Imagine, if you will, that you are living in Missouri at the end of the Civil War (1864 or thereabouts). Imagine also that you are a woman without a ton of moneymaking options who is in need of a job ASAP. Oh, and you are also a recently freed slave living in a place and time where people are still getting used to the idea that you aren't a piece of property. (And we thought it was tough to find a job in this economy.) What on earth will you do to support yourself?
Well, if you are a feisty entrepeneuse with a working knowledge of military life like Ms. Cathay Williams, what you will do is dress in drag and join the U.S. Army.
Carmen Miranda, the lady in the tutti-frutti hat, captivated global audiences from the 1930s through the 1950s. She had charm, talent, and money. She also had an incessant loyalty to her identity—affording curiosity, admiration, desertion, parody, and her own self-mockery. All this from a pop icon who once said she only needed a good bowl of soup and the freedom to sing to be happy.
Women whom history has deemed as "mad" play an interesting role in pop culture. Some of them are viewed as romantic figures, their stories revered and retold as tragic love. Others are viewed as passive objects, mostly used as props in men's stories. Still others are retroactively diagnosed as "mad" due to their actions, even when men who did the same or similar things were not.
A lot of these ideas about historical mad women are embodied in the story of Juana of Castile (in English, Joanna), often known as Juana la Loca, or Joanna the Mad. She's been the subject of paintings, plays, operas, songs, books, and movies, almost always depicted as the mad woman whose obsessive love for her unfaithful husband led to her imprisonment, for the good of Spain. Sometimes she's accused of necrophilia, other times she's distantly diagnosed as having schizophrenia, with evidence provided by accounts written by people paid by her husband, father, and son to ensure that she was viewed incompetent to rule. She is rarely presented as having any agency of her own, and in an age where Henry VIII was having wives beheaded for perceived and actual infidelity, Joanna's "hysterical" jealousy of her husband's well-known affairs has been consistently presented as "proof" of her insanity.
I used to live in a neighborhood boasting several martial-arts schools, and always liked walking by at night to see them all lit up and peopled with serious-looking little girls and boys in their crisp white gis. But it wasn't until recently that I heard about the woman who was partially responsible for making sure that girls got an equal shake in martial-arts training and competition. Rusty Kanokogi, who died in November, 2009 at the age of 74, was the first woman to earn a seventh-degree black belt in judo. But perhaps more important, she was a pioneer in making the sport accessible to women in a time before Title IX.
Earlier this month, Christian Science Monitor published a list of "Top 7 Detective Series Set in Foreign Locales," a selection which is meant to "keep you on the edge of your beach chair," as they put it.
Former First Lady Betty Ford passed away on Friday. She was 93 years old—the same age her late husband was when he passed five years ago. The mega media outlets are doing a decent albeit routine job in acknowledging Betty Ford's contributions to women's issues, health & social issues, and addiction issues. This entry, though, highlights her love of dance.