Showing posts with label feminism. Show all posts
Showing posts with label feminism. Show all posts

Monday, May 18, 2020

Damn, Girl--Huda Shaarawi, Mother of Egyptian Feminism

Born in British-occupied Egypt, Huda Shaarawi was an activist, philanthropist, and trailblazing feminist. She was both an integral member of the Wafd party and the founder of the first women's organizations in Egypt. Her contributions to the struggle for Egyptian independence won her the highest award given by the Egyptian government, but she was never allowed to vote or participate in the government she fought for.

Huda SHaarawi-1900
Nur al-Huda Sultan was born on the family estate of Al-Minya near Cairo on June 23, 1879. Her father, Muhammed Sultan Pasha, was an important official in the colonial government, and at the time of Huda's birth he was serving as the inspector general of Upper Egypt. A wealthy man, he had both a wife, Hasiba, and several concubines. Huda's mother, Iqbal Hanim, was one of these concubines.

Iqbal was much younger than her not-quite-husband. She was Circassian, and had been raised in Istanbul after her family fled expansionist Russians in the Caucasus. She was sent to Egypt to live with her uncle after one of her sisters was abducted while resettling in the Ottoman capital. She ended up as a concubine to Muhammed, who was several years her senior, and she had Huda when she was just 19 years old.

In her memoir, The Harem Years, Huda described her mother as being difficult to know but her father as being warm and loving, though he was frequently away on government business. She described him as being a kind and attentive father, who always had a sweet and a moment for his children.

Though he may have been a good father, Muhammed wasn't very good at his job, and fought frequently with Khedive Ismail, to the point where he was briefly exiled to Sudan. He was accused by many of having abetted Khedive Tewfik Pasha and of helping the British Empire reduce Egypt to a suzerainty, an accusation that Huda bitterly resented, saying in her memoirs:
"My father has been maligned by certain so-called patriots, distorters of history"
Huda used her memoir, The Harem Years, to make the case for her father's fidelity to his homeland. She credited the accusations, along with the loss of her half brother, for shortening her father's life.

Another important figure in Huda's childhood was her father's wife, Hasiba. Huda referred to her as Umm Kabira, or "big mother," and enjoyed a closer relationship with Hasiba than she did with her own mother. Huda always felt that she was playing second fiddle to her brother, and Hasiba listened when Huda vented her jealousy and frustration over the preferential treatment her brother received. Huda would often spend days with Hasiba, and it was Hasiba who first explained to Huda that boys were far more valued in Egyptian society.

Huda Sharawi: A Remarkable Egyptian Feminist Pioneer
In 1884, Huda's father died of a kidney disease while abroad in Graz, Austria. He had gone to Switzerland to seek medical help and had been on his way home to Egypt when he died unexpectedly on August 14 at The Elephant Hotel. His death devastated the family, throwing Huda's mother and Hasiba into a deep depression. Both women would lie in bed for days, sending Huda and her younger brother, Umar, away.

Huda had a complicated relationship with her brother because while she loved him dearly, she was also jealous of the attention he received. Umar was sickly and absorbed the lion's share of Iqbal's attention, even when well. In her memoirs, Huda recalled wanting to be sick herself so she would receive similar love and care. She fell sick with a fever and spent a day receiving all the love and care she could possibly wish for. However, when her brother fell sick the next day, her mother and the doctors more or less forgot about her, despite her worsening condition. Huda recovered, but she was never close to her mother again. Though she was never close to her mother, Huda enjoyed a very close relationship with her brother, sharing the same lessons and games with him throughout their childhood. Huda assumed a motherly role with her brother, and when Umar's nursemaid and the eunuchs who watched over him encouraged him to neglect his schooling, Huda ensured that he studied.

Education and learning was a lifelong passion of Huda's. She received the typical education for a young woman of her class, but Huda was eager to learn more beyond that, however, specifically wanting to learn to read Arabic so she could study the Koran herself. Early attempts to learn Arabic grammar were foiled by the eunuchs of her family's harem who forbade her from learning it because she wouldn't be a judge. This made Huda keenly aware of the difference in education available to girls and boys, a difference that she would spend her life struggling to correct for herself and others.

At age nine, Huda finished memorizing the Koran, a remarkable and unusual achievement. However, she was unable to read, so she began to study Turkish, learning to read, write, and speak. She studied Turkish and Persian poetry, as well as calligraphy in both of the Ottoman scripts. She learned French and piano and began buying books from the peddlers who came to her door. Huda was not encouraged to read, and she was forbidden to buy books, but she did so nonetheless and began to sneak books out of her father's library. She loved poetry and wanted desperately to learn to write poetry herself but was held back by her lack of knowledge.

One of the largest figures of inspiration in Huda's early years was the poet Sayyida Khadija. Sayyida would often come and stay with Huda and her family, and Huda was impressed with how Sayyida could converse freely with men, and meet them on the same level intellectually. Sayyida's example made Huda even more adamant that education was necessary for women to be equal to men.

Mashrabiya windows Cairo, Egypt 1865 | Egypt, Old egypt, Modern egypt
A Cairo mashrabiya. Mashrabiya were a
frequent architectural feature of harems,
as they allowed women to look out onto
the street, but not be observed.
When she hit puberty, Huda was consigned to the harem to while away the time until she was married off. Huda was less than pleased. She was even less pleased about having to veil when she left home. Veiling as well as keeping women in a harem was a standard practice of the upper classes and more affluent middle classes in Egypt at that time. Forcing women to veil and keeping them in seclusion was a sign of status and wealth--not, as many historians, journalists, and casual racists like to suggest, a draconian tenant of Islam. Egyptian veiling and seclusion was considered odd and impractical by the other Arab countries at the time.

Huda certainly agreed that it was impractical, and she resented being separated at age eleven from all of her childhood friends, many of whom were the same little boys that her brother played with as well.

When Huda was twelve, she was betrothed to her much older cousin Ali Shaarawi, the man who had been appointed legal guardian over her and her brother after her father's death. Neither Huda nor her mother were very pleased about this match. Iqbal was leery of marrying Huda off to a man significantly her senior. The fact that Ali, who was in his 40s, had illegitimate children who were much older than Huda didn't do anything to ease their minds.

However, Huda's mother was evidently unable to do anything to prevent the match and instead negotiated an extremely strict marriage contract. The contract stipulated complete monogamy; Ali would have to give up his concubines and live only with Huda. The entire marriage was negotiated in utmost secrecy, and Huda herself was not aware of her impending nuptials until it came time to sign the marriage contract.

Huda was distraught. She had always regarded Ali as a father or an older brother, and she had no desire to marry him. She had been put off by his cold demeanor and open favoritism of her brother. However, she was unable to prevent the marriage, and in 1891, she wed Ali Shaarawi.

Luckily for Huda, Ali was unable to keep his sausage in his trousers, and a little over a year after they married, he had sired another child with the same slave-concubine who had borne his previous children, in violation of the marriage contract. Delighted, Huda returned to her mother's house and took up the threads of her old life. Despite Ali's attempts to reconcile with her, Huda would spend the next seven years on her own.

Huda spent those seven years furthering her education, learning drawing and painting, perfecting her French and teaching herself Arabic grammar. She loved music, frequently went to the opera and, on returning home, would play the pieces sung on stage on the piano from memory. Huda formed close friendships with several women, both Egyptian and foreign, and it was one of these women, Eugenie Le Brun, who ignited the fire of Huda's activism.

Eugenie le Brun
Eugenie Le Brun had been born in France, but emigrated to Egypt after meeting and marrying her husband, Hussein Roshdy Pasha, who would later be the prime minister of Egypt. Eugenie had traveled with Hussein to Cairo and converted to Islam. She was a popular hostess and introduced Huda into Cairo society. Eugenie would help Huda with her French, and frequently suggested books for Huda to read. She also convinced Huda to join her women-only salon.

Turn-of-the-century Egypt didn't encourage much social mixing between men and women. Many of the salons started by European women of the era were co-ed and therefore attracted few to no native Egyptian women. Eugenie's salon was the first female-only salon and the only one Huda would attend. They discussed social issues, like veiling and the status of women in Egyptian society, as well as more pedestrian topics such as children and immorality.

Eugenie was a writer and wrote multiple books to educate Europeans about the status and position of women in Egypt. She shared her writing with Huda, and Huda credited her as being an inspiration and guide throughout her life, even after Eugenie's death in 1908.

There were several attempts to reconcile Huda with her husband. Numerous family friends and relatives, along with Ali himself, would frequently confront Huda to try and convince her to return to life with Ali. However, it wasn't until Umar confided in Huda that he wouldn't marry until she was reconciled with her husband that Huda relented.

Though Huda gave few details about how their reconciliation went, it seems to have not gone terribly because she and Ali had two children--Bathna and Muhammad--together in 1903 and 1905. At about 10 months, Bathna contracted an unknown illness, nearly dying multiple times. Bathna didn't recover, and doctors suggested that she be taken abroad to Europe for better air. Ali was reluctant to let his daughter leave Egypt, but Huda threatened to leave him if he didn't allow her to take Bathna abroad. Ali relented, and Huda took Bathna to Turkey. They spent three months in Istanbul, but Bathna did not recover. Huda withdrew from everyone, much to the consternation of her friends and husband. It wasn't until Bathna was diagnosed with malnutrition in 1908 that she got better, and Huda returned to society.

In 1909 Huda met Marguerite Clement, a Luxembourgish feminist and public speaker. She was on a lecture tour of Eastern countries, and after a night at the opera, she and Huda decided that she should give a lecture to Egyptian women.

RTL Today (@rtltoday) Instagram Profile with Posts |
Marguerite Clements
A public lecture just for women was unprecedented in Egypt. While women socialized, they did not do so in public spaces, and they certainly didn't gather in large numbers. Holding a public meeting for women was met with some skepticism, but after Princess Ayn al-Hayat promised to sponsor the lecture, there wasn't much any skeptic could do to stop it. On Ali's advice, Huda booked the lecture hall for Friday at the local university. The lecture was a smashing success, and on Prince, later King, Ahmed Fuad, ordered that the hall be booked for every Friday into perpetuity.

These lectures were the beginning of a movement for education for women in Egypt. As more and more lectures were held, and as more Egyptian women were giving lectures Huda decided it was necessary to make that thing official. In April of 1914, she founded the Intellectual Association of Egyptian Women, a group of upper-class women dedicated to providing intellectual activities for Egyptian women.

Fast forward to 1919. The dust of the first world war was starting to settle, and things were restive in Egypt. The fledgling League of Nations was redrawing international boundaries, and Egypt was starting to wonder if it was maybe going to finally become free of the British.

However, the British were reluctant to part with their colonial possessions, and since Britain had been on the winning side of WWI, no one was forcing them to give up Egypt. Native Egyptians, however, weren't having it, and after their representatives to negotiate with the British were exiled to the Seychelles (a favorite move on the part of the British), they formed the Wafd party to fight the British for real.

Meanwhile, Huda's marriage to Ali was on the rocks. Ali had requested the hand of Huda's 14-year-old niece for his natural son Hasan, and Huda didn't like the idea. Hasan hadn't finished his education and was in no position to be supporting a wife and family. Huda's disapproval caused a rift between Huda and Ali that, according to Huda, would have ended in separation if not for the nationalist movement.

The Wafd party was founded in November of 1918 with Saad Zaghloul as president and Ali as treasurer. Their first goal was to speak with the British Home Office in London, and to attend the Paris Peace Conference in 1919. They were initially denied permission for either.  They did eventually make it to the peace conference, but it was only to hear the US President, Woodrow Wilson, endorse the British occupation of Egypt, an endorsement that put paid to any hope the Egyptians had of foreign intervention.

Throughout this, Huda was working behind the scenes, playing a diplomat between her husband, other members of the Wafd, and British officials. When Wafd leaders started being imprisoned and deported, Ali became de facto leader. He took Huda into his confidence, telling her all the Wafd secrets and plans so that, should he be arrested, she could lead the Wafd.

In order to further Wafd aims, Huda formed the Wafdist Women's Central Committee, (WWCC) an organization made up of Egyptian women of all classes working towards Egyptian independence. Public gatherings were banned by the British, so the Wafd women held large "social gatherings" in the harem of Huda's home, where they composed formal letters to the British, voted to end the protectorate, and, most importantly, organized the March 16, 1919 protests and the boycott of British goods.

After the arrest and deportation of Saad Zaghoul in March of 1919, mass strikes and protests spread through Cairo. Law students, shouting nationalist slogans and calling for Saad's return marched through the streets. In support, the Wafd organized a general strike of government employees. In order to enforce the strike, Huda and other women would stand in the doorways of the homes of government workers, and refuse to move. They would pay them off with jewelry so they could feed their families.

Women protesting in Cairo
However, fighting scabs wasn't Huda's main goal. On March 16, 1919, the women of Cairo, riding in carts and carriages, organized a mass protest. They were shot at and physically assaulted as they marched through the streets until they were surrounded by British soldiers and Egyptian police outside the parliament building. For hours they stood in the sun, withstanding cruel invectives and attempts to remove them. They were widely applauded by the students who had protested just a few days prior, and though they were unable to complete their planned march, they sent a clear sign to the British that Egyptian women weren't going to back down.

The crowning glory of Huda's nationalist action was the 1922 boycott against British goods and banks. Under Islamic law, women had access to their own money and inheritance, and as the main purchasers of the house, women held significant economic power. The sudden withdrawal of money from British banks and the mass departures of customers from British merchants hit the British hard, making Egypt a much less satisfying economic possession. Meanwhile, the new Egyptian bank received significant business, and Egyptian vendors were suddenly very prosperous. The boycott was lauded by the male Wafdists as  an integral part of their movement.

During the boycott, Ali died. Huda however, carried on, saying that
"Neither illness, grief, nor fear of censure can prevent me from shouldering my duty with you in the continuing fight for our national rights. I have vowed to you and to myself to struggle until the end of my life to rescue our beloved country from occupation and oppression...Neither repeated hardships, nor the heavy handedness of our present government will lessen my will nor deter me from fighting for the full independence of my country."
Unfortunately, those same men who applauded Huda and her sisters as being essential to Egyptian independence failed to include them in negotiations with the British. Huda and the other members of the WWCC expected that they would be equal to the men when it came to negotiations with the British, and in the Egyptian republic to come. They sent some sharply worded letters to their male counter parts, and the men sheepishly relented. While equality between the male and female Wafdists seemed to have been restored, this was a dark foreshadowing of what was to come.

Egyptians were granted nominal independence by the end of 1922, and were allowed to form their own government, with a lot of help from the British. In April of 1923, the new government drafted a constitution. At first blush, it seemed promising, emphasizing that all Egyptians were equal before the law, regardless of race, religion, or language. However, when the constitution passed, it became clear that women were not equal before the law. The status of women in Egypt hadn't changed, and only men were allowed the vote.

Huda was furious. After protesting, being shot at, and heading an instrumental boycott, she and the other women who had been an integral part of the movement were barred from participating in government.

Is Feminism Compatible with Egyptian Culture? | Egyptian Streets
Huda (center) at the International Feminist Meeting
in Rome, 1923
In April of 1923, Huda founded the Egyptian Feminist Union. The union was founded on the idea that in Ancient Egypt ,men and women had been equal, with equal rights to education and property. This equality had been lost through imperialism and misinterpretations of the Koran. The Egyptian Feminist Union aimed to restore that equality.

Unlike many Western feminist unions of the time, the Egyptian Feminist Union focused mainly on social issues, not just on suffrage. The goal of the Egyptian Feminist Union was to put in place better protections of women and girls under the law, namely:
  • A reformation of personal status laws
  • Raising the minimum age of marriage
  • The end of polygamy
  • The end of easy access for men to divorce their wives
  • Women to have equal rights of inheritance as their brothers
  • Women to have custody of their children in the event of a divorce
  • Equal access to education for women.

At its height, the Egyptian Feminist Union had 250 members from the upper and middle classes. During Huda's time they were successful in raising the minimum age of marriage and in establishing the first secondary school for girls. They put out two journals, and provided clinics and dispensaries to poor women. They provided vocational training for women and girls. They continue fighting for the equality of women and girls in Egypt to this day.

It was while returning from an international women's conference in Rome that one of the most lauded and mythologized incidents of Huda's life occurred. In May of 1923, after returning from a conference in Rome, Huda boldly removed her face veil in a train station, signaling that she would no longer adhere to the repressive rules of men.

The Wafd took control of parliament at the end of 1923. At the inauguration of parliament, the only women allowed to attend were the wives of ministers. It became clear that women would be barred from participating in the Wafd government, just as they had been barred from participating in the previous government, so Huda arranged a protest for the day of the opening of Parliament. Members of the Women's Wafdist Central Committee and the Egyptian Feminist Union picketed the parliament building. They sent a list of demands to the new government, but their demands fell on deaf ears.

Wafdist men continued to ignore Wafdist women, and this eventually led to Huda stepping down from the WWCC after, contrary to WWC wishes, the Wafdist men capitulated to British demands over Sudan. Huda called for Prime Minister Zaghloul's resignation in an open letter in the newspaper after she found herself being pushed out of the party because she and the WWCC refused to tow the party line.

Huda Sha'rawi and the Egyptian Feminist Union -
Huda and the Egyptian Feminist Union
While that was the end of Huda's association with the Wafd, it was, by no means, the end of Huda's nationalist activism. However, her further nationalist activism was usually done within a feminist framework.

In the 1930s and 1940s, Huda started to turn her feminist work outwards, as she began framing feminism as not just an Egyptian issue but also a pan-Arab issue. In 1944, she helped found the Arab Feminist Union, but even before that, she worked to help feminist movements throughout the Middle East. When Palestinian feminists requested her help in 1943 she raised funds, and ended up starting the conference that would lead to the formation of the Arab Feminist Union.

Part of the reason Huda was so invested in framing feminism within a pan-Arab framework was because it was becoming rapidly clear that no real help was going to come from feminists in Europe, the United States, and Canada. While Western feminists meant well, and many certainly thought they were doing good, they looked down on Arab women, and failed to understand the differences between Arab and Western culture. White feminists viewed themselves as superior to Middle Eastern feminists because they were white, and colonial attitudes were still a prevalent feature at international feminist conferences. European feminists couldn't understand the struggle that Huda and other Middle Eastern feminists faced and therefore weren't reliable allies. Because she couldn't rely on the existing feminist organization's, Huda created her own.

Huda spent the latter years of her life lobbying and organizing. In the 1930s, her work started to focus on the rights of women workers and on ensuring that women were treated equally in the workplace. There were many instances when women workers came to Huda seeking help, and she dealt directly with the Egyptian Labor Board to resolve the issue.

In 1945, she was awarded the Nishan al-Karmal award, Egypt's feminine equivalent of a knighthood. She was, however, still unable to vote. She died two years later on August 12th.

Huda started the feminist movement in Egypt, and through her dogged work and determination, she was able to drastically improve the situation for women in Egypt. Though change was sometimes slow and incremental (the harem system would not be fully dismantled until after her death), she was able to put in place the infrastructure that would ensure that the next generation of Egyptian feminists was able to continue the fight after she was gone.

This article was edited by Mara Kellogg.

The Harem Years by Huda al-Shaarawi
"Early Twentieth-Century Middle Eastern Feminisms, Nationalisms, and Transnationalisms" by Mary Ann Fay
"Challenging Imperialism in International Women's Organizations, 1888-1945" by Leila J. Rupp
"Between Nationalism and Feminism: The Eastern Women's Congresses of 1930 and 1932" by Charlotte Webber
Huda Sharawi-Britannica
Huda Shaarawi-Encyclopedia
Shaarawi, Huda-Melissa Spatz

Wednesday, February 7, 2018

The Hatpin Panic

The turn of the century saw a great increase in mobility for women. Women were no longer relegated to the parlor and kitchen--they could leave the home unaccompanied. They began riding public transport and taking jobs outside of the home. However, with this new mobility and freedom came the new threat of street harassment and aggression.

Image result for hatpin panicThe harassment of women on the street continues to  be a problem to this day. Today it's called cat-calling, around the turn of the century it was called 'mashing'. It's more or less universally detested by every woman, and nearly every woman has a story about being harassed on the street. The fight against street harassment continues in government halls and online forums, but in the late 1800s/early 1900s women took matters into their own hands. Instead of trying to solve things with words these ladies stabbed the offenders with their sword like hatpins.

The hatpin was a common accessory at the time.  Large hats, festooned with ribbons, fake flowers, and wax fruit were the fashion, and to keep the millinery concoction on their heads, women secured them to their heads with steel pins known as hatpins. The average hatpin was around 9 inches in length, had a sharp point on the piercing end, and jewels, feathers, or filigree on the other. Hatpins had to be sharp in order to get through the fabric of the hat, and, due to the size of the hats, were often quite lengthy.

Women were, essentially, wearing knives in their hair. However, there are no recorded instances of women having used them as such until 1903 when Leoti Blaker, a young Kansan visiting New York City was accosted on public transportation. When an elderly man attempted to take liberties with her person, Leoti stabbed him 'in the meat of his arm', driving the man away. Leoti later stated to newspapers that “If New York women will tolerate mashing, Kansas girls will not.”

Image result for hats 1912
The typical headgear of an early 20th century
Leoti's move against her harasser was only the first recorded of such instances. Stories about women defending themselves and others from attackers with their hatpins began to crop up around the country with increasing frequency. One woman in Chicago stopped a train robbery, one in New York stopped a man from stealing the payroll of an entire company.

With the popularity of the hatpin as a weapon of self defense, and the publication of self defense manuals for women, women were protecting their rights to exist in public spaces, and this was making the men of the time uncomfortable. Editorials in newspapers started cropping up about how women were 'attacking defenseless men', and that to avoid street harassment women should perhaps dress more modestly, or, better yet, not leave the house. Legislation to regulate hatpin length was introduced in several cities, and motions to ban them outright were discussed.

Admittedly, there had been some hatpin accidents. More than once another man or woman had suffered injury from being jostled against a lady's hatpin, and women had been known to stab policemen and police horses while resisting arrest. However, the rate of accidents was much lower than stated in newspapers of the day. Newspapers, especially the Chicago Tribune, stirred the public into a frenzy that would later become known as 'The Hatpin Panic' or 'The Hatpin Peril'.

This trend of using a hatpin for self defense spread to the United Kingdom and Australia, who all had a 'hatpin panic' too. While some legislative measures were passed, the hatpin panic ultimately died with the onset of World War One. Because of metal shortages, women no longer wore large hatpins, and after the war large hats went out of fashion. Bobs and cloche hats became the norm, and the biggest female threat to society became the flapper, not the hatpin.

The Hatpin Peril Terrorized Men Who Couldn't Handle the 20th Century Woman
With Daggers in Her Bonnet: The Australian Hatpin Panic of 1912
Early 1900s Women Had an Ingenious Method for Fending Off Gropers
When Men Feared 'A Resolute Woman, With a Hatpin in Her Hand'

Friday, October 6, 2017

Damn, Girl-Christine de Pizan

Just as Sappho is the Mama Lesbian, Christine de Pizan is the Mama Feminist. Christine was the first European woman to make a living from her writing, and her book The Book of the City of Ladies was one of the first books on feminism ever written.
Image result for christine de pizan
Christine at her desk.

Born in 1364, Christine started her life in Venice, but her family moved to France when she was three years old. Her father, Thomas de Pizan, had received an appointment as astrologer to Charles V. Living with the royal court gave Christine access to a vast library or literary and rhetorical works. Though not much is known about her education, or if she was even formally educated at all, the quality of her literature show that Christine was obviously well read.

At the age of 15 Christine married royal secretary Etienne de Castel. It is unknown if they were  happy or not, but they did have three children¹ together before Etienne died of the bubonic plague after ten years of marriage. Etienne's death left Christine with no source of income, a substantial amount of debt, and two children and a recently widowed mother to support.

Related image
Illuminated page from The Book of
the City of Ladies
Luckily, Christine was a talented writer, and the French court had a fever that could only be cured with more poetry. Christine put out ballads about love, loss, and widowhood which brought her to the attention to royal patrons like Isabelle of Bavaria, the Duke of Orleans, and the 4th Earl of Salisbury.

For the first few years of her career, Christine mostly wrote poetry and moralistic works. Until in 1402 when Christine decided to pick a fight with a dead man. ²

Jean de Meun wrote a second half to The Romance of the Rose in 1280ish. In his poetry, de Meun was biting and cruel about ever member of society, but Christine took particular offense at the way he treated women in his works. He portrayed women as little more than one dimensional seductress ruled by their own lusts.  In her response Christine argued that women are much more complex than de Meun portrayed them. She starts by criticizing de Meun, but ends by criticizing the entire European canon at the time, censuring the many works about the nature of women, none of which were written by women.

Image result for christine de pizan
Christine writing
This sparked a long term literary debate which would bring her to the attention of monarchs around Europe. It also sparked a long term passion for writing about women and women's history. In her seminal work The Book of the City of Ladies, Pizan imagines a world built by women, for women, free from misogyny. Within that framework she tells the stories of the great women who came before her, without the misogynistic bias that colored the accounts of so many male writers.

In around 1415 Christine retired a convent with her daughter. The increasing political unrest, and the disaster at the Battle of Agincourt, had her rattled, and she was ready to retire from public life. In 1429 she released The Tale of Joan of Arc, a ballad that basically fangirled over Joan of Arc and her victories. The Tale of Joan of Arc was Christine's last work, and she doesn't appear in public record anywhere else. It's generally assumed that she died shortly after.

Christine had a massive impact on the writers and political leaders of her day. Her works attacking the traditional patriarchal society influenced other female writers, and also influenced future female monarchs, such as Louise of Savoy, Anne of Brittany, and Leonor of Portugal.

¹A daughter named Marie, a son named Jean, and a second unnamed son who died in infancy.
²A move I cannot help but applaud. It's the sort of thing I have done would do.

Christine de Pisan-Brooklyn Museum
Christine de Pizan: Her Works
Christine de Pisan-Britannica
Christine de Pisan-New World Encyclopedia
Christine de Pisan-Biography

Saturday, September 23, 2017

Damn, Girl-Mary Wollstonecraft

Mary Wollstonecraft was an Enlightenment writer, philosopher, and reformer best known for penning The Vindication of the Rights of Women--one of the first, if not the first book on feminism. Throughout her life she petitioned for education reform for women, and was politically involved in both France and England--quite unusual for a lady of her era.

Image result for mary wollstonecraft
Mary Wollstonecraft
Mary was born in 1759 to Edward John Wollstonecraft and Elizabeth Dixon. Her grandfather had been a successful weaver, but her abusive father had squandered away the family fortune on his unsuccessful attempts to become a gentleman farmer. He moved his family all over England and Wales in his attempts, giving Mary a chaotic upbringing. This, combined with the way Edward bullied his wife, would later inform Mary's distaste for marriage.

When she was 19 years old Mary left home against her family's wishes to become a lady's companion to a Mrs. Dawson in the resort town of Bath. She worked for Dawson for three years before having to return home in 1781 to take care of her sick mother.

Elizabeth died in 1782, and Mary moved in with the Blood family, where she met her lifelong friend Fanny. A few years after helping her sister escape from her abusive husband, Mary, Fanny, and her sisters Eliza and Everina opened up a school in the Dissenter community in Newington Green. The Dissenters believed in combining reason with religion, which appealed to Mary.

Image result for mary wollstonecraft schoolMary's experiences teaching led her to write her first book Thoughts on the Education of Daughters: With Reflections on Female Conduct in the More Important Duties of Life. Mary's own education had been scattered and sporadic, but she was very well read. Her own experiences combined with the poor prior education of her students made her realized the inequality inherent in the education of boys and girls. This is a theme she would later write about in her book A Vindication of the Rights of Women.

Shortly after starting their school, Fanny married, and left for Portugal. She was soon pregnant, and in early 1785, Mary boarded a ship to Portugal to care for her. Mary wasn't overly fond of Portugal, and she certainly didn't like it any better when Fanny and her daughter died in childbirth. She went back to England to find her school in shambles, and the school closed the next year.

Mary then moved to County Cork, Ireland to serve as a governess for the Kingsborough family. While the children adored her, Mrs. Kingsborough didn't, and Mary was sacked after ten months, leaving her with a distinct distaste for domestic life. Mary moved back to London, and started her life as a writer.
Image result for joseph johnson mary wollstonecraft
Joseph Johnson
A year later, in 1788 Mary's publisher, Joseph Johnson, took her on as an editor and translator for his magazine Analytical Review. She was a frequent contributor of articles, but it wasn't until 1790 when she published A Vindication of the Rights of Man that she started to gain notoriety.

A Vindication of the Rights of Man was Mary's irate response to Edmund Burke's Reflections on the Revolution in France. Edmund Burke was a member of parliament who had supported the American revolution, but argued in favor of a monarchy in France. Mary, didn't like his ideas or his hypocrisy, and she published her work, first anonymously, but she put her name to it on the second printing.

Reaction literature became a common theme in Mary's life. When she wrote A Vindication of the Rights of Women in 1792, it was in resnse to Rousseau's Emile.  Emile argued that a woman's role was to support the men in her life, and should be educated for that role. Education was a pet topic of Mary's, and she really let Rosseau have it. In A Vindication of the Rights of Women, Mary argued that not only are women equal to men, but that the miseducation of women caused them to be unhappy, and to inflict misery on their families and servants. This book was shocking to Georgian England, but remains a staple of feminist literature to this day.

Later that year, Mary went to France to observe and write about the Revolution. While there, she met Charles Imlay, an American writer and frontiersman. She loved him a lot more than he loved her, and though they had a child--Fanny--together, and she became his common law wife, he left her in 1795, and Mary returned to England.

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In England she met William Godwin, and their affair was much happier. They married after Mary fell pregnant for the second time, this time with her daughter Mary, who would go on to write Frankenstein. Unfortunately, ten days after the birth of her second daughter, Mary Wollstonecraft died from complications with her pregnancy.

A year later William released the first biography written about Mary Wollstonecraft. Unfortunately, it was not well received. Details about Mary's personal life, her child born out of wedlock, her long term affair with Imlay and Godwin before they were married scandalized 18th century audiences, and for a long time the scandals of her life eclipsed the genius of her literary work. It wasn't until the 1900s that people began to reexamine her work, and she was accepted for the literary genius she was.

Wollstonecraft, Mary
Mary Wollstonecraft-Stanford
Mary Wollstonecraft-Biography
Mary Wollstonecraft, 1759-1797
Mary Wollstonecraft-"A Speculative and Dissenting Spirit"
Mary Wollstonecraft-Britannica

Friday, August 25, 2017

Damn, Girl-Kathinka Zitz-Halein

Born November 4, 1801 Kathinka Zitz-Halein was an influential writer and political activist during the mid 1800's. Not only would she go one to publish over 30 books, but she also created the first women's political organization in Mainz Germany, but she also was instrumental in caring for the political refugees, political prisoners, and families of the aforementioned during the 1849 German uprising.

Image result for kathinka zitz-haleinKathinka was born to a middle class family, and received an excellent education. She was a talented writer, and had published her first series of poems by the age of 16. She had multiple teaching jobs, as well as a job as the headmistress of a school. However, when her mother died she left that to take care of her sister, Julie. It wasn't until Julie died that Kathinka started to get into politics.

It is unclear if Kathinka married Franz Zitz before or after her founding of the Humania Association. What is certain though, is that she was the founder and president of the leading women's political association in Mainz, and he was the president of the leading men's political association in Mainz. They were the Bill and Hillary Clinton of their era, right down to the rampant infidelity.

Unlike Secretary Clinton, Kathinka told Franz to hit the road. Though they remained married for the rest of their lives (Kathinka refused to grant him a divorce), they never lived together after the first 18 months of their marriage. Kathinka used support payments from Franz to support herself and her writing career. This steady income allowed her to further her political aspirations as well.

Before proceeding, it is important to mention that Kathinka was NOT a feminist. By her own admission, she didn't want men and women to be equal, merely for men and women to both be free to excel in their own respective spheres. She also believed that women were more than capable of helping the German revolution, and that they should be allowed to have political rights. This is what she said publicly anyways, here letters cast further doubt on her beliefs.

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Mainz, Germany
Kathinka was, essentially, That Girl. You know That Girl? That Girl who believes that men and women should be equal, believes in closing the wage gap, believes in ending rape culture, believes in a woman's right to choose, but says that she's not a feminist because she doesn't believe that women are better than men, and doesn't hate men? You know, That Girl who says she's not a feminist because she doesn't really understand what feminism is? Kathinka was the 1800s version of That Girl. Though she publicly spoke against gender equality, and said that women should not leave the domestic sphere, her actions said otherwise.

The mission of the Humania Association was to disperse aid to refugees, prisoners, political insurgents, and their families. Aside from managing the financial and internal governance of the organization, Kathinka also did a large amount of 'field work', that would sometimes lead her dangerously close to insurgent territory. On one particularly memorable occasion Kathinka was asked by the Democratic Association--the male version of the Humania Association (with a bit more fighting)--to smuggle a chest back to Mainz during her visit to Kahrlsrule. Kathinka didn't know the contents of the chest, but when the chest was confiscated by Hessian authorities, it turned out that the chest contained the membership records of Democratic Association, as well as the names and information of several covert operatives.

Image result for kathinka zitz-haleinAside from charitable giving behind enemy lines, Kathinka's main impact came from her writing. Not only did she write novels and poetry, but she also wrote political pamphlets under her various pseudonyms, some of which got her in trouble with the law. In 1848 she wrote a series of articles for a Mannheim newspaper calling the people of Mainz to arms against the Hessian government. Not only was this article suppressed by Hessian authorities (always a good sign), but it was very influential in the uprisings later that year.

Though she is not widely known or read today, Kathinka had an enormous impact on the people of her community. She fought not only for German unification, but also helped the families and soldiers who had been injured and impoverished because of their dedication to that fight. She was a clever and persuasive writer, and it is because of her writing that we know as much about German politics of that era as we do.

German Women and the Revolution of 1848: Kathinka Zitz-Halein and the Humania Association by Stanley Zucker
Kathinka Zitz-Halein
Zitz-Halein, Kathinka

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.

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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.

BBC History
History Learning Site
Epsom and Well History Explorer

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.

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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.

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