What is Female Agency in Literature?

Photo by Christina Morillo on Pexels.com

When discussing literature or film texts, female agency is the ability of the female characters to take action and make their own decisions that affect their lives and the outcomes in the text. It is the condition of being active and exerting power or influence for oneself.

Agency came into English from Medieval Latin abstract noun agentia in the mid-1600s, and by the 1670s had developed in meaning from ‘active operation’ to ‘a mode of exerting power or producing effect’. Thus, it had a clear association with ideas of making things happen, being a driving force, and having the ability or power to achieve something.
It was not until the mid 1800s that agency was used to refer to a place or establishment where business is done on someone else’s behalf.

It’s fair to say that, throughout history and in most cultures, women have not had a great deal of agency.  

Because most texts reflect the culture in which it is created, the roles of women in any given text tend to mirror the levels of agency held by women in society at the time.

The increase in awareness and acceptance of women’s rights and gender equality during the 20th and 21st century and the associated increase in freedom and independence of women in that time have changed the way women are portrayed in books, film and plays, where there are far more strong and independent female protagonists than previously. Now, female characters are seen to be able to do anything; previously, their ability to do anything at all was limited by the will of men and the rules they created.

In earlier centuries, female characters with personal strength, intelligence and integrity tended to provide a strong contrast to the other women in their society. Austen’s Elizabeth Bennet, Shakespeare’s Katherine and Isabella, and Harper Lee’s Scout Finch are examples of girls who stood out among their peers and delivered powerful messages in the process. The authors who created them had no intention of portraying them as two-dimensional, submissive females.That would have been a complete waste of those characters’ talents and strengths, and would have only served to entirely defeat their authors’ purposes and messages.

When female characters are able to take action, make their own decisions, and influence those around them, they are understood to have agency.

Sources:
Etymonline

What is Female Agency in Literature?
#women #literature #Explained

The Uncomfortable Truth: The Rapists Are Likely To Be Blokes You Know

The irony of writing to men on International Women’s Day has not escaped me, but this is something they need to understand.

Photo by Lukas on Pexels.com

On the morning of Sunday, March 6, 2021, a white, middle-aged male Australian journalist, especially the privileged and powerful stated on national television that while he was glad that women were speaking up about rape and sexual abuse, he was struggling with the fact that his friend— a prominent member of the government who is obviously innocent, of course— had been accused of rape and is at the centre of a maelstrom of media and public scrutiny as a result. 

It was an absolute AYFKM moment for any thinking g woman watching. The two women on the discussion panel did an excellent job of not saying what they were clearly thinking.I, on the other hand, was not on national television so I was able to express my thoughts more freely. 

When the rage and the nausea subsided, I asked my husband, “Who exactly does he think the rapists are if they’re not among the friends of all the other men?”

The fact of the matter is, rapists and child abusers are very often friends or family members of their victims. They all have friends who would be as shocked by the truth as Peter Van Onselen is by the allegations against Christian Porter. They would all struggle with accepting the heinous behaviour of someone they know and respect. 

That does not mean that allegations and accusations are not true. The only way to know with any confidence is to fully investigate and, if necessary, prosecute the matter. 

In the meantime, friends of the alleged rapist— particularly journalists and his parliamentary colleagues— should recuse themselves from public forums discussing the matter because, quite frankly, it is not the place for biased male perspectives on the experiences of women. It is most definitely not the place for making a woman’s account of rape about them and how much they are struggling with the allegations against their mate. 

Conversely, Australian women are way past being surprised or shocked by men we know, or those in positions of privilege and power, being accused of rape and abuse. And while we have always been angry about rape and abuse, our fury has grown over recent weeks over the number of allegations of rape and abuse connected  to the government and the apparent inability— or outright failure— of those in positions of responsibility and power to deal with those situations appropriately. 

It’s high time Peter Van Onselen, Scott Morrison and anyone else struggling with the current accusations and publicity realised what the rest of us know: while most Australian men are not rapists and many of them are excellent, the abusers and rapists are moving among them and look just like the. They could turn out to be anyone. Nobody is beyond suspicion, regardless of their position in society. 

One other thing is just as sure: if Christian Porter or any of the other accused men in Parliament House were a teacher rather than a politician, his employer’s response would have been very, very different. 

The Rapists Are Likely To Be Blokes You Know
#UncomfortableTruth #blog

P!nk and Poetry

In my post on Songs and Poetry, I explored the idea that lyrics of songs are often poetry. Indeed, one could argue that the more poetic and emotive the lyrics, the greater chance of that song becoming an anthem for some listeners. This is certainly true in my own experience. 

One of the artists in my “Anthems” playlist is P!nk. I love her attitude, her style, and her voice. Even more, I have found some of her lyrics to be enormously powerful and emotive, and very relatable. She may be a rock goddess who knows how to entertain, but she is also a poet who knows how touch someone’s soul. 

That’s why it came as no surprise to me that she used to write poetry. It shows. 

What P!nk says about the therapeutic effects of writing poetry is true, too. It does feel good to get the darkness out, and to shape it into something that is meaningful to others as well as oneself. As I have often commented, writing poetry is the most effective therapy I have ever had. 

Transition.

It’s the last day of March, which brings us to the end of Women’s History Month. In all honesty, I’m feeling a little sad about that.

Blogging about some of the less well known  heroines of ancient and medieval history has been a most enjoyable occupation. I had fun creating some historical memes to accompany the posts and promote them on my social media, too.

I also loved writing about some of the courageous women who willingly took on situations of conflict, oppression and segregation in the 19th and 20th centuries.


If you missed any of those posts, they are easily found by clicking on Women, Women’s History Month or Women’s History categories and tags in the sidebar. 

With those great stories told, I am feeling a little like I do when I have just finished a great book and I don’t really know what to do with myself.

Yet I know that tomorrow  I will feel differently because there are some great things happening in April: not only is it (Inter)National Poetry Month, but it’s also a month-long celebration of Indie books in the Read Self Published group on Facebook. 

The first half of the Pead Self Published month will feature a specific genre or set of genres each day, which readers are free to peruse. The second half of the month will be focused on helping each individual visual reader find what they want to read. There will also be some giveaways, which are always fun — especially for the winners! 

Everyone is welcome to join in those events, which is aimed at showing readers what they want to read without the “hard sell” that many find offputting. 

I know with all of that going on, I will have some great things to share.  I will be posting some of my favourite poems on this blog, and Book Squirrel will be sharing some great reads and book suggestions in various genres.

On a personal level, there will be continued rehearsals for the show I’m in, a very well-earned and much needed two week long term break, and a camping trip over Easter that I am really looking forward to.

So, away with my sadness. I shall welcome April with open arms and a great deal of anticipation.

Women In History: More Fabulous, Famous Femmes

History is full of amazing women who had strength, courage and determination and showed men a thing or two about how things should be done.

There are so many great women that I would have loved to write about, but I couldn’t get to them all because I wanted to focus on featuring some of the less heroines of history with whom many people would not be familiar. I did find this excellent post that includes quite a few ladies who were on my list, so I thought I would share it with my readers on this final day of Women’s History Month.

I hope you enjoy this great post from Nerdome featuring some fabulous famous femmes including feisty royals Elizabeth I and Catherine the Great, and two of my literary loves, Jane Austen and Maya Angelou.

Nerdome

Happy Women’s Day ! , Today we are going to remember , powerful and inspirational women who have been pioneers for women’s rights and racial equality and have defined the worlds of science, mathematics, aviation and literature.

Whether these famous females were inventors, scientists, leaders, politicians, or literal Queens, these  strong women undeniably changed the world for the better.

Cleopatra, 69 BC-30 BC Egyptian pharaoh

cleo.jpg

Cleopatra. (Photo By DEA PICTURE LIBRARY/De Agostini/Getty Images)

Final ruler of Egypt’s Ptolemaic dynasty, Cleopatra was more than the famous beauty her subsequent, simplistic portrayals often depict. A formidable, politically shrewd monarch, she was directly involved in the running of a kingdom that faced challenges on many fronts.

Queen Elizabeth I (1533 – 1603)elizabeth.jpg

“Though the sex to which I belong is considered weak you will nevertheless find me a rock that bends to no wind.”

The Armada portrait of Queen Elizabeth I painted in 1588

Elizabeth called herself ‘The…

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Women in History: Maria Sibylla Merian

Image: Public Domain

I had not heard of Maria Sibylla Merian until I stumbled across this post. I found myself amazed by her talent and intelligence, and her dedication to her study of butterflies!

My very great thanks to the author of this excellent ‘Women in History’ post at My Window Seat.

My Window Seat

I have been very much neglecting the history part of my blog recently – I’ve rather lost my history blogging mojo. I’m currently trying a few things to get it back, and this is one of them.

Not only was International Women’s Day on the 8th of this month, apparently the whole month is Women’s History Month. Many bloggers are taking the cue to write about their favourite women from history, and ever the opportunist, I jumped onto the bandwagon. I intend to write about maybe not my ‘favourite women’, but at least women that I think you should know about.

As I said, I’ve been writing more about spiders than about history, so in order to facilitate a smooth transition to history, today I will stick with the creepy-crawly theme. Let me introduce you to Maria Sibylla Merian.

Maria_Sibylla_Merian_portrait_colors

She was born in 1647 in Frankfurt, Germany, into a…

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Women in History: Irina Sendler

Irina Sendler (also called Irina Sendlerowa) was born in Warsaw in 1910. Her father was a doctor who treated the very poor at no charge, and who instilled his strongly Humanitarian values in his daughter. 

After finishing school, Irina studied law and literature  at the University of Warsaw. She opposed the practice of discrimination against the poor and the a Jewish people, and joined both the Union of Polish Democratic Youth and the Socialist Party, earning a reputation for being both a Communist and sympathetic to Jews that kept her from finding employment as a teacher throughout the 1930s. Instead, she took up a role as a social worker which exposed her to the most extreme poverty in and around Warsaw. She worked closely with mothers and children, and published articles about the conditions in which disadvantaged women were living.

When Germany invaded Poland on September 1st, 1939, the division in which Sendler was working was prohibited from working with Jewish people, and began working with sick and wounded a Polish soldiers. Irons and her colleagues began to issue false medical documents to help the soldiers and their families access welfare, a practice which she extended to Jewish families without telling her colleagues she was doing so. 

The Jewish people were restricted to one small area of the city which became known as the Warsaw ghetto, which was closed off to general access in 1940. Sendler and her colleagues gained entry on the proviso of checking for infectious diseases such as Typhus. Against orders, they smuggled in medications, food, sanitary supplies and other necessities. Over time, this extended to smuggling out babies and small children by various means, including carrying them in their medical bags. 

The children were sent to Polish families, Catholic orphanages and convents, and other orphanages. A Christian institution offered the best protection for the children, who were given Christian names and taught Christian prayers and religion once placed there. Sendler kept detailed records, though, in the hope of eventually reuniting children with their families.

Obviously, this work put Sendler and her colleagues at great personal risk, as helping Jews carried the death penalty.  The degree of danger increased when the ghetto was officially dismantled by Germany in 1942, with orders for its residents were collected in groups and sent to extermination camps. Sendler and her colleagues helped as many adults and adolescents to escape to temporary emergency housing as they could. 

On October 18, 1943, Irina was arrested, tortured for information which she refused to divulge, and then imprisoned in Pawiak. She was further interrogated on later dates, and then sent elsewhere for execution, only escaping this fate because her guards had been bribed. She resumed her work under an assumed name, and tried to remain in hiding as much as she could. 

In 1944, the Polish resistance engaged in the Warsaw Uprising, during which Irina worked as a nurse in a field hospital. When that hospital ran out of money and supplies, Irina took the initiative and hitchhiked to Lublin to seek assistance from the communists who were in control of the city. 

After the war, the hospital in which Irina worked was transformed into the Warsaw Children’s Home. Sendler and her colleagues gave all the names and family details of the children they had saved to the Central Committee of Polish Jews with the aim of reuniting the families, but most of the parents had been killed during the Holocaust, so this only had limited success. 

Irina Sendler received numerous decorations and honours for her service and bravery in the years after the war, both in Poland and from other countries and international bodies. 

The grave of Irena Sendler in Powązki cemetery
Image: Jake from Manchester, UK via Wikimedia Common

Sendler continued to work for the wellbeing and care of women and children. She also remained active in the Communist party, although her relationship with the party was not always a harmonious one. She taught until the age of 73, when she retired, remaining in Warsaw for the rest of her life. After her death on May 2nd, 2008, Irina Sendler was buried in the Powazki Cemetery in Warsaw. 

Women in History: Fatima al-Fihri

In the year 850 CE there was no such thing as a university. By 859, there was— thanks to Fatima al-Fihri.

The cover of a children’s book about Fatima al-Fihri’s life by Maryam Yousaf, available on Amazon

Fatima al-Fihri was an Arab Muslim woman who, having received an education and understanding its value, established the first ever university in Fez, Morocco.

When her father died, he left his estate to his daughters, Fatima and Mariam, each of whom used the money to establish a mosque. Fatima’s mosque grew to hold thousands of worshippers while at the same time evolving into a place of learning that offered degrees for different levels of education in the subjects of Islamic studies, mathematics, natural sciences, music, medicine and grammar.  A library was also established,
providing the resources and documents
needed by students and teachers alike.

Image: Abdel Hassouni via Wikimedia Commons

The University was not exclusive to Muslim students, and attracted scholars from both Jewish and Christian traditions. One of those students went on to become Pope Sylvester II, who introduced both Arabic numerals and the idea of zero to Western mathematics.

By the time Fatima died at the age of eighty years old, The University of Al Quaraouiyine had been running for twenty-four years,
alongside the mosque from which it
had developed.

Image: Mike Prince on flickr via Wikimedia Commons

This makes the university more than two hundred years older than the oldest Western universities at Bologna (est. 1088) and Oxford (est. 1096).

Both the mosque and university are still running today. Both the University of Al Quaraouiyine and its library are the oldest of their kind in the world. The library contains many ancient documents, some of which  date right back to the 9th century origins of the library, and other texts and books written by renowned academics.

What an amazing and enduring legacy, and a testament to foresight and wisdom! 

WordyNerdBird’s note: 
Having grown up in Australia and enjoyed a very Western education, I had no idea until much later in life that the concept of the university was something that came from the Muslim tradition. 

Perhaps if we were taught more overtly and deliberately about the legacies that have come to us from traditions other than our own,  our places of learning and society in general would be far more respectful of those traditions and the people who still hold them. 

Women in History: Tomoe Gozen


蔀関月筆 Image: Public domain.

Unlike most of the women featured on this blog for Women’s History Month, we don’t know a lot of the details of Tomoe Gozen’s life story.  Even so, what we do know tells us of a woman of incredible strength and bravery.

Tomoe Gozen was a Japanese warrior who lived from 1157 to 1247. This places her on the timeline of history just after Matilda Plantagenet, and makes her the contemporary of Eleanor of Aquitaine, yet she is far less well known in Western culture than she should be. She has appeared as a character in books, film, anime, manga and video games at various times in the last fifty years.  Before that, her story was kept alive in Japanese  festivals and on the stage in classical Kabuki theatre productions.

It was during the Genpei War that Tomoe Gozen won fame as an incredibly strong warrior in Japan’s Samurai tradition.  Female Samurai were called onna-bugeisha, their ranks made up of noble women who fought alongside the men of their clans. Of course, Tomoe Gozen was renowned for being beautiful and strong, but it was her skill as a brave and indefatigable martial warrior in archery, sword fighting and horsemanship and that earned her military reputation and place in history.   

Arising out of long and deep-seated rivalry between the two clans, the Genpei War between Japan’s Minamoto and Taira clans was a bloody and bitter five year long period of conflict which resulted in the defeat of the Taira clan, after which  Minamoto no Yoritomo was established as the first feudal ruler of all Japan, known as the Shogun, in 1192.

Tomoe Gozen’s family was closely associated with the Minamoto clan, and it is believed by many that she was either married to or the concubine of Minamoto no Yoshinaka, a powerful Minamoto general who led his clansmen  to victory over the Taira but lost his lifewhen challenged for the leadership by his cousin Yoritomo, After Yoshinaka’s death, she continued to fight, and is known for beheading several key enemies and evading those who wanted to capture her.


Image: Public Domain.  Tomoe Gozen with Uchida Ieyoshi and Hatakeyama no Shigetada by Toyohara Chikanobu (1838-1912)

The accounts of what happened to Tomoe Gozen after the Genpei war vary. Some say she married a rival warlord, while others say she gave up the martial lifestyle and became a nun.

Regardless of how her life ended, her courage, skill and commitment set her apart from most whom she fought alongside, and earned her place as a hero in the history of the key battles that brought about a turning point in the history of Japan. 

Women in History: Khutulun

Today’s ‘Woman in History’ is a very different kind of Medieval princess.

Khutulun was born in 1260, the daughter of Kaidu, the powerful Mongol ruler of Central Asia, and the great-great-granddaughter of legendary Mongol leader Genghis Khan. 

While Kaidu’s cousin, the great Kublai Khan, had built his own empire with cities and a more settled and sedentary way of life, Kaidu’s empire continued in the old ways of horsemanship, weaponry and fighting, and a traditionally nomadic lifestyle. 

Khutulun was raised to be a skilled and powerful warrior who accompanied her father and his soldiers into battle, demonstrating prowess in both stealth and combat. Even when the opposing empires of Kaidu and Kublai went to war against one another, she went to war alongside Kaidu and acquitted herself in a most exemplary manner. 

Khutulun was so impressive in battle that the famous explorer Marco Polo wrote of her military exploits and abililites. Even though he was a ruler over a large empire and had an enormous army at his disposal, he would often seek her advice and support in both political and military matters. In fact, Kaidu wanted to make Khutulun his heir as the ruler of his empire, but because she had fourteen brothers, he was unable to do so. 

Khutulun would never settle for an arranged marriage and resisted her familiy’s attempts to find her a husband. Instead, she issued a challenge: any man who wanted to marry her would have to wrestle her and win.  Any suitor who lost the match would have to give her a horse. 

Clearly, she was a woman who knew her strengths and was willing to back herself in a contest. According to legend,  Khutulun won more than ten thousand horses from the eligible men of Mongolia. She did eventually marry, although it was not because someone was able to successfully win her hand in marriage by beating her in a wrestling match.

Picture: Qutulun, daughter of Qaidu. Public Domain via Gallica Digital Library. https://gallica.bnf.fr/

When Kaidu died, Khutulun took up vigil as the guard of his tomb. Her brothers continued to oppose her at every turn, and she gradually slipped out of public and military life. 

Khutulun died in 1306. The manner of her death remains unknown. 

Her story remained untold for the next four hundred years until a French historian by the name of Francois Petis de La Croix researched and wrote a biography of Genghis Khan. He wrote the story of Turandot based on her life, although he greatly altered the details of the story. It seems Shakespeare wasn’t the only one guilty of deciding he could tell a story more interesting than the truth

Khutulun certainly did things her own way and lived life by the rules that she set. Although she never got to rule the empire as her father had hoped, you’ve got to admire her ability to show all the other soldiers how the fighting should be done, and for finding a  most creative and lucrative way to deal with everyone who wanted to marry her off. 

And admire her is what the Mongolian people still do: their traditional wrestling costume is still worn widely open at the chest to prove that the wrestler is not female.