sikkimese monk, Aphur Yongden (born 1899), she also traveled to Japan, Tibet and later returned to France for a short time in 1928. She began another trip to the east Tibetan highland in 1937.

David-Néel and Yongden.

At at 101, David-Néel passed away. Her ashes were mixed with Yongden and were dispersed in the Ganges by her friend Marie-Madeleine Peyronnet.

  • Qiu Jin (1875–1907)

Qui Jin

Qiu was a writer, poet, feminist and is considered a national hero in China. She was executed after participating in a failed uprising against the Qing Dynasty.

In the beginning of her life, Qui wrote poems about joyful subjects ranging from flowers to visiting historical places and domestic activities. She also would write about female heroes and warriors from history. She found inspiration from their strength, courage and beauty. This was a reflection of her self-confidence and desire to be a great writer.

When she married the son of a wealthy merchant against her own wishes, her self-confidence took a sever hit.  She wrote about her husband saying, “That person’s behavior is worse than an animals.. He treats me as less than nothing.” and “When I think of him my hair bristles with anger, it’s absolutely unbearable.” Her poetry was the exact opposite as before. It was filled with self-doubt and loneliness.

In 1903, Qui and her husband moved to Beijing where she began reading feminist writings and also became interested in women’s education.

In that year, she left her husband to study in Japan. During this time, she became quite vocal about women’s rights and pressed for improved access for women’s education. She also spoke out against foot-binding.

She joined a group of Triads who worked towards overthrowing the Qing Dynasty and other anti-Qing societies after her return to China in 1905.

Qiu wrote her own journal, “Zhongguo nubao” (Chinese women’s journal) in 1906. It consisted of feminist and nationalist writings. She did not hold on to the idea that women’s places were as mothers and educations in traditional family role, instead she found traditional family life as oppressive to women.

In 1907, she was appointed head of the Datong school in Shaozing, Zhejiand Province. The school was actually used for military training of revolutionaries. While there, she frequently cross-dressed and wore western-style men’s clothing. She became well-known for her aid of the poor and weak.

On July 6, 1907, Xu Xilin, Qui’s cousin with whom she worked with, was captured and tortured for information. He was executed the next day.

After learning of her cousin’s death, Qui decided to stay at the school where she known she would be caught. She believed that her cause was worth dying for. On July 13, Qui was arrested, tortured and two days later was beheaded publicly in her home village at age 31.

The public was shocked by the brutal execution of a woman and many people were strengthened by this and their resentment of the Qing Dynasty was multiplied. She was immediately made a hero and became the subject of drama, poetry and fiction. Her own poetry and letters were published after death.


Du erkennst mich nicht: My blog ranges from anything and everything that could do with feminism. I also add in random articles that I find interesting, but the heart of the blog is about feminism.

The Inimitable Life of Sophie Germain by Women Rock Science

(Cross-posted from Women Rock Science)


This is Sophie Germain, 18th Century physicist, mathematician and philosopher. She is the first person for 200 years to make progress on Fermat’s last theorem and her pioneering theories on elasticity helped build the Eiffel tower. Her journey into science was an unusual one, as a teenager, she had to fight her parents for the right to read books and as an adult she had to pretend to be a man to take university courses. Despite her amazing work she was not included in the list of 72 French architects and scientists whose names are inscribed in the Eiffel tower.


Sophie was born in 1776 to a wealthy Parisian family. Her parents did not approve of girls receiving an education and banned Sophie from studying. This was a huge point of conflict as Sophie was obsessed with mathematics, particularly the theories of the ancient Greeks. Her parents even went so far as take away her heat, clothing and lights so that she couldn’t sneakily study at night as she had been caught doing many times. Her parents eventually surrendered when they found her in the middle of the night, reading, freezing naked with a burnt out candle stub. From this moment on they let her continue to study and her father even went on to support her financially.


Names Inscribed in the Eiffel Tower

At 18 a new technical University opened in the city. Sophie wished to go but was barred entry as she was a woman. Just like before, Sophie wasn’t going to take no for an answer. She used the identity of a former male student Monsieur Le-Blanc to write into the university and request lecture notes for remote learning. As the course progressed, she even began submitting coursework under her new male name. She was excellent although it was this excellence that would get her busted. Le-Blanc’s work was so intelligent, so brilliant that the course supervisor demanded to meet with him. It was then he discovered that Le-Blanc was actually Sophie Germain.

The professors at the university took the identity swap revelations surprisingly well. Though she was not granted a degree she forged strong mentorships with some of the finest mathematicians in France. She pioneered work on the law of vibrating elastic surfaces which made the construction of the Eiffel Tower possible. Several years later, she went on to be the first person to progress in providing the proof for Fermat’s Last Theorem – a problem that had been troubling mathematicians for 200 years.


Fermat’s last theorem img Source: Simon Singh

Despite her achievements, upon her death, her death certificate listed her simply as a single woman with no profession – not a mathematician. Further when the Eiffel tower was built, her name was not included in the list of scientists despite her theories being key in its construction. Sophie didn’t receive a formal school education and her work was often haphazard and lacked formal structure. However it is this very nature that allowed her creativity to flourish and gave her a unique perspective on mathematical problems.


Women Rock Science: A site dedicated to celebrating the achievements of women and girls in science


“I woke up this morning with a bad hangover/ And my penis was missing again”: On Power and Pseudo-History by @LucyAllenFWR

(Cross-posted with permission from Reading Medieval Books)


I don’t habitually go to buzzfeed for profound and scholarly historical discussion (I keep wikipedia for that), so when someone sent me a link, I wasn’t expecting much, and I wasn’t disappointed. This link is a load of guff about how powerful prostitutes were back in History, back before the nasty feminists spoiled everything (note, their definition of ‘prostitute’ is probably loose enough to come close to some people’s definition of ‘libel’). It’s easy to take issue with the ‘woman is powerful because she got to sleep with powerful men’ theory, of course. But, despite its manifest limitations, the link got me thinking about the nature of power and how it affects how we write history.

Power is one of those things that is defined relatively, and therefore, any change in an individual’s circumstances sets off a recalibration of the whole system, however minute and imperceptible it may be. If I become relatively more powerful, someone else becomes relatively less so. And that’s how the balance can tip until whole sectors of society are wildly less powerful than others. Problem is, when we come to discuss history, it’s always tempting to take individuals out of context, to make every ambiguity point the same way until we’ve reconstructed actual power from the range of possibilities.

The best way I can think to illustrate this is with the figure of the medieval witch, a figure whose power I’ve seen described with awe and respect over and over, put forward earnestly by people who truly want to believe in a past where women had power.

Detail from the thirteenth-century Mural at Massa Marittima. Detail from the thirteenth-century Mural at Massa Marittima.

A few months ago, when I’d just started tweeting with an avatar showing Jeanne and Richard de Montbaston’s image of a nun picking penises, Victoria Brownworth commented how much this image reminded her of an episode in the famous Malleus Maleficarum. The Malleus (‘Hammer of the Witches’) was written in 1486, and became quite popular, with several reprintings over the next couple of centuries. The story she was thinking of is one of my favourites, so I’m going to quote a bit of it.

“And what, then, is to be thought of those witches who in this way sometimes collect male organs in great numbers, as many as twenty or thirty members together, and put them in a bird’s nest, or shut them up in a box, where they move themselves like living members, and eat oats and corn, as has been seen by many and is a matter of common report?”

You have to love the casual attribution of this story to ‘common report’. The author of theMalleus, with admirable confidence in his audience’s sangfroid in the face of this narrative, goes on to describe one poor emasculated man’s experience:

“For a certain man tells that, when he had lost his member, he approached a known witch to ask her to restore it to him. She told the afflicted man to climb a certain tree, and that he might take which he liked out of the nest in which there were several members. And when he tried to take a big one, the witch said: You must not take that one; adding, because it belongs to a parish priest.”

You might find it hard to believe, given the jokey tone of these passages, but the Malleuswas pretty highly misogynistic and sincere in its conviction that witches were prompted by evil, female sexual desire. For a lot of readers ever since, the witches of the Malleus have become symbolic of resistance to this persecutory misogyny, growing in stature from strangely arboreal penis-farmers to wise, dignified, strong women drawing on mysterious feminine power. I’ve sometimes got into arguments about this with women who say, well, maybe they had power. It’s possible, isn’t it?

It’s possible. But it’s not very likely.

You can see that the Malleus story has obviously similarities to the much older story fourteenth-century author Robert Mannyng relates in his book Handlyng Synne, which I retold in a previous blog post. In that story, it is a bishop and not a priest who is bested by a clever witch. She enchants a disturbingly phallic, bulging sack to steal milk for her, and when the he demands and repeats the words of the spell, he’s caught in (metaphorical … ish …) impotence, unable to emulate her power. The Malleus story has also been linked to the image at the top of this blog post, which is a detail from a thirteenth-century mural depicting women plucking penises from a penis tree.

The thirteenth-century Mural at Massa Marittima

The thirteenth-century Mural at Massa Marittima

It’s pretty easy to be reductive about these stories, especially as a feminist. Setting aside the Freudian, we can argue these women are represented as clever and powerful, getting the better of the representatives of organised religion and controlling fertility. Add in dramatic references to ‘witchhunts’ in Puritan American or Inquisition-era Europe and these stories take on a darker flavour, as preludes to a male-dominated violence focussed on expressions of powerful female activity. It’s easy to refashion the witch protagonists of these stories as sister women, proto-feminists rejecting male authority (in a delightfully heterocentric way). Maybe they just liked the penises because they were empowered, comfortable with their sexuality? Do stop me, I think I’ve heard this one before.

These witches are beginning to sound like modern women as imagined by the most patronizing of ‘pro-sex’ ‘feminist ally’ types. It’s tempting, of course, to believe that medieval witches were powerful, before an early Modern repression of their power. But I’m not convinced this power is more than an illusion. In order to take these stories as reflections of a strong female power centred in witchcraft, we’d have to believe that the women in them represented something out of the ordinary, some challenge to the status quo, to the dignity of the male-dominated Church or to normal heterosexual power relations.

Instead, when I looked for other medieval stories like these, I found the most similar plots were not to be found in the angry rants of threatened priests or bishops, or in official propaganda on finding and killing witches. Instead, these stories were dead ringers for the contents of the medieval smutty verses known as fabliau, which feature ordinary men and women and which are obsessed with heterosex.

My current favourite amongst these is called Li Prestre Ki Perdi Les Colles (it sounds so elegant in French, right?): “The Priest Who Lost His Balls”. As you can kinda imagine from the title, it’s another very similar story. Here, the priest is having a little casual fornication, as you do, with a carpenter’s wife. When the carpenter suddenly arrives home, the priest dashes stark naked into the carpenter’s workshop and tries to hide. Seeing nowhere else, he hastily climbs onto a large wooden crucifix and arranges himself in the posture of Jesus, in the hope that the carpenter is stupid enough to imagine he’s already carved the central figure.

Yes, I imagine it pretty much like this. From the excellent Monty Python's Life of Brian.

Yes, I imagine it pretty much like this. From the excellent Monty Python’s Life of Brian.

Naturally enough, the carpenter isn’t fooled. Being a smart man, he sees a clever revenge, and, pretending to be horrified at his own oversight in carving highly visible genitals on the body of Christ, he whips out his chisel, and –

Well, yes.

This story is obviously drawing on pretty similar tropes to the witch stories. And I might as well just say that there are dozens of medieval fabliaux describing priests caught in undignified penis-related contexts. The women of the fabliaux are the direct ancestors of these witches: not emblems of female power, but accessories in endless ‘look, I’m talking about a penis’ stories.

Reading these late-medieval witch stories in this context, what I really noticed was that the women described in the Malleus story, or in Mannyng’s Handlyng Synne (or even pictured on the mural) were just very … ordinary. They are not universally terrifying figures, channelling unique power from the Mother Goddess.

When we buy into the idea that witches were universally recognised, in all medieval or early Modern societies, as powerful and awe-inspiring, we buy into a myth. For one thing, few societies are that homogeneous in their views, and for another, to do this is to ignore the fact that the writers, and probably the artists, who created these stories were not feminist documentary-makers, but men with agendas. Buying into MRA myths by attributing spurious power to women in the past is tempting, because we want to imagine how women might have been powerful, and why women were perspecuted. But that’s to miss the point: misogyny doesn’t need reasons. The whole power structure of the societies in which these stories were written were justification enough, without us needing to imagine the threat of specially powerful women.

You may think this doesn’t matter too much – it’s only history. It’s in the past. But the same process of ‘positive’, ‘empowering’ rewriting of circumstances is happening all over the world today. Imagine a historian looking back at misogynistic rants against 21st century feminists. That historian would see claims that women are ‘more powerful than men anyway’ or ‘really derive power from sex work’. They’d see claims that men were threatened by powerful women and that women had a real power, a power strangely invisible to the naked eye but nevertheless much-cited. Would they believe those rants? I hope not. But in the same way, we have a duty to try to be sceptical too. We cannot give someone oppressed more power by pointing out that, in the most positive parallel universe imaginable, a person in that situation might have power. We have to acknowledge the real context of that oppression.


The titular quotation is, of course, from the King Missile song Detachable Penis. One suspects that, in these transhistorical narratives of phallic loss, there might be a feminist anti-Freudian theory waiting to be written, but I leave that to your imagination.


Reading Medieval Books! I rant about women in literature and history, occasionally pausing for breath to be snarky about right-wing misogynists. I promise pretty pictures of manuscripts and a cavalier attitude to sentence structure. [@LucyAllenFWR]


Hope Powell – Taking on the men at their own game‏

Guest Post from Morag Watson

      Screen Shot 2018-02-02 at 13.45.04 In my family, it was always the women who were the avid football fans – my mum, my auntie and my grandma. All for Scotland; all for Newcastle United. They instilled in me a love of sport – especially football – for which I will be eternally grateful. (Mind you, they were a bit put out when, at 6 years old, I decided to support Liverpool! Over 35 years later, I still do. And Scotland, of course.)

     Sport brings people together. Commonwealth Games, Olympics, World Cups. We support our own country, or the underdog, and take great delight in teasing our friends who have different allegiances. As a proud Scot, living south of the border, I frequently rib friends who support England. But I have a guilty secret. I too am an England supporter! Not of the men’s football team, I hasten to add, but of the women’s team. Let me explain how it came about.
     When I was young, women in Britain did not play football. As with so many other sports that had been gender-specified, it was considered a male domain. While I liked hockey and netball, I adored football. But the only footballers were boys and men, so I had no female role models that I could identify with. Yet another aspect of my life in which I felt like a social misfit. In those days, girls who liked football were labelled ‘tomboys’ and regarded with suspicion – the more conservative members of society viewed tomboys as the lesbians of the future. (I’m happy to say, I proved them right! *Look of defiance and pride.*) Accordingly, many girls who thought about taking up football thought twice, then didn’t bother.
     Then, in the 1980s as far as I recall, something changed. Strong women who did enjoy football decided that they wouldn’t be sidelined any longer and started forming women’s football teams locally. Women’s recreational football leagues began to spring up, and some Football League clubs began to have women’s as well as men’s teams. It was at that stage, when teams like Arsenal Ladies, Doncaster Belles and Millwall Lionesses were developing, that Channel 4 and the BBC began televising the Women’s F.A. Cup final. As this became an annual event, I started to recognise the good players who regularly cropped up, most of whom were English: Julie Fleeting, Rachel Yankey, Kelly Smith, Ellen White, Faye White, Sue Smith et al. At last, young girls who were prospective footballers had quality role models. But there was one ex-footballer who, while not on the pitch, was instrumental in the rise and rise of women’s football. That person was Hope Powell.
     Hope’s considerable list of accolades, as both a player and a manager, can easily be found on the F.A. website and Wikipedia, so I shan’t cite every single one here. In a nutshell, she played as a successful midfielder for Millwall Lionesses, Fulham, Croydon and Bromley, over 20 years, from 1978-1998. Moreover, she has 66 England caps, scoring 35 international goals. Yet the reason why I find her so inspirational is not her playing career, impressive though it was, but what she did afterwards. That is why, during Women’s History Month, I want to make others aware of how she helped raise the bar for women in sport.
     Having trained as a coach since she was 19 years old, and after gaining a degree in Sports Science & History, Hope was appointed England manager in 1998, aged 31. This put many noses out of joint, but made her the youngest ever England coach, the first and only black England coach, as well as the first and only female England coach. Furthermore, she became the first woman to earn the UEFA Pro Licence – the top coaching award possible. Indeed, she is a pioneer in many ways. (To put this into perspective, even in the all-male territory of the English professional football leagues, I can only think of 2 of the 90+ clubs currently having a black coach – namely, Chris Powell and Paul Ince.) Then, as the Guardian phrased it (Anna Kessel: 22.8.2013) “Powell took on the pale, male and stale suits at the F.A.” In this respect she was a visionary – determined to enhance the progress of women’s football not only in the short-term, but for many years to come, by setting the groundwork in place for those who came after. By the time her 15-year tenure as coach had ended with the sack, she had managed 162 senior international matches (of which approx 75% were wins or draws ). What’s more, she had set up and overseen U15s/U17s/U19s/U21s/U23s national squads and a coach mentoring scheme. This was in addition to working with the F.A. Centres of Excellence, the ‘Kick it Out’ campaign, and the Women’s Sport Foundation.
     Hope forced the F.A. to take women’s football seriously, to fund it to a semi-professional level, and raised possibilities for / expectations of female athletes. This, in turn, has led to the development of the F.A. Women’s Premier League and elite Women’s Super League in England. The latter has received greater television coverage than has previously been enjoyed by the women’s game in the U.K., albeit in the form of weekly Match of the Day-style reviews, rather than full matches being broadcast regularly. The importance for British women and girls, though, is that football has been ‘normalised’ as a sporting option for them, by women such as Hope Powell. There is no longer the same social stigma attached to female footballers, and young girls now have visible, successful role models available to them.
     Sadly for Hope, despite all her success as a player and coach, she was not considered for the F.A. role that she herself had insisted on being created – that of ‘first director of elite women’s football’. Had she rubbed too many “pale, male and stale suits” up the wrong way? Had the issues surrounding her player management style come back to haunt her? We’ll probably never know. But what of the future? If men like Andre Villas-Boas, who was never a top professional footballer himself, can get to coach an English Premier League club, then why not Hope, with all her experience? If men like Vic Akers and Mark Sampson can coach top women’s teams, why shouldn’t she be considered as a manager for men’s teams? Perhaps that’s the next barrier that needs to be overcome where women in football are concerned.
     Finally, I want to acknowledge @PlanetCath, who pointed me in the direction of a recent article in The Independent entitled, “The wartime women footballers: Remembering the days when 50,000 fans would turn out to watch” (Johnathan Owen: 24.2.2014). Essentially, as a tie-in to the centenary of WWI, it relates how the game of football blossomed among those women left behind in Britain, keeping the country going, while men went off to war. Huge crowds, the size of which are only seen in large Premier League stadia today, watched these women’s games. So in effect, women’s football now can be seen as a resurgence of what went on 100 years ago. Perhaps, without those female footballers of the early 20th Century, girls and women nowadays would have had an even harder battle on their hands. We have them to thank, and hopefully the female footballers of the 22nd Century will have us to thank, in their #Women’sHistoryMonth.

Naming the Problem: Women’s Identities and the Historical Record by @LucyAllenFWR

Naming the Problem: Women’s Identities and the Historical Record

wedding photo edit

The inspiration behind this post comes from a petition, started by a brilliant feminist. I urge you to read and sign it, if you’ve not already. The petiton states:

In England & Wales mothers’ names are not on marriage certificates.

This is not fair.

This is 2014.

Marriage should not be seen as a business transaction between the father of the bride and the father of the groom.

This seemingly small inequality is part of a much wider pattern of inequality.

Women are routinely silenced and written out of history.

As you can imagine, when I read this I was nodding along, especially when I got to the last line. Women are routinely written out of history. What’s even more disturbing is that, when women’s names are omitted from modern legal records, we come to expect that what we’re seeing is the result of ‘tradition’. We come to believe in this legal record, where the paterfamilias, the male head of the household, is the name and role that matters.

It’s no accident that these ‘traditions’ accumulate around the institution of marriage, because if anything attracts pseudo-traditional trappings, it’s marriage. If you believe the myths, white dresses are slut-shaming badges of virginity (not, y’know, conspicuous consumption), being ‘given away’ is an ancient and symbolic tradition going back to medieval times (it’s not), and it has long been the custom for the man to go with his betrothed even unto Tiffany’s, there to exchange one-third of his yearly stipend for the bling of tastelessness.

For a medievalist, knocking some of this tradition is pretty easy. Aristocratic medieval women didn’t exactly ‘change their names’. Women might display their identities in coats of arms that showed their maternal, as well as paternal heritage. In Books of Hours made to celebrate weddings, the brides might display both maternal and paternal heritage in their coats of arms.

The Hours of Catherine of Cleves

The Hours of Catherine of Cleves

The Hours of Catherine of Cleves, for example, shows Catherine’s arms in the big shield in the bottom margin, with the shields of her maternal and paternal grandparents ranged around the border. You can see how these designs are incorporated into the larger shield, forming part of Catherine’s composite identity.

What might seem more surprising is that women’s identities aren’t just visible in this sort of context, where displaying your good lineage is part of the patriarchial system in which women breed the next generation of aristocrats. Women could, and did, also display their occuptions, their professional identities.

The example I like best is one I came across a few months ago, reading a couple of articles about the first female printers in England – the women who came after William Caxton. Finding women who work in the book trade always fascinates me, because their professional lives were dedicated to producing the written material that constitutes so much of what we know about medieval history – yet often, these women’s own names and even the fact of their existance, is lost.

The reason we know about a few women printers is because printing, like most medieval businesses, was a family affair. As in many businesses, men married the daughters and sisters of their colleagues: it was a good way to cement business relationships, but we’re also beginning to recognize that some of these women also brought professional skills with them. So, it’s no surprise to find medieval women printers who kept their maiden names – as a way of advertising the professional background they brought to their husbands’ workshops.

Printing Workshop

One early woman printer goes even further: this is Elizabeth, wife of the printer Robert Redman, who lived in Fleet Street in London in the sixteenth century. When her husband died, she did not formally inherit the business and there’s no indication in Redman’s will that he expected her to carry on printing. But a series of books were produced by Elizabeth as a widow, and naturally they record who printed them: ’Elysabeth Pykeryng, late wife to Robert Redman’. Pykeryng uses what is presumably her maiden name, and certainly isn’t her husband’s name: it’s her professional identity.

An article on Pykeryng by Martha Driver, who’s an amazing scholar of medieval culture, raises the possibility that it was Pykeryng who’d been managing the press all along: her initials appear on some books printed before her husband’s death, and when she remarried, she continued to be involved in dealings with the printing press, even though formally a married woman should have been acting only through her husband.

This sounds like a success story for the medieval proto-feminists. Or, if you’re less inclined to hyperbole, a Good Example of Hardworking Female Industry (I think I’m channelling the bloke who gave the speech at my sixth form prize day, who jingled change in his pocket while telling those who’d done Home Ec what good wives they’d make).

But there’s something missing from Pykeryng’s story, even though her name and occupation survive in the historical record. She actually married at least four times, and had several daughters. But, while we can look up the relationships between children and their fathers in the official record, mothers’ names are not mentioned. So we don’t know exactly which children this inspirational sixteenth-century woman printer raised. In a reversal of our expectations of ‘woman’s history,’ we have her professional reputation, but not her personal history. We’re dealing with a record which, even at its most revealing, is full of silences when it comes to women.

This is a wider problem that has begun to affect not just the facts we know or don’t know, but also, the facts we remember, the facts we seek out from the historical record and publish, or talk about. When women’s names and occupations rarely appear in documents such as marriage certificates, we stop looking for them in the historical record. We stop expecting to find historical data about working women, and we begin to believe the myths that married women didn’t have jobs, that women in the past traditionally took their husbands’ names, or that mothers did not pass on their professional identities to their children. When women are consistently written out of the historical record, we come to expect not to find them.

When I looked at the Merriam-Webster for a definition of the word materfamilias – a woman equivalent of the patriarch, the head of the family – I found the dictionary gave the first known use as 1756. I happen to know this isn’t true: a medieval will of 1416 – over three hundred years earlier – includes a bequest of money given by a canon of York Minster to one ’Alicie matrifamilias’ (‘Alice, materfamilias‘). But even our records of language come to reflect what we expect of the historical record, not what is actually there. We expect women’s history to be shorter, humbler, and more basic than men’s. The current state of marriage certificates perpetuates both the omission of women’s names and details, and the culture of expectations that goes with this omission. It is a double form of silencing, a double erasure of women from history.

marriage certificate


I base my comments on Elysabeth Pykeryng on two articles, both very well worth reading.

Martha W. Driver, ‘”By Me Elysabeth Pykeryng”: Women and Book Production in the Early Tudor Period’, in Manuscripts and Printed Books in Europe 1350-155o. Packaging, Presentation and Consumption, eds. Emma Cayley and Susan Powell (Liverpool: Liverpool University Press, 2013), 115-119.

Barbara Kreps, ‘Elizabeth Pickering: The First Woman to Print Law Books in England and  Relations within the Community of Tudor London’s Printers and Lawyers,’ Renaissance Quarterly 56 (2003): 1053-1088.


Reading Medieval Books! I rant about women in literature and history, occasionally pausing for breath to be snarky about right-wing misogynists. I promise pretty pictures of manuscripts and a cavalier attitude to sentence structure. [@LucyAllenFWR]

Sarkless Kitty and the Ghosts of Misogyny by @KatharineEdgar

(Originally published at the F-Word UK. Cross-posted here with permission from author Katharine Edgar)

A young woman transgresses against the strict gender roles of her time.Katharine Edgar considers the seed of truth behind ghost stories such as Sarkless Kitty

Between 1787 and 1809, at Lowna in the valley of Farndale in the North Yorkshire Moors, 18 men were killed by the same woman, according to the local guidebooks. Born around 1767, local girl Kitty Garthwaite was an unlikely serial killer. Not least because, according to the same legend, she died earlier in 1787, before the alleged murders even began.

1---MaidenKitty Garthwaite was, of course, a ghost. She haunted the ford, or so we read, under the name of ‘Sarkless Kitty’. ‘Sark’ was a local name for a shift or undershirt. ‘Sarkless’, or entirely naked, Kitty would sit either in the ford or on a branch next to it, depending on the version of the legend you read, and lure innocent and unwary male travellers to their doom. She did so for revenge: having been seduced and abandoned by a local farmer she is said to have drowned herself in the ford while pregnant. Then, it seems, she visited her vengeance first upon her lover and next upon a succession of innocent men, until a service of exorcism put paid to the murders.
Read more Sarkless Kitty and the Ghosts of Misogyny by @KatharineEdgar

Shameful Attempts to Close The US National Archives for Black Women’s History by @Andrews_Cath

(Cross-posted with permission from Toda historia es contemporánea)

Shameful Attempts to Close The US National Archives for Black Women’s History

Until this month, the US National Archives for Black Women’s History was housed in the house of Mary McLeod Bethune, an African-American activist who was an adviser to President Franklin Roosevelt and  first lady Eleanor Roosevelt. However, as this articlerecounts, its administrators, the National Park Service, took the decision to close the archive on 18 February in order to rehouse it at the NPS Museum Services, in Landover, Md.

This decision followed years of substandard attention by NPS towards the archive. Going against its own rules, it has not ensured that there were rangers exclusively assigned to the archive and has made Bethune House serve as a visitor centre for another historic site. Money that has been set aside for the archive has also been used elsewhere. This lack of care and appropiate attention for the archive makes the decision to move it even more questionable.

A number of academics have protested against this change, and according to information given to me by the protest organiser, Prof. Bettye Collier Thomas, of Temple University,  this is having a positive effect. NPS Director Jonathon Jarvis has suspended the closure, but has not recinded the order. As a result, she is asking that supporters contact that NPS to insist it does the following:

  • To Rescind the order to shut down the National Archives for Black Women’s History (NABWH) and remove the collections from the Mary McLeod Bethune National Historic Site
  • To Appoint a replacement for Gopaul Noojibail as the NPS Acting Superintendent of the Bethune National Historic Site who describes himself as “The Closer”
  • To Restore to the Mary McLeod Bethune National Historic Site’s budget ALL funds previously appropriated by the U.S. Congress for housing and protecting the National Archives for Black Women’s History collections
  • To Resurrect and Reconstitute the Federal Advisory Commission as required by law
  • To Implement the General Management Plan as required by law – which includes the mandate to purchase property suitable for protection and expansion of the National Archives for Black Women’s History
  • To establish separate staffs for administration of the Mary McLeod Bethune and Carter G. Woodson National Historic Sites.  In 2005 the Woodson House became an affiliate unit of the NPS. 

To this end, Prof. Collier Thomas has issued a press release which includes a sample letter to send to Jonathan Jarvis and Secretary Sally Jewel. It can be accessed here:


Please take the time to write this letter. We cannot sit by while such an important archive is side-lined and neglected.


Gertrude Stein and Cultural Femicide, by @sianushka

Cross-posted from: Sian and Crooked Rib
Originally published: 13.12.13

Cross posted with permission from SianandCrookedRib

The other morning I re-watched the film Midnight in Paris, directed by Woody Allen in 2011. For those of you who haven’t seen it, it’s hardly a classic, but it is good fun. In it, Gil, played by Owen Wilson, is visiting Paris with his fiancée. He’s a ‘Hollywood hack’ who wants to write a novel, and is obsessed with 1920s Paris. He is walking through the city at midnight, and finds himself transported back in time to 1920s Paris, where he meets the Fitzgeralds, Hemingway, Picasso, Dali, Man Ray, Bunuel, Cole Porter, TS Eliot – the whole crowd. He falls in love with Adriana, played to perfection by Marion Cotillard, who had affairs with Modigliani, Picasso and Braque. In the film, that is.

It’s a fun film and it makes you want to go to Paris. But on my second viewing I noticed something that escaped my attention first time round, and it’s been making me cross.

When Gil meets Hemingway, he asks him to read his novel. Hemingway refuses, saying that you should never give your work to another writer to read. He then says he will take it to Gertrude Stein.
Read more Gertrude Stein and Cultural Femicide, by @sianushka

Jeanne de Montbaston – Penis Trees Against the Misogynists?, by @LucyAllenFWR

Cross-posted from: Reading Medieval Bools
Originally published: 23.10.13


The above image – a sheepish-looking monk handing an unfeasibly large penis to a disconcerted nun – may look familiar to anyone who’s read my first post in this blog.

It’s one of a sequence of illuminations made in the margins of a manuscript by the medieval artist Jeanne de Montbaston. Jeanne worked with her husband, Richard, in Rue Neuve in fourteenth-century Paris. She did the illustrations for a fairly large number of manuscripts, including dozens of copies of the popular Romance of the Rose. This poem is an allegorical reflection on love, but it is also justifiably famous as one of the most misogynistic books around, the subject of medieval author Christine de Pizan’s brilliant attack on male writers who treat women only as sex objects.

A short passage can illustrate what Christine meant. In the poem, the allegorical figure of ‘Genius’ (who is male) argues that all men should take advantage of women as sexual objects, and he compares the (male) act of writing with the act of penetration, while picturing women as passive, blank like an unwritten page. In a vicious rant, he declares:
Read more Jeanne de Montbaston – Penis Trees Against the Misogynists?, by @LucyAllenFWR