Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Are Women's Accomplishments Down-Played in History?

This post was inspired by a book my roommate of my junior year in college, Gaby, gave me as a historical fiction book called "Pope Joan" by Donna Woolfolk Cross. I don't want to typically write a book review, but this book is so amazing. Being a female, in today's still male-dominated world, I feel inspired and empowered. This specific book has me pondering the question if there was such a person who existed in history such as Pope Joan. Here are some facts left to question:

*The Catholic Encyclopedia contains the name of Pope Joan-the woman who disguised herself as a man in the 9th century

*There are more than 500 ancient manuscripts containing accounts of Joan's reign as pope, including authors such as Platina, Petrarch, and Boccaccio

*There are more stories of the existence of Joan than King Arthur, but the male version of the middle ages dominated

*Those who have wrote about Joan were Catholics highly placed in church hierarchy. Though the Church says she was a late invention of Protestant reformers eager to expose corruption in papacy, Joan's documentation precedes hundreds of years before Martin Luther was born

*Pope John XX changed his title to John XXI in recognition of Joan's reign as pope

*Joan's statue stood undisputed along other popes in the Cathedral of Sienna until 1601, when Pope Clement VIII "morphed" it into Pope Zacharias

*For more than 300 years, Joan's story was included in the official church guidebook to Rome used by Pilgrims

True, there are no contemporary chronicles of Pope Joan, but lead this to the fact that in the 9th century when Joan lived, fully diminishing any record account of her papacy was easy. Additionally many people at this time in history were illiterate anyways, so there were a select few people out of all whom existed at the time who could read and/or write. Thus, Joan's story would have been more efficiently passed through word of mouth. If you question this, did you know that there was no contemporary chronicle of Jesus - St. Mark, the first gospel ever written was 40 years preceding the death of Christ, yet we consider Jesus to be a universal figure.

Women for a long time, especially in the ninth century when Joan lived through was a time of predominant masculine power. By law, women had no legal or property rights, husbands were allowed to beat their wives, rapes were treated as a form of minor theft, and mentrual blood was treated like poison. A woman who had an education was seen as unnatural and dangerous: the more she learned, the less likely she could have children.

This is why some women who did not follow the accepted norms went out of their way to disguise themselves as men. To further the story of Pope Joan, there are other women in history who followed this route:

*St. Hildegund used the named Joseph to become a brother of Schonau Abbey

*Mary Reade was as a pirate in the early 18th century

*Loreta Janeta Velasquez took the name Harry Buford to fight for the Confederacy in the Battle of Bull Run

*Teresinha Gomez of Lisbon spent 18 years disguised as a man - a decorated soldier who rose to the rank of general in the Portuguese army

There may be countless numbers of women who have and are still to this day taking on a masculine appearance in order to not be discriminated against. One quote that stood with me in "Pope Joan" was from Joan's mother Hrotrud, "Never give yourself to a man." Women in society have a great obligation to marry and bear children throughout history, but what about to have their own identity in the pride of their own distinguished career. How much more accomplished would we feel if we became successful through our own terms and finances instead of through a man's? Pope Joan, despite her emotions toward her lover Gerold, had followed this route of not surrendering to her womanly desires and impulses to the best of her abilities. Not following what was expected of a woman, and seeking out her own destiny, she found herself educated and successful amongst the male dominated world.

Though ignorance may point out to religion to distinguish the dominant male role and the lesser female role, there is a little section of the book which pointed out the story of Adam and Eve, where I will end this post upon:

Adam was made out of the clay of the earth - Eve was made second, from Adam's side

Woman was created in Paradise - Man was created outside

Eve ate the apple for love of knowledge and learning - Adam ate the apple because Eve asked him to...

You Just Do You, Imma Do Me


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