But Enough About Me!

How do you like my dress?

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Now I want a fantasy historical political thriller about a Vestal Virgin talking to gods and whupping ass in a big court battle, or something.

Good piece!

I've been meditating on a blog post of my own, about how the more I read of history, the more I become convinced that "exceptions" are, in their own way, the rule. Which is not to say that all women enjoyed the freedom and opportunity of the edge cases -- but rather that there are so many edge cases, it calls into question just how "edge" they were. The list we could assemble of women in politics, science, war, and other such male-dominated spheres, throughout history, goes well past a token handful.

there are so many edge cases, it calls into question just how "edge" they were

That. Oh, yes, that.

Plus, let's not underestimate the willingness of men to talk down women and pretend their achievements didn't exist.
And let's acknowledge that laws are often meant to take freedom away from people, not give it to them - when the king writes a charter saying 'you may do x' it usually doesn't mean "I'm allowing you to do x" but "stop doing a-g, but you may still do x', so laws saying that women can't do this and can't do that are, in my opinion, likely to be efforts to make women *stop* being so uppity and running businesses etc. (A surprising number of landholders in the Domesday book, for instance, are female. I have no idea what the story behind 'the wife of Quentin holds of he king' is, but it seems that she's neither his widow nor does he hold the land himself. At a very rough and entirely unscientific guess, the number of female landholders seems to be between 5 & 10%. I would guess that the amount and value of land they hold is lesser than their male counterparts - but even so: 5% would mean that a significant number of people would _know_ or _know of_ a female landholder.)

Documents often try and put forward an ideal image, which is much more law- and custom-abiding than reality. It's like all those priests with unmarried housekeepers whose children - nudge, nudge, wink, wink - looked suspiciously like the priest. Everybody knew what was going on, nobody will admit it. As long as the pretense it kept, everything is fine - but if someone has no historical training and no desire to learn more, it's easy for them to go with 'everybody knows' and perpetuate their own myths.

That was a good post

Yes. I think there's a double bind. Simply dumping women en masse into traditionally and practically masculine martial roles is problematic. It implies that the only "real" sphere is the masculine one. Also, by ignoring the practical problems of being a kick-ass female in a pre-modern society, it also implies that if women aren't kick ass, then it's their own fault.

There's something to be said for the default of portraying historical gender roles realistically, meaning showing not just the limitations, but resistance and above all agency.

BTW - WTF does that flapper think she's doing with that sword? Looks like a rapier. She's however in something like longsword Zornhut stance, but with a foot raised. If she's cutting longsword-style, she should be pivoting on the front foot.

I pulled up the sample of the first of Tansy's trilogy from Amazon. I do believe I shall purchase them. Not as evocative as I like (the world in my head lacked a lot of detail although the characters were vivid and bright) sometimes, but very very good. (Must remember this in my own writing.)

Great post!

A good example of how an ancient writer views women, and of how much social class feeds into it, consider Sallust's THE CATILINE WAR. Two women play an important -- a low-class freedwoman who warns Cicero, the consul, that a conspiracy is brewing. She does a Good Thing for the state and her fellow inhabitants of Rome -- but Sallust never gives her name.

Then there are the women who were active in the conspiracy. He does give the name of Sempronia (Sallust Bell.Cat. chapter 24-25) and describe her at some length, because she's educated and was once wealthy, though deeply in debt -- she knows Greek, he points out, among her other accomplishments. But she's also very fond of sex, and that makes her a Bad Woman in his eyes.

Who gets named is, I think, important here. But he does point out that there were a number of these "bad girls" among the conspirators.

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