Well, readers- this would be the part where the judge says: “Time for closing arguments” and I scramble to include most of the other random thoughts I’ve had rolling around in my grey matter the last few days regarding our most recent book, Hell Hath No Fury.
As Pamela Moran would say, “Have at it!”
Original Spin Doctors?: To influence troops and/or public opinion Zenobia, Isabella I of Spain, and Elizabeth I all appeared on horseback and in armor before their troops to both inspire and rally their spirits. (See an excerpt from Elizabeth’s speech included in Wednesday’s post for more on exciting the troops.)
Similarly, Catherine the Great, Matilda, Isabella I, Jinga Mbandi, and Elizabeth I dressed in male attire in battle or for ritual ceremonies. The authors suggest that these women used male attire in order to visually excite their soldiers and comrades, and also to look the part of powerful war leader– and male attire, whether in armor or uniform, was shorthand for that kind of authority.
Name-calling: Aggressive and influential women are often patronizingly described using masculine terminology: Margaret Thatcher was “the only man in the [British] cabinet,” and Indira Ghandi “the only man in a cabinet of old women.” We get it: they’re women, and as such, they’re the exception to the rule.
On top of that, you’ll often see less-than-flattering monikers that emphasize their allegedly anomalous gender duality: “Iron Lady” (Golda Meir, Biljana Plavsic and Thatcher), or the “Dragon Lady” (Tz’u-Hsi), or “She-wolf” (Isabella of France).
Freedom: Many women have described their decision to enlist as a more “selfish” choice than anything. At a time when women’s “choices” were confined to the domestic sphere (marriage or spinsterhood), a desire to escape seems all too understandable:
“In an era before contraception, when married women had no right to refuse sex, giving birth often meant death. In these circumstances, the decision to adopt a man’s lifestyle looks less like craziness than like simple common sense” (67).
And it’s true. Wartime work, whether soldiering, nursing, spying, reporting, propagandizing, or filling in the ranks on the homefront, “gave [women] a freedom that had been previously unimaginable” (82), and that’s a freedom difficult to relinquish, once won. Take the case of Flora Sandes, a WWI nurse and soldier: she was badly wounded and forced to return, however briefly, to England. She described it as “losing everything at one fell swoop and trying to find bearings again in another life and in an entirely different world” (82). After her convalescence she returned to military life and became the first woman commissioned in the Serbian army.
I’ll close with some Fun Facts:
1. “During the Crusades, the laundry women were always the first to be ransomed by the victors, since in a pox- and plague-ridden age, their skills could mean the difference between life and death, and the desert heat was intolerable without them” (124).
2. Women in the freshly integrated Red Army experienced a somewhat surreal set of living conditions. There were no segregated latrines and no female undergarments, uniforms, or boots were produced until the end of the war. However, inexplicably, women that didn’t smoke received chocolate rations and “Stavka introduced 43 mobile tearooms for female troops, which also fielded cosmetic counters and hairdressers” (177). You know, that’s what women want– screw clothes and underwear, what women really need is CHOCOLATE. If they’d only managed to provide some designer footwear, they’d fit right into the gender stereotypes of today.
3. During WWII Selwyn Jepson, the chief recruiter for the F-section of the Special Operations Executive (SOE), preferred to hire female spies because he felt “Men usually want a mate with them. Women have a far greater capacity for cool and lonely courage than men.”
Ah, yeeeeeeah. I hope you enjoyed HHNF and are continuing to read with us! Currently, we have 3 books on our plate: Band of Sisters, The Girls Who Went Away, and Frankly My Dear: Gone with the Wind Revisited.
Until next time, read your heart out.