because the woman's place is wherever the woman is...


Monday, December 31, 2012

Princess Kasune Zulu

Princess Kasune Zulu was sixteen-years-old when her parents both died of AIDS in their home country of Zambia. A year later, though still a student in school, Zulu began seeing older men in the effort to support her younger brothers and sisters. Within a short time, she became pregnant and agreed to marry a man more than twice her age. And at the age of twenty, having borne two babies in rapid succession, she was diagnosed as HIV positive herself. Surely, that could have been the end of a sad, sad story. Except that Princess Kasune Zulu is an in-your-face woman.

First, without her husband knowing it, she began working to increase AIDS awareness in her community, even opening a community school without financial support. Then, not feeling this was really attacking the root of the problem, she dressed up like a prostitute and began educating the truckers on the highways about the pandemic that has afflicted the lives of nearly a million Zambians and millions more throughout the world. Still unsatisfied, Zulu walked or hitchhiked to companies where she spoke with the workers about AIDS prevention. And in time, she was speaking, instead, before the Congress of the United States, taking her message to the U.S. President, the Secretary General of the United Nations, and other world leaders.

With her book, Warrior Princess, published in multiple languages and being sold around the world, Zulu is now in her mid-thirties and living -- quite successfully -- with HIV. As in-your-face as ever, she continues to  spread the word that HIV and AIDS can and must be prevented, but that part of its prevention requires addressing gender inequality, harmful cultural practices, and sexual violence wherever they rear their ugly heads. An in-your-face woman takes on her enemies as if she has no fear.

Sunday, December 30, 2012

Joanna Zubr

Joanna Zubr was thirty-eight-years-old when she left Austria with her husband to support Napoleon's war effort by joining the army of the Duchy of Warsaw in 1808. Initially just a camp follower (cooking and doing laundry and such), Zubr quickly bored of the role, put on a uniform and enlisted in the 2nd Infantry Regiment as a Private herself.

The following year, she took part in the Galician Campaign, so distinguishing herself at the Battle of Zamosc that she was awarded Poland's highest honor for bravery, the Virtuti Militari. Emboldened by this, Zubr joined the same company her husband was in, where she was promoted to Sergeant and took part in Napoleon's invasion of Russia.

Separated from her unit when they retreated, Zubr had to find her own way out of Russia, which took weeks, alone and in hostile territory. Nevertheless, she eventually located her division and fought for another year until Napoleon was defeated, leaving her and her husband unable to return to their original home. Being an in-your-face woman doesn't necessarily guarantee you'll choose the winning side in the battle. It just guarantees you'll get to fight on the side of your choice if you please.

Saturday, December 29, 2012

Mai Zetterling

As a drop-dead gorgeous young Swedish movie starlet in the 1940's and 1950's, Mai Zetterling received plenty of applause and made a lot of money. But in the 1960's, when she moved into film direction, instead, as actors often want to do, things went differently.

In her autobiography, All Those Tomorrows, she wrote: "When the reviews of my first full-length feature movie came out, I was horrified to read that 'Mai Zetterling directs like a man'...[I was] not the same any more in the eyes of men...[It took years to realize that] the change I had made was positive and, in the end, the only way."

Her ultimate response to her critics was to begin making movies that examined how women are seen and treated in society.  "The Girls," for example -- produced in 1968 and suggesting that the modern day condition of women isn't vastly different than that presented in the ancient Greek play "Lysistrata" -- not only pulled no punches, but was voted in 2012 one of the twenty-five best Swedish films of all time.

Zetterling's in-your-facedness, of course, brought her even more criticism. In fact, at one point for at least a while, she was kept under surveillance by British agents as a possible Communist. As if being an in-your-face woman automatically makes one a proponent of a particular political or economic view. Silly, isn't it?

Friday, December 28, 2012

Clara Zetkin

Born in Germany in 1857, Clara Zetkin first studied to be a teacher, but her heart was in workers' rights in general and women's rights in particular and she became involved in movements related to both by the time she was seventeen-years-old. When her political affiliations became illegal in 1878, Zetkin went into exile in Paris, but her work went on.

First, she helped found the Socialist International while bearing two sons to a Russian revolutionary who then died. In the late 1800's and early 1900's, Zetkin returned to Germany, started a newspaper on women's rights entitled Die Gleichheit (Equality), married a man eighteen years her junior(!), and launched the idea for International Women's Day (originally International Working Women's Day) in Copenhagen in 1910.

No one -- not even her -- knew if anyone would take notice, let alone do anything about it, but women all over Europe responded in 1911, holding meetings even in small towns and villages. Tens of thousands of women marched in the streets of most of Europe's major cities (more than a million in all) while the men stayed home with their children.

In 1916, Zetkin and a few others formed a Marxist revolutionary movement they called the Spartacus League, which morphed into the Communist Party of Germany a few years later. Staying highly active in this organization for more than a decade, Zetkin called for Germans to fight National Socialism when Hitler began his meteoric rise. Consequently, she was forced into exile once more (in the Soviet Union this time), where she died and was buried by the Kremlin wall with other people who had spent their lives fighting for workers' rights. It's doubtful that many women who celebrate International Women's Day even know who Zetkin was. But every year on March 8th, this in-your-face woman's work makes yet another contribution to the evolution of in-your-face women around the world. Impressive, huh?

Thursday, December 27, 2012

Zenobia

When Zenobia's husband was assassinated in the year 267, she stepped into the role of ruler of Palmyra as if she was destined to play it. Indeed, she was said to be a descendant of both Cleopatra VII and Queen Dido of Carthage.

Dark complected and beautiful, with sparkling black eyes, Zenobia was, nevertheless, not as cavalier sexually as many of the nobility were at the time. Additionally, she was well educated and highly intelligent, speaking multiple languages and surrounding herself with poets and philosophers.

But her real forte became apparent when she decided to lead her armies into a string of victories as the "Warrior Queen," riding, hunting, and drinking with her officers like the military leader she obviously was.  First, she conquered Egypt (which required beheading the Roman governor). Then, in rapid succession, she added Syria, Palestine, Lebanon, and Asia Minor to her Palmyrene Empire, which she proceeded to rule for more than four years, awarding herself the honorific title of "Augusta" (meaning "majestic" and reserved only for the most powerful figures of the day). Rome, needless to say, was not pleased.

So, in 273, they amassed forces sufficient to take Palmyra and deliver Zenobia to Rome in golden chains. Varying accounts suggest different ends to Zenobia's story. One is that she was beheaded. Another was that she starved herself to death. But the most credible appears to be that she finessed her way into a luxurious villa in Tibur in the hills on the outskirts of Rome where she became active in society, marrying well and raising several daughters who also married well. Sometimes, in-your-face women only appear to be defeated when they're carried away in chains.

Wednesday, December 26, 2012

Rozaliia Zemliachka

One's view of Rozaliia Zemliachka would depend largely upon which side of the Russian Revolution of 1917 one was on, but certainly she was an in-your-face woman. Born in 1876, she joined the Communist Party in Russia when she was twenty-years-old and shortly found herself allied with in-your-face woman Vera Zasulich' newspaper-driven movement entitled Iskra. Described by her peers as commanding, energetic, and hard-working, Zemliachka was also often referred to as "tactless," which meant that many found her unbearably driven and far too demanding for their taste.

More to the point, however, was the fact that Zemliachka was eventually called "the hardest of the hard" Bolsheviks against those she considered "enemies of the people." Stories  about the woman some called "Demon" included brutally violent descriptions of people being burned alive or loaded on barges and drowned, especially in Crimea, where those still supporting the monarchy were crushed by the Bolsheviks. By the time Stalin had taken over and implemented his own bloody purges, Zemliachka was the only woman he trusted anywhere near the top of his governmental organization.

Regardless how anyone feels about her or her legacy, though, Zemliachka was buried with honors at Red Square on the Kremlin Wall, having believed to the end that the brutalities committed and the terrible sacrifices made would be shown eventually to be worth it all. Sometimes in-your-face women are correct in their assumptions. Sometimes they are not. Those who come after them may judge.

Tuesday, December 25, 2012

Katharina Zell

Historical accounts of the Protestant Reformation make it sound like a campaign made up entirely of men. Actually, there were a number of women key to its unfolding and one of the principle such figures was Katharina Zell, born in Strasbourg, Germany, in 1497.

Zell first became a public personna when, at twenty-six, she agreed to be the bride of the first priest to marry. This union, needless to say, got him thrown out of the Roman Catholic church. But the following year, it was Katharina -- not him -- that published a response to his excommunication.

From that time on, Zell's writings -- on Christian tolerance of other, newer Christian perspectives, on reaching out and caring for the poor, and on being a woman in the church -- challenged the traditional religious power structure and are still read today for their clarity of vision. But espousing ideas outside the mainstream wasn't all Zell became known for. She sheltered people who were being otherwise attacked. She visited those in prison. She conducted Bible studies attended by both men and women (unheard of at the time). And she conducted parts of her husband's funeral, a practice which would still be questioned in many churches today.

When she was accused of "disturbing the peace" with her in-your-face exhortations and behaviors, Zell wrote: "Do you call this disturbing the peace that instead of spending my time in frivolous amusements I have visited the plague-infested and carried out the dead? I have visited those in prison and under sentence of death...I have done more than any minister in visiting those in misery." And whenever it was mentioned that St. Paul said women should be silent in the church, Zell countered with: "I would remind you of the word of this same apostle that in Christ there is no male nor female." One wonders what Zell would have to say about churches today that relegate women in general to a reduced status. And in-your-face women to a non-existent one.

Monday, December 24, 2012

Amina Sarauniya Zazzua

That Amina Sarauniya Zazzua was a Muslim warrior queen in Hausaland for at least several decades is accepted. When she lived is a matter of some conjecture. It may have been in the 1400's. It may have been in the 1500's. But what's a hundred years one way or the other more or less when you've been talked about for five hundred years?

As a young child, Amina was caught playing with a dagger, holding it like a soldier would, which should have told somebody something. Then, when she grew up, she trained with the military so that after she became Queen of Zazzua (now the province of Zaria in northern Nigeria), she led her own forces to spread her empire and influence throughout the region.

Since the Zazzuans were adept at tanning leather, weaving, and metalworking, it's likely that Amina's troops wore armor, including metal helmets. Additionally, she was responsible for having walls built around the cities and military camps in her kingdom -- still standing in some places and still called "Amina's walls."

Convinced that to take a husband would weaken her power, Amina chose, instead, to pick out a lover from among her vanquished foes every time her troops won a battle. Then, the following morning, she would have the lover killed. She died, not surprisingly, in battle, said to be "a woman as capable as a man." As if that's difficult.

Sunday, December 23, 2012

Zazel

Some accounts say she was fourteen. Others say sixteen. But the bottom line is that Rosa Richter (performing under the name "Zazel") was an accomplished tight rope walker and aerial acrobat while she was still an adolescent. The protege of a Canadian rope walker who called himself "The Great Farini," Richter agreed to add a feature to her performance at the Royal London Aquarium on April 2, 1877. She would lower herself into a metal cylinder designed by her trainer and become the first human cannonball in history.

Richter was not shot from an actual cannon, of course. There was a big explosion and some smoke to make the crowd jump, but the propulsion was accomplished by a spring-loaded machine. Still, it had enough thrust to send Richter thirty feet into the air over the astonished crowd below her before landing into the net seventy feet away. The act, needless to say, was a huge success, with Richter soon appearing in England and the U.S. to as many as twenty thousand people a day and banking two hundred pounds a week.

Richter had to maintain rigid physical training and dietary regimens to keep herself in shape and make sure the carefully calibrated trajectory into the net was always on target. Nevertheless, she did ultimately break her back, which forced her retirement. Still, of the fifty human "cannonballs" who followed in   Zazel's wake, thirty died during performances, so she came out better many. In-your-face women don't mind taking a calculated risk to make a bit of money, get some deserved attention, and earn a page in the history books, even if there's a cost to pay.


Saturday, December 22, 2012

Vera Zasulich

Vera Zasulich went to prison for her politics in Russia in 1869. She was only twenty, but she was already reading radical literature, teaching factory workers to read, and hanging around with anarchists. Four years later, when she was released, she went straight to Kiev and joined a group of active insurgents there.

When General Fyodor Trepov, the governor of St. Petersburg, had a political prisoner flogged for refusing to remove his hat in respect, Zasulich plotted against and shot Trepov before anyone else had a chance. The colonel didn't die, but he was badly wounded and everybody knew who did it. Nevertheless, Zasulich was such an in-your-face woman (and her lawyer was so adept) that she was actually acquitted and released, turning her into a huge hero among Europe's radical underground.

Fleeing to Switzerland before she could be snatched up and retried, Zasulich spent her initial time there chain smoking and translating Karl Marx' work into Russian, which helped to spread Marx' ideas across her homeland and  resulted in other revolutionaries, including Vladimir Lenin, joining her. They collaborated to put out a Marxist newspaper that was eventually read all over Europe. Whether in prison, in hiding, or in exile, Zasulich remained committed to her organizing efforts and political views to the day of her death at seventy-years-old. In-your-face women remain who they are no matter where they are.

Friday, December 21, 2012

Betty Zane

In 1769, three of Elizabeth "Betty" Zane's brothers founded a settlement where Wheeling, West Virginia, stands today and some time later, the rest of the family joined them. Then, when the Revolutionary War began, the family supported the overthrow of the British crown.

Living near Fort Henry, the family would join their neighbors inside the walls when necessary and, according to the records, they did so on one occasion in 1782 when fifty British troops accompanied by more than two hundred Native American allies had a handful of local folks under siege in the fort. Things were going badly for the colonists. The Indians were in control. Zane's father was killed. And the settlers were running out of gun powder.

Zane knew where her father had buried some, but it was inside her family's cabin and outside the walls of the fort. Volunteering to go, she went out through the gate under the watchful eyes of her enemies. Before it became obvious what she was up to, Zane had hurried the sixty yards to her family's cabin, dug up the gun powder, wrapped it in a table cloth, and hustled back to the fort. There were some shots fired, but none met their mark before Zane was safely back inside with her family. According to the tale, Zane volunteered because, as she put it, "I can't fight, but I can get the powder." Sometimes, in-your-face women just don't realize their own value.

Thursday, December 20, 2012

Marie Zakrzewska

Marie Zakrzewska began learning how to be a midwife at thirteen by watching her mother deliver babies in Germany in the 1840's. When she was old enough, she graduated as a midwife herself and was almost immediately appointed Head Midwife and teacher at the school, though she was still in her early twenties and the male doctors and administrators were highly resistant to her having either position.

Emigrating to the United States to search out better opportunities for herself, Zakrzewska graduated from medical school in Cleveland, Ohio, in 1856. But most doors in the U.S. were also shut to women, so she joined in-your-face woman doctor Elizabeth Blackwell in New York, where she served as resident physician and manager at the infirmary Blackwell had established with her sister, who was also a doctor. Women were rarely hired and virtually never promoted to positions of authority in the medical field at the time. So highly-trained and often remarkably skilled in-your-face women opened hospitals, hired each other, and trained other women to do the same.

After spending two years with the Blackwells and three years teaching obstetrics at a college that failed to live up to its promises about respecting women doctors, Zakrzewska opened the New England Hospital for Women and Children in Boston. Hiring a staff made up primarily of women doctors and surgeons and setting up a school for nurses, Zakrzewska eventually made it a point to accept Black women nursing students, as well, at a time when this was unheard of. She worked for women's rights and women's suffrage. She campaigned against slavery. And she recognized and made no apology for attending to the social service needs of poverty-stricken patients. In-your-face women would be happy to serve alongside men in the field of their choice, but when they're made to feel unwelcome, they just establish an alternate -- and often better -- universe. It's always an option.

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Marah Zahalka





When Marah Zahalka was twelve, she used to ride in the back seat of a car while her mother taught other adults how to drive. And it eventually turned her into a competition auto racer in a part of the world where some women aren't allowed to drive at all. A member of a five-woman group of Palestinians called the "Speed Sisters," Zahalka -- at twenty-one -- is one of the youngest.

In the West Bank, where people's lives are largely controlled by neighboring Israel, cars represent a form of freedom, however prescribed the roadways are by checkpoints, permits, and interrogations. But the Middle East doesn't always encourage women to encroach on areas perceived as belonging to males. Enter the in-your-face woman.

Zahalka not only competes full-throttle against her other Speed Sisters, but she -- like them -- competes against and often beats male racers on the track, gaining attention and respect around the world while doing so. Toughened by her years growing up in troubled Jenin, Zahalka considers racing her way of taking a stand for what she believes in about being a woman and being a Palestinian. "When I'm racing," she says, "I feel like I'm resisting the occupation."

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Zabibe

Zabibe was the Queen of the Qedarites, reigning from 738 to 733 BCE (Before the Common Era). She paid tribute (along with many others) to the Assyrian king at the time. But far from being weak as a leader, Zabibe was a warrior queen who commanded armies containing large numbers of women and almost always victorious in their battles. In fact, women were so respected among the Qedarites, that when Zabibe stepped down, she was replaced by another woman leader. Zabibe was also sometimes listed as Queen of the Arabs, but that was a title often used to refer to any of the leaders of the nomadic Arabic tribes during that period. The point is: some of them were women. In-your-face women, we must assume.

Monday, December 17, 2012

Nellie Zabel

It was 1894 when two-year-old Nellie Zabel came down with measles and became almost completely deaf. Some people might have used that excuse to live a very restricted life, but not Zabel. A high-spirited child, she became so fascinated by flying that when she grew up, she took a position as a typist and stenographer at an airfield. Then, when one of the flight instructors discovered Zabel's interest in taking flying lessons, it was a short hop, indeed, for her to fulfill her life-long dream.

As soon as she earned her pilot's license, her father bought her an open-cockpit Alexander Eagkerock OX-5 biplane which she promptly named "Pard" (after him) and she was soon an accomplished barnstormer and aerial acrobat. She was particularly good at balloon target racing which required pilots to carry out rapid-fire and super-tight maneuvers to pop balloons by flying into them. "Even though I could barely hear the engine roar," she once said, "I could tell right away if anything was wrong -- just from the vibrations."

Serving as a commercial airmail pilot until she was in her fifties, Zabel organized the South Dakota chapter of the Ninety-Nines, an organization of pioneering women pilots and wound up in the South Dakota Aviation Hall of Fame just before her death in 1991. In-your-face women don't let anything get in the way of their living the life they love, which means they never have to regret all the fun they didn't have.

Sunday, December 16, 2012

Malala Yousafzai

When Malala Yousafzai was born in the Swat region of Pakistan in 1997, she was named for a woman warrior who lived and fought in Afghanistan in the 1880's. She has lived up to her name.

Taught and inspired by her father, who is a poet and activist and believes that all children should be fully and rigorously educated to bring out their gifts as part of the human race, Yousafzai loves learning. Engaging in critical discourse with her father and others from an early age, she also developed communication skills well beyond her years. And this is what has made her a household word around the world.

The adventure began when she decided to write a blog on life in Swat as the Taliban tried to establish its power there. She used the pseudonym "Gul Makai" (which means "Corn flower"). And the first post appeared on BBC Urdu in January of 2009. Yousafzai may have been only eleven years old, but with bullets flying in the streets and schools and shops closed all over her hometown of Mingora, she most assuredly knew what she was doing and the risks she took.

People started fleeing to other, hopefully safer, places. But Yousafzai wrote on. "Respected Ambassador," she wrote U.S. President Obama's Special Assistant to Afghanistan and Pakistan, "if you can help us in our education, so please help us."

Then, six months after the first blog post, the New York Times made a documentary about her stand, identifying her publicly and garnering her many new opportunities to get out her message via the international mass media, including in her own country. By the end of 2009, Yousafzai -- now twelve -- was chairing the District Child Assembly in Swat and participating in the Institute for War and Peace Reporting's Open Minds Project.

Yousafzai's work over the next two years distinguished her so greatly that Pakistan awarded her their first ever National Youth Peace Prize in December of 2011. Unhappy with Yousafzai's building influence and insulted by her critiques of their views on education and women, the Taliban began sending her death threats. Yousafzai's response? "I don't mind if I have to sit on the floor at school. All I want is education. And I am afraid of no one."

So, on October 9, 2012, fifteen-year-old Malala Yousafzai was shot in the head while riding a school bus. The Taliban has claimed responsibility for the attempted assassination, but she did not die and continues to recuperate in Great Britain. The Secretary General of the United Nations declared November 10th as Malala Day in support of the goal of educating all children around the world. In-your-face women -- and girls -- are a determined lot and their ideas burn in the hearts of too many to kill.

Saturday, December 15, 2012

Maud Younger

Maud Younger was born in San Francisco in 1870 into a family so wealthy that two of her sisters married Austrian barons. Younger, on the other hand, went to New York City to be educated and then found her true calling as an in-your-face woman when she visited the New York College Settlement House and discovered the plight of working women. "I went to see it, stopped for a week, and stayed five years," she later said.

She took several jobs as a waitress herself to better understand what working women were dealing with, joined the New York Waitress Union and then returned to San Francisco to work as a waitress and organize a labor union there. She co-founded the San Francisco Wage Earners' Suffrage League to make sure working women's needs were considered in the rush to secure the vote. And she pushed for an eight-hour workday. Though Younger continued to work as a waitress to maintain her credibility as a union organizer and to keep her in touch with the women she organized, she used her family's money to fund many of the organizational projects with which she was connected.

After California recognized women's right to vote in 1911, Younger turned her organizing skills -- and the support of her money -- to the national arena in New Orleans, Nevada, New York, and in front of the White House with in-your-face woman Alice Paul's more militant suffragettes. Then, when women's right to vote was secured nationally, she turned to pushing for an Equal Rights Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, a fight that is yet to be won. In-your-face women pick their fights based on what needs to be accomplished rather than the ease of its accomplishment. Younger could have married a baron, but she chose to marry a movement instead.

Friday, December 14, 2012

Ella Flagg Young

Despite the fact that she had almost no formal education as a child, Ella Flagg Young took the examination for teacher certification in 1865 and passed it at the age of fifteen only to be told she was too young to be a teacher. Nobody she knew (not even her parents) believed she could or should continue her efforts in that direction. But Young was an in-your-face woman who paid them no mind whatsoever. So she graduated from the Chicago Normal School at seventeen and was subsequently married and then widowed within a decade.

Freed of the conventions of respectable responsibility as a married woman in the 1800's, Young turned her attentions to her career in education. By 1887, she had become the Superintendent of Schools in Chicago. By 1899, she was a professor of Education in the University of Chicago, receiving her Ph.D. from that institution the following year. She served on the Board of Education for the State of Illinois from 1888 to 1913. And the National Education Association elected her President in 1910.

Young was not, however, just a theoretical and administratively-oriented educator. She pushed the development of critical thinking and discussion for both boys and girls, appointed deans to counsel youth, and even introduced sex hygiene programs in school -- the first anywhere. Needless to say, Young was also strongly committed to the struggle of women to gain the right to vote. An in-your-face woman doesn't stop because others tell her she should. She doesn't follow the roads most travelled. And the result, which is hardly surprising, is that others follow her.


Thursday, December 13, 2012

Louise Yim

Born in Korea in 1899, five years after the Japanese assassinated the Korean queen and took over her country, Louise Yim was only a young girl when she was accused of having "wild blood" because she didn't want to marry before she even reached her teens. As the Japanese continued to establish and wield their power, Yim and tens of thousands of other Koreans responded by organizing the March 1st Movement in 1919. The Japanese took brutal retaliatory action, using beatings, torture, imprisonment, and public executions to put down the rebellion and maintain their domination until 1945.

Yim -- who was tortured herself and called by some "Korea's Joan of Arc" -- eventually wrote a book entitled My Forty Year Fight for Korea. She didn't just fight to free her country, however. She also fought to free the women of her country from Korean traditional norms, such as child marriage and the refusal to allow women and girls to be educated.

Earning her Bachelor's and Master's degrees from the University of Southern California, Yim served in the Republic of Korea National Assembly for several years after the Korean War and then served as the South Korean delegate to the United Nations, as well. "It has always been a great mystery to me why men think that women are different from them intellectually," Yim wrote as the in-your-face woman she has been since a child. "[B]esides certain physical differences and the ability of a woman to bear children, a women thinks of all the things a man does. Just because she allows herself to be exiled in the kitchen doesn't mean she gives up her feelings as an individual."

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Zofi Yamaika

Unlike many in the 1930's, Zofia Yamaika -- barely a teenager, though already in-your-face -- recognized the dangers of the fascist ideology sweeping Europe and joined Spartacus, a communist club at school dedicated to fighting the movement. Then, when the Germans occupied Poland, Yamaika quit school and revived the now banned club to print and distribute anti-fascist posters and leaflets throughout Warsaw, despite the obvious dangers involved.

In 1940, when the Germans rounded up and forced more than 400,000 Jews behind the walls of an area not much more than a mile square, Yamaika trained with a pistol, but she was afraid to take further action for fear of repercussions descending on her parents. When they were all deported for parts unknown, however, Yamaika escaped and joined a band of resistance fighters near Radom.

On February 9, 1943, three hundred German soldiers suddenly descended on a group of fifty resisters. Yamaika and two others volunteered to engage the Germans while their comrades could get away. Yamaika -- in-your-face to the end -- saved her bullets until the enemy was within eight feet of her before opening fire with her machine gun. She died protecting the backs of her fleeing unit. In-your-face women are never more alive than at the moment of their deaths.

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

Rosalyn Yalow

Born in 1921, even though she was destined to win a Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine some years later, in-your-face woman Rosalyn Yalow had to use her typing skills and learn how to take dictation to get through college working as a secretary. Then, she caught a break. World War II sent so many men into war that graduate schools let women in just to stay open. And Yalow was one of those women.

By the end of the war, Yalow had graduated with her Ph.D. in physics from the University of Illinois at Champaign-Urbana, the only woman in a class of 400. Taking a position at the Bronx Veterans Administration Hospital, she collaborated with Solomon Berson to develop a radioisotope tracing technique that allowed tiny quantities of substance in human blood (or other aqueous solutions) to be measured. This made it possible to measure hormones, viruses, drugs, insulin and other substances too small to see under a microscope. The technique could have made Yalow and Berson very, very rich, but they refused to patent it, believing that it should be available to help humans in general, rather than just the ones who could afford to pay through the nose for it.

In 1975, Yalow was awarded the American Medical Association Scientific Achievement Award. In 1976, she received the Albert Lasker Award for Basic Medical Research. And in 1977, she was awarded the Nobel Prize. Imagine what the human race would have lost if she had just stayed a secretary working for other scientists after she graduated from college in New York. Or if war hadn't opened up one slot for her to study at the University of Illinois. Or if she had prioritized her husband and two children and the kosher home she kept over her work in the laboratory.

What is Yalow's message to the in-your-face women of the present world, who stand on the brink of their own futures? "We still live in a world in which a significant fraction of people, including women, believe that a woman belongs and wants to belong exclusively in the home; that a woman should not aspire to achieve more than her male counterparts and particularly not more than her husband...The world cannot afford the loss of the talents of half its people if we are to solve the many problems which beset us." Listen up!

Monday, December 10, 2012

Yael

According to scholars, one of the oldest stories in the Hebrew Bible is the story of Yael. The subject of many paintings throughout history, this in-your-face woman distinguished herself when the Israeli armies of Deborah (led by Barak) met the Canaanite armies of Jabin (led by Sisera).

The Canaanites were routed and Sisera had run for his life right into the arms of Yael, who greeted him with apparent hospitality and a big bowl of milk. After Sisera drank the milk and fell asleep, Yael came to where he lay and drove a tent peg through his temple with a mallet, making her a hero of her people for all time. One account of the incident (by Pseudo-Philo in the Liber Antiquitatum Biblicarum) has Yael saying to Sisera as he dies: "Go, boast before your father in hell and tell him that you have fallen into the hands of a woman." An in-your-face woman, that is.

Sunday, December 9, 2012

Wu Zeitian

Wu Mei (meaning "pretty" in classical Chinese) refused to do needlework like the other little girls in 635, preferring instead to read. And when her parents traveled, she rushed to tag along, learning firsthand all that existed in her native China.

Tapped to be an imperial concubine at thirteen, Wu spent several years at the palace and, at the Emperor's death, she was sent to a Buddhist convent as was expected at the time. However events unfolded over the next few years, Wu wound up back in the palace and, in truth, some accounts suggest that she never left. In any case, she wound up in the bed of her step son, became his consort, had two sons and a daughter by him, took over as Empress, got rid of all those who opposed her power, and took over the throne as Emperor herself at her step son's death.

Some thought Wu killed her husband. The symptoms of his degenerating health could have been high blood pressure, but they might have been the results of slow poisoning over a period of time, as well. Either way, he died in 683, leaving all that unattended power right in front of Wu, who was more than up to the challenge of ensuring that no one -- not even her sons -- would get in her way of wielding it. By 690, she was officially Wu Zeitian (as she was known once she took position as Emperor).

During her fifteen years in absolute power, Taoism, Buddhism, architecture, education and literature all flourished. She expanded the Chinese empire deep into central Asia. She attended to the needs of the common people. And she increased gender equality during her reign. Her willingness to connive, manipulate, and murder to consolidate and protect her power has been criticized, of course, but in this, she was not vastly different from most men obsessed with power. A woman willing to do what is necessary to amass and maintain power in highly complicated social settings and dramatic times is really just demonstrating -- and being criticized for -- her in-your-facedness. Ho hum.

Saturday, December 8, 2012

Susanna Wright


Susanna Wright's Quaker family immigrated to Pennsylvania from England in 1714 at a time when women were barely more than furniture, servants or breeding cows. But she didn't care a whit. She was an in-your-face woman and didn't give the norms a second thought.

Physician Benjamin Rush (one of the forefathers of the United States) called Wright: "a lady who has been celebrated above half a century for her wit, good sense and valuable improvements of mind." From her house at Wright's Ferry on the edge of the frontier (see above), she counseled such luminaries of the time as Benjamin Franklin (who talked her into contributing to his pamphlet on the massacre of the Conestoga Indians) and James Logan, the Mayor of Philadelphia.

In addition to her much sought after counsel, Wright -- who never took the time or inclination to marry -- engaged in scientific study (about the uses of medicinal herbs, for one thing), raised silkworms, and helped her neighbors make sense of official matters, all of which made her the hub of a wheel of much influence in colonial America. But it was her poetry that resonates with in-your-face women still.

Wright encouraged other women to do as she had done, using reason to call into question male privilege protected by law. She wrote: "But womankind call reason to their aid and question when or where that law was made, that law divine (a plausible pretense) oft urged with none and oft with little sense." It didn't do much to change the status quo in the 1700's and the situation hasn't changed a great deal since beyond the superficial, but it tells us in-your-face women not only existed at that time, but were hard at the work of challenging the system.

Friday, December 7, 2012

Muriel Wright

Muriel Wright was born in 1889 to a Choctaw physician and a Presbyterian missionary who came to the reservation as a teacher. Rather than being a source of limitation and shame, however, her bi-racial heritage was a source of great pride for her. On one hand, a couple of her ancestors arriving on the Mayflower got her a membership in the Daughters of the American Revolution. On the other hand, she was deeply committed to nurturing her Choctaw roots.

Her grandfather (who named Oklahoma) was Chief of the Choctaw from 1866 to 1870 and her father was so respected that he was made the Choctaw delegate to Washington when Oklahoma was made a state in 1907. So Wright was not only comfortable on the reservation, she was fully capable in young adulthood of functioning equally comfortably among the most elite of the elite in political circles.

Like her mother and grandmother before her, Wright entered the field of education, where she was a jill of all trades: teacher of Latin and English, school principal, basketball coach, and even director of the senior play. But that was never enough for her, as she resolutely pressed in multiple ways and multiple settings for just recompense for Native American nations as the U.S. government increased their power over them. One doesn't necessarily have to shout to be very in-your-face.

Wright's continual vigilance and unswerving commitment to protecting and revering Native American heritage in the U.S. -- in such ways as helping to form the Choctaw Advisory Council in 1934 as a bargaining unit and spearheading the effort to place more than five hundred historical markers across the state of Oklahoma --  resulted in the North American Indian Women's Association naming her the Outstanding Indian Woman of the 20th Century. And "outstanding," as we know, can be just another word for "in-your-face."

Thursday, December 6, 2012

Fanny Workman

Fanny Workman's father was Governor of Massachusetts in the mid-1800's and a very rich man, which she enjoyed so much that, when the time came, she married a very rich man, too. They left the U.S. to live and bike around Europe, which was fun, but not as much fun as climbing mountains, so they added that to their regular endeavors, being as they didn't have to work to support themselves and all.

Workman could have had children, of course, and some encouraged her to do so, but that would have infringed upon her traveling, exploring, lecturing, writing, biking, climbing, and map-making. So Workman just stayed busy doing what she loved and let others raise the future generation.

Aside from her wealth and her ability to force her way quite successfully into activities usually reserved for men, Workman was also known for her vigorous demands that she be recognized for whatever she did that she was proud of. It's not easy being an in-your-face woman. They want all the credit they so richly deserve and they won't be satisfied until they get it.

Wednesday, December 5, 2012

Barbara Wootton

Most people disagreed with Barbara Wootton about something because she held a number of divergent, controversial, and apparently contradictory views. In A Critical Woman: Barbara Wootten, Social Science and Public Policy in the Twentieth Century, Ann Oakley writes: "She was too radical and visionary, too far ahead of her time...[And] it wasn't just crime and justice or economics or social welfare. It was everything."

Born in Great Britain in 1897, when women's intelligence was still being disregarded, Wootten's economics exams at Girton College, Cambridge University, were declared to demonstrate "special distinction" (a recognition never before offered), but she still wasn't allowed to graduate because she was a woman. And when Wootten lectured at Cambridge anyway in 1921 (at the age of 24), the lectures were advertised to be delivered by a fictitious "Mr. Henderson" with only a footnote to indicate who the lecturer really was. No wonder she marched for women's suffrage!

Still, Wootten published books on economics, politics, social welfare and public policy from 1938 to 1974, while serving on royal commissions and committees related to worker's rights, the press, civil service, and the criminal justice system. Made one of the first Life Peers in the House of Lords in 1958 because she simply couldn't be ignored, she pushed through a bill abolishing capital punishment. She believed in doctor-assisted suicide. And she co-chaired a committee to produce The Wootten Report on Cannabis, making the argument (in 1968) that marijuana is safer than alcohol and should be just as legal.

It's not hard to see why Oakley suggests that, if Wootten had been a man, she would have been "lord chief justice or something similar." But that would have meant that she couldn't have been an in-your-face woman. And we wouldn't want that, would we?

Tuesday, December 4, 2012

Victoria Claflin Woodhull

To say Victoria Claflin Woodhull was ahead of her time is an understatement of fairly substantial proportions. She believed women should be able to marry, divorce, bear children, or even engage in prostitution when and with whom they chose. She made -- and lost -- a fortune as a "magnetic healer," made another fortune by opening a Wall Street brokerage house, and then established a weekly newspaper demanding equal rights for women and supporting union organizing in the U.S. in the late 1800's.

When she published an account of the adulterous affair of another candidate while she was running for the U.S. Presidency in 1872, Woodhull was arrested on obscenity charges since the authorities couldn't legally arrest her just for being an in-your-face woman. She was already twice divorced at the time and currently in a "relationship" with an anarchist (not to mention too young to serve, according to the Constitution), but she didn't see why any of that should keep her out of the White House in a country where men had always been allowed to ignore the traditional norms without repercussion. In a speech in New York City, she boldly announced, "Yes, I am a Free Lover. I have an inalienable, constitutional and natural right to love whom I may, to love as long or as short a period as I can, to change that love every day if I please; and with that right neither you nor any law you can frame have any right to interfere."

Other women -- even some other in-your-face women -- didn't immediately support Woodhull's perspectives and actions, considering her (and rightly so) something of a wild card. But when she testified before Congress that women's right to vote should be recognized as already covered by the 14th and 15th Amendments to the U.S. Constitution, she was just too in-your-face to keep out of the conversation. There's no such thing, apparently, as a woman being too in-your-face.

Monday, December 3, 2012

Mary Wollstonecraft

Born in England in the mid-1700's to a middle class family the head of which was a drunkard, Mary Wollstonecraft used to lay in front of her mother's bedroom door to prevent her father from beating his wife. Then, in her late teens, sick of it all and without funds, she took a position as a lady's companion, but the arrangement didn't work out well (thanks, more than likely, to her already being an in-your-face woman) and she proceeded to move into her unconventional future the best way she knew how.

She tried being a teacher of children in a community of people with progressive ideas, spent some time in France hanging around revolutionaries, and finally found her permanent niche in writing, first A Vindication of the Rights of Man (about why the French were right to revolt against their king) and then A Vindication of the Rights of Woman (about why women should be adequately educated so they can fulfill an appropriately equal role in society). In response to the idea that women are incapable of reasoning on the level of a man, Wollstonecraft wrote: "Taught from their infancy that beauty is woman's scepter, the mind shapes itself to the body, and, roaming round its gilt cage, only seeks to adorn its prison."

Unfortunately, when she died at thirty-eight from complications after childbirth, her husband published the story of her life -- complete with its unrequited love affairs, a child out of wedlock, suicide attempts, and so on -- causing her to be dismissed as an intellectual for a century. But when the women suffrage movement began in earnest in the late 1800's, Wollstonecraft was re-discovered in a different light and by the 1960's, she was being taken for the serious writer and agitator she was. In-your-face women including Lucretia Mott, Emma Goldman and Virginia Woolf were all inspired by and sent up salutes to Wollstonecraft's life and work. Woolf wrote of her: "She is alive and active, she argues and experiments, we hear her voice and trace her influence even now among the living." Obviously, to be an in-your-face woman is to live forever -- even if it takes a while for folks to realize it.

Sunday, December 2, 2012

Pearl Witherington

World War II was raging and France was occupied when twenty-nine-year-old Pearl Witherington parachuted into France as a British Special Operations Executive member, said to be the best shot they'd ever seen. During the winter of 1943 and 1944, she served as a courier for the leader of the Stationer Network of underground resisters. But when he was taken captive, Witherington took over the leadership of the newly formed Wrestler Network of 1500 guerrilla fighters, who were so effective at causing the Germans grief, they put a bounty of one million francs on her head.

On June 11, 1944, 2000 German soldiers attacked 140 of Witherington's badly armed trainees, who held off their enemies for 14 hours, killing 86 while only losing 24. Eventually, Witherington's forces were responsible for the deaths of 1000 German soldiers, the surrender of 18,000 more, and compromising the railway system in their region more than 800 times.

Ineligible for a Military Cross because she was a woman, Witherington was awarded the French Legion of Honor and made a Commander of the Order of the British Empire, though when they tried to make it a "civil" (non-military) award, she said, "There was nothing remotely 'civil' about what I did. I didn't sit behind a desk all day." So they changed it. It didn't read "in-your-face woman," but Witherington -- as well as the men and women with whom she fought so long and so hard -- knew that's what it meant.

Saturday, December 1, 2012

Oprah Winfrey

Born in poverty to a teen-aged single mother in Mississippi, Oprah Winfrey has become one of the most widely recognized people in the world. Surviving a rough childhood, including molestation, gave her a hard edge to support her compassionate nature. And that edge manifested itself as a dogged work ethic and a focused determination that has put her at the top of the empire she built herself.

Starting out in radio while still in high school, she was co-anchoring a local television news program in Nashville, Tennessee, at nineteen. But it was a decade later, when Winfrey introduced herself to the world hosting a thirty-minute morning talk show in Chicago that it became apparent she would never again take a back seat to anybody. And an in-your-face woman was born.

Chatty, empathetic, confessional, and deeply, deeply personal, with a heavy dollop of down home humor, Winfrey's interviewing style encouraged guests to tell the viewing public all manner of things they would never have told anyone else and within two years, she had become America's talk show queen. In time, she began acting in and producing films, earning an Academy Award nomination for her performance in "The Color Purple." But eventually, she added her own film production company, her own radio network, her own magazine, and her own television channel, as well -- in-your-face in every form of media around the globe.

A billionaire, Winfrey has become as famous for her philanthropy as she has for her media work, though she draws her share of criticism, as well, since being in-your-face makes a person an easy -- and inviting -- target. Nevertheless, called "arguably the world's most powerful woman" (by CNN and Time.com), Winfrey can endorse a product, a book, or a political candidate and ensure its hyper-success. Columnist Maureen Dowd wrote: "She is the top alpha female in [America]. She has more credibility than the president. [Oprah] is a straight ahead success story." And a big-time in-your-face woman.

Friday, November 30, 2012

Venus Williams

Many people in the world know that Venus Williams -- with four Olympic gold medals and forty-four career singles titles -- is one of the greatest tennis players of all time. But that's not what put her on this list as an in-your-face woman.

As late as 2005, women tennis players at such famous competitions as the French Open and Wimbledon were not paid the same as men players. Williams met with the officials of both tournaments to plead the case for women, but to no avail.

Then, on the eve of Wimbledon in 2006, she published an essay in The Times, a widely-read British newspaper, accusing the event of being on "the wrong side of history." The essay presented an impassioned and well-substantiated argument on all the straight-forward reasons why the practice of underpaying women tennis players should change. And it closed by saying, "I intend to keep doing everything I can until Billie Jean's original dream of equality is made real."

The British Prime Minister and Parliament quickly endorsed Williams' statement and in February of 2007, both tournaments announced that, thenceforth, women tennis players would be paid equally to men. Williams was cited as the single factor in making this historic decision a reality. And she promptly responded by winning at Wimbledon and thus becoming the first one to benefit from her hardest fought battle ever. In-your-face women know there's more to life than competition and more to life than money. There's respect.

Thursday, November 29, 2012

Erica Williams

Erica Williams wants to change the world. Based in the Washington, D.C., area (of course), she not only barges into the public sphere on a daily basis, she whirls around in it like a people-powered hurricane of ideas and energy. And she welcomes all comers.

Williams set out on her journey by earning a bachelor's degree in African-American studies and public policy and then graduated from the Women and Political Leadership Training Program at American University. By 2003, she had burst on the scene at the helm of Progress 2050, a project of the Center for American Progress and committed to the idea that a diverse young population belongs at the vortex (as well as the forefront) of an increasingly diverse nation.

Using digital media, popular culture, and creative innovation, Williams led tens of thousands of young people in an initiative called Campus Progress, then parlayed her tech-savvy in-your-facedness into an even larger arena at the Citizen Engagement Lab (responsible for creating ColorofChange.org) before finally founding Society By Design and introducing her latest project, Foolish Life Ventures, an unabashed incubator for social change. Featured in every manifestation of the national media and drawn into confabs at all levels both in and outside of Washington, Williams has been called a "Global Shaper" (by the World Economic Forum), "the future" (by Cornel West), one of the "40 Under 40" (by the NAACP), and a Women Rule Leadership Award winner (by O Magazine). Look out, world! Another in-your-face woman is not only on the horizon, she's right here in your face!

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Cathay Williams

When the Union Army occupied Jefferson City, Missouri, in 1961, Cathay Williams was a seventeen-year-old slave working as a house servant on a plantation owned by a family named Johnson. At the time, the Army considered slaves "contraband," so it was official practice, when needed, to take a woman slave for service to the troops as a cook, a nurse or a laundress. And so it was for Williams for the next five years of her life.

Then, in 1866, Williams decided to flip the script. She'd been living with the Army all this time and certainly knew what there was to know about Army life. The war was over, so going into battle was unlikely. And she was probably tired of whatever low pay she was getting for working harder than the men. So she put on men's clothes and enlisted for a three-year tour of duty under the name "William Cathay."

Unfortunately, Williams came down with small pox and eventually was identified by a doctor as a woman and discharged. After going west to Colorado where she worked as a seamstress for a couple of decades, Williams' years in battlefield conditions began to take their toll. She had lost all her toes (probably due to frostbite or gangrene resulting from having her feet wet a lot), but unlike in-your-face woman Deborah Sampson, she had no influential friends to lobby on her behalf, so her application for military disability benefits was turned down. Ill and with nothing to live on, Williams quietly died in her late forties and was quietly buried somewhere no one can now identify. But she's memorialized here as a permanent reminder that an in-your-face woman lives and dies and doesn't get any more breaks than anybody else. They just get remembered by more people longer.

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Elizabeth Wilkinson

When bare-knuckled boxing became popular in London in the early 1700's, women wanted in on the action, too, so they advertised their bouts in the newspapers and climbed into the ring just like the men did. One in particular who became quite well-known was a brawler named Elizabeth Wilkinson. First appearing in 1722, she squared off with an opponent by the name of Hannah Hyfield ("the Newgate Market basket woman) and the agreement was that the women would hold half a crown in each fist and the first one to drop one of her coins lost. This rule stopped scratches and gouges, which were common in boxing events at the time and particularly exciting to the crowds when women fought because they went bare to the waist just like the men.

Wilkinson -- called "The Invincible City Championess" -- continued to fight for the next six years or so in venues owned and operated by one of the most successful men boxers, Jim Figg. But eventually, somewhere along the line, she met and married another male boxer, James Stokes, and started boxing in his amphitheater instead. According to the ads, Wilkinson (now Stokes) wore a tight jacket, which might suggest that she rejected pandering to the crowds more prurient nature. But she gave them their money's worth in other ways, being also skilled with a cudgel and short sword and more than happy to demonstrate both before the main event. It wasn't until the Victorian era that women -- after thousands of years of fighting competitively in public -- were shut out of bare-knuckle boxing. Suddenly, women were too dainty...? They weren't before. How in the world did that happen? (In-your-face women want to know.)

Monday, November 26, 2012

Edna Gardner Whyte

Edna Gardner Whyte started out as a U.S. Navy nurse, but she quit in 1935 to open her own flight school. Then, when World War II started, though she was turned away as a pilot by the military because she was a woman, she trained no less than 5000 male pilots for her former boss. The builder of two airports -- one after she turned seventy -- over time, Whyte won 127 awards for cross-country air racing, aerobatic competitions, and other daredevil flying contests.

Amassing a lifetime record of more than 35,000 hours in the air, Whyte died at ninety-years-old while still living in a house attached to a five-plane hangar. Her book, entitled Rising Above It, discusses, among other things, the struggles she faced -- and overcame -- because she was a woman who loved to fly. "Just all of you watch me," she was quoted as saying while facing down her detractors early in her career  "I'll show you what a woman can do...I'll go across the country, I'll race to the Moon...I'll never look back." And she didn't. How in-your-face of her.

Sunday, November 25, 2012

Betty White

At ninety-years-old, Betty White is still said to be the most popular and trusted celebrity in the United States. But it's not because she's grandmotherly. In fact, after winning twenty-six television awards between 1951 and 2011 (including seven Emmys, several Lifetime Achievement Awards, and a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame), her latest television series, "Hot in Cleveland," is basically an unapologetically hilarious showcase for her feisty  -- and absolutely sexy -- in-your-face self to shine.

Not satisfied with just touting her sexuality at ninety, however, another of White's most recent projects was "Betty White's Off Their Rockers," twelve episodes of old people playing practical jokes on unsuspecting young folks on ordinary streets. By appearing initially to be blind, frail, confused or wheelchair bound, one after another, the jokesters leave their marks in the dust behind them shocked and then finally laughing.

In September of 2011, White's foray into spoken word, a reissue with British singer Luciana of the singer's earlier hit "I'm Still Hot," won White a Grammy for best spoken word recording. Asked by one reporter how she does it, White responded, "I'm blessed with good health and love what I do for a living. That's a good combination. I'm a very lucky old broad." But the rest of us know that in-your-face women make their own luck.

Saturday, November 24, 2012

"Dr. Ruth" Westheimer

Having lost her orthodox Jewish parents to the Nazi regime during World War II while she was staying in a Swiss orphanage, Ruth Siegel could have spent the rest of her life feeling justifiably bitter and hurt. But she didn't. Actually, in many ways, this in-your-face woman did the opposite by brazenly celebrating the joys of sex and sexuality over the airwaves throughout the 1980's. But that isn't the way she started out.

When she learned that her parents were dead, she emigrated to Israel where she was badly wounded by a shell explosion in 1948. Living through this might have been an ordeal for anyone, but for one so young and at only 4'7", Siegel truly proved her mettle and then, in 1950, married and moved on to France where she studied and taught psychology in Paris.

Another move with another man -- to Washington Heights in Manhattan, New York -- brought a Master's degree in sociology and another divorce (while she worked as a housemaid to support herself and her daughter). Then, a decade working at Planned Parenthood in Harlem and a doctorate in Family and Sex Counseling from Columbia University vaulted "Dr. Ruth" into an arena she probably could never have imagined: publicly discussing other people's sex lives. And eventually, they climbed over each other to tell their most private secrets to the pint-sized therapist with the giant giggle -- over the air!

It didn't happen over night, of course. Initially, she taught at and then was fired from a university, leaving her discouraged and angry. But one night, she boldly spoke to a group of New York broadcasters about the need to counteract the silence around sexuality. The next thing she knew, she was being paid (albeit slightly) to deliver a fifteen-minute radio show -- "Sexually Speaking" -- after midnight on Sundays. Two months later, the show was an hour long with a live call-in format and a quarter of a million listeners. So much for America not being ready...! When an in-your-face woman is ready, the world will pay attention.

Friday, November 23, 2012

Rebecca West

Her real name was Cicely Isabel Fairfield, but she took the name Rebecca West from a rebellious young female character in a play by Henrik Ibsen when she was studying to be an actress in London and that's the name she's known by. Dropping out of school at fifteen to recuperate from tuberculosis and then unable to return because there was no money to do so, West began publishing as a writer early on while also hitting the streets as a supporter of women's suffrage and simultaneously becoming H.G. Wells' lover for a decade.

Her many essays and reviews in the best of the progressive and mainstream newspapers and magazines in both Great Britain and the United States made West famous, highly respected, and very, very rich before she was thirty. In fact, she was only twenty-four when George Bernard Shaw said of her, "Rebecca West could handle a pen as brilliantly as ever I could -- and much more savagely."

A complicated and thoughtful intellectual, West was anti-communist, but also anti-fascist. She owned a Rolls Royce and supported Margaret Thatcher's stance against the unions, but voted for the Labor Party. And she believed that women should be "feminine," but is quoted as saying, "I myself have never been able to find out what feminism is; I only know that people call me a feminist whenever I express sentiments that differentiate me from a doormat or a prostitute." In-your-face women defy categories. Yay!

Thursday, November 22, 2012

Mae West

Born in Brooklyn, New York, to a prizefighter and a corset model in 1893, Mae West started entertaining people at five-years-old and climbed onto the Vaudeville stage at fourteen. Then, she hit Broadway only a few years later in a show that folded almost immediately, but not before West was "discovered" by the New York Times. Developing a theatrical personna is a complicated matter, but West took her vampish walk from female impersonators and parlayed a show she wrote herself entitled simply "Sex" into a career booster by promptly getting arrested for "corrupting the morals of youth."

Continuing to write plays with titles like "The Drag," "The Pleasure Man," and "The Constant Sinner," West finally achieved success on Broadway when she wrote and performed in "Diamond Lil." But it was Hollywood that made her famous around the world for her in-your-face attitude. In her film debut (at nearly forty!) with already established movie star George Raft, West's scenes were small, but she put herself on the map instantly when a hat check girl in one scene said the line, "Goodness, what beautiful diamonds!" and West added a line by responding in her own inimitable fashion, "Goodness had nothing to do with it, dearie."

In her subsequent film career, West saved Paramount Pictures from bankruptcy with "She Done Him Wrong" and followed that up with such classics as "I'm No Angel" and "Klondike Annie," so that by 1935, West was the second-highest paid person in the United States (behind William Randolph Hearst). But religious indignation hounded her throughout her career and got her thrown off radio during the 1940's, not so much for what she said as how she said it.

Still performing into her seventies, West had a whole string of lovers in her life and was just as unapologetic about them as she was about everything else. When her landlord refused to allow her to entertain African-American boxer William "Gorilla" Jones, for example, she simply bought the building so he could come and go whenever he pleased. Some in-your-face women keep a low profile on occasion. Mae West was not one of them.

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Linda Wertheimer

According to Linda Wertheimer, getting a scholarship to go to Wellesley College, where all the students were women,"gave me the sense that women could run things...And I just never thought that it made sense to give that up." After an internship at the British Broadcasting Corporation, she was turned down by NBC because she was a woman, which turned out eventually to be a very bad decision on their part, when she joined National Public Radio where ten million listeners made her one of the most respected news anchors in modern media.

Her coverage of Watergate, the Iran/Contra Scandal, the attacks on 9/11, no less than twelve different election nights, and her development of the hugely famous news and features show, "All Things Considered," marks the career of an in-your-face woman who dives into complicated issues without a second glance. Still, she doesn't find any of it remarkable. In fact, she once observed, "Any working woman my age can probably tell you the times she was first woman to do something in her workplace: make partner, work through pregnancy, become chief of surgery, curator of painting, the first woman in a newsroom, the first woman hired...and there are still some big firsts out there I'm hoping someone will crack." Any takers?

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Ida Barnett Wells

As a young teacher in the late 1800’s, Ida B. Wells refused to move from the first class railway car she was riding in to the “Jim Crow” car -- earmarked for African-Americans and without first class accommodations. When the conductor tried to remove her bodily, she bit the back of his hand and was forcibly ejected from the train. Not willing to leave it there, Wells sued and originally won her case in court, but ultimately lost on appeal.

Some years later, after a friend of hers was lynched by a White mob for trying to prevent them from destroying his store, Wells used her newspaper to kick off an aggressive campaign against the practice of lynching. Though an angry mob retaliated by destroying her newspaper office and sending out the word that her life was in danger, she just moved to New York City and continued her highly militant campaign from there.  You can't stop an in-your-face woman by running her out of town.

Monday, November 19, 2012

Alice Stebbins Wells

Alice Stebbins Wells started out as a minister in Kansas, but by the time she arrived in Los Angeles, California, in her thirties, she had decided she wanted to be a police officer. In-your-face women had been hired as private detectives. In-your-face women had been hired to take care of women prisoners. But Wells wanted to wear a badge and hit the streets like uniformed men officers who enforced and upheld the law.

She had to petition the mayor, the police commissioner, and the Los Angeles City Council, but she finally pulled it off, being sworn in on September 12, 1910, and equipped with a badge, a police officer's telephone call box, and a rule book. She was so effective that, in no time at all, the order went out that female suspects could only be questioned by a woman (which would have to be Wells, of course, until a few more women were added to the roll).

Other police departments in the U.S. and in other countries soon followed Los Angeles' example, so that, by the time Wells retired thirty years later, she had established an International Policewoman's Association, as well as the Women's Peace Officers Association of California. A movie about her life was produced in 1914. And when she died in 1957, high ranking members of the LAPD attended her funeral, at which ten women officers formed an honor guard in Wells' memory. In-your-face women don't necessarily want to join everything, but when they do want to join, it's very difficult to keep them out of the club.

Sunday, November 18, 2012

Mary Brent Wehrli

Sometimes, an in-your-face woman's life has chapters like a book. Mary Brent Wehrli is one such woman. The chapter in the 1990's involved her serving as a Social Welfare professor at UCLA, where she established, among other things, a program for all first year students working toward a Masters degree in Social Work to spend at least one full day on Los Angeles' skid row. During that same chapter, she helped to organize grassroots coalitions to fight for a living wage law, to mobilize regional service agencies in response to the needs of the poor, and to move Los Angeles in the direction of declaring itself a sanctuary for Central American refugees. And in the process, she was named California's Social Welfare Practitioner of the Year in 1999.

The chapter before that, though, was even more lively because that was the decade during which Wehrli served as Executive Director of the Southern California Ecumenical Council's Interfaith Task Force on Central America, a body committed to educate and urge the religious community to oppose the U.S. government's interventionist foreign policies. One of her most in-your-face moments in that chapter was when Wehrli somehow finessed her way into a fundraising dinner for George Herbert Walker Bush, who was then campaigning for the U.S. Presidency. Standing up at an opportune moment, Wehrli loudly asked, "Will you do everything you can to end the bloodshed in Central America by withdrawing support for the repressive regimes in El Salvador and Guatemala?" All hell and a cadre of secret service agents broke loose immediately, with one of the agents grabbing Wehrli's blouse in such a way that it laid bare her shoulder (and part of her bra) for all the world to see.

Her current chapter is as a retired person, a position she has certainly earned, but it's doubtful such an in-your-face woman could lay all action and influence aside after getting used to having so much fun in the past.

Saturday, November 17, 2012

Beatrice Webb

That Beatrice Webb was completely self-taught is only of passing interest. Many women born and raised in Great Britain in the 1800's missed the benefits of a formal education. But when you consider that she went on to be one of the founders of the Fabian Society, a group of socialist intellectuals that strongly influenced the Labor Party in their country, as well as one of the founders of the London School of Economics and Political Science, it becomes somewhat more apparent the degree to which Webb was an in-your-face woman. And a smart one at that.

Espousing the idea of cooperatives as a way for workers to maintain control over their own labor and the profits thereof, Webb wrote The Cooperative Movement in Great Britain in 1891 after doing extensive research on the topic. And a few years after that, she co-wrote a history of trade unionism with her husband as the first in a whole series of books they wrote together. Lest we imagine that her husband carried the weight, however, we need to note that it was Webb herself who coined the term "collective bargaining," a practice by which workers unite to more effectively negotiate with their bosses.

By 1919, she was publishing on other topics, such as Men and Women's Wages: Should They Be Equal? And as she aged, having not borne biological offspring, Webb was quoted as saying that she considered the London School of Economics and a highly successful periodical entitled The New Statesman as her symbolic children. Sometimes, an in-your-face woman socially reproduces herself as a way of leaving her mark on the future. Beatrice Webb was satisfied with that.

Friday, November 16, 2012

Jessica Watson

At age twelve, Jessica Watson decided she wanted to sail around the world -- unassisted and alone. At age sixteen, she did it. A citizen of both New Zealand and Australia, Watson grew up with her mom and dad and three siblings living and being home schooled on sailboats and in a double-decker bus. So she's more than comfortable on the water and in small spaces. But even for her, the seven-month voyage she took from October 18, 2009, until May 15, 2010 (three days before her seventeenth birthday), was a test of true spirit, which is actually the title of the book she wrote about her feat. "I hated being judged by my appearance and other people's expectations of what a 'little girl' is capable of," she explained after arriving triumphant back to her home port in Sydney.

Facing forty-foot waves and 80 mile per hour winds, having to repair virtually everything on her boat at one point or another, and spending hour after interminable hour alone, Watson traveled a total of 23,000 nautical miles in 210 days crossing the equator and all meridians of longitude without touching land or any other boat and without anyone giving her anything. Yet her route, her management, and her unwillingness to accept "advice" from the powers that be telling her she should attempt shorter trips to work up to her monumental accomplishment has been criticized by the mainstream male power structure that regulates who gets recognized and who does not.

Robbed of her "official" standing in the record books, Jessica knows that an in-your-face woman -- however young -- is liable to meet resistance. But she also knows who she is (as demonstrated by a whole raft of accolades and awards), as well as what she can do. And so do the 75,000 people that met her at the dock on her return. Nothing and no one can change that.

Thursday, November 15, 2012

Frances Watkins

Frances Watkins was born free and Black in Baltimore, Maryland, in 1825. She got a good education and many opportunities to read and write. In fact, she got so good at writing that her poems were being published while she was still in her teens. But rather than just resting on her laurels, Watkins continually expanded her interests and her influence.

She was paid to deliver lectures on the abolition of slavery and the rights of women. She boldly assisted slaves to escape on the Underground Railroad. She reached out to and supported John Brown and his wife when he was arrested for his attack on the armory at Harper's Ferry. And she worked to get women the vote, reminding her White sisters that Black women needed to be included in their actions, as well.

"Talk as you will of woman's deep capacity for loving," Watkins preached, "I do not deny it; but will the mere possession of any human love fully satisfy all the demands of her whole being?...Woman -- if you would render her happy -- needs...her conscience [to] be enlightened, her faith in the true and right established, and scope given to her...God-given faculties." In-your-face women want more out of life than a husband and children to serve.

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Kate Warne

Everyone's heard of the famous Pinkerton Detective Agency that started in the 1850's and still exists today. But few may realize that one of its earliest operatives was a young woman named Kate Warne. She talked her way into a job in 1856 and, within a couple of years, had distinguished herself as one of their most trustworthy and clever detectives.

Warne helped to recover $39,000 embezzled from the Adams Express Company. She became a one-woman spy bureau during the Civil War. And she finagled a bank robber's wife into admitting where he had hidden $130,000 in stolen money. But her most famous case involved being instrumental in foiling a carefully planned assassination attempt on the life of Abraham Lincoln when he was on his way to be inaugurated President of the United States.

Warne's adept investigation while she was pretending to be a rich Southern belle flirting her way through Baltimore uncovered the plot in the first place and once her information was corroborated, Allan Pinkerton himself joined Warne with several others to make sure the President would make it safely to Washington. It has been said that the way Warne stayed up all night while Lincoln slept on the train is what gave Pinkerton the idea for his agency's motto: "We never sleep."

Unfortunately, Kate Warne died of pneumonia at only thirty-five years of age, but not before establishing the fact that women make great detectives. They're smart, courageous, sometimes sneaky and ultimately, very in-your-face.

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

Vera Dawn Walker



Called the "Tiny Texan" because she was only 4'11" and weighed 97 pounds, Vera Dawn Walker was so short, she had to sit on pillows so she could reach the rudder pedals on the airplanes she loved to fly in the late 1920's.  And when flying alone didn't provide enough excitement, Walker just climbed out onto the wings and walked up and down while the plane was in the air!

Fascinated by birds swooping from tree to tree when she was a child, Walker grew up longing to do what they were doing. So, when a reporter asked her as an adult, "Why do you fly?" she shot back simply, "I want to!"

When she contracted tuberculosis after a flight to Guatemala in 1931, instead of retiring to a sanitorium to recuperate, Walker pitched a tent south of Tucson, Arizona, and spent four years placer mining. Nothing like a nice pile of gold nuggets to make an in-your-face woman forget her blues.