Showing posts with label badass ladies. Show all posts
Showing posts with label badass ladies. Show all posts

Sunday, August 20, 2017

Documentary Review-Warrior Women

Image result for warrior women netflixWarrior Women with Lucy Lawless is an awesome 5 part documentary series that I literally watched in one sitting because I liked it so much. It was interesting, visually pretty, and, best of all, actually taught me things I didn't know--something I always appreciate. The documentary covers five women in depth--Joan of Arc, Grace O'Malley, Boudicca, Lozen, and the 'Real' Mulan, and I HIGHLY recommend that you go watch it right now. It's on Netflix, so it should be pretty easy.


I do have some warnings, however. This show is very addictive. You will be sad when it's over. This show will suck you in, then spit you out wondering what exactly you're supposed to do with your life now. You may not be able to watch another historical documentary again without feeling the bitterness of dissatisfaction. Further side effects of watching Warrior Women with Lucy Lawless may include:

  • A crush on Grace O'Malley
  • A desire to fight the Roman Empire
  • Seeing Boudicca in a different light
  • A desire to fight the US Government
  • Learning how to actually pronounce 'Boudicca' and 'Iceni'
  • A crush on Lucy Lawless
  • Increased knowledge about swords and other weapons
  • Procrastination of other responsibilities to watch this documentary
  • Frustration that it only has five parts
Image result for warrior women with lucy lawlessHyperbolic silliness aside, this is a fantastic documentary. It's very well researched, it's well presented, and it keeps your attention the entire way through. I honestly, have no serious complaints about this show, only the wish that it was longer. So if you're looking for an amazing history show to watch, definitely watch this one.

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Friday, August 4, 2017

Damn, Girl-Emily Wilding Davison

Emily Wilding Davison is one of the most famous British Suffragettes. She was outspoken, volitle, and completely fearless She became a public symbol of the Suffragette movement after martyring herself for her cause. Though she never saw women achieve suffrage in her lifetime, her contribution to women's rights in turn of the century England was enormous.


Image result for emily wilding davisonEmily was very well educated. She attended both London College and Oxford, but, as women were unable to earn a degree in that time, she never took a degree. She was employed as a private teacher when she became involved with the suffragette cause. Not long after, she quit her job to become an activist full time.

Passive and peaceful resistance is not a protest tactic Ms. Davison would have understood. She had no qualms about resorting to violence to achieve her ends, and more than once she attacked male political figures. She was arrested no less than seven times over the course of three years, and she is known to have broken into Parliament at least three times.

What Emily is best known for (aside from her death), was her behavior in prison. Suffragettes of the time would often go on hunger strike to protest the fact that they had not been classified as political prisoners. Emily took this to the extreme. On two separate occasions she was released from prison early because of her antics. Eventually, the prison wardens got sick of women going on hunger strike, and decided to force feed them by putting a tube down their throat. To avoid this and protest the force feedings, Emily barricaded her prison door with furniture. The prison guards then thought it would be a good idea to fill her cell with icy water (wtf?). The door eventually broke down, and Emily successfully sued her captors.

The moment she will always be known for, however, is the moment of her death. At the 1911 Epsom Derby Emily became a martyr for her cause. During one of the races, Emily jumped in front of a horse belonging to King George V. She was struck by the horse, and died four days later.

Image result for emily wilding davison
An image of Emily being hit by the horse.
Whether or not Emily's plan was to commit suicide or not has been debated since long before she was cold in the ground. Both sides have good arguments. On the one hand, Emily had bought a return train ticket, she left no suicide note, and she had plans to attend a suffragette rally later that day. On the other hand, Emily had often said that her cause needed a martyr to rally around, and this was, by no means, the first time she had attempted to martyr herself. She had jumped off an iron staircase while in prison just a few months prior to her death. And while suffragettes certainly rallied around her after her death, her demise did little to inspire public sympathy. She was widely regarded as a madwoman for some time, and public sympathies were more with the horse and jockey than with her.

Though her tactics were extreme, and though the leadership of her own organization often disagreed with her, you can't deny Emily Wilding Davison's passion for her cause. She was ready to die for Women's Rights, and die she did. She's remembered today as one of the bravest English suffragettes, and, along with Emmeline Pankhurst, is honored as the mother of the women's suffrage movement.

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Sources
BBC History
History Learning Site
Biography.com
Epsom and Well History Explorer
Parliament

Friday, July 28, 2017

Damn, Girl-Chevaliere d'Eon de Beaumont

The Chevaliere*, or Chevalier, depending on who you ask, d'Eon was one of the most colorful figures of the 18th century. Assigned male at birth, and named Charles Genieveve Louisa Auguste Andre Timothee de Beaumont, the Chevaliere is notable for her service in the french military, for being a spy, and for coming out as a female, and living as Lia de Beaumont in the latter part of her life. She was a free mason, a champion fencer, a lawyer, a decorated war hero, and a celebrated author.

Image result for Chevalier d'eonIt was 1755 and, no surprise, the French were scheming. Relations with England were growing uneasy, and King Louis was attempting to put his cousin on the Polish throne. The Russian Empress, Elizabeth, refused to meet with any French ambassadors, and the French government was actively working against itself. It was this environment that the Chevaliere first got her start.

The Chevaliere was sent with the French diplomatic mission to Russia under the guise of a lowly secretary. The truth of her mission, however, was much more complex than that. d'Eon was there as part of le Secret du Roi--Louis' secret spy agency that was so secret, most of the French government didn't know about it. At the time of the Chevaliere's service, the group was dedicated to helping Louis put his cousin on the Polish throne, essentially giving France control of Poland. d'Eon's mission was to get the good will of Empress Elizabeth. There was just one problem, the Empress refused to see any of the French diplomats.

So the Chevaliere and the people back in Versailles put their heads together, and came up with a brilliant idea. d'Eon would be disguised as a woman, and infiltrate the court of the Empress that way. The idea was that Empress Elizabeth would be more open to speaking with a female French diplomat. They were absolutely right.

Seven years later the Seven Years War is going poorly for France. d'Eon left Russia to serve as a dragoon in the French army. She was the Secretary to the French ambassador, and she must have been very helpful at the peace talks between France and Britain, because she was later awarded the honor of the Order of St. Louis, which, I have been told, is a big deal.

After being decorated, d'Eon was sent to London to assist the current French ambassador to England, the Comte de Guerchy. Unfortunately, the pair did not get on. d'Eon's overspending, and her insubordination made her a liability, and she was recalled by the French government in 1763.

Image result for Chevalier d'eon
Had the Chevaliere returned to France as ordered, she most likely would have been thrown in the Bastile or worse. That was an unattractive option for d'Eon, so she decided to blackmail the French government. d'Eon was still a member of le Secret du Roi, and was in possession of certain sensitive information. Since the end of the Seven Years War the French had given up their ambitions in Poland, and were working towards an invasion of England. The Chevaliere threatened to expose the duplicity of the French government if they didn't assign her a pension, and let her live in peace.

The French government was, understandably, a tad uneasy about this arrangement, and were delaying their decisions. To hurry them up, and show that she meant business, the Chevaliere published her first tell-all book, filled with secret correspondence she had received as a spy. She promised that more would follow.

France quickly acquiesced to her demands, and d'Eon became an overnight celebrity. Her book was incredibly popular, but it was the mystery surrounding her gender that really had the English people hooked. See, the Chevaliere continued to dress up in women's clothes, even after quitting the court of Empress Elizabeth. She maintained a sense of mystery about her gender, to the point where people made bets about whether or not she was a boy or a girl. d'Eon herself refused to say.

After fifteen years in England, France reached out an olive branch. d'Eon would be allowed to return home on the condition that she assume the role and appropriate clothing of her gender. the Chevaliere jumped on the opportunity, and went back to France.

However, the transition was difficult for her. She wanted to keep her dragoon's uniform as a symbol of political power, and to maintain the same amount of political influence that she had before. The French government wasn't too keen on this. Several times she was forceably dressed in female clothes, and her political opinions were consistently ignored. She was, essentially pushed to the side, and in 1785 she moved back to England.

d'Eon was able to live off her pension for a while, but in 1789 the French monarchy was abolished, and the Chevaliere was left without a source of income. To support herself, she gave swordsmanship exhibitions, wearing her Cross of St. Louis, and branding herself as an Amazon. The English people welcomed her back with open arms, but as the Chevaliere grew older she grew increasingly more isolated. When an injury made her stop fencing in 1796 she moved into a flat with another old woman, and rarely left her home after.

Image result for Chevalier d'eonAfter her death it was, of course, discovered that the Chevaliere possessed male genitalia. This news, of course shocked the world. Most people believed the Chevaliere to be female, and there had even been court cases that confirmed this, the most convincing argument being that the Chevaliere said she was female.

And there is a large amount of evidence saying that the Chevaliere truly identified as a woman, and that it wasn't a guise she adopted for social and diplomatic purposes. The Chevaliere experienced a religious awakening in her later life, and affirmed that not only did she believe herself to be a woman, but that God had told her she was a woman.

Historian's today waver about d'Eon's sexuality, but d'Eon knew d'Eon best. If she said she was a woman then she was a woman, and while today's gender politics are very different from gender politics of the past, the fact remains that d'Eon identified as a woman, and that identity should be respected.

Gender identity aside, d'Eon was an amazing woman. She was a talented and capable diplomat, and excellent writer, and a colorful person.

*A note on pronouns: since the Chevaliere maintained that she was a woman for most of her life, I have used feminine pronouns to refer to her here. No one would know the gender of the Chevaliere better than the Chevaliere herself, and on while the Chevaliere hasn't appeared to me in a dream saying that she prefers she/her pronouns, it is reasonable to assume that female pronouns are the appropriate pronouns to use when writing about her.

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Sources
Chevalier d'Eon de Beaumont
d'Eon, the Fresh Face
Charles, chevalier d'Eon de Beaumont
The Incredible Chevalier d'Eon, Who Left France as a Male Spy, and Returned a Christian Woman
The Chevalier d'Eon

Friday, July 21, 2017

Damn, Girl(s)-Dahomey Amazons, the Fiercest Women This Side of the Mississippi

The African kingdom of Dahomey (today's Benin) is sometimes referred to as 'Black Sparta'. This is honestly a little insulting to the Dahomey, because the Spartans were Boy Scouts with peashooters in comparison to the fearsome armies of the Dahomey, especially the ferocious all-female units known as the Dahomey Amazons.


Modern Benin highlighted in red.
These Amazons were formed originally sometime during the late 1600s. They didn't start out as warriors, their initial purpose was to hunt elephants, but in the early 1700s the Dahomey King was so impressed by their fighting, that he enlisted the Amazons as his palace guard, from there they were assimilated into the regular army.

There was nothing 'regular' about the Amazons however. These ladies trained more strenuously than the men, and were required to undergo huge tests of strength and endurance. Part of their training required climbing thorn covered walls without showing pain, and fighting off masses of prisoners of war. They were fierce women, and they never ran away from a fight. Of course, a large part of this is due to the fact that Amazons who did try to run away were executed on the spot, but harsh desertion penalties aside, these women had a huge 'death before defeat' mentality. Their motto was literally 'Conquer or Die'.

One of the more grim parts of the training that all Dahomey solders underwent was 'desensitizing training'. This training was designed to help untested warriors get over their fear of killing people. Once a year prisoners of war were placed into baskets, and taken atop a high platform. Green recruits would then toss these prisoners off the edge of the platform. At the base of the platform was a group of angry Dahomeians ready to tear the prisoners apart.

Image result for dahomey amazonsAdditionally, the Amazons were committed to a life of celibacy. They were all, nominally, married to the King (much in the way that Catholic nuns are married to Jesus), but they were forbidden from having sex. This was because pregnancy prevented a woman from fighting, and the Dahomey Amazons were all about fighting. To further insure that these women refrained from pregnancy inducing activities, it meant instant death for any man to lay a hand on an Amazon. In fact, when an Amazon went out, she generally had a slave girl walking ahead of her with a bell. Whenever they heard the bell, men would draw off to the side of the road, and look the other way, just in case.

The Amazons came from all walks of life. Some of them were third tier wives of the King whom the king did not wish to sleep with. Some were women trying to escape a life of drudgery, and some were girls who's parents had deemed them 'difficult' and 'unsuitable for marriage'.

Like the mythical Greek Amazons, the Dahomey Amazons were known for their incredible fighting skills. And, as with all such amazing warriors, it's difficult to tell fact from fiction sometimes. However, the sheer number of 'myths' suggest that, whatever the truth, these women were pretty badass. Here is an incomplete list of some of the more incredible feats that have been attributed to them:

  • Tearing out a men's larynx's with their teeth
  • Literally ripping stockades apart
  • Wearing belts made of thorns
  • Defeating entire African nations.
  • Took on a group of 40 elephants. Not only did they survive, but they killed 3 of said elephants. 
One of my favorite, if a bit gruesome, stories about these ladies is how they would decapitate their dead enemies, then boil the flesh off the skull. After the skull had been defaced (literally), it would then be added to the massive pile of skulls that supported the king and queen's thrones. This may sound like a crazy story, but you can view these thrones in the historic Abomey Palace today.

Image result for throne of king ghez
Throne of King Ghez. There are a lot fewer skulls. Also a Getty
Images watermark, because who can afford $175 for a picture?
(If you can afford that, and want to donate to this blog, feel
free.)
During the times that the Amazons fought, Dahomey underwent some massive expansion. They conquered all of Benin, and most of modern Nigeria. The Dahomey were fearless and a little cocky. They regularly took down nations much larger than themselves, but they took on too much when they messed with the French. 

See, in 1890 the French hadn't conquered the Dahomey, but they had made 'protectorates' of the Dahomey's neighbors, and so when the Dahomey Amazons when a-raiding, they stepped on the toes of the French. And by 'stepped on the toes' I mean that one Dahomey Amazon decapitated the governor of the city, and wrapped it in the French tricolor.

While the French admired the Dahomey as fighters, that sort of insult obviously couldn't stand, so the French hit the Dahomey with everything they had. Thought they fought bravely (and viciously. aforementioned larynx tearing happened in the engagements against the French), the French defeated the Dahomey, and most of the Amazons were killed.

Image result for dahomey amazonsThere were 50 Amazons who survived, and most of them are said to have joined Buffalo Bill's Wild West Show. Most of them died in the early 1940s, but one woman, Nawi, lived until 1979. She lived well over a century, and was, probably, the last of the Amazons to die.

These women were vicious and ferocious. Their fighting tactics could make even the most desensitized of people squirm (which is why I haven't gone too in-depth), and if they lived today they'd almost certainly be categorized as war criminals. However, they are particularly notable because they were the first all female fighting regiment in all of documented history. They put the fear of God into the French (metaphorically) to the point that there was a specific addendum in the peace treaty that said that no Dahomey woman could ever pick up a weapon again.

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