Monday, March 29, 2010

sidewalks are for chalking

I kind of inadvertently (but totally willingly) protested sit/lie because I was restless Sunday night. And I had some chalk. (Thanks, Tim, for the loan of your camera!)

Monday, March 15, 2010

ready to confront a demon or a god

Who doesn't love a lady warrior? Well, probably a lot of people. But here's to Tomoe Gozen, March 15th's woman of the day, a female samurai in 12th century Japan.

If I don't have a lot to say about Tomoe, it's mostly because not a lot is known about her. For example, why did she become a samurai? And how? And how did the other samurai feel about her? And did she care?

My personal fascination with women who fight "men's" fights stems back to a childhood spent reading and re-reading and re-reading Tamora Pierce's Song of the Lioness quartet and no I am not joking. I wanted to be a knight and I wanted to have red hair and purple eyes and a talking cat and magical powers and also I wanted my name to be Alanna and I was nine years old, so bite your tongue. 

Cheers, at any rate, to Tomoe.

Sunday, March 14, 2010

vocabulary gone awry

It's so sad to see lovely and delicious and delicate words get mangled. My award for purplest prose I've read in a while:
"Joanna Howard's lapidary debut On the Winding Stair is an escalier spiraling with brocaded lyricism, alternately swathed in darkness and bathed in phosphorescence. Metaphysical spaces coexist with vivid corporeality in a place where words aren't so much modified as they are baroquely embellished, cast in irreality..."
need I go on? Because I think I needn't. And quite frankly, I'd prefer not to.

the walking polyglot

Supposedly, this is how Maria Agnesi's family referred to her. By the time she was eleven. (In my next life, can I be a walking polyglot? Or better yet, can it not be too late for me this time around?) In addition to being precociously multi-lingual, at age nine she delivered an hour-long lecture in Latin on women's right to be educated. (And did I mention that we're talking about Renaissance Italy? Oh, flowering of arts and culture, sure, but hardly a time of leaps and bounds in the advancement of women. Sit tight while I paint another Virgin Mary, thank you very much, was more like it.) Her big goal? To enter a convent so that she could dedicate her life to, you guessed it, calculus! Wait, you didn't guess it? Weird. Maybe you should go back and try again. She didn't join a convent until quite late in life, after she'd written a fancy book on the fancy math and had become a professor of mathematics and natural philosophy at the nothing-to-scoff-at-here University of Bologna. 

Wikipedia is at pains to point out that her contemporaries were at pains to point out that she was pretty (ahem, "dazzlingly beautiful"). Not that there's anything wrong with being pretty, in and of itself, but one does get a bit tired of the...she was smart and pretty! She didn't get married even though she was pretty! Implied: isn't that amazing? Give us a break, why don't you. Obviously her physical beauty wasn't her most important characteristic as far as she was concerned.

And so we are, for the time being, up to speed. March 14th. Maria Agnesi.

kind of cheating

because one of the other rules I made for myself was no fictional characters. On the other hand, the myth of Pope Joan is so overwhelming compelling that I couldn't help myself. Honest. And so, March 13th's woman of the day.

And if there never was a female pope, in many ways there might as well have been (let's get all post-modern like that). What it seems (to me) to highlight most is the Catholic & medieval & patriarchal horror/terror of the feminine. The idea that a woman could penetrate (ha, ha) the innermost recesses of the widest-reaching and most deeply entrenched organization in Europe at the time was, I don't doubt, the stuff of nightmares to the powers that be – er, were.  That according to the legend, her body betrays her, just makes it all the more Catholic for me.

infidel indeed

Sickness strikes again (or rather, continues to strike) and so I am behind but nonetheless determined to carry out this project. March 12th's woman of the day, Ayaan Hirsi Ali, turn "controversial" into a playground insult. Her pronounced and unapologetic view is that Islam is a "backward religion." She was raised Muslim, and underwent female genital mutilation at age five. It's hard for me to write those words. She moved to the Netherlands, lied her way into a legal existence there, earned a master's degree in political science, and became a member of Parliament. She speaks six languages.

She was close friends with the (equally controversial) filmmaker Theo Van Gogh (yes, they're related); his murder, and the numerous death threat's she's received, have seemingly done nothing to deter her from speaking what she feels to be the truth. I don't think you have to agree with her to admire her. She's incredibly strong.

Thursday, March 11, 2010


If you know me at all, then you'll know this isn't because I'm a teetotaler. But when you think about an era where men had exclusive access to the best-paid jobs, where any money a women did earn legally belonged to her father or husband, when divorce was difficult to impossible, I at least begin to see how prohibition became a cause a lot of women could get behind. Few, I think, had quite the extraordinary style of Carrie Nation, March 11th's woman of the day. Using rocks (which she called "smashers") to break the bottles of alcohol bartenders had in stock, and eventually using axes to smash up the bars themselves, Nation was a kind of one-woman whirlwind (though sometimes accompanied by women singing hymns). She was an utterer of great lines (to bartenders: "Good morning, destroyer of men's souls") and all the more formidable for being active in an era which widely referred to women as the "gentler sex." Bars took to saying "All nations welcome except Carrie." I have a strange respect for the woman.

Wednesday, March 10, 2010


I hope that people never cease to amaze me. Currently, I feel the odds are pretty good.

"The postman brought me a happy letter from my home town this morning."

The Lover's Communication System. It's so dreamy. And, presumably, so silent.

childhood heroine

I was never into sports players or pop singers or whatnot, but man, when I was twelve, did I ever have a crush on Queen Hatshepsut (March 10th's Woman of the day). So far this month I've been trying to avoid what I tend to think of as the obvious choices, the ladies who get trotted out every time we want to pay lip service to women's history, but I just can't help myself with this one. The first female pharoah of Egypt and the only one to declare herself king (yes, masculine pronouns and all – she even wore a symbolic beard), I've always thought she was pretty neat. Other women had been regents and queens, but as far as we know Hatshepsut was the first to rule in her own right. If that isn't enough to impress you, she also built a lot of things, established new trade routes, maintained the peace, and yadda yadda yadda.

High on the highlights of my life, now and probably always, was visiting her temple in Egypt.

samizdat and a minor planet

Sickness has made me a bit tardy. Anna Akhmatova was March 9th's woman of the day. Wrote as a woman and a witness to Stalinism. Literature in translation can be so frustrating, and I don't pretend to know who's rendered her best into English, but I found this:


                                                  No, not under a foreign sky,
                                                  no not cradled by foreign wings –
                                                  Then, I was with my people, I,
                                                  with my people, there, sorrowing.

In the dreadful years of the Yezhov terror I spent seventeen months in prison queues in Leningrad. One day someone 'identified' me. Then a woman standing behind me, blue with cold, who of course had never heard my name, woke from the trance characteristic of us all and asked in my ear (there, everyone spoke in whispers):
- Ah, can you describe this?
And I said:
I can.
Then something like a tormented smile passed over what had once been her face.

Monday, March 8, 2010

when nature is round

and cold. My friend Erin took some strange and beautiful pictures of the hail that pelted us this afternoon.

March 8th

is International Women's Day. Enjoy that.

Mary Wollstonecraft, a long-time hero of mine, is our woman of the day today. Reading about her is not nearly as rewarding as reading her, so go out and indulge in a couple chapters of A Vindication of the Rights of Woman. You'll think: this was published when*? And then: women still didn't get the vote until when**?

While you're thinking about injustice and the state of women in the world, let's tip our hats to the NYT's Nicholas Kristof for his consistent-to-the-point-of-unrelenting (that's a compliment) focus on the state of women, especially in third world countries. Check out his ideas for 3 actionable, cost-effective, sustainable ways to change the plight of women.


Sunday, March 7, 2010

sí, ella puede

She doesn't have half the name recognition of César Chávez, but Dolores Huerta co-founded the United Farm Workers of America. In addition to all the work she's done for collective bargaining for farm workers, she's also worked to enable people to take driver's license tests in Spanish, and currently serves on the board of the Feminist Majority Foundation. Pretty rad.

Saturday, March 6, 2010

house arrest

Aung San Suu Kyi, March 6th's Woman of the Day, spent her 64th birthday in jail. She's had opportunities in the past to leave Burma and join her family in the UK, but the ruling military junta has warned her that they would not allow her to return. She stays, and is an extraordinary leader for peace, non-violence, and democracy. She is allowed few visitors, and is periodically jailed on trumped-up charges. She has been under house arrest for 14 of the past 20 years.

Friday, March 5, 2010

dance dance dance

March 5's Woman of the Day, Isadora Duncan is generally agreed to have founded modern dance (and how often can we generally agree that a woman founded a new era in any artistic discipline?). She liked to dance like this:

Wildly popular in Europe, mildly popular in the States, achieved most of her fame and recognition posthumously. A wild run-around lady by all accounts, bisexual by some, died in a freak automobile accident when one of her long flowing scarves got caught in a car wheel. What a slapstick way to go.

Thursday, March 4, 2010

City of Ladies

Christine de Pizan: a working, writing mother in medieval France. She was famous! Celebrated! Made money! And she wrote about women. Who had been written out of history. Oh, the irony.
March 4. Thanks, Christine.


is a pretty rad, if sadly out of vogue, term for dyke. Gladys Bentley sang the blues, wore men's tuxes, bragged about her affairs with women, underwent profound public (and private?) changes during the McCarthy era. March 3's woman of the day.

Wednesday, March 3, 2010

a small project

for March only. I began it somewhere else, but really I might as well continue it here.

And so I present to you,
March 1st: Philiss Wheatley 
Taken from Africa to the U.S., enslaved, learned to read Greek and Latin, wrote highly acclaimed poetry which made her the first published woman- and first African-American poet, went to London, met George Washington, died a poor scullery maid.

March 2nd: Princess Hijab
Sass and a half. Attacking advertisements. Stirring the pot. Confusing the French. Celebrating ambiguity. A highly functioning sense of hilarity.

Tuesday, March 2, 2010

diamonds and rust

I don't want to be that person who never leaves California, and I don't think I am or will become so, but walking home tonight, a skirt, thin stockings, and a light jacket I thought oh, I don't miss real winter, I don't.
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