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

Thursday, May 31, 2012

Viola Liuzzo

In 1965, Viola Liuzzo could have just been a "good wife and mother" the way women are typically taught to be -- baking cookies, kissing booboo's, and sitting peacefully with her hubby and five children watching "I Love Lucy" on television. But when she saw the images of what was happening to African-Americans who were simply attempting to claim their rights as full citizens in the land of their birth, she couldn't sit on the couch and do nothing.

She had joined the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People the year before, but that didn't seem to be enough. Then, when police brutally attacked men, women and children as they marched toward Selma, Alabama, on what came to be called "Bloody Sunday," she went to a demonstration at Wayne State University in Detroit (where she and her family were living), but even that didn't satisfy this in-your-face woman. So, Viola Liuzzo packed a suitcase and, telling her husband that this was "everybody's fight," she left for Alabama to march across the bridge to Selma herself with tens of thousands of other demonstrators on March 25, 1965.

After the march, anyone with a vehicle was enlisted to return the many marchers to their points of origin and Liuzzo offered her services and her 1963 Oldsmobile for the purpose. But while driving down Route 80 with a young African-American passenger, Liuzzo was murdered when a carload of Ku Klux Klansmen gave up trying to run her off the road and simply shot her in the head from their moving car. We know who did it not only because her young passenger was missed by the second bullet, but because it came out later that an FBI informant was in the car with the murderers at the time.

Viola Liuzzo was only 39-years-old at the time of her death and she had only been a publicly in-your-face woman for a couple of weeks. But her death helped to fuel the demand for the 1965 Voters Registration Act and has challenged other White Americans ever since to do the right thing, as well. Not bad for two weeks work.

Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Lydia Litvyak

Having already learned how to fly at fifteen and becoming a flight instructor by only three years later, Lydia Litvyak didn't pause a minute when Adolph Hitler sent his troops into Russia in 1941. She marched right down to her friendly local Air Defense Force recruiter to enlist. When he turned her down for not having quite enough flight hours, she just went to another recruiter, lied about her flying experience, and signed up to serve her country.

She scored her first solo kill on her second combat mission, then turned around almost instantly and shot down a decorated German ace with eleven kills to his credit. Over the next year, she flew 66 combat missions -- sometimes four or five per day -- tallying up twelve solo kills in all and an additional half dozen or so assisted kills. No wonder the Lieutenant General who commanded her called her a "very aggressive person" (Russian for "in-your-face woman") and a "born fighter pilot."

Ultimately being awarded "Free Hunter" status, Senior Lieutenant Litvyak was given permission to fly missions on her own initiative. Wounded more than once, she'd fly bleeding back to base and, refusing medical leave, go right back out to fight some more. Hardly the type of woman to die in bed, the last time she was seen, on August 1, 1943, strapped into the cockpit of her plane, the 21-year-old "White Rose of Stalingrad" was being chased by eight German fighter planes. Of course.

Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Ida Lewis

Called "the bravest woman in America" in some of the most prestigious newspapers and magazines in the country in the mid to late 1800's, Ida Lewis was really just a person who took her responsibilities very seriously.  Lewis lived for thirty-nine years on Lime Rock, a tiny island off Newport, Rhode Island, where a lighthouse stands warning ships to avoid the rocks.

Originally, her father had taken the position of lighthouse keeper, but after he had a stroke, she and her mother did the job for him. Then, when her mother became ill, Lewis continued to do the job alone (a twenty-four hour per day responsibility 365 days per year). But this is not why Lewis was considered brave nor why she made the cut as an in-your-face woman, though violent storms -- which were to be expected on a fairly regular basis -- could be wildly dangerous.

What got Lewis all the recognition, accolades, awards, articles, honors, and even financial rewards, were the many times she climbed in a lifeboat (usually alone and without coat or shoes on more than one occasion) and rowed out into the choppy waters to save men, women and children from drowning. Only sixteen-years-old when she made her first rescue, dragging four young men over the side of her boat to safety, she later said she "never gave it a second thought."

Credited through the years with risking her own life to save at least eighteen and maybe as many as thirty-six other people's lives -- the last time when she was sixty-three years old! -- Lewis became so famous that hundreds of people per day would try to pay their respects. When she died, both Lime Rock and the lighthouse were renamed for her, an honor never previously awarded to any lighthouse keeper in the United States ever. Obviously, in-your-face women are liable to pop up almost anywhere, even hanging over the side of a lifeboat in a storm at sea!

Monday, May 28, 2012

Rani Lakshmibai

While Great Britain didn't formally take over India until the mid-1800's, the British East India Company was pretty much in charge for nearly two hundred fifty years before that time, highly frustrating the Indian population by what amounted to a British occupation of the country. One such Indian -- an in-your-face woman -- was Rani Lakshmibai, one of the leaders of the Indian Rebellion of 1857.

The death of her mother when Lakshmibai was only four left her free to study swordfighting, horsemanship and archery, rather than the usual skills women in her very traditional society were expected to focus on. And it's unlikely anyone took much notice of the "army" she organized among her female friends as a child.  They probably should have.

Married into royalty in the Indian state of Jhansi at age seven (as was common at the time) and subsequently widowed at eighteen, Lakshmibai was pushed aside, given a pension by the British Governor (chosen and supported by the British East India Company), and told to move out of the palace.  Three years later, however, Lakshmibai had had a chance to think things over and amalgamate her power. So she led her people in an uprising against the British, during which every British man, woman and child found in Jhansi was massacred.  Some versions of the story suggest that she didn't participate in the massacre; others say she did. But what we know for sure was that when the blood soaked into the dust, Rani Lakshmibai was sitting in the palace surrounded by a group of highly-trained and absolutely loyal women warriors.

After re-establishing her power, whenever the armies of other Indian lords attacked Jhansi, Lakshmibai was reportedly seen riding horseback into battle at the head of her troops with her adopted son strapped to her back, a sword in each hand and the horse's reins in her teeth! Unfortunately, all this aggression convinced the British that the only way to rule Jhansi was to get rid of Lakshmibai, so in June of 1858, Sir Hugh Rose led British forces (considered the most powerful in the world at the time) against the Warrior Queen, who Rose later called "the bravest, most fearless and most dangerous rebel commander of the entire Indian uprising."

Holding out for two weeks, Lakshmibai ensured her place in Indian history as a hero and martyr when she ultimately died in battle and was cremated on the spot so her body would not be taken by the enemy. Despite dying in the mid-1800's, however, leaving her country to struggle under British rule for nearly a century more, Rani Lakshmibai was honored by naming an all woman infantry unit that served in the Indian Army in World War II after her, proving yet again that in-your-face women inspire the troops long after they're gone.

Sunday, May 27, 2012

Lady Gaga

New York City singer/songwriter Stefani Joanne Angelina Germanotta had won 5 Grammys and 13 MTV Music Video Awards, been named Artist of the Year by Billboard Magazine, been ranked fourth on VH1's 100 Greatest Women in Music, and been called one of the most influential people in the world by Time Magazine -- by the time she was twenty-five! Teased in Catholic school as a child for being different, Germanotta (better known as Lady Gaga), says she tried to tone it done a bit because she was made to feel like a "freak."  But her in-your-face-ness wouldn't allow itself to be hidden.

Following in the footsteps of in-your-face woman Madonna twenty-five years before, Lady Gaga is now recognized as one of the best selling music artists of all time, but it is her activism on behalf of gay, lesbian, bi-sexual, transgendered and queer people that gives her work its edgy focus. Embraced early in her career by the GLBTQ community, Lady Gaga rapidly responded with an appreciation and affection that eventually thrust her into the role of a spokesperson about issues such as "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" (the policy within the U.S. military that forced gays to stay in the closet).

But when her commitment to gay rights and her own androgyny caused a reporter to ask about the nature of Lady Gaga's own gender and sexual orientation, she stated unapologetically, "Why is this important? I am a child of diversity. I am one with my generation. I feel a moral obligation as a woman -- or a man -- to exercise my revolutionary potential and make the world a better place. On a gay scale from 1 to 10, I'm a Judy Garland fucking 42!"

Saturday, May 26, 2012

Claire Lacombe

Claire Lacombe was an actress who traveled around France in the late 1700's entertaining at castles and country houses until she'd had a bellyful of aristocrats and decided to join the revolution in Paris. Nicknamed "Red Rosa," Lacombe helped to storm the royal palace known as the Tuileries on August 10, 1792.  Because a gun shot wound through the arm didn't stop her from fighting, from then on, she was known as "the heroine of August 10th."

Her frequent attendance at gatherings of the highly revolutionary Cordelier's Club would likely have brought her into contact with most of the angriest of those who wanted a re-distribution of the power and the wealth. Among them was Pauline Leon, with whom Lacombe founded the Society of Revolutionary Republican Women (in-your-face women all), who demanded, among other things, that women should not only be allowed to vote, but also be armed to protect their homes and allowed to enlist in the army.

During the Reign of Terror, Lacombe was imprisoned for sixteen months and considered enough of a problem that she was moved over and over to avoid her organizing other prisoners or managing an escape.  When she was released in August of 1795, she disappeared.  Supposedly.  Ha!

Friday, May 25, 2012

Aung San Suu Kyi

Called "an outstanding example of the power of the powerless," Aung San Suu Kyi has been working to free Burma from the stranglehold of one military tyrant after another for more than two decades.  And she's been doing this while being detained for most of that time.

The daughter of General Aung San, who also championed the struggle for democracy in Burma, left her native land as a small child after her father was assassinated.  Raised and educated in India and England, Aung San Suu Kyi didn't return to Burma until 1988, when she discovered that the political upheaval that had claimed her father's life was still raging. And she could not resist joining the revolutionary effort, traveling through the countryside, encouraging anyone who would listen that they must participate in non-violent direct action against the power structure of the country.

Despite brutal and terrorizing attacks on her followers, Aung San Suu Kyi's party won a 1990 national election by a strong majority, but the military junta refused to give up their power, placing her on house arrest instead until six years later, when she was released, but with travel restrictions which she, of course, defied.  Placed back on house arrest in 2000, then released in 2002, only to be incarcerated in prison in 2003 after a scuffle between her supporters and a government-backed mob, Aung San Suu Kyi sat quietly, meditating, reading, exercising  -- not allowed to see her sons or her husband, even when he was dying -- until she was released once more to pick up her world-changing activities where she left off.

All during these years, she has garnered some of the most prestigious awards in the world, including the Nobel Peace Prize.  And ultimately released yet again in 2010, Aung San Suu Kyi immediately demanded the release of other political prisoners and the legalization of trade unions, both of which have occurred.  Elected to a position in the Burmese Parliament on April 1, 2012, many in the world believe that Aung San Suu Kyi will eventually wind up Prime Minister of Burma.  Meeting with world leaders who are happy to come to this reserved, yet insistent international hero, Aung San Suu Kyi demonstrates that in-your-face women are not always loud, but they never back down. Her message to other in-your-face women: "You should never let your fears prevent you from doing what you know is right."

Thursday, May 24, 2012

Maggie Kuhn

When the Presbyterian Church forced Maggie Kuhn into "retirement" at the age of sixty-five, they didn't realize they were unleashing a dragon. After all, women of that age are supposed to be happy sitting in their rockers on their respective porches, aren't they? It isn't as though Maggie didn't have enough to keep her busy.  A disabled mother and a mentally ill brother both required her attention.  But this was Maggie Kuhn, who had been teaching YWCA classes for women about organizing, social issues and even sexuality in the 1930's and 1940's.

Later, while teaching Presbyterian seminarians about the social aspect of the Gospel, Kuhn realized that the Church's retirement homes were places where the aged were treated like children, which she saw as a waste of talent and energy. So, when she was summarily relieved of her duties for being "over the hill," she immediately organized the Gray Panthers, a human rights organization and lobbying body that fights against ageism, a word nobody had ever heard before Kuhn burst on the scene.

Demonstrating that older Americans have interests and the willingness to take action on those interests, the Gray Panthers started by taking on the Vietnam War and never looked back.  Until her death in 1995, just short of her ninetieth birthday and twenty-five years after her so-called "retirement," Maggie Kuhn left no stone unturned to leave the world in a better state than she found it. No topic was off limits. In fact, she even talked about sex among elders, suggesting that, since women live longer, they should connect with younger men or each other to meet their sexual needs.

"Speak your mind, even if your voice shakes!" Kuhn was quoted as saying.  And speak her mind, she did. Whether pioneering housing cohabitation styles that put younger and older people together to the advantage of both or haranguing Congressional legislators about overspending on the military while pretending Social Security was a problem, Kuhn proved that age ain't nuthin' but a number.  And an in-your-face woman is ageless.

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

Julie Krone

When Julie Krone was a little girl, her parents didn't worry about what she ate (sometimes it was dog food) or what she took it into her head to do (once, at thirteen, she rode her horse into the barn standing on its back wearing nothing but a deerskin around her midriff, going to a sitting position just before her head would have hit the barn door jamb). Years after her mother forged Julie's birth certificate to say that she was old enough to be a horse groomer at Churchill Downs (she was only fifteen), Julie's father said unashamedly, "There was always that element of possible disaster, can’t tell a kid to go for it, to be whatever they want to be, and also tell them to be careful. If we all ride the safe road, who will we look up to?"

The result? Julie Krone won her first horseback riding event -- for riders 21-and-under -- when she was five-years-old, going out on her own to groom and race horses in her mid-teens.  Then, when most girls would have been graduating from high school, Julie was climbing over the fence at the Tampa Bay Downs to demand that she be allowed to become an apprentice jockey.  Everybody thought it was cute until she won her first race five weeks later.

4'10" and one hundred pounds soaking wet, Julie looked like a child, but rode, said one owner, "like a god."  Still, getting the good ole boys to let her compete was not always easy.  Using charm and free donuts, Krone wheedled her way in the door, but when she had to hold her own, she knew how to do that, too.  On one occasion, when a jockey hit her ear with his whip, she punched him in the face and, in the ensuing brawl, hit him with a lawn chair.  Another incident involved Krone knocking out several of jockey Joe Bravo's teeth.

After winning the Belmont Stakes in 1993, in response to all the broohaha about Krone being the first woman to win a Triple Crown event, she said flatly, "I don’t think the question needs to be genderized. It would feel great to anyone. But whether you’re a girl or a boy or a Martian, you still have to go out and prove yourself every day."  Far from being her last word on the matter, though, when she was inducted into thoroughbred racing's Hall of Fame in 2000 -- having just overcome a divorce, the death of her mother, and multiple injuries on the track that left her with paralyzing anxiety and depression -- Krone walked to the microphone and said to the crowd gathered for the momentous event, "I want this to be a lesson to all kids everywhere. If the stable gate is closed, climb the fence."

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

Billie Jean King

From 1961 to 1980, Billie Jean King was one of the most remarkable tennis players in the world.  She won no fewer than thirty-nine Grand Slams (singles, doubles and mixed doubles) and in 1973, became famous for beating former Wimbledon champion Bobby Riggs for a prize of $100,000 (winner-take-all) in an exhibition called "The Battle of the Sexes."

Outed -- without her prior knowledge or consent -- first for having had an abortion (in 1971) and then for being a lesbian (in 1981), King was dropped like a hot potato by the companies that had been paying her for her endorsement and even her fans, by and large, were stunned and unsupportive.  Yet King faced it all down alone, including a painful and public palimony suit brought by her former partner.

But, in spite of it all, King founded the Women's Tennis Association and the Women's Sports Foundation, wound up owning World Team Tennis, was the first tennis player named Sports Illustrated's Sportsman of the Year (1972),  was inducted into the International Tennis Hall of Fame (1987), and received the U.S. Presidential Medal of Freedom (2009) for her work advocating for women's rights and the rights of lesbian, gay, bi-sexual, and transgendered people.

Still, having won more awards and honors than most celebrities -- sports or otherwise -- ever dream of, and while it's true that King was "helped" to find her ultimate in-your-face-ness, it was always in there.  For example, in 1975, she described to a Sports Illustrated writer the "Get-It Quotient," which she explained this way: "There's a lot of ugly fellas among the male athletes, but just because they're athletes, they get [sex] all the time, don't they? Now, never mind prize money and publicity and all that. When we reach the point where all the women athletes are getting it, too, regardless of their looks, just like the fellas, then we've really arrived."  Of course, that was long before she knew she'd win the Presidential Medal of Freedom.

Monday, May 21, 2012

Florynce Kennedy

Florynce Kennedy started thinking like an in-your-face woman lawyer even before she studied law. She had just graduated with a Bachelor's Degree from Columbia University and decided to apply to their law school.  Unfortunately (for them), they refused to admit her and told her it because she was a woman. So Kennedy threatened to sue them for violating her civil rights.  Once admitted (which, of course, she then was) she soon became known as "the biggest, loudest and, indisputably, the rudest mouth on the battleground," which is what People Magazine eventually wrote about her.

After she became a lawyer, Kennedy missed no opportunity to push every envelope she could related to either race or gender.  She was too radical for the National Organization for Women, helped to nominate Shirley Chisholm for U.S. President, and once organized a mass outdoor "pee-in" to protest the lack of women's bathrooms on the Harvard University campus.  And she took on every kind of uphill legal struggle, representing clients such as H. "Rap" Brown and the Black Panther Party and suing the Catholic Church for back taxes because she claimed its anti-choice stance on abortion violated the separation of church and state clause in the U.S. Constitution.

Given to wearing cowboy hats and pink sunglasses, Kennedy was quoted as saying, "I'm just a loud-mouthed middle-aged colored lady with a fused spine and three feet of intestines missing and a lot of people think I'm crazy. Maybe you do too, but I never stop to wonder why I'm not like other people. The mystery to me is why more people aren't like me." Indeed.

Sunday, May 20, 2012

Annette Kellerman

In the early 1900's in the United States, if they were bold enough to go to the beach at all, women were expected to wear two-piece bathing suits consisting of a baggy dress with sleeves and ruffles combined with an even baggier set of full-length ruffled pantaloons.  Along came Annette Kellerman, however, and all that changed.

Kellerman was an Australian swimmer who swam competitively and even tried several times to swim the English Channel.  But it was her refusal to accept that women should swim wearing all those clothes that brought her in-your-face woman fame.  The one-piece bathing suit she designed and introduced to the world (see right) got her arrested for "indecency" at Revere Beach in Massachusetts in 1907. But it was too late. Once women saw the "Annette Kellerman," as the suit came to be called, there was no going back.  And in fact, Kellerman's form-fitting suit got her national U.S. tours, appearing in clear glass tanks on stages all over the country showing off skills.

Having developed a taste for notoriety and the better things it can bring, Kellerman kept taking greater and greater risks until finally starring in a series of popular silent films, at least one of which featured her in no suit at all! Which, needless to say, took "in-your-face" to a whole new level.

Saturday, May 19, 2012

Tawakkol Karman

In 2011, when Tawakkol Karman became the youngest winner of the Nobel Peace Prize ever, many people in the world might initially have assumed that she was the warm and fuzzy type.  Not so.  In fact, her fellow citizens in Yemen have called her the "Iron Woman" and "the Mother of the Revolution."  Karman was only 26 years old when she co-founded Women Journalists Without Chains, an organization dedicated to establishing freedom of speech in her country.  Death threats -- written and over the telephone -- immediately ensued, but Karman not only didn't flinch, she amped up her active and increasingly public protests to one per week by 2007.

Being vaulted into the limelight didn't mean that Karman was only grandstanding, however. Indeed, Foreign Policy magazine placed the wife and mother of three at number one on their annual list of top 100 global thinkers of 2011. And she holds a senior level position in the opposition political party in Yemen.  All while maintaining that: "Women should stop being or feeling that they are part of the problem and become part of the solution. We have been marginalized for a long time, and now is the time for women to stand up and become active without needing to ask for permission or acceptance."

Earlier in 2011, the Yemen government had tried to intimidate Karman by placing her in chains in a prison for thirty-six hours.  Her response was to organize students (a third of them women) to participate in a massive Day of Rage protest demonstration on February 3rd. This made Yemen one of the countries the world watched in amazement during what will always be remembered now as the Arab Spring, when hundreds of thousands of citizens poured into the streets throughout the Middle East demanding the ouster of tyrants and the establishment of democracy.  Still, while clearly committed to Yemen and to its people (most particularly its women), Karman  has, nevertheless, stated unequivocally: "I am a citizen of the world. The Earth is my country and humanity is my nation."

Friday, May 18, 2012

Noor Inayat Kahn

Born an Indian Sufi woman in Moscow, Russia, in 1914, Noor Inayat Kahn moved with her family first to London and then to Paris where she was educated as a child psychologist and composer of music for harp and piano.  Though a devout pacifist and well known as a writer of children's books and stories, when World War II came, Kahn decided that Indian people must distinguish themselves in the war if they wanted the British to respect them as equals.  So, taking the name Nora Baker, she embarked on a rigorous training program as a member of the Women's Auxiliary Air Force Special Operations Executive.  Once trained, Kahn was flown into Nazi-occupied France where she became indispensable for her transmissions by wire from Paris, a location that was crawling with Germans -- and ripe with information important to the Allies.

Though she watched the other Paris operatives arrested one after another, Kahn refused to leave Paris or return to England until she was herself arrested only four months after her arrival. Interrogated for more than a month, during which she fought with her captors constantly, giving them no useful information, Kahn even tried to escape twice, very nearly succeeding on one occasion.  Classified "highly dangerous" and shackled in chains for ten months in a "disappearance without trace" prison in Germany, Kahn remained uncooperative and was finally moved one last time to Dachau Concentration Camp where she was beaten severely before being shot in the head.  Bloody and helpless before her Nazi tormentors, Kahn's last word (reported by a Dutch prisoner who survived) was "Liberte!'"  An in-your-face woman to the end.

Thursday, May 17, 2012

Frida Kahlo

Mexican artist Frida Kahlo said she painted so many self-portraits because she was often ill or in severe pain and therefore often alone.  Despite the way this might seem to have limited the vision of her work, however, surrealist Andre Breton once referred to Kahlo's art as "a ribbon around a bomb."

Though married to the Mexican muralist Diego Rivera, Kahlo's frequent, open, and sometimes long-standing sexual relationships with women and other men (the most famous of whom was Russian revolutionary Leon Trotsky) marked her as a woman who, health problems notwithstanding, would not be denied whatever it was she wanted.  "I was born a painter," Kahlo once said emphatically, following up her statement with the declaration: "I was born a bitch."

Largely sidelined by her more famous husband during her relatively brief lifetime, Kahlo and her work continued to gain attention after her death and has now become the subject of numerous exhibitions, commemorations, books, articles, musical albums, and films, proving yet again that an in-your-face woman cannot ultimately be ignored.

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

Dahia-al Kahina

Accounts of Dahia-al Kahina suggest that she was a Berbian Moor prophetess or "soothsayer" in the 7th Century in what is now Tunisia, just as the Arabic peoples were trying to push their influence deeper into Africa. Legends refer to her height and long hair and tell a story about how she freed her people from a tyrant by promising to marry him and then killing him on their wedding night.

Sometimes called "The Queen of the Berbers," Kahina so soundly defeated Arab military leader Hasan ibn Nu'man in what is now Algeria that he retreated to what is now Libya and wouldn't leave it for five years!  During this time, in an attempt to discourage the Arabs from their continued onslaughts, Kahina embarked on a "scorched earth" campaign (destroying everything of value where she ruled). Unfortunately, this tack lost her the support of her people and subsequently, she either died in battle or drank poison rather than be taken captive in the year 702 or 703.  Legend has it that she was 127 years old at the time.  Which is (let's face it now) highly doubtful, but in-your-face women don't live by the rules, so who knows?

Tuesday, May 15, 2012

Mary Harris “Mother” Jones

What does a woman do when her husband and four children all die of yellow fever and her dressmaking workshop burns to the ground?  It depends on what kind of woman she is, doesn't it?  When all this happened to Mary Harris Jones in the 1870's, she just shook it off and became a hard core, in-your-face labor union organizer.  Born in Ireland and emigrating with her birth family first to Canada and then to the U.S. in her teens,  Mary's marriage to an iron worker who organized for his union introduced her to the importance of workers uniting to stand up for themselves.

So when all other doors suddenly seemed to close, instead of sitting in a corner feeling sorry for herself,  Jones simply joined an early predecessor of the International Workers of the World, involving herself later with the United Mine Workers and the Socialist Party of America.  Hollering "You don't need the vote to raise hell!" and using humor, profanity, name-calling and wit, Jones caused so much upheaval for the corporate Powers-That-Be that she was called at one point "the most dangerous woman in America."  And as she reached the age of sixty, she started wearing the black dresses and little black hats she became known for, calling herself "Mother" Jones and calling the workers she rabble-roused "her boys" -- all to move those masses.  Today, one of the most highly respected and long-standing radical magazines in the world is called Mother Jones.  Its motto, like its namesake's, is "Pray for the dead and fight like hell for the living!"

Monday, May 14, 2012

Grace Jones

One of the factors that put Jamaican singer, model and actress Grace Jones in so many faces was that Andy Warhol dug her looks and photographed her many, many times.  Indeed, her square cut hair and angular, padded, skin tight costumes (since "clothing" would be far too boring for Jones' 5' 10-1/2" frame) was not only notable, but unforgettable. Still, it was incidents such as the time she hauled off and slapped British television talk show host Russell Harty across the face when she felt he was paying more attention to his other guests than to her that sealed her spot as an in-your-face woman. Influencing the cross-dressing movement of the 1980's and inspiring other in-your-face women (like Lady Gaga) who came later, Jones is still on the scene and still -- of course -- in-your-face!

Sunday, May 13, 2012

Joan of Arc

Thanks largely to the many writers and composers that have memorialized this in-your-face woman, Joan of Arc, unlike many of her less famous sisters, is well known throughout the world -- which is impressive when you consider that she only lived nineteen years.  Born and raised in Domremy, France, Joan (who signed her letters "Jehanne") believed that God had called her to lead her fellow citizens to overthrow the British who dominated them in the early 1400's.

Initially dismissed by the powers that be, once she was given a chance to prove herself, Joan led her troops into one victorious battle after another, soon making believers of them all.  Unfortunately, a group of opportunists captured and sold Joan to the British, who then tried and convicted her as a heretic for adamantly asserting that she had spoken with God.  It bothered her accusers greatly, as well, that Joan had cut off her hair and dressed herself as a man -- which they were quite sure meant she was in league with the devil.  So, on May 30, 1431, Joan of Arc was burned at the stake.

Later, of course, the Catholic Church declared her innocent and a Saint.  But remembered or forgotten, guilty or innocent, in-your-face women are who they are.

Saturday, May 12, 2012

Qiu Jin

Despite being a wife and mother of two in China in the late 1800's, Qui Jin -- called "The Woman Knight of Mirror Lake" -- was known for being into martial arts and wearing European-style men's clothing.  At nearly thirty years of age, she heard the call to leave her family behind and take her adventurous spirit on the road to Japan, where she joined revolutionary movements to overthrow the current government in the land of her birth.

As if that wasn't bad enough, in 1904, Qui Jin began publishing a radical journal in which she encouraged other women to resist their patriarchal family socialization and become independent through education and training to establish themselves as professionals.  Within a couple of years, she had honed her skills as an orator to speak boldly and publicly against the continued oppression of women, while running a "sports school" that was actually turning out trained revolutionaries.

When arrested in 1907 for her revolutionary activities, Qui Jin admitted nothing -- even under torture.  So when she was beheaded shortly thereafter, her comrades immediately hailed her as a hero and a martyr for the cause.   One of her poems holds the line, "Don't tell me women are not the stuff of heroes."  At least not in-your-face women, huh?

Friday, May 11, 2012

Harriet Jacobs

In order to avoid the unwanted sexual advances of the man who held her in bondage, Harriet Jacobs (by law at the time a "slave"), escaped and hid out for seven years -- first in a swamp and then in the crawl space over her grandmother's shack -- because she refused to leave her two children, who were fathered by a White lawyer.  When her lover finally bought his children's way into freedom and sent them north to school, Jacobs went north herself, eventually joining her brother in Rochester, New York, where she became an active member of the Anti-Slavery Society and helped to support the Anti-Slavery Reading Room by speaking to various groups about her experiences.

Branching out from public speaking to publishing letters to newspaper editors, it wasn't long before Jacobs had written her memoirs as a novel, which she titled Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl.  Originally serialized in the New York Tribune (one of abolitionist Horace Greeley's newspapers), the Tribune stopped publication in the middle of the book because they were concerned that Jacob's stories of sexual abuse would shock their readers.  In-your-face women tell it like it is!

Thursday, May 10, 2012

Molly Ivins

Molly Ivins was a writer and humorist who got in the faces of anybody she didn't agree with -- and most particularly those in power in the United States -- for decades.  Her books and "op-ed" feature pieces in The New York Times and The Washington Post made her editors crazy with their raucous language, but made her readers grin from ear to ear.  Even as she was dying of breast cancer, Ivins was quoted as saying, "So keep fightin' for freedom and justice, beloveds, but don't you forget to have fun doin' it.  Lord, let your laughter ring forth.  Be outrageous, ridicule the fraidy-cats, rejoice in all the oddities that freedom can produce.  And when you get through kickin' ass and celebratin' the sheer joy of a good fight, be sure to tell those who come after how much fun it was."

Wednesday, May 9, 2012

Virginia Irwin

When Virginia Irwin was told by the St. Louis Post-Dispatch that they wouldn't send a woman war correspondent overseas to report on what was happening in Europe in 1943, she just volunteered to go over as a Red Cross worker and started sending articles back anyway. Eventually, of course, the Post-Dispatch editors couldn't resist printing them and Irwin had her way after all.

She's particularly recognized for sneaking off from the safety of the Russian-American meeting at the Elb River at the end of the war. While all the other correspondents were partying with everybody else, Irwin and another reporter took off and hustled their way through miles of Russian troops to report on the military capture of Berlin, a city where Americans had been ordered not to go.  But in-your-face women, of course, rarely take orders.

Tuesday, May 8, 2012

Pocut Meurah Intan

Not much is written in English about Pocut Meurah Intan, but we do know that she was the daughter of an Indonesian sultan born during a period of political upheaval in the late 1800's.  The Indonesians were fighting off the Dutch at the time and Intan's father and husband were deep in the fray, called pirates by the Dutch, who didn't appreciate their resistance.  When her husband surrendered, however, the Dutch found out they had jumped from the frying pan into the fire, with Intan and two of her sons taking them on full force.  Even after Intan was captured and imprisoned, her sons kept fighting at her command.  In-your-face women don't resist.  They refuse.

Monday, May 7, 2012

Anne Hutchinson

Called "a woman of ready wit and bold spirit," Anne Hutchinson was ultimately banned with her followers from Massachusetts by the Puritan church for having the audacity to believe that women could be religious leaders, too.  Meetings at her house wherein the faithful came together to discuss sermons and scriptures, started out with just a few women and eventually grew to crowds of sixty or more men and women every week.

Constantly challenging the Biblical story of Adam and Eve often used to explain why women should expect to suffer, Hutchinson made no bones about presenting her concerns related to women's lack of rights in the Anglican church and the prejudice against Native Americans that was typical in Boston society.  Needless to say, all of this convinced her Puritan opponents that Hutchinson's stance was threatening to undermine the authority of the male hierarchy of the church and, therefore, must be fought as heretical to their interpretation of God's law.

Accused of having "stepped out of her place," and becoming "a husband rather than a wife and a preacher rather than a hearer," Hutchinson was found guilty of "lewd and lascivious conduct" for having both men and women under her roof at one time and forced to re-settle to what later became Rhode Island.  Undaunted, however, she subsequently rejected authority altogether, espousing the perspective of "individual anarchism."  A feisty lady, indeed, for the early 1600's.

Sunday, May 6, 2012

Zora Neale Hurston

One night in 1925, at a literary awards dinner, Zora Neale Hurston (who had herself won four of the awards that night) entered the ballroom, threw a long, brightly colored scarf over her shoulder and around her neck with a flourish and bellowed, "Coloooor Struuuuck!" (the name of one of her plays).  And that's just the way this in-your-face woman rolled.

As a child, Hurston's mother had told her "Jump at the sun.  You might not land on the sun, but at least you'll get off the ground."  And that's what Hurston did.  As an anthropologist who spent time in Haiti and Honduras.  As one of the shining lights of the Harlem Renaissance.  And as a writer of novels, short stories, essays, articles, plays, folklore collections, and even an autobiography.  As one of her circle once said, "When Zora was there, she was the party."

Some were put off by her rejection of the idea of racial integration in schools, but Hurston had grown up in a wonderful all-Black community and she was convinced that White Supremacy would do more damage to African-American children in a White-controlled school system than it could in a system run by Blacks for Blacks -- as long as the funding was equal.  "Deal me a hand and let me see what I can make of it," she wrote, "even though I know some in there are dealing from the bottom and cheating like hell in other ways."

Cast out into the world at thirteen when she beat her brand new stepmother almost to death with her fists, Hurston's underlying principle seemed to be, as she later wrote: "Grab the broom of anger and drive off the beast of fear."  Good advice for other in-your-face women, don't you think?

Saturday, May 5, 2012

Dolores Huerta

Born to a labor union organizer and a woman highly active in her community, Dolores Huerta left her teaching job as a young woman to commit herself to working in the struggle for equal rights.

"I couldn't stand seeing kids come to class hungry and needing shoes," she said. "I thought I could do more by organizing farm workers than by trying to teach their hungry children."

So she helped to establish one community service organization after another until finally, in 1962, she co-founded (with labor leader Cesar Chavez) the United Farm Workers, for whom she directed the historic boycott against the table grape growers of California, resulting in a three-year contract with the Latino pickers who were members of the UFW.

Her subsequent activism on behalf of poor and Latino communities in California has marked her so emphatically that she has been arrested twenty-two times for participating in non-violence demonstrations and strikes. In 1988, at fifty-eight years of age, she was beaten so severely by San Francisco police officers at a peaceful protest against the political policies of George H.W. Bush that she had to have her spleen removed, resulting in a large settlement which she then, of course, used to further benefit farm workers.

More than eighty years old now, Huerta continues to rabble rouse, working to increase the involvement of women -- and most particularly Latinas -- in the decision-making processes of this country. In-your-face women are not afraid to face the seats of power or sit in them.

Friday, May 4, 2012

Frances Hook

Frances Hook and her older brother were left orphaned as children and she was only fourteen when he told her that he was enlisting in the Union Army to to fight against the Confederacy.  With no where else to go, Frances chopped off her hair, donned a pair of pants, lied about her age, and enlisted, too, using the name "Frank Miller."

When her brother was killed at the Battle of Shiloh a year later, "Miller" changed companies and names -- becoming "Frank Henderson" instead -- and continued her service as a soldier.  When she was discovered by army doctors to be a teenaged girl after being wounded in the battle at Frederickstown, Missouri, she was mustered out and told to go home.  But where?

Re-enlisting in the 90th Illinois Infantry, she was subsequently wounded, re-discovered to be a woman, and discharged once more, but at that point she vaporized.  As far as we know.  Probably, she re-enlisted for the duration of the war under yet another name (records then not being centralized as they are now).  Sometimes, in-your-face women just don't know what else to be.

Thursday, May 3, 2012

Jennie Hodgers

Jennie Hodgers was born in Ireland and moved to the U.S. like many other immigrants in the 1800's, looking for a better life.  It apparently became obvious to her at some point, however, that being a woman was going to seriously compromise her ability to do that.  So she took the name Albert Cashier, put on a pair of pants and joined the Union army.

A lot of Irish immigrants fought in the Civil War.  In fact, Union army recruiters often set up tables right on the docks to catch able-bodied Irishmen as they came off the boats.  Jennie, of course, wearing a skirt, was by-passed at the time, but she didn't let it discourage her from joining later when she got the chance.

When the war ended, after fighting in -- and living through -- more than forty battles, Hodgers/Cashier moved back to Illinois, considered her options, and decided she'd be better off staying a man.  After all, it was much easier to get a job that way and a job that made enough to live on, at that.  In addition, Cashier had considerably more freedom to move about than Hodgers would and even the right to have a bank account and vote, neither of which Hodgers could do.

By the time the government realized Cashier and Hodgers were the same person, an army pension had been paid for years, so Cashier was left alone to die and be buried in his uniform.  Some in-your-face women chose to be in-your-face men.
Note: In the photo above, Hodgers/Cashier appears (on the right) with another soldier. 

Wednesday, May 2, 2012

Anita Hill

When Anita Hill was born the youngest of thirteen to a farming couple, she probably didn't appear to have the makings of an in-your-face woman. Then, when she grew up and graduated with honors from Yale Law School, she probably appeared to fit right in. During her years at the Equal Employment Opportunity Council and the evangelical Christian O.W. Coburn School of Law at Oral Roberts University, she very likely played the game the way she was expected to. But when her former boss, Clarence Thomas, was being considered for the U.S. Supreme Court, Anita Hill stood up.

She testified under oath in public hearings before Congress how he had sexually harassed her for years while she was working for him. She testified that when she repeatedly refused to go out with him, Thomas took to saying things of a sexual nature to her. Things about women having sex with animals. Things about films showing group sex or rape scenes. Even things about his own sexual prowess. The confirmation committee -- all male -- ultimately didn't bother to hear the four other women prepared to testify in support of Hill's allegations. They chose to ignore the fact that Hill passed a lie detector test with flying colors while Thomas refused to take one at all. And they made him a Supreme Court Justice (the highest legal office in the land) anyway.

The backlash was so strong that President George Bush dropped his opposition to a bill granting harassment victims the right to seek federal damage awards, back pay and reinstatement, and the bill passed. A year later, EEOC complaints were up fifty per cent, public opinion was resoundingly behind Hill, and women were running for Congress -- and winning -- in record numbers. Still, in response to Hill's stalwart refusal to back down, conservatives attacked her continually for five years straight until she finally left the University of Oklahoma Law School in disgust.

Winding up at Brandeis University's Heller School for Social Policy and Management, Hill is now considered to be an expert on gender, race and the law. She often appears on popular and highly respected television news programs or in newspapers such as the New York Times. And her book, of course, being in-your-face from cover to cover, is entitled Speaking Truth to Power.

Tuesday, May 1, 2012

Lillian Hellman

One of the best known biographies about Lillian Hellman is titled A Difficult Woman and an observer once called her "the kind of girl that can take the tops off bottles with her teeth." Born in New Orleans in the early 1900's, Hellman drank like a fish, swore like a sailor, and had sex when and with whom she chose. But that didn't begin to cover all the ways she was an in-your-face woman.

For starters, she was a prolific cutting-edge playwright and author.  Her first huge hit on Broadway, for example, was a play written in the 1930's about two women school teachers who were accused of being lesbians.  It was not an accident that the play addressed the devastating effects of social judgments on private lives.  It was a topic Hellman examined in her work all her life, including in her memoirs, considered some of the most engaging ever written.

In 1937, Hellman joined 88 other prominent public figures in signing a letter to progressives in the U.S. warning that it would be a fascist act to interfere with the Soviet Union's attempts to prevent a reactionary coup against its newly established socialist government.  The letter called for a "united front against fascism" and marked Hellman forever after as a political critic worthy of suspicion in her native land.  Still, she called her two years as a member of the U.S. Communist Party "very casual" in that she wasn't a burning political firebrand.  She just disagreed with almost everybody about almost anything -- except that people ought to be allowed to think for themselves.

We might imagine that the plays Hellman wrote against fascism during World War II and her fundraising for anti-Nazis imprisoned in France would have made her look like a patriot, but instead it got her branded as a Communist and she was eventually blacklisted in Hollywood along with other people in the film industry who were considered suspect.  Nevertheless, unrepentant and aware that she could wind up in prison for doing so, when she was called up to testify before the House Un-American Activities Committee, Hellman refused to talk about anyone other than herself and issued a press release which read, in part, "I cannot and will not cut my conscience to fit this year's fashions."  In-your-face women are famous for their snappy answers.