Monday, December 12, 2011

"Herstory" - Profiles of Women

I found the beginning chapters of "Herstory - Women Who Changed The World" edited by Ruth Ashby and Deborah Gore Ohrn (with an introduction by Gloria Steinhem), 1995, immensely interesting and, of course, maddening. Knowing that the suppression of women, after so many years of prehistoric egalitarian living, was orchestrated and plotted and schemed into being makes me feel angry.

Then, I began reading the profiles of these "women who changed history", as they are called by the editors. While I believe that books such as this one are invaluable for bringing to light the many women who were influential in the evolution of human civilization, I also take issue with some of these women and their acts of "greatness". Each woman's profile is written by a contemporary woman and over and over again I find that the author of the profile begins by saying what a good leader this person was, how they were a patron of the arts and culture, etc. But, later in the profile, as is the case of Cleopatra, we find that she lobbied Marc Antony to order the death of her sister in order to ensure her continued rule. Another such example is Wu Chao, the first woman emporer in Chinese history. She began as a concubine to Emporer Kao Tsung and bore him four sons and a daughter. She strangled her infant daughter in her crib in order to blame it on the childless empress so that she could take her place - which she did. In short, what I find is that these notable, historic women are no better than the men they are surrounded by. Ruthless, cruel, murdering, calculating are some of the adjectives that come to my mind. I would prefer to think of "Great Historic Women" as being kind, compassionate, merciful and wise. Even if these women managed to achieve great things for their countries and kingdoms, I disagree vehemently with their methods.

In sharp contrast, I also discovered Theodora of Constantinople, who was orphaned at the age of four, but managed to become Empress of the Byzantine Empire. Who did she kill to get there? Well, no one. She worked first as a dancer and actress and then as a wool spinner, where she met and fell in love with Justinian, the emperor's nephew. In order to marry Theodora, Justinian used his influence to change the current laws forbidding marriage between classes.