First Ladies

Little-Known Great Women
Who Challenged the World

A Brit who wrote the first book in English and an Italian grandmaster; a sailor disguised as a man and a round-the-world biker; a war photographer and the first female in space. Ground-breaking pioneers, these women beat the odds and inspired mankind.
Julian and Artemísia, Hannah and Annie, Dickie and Valentina, forged a new identity for women everywhere, one that’s often been at odds with male-dominated institutions, and that only modern age could fully embrace. These were no tamed spirits.
Along the way, the mastery of intellect and mysticism, of great art and entrepreneurship, became one with what all that came after. Each generation that followed had more of their independence of thought, the courage to report, and dare to reach for the stars.
These were no followers either. What each carved on the fabric of their own age still stands now, be it as a spiritual path or pictorial record, a skill for subversion or example of non-conformity, the capture of the battlefield or a flight into the future.
But only six, you may ask, and why them, instead of, say, the other few billion? Well, shortlists keep things moving: room only for names, times, and the life that defined their accomplishments. Ultimately, though, it’s our choice and we’re running with it.
That won’t settle the argument, but hope for a first female U.S. president got a boost Tuesday, and next week is International Women’s Day. Both fitting brackets for a possible breakthrough year in equality, a battle these women fought and won, so now we know their names.
Great humans create entire epochs around their existence, not always acknowledged in time. Many would enlist their own mothers on this roll. Shortlists help to leave them out, or yours would be certainly here. It also beats having to rewrite so many well-known bios.

THE MYSTIC WRITER & THE PROTO-FEMINIST PAINTER
On its way to world domination, 14th century England struggled to survive the wreckage of the Dark Ages. The pestilence and ravaging left in its wake were the cause of much soul searching and exacerbated religiosity. Times were ripe for Julian of Norwich.
After surviving illness, she walked out of public life to become a religious recluse, an anchorite, living her remaining years in closed quarters to ‘speak with god’ full time. While others like her burned at a stake, Her Revelations of Divine Love is considered the first female-penned, English-language book.
Two hundred years after, Rome was at the center of the art and religious world, and artists were busy carving their reputations through the glorious Baroque style. Most were male, but Artemisia Gentileschi would defy gender conventions, even as she was long gone when she was recognized as a grandmaster.
Raped by her tutor, who her family successfully sued – not without enormous public shaming of Artemisia, during the trial – she became a rare female working artist whose talent, and tumultuous relationships, equaled that of established painters, such a Caravaggio, with whom she’s often linked.

THE CROSS-DRESSED SAILOR & THE WORLD CYCLIST
There were few options for a woman to sail the world in the 18th century, and to become a soldier of the Royal Marines was hardly one of them. Hanna Snell managed to do both, even as she concealed her gender under the alias James Gray; heaven knows how she survived those long stretches at sea.
Remarkably, her bravery granted her full military pension, and her story, The Female Soldier, made her into a minor celebrity, no small feats for a woman at the time. Till the end, despite three (more)
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Read Also:
* Beautiful Bandit
* Women’s Day
* Sunken Ships
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Power to the Polls


Step Up For a New
Dawn in America

Some Girls

When Medieval Badass Ladies Had
to Crossdress to Survive the Times

It’s unlikely that they’ve ever heard of each other. Or imagined they’ll be featured together on an obscure blog post of the future. Yet, these remarkable women left a mark for their sheer independence and fiery personalities. (And for being luckier than doomed heroine Joana D’Arc).
Ching Shih ruled the Chinese waters. Caterina Sforza almost killed a pope. As a man, Catalina de Erauzo was a warrior. But like Chevalier d’Eon, she was actually a lady. These fab four may have had to kill or bed many men. Some did it both. But none owed their outstanding reputation to any of them, or had to take what they didn’t choose.
Gender does say something about the foursome, but not all. Yes, they all led bloody lives, and many perished on their wake. But the odds they’ve faced for not being male, and having to conceal that fact, turned them into formidable characters who rose high above the fray.
Besides the ever present foes of women’s right to independence, such as religious zealotry, class barriers, and society prejudice, they had to survive typical Middle Ages threats, such as the Inquisition and burning at the stake. No wonder they were all sharp fencers (swordswomen?).
They’ve achieved more than most, and their lives did rewrite the rules of was expected from women, then or at any time, regardless the body count. Theirs were partial paybacks for what many of their gender didn’t live long enough to collect, despite earning and deserving it.

THE PIRATE WHO RULED CHINA’S SEAS
History books tell that Ching Shih was a prostitute before reaching command of the Red Flag Fleet. That she only climbed to the top through murdering the powerful pirate Zhèng Yi, who kidnapped her as a whore and made her his wife. Only to be betrayed, etc. History books were probably written by a man.
In fact, she expanded the fleet and redefined how it’d manage its riches, and did so out of a keen business and strategy acumen. And unlike most male pirates we’ve know of, she negotiated a pardon for her and her charges, who all retired with a comfortable keep. She died at the ripe age of 69.

THE HUSBAND & WOULD-BE POPE KILLER
Much briefer, if no less intense, was Caterina Sforza‘s life. Infamous too, thanks to no other but Machiavelli himself. He wrote Cesare Borgia-based ‘The Prince,’ so it’s not hard to guess whose pope she had a rift with, and came out singed by history. Alexander VI, a.k.a. Rodrigo de Borgia, was Cesare’s dad and his own patron.
She did bury a few husbands, but the anecdote that survived Sforza was that she exposed her pregnant belly to the sword of an enemy: Go ahead, she said, slay my baby. I can make more. Whether (more)
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Read Also:
* The Flow
* First Ladies
* The Other Half of the Sky

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Binders Full of It

We Can’t Just Run for Cover
When Ignorance Runs for Office

‘If it’s a legitimate rape, the female body has ways to try to shut that whole thing down.’ Rape pregnancy ‘is something that God intended to happen.’ ‘You told me you’d have an abortion, and now we’re getting too far along.’ ‘Evolution, embryology, the Big Bang theory — all of that is lies straight from the pit of hell.’
As everyone and Ann Romney now know, these statements have been uttered by two U.S. Senate candidates and two House reps, all identified with the ‘family values’ and anti-abortion rhetoric. The question is: how they all have even a shot at joining Congress?
First, the protagonists, please. Missouri Rep. Todd Akin, who made the incredibly ignorant and hurtful comment about rape, is Chairman of the House Seapower and Projection Forces Subcommittee, and is in an absurdly tight contest against Democrat Senator Claire McCaskill. To show his class, he added another pearl to his biography by calling McCaskill ‘one of those dogs.’
The author of the god’s will statement on rape is Indiana Treasurer and GOP Senate candidate Richard Mourdock. The contention about abortion was professed privately by pro-life and family values champion Tennessee Rep. Scott DesJarlais, a then married physician, who pressured one of his patients turned into mistress to end her pregnancy, according to divorce court papers.
The ‘pit of hell’ quote comes from Georgia Rep. Paul Broun, also a physician, who’s member of the House Committee on Science and Technology, and is running for reelection. Speaking to an enthralled church audience, he also said that the Earth is ‘about 9,000 years old’ and ‘was created in six days as we (sic) know them.’

As for the answer to why they’re contenders to such a cushioned job, it may require a painful soul-searching process from every American, with self-recriminating stops along the way, and plenty of room to elaborate sensible theories; from the failure of our education system to the Continue reading

Better Halves

Nadine Marries Herself, Lori’s Sells Her
Soul & a Squid Did What to a Woman?

We were going for a full ‘National Enquire’ feel with that headline, but lost our verve halfway through it. It’d be redundant to take a bombastic stab at these already tabloid-ish ‘human interest’ stories. And yet, we’re hopping you get as utterly enthralled by them as we’ve been since we’ve started writing them.
They’re all true, by the way: Nadine’s ceremony, Lori’s eBay auction, and an ‘aggregation of gametes’ found inside the mount of the unidentified woman. As for the headline, we’d never do justice to the ‘Ford to City: Drop Dead,’ to invoke a legendary one, ran by the N.Y. Post in the 1970s.
Also, these vignettes about three women at the center of these events, who have attracted widespread media attention, bring to mind a post we’ve published not too long ago, about men. In other words, we’re equal opportunity dissenters, or, if you’d prefer, ‘si hay gobierno, soy contra,’ which is an old saying most likely misattributed to Che Guevara.
Despite being different from each other, though, we think these stories somehow have something in common, besides their strangeness and, of course, the fact that they’re all about women. We’re just not about to insult your intelligence telling you exactly Continue reading