Category Archives: History

Examining our collective past as women and recognizing the sacrifices and accomplishments of our mothers.

Amazons in Action – Part 2

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IN FILM

Disney’s Mulan graced the big screen in 1998 – a young girl volunteers to join the Chinese army in place of her ailing father and ends up saving the nation from the invading Huns.  As a classic underdog story, the film succeeds on its merits.  Mulan is also the first Disney princess that’s not a “princess.”

IN HISTORY

The Trung sisters, Trac and Nhi, were from a powerful family among the Vietnamese.  At this time (the 1st century A.D.) Vietnamese culture was matriarchal, meaning property was inherited through the line of the mother and it wasn’t uncommon for women to become business owners, warriors, politicians, etc.  but Chinese culture was patriarchal, demanding that women be subservient to men.  In addition, the Chinese instituted new taxes.  All of this was a major source of contention.  Trung Trac‘s husband, among others, openly protested the new policies.  But overall, the Chinese domination of Vietnam was tolerated by the Vietnamese until a Chinese commander raped Trung Trac and murdered her husband.  The Chinese were hoping to solidify the Vietnamese’s submission but instead this one-act began the rebellion.

Legend has it that the sisters killed a tiger and used its skin as paper to write a letter encouraging the people to join them.  They trained 36 women to be generals, including their own mother.  These women were so committed that one of their closest allies went into battle pregnant, gave birth on the battlefield, and strapped her newborn to her back so she could continue fighting.

The Trung sisters organized and led an army of 80,000 men and women against Chinese forces and reclaimed most of Vietnam.  The people were so grateful that they raised Trung Trac to queen status.  She reversed all the Chinese mandates, in favor of a government that respected their cultural roots and ruled for 3 years until the Chinese reclaimed power.

Legend also claims that both sisters threw themselves into the river, rather than face dishonor.  Today, stories, poems, plays, postage stamps, posters and monuments still glorify the heroism of the Trung sisters.  In Vietnam, February 6th is the national holiday in honor of them.

“All the male heroes bowed their heads in submission;
Only the two sisters proudly stood up to avenge the country.”
15th century Poem

Amazons in Action – Part 1

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IN FILM

Avatar burst onto the scene in 2009 with visual effects that we had never seen before but the story was a familiar one.  With strong themes of nature and spirituality, I couldn’t help being reminded of Pocahontas.

With one major exception.  Neytiri did more than run through the forest singing.  Her spiritual bond to the land and devotion to her people was balanced by her knowledge of combat.  She was a princess and a warrior.  Unlike Pocahontas, she didn’t seek permission to be with Jake.  It was her decision and she was willing to spill blood to defend him. First against her own people and then again during the last fight scene.

Jake spends most of the film struggling to find his moral compass and assert his physical abilities so Neytiri actually comes across as the stronger hero between the two of them and that doesn’t happen every day!

IN HISTORY

Lozen was a spiritual leader and warrior of the Apache Nation during the U.S. occupation of their lands.  She was born around 1840 in what we now know as southern New Mexico.

Lozen never married; instead she devoted herself to becoming a warrior and master strategist.  She fought alongside men like Geronimo and was often photographed with him, although from looking at her most people didn’t think she was a woman.

Lozen’s abilities as a seer were well respected and usually enabled her to steer her people away from danger.  But one night she was unable to go with her troops into battle because she was attending to a woman in childbirth.  The troops were ambushed and her brother (the chief) was killed.  Many felt that if she had been there the battle would’ve been won.

Eventually, she was captured by the U.S. army and imprisoned first in Florida then Alabama where she died at the age of 50 from tubercolosis.

Before his death, her brother had this to say about his older sister: “Lozen is my right hand… strong as a man, braver than most, and cunning in strategy. Lozen is a shield to her people.”

Polygamy Around the World

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Polygamy worldwideIn the Present

Polygamy is legal in 50 countries around the world.  Most of these countries exist in Africa, southeast Asia, and the Middle East.  They are represented by dark blue on the map to the right.  Another 15 African countries accept polygamy as part of their culture and it continues to exist even if it has been outlawed.  This phenomena is due to differences in customary law (history and culture) and civil law.  South Africa is an example of this.  In some cases, civil law is reflective of colonization and not the temperature of the people.

An interesting note – some countries make the legality of polygyny contingent upon the first wife’s approval.

In the Past

Regional differences accounted for the disparate popularity of polygyny and polyandry.

Historically, in regions where resources were scarce sharing one wife was very common.  This was seen as a practical solution.  The costs of maintaining a family were distributed amongst several men and the number of offspring was limited.  On the other hand, some matriarchal societies chose polyandry not out of economic necessity but because it reflected their cultural beliefs. And still other regions chose polyandry because men largely outnumbered women in their societies.

Polygany was seen as an extravagant display of wealth or blessings.  If a man was important or wealthy, then he was more likely to have many wives.

In Religion

Jewish law forbids polyandry but not polygyny.

Muslim law forbids polyandry but not polygyny.

Christianity (with the exception of Mormon Fundamentalism) forbids both polyandry and polygyny, strongly advocating for monogamous relationships.

Hindu text looks favorably upon polyandry but does not advocate in one way or the other.

Buddhist text advises followers against committing sexual misconduct but leaves it up to them to decide exactly what constitutes misconduct.

Paganism openly accepts all forms of polygamy/polyamory.

Recent Headlines

In Canada …

British Columbia Upholds Ban on Polygamy

In USA …

Letters to the Editor About TLC’s Sister Wives

In Turkey …

Adviser Faces Criminal Charges

In South Africa …

South African President Faces Criticism for Fathering a Child Outside of his Three Wives

A Cultural Niche Within Polyamory

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How and why brothers share one wife.

Poly Week on YouTube

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Poly Week on YouTube

See other videos on my playlist that are related to Poly Week.

It Began With the Rule of Thumb

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I never knew the origins of this phrase until recently.  Rule of thumb.  It began in 15th century England.  Common Law said that a man could beat his wife as long as the instrument he used was no wider than his thumb.

Women, much like children, needed to be kept in line.  Disciplined.  Obedient.  And the law gave men this right.  And society accepted it without question because women were essentially property.  For some of you, your minds are probably already drawing connections between 15th century England and some contemporary Middle Eastern countries.  In some parts of the world, times haven’t changed that much.  And in other parts … things haven’t changed at all.

The First Wave of Change

In America, the progress we’ve made in terms of preventing and stopping domestic violence can be attributed to the work and sacrifices of many MANY women and men.  As a whole, the Women’s Suffrage Movement played a major part.  As did the Women’s Movement of the 1970’s.

Iron Jawed Angels

Iron Jawed Angels (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

If any of you are at all unfamiliar with Suffrage, I suggest adding the following movie to your “To Watch List:” Iron Jawed Angels. It stars Hilary Swank, Frances O’Connor, and Patrick Dempsey.  I promise you will not be bored and you’ll get the point rather succinctly.  Once women secured the right to vote, their concerns were at the very least up for debate.  Suffrage wasn’t a magical cure-all but it was the beginning of the country finding value in women that extended beyond their roles as mothers and wives.

The Women’s Movement of the 1970’s pushed that agenda along even further.  It was undeniably about sex.  Birth control, abortion, and promiscuity ranked high among the topics discussed on both sides.  But the overall accomplishment of the Women’s Movement was that women were no longer viewed as property.  It established us as people with thoughts and preferences that were to be taken seriously.  We could decide for ourselves what kind of life we wanted to live – if we wanted to have children, if we wanted to get married now or ever.  And from this Feminism took hold in the hearts of a new generation of women.

Still, in the area of domestic violence little progress had been made.  Police forces (made up of mostly men) did not want to investigate these incidents.  They didn’t want to make arrests.  If they did anything at all it looked like what we today call mediation.  Except, both parties were not necessarily present for this mediation.  Hospitals didn’t bother questioning women about the origins of their injuries.  And to further complicate matters, economic and custody concerns persuaded many women to stay with their abusers.  The system was rigged against them.  If an abuser managed to be charged AND convicted of a violent assault the maximum sentence he could get was 6 months.

The Second Wave of Change

In the 1980’s things began to change with the Tracy Thurman case.  She was beaten, stabbed, and literally stomped on by her ex-husband in front of a crowd of her neighbors and police officers who did nothing to stop it.  Her spine was crushed and she was permanently disfigured.  People were outraged.  Women were outraged.  They made it into a made-for-TV movie which played on Lifetime.  It’s called A Cry for Help: The Tracy Thurman Story.  Her ex-husband was sentenced to 20 years in prison and upon his release she filed a petition for the most detailed restraining order in history.  After all the publicity, this incident got lawmakers instituted a mandatory arrest law in several states.

Fast forward to the 1990’s and two more women captivated the nation: Anita Hill and Nicole Simpson.  The murder of Nicole Simpson reminded the nation that domestic violence was not a thing of the past and just how high the stakes are for women whose lives are touched by it.  Anita Hill accused Clarence Thomas of sexual harassment just as he was going through confirmation for the Supreme Court and she was crucified for it.  Outraged, women began to flock to the polls and the number of women politicians surged, which resulted in new policy that was more reflective of the concerns of women.  Namely the Violence Against Women Act.

But none of this came easily.  It came from the blood, sweat, and tears of our brave sisters.  They had to endure insinuations about their mental state and claims that they either overreacted or brought it on themselves.  They lived with the knowledge that safety for them did not exist, only fear.  Many faced all of this with children at their side.  Some ended up homeless.  And some ended up dead.

Today

Today, hospital employees – doctors and nurses are trained to be on the look-out for signs of domestic violence and rape.  Some hospitals automatically call the police in such cases.  And some police departments will automatically remove the abuser from the situation – either temporarily as  a “cooling off period” or they will just arrest him.  For some states, it’s not even necessary that the abused press charges.  Whether the abused wants to or not, the law says that it is a crime.  And the violence is treated much like any other crime.  Evidence is collected.  Charges are filed.  And the case goes to court whether there is a complaining witness or not.  We also have resources that abused women didn’t have in the 70’s and 80’s – shelters, organizations, advocacy groups, counseling services, legal services, and general awareness.

But the situation is far from perfect.  There is still work to be done.  25% of all women and girls in this country will be abused in their lifetimes and most domestic violence goes unreported.  New surveys show that men are victims of domestic violence in equal numbers to women but they only receive a tiny fraction of the services and sympathy.  What does it say about our progress that some victims are still shamed into silence? Well, history has shown us on this issue and countless others that nothing changes until we make it so.  If you’re following me on Twitter take a look at some of the domestic violence organizations that I follow, pick one, and get informed then get involved.  Name abuse when you see it, regardless of who’s on the giving or receiving end of it.