This Week in Feminist History

Guest Post, · Categories: Feminist History

On July 31st in 1940…

Carol Clover,  an American professor of Scandinavian mythology and film studies, was born. Carol earned both her undergraduate and graduate degrees at the University of California at Berkeley. She taught as an assistant professor at Harvard University before becoming first an assistant professor and then a full professor at the University of California, Berkeley. Carol is best known for the book she wrote and published in 1992, Men, Women, and Chainsaws: Gender in the Modern Horror Film, an investigation of gender within slasher films, from a feminist perspective. Within her book, Carol focuses on the idea that in these films, viewers may at first relate to or share a perspective with the killer, but by the end, they identify with the remaining female victim. It was in this book that Carol created the now-popular idea of the “final girl,” a popular horror film trope where one woman remains alive to confront the villain and then tell the story. Of course, the final girl in horror movies often follows a very specific archetype. She is usually virginal or unavailable and avoids doing the “bad” things her fellow characters do (sex, drugs, etc). In her work, Carol also discusses the idea of the “final girl” being relatable to male viewers because she becomes masculinized, usually by picking up a weapon against the killer. (Those phallic symbols are everywhere.) She also claims that this role is often left to a woman rather than a man because the character must first experience and show “abject terror” and male viewers would reject seeing this from a male character. (Because, you know, masculinity is fragile and all.) Carol is now a Professor Emerita at UC Berkeley, where she focuses on early Scandinavian literature and culture, but also film history. She is currently working on a book titled The People’s Plot: Trials, Movies, and the Adversarial Imagination, with the Princeton University Press.

On August 1st in 1863…

Maharani Jind Kaur, a regent of the Sikh Empire, died at the age of 45 in Kensington, London. She was born in Chachar, Gujranwala, in 1817. Her father, the overseer of the royal kennels, talked to the Maharaja Ranjit Singh about his beautiful daughter, until he summoned her to his side. They married in 1835, and she soon gave birth to their only child; a son named Duleep Singh. When Maharaja Ranjit died, Jind and her son lived in peace for a few years, until relatives assassinated the current Maharaja Sher Singh (Duleep’s half brother). The army named Duleep Singh as sovereign, but put Hira Singh in charge as the wazier (vizier). But Jund was protective of her son and soon began to speak up in his defense, asking the regimental committees to protect his throne and allow her son to actually be the sovereign. They supported her, and in time Jind became regent, with her son as the sovereign. While Regent, Jind worked to bring back the Supreme Council of the Khalsam, held court, brought back a balance between the government and the army, and held her State business in public where everyone could witness. Jind was a firm ruler, though she faced power struggles from within. The true trouble came when the British proclaimed a war on the Sikhs in 1845. Unfortunately, the Sikhs lost the fight, allegedly due to treachery from their commander-in-chief. Under the Treaty of Lahore,  signed in March of the following year, Duleep remained the Maharaja and Jind remained regent. But at the end of that year, the British replaced her with a Council of Regency that they controlled. In the following years, they separated Jind from her son as punishment for his refusal to meet all their requests. It was a definite mistake on their part. Jind became a rallying point for the Sikh rebellion, and the worse they treated her, the more the Sikh people resented the British. In her prime, the British referred to her as “the Messalina of the Punjab,” and considered her to be a rebellious seductress. (Of course. She was intelligent and clever and a good ruler loved by her people, so she must have been a seductress!) They had her exiled from Punjab to Chunar Fort. A year later she escaped, disguised as a servant, and fled through a forest for 800 miles until she reached Nepal. They gave her sanctuary for eleven years and treated her as the Maharaja. Jind did not see her son again until 1856 when the British decided she had become frail enough to no longer be a threat. They reunited at Calcutta, where the city celebrated with joyful demonstrations until Duleep took his mother back to England with him. She lived there with her son in Yorkshire for two years, during which time she told him about his former empire and heritage. Jind died in her sleep in England, where her body remained until her son finally got permission to bring her home to India. Twenty years later, her son petitioned Queen Victoria to let him return to India and re-embrace Sikhism. She denied his request, and when he attempted to go home regardless, the British arrested him. He lived out the rest of his life in Europe.

On August 2nd in 1878…

… Finnish-Estonian author Aino Kallas was born as Aino Krohn in Vyborg, Russia. Her father was Julius Krohn, a well known Finnish scientist and one of the first Finnish-language poets. In 1868, Aino married Estonia scholar Oskar Kallas. They lived together in Saint Petersburg, and then later in Tartu, Estonia. In Estonia, Aino developed a curiosity about the country and its heritage and joined a society campaigning for Estonian independence. Aino wrote her novellas in Finnish, though she began to include Estonian influences and subjects. Her novellas featured rich prose, supernatural influences, and a prominent theme that she referred to as “the slaying Eros,” or the idea of an intense love that lead to death. She best embraced this idea in a trio of stories: Barbara von Tisenhusen (1923),  Reigin Pappi (The Pastor of Reigi, 1926), and Sudenmorsian (The Wolf’s Bride, 1928). The first two of the series released in English as Eros the Slayer in 1927. The third and most popular, Sudenmorsian, was a novella about a werewolf which was set on the island of Hiiumaa, in the 17th century. After writing many novels, giving birth to five children with her husband, and (allegedly) having an affair with poet Eino Leino, Aino died in November 1956, at the age of 78. Publishers released her trilogy of stories in English as Three Novels, 20 years after her death.

On August 3rd in 1905…

Maggie Kuhn, an American activist and the founder of the Gray Panthers movement, was born in Buffalo, New York. As a younger woman, Maggie worked at the YWCA, educating women about many pertinent issues. She once caused a stir by teaching a human sexuality class that discussed pregnancy, sexual pleasure, and (gasp!) birth control. Her focus on elder rights began in 1961 when she attended the White House Conference on Aging. But the true spark came in 1970 when a mandatory retirement law forced her to leave her job the moment she turned 65. That same year she and a group of other retirees formed the Gray Panthers movement. Despite the name, and their main focus on elder rights, the group participated in a wide range of activism, including peace, poverty, civil rights, and LGBT rights. They were anti-war, and their first big stand-off was against the Vietnam War. Their motto was “Age and Youth in Action,” representing the fact that the group contained not only elder members, but many high school and college students. The Gray Panthers helped overturn the forced retirement age, opposed cuts to Medicare and Social Security, and advocated for LGBT rights as well as for single-payer health care. Maggie herself continued to work for the organization for the rest of her life. She also continued to cause her usual “controversy,” with her “shocking” assertion that older people (even older women!) could be sexual (again, gasp!). Maggie wrote and published her autobiography, No Stone Unturned, in 1991. Four years later she died of cardiac arrest at the age of 89.

On August 4th in 1889…

… American stage and film actress Pearl White was born as Pearl Fay White in Green Ridge, Missouri. She made her debut on stage at the age of six, and by the age of thirteen was performing as a bareback rider for the circus. Pearl’s professional career began with theater companies and, after she dropped out of high school at the age of 18, she joined a touring group. She performed full-time in minor roles until a film company in New York discovered her. Her film debut came in 1910, with Powers Films in New York. She did work in physical comedy but also in stunt work, and in time became known for doing most of her own stunts. She achieved popularity after taking on the role of Pauline in The Perils of Pauline, a series of twenty two-reel episodes. Several serials followed, including: The Exploits of Elaine (1914-1915), The New Exploits of Elaine (1915), The Romance of Elaine (1915), The Iron Claw (1916), Pearl of the Army (1916-1917), The Fatal Ring (1917), The House of Hate (1918), The Lightning Raider (1919) and The Black Secret (1919-1920). In these serials, Pearl did her own stunt work, which included racing cars, flying airplanes, and swimming across rivers. This only stopped when her increased fame lead to producers refusing to put their star at risk. Only then did she receive a stunt double. Towards the end of her film career, she delved into dramatic roles and acted in ten dramas for Fox Films before her popularity waned. Pearl moved to France, where she starred in several French films before retiring in 1924 with a $2 million fortune that she invested in real estate and hotels. She became involved with a Greek businessman, bought a home in Cairo, and spent her later years traveling through the Orient and the Middle East, until her death in 1938 at 49 years old. She left her money to her Greek lover, as well as her family members, and gave $73,000 to charities.

On August 5th in 1880…

Gertrude Rush, Iowa’s first African-American female lawyer, was born Gertrude Durden in Navasota, Texas. After attending high schools in Kansas and Illinois, she became a teacher and worked at schools in Kansas, the Indian Territory, and Iowa. In 1907, Gertrude married attorney James Rush. Seven years later she attended Des Moines College, where she earned her Bachelor of Arts before going on to earn a law degree through La Salle Extension University. Upon her admission to the bar in 1918, she became the only black female lawyer in the state and remained as such until 1950. Gertrude took over her husband’s practice after his death, and a couple years later she became president of the Colored Bar Association. Despite her achievements, the American Bar Association denied her admission based on her race. So in 1925, she and four other black lawyers (George H. Woodson, S. Joe Brown, James B. Morris, and Charles P. Howard, Sr.) founded the Negro Bar Association. The organization later became the National Bar Association. Besides to her work as a lawyer, Gertrude involved herself in both the civil rights movement and the suffrage movement and served as a role model for many young black women. She died in September of 1962 at the age of 82.

On August 6th in 1930…

… American jazz singer, actress, and civil rights activist Abbey Lincoln was born in Chicago, Illinois, as Anna Woolridge. She was the 10th of 12 children, raised by her parents in rural Michigan until she left in the early 1950s to seek out a singing career. For two years she sang at a nightclub in Honolulu, where she met Louis Armstrong and Billie Holiday. Later she moved to Los Angeles, where she met her future manager, Mr. Russell. It was Russell who convinced her to take on a new name, Abbey Lincoln. Abbey released her first album, Affair… a Story of a Girl in Love in 1956. That same year she also appeared in The Girl Can’t Help It, a movie featuring Jayne Mansfield, where Abbey wore the same dress that Marilyn Monroe had worn in Gentlemen Prefer Blondes. She released a series of albums for Riverside Records, and in 1960 sang on We Insist!, a civil rights-themed album by Max Roach. A connection developed between Abbey’s songs and lyrics and the civil rights movement. Abbey was deeply involved herself, as well. This included the writing and recording of her own civil rights-themed song, “Retribution.” (After the song released, a disgusting prominent reviewer referred to her as a “professional Negro.” Ugh.) She continued not only to record music but also to appear in movies and films. In 1969, she received a Golden Globe nomination for her role in For Love of Ivy, alongside Beau Bridges and Sidney Poitier. Her movie roles transitioned to television roles, before her eventual retirement. Abbey died on August 14, 2010, in Manhattan, at the age of 80.

Amy is a former literature major with a penchant for the past and a tendency to wonder why popular history involves so many boring white men. She lives in Connecticut where she has too many books, several cats, and lots of tea. She often wishes there was a way to look like snapchat filters in real life.

5 Responses to “This Week in Feminist History”

  1. Lee Thomson says:

    I hope your back is better and thank you for this week's collection!

  2. redheadfae says:

    Great choices!

  3. Rillquiet says:

    Rounding last week's news into this week, the new edition of Svetlana Alexievich's book of stories from women vets of the WWII Eastern Front is now out. U voiny ne zhenskoe litso, originally published in English as War's Unwomanly Face, is available as The Unwomanly Face of War.*

    Alexievich won the Nobel Prize in 2015 for her development of a form of narrative in which people's words are recorded and condensed, often from weeks, to tell stories more directly. It's not quite nonfiction, but smarter commenters than I have said that Alexievich focuses not on pravda (the truth of facts) but on izvestia (the deeper reality). Her book on the USSR's female veterans met a decidedly mixed reaction, since the victory in WWII had become a national touchstone and her writing talked about kasha, underpants, and other "frivolous, un-Soviet" aspects of the conflict.

    Long out of print in English, the book drew new attention when it was listed along with Zinky Boys and Shadows of Chernobyl in her Nobel award. An excerpt was recently published in Vice.

    *A lot of people adore Pevear and Volokhovsky's translations; I find them a bit cludgy and pedantic (f'rinstance, PV render Zinky Boys as Boys in Zinc, which is technically accurate but a linguistic thud), not to mention prone to infestations of extraneous footnotes.

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