Hello Everyone. Today, I’m delighted to have Donna Woolfolk Cross, author of the fantastic novel: Pope Joan, to grace us with her presence here at Enchanted by Josephine.
And now please welcome Donna Woolfolk Cross with her insight on Misogyny.
My novel Pope Joan is set in the ninth century--an especially difficult time in which to live. One contemporary chronicler called it "a sword age, a wind age, a wolf age". And as is so often the case when times are hard, they were hardest of all on women. From pulpits all over Europe, women were denounced with anti-female diatribes like the following:
"And do you not know that you are Eve--the gate of the devil, the traitor of the tree, the first deserter of Divine Law...on account of the death you deserved, even the Son of God had to die."
You can see where women might have had a bit of trouble with "self-esteem" in the ninth century!
Back then menstrual blood was believed to make crops barren, to blunt warrior's swords, to infect dog bites with an incurable poison. Women were not allowed in Church for thirty days after they had given birth, for they were considered to be "unclean". Make that sixty days if the child they birthed was a girl! Rape was considered a form of minor theft. By law, women could be beaten by their men; the only law on the books was one regulating the size of the club that their husband or father could use. Above all, learning in women was discouraged, for a learned woman was considered to be "unnatural".
One theory of the day was that the size of a woman's brain and of her uterus were inversely proportional--that is, the more a woman learned, the less likely she would ever bear children. (and if only that were true, wouldn't birth control be a snap? You don't want to have a baby--read a book!).
Joan's triumph over these obstacles is truly inspirational, as I often hear from readers in countries less fortunate than ours. Though Joan's story is a very ancient one, it is strangely new--and deeply relevant to the world we live in today. Many of you will have heard about the brave young Afgani girls who loved learning (as Joan did) and kept going to school despite warnings to stay away. One day, while on their way to school, acid was thrown in their faces, permanently disfiguring (and in one case, half-blinding) them. This was their punishment for the "crime" of wanting to learn. In an act of raw human courage, these young girls (no more than 12-14 years old) have continued to attend school. The spirit of Pope Joan lives on in such brave young women!
The newly released Three Rivers Press edition of my novel has a list of "Best of the Best" reading group questions in the back, garnered from my many years of chatting by speakphone with book groups (to find out how to set up such a conversation, go to www.popejoan.com).
One of my favorites is this:
7. What causes any society to oppress womankind? What are the root causes of misogyny? Are they based in religion or in society? Both? Neither?
This leads to a lot of lively discussion, believe me! And don't look to me for the answers, for I don't have them. I do know that it's important to raise such questions and to consider them--for the veneer of civilization is very thinly applied; scratch it only a little, and all kinds of human barbarism emerges. We should never make the mistake of thinking that "the bad old days" can never come again!
Thanks so much Donna for this most interesting post.
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