Tag Archives: feminism

South Africa’s Black Mamba Anti-Poaching Unit is over 50% Women.

I came across this article today, and wanted to re-blog it so it doesn’t fade away. You can learn more about the Black Mamba Unit and support their efforts by visiting their web site. Photos by Julia Gunther.

“The Mambas are committed to tracking down snares before animals become victims. “With a mix of lipstick, boots and camouflage fatigues, these women are watching, waiting, walking, constantly on the lookout for early evidence of poacher activity,” Gunther continued. “They are a formidable and highly effective anti-poaching task team that is trying to defend and protect South Africa’s wildlife heritage against poaching.”

In South Africa, the phrase “the Big Five” often refers to lions, leopards, rhinos, buffalo and elephants, the most coveted wildlife in the region. Protection of these species frequently falls into the hands of men; the Mambas are one of the rare instances a position of such importance and power would be delegated to women. 

“Each [Mamba] has a story, a dream and a vision for the future,” Gunther explained. “Each has a family to support, a community to educate. Funds are scarce, yet they are passionate and determined. For some, they are the only breadwinners, feeding their families on little wages. For others this is a hopeful step towards furthering their careers. For all of them, the love for nature and its conservation runs deep. Their ethos is to protect this heritage of wildlife.” 

Read the full article here.


Laying The Groundwork For Age 50

Hi!  Sorry about that, I’ve been hiding under a blanket for the last few weeks. I was pretty sleepy.

A year ago, I came across this article about women in their fifties, and the importance of having a group of girlfriends. Rather than focus on these friendships themselves, it had me thinking about the kind of power a person gains with age. In the US at least, women in their fifties are free to leverage their experience, wealth, and connections to create positive change in their communities and beyond. Once again, the mask falls to the floor, and we have the option to redefine our lives, identities, and impact in the world.

When a question like “where do you want to be when you’re fifty” comes up, I don’t want to think of it as a goal. I want to think of it as experience. We’re climbing stairs, or walking a path, yes — but what is that path made of?

Marble? Plush velvet? Jello?  Hot coals?

What do you want to have accomplished by then, that sets the stage for something even greater once you’ve come into  power as a sage?
What do you want to learn?
What do you want to experience?

Is this something you’ve thought about before?

Artemisia Gentileschi’s Baroque Paintings – Debunked!

Found on Tumblr. I am putting this here because I don’t want to lose it. xray Susanna and the Elders: Restored (Left)  /  Restored with X-ray (Right) Kathleen Gilje, 1998 For those who don’t know about this painting, the artist was the Baroque artist Artemisia Gentileschi (1593 – 1656). Gentileschi was a female painter in a time when it was very largely unheard of for a woman to be an artist. She managed to get the opportunity for training and eventual employment because her father, Orazio, was already a well established master painter who was very adamant that she get artistic training. He apparently saw a high degree of skill in some artwork she did as a hobby in childhood. He was very supportive of her and encouraged her to resist the “traditional attitude and psychological submission to brainwashing and the jealousy of her obvious talents.”   Gentileschi became extremely well known in her time for painting female figures from the Bible and their suffering. For example, the one seen above depicts the story from the Book of Daniel. Susanna is bathing in her garden when two elders began to spy on her in the nude. As she finishes they stop her and tell her that they will tell everyone that they saw her have an affair with a young man (she’s married so this is an offense punishable by death) unless she has sex with them. She refuses, they tell their tale, and she is going to be put to death when the protagonist of the book (Daniel) stops them. So that painting above? That was her first major painting. She was SEVENTEEN-YEARS-OLD. For context, here is a painting of the same story by Alessandro Allori made just four years earlier in 1606:  image Wowwwww. That does not look like a woman being threatened with a choice between death or rape. So imagine 17 year old Artemisia trying to approach painting the scene of a woman being assaulted. And she paints what is seen in the x-ray above. A woman in horrifying, grotesque anguish with what appears to be a knife poised in her clenched hand. Damn that shit is real. Who wants to guess that she was advised by, perhaps her father or others, to tone it down. Women can’t look that grotesque. Sexual assault can’t be depicted as that horrifying. And women definitely can’t be seen as having the potential to fight back. Certainly not in artwork. Women need to be soft. They need to wilt from their captors but still look pretty and be a damsel in distress. So she changed it.  What’s interesting to note is that she eventually painted and stuck with some of her own, less traditional depictions of women. However, that is more interesting with some context.   (Warning for reference to rape, torture, and images of paintings which show violence and blood.) So, Gentileschi’s story continues in the very next year, 1611, when her father hires Agostino Tassi, an artist, to privately tutor her. It was in this time when Tassi raped her. He then proceeded to promise that he would marry her. He pointed out that if it got out that she had lost her virginity to a man she wasn’t going to marry then it would ruin her. Using this, he emotionally manipulated her into continuing a sexual relationship with him. However, he then proceeded to marry someone else. Horrified at this turn of events she went to her father. Orazio was having none of this shit and took Tassi to court. At that time, rape wasn’t technically an offense to warrant a trial, but the fact that he had taken her virginity (and therefore technically “damaged Orazio’s property”. ugh.) meant that the trial went along. It lasted for 7 months. During this time, to prove the truth of her words, Artemisia was given invasive gynecological examinations and was even questioned while being subjected to torture via thumb screws. It was also discovered during the trial that Tassi was planning to kill his current wife, have an affair with her sister, and steal a number of Orazio’s paintings. Tassi was found guilty and was given a prison sentence of…. ONE. YEAR……. Which he never even served because the verdict was annulled. During this time and a bit after (1611-1612), Artemisia painted her most famous work of Judith Slaying Holofernes. This bible story involved Holofernes, an Assyrian general, leading troops to invade and destroy Bethulia, the home of Judith. Judith decides to deal with this issue by coming to him, flirting with him to get his guard down, and then plying him with food and lots of wine. When he passed out, Judith and her handmaiden took his sword and cut his head off. Issue averted. The subject was a very popular one for art at the time. Here is a version of the scene painted in 1598-99 by Carivaggio, whom was a great stylistic influence on Artemisia: image This depiction is a pretty good example of how this scene was typically depicted. Artists usually went out of their way to show Judith committing the act (or having committed it) while trying to detach her from the actual violence of it. In this way, they could avoid her losing the morality of her character and also avoid showing a woman committing such aggression. So here we see a young, rather delicate looking Judith in a pure white dress. She is daintily holding down this massive man and looks rather disgusted and upset at having to do this. Now, here is Artemisia’s: image Damn. Thats a whole different scene. Here Holofernes looks less like he’s simply surprised by the goings ons and more like a man choking on his own blood and struggling fruitlessly against his captors. The blood here is less of a bright red than in Carrivaggio’s but is somehow more sickening. It feels more real, and gushes in a much less stylized way than Carrivaggio’s. Not to mention, Judith here is far from removed from the violence. She is putting her physical weight into this act. Her hands (much stronger looking than most depictions of women’s hands in early artwork) are working hard. Her face, as well, is completely different. She doesn’t look upset, necessarily, but more determined.  It’s also worth note that the handmaiden is now involved in the action. It’s worth note because, during her rape trial, Artemisia stated that she had cried for help during the initial rape. Specifically she had called for Tassi’s female tenant in the building, Tuzia. Tuzia not only ignored her cries for help, but she also denied the whole happening. Tuzia had been a friend of Artemisia’s and in fact was one of her only female friends. Artemisia felt extremely betrayed, but rather than turning her against her own gender, this event instilled in her the deep importance of female relationships and solidarity among women. This can be seen in some of her artwork, and I believe in the one above, as well, with the inclusion of the handmaiden in the act. So, I just added a million words worth of information dump on a post when no one asked me, but there we go. I could talk for ages about Artemisia as a person and her depictions of women (even beyond what I wrote above. Don’t get me started on her depictions of female nudes in comparison to how male artists painted nude women at the time.)  Extra note: Back in her time and through even to TODAY, there are people who argue that Artemisia Gentileschi’s art was greatly aided by her father (either he helped her paint them or just painted them himself). There are a number of works only recently (past several years or so) that have been officially attributed to Artemisia because people originally saw the signature with “Gentileschi” in it and automatically attributed it to her father. Not only was Artemisia Gentileschi an amazing artist and amazing historical figure, but I don’t want it to be ignored that there are people over 400 years later who are still unsure as to whether or not a woman could paint like this. Via The Brooklyn Museum

Addendum: It seems I have misled you. While the assertions above regarding the erasure of female artists has merit, this particular piece was a modern creation. The restorer, in her own words, explains that she painted and xrayed this work to make a statement; it was not a discovery. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jq2bmbPL7rA&sns=tw

Gendered Bones and Gender Roles

Tor.com reposted an article from USA Today (or was it vice versa?) regarding new discoveries from the Viking age. By inspecting the bones rather than grave artifacts, the scientific community has adjusted its theory to speculate that the number of females-to-males who went a-viking was somewhere between a third to roughly equal.

Similarly, 11 months prior, LiveScience put out an article saying that an Etruscan warrior prince was actually a princess. Again — looking at the bones rather than the artifacts.

It made me wonder why this is surprising. It made me wonder why, in 2013, at a Science Fiction and Fantasy convention — at a panel discussing how fantasy elements  impact warfare — a professional with an extensive military history background can say, in no uncertain terms, “we romanticize this idea of a woman warrior. We have no evidence for it. They did not exist.”

If this is a matter of erasure, I wondered when the erasure happened. As the steampunk fashion movement has grown to include literary and scientific interests, there’s been a greater focus on alternative history. What if we had gone with Tesla’s model rather than Edison’s? Further investigation (with rabid enthusiasm, a limitless resource of fandom) revealed a plethora of women soldiers, scientists, and spies. The Victorian era seems stuffy at first glance, but women were there. They were working.

If erasure began earlier, how early? Was it Perrault in the late 17th century, who couched fairy tales like Red Riding Hood into warnings about the dangers of blossoming female sexuality? Probably not. For a book to prosper, it needs an audience with whose work it will resonate.

Kameron Hurley’s award-winning article, “We Have Always Fought: Challenging the Women, Cattle and Slaves Narrative” captures nearly all of these arguments as they apply to writing female characters. The gendered approach to role and identity is lazy. The idea that We Have Always Fought doesn’t only refer to women who feel comfortable in danger, conflict, and innovation; it also refers to the idea that men and women, both, have always wrestled with the idea of identity. We have always fought because there is always someone else trying to tell you who you are. These stories perpetuated by many to define the individual continue for generations — especially when you will be punished, from ostracism to execution, for proving them wrong.

Nevermind looking at the Victorian era, or the Age of Reason for the source of this divide. Go back to Hippocrates, Aretaeus and Galen, who blamed the womb for nearly all diseases in women. The underlying idea was that the womb moved around the body, putting pressure on the organs and causing blockages. The cure? Pregnancy, at least, sex leading to pregnancy. Taoist texts recommend that men should sleep with as many young women as possible to maintain their health, but women would suffer the adverse effect if they used the same treatment.

The media’s portrayal of gender roles (frustrated mom, incompetent dad) affects us. Louder and more prolific voices tell us our identity. They tell us that women have long hair, men have short hair. They tell us men are buried with swords, and women with brooches. They tell us who we should be and how we should think. Imagine a world where pink was a manly color. It’s not any kind of color — it’s just a color. Flowers are pink. Guts are pink. Blood is blue, and so are flowers.

Our perception tends to narrow based on our environment. As a little kid, before I learned about Barbie and He-Man toys (products marketed and sold to specific demographics), I believed the defining characteristic in gender was that boys had green eyes and girls had blue eyes. In my family that was true, but what does it mean for brown eyes? Or blue-eyed men? It’s important to consider new data as it arises, rather than insist on the current narrative. This may be difficult and uncomfortable, especially if your language has gender woven all the way through it. The gender of a table, knife, or factory also indicate that dividing the world into feminine/masculine qualities is an old, OLD fight; but it’s up to you if you accept it as is.

If you were to disregard what voices from above tell you, what would you observe? Beautiful men and mighty women surround us. Calculating women and nurturing men surround us. Patient humans surround us. Cruel humans surround us. We are them. They are us.

The contents of your backpack might be misleading. Marketing is misleading. To understand someone, look to the core of them — down to their bones.


List of Women Warriors

Here are the notes I had prepared for a panel on women & warriorship that I did ~not~ wind up using.


The Larinum decree under Tiberius banned senators’ daughters, granddaughters and great-granddaughters, and “any female whose husband or father or grandfather, whether paternal or maternal or brother had ever possessed the right of sitting in the seats reserved for the equites” from training or making paid appearances as gladiators, implying though not confirming that some females did already appear as gladiators.

Boudicca – 1st century, Norfolk – Led an uprising against occupying forces of Roman empire.

Trung Trac & Trung Nhi – 1st century, Vietnam – Commanded 80,000 to repel Chinese forces.

Trieu Thi Trinh – 2nd century, Vietnam – Succeeded in deterring 50 advances from the occupying Wu kingdom of present-day China.

Zenobia – 3rd century, Syria – Defeated Roman Legions under Emperor Claudius.

Artemisia of Caria – 5th century, Persia – Commanded five ships under King Xerxes.

Queen K’Abel “Lady Snake Lord” – 7th century, Guatemala – Mayan. Commanded expansionist military, outranked her husband king K’inich Bahlam

Judit – 10th century, Abyssinia – Conquered Axum, capital of Ethiopia.

Queen Aethelflaed – 10th century, English Midlands – Took over the army and built a chain of fortresses upon her husband’s death, including successful campaign into Wales.

Tomoe Gozen – 12th century, Japan – Samurai. Fought in the Genpei war on the Minamoto side against the Taira.

Fu Hao – 13th century, China – Commanded over 13,000 troops for King Wu Ding of the Shang Dynasty. Served as priestess and General. Earliest recorded large-scale ambush in Chinese history.

Tamar of Georgia – 13th century, Georgia – During her Reign Georgia achieved political, economic and cultural might, annexing Armenian capitals and founding the Empire of Trebizond on the Black Sea.

Joanna of Flanders (“Firey Joan”) – 13th century, France – Raised army to defend her husband’s claim to a region of Brittany.

Princess Khutulun – 14th century, Mongolia – Became her father’s chief military advisor against Kublai Khan in China. Fought off suitors, literally, in hand-to-hand combat.

Joan D’Arc – 15th century, France – Commanded French Army against the English toward the end of the Hundred Years’ War, lifted the siege at Orleans in nine days.

Queen Elizabeth I – 16th century, England – needs no introduction. Defeated Spanish Armada.

Grainne O’Malley – 16th century, Ireland – Sailor, pirate, fought and eventually parlayed with Elizabeth I.

Juana Galan – 19th century, Spain – commanded the other women in her village against Napoleon’s cavalry and turned them out of La Mancha.

Ching Shih – 19th century, Canton – Commanded 300 pirate ships. Terrorized coast, could not be defeated by Portuguese or British navy. Retired at 36 after receiving amnesty from Chinese government.

Laskarina Bouboulina – 19th century, Greece – Supplied Greek Nationalists with supplies against Turks, and commanded an 8-boat fleet against the Ottomans.

Emilia Plater – 19th century, Poland – Joined November Uprising against the Tsar’s rule. Awarded a captaincy in Polish Lithuanian 25th Infantry Regiment.

Wing Chun (and Buddhist nun Ng Mui) – 20th century, China – Founder of Wing Chun style martial arts, derived from Shaolin.

Nancy Wake (“White Mouse”)- 20th century, England – British spy, freelance unit with rank of Captain. Leading figure in the maquis groups of the French Resistance. Most decorated servicewoman of the war, and by 1943, the Gestapo’s most wanted person.

Stephanie Kwolek – 21st century, USA – Chemist, invented Kevlar.

Ann Elizabeth Dunwoody – 21st century, USA – Four-star general in US Army. Deployed to Saudi Arabia for Operation Desert Shield/Desert storm. Supported the largest deployment and redeployment of US forces since WWII. Made great efforts to reduce sexual assault in the army. Retired 2012.

Bibi Ayisha, Commander Kaftar (“Commander Dove”) – 21st c. Afghanistan – one of Amad Shah Massoud’s top commanders during the soviet and Taliban wars within Afghanistan. Led a 600-man force as a mujahedeen commander.


Thirteen-year-old Eagle Huntress in Mongolia

William Kremer’s article about Ashol-Pan really struck a cord with me. Ashol-Pan is Mongolian girl who has joined the boys to learn a 2,000 year-old traditional hunting method. It’s neat to see how culture is simultaneously preserved and altered — adapting to survive.

Photographer Asher Svidensky remarked that while the 15lb birds weighed down the boys’ underdeveloped arms, Ashol-Pan seemed to be a natural.  “To see her with the eagle was amazing,” he recalls. “She was a lot more comfortable with it, a lot more powerful with it and a lot more at ease with it.”

The skill of hunting with eagles, Svidensky says, lies in harnessing an unpredictable force of nature. “You don’t really control the eagle. You can try and make her hunt an animal – and then it’s a matter of nature. What will the eagle do? Will she make it? How will you get her back afterwards?


Ashol-Pan cuddling her eagle

(c) BBC News


Experimenting with Androgyny leads to a story idea

Androgyny, the combination of masculine and feminine characteristics, is an interesting word. Trying to come up with a list of what constitutes ‘masculine’ and what constitutes ‘feminine’ is a difficult exercise when you’re talking about personality and not biochemistry. It was for me, anyway, because more often the words I choose are really epicene, or having characteristics typical of either sex.

I was re-watching The Tudors on Netflix the other day, and was struck by Jonathan Rhys Meyers’ costumes. He’s come a long way since I saw him in Ghormenghast! There was one moment, in season two, episode four where Henry acknowledges his daughter Mary for just a moment by bowing to her — and then rides off. He’s the king, so naturally his costumes should be that much more spectacular; but that was the first time I thought about dressing up in his costumes at, say, a sci-fi/fantasy convention.

Conventions are the only time I really dress up and try to be pretty. Maybe I’m trying to fill some psychological hole because I never went to prom. I wanted to have both experiences, maybe dressing as a man during the day, and a women at night. That’s when all the parties happen. I wonder if I would be treated differently, and who would prefer one persona over another. What would it be like to live that way, and have it not be secret? Or better yet, to live that way and not be stigmatized?

Like Tiresias, but transforming each day rather than one way or the other for a period of years.

I loved Ranma 1/2 as a kid because it played with this idea; but Ranma had to hide it for fear of being seen as a pervert. I don’t see it that way.

Imagine if these two were the same person. Might make an interesting short story.

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