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

Saturday, June 30, 2012

Clarina Nichols

An observer might have guessed they were looking at an in-your-face woman when Clarina Nichols divorced her first husband in Vermont in 1843, taking her three children with her, and then married her boss -- a newspaper editor much older than her. When he became ill, she took over the newspaper herself and began to use it to push agendas for which she had developed great passion: especially women's rights and the abolition of slavery.

Then, when Kansas moved in the direction of legalizing slavery in 1854, Nichols packed up the whole family and dragged them all out there to fight the good fight in the not yet settled West. Her aged husband kindly died the following year, freeing her up to spend even more time outside the home as a newspaper editor, speaker, organizer, and conductor on the Underground Railroad, while her sons joined John Brown in his war on slavery.

Despite the fact that Nichols' role in freedom struggles is often overlooked, Susan B. Anthony included an entire chapter on her in her book on the History of Woman Suffrage and the best known biography of Nichols is entitled Revolutionary Heart. In one of her speeches, Nichols has been quoted as saying, "Though I bought the dress I'm wearing with my own money, my husband by law owns it, not of his own will, but by a law adopted by bachelors and other women's husbands. I don't think it's fair for men to tease women about wanting to wear men's pants until men give up their right to own women's skirts." Sounds like an in-your-face woman, all right.

Friday, June 29, 2012

Lilian Ngoyi

In 1952, Lilian Ngoyi was "just" a poverty-stricken uneducated Black 41-year-old seamstress with two kids and an elderly mother to support when she suddenly discovered that she was an in-your-face woman. A year later, much to the horror of The Powers That Be, she was the President of a major women's political organization and helping to lead 20,000 women on a protest march against the apartheid government.

Recognizing the importance of international support of their struggle, but living under a power structure that restricted Black people's (and especially Black activists) every move, Ngoyi and another in-your-face woman decided that they must stow away on a boat under "White" names, convince a pilot to let them sit in segregated "White" seats on a plane, and talk their way into Great Britain to complete a Bible study course, knowing they might never see their families again.

Six countries and countless meetings with radical women later, Ngoyi boldly returned to South Africa, expecting to be arrested -- which she, needless to say, was. Her punishment started off with seventy-one days in solitary confinement and then continued for eleven years, during which she was constantly monitored, often held in what amounted to house arrest. But they couldn't shut her up or shut her down. Her powerful voice inspired all listeners to struggle on to victory.

Today, the square where the women gathered for that first historic march is called Lilian Ngoyi Square. And rightly so.

Thursday, June 28, 2012

Victoria Neuville

Like most pilots, "Toria" Neuville was already flying while still in her teens and by the time she was twenty, she had announced her intention to make flying her career. Unfortunately, flight training and the accumulation of flight time hours is highly expensive. But by hook and by crook, Neuville held her course over the years, even when medical issues threatened to de-rail her progress.

The worst of these was a detached retina that left her blind in part of her left eye and therefore grounded from being behind the controls of any aircraft. But Neuville didn't even consider giving up her dream. Multiple surgeries and healing treatments later, she was -- just as she said she would be -- back in the air, hanging upside down doing aerobatics.

Sometimes the process of doggedly getting where she's determined to go takes so long that it masks how in-your-face a woman really is.  Don't be fooled.

Wednesday, June 27, 2012

Agnes Nestor

Once Agnes Nestor had led a successful 10-day strike against the management of the glove factory where she worked in Chicago, Illinois, in 1898 at the age of eighteen, she decided that she no longer needed the help of the union men who had taught her how to do it. So she started a women's union local in 1902 and followed that up almost immediately with helping to found the International Glove Workers Union where she remained in one leadership position or another for 46 years. And -- as if that wasn't enough -- she also served as the President of the Chicago Women's Trade Union League from 1913 until she died in 1948.

Besides organizing garment industry unions, Nestor campaigned ferociously for a minimum wage, an 8-hour work day and maternity health legislation while fighting child labor tooth and nail -- all at a time when women didn't even have the right to vote. In-your-face women don't ask permission.

Tuesday, June 26, 2012

Carrie Nation

Born in the mid-1800's, Carrie Nation referred to herself as a "bulldog running along at the feet of Jesus, barking at what He doesn't like." More specifically, Nation barked most loud and long about Demon Rum and became famous for stomping into taverns full of men drinking up their weekly paychecks, so she could take a hatchet to the bar holding their beers.

At almost six feet tall and weighing 175 pounds, with her hatchet in tow and a decidedly no-nonsense look on her face, Nation inspired fear, if not respect, among the bartenders and drinkers she unapologetically terrorized. And she cared not one whit for how people laughed behind her back since she believed absolutely that God had called her to free the U.S. from what she saw as bondage to alcohol.

Growing up in a household marked by slave-holding, poverty, and mental illness, Nation first married a doctor who fairly rapidly died of alcoholism, leaving the heart-broken woman to raise their baby daughter by taking a job as a teacher. Marrying a lawyer the second time around, Nation focused on her family's needs for some years. Then, in the late 1800's, in Medicine Lodge, Kansas, Nation organized a local branch of the Women's Christian Temperance Union to campaign for Kansas' ban on the sale of liquor.

Instructed in a "vision" to save men from a drunkard's fate by smashing the bottles waiting behind the bars of Kansas taverns, Nation went forth into history, leaving her husband (who soon divorced her) behind. Sometimes she could get other women to go along on her missions of destruction, but supported or alone, Nation forged full steam ahead, arrested more than thirty times between 1900 and 1910 for what she called her "hatchetations."

Ultimately unsuccessful in her efforts to see alcohol a thing of the past in America, her mental stability in question off and on throughout her life, and regardless of what we might think of her today, Nation was certainly an in-your-face woman. Which is why so many taverns in the early 1900's had a sign in the window reading, "All Nations Welcome But Carrie."

Monday, June 25, 2012

Sarojini Naidu

Born to an academic father and a mother who was a poet, Sarojini Naidu  might have lived a peaceful and circumspect life if she hadn't been an in-your-face woman. A published poet herself at twelve, Naidu graduated at the top of her class and won a scholarship to study in England at sixteen. Eventually, of course, she married, as was the custom of the day. In spite of this, however, she joined the Indian National Movement in 1905 and began traveling around, calling for India's independence from Great Britain and boldly encouraging women to get out of the kitchen and press for the vote.

When Naidu met Mahatma Gandhi in 1916, her fate as a full-scale freedom fighter was sealed and from then on, many of the most famous photos of Gandhi-ji feature Naidu on one side or the other of the man who first crafted the technique of civil disobedience (now called non-violent direct action). After that fortuitous meeting, Naidu amped up the level of her already vigorous revolutionary activism. She wrote, spoke, and organized -- particularly other women -- and, as might have been expected, was subsequently arrested and imprisoned for her unapologetic demands. But nothing could stop her. "When there is oppression," she wrote, "the only self-respecting thing is to rise and say this shall cease today, because my right is justice."

Widely respected for her commitment and clarity of vision, Naidu was ultimately thrust into leadership positions in the political structure of India, first to preside over the Indian National Congress in 1925, then to preside over the East African Indian Congress in South Africa in 1929, and finally as the Governor of Uttar Pradesh, the largest state in India, the position she held when she died. Her birthday on February 13th is celebrated every year in India as Women's Day. Perhaps they should call it In-Your-Face Women's Day instead. Hmmm?

Sunday, June 24, 2012

Tori Murden

Some folks are athletes. Some folks are scholars. But not usually both. Tori Murden proved it can be done -- and then some. First, she earned a Bachelor's degree in psychology from Smith, a Master's degree in divinity from Harvard, and a law degree from University of Louisville. Then, she decided to row a boat -- alone and without assistance -- across the Atlantic Ocean.

Her first try in 1998 -- at thirty-five years old -- was a bust when a hurricane got in the way. Not to be stopped, however, Murden just re-grouped and went back out in 1999 to successfully complete an 81-day, 3000 mile trip from the Canary Islands to Guadalupe. Having faced and mastered the ocean, she has subsequently skied 750 miles across Antarctica to the South Pole and climbed mountains on several continents. Yet she calls herself an "explorer," rather than an "adventurer."

She has worked with troubled teens and homeless families, been the Chaplain at Boston City Hospital, and  served as a Public Policy Assistant to the Mayor of a major city. She earned yet another degree: a Master's of Fine Arts in Writing in 2005. She's the Chair of the Board of the National Outdoor Leadership School. She even helped Mohammed Ali set up the Mohammed Ali Center in Louisville, Kentucky. And she's the President of Spalding University. No wonder she's won multiple awards around the world. No wonder her memoirs were published in 2009. No wonder she makes the list as an in-your-face woman.

Saturday, June 23, 2012

Shirley Muldowney

It's unlikely many people would guess that the first person to win two and then three National Hot Rod Association Top Fuel dragster championships was a woman, but that's the case. In fact, over her career as a race car driver, Shirley "Cha Cha" Muldowney won a total of eighteen NHRA national championships.

As a teenager in the 1950's, Muldowney -- already an in-your-face woman -- preferred to run the streets than go school, so she hooked up with a mechanic who taught her how to drive and, by the time she was twenty-five, she had her pro race car driver's license. Nobody connected to Top Fuel (a combination of nitromethane and methanol) wanted Muldowney on the track -- not the Association, not the owners, not even the other racers. But Muldowney wouldn't quit and was shortly beating all comers. Repeatedly.

Even after a crash in 1984 that left much of her body crushed, Muldowney kept racing until she was nearly sixty years old. Inducted into the Motorsports Hall of Fame (1990) and the International Motorsports Hall of Fame (2004), ESPN had no choice but to place her on their list of the Top 25 Drivers of All Time (2008).

When the feature-length movie "Heart Like a Wheel" was released in 1983 to tell Muldowney's story, she was unimpressed. "[Bonnie Bedelia] got out of a race car like she was getting up from the dinner table," she flipped. The star who played Muldowney in the film was obviously not in-your-face enough for "Cha Cha" Muldowney. But then how would that have been possible?

Friday, June 22, 2012

Lucretia Mott

When Lucretia Mott graduated from school and began her own teaching career, she was fine until she realized that men teachers were being paid three times as much as women teachers (such as herself). And then she wasn't fine anymore.

As a Quaker, she wasn't fine with slavery either. In fact, she refused to use cotton cloth, cane sugar or anything else produced by slave labor. And she helped to found the Philadelphia Female Anti-Slavery Society with both Black and White members, an uncommon thing to do before the Civil War.

She was also known to speak before Black congregations and, again, this was far from common practice at a time when women speaking in public at all was deemed by many -- even many Quakers -- as against Bible teaching, let alone the audience was made up of both men and women (called "promiscuous" by those with the power to define). So Mott got as many attacks as she got support, but she kept on keepin' on anyway. On one occasion, when a crowd of nearly twenty thousand threatened violence against a group of women Mott had organized to discuss boycotting slave-produced goods, Mott (at barely five feet tall and weighing less than one hundred pounds) had each Black woman leave the hall and walk to safety arm in arm with a White woman.

When a General Anti-Slavery Convention was convened in London, England, in 1840, Mott and the other women delegates were forced to sit in a separate area, segregated from the men. Despite this fact, however, one reporter still called her "the Lioness of the Convention." She advocated for world peace, racial justice, women's rights, and compassion for the poor and imprisoned. And in 1848, when she met at Seneca Falls, New York, with other women to talk about women's rights, they signed a Declaration stating, "We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men and women are created equal," and further demanding "all the rights and privileges which belong to [women] as citizens of the United States." One can only wonder what an in-your-face woman like Lucretia Mott would think of the fact that, more than one hundred fifty years later, we're still waiting.

Thursday, June 21, 2012

Pat Morris

Most people in the United States and many outside it are aware of the work of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP). After all, it was founded in 1909 by individuals (both Black and White) who wanted to see everyone born in the U.S. treated as full citizens.

Through the decades since then, members of the NAACP have helped to change life in the U.S.A., one example being the famous Brown v. the Board of Education legal case that (ostensibly) integrated the public schools nationally in 1957. While it has become increasingly obvious that many schools -- especially many poverty-stricken schools -- remain racially segregated for the most part, few stand to call this practice into question.

In a rural, half Black parish in the belly of Louisiana, however, an in-your-face woman named Pat Morris not so quietly chips away at the feet of clay under the monument of White Supremacy. Not only did she -- as President of her local NAACP branch -- successfully get her parish's School Board dragged back into federal court in 2007 for not living up to the court's order to de-segregate the parish schools back in 1977 (already more than twenty years after Brown v. Board and now thirty years ago!), but she has stayed on their tails constantly since then, forcing them at every turn to do what is legal and right for the future of the parish's children.

Her decision to take on a power structure that has been in place for generations cost her economic security while she was blackballed by every employer in the parish for the first four years of the fight. During that time, it also cost her access to employer-provided health insurance to cover the stress-related health issues created by her commitment to social change. And it's resulted in a constant on-going barrage of insults, name-calling, and other people's fears that to be perceived as close to Morris is to risk their own well-being.

Worse, however, it's cost her many nights of sleep, interrupted by muffled death threats on her personal telephone. And these are not idle threats. Her car motor has already been destroyed twice by vandalism and on one occasion, all her tire lug nuts were found to have been loosened by someone who knew full well how much time she spends on the highway.

How does she handle death threats on the phone in the middle of the night, knowing they come from people more than willing to do the deed if they can get away with it? She tells them she'll meet them anywhere they say anytime, lay down her life, and then haunt their every waking moment until their miserable days on earth are done. Apparently, they believe her. And they know an in-your-face woman when they see one.

Wednesday, June 20, 2012

Robin Morgan

Not even in-your-face women usually have their own hit radio show at the age of five, but Robin Morgan did and it was even called "The Robin Morgan Show." Then she spent the rest of her childhood playing roles on popular television shows during the 1950's.

The 1960's launched not only her writing career (she was a published poet at seventeen), but also her personna as a radical political activist. She walked away from the Youth International Party (the "Yippies") because its leadership was sexist. She organized the first public protest of the Miss America Pageant. She performed street theater to draw attention to the oppression of women. She even came up with the most widely used feminist symbol in the world: a fist in the middle of the symbol for "woman." When Grove Press fired her and a bunch of other folks for trying to unionize the company, Morgan led eight of her colleagues (all in-your-face women) to take over and occupy the offices in protest, though they knew they would be arrested.

Her anthology entitled Sisterhood is Powerful, called one of the 100 most influential books of the 20th Century by the New York Library, covered such topics as female orgasm, radical lesbian relationships, the difficulties of being Black and female, and the nature of prostitution -- in 1970! For her subsequent book, Sisterhood is Global, Morgan sought out revolutionary women in more than seventy countries. And as if that wasn't enough, she spent a couple of decades editing Ms Magazine, just for good measure.

Still holding her own as an in-your-face woman and one of the "women men warned us about" (her line), Robin Morgan also once wrote: "Only she who attempts the absurd can achieve the impossible." So let's get to it, huh? Time's wasting!

Tuesday, June 19, 2012

Queen Esther Montour

Queen Esther Montour of the Seneca nation lived with a goodly group of her people at the junction of the Chemung and Susquehanna Rivers in Pennsylvania in 1790. The United States was barely an idea and the French, the English, the Yankees, and the Native Americans were still very much jockeying for their respective positions. The Europeans, of course, believed that they had a right to the land based on documents they brought with them from their respective "Old Countries." The Yankees fully intended to turn this "New World" into their own nation. The Native Americans, on the other hand, indigenous to the continent for thousands of years, didn't agree.

Sometimes they got along (more or less). Sometimes one group of European nationals would enlist the aid of the Natives against another group of Europeans. And the Natives didn't have a problem working both ends against the middle, since, as far as they were concerned, the Europeans were fighting each other over what didn't belong to them in the first place. So it was in this context that Queen Esther's son was shot to death in some battle or another.

Enraged and distraught, at her next opportunity ( a few days later), Queen Esther -- described as a "fury of a woman," tall and slender, walking very upright -- had her subjects gather up fourteen or fifteen Yankees and put them in a circle around a big rock. Wearing a breech cloth and black and white war paint, she then proceeded around the circle, singing while she used a club or tomahawk to relieve the prisoners of their brains one by one. Still not satisfied, she had her warriors put nine more Yankees around another rock and proceeded to go through the process again.

Today, the battle during which this event took place is known as the Wyoming (Pennsylvania) Massacre since, overall, 227 of 350 Yankee soldiers were killed and scalped. Interestingly enough, there are many historical accounts of Queen Esther protecting and treating Europeans kindly in various situations. She was, in fact, at least part French and wore a necklace of white beads from which a cross hung. Still, as evidenced at the Wyoming Massacre, one must never underestimate an in-your-face woman. It can be detrimental to your health.

Monday, June 18, 2012

Rita Levi Montalcini

When the Italians made Rita Levi Montalcini a Senator for life at the age of 92, they may have meant it as a symbolic gesture of respect. Certainly, we can imagine that they had rather specific (and reasonable?) expectations of her actual length and degree of service. After all, it would seem that even an in-your-face woman would start taking a day off once in a while when she reaches one hundred years old. But Montalcini, who won the Nobel Prize for medicine in 1986, apparently has no such intention.

And it's not like she's had an easy time of it either. Shut out of university research settings by Benito Mussolini's anti-Jewish laws during World War II, Montalcini just stayed home -- and bull-headedly conducted her research in her bedroom there, moving it from time to time one step ahead of the brownshirts. It wasn't the first time she had bucked in the face of male power. In 1930, when she announced her decision to go to medical school and her father expressed his concerns that "a professional career would interfere with the duties of a wife and mother," she simply went anyway.

And she's still going. To speak her mind as the Senior Member of the Senate in Italy. To present ideas at academic gatherings around the world. To accept an award from some prestigious body.  Or to appear in public and the media in support of the left-wing candidates she belligerently works to elect -- a practice for which she is openly insulted to her face and on conservative right-wing blogs.

Montalcini's unconcerned with other people's criticism. In 2009, at her 100th birthday celebration, she said, "I have a mind that is superior -- thanks to experience -- than it was at 20." And nobody contradicted her. They knew you can't win an argument with an in-your-face woman.

Sunday, June 17, 2012

Jerrie Mock

Geraldine "Jerrie" Mock, like many other in-your-face women, jumped outside the box at an early age when she went up in a Ford Tri-Motor as a child in 1931 and never got over it. But, of course, she had to grow up, get married, and have children, so even though she did become a pilot and open her own flight school and airplane rental service, she did it "on the side."

Then, she got it into her head to fly around the world and see all those places she had only heard about. The next thing you knew, her basement was full of airways charts, financing was arranged from her hometown newspaper and a group of aviation equipment manufacturers, and her Cessna 180 -- nicknamed "Charlie" -- was modified with fancy avionics and enough super large tanks to carry 178 gallons of gas.

Taking off from the Port Columbus, Ohio, airport on March 19, 1964, Mock faced a 29-day 23,206 mile trip she had entirely planned herself to include nineteen stops. What it also included, however, was severe icing over the Atlantic, vicious wind fronts, a Sahara Desert sandstorm, faulty brakes that threw her plane into a series of 360 degree spins in Bermuda, and the discovery that a main antenna motor wire was disconnected and taped off (suggesting foul play)!

Nevertheless, Mock made the trip, touched down safely back in Columbus on April 25th, and even beat out another pilot -- also a woman -- who had tried at the last minute to complete a round-the-world loop herself before Mock could get it done. "I never wanted it to be a race," Mock said simply, "but once it became one, I decided to try and win it." Of course.

Saturday, June 16, 2012

Joan Mitchell

Abstract Expressionist painter Joan Mitchell's father once told her "You can’t do anything as well as I because you are a woman." Mitchell didn't appreciate that. And she didn't appreciate having herself and her work pushed to the side throughout her career so that real (male) artists and their work could be more properly considered and respected. So she -- like many in-your-face women -- "acted out."

Depressed and alcoholic, she was known for her foul mouth, violent outbursts and general rudeness, not to mention her sexual escapades, none of which would have been given a second thought, of course, if she'd been a wildly talented artist -- and a man. But since she was female, her in-your-faced-ness was used as an excuse to further alienate her from the center of the art world where she probably belonged.

Poet John Asbury said Mitchell's work has "an energy that seem[s] to have other things in mind than the desire to please." And only days before her death from lung cancer, Mitchell could be seen drinking Chablis in the hospital corridor, surrounded by adoring young artists. A queen -- in-your-face -- to the end.

Friday, June 15, 2012

The Mirabal Sisters

In the 1950's, nobody in the Dominican Republic dared deny Rafael Trujillo (the country's dictator) anything. Except Minerva Mirabal who told him to take a hike when the notorious womanizer showed his "interest" in the beautiful and intelligent young woman thirty-five years his junior. His continued advances put great pressure on Mirabal's family and, as a further attempt to force her hand, when she became a lawyer, he saw to it that she wouldn't be able to get a license to practice her profession.

Mirabal's in-your-face response? She joined the movement to overthrow Trujillo, who had been in power for nearly thirty years -- most of it by military might and the moral will to kill as many as 50,000 people to maintain his position. She was hardly alone in hating him. Even two of her sisters, Patria and Maria Teresa, stood with her against "El Jefe" ("The Chief").

Despite the fact that the sisters eventually married and had children, Minerva and Maria Teresa went to prison and were tortured several times. In fact, because of the sisters' aggressive political activism, their families -- once quite wealthy -- lost everything: land, houses, and property. Nevertheless, they and their husbands helped to form the 14th of June Movement, named for the 1959 organized uprising against the Trujillo regime. And because Minerva's underground name was "Mariposa" (meaning "Butterfly") the revolutionary sisters became known affectionately and with great respect as "La Mariposas" and seen as the soul of the resistance.

When popular opinion and pressure from the Organization of American States and even the Catholic Church brought increased pressure on Trujillo to step down, "El Jefe" began to imagine that, if he could just get rid of "La Mariposas," his problems would go away. So, on a rainy night on November 25, 1960, as the Mirabal sisters returned from visiting their husbands in prison, they were stopped, taken into a sugar cane field by a team of Trujillo's most trusted henchmen and clubbed and strangled to death. They were thirty-six (Patria), thirty-four (Minerva) and twenty-four (Maria Teresa) at the time. Six months later, Trujillo was ambushed and shot to death on a public road just outside the capital. His body was riddled with bullets and had to be buried in Europe to keep it safe. In-your-face women follow their enemies to the grave.

Thursday, June 14, 2012

Lee Miller

In 1927, Lee Miller started out as a much sought after fashion model in the United States until a famous photographer sold a shot of her to the Kotex company to use in an advertisement for feminine hygiene products. The minute it appeared in magazines, the image produced such a scandal, it looked as if her career was over. But whenever a door shuts on an in-your-face woman, she just kicks open another door.

In Miller's case, she wangled an introduction to the well-known surrealist photographer Man Ray, who lived and worked in Paris. Modeling for Ray while she honed her craft as a surrealist photographer herself, Miller soon began to get noticed for something besides her beauty.

The beginning of World War II found Miller living in Great Britain and, ignoring U.S. Embassy orders for all Americans to return home immediately, she took a position as a freelance war photographer for Vogue Magazine. By the end of the war five years later, she had established herself as a serious photojournalist, having covered such difficult locations as the fighting in Luxembourg and Alsace, the liberation of Buchenwald and Dachau, harrowing scenes of children dying in Vienna, and even the execution of Prime Minister Lazlo Bardossy. In the concentration camps, when the other photographers couldn't bring themselves to do anything but puke, Miller was doggedly snapping one shot after another.

Unfortunately, Miller's war time experiences left her struggling for the rest of her life with post-traumatic stress disorder and depression. Yet the work she forced herself to do during that time will stand as a record to chronicle all that horror so the victims will not have died in vain. Sometimes in-your-face women pay dearly for their refusal to turn away from the task that lies before them when they believe it's the right thing to do.

Wednesday, June 13, 2012

Louise Michel

Being born in France in the mid-1800's and trained to be a teacher, Louise Michel may have startled a few folks right at first when she refused to acknowledge Napoleon III, which meant she wouldn't be allowed to teach in public school. But by the time she'd found a small school that would accept her in the Montmarte section of Paris, it was apparent to anyone who would listen that Michel was an anarchist of the first order.

On the front lines, during the Commune of Paris, when the workers ran the government out of town and took over the city for a couple of months, Michel fought at the barricades, carried the injured to safety, recruited street people to join the struggle, wrote revolutionary poetry, and spent hours ranting passionate tirades against those with the power. Dragged into court and tried for attempting to overthrow the government by means of armed violence, Michel stared down the judge and said, "Since it seems that every heart that beats for freedom has no right to anything but a little slug of lead, I demand my share. If you let me live, I shall never cease to cry for vengeance." Which got her deported to the South Pacific.

This might have discouraged some people, but Louise Michel was an in-your-face woman, so she just learned the indigenous language and started organizing the native islanders to fight for their own liberation from the French colonists. So they sent Michel back to France.

Back in France, of course, Michel picked up where she left off: organizing, teaching, writing, and speaking throughout France. Putting her in prison or jail for periods of up to several years at a time didn't even slow her down and certainly didn't stop her. So someone eventually got the idea to try putting her in a mental hospital, except that they couldn't even get her in the door before she escaped to England to continue her work there.

When Michel died at the age of seventy-five, she was in a hotel room in Marseilles preparing to give another revolutionary speech. Today, many schools, historical sites, a famous church courtyard in the Montmarte, and the Parisian metro station are all named for the woman who was referred to by one scholar as "the French grande dame of anarchy." The bottom line is that Louise Michel simply wouldn't shut her mouth about what she believed to be true, something that has been said about many in-your-face women.

Tuesday, June 12, 2012

Jane Digby el Mezrab

Born an English aristocrat in the early 1800's, Jane Digby must have been fairly easily bored. We can guess this because she took four husbands and many lovers, including King Ludwig I of Bavaria; his son, King Otto of Greece; and who knows how many statesmen and generals.

Divorced from her first husband -- the 2nd Baron of Ellenborough -- by an act of Parliament for her "scandalous life," Digby wrecked emotional havoc across Europe in her effort to keep herself occupied. Once, when she tired of royalty, she hooked up for a while with a Greek revolutionary, living with him in caves and hunting on horseback for their dinner.

When she was forty-six (and he was twenty-six!), she married a Syrian sheikh under Muslim law, added el Mezrab to her name, learned Arabic ( in addition to the eight languages she already knew), started dressing Arab style, and began living six months per year in a goat-hair tent in the desert. And the happy couple stayed together until she died nearly three decades later. An in-your-face woman can really get someone's attention. Even a sheikh. Half her age.

Monday, June 11, 2012

Margaret Mead

Anthropologist Margaret Mead had a lot to do with the "sexual revolution" in the 1960's. For starters, her research in Samoa suggested that we'd all be a lot healthier and more rational, not to mention happier, if we just "went with the flow" as sexual beings rather than "saving ourselves for marriage," as we were being taught to do (but all too often, didn't).

Married three times herself and in at least two long-standing lesbian relationships, as well, Mead was suspect, at best, in elitist academic circles. Worse, however, was the fact that her work further challenged our perceptions and practices of gender and sexuality in Western societies. She convinced Dr. Benjamin Spock, for example, that it's better to breastfeed babies when they're hungry rather than according to a schedule. Countering the idea that men are "by nature" aggressive and women are "by nature" submissive, she published research demonstrating that there are cultures wherein both genders are aggressive, cultures wherein both genders are not aggressive and even cultures wherein the women are practical and the men "primp." And she suggested that societal pressures cause adolescent angst and rebellion!

Needless to say, the criticisms came hard and fast -- once she was dead -- but they were ultimately nit-picking or debunked. And, in fact, U.S. President Jimmy Carter awarded her a Presidential Medal of Freedom a year after her death in 1978. The citation reads: "Intrepid, independent, plain spoken, fearless, [Margaret Mead] remains a model for the young and a teacher from whom all may learn."

Her instruction to those who listen to in-your-face women? "Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has."

Sunday, June 10, 2012

Patricia McCormick

Born in St Louis, Missouri in 1930, Patricia McCormick wanted to be a bullfighter from the first time she saw one in Mexico City when she was seven-years-old. Looking back, she later said, "To go into that kind of precarious work, there has to be an obsession."

So, despite the fact that she eventually became an art student at Texas Western in El Paso, she was drawn repeatedly to the bullfights just over the border in Ciudad Juarez. Everybody told her that she didn't have the money or the contacts or the Latin blood to get herself into the arena, let alone taken seriously. Nevertheless, McCormick took her shy self back to Ciudad Juarez again and again until she talked Alejandro del Hierro into accepting her as his student and, ultimately, his prodigy.

The tall, blonde Yanqui woman was soon the talk of Mexico. Allowed to join the Bullfighter's Union in 1951, McCormick killed 1000 bulls in the decade that followed and suffered six brutal gorings, one of which resulted in her receiving the last rites.

Today, McCormick lives quietly with her cat, but her website reminds us still that even a shy woman can be in-your-face when she wants to be.

Saturday, June 9, 2012


Matuschka has had a roller coaster of a life. Orphaned at thirteen, she ran away to New York City the following year, only to be returned to foster care in New Jersey the year after that. Because she demonstrated strong talent as an artist, she got multiple opportunities to develop her skills and, at nearly six feet tall, she bankrolled her art by being a model for artists and photographers (including herself) before she was even out of her teens.

Arriving back in New York City in the 1970's, she was instantly embraced by the Andy Warhol-Studio 54 kaleidoscope of nightlife featuring youth and beauty, art and music, sex and drugs, where she hobnobbed with the rich and infamous and was very much one of them.

For the next couple of decades, Matuschka kept busy (when she wasn't modeling) by writing songs for and singing in front of a rock band called "The Ruins," dressing Bergdorff Goodman's windows on Fifth Avenue, and building her own body of work, including not only photographic studies of herself, but a series of paintings of prostitutes she entitled "Whores Galore." Not surprisingly, her work sold quickly and at respectable prices.

Then, the super-glam world of the bigger-than-life Matuschka was invaded by the announcement that she had breast cancer and would lose her right breast. Rather than collapsing under the weight of this new challenge, however, she threw back her head and catapulted herself into worldwide recognition by creating an exhibit entitled "Beauty Out of Damage," displaying the naked scar where her right breast used to be. In 2003, one of the photos from that collection was named by Life Magazine as one of the 100 photographs that changed the world since the invention of the camera.

Since then, Matuschka has used her recognition and talent to raise questions about identity, race and gender. And her latest exhibit examines consumerism because, as this artist/photographer/model/singer/activist says, "You are what you bag." In-your-face women tell the truth -- about themselves, about reality, about life.

Friday, June 8, 2012

Beryl Markham

Born as an upper-class European and raised in Kenya by African workers while her father ran his farm and her mother lived in England, Beryl Markham was only allowed to hunt and skin animals because she was White. Kenyan women weren't permitted to participate in such "manly" processes. But this serves as a great example of how opposing forces can sometimes create strange and wonderful results.

She grew up barefoot. Her first language was Swahili. Her best friend was an African boy named Kibii.  She made sure she was always expelled from school so she could focus on the things she really cared about. And being left largely to her own devices, she was more or less "adopted" by the various African family groups around whom she spent virtually all her time. Eventually, she even moved into her own mud hut with a thatched roof. So, when her father's ranch went bust, Markham -- just eighteen -- refused to go to Peru with him, choosing instead to stay in Kenya alone as a horse trainer rather than to just play it safe.

Several husbands and several more unapologetic affairs later, she was introduced to flying and jumped from horses to planes without hesitation. She logged her hours and learned how to read a map, clean jets, and take apart an engine. And in short order, she had her commercial pilot's license. But that wasn't enough for her. Later, she would remark, "A life has to move or it stagnates. Every tomorrow ought not to resemble every yesterday."

So it was completely in character for Markham to ultimately take on the challenge of crossing the Atlantic from Europe to North America, a particularly long and difficult flight that had been accomplished successfully only once before because it goes against the prevailing winds and had taken the lives of several other people who attempted it. Taking off from Abingdon, England, on September 4, 1936, in a driving rain, Markham battled violent weather for more than twenty-one hours before crashing to the ground in Cape Breton, Nova Scotia. Arriving in New York City wearing a bandage on her forehead, looking to all the world like an Englishwoman, but carrying an African spirit in her in-your-face woman's soul, she went down in history with her arms raised in the typical African greeting. Salaam!

Thursday, June 7, 2012

Ella Maillart

When she died in 1997 at the age of 94, Ella Maillart's obituary in the New York Times said she'd been, among other things, an Olympic sailor, a competitive skier, a pioneer field hockey player, and a movie stuntwoman. But she was primarily known for traveling around taking photographs and writing about places few outsiders ever see and most would not be allowed to visit. Her motto was, "Nobody can go? Then I shall go." And she proved it over and over for decades.

At one point or another, she walked across the Caucasus Mountains, traveled through Russian Turkestan, spent time in Manchuria during the Japanese occupation, and crossed China under great hardship on train, horse, foot and camel back. Her photos and books invite us to come along on her journeys, which she saw as attempts to find and better understand herself. And still she calls to in-your-face women everywhere: "You can feel as brave as Columbus starting for the unknown the first time you enter a Chinese lane full of boys laughing at you, or when you risk climbing down in a Tibetan pub for a meal of rotten meat." Sounds exciting, huh? C'mon. Let's go.

Wednesday, June 6, 2012

Mukhtar Mai

In June of 2002, Mukhtar Mai was ordered by a Pakistani tribal council to be gang-raped as a punishment to her family for offending another family. She was expected to commit suicide afterward because, in her society, losing her virginity outside of marriage is thought to destroy a woman's worth. But Mai threw the council and the men who raped her an unexpected curve. Rather than kill herself, she sued the rapists in a court of law.

A stunned national media, unused to seeing such a situation brought boldly into the public eye by a woman (gasp!), picked up the story and soon it went international. A nine-year court battle ultimately acquitted the rapists (what a surprise!) and during the whole time period, Mai and her family, including the courageous man who chose to marry her despite her sexual "impurity," have been continually at risk.

Nevertheless, Mai established the Mukhtar Mai Women's Welfare Organization to support and educate Pakistani women and girls and subsequently won numerous international awards for her work. The Pakistani government and local feudal lords don't appreciate her refusal to back down. In fact, she walks through her days knowing that her in-your-face stance puts her life in danger. She has been illegally detained, brutally derided, and to the extent possible, cut off from the outside world. Yet she has built two schools for girls, a women's resource center, and a battered women's shelter in her region and her memoir has been published in twenty-three languages. Not being able to read and write doesn't keep an in-your-face woman quiet.

Tuesday, June 5, 2012


As a young girl in school, Madonna Louise Ciccone made straight A's, but she also did cartwheels down the hallways between classes to shock whoever was watching by showing her underwear. A decade later, when she appeared on the first MTV Music Video Awards show performing her huge hit about a young woman refusing to feel apologetic for getting pregnant out of wedlock, she shocked millions by rolling on the floor in a wedding dress.

By the time her lacy tops, fishnet stockings and short, short skirts over capri pants had become the fashion statement of choice around the world, Playboy and Penthouse magazines had found and published some old nude photos of the rock star, but Madonna (as she has been known since becoming famous) didn't flinch. Then, when the Vatican freaked out over a song video she did featuring religious symbols and a scene where she made love to a saint, she didn't pay them any mind. In fact, she said simply, "I know that I'm not the best singer and I know that I'm not the best dancer. But, I can fucking push people's buttons and be as provocative as I want. [My] goal is to break useless taboos."

Followed everywhere she goes by controversy and criticism, Madonna is nonetheless recognized in the Guinness' Book of World Records as the top selling woman recording artist of all time.  Not only did she start out as an in-your-face woman early in her career, but she has continued to be an in-your-face woman year after year, changing her image, but never leaving her in-your-faceness behind. One newspaper wrote of her: "Madonna, whether you like her or not, started a revolution amongst women in music...Her attitudes and opinions on sex, nudity, style and sexuality forced the public to sit up and take notice." And that's what in-your-face women do.

Monday, June 4, 2012

Jackie “Moms” Mabley

Loretta Aiken had been raped and impregnated twice by the time she was fifteen. Her stepfather's solution was to marry her off to a much older man, who we can guess, was happy to help. But Loretta -- already an in-your-face woman -- wasn't having it. Instead, she ran off from her family home in North Carolina in 1912 to sing and entertain with a traveling minstrel show that was in Cleveland, Ohio, at the time.

Taking her stage name from an early boyfriend, who, she said, "took so much from her, she might as well take his name," she came out as a lesbian in 1924 while she was still in her twenties and, having done that, rapidly developed the nerve to start performing and recording the sexually-based comedy routines for which she became famous. Even though she was openly lesbian and wore androgynous clothing, Mabley eventually wound up with the nickname "Moms" because she mothered so many of the other young entertainers on the "Chitlin' Circuit," made up of African-American clubs that regularly hosted Black vaudeville shows.

So popular that she earned $10,000 per week while performing at the Apollo Theater in Harlem at the height of her career, she eventually became accepted by a wider White audience due to her appearances on television and was still performing in her late seventies. Switching from her earlier more mannish costumes to appear without her teeth in a house dress and floppy hat, "Moms" Mabley would crack jokes about her interest in young men and then tackle topics most comedians were still afraid of, including sex and racism. In one of her later routines, Mabley said, "Ol' men say, 'Times ain't like they used ta be.' I say, 'I'm damned glad of it!'" What she wasn't saying, but we know, is that in-your-face women like her are the reason times have changed.

Sunday, June 3, 2012

Wangari Muta Maathai

Wangari Muta Maathai was a wife, mother, and respected professor of biology at the University of Nairobi (Kenya) in the 1970's when her husband walked into court, claiming that she was "too strong-minded for a woman" and that, for this reason, "he was unable to control her." The judge granted him a divorce and she called the judge something that got her locked up in jail.

Unrepentant, Maathai sent her children to live with their father and ran for and ultimately won the position of Chairperson of the National Council of Women of Kenya. Not busy enough pushing one envelope, however, Maathai simultaneously worked to establish what came to be called the Green Belt Movement to combat desertification, deforestation, water crisis, and rural hunger throughout Sub-Saharan Africa.

For whatever reason (because they were unable to control her?), the men in power in Kenya fought Maathai at every level, undercutting her funding, manipulating the courts, calling her "a crazy woman" in the media, and even threatening her life.  But Maathai was an in-your-face woman.  At one point, the police had to besiege her house for three days before they finally cut through the bars in her windows to arrest her and take her to jail. It was only after a whole group of international organizations and eight U.S. Senators called for her release that the government let her go.

Instead of making her act more like a "proper" woman in the African tradition, however, her incarceration resulted in her going on a public hunger strike at a place she called "Freedom Corner" to demand the release of other political prisoners. Four days after the hunger strike began, she was knocked unconscious and hospitalized, while the President of Kenya himself went to the press, calling her a "mad woman" who was a "threat to the order and security of the country."

Ultimately deciding that what was really needed in her homeland was a revolution, Maathai committed to no less than a complete democratization of her nation's governmental system.  Eventually, needless to say, the Powers-That-Be in Kenya lost and Wangari Muta Maathai won. The Nobel Peace Prize, to be exact.

Most folks don't believe that one person can accomplish much, but in-your-face women do. All the time. Whether they're known for it or not.

Saturday, June 2, 2012

Tegla Loroupe

One of 24 children in her family in Kenya, Tegla Loroupe was raised as women often are in many cultures: as a beast of burden. Starting at age five, she carried water, she carried firewood, she carried babies on her back. Seen as "just a woman," Loroupe was not bought clothes or sent to school until her mother and older sister started pushing her to get an education. "If you own things of your own," they told her, "men won't own you."

She believes that the pain of her early life made it possible for her to be the Olympic champion runner she eventually became. And in 1994, Loroupe at only 4'11" and 82 pounds, won the New York City Marathon. Returning home, women in her Pokot ethnic group welcomed her, saying, "You showed that we are like the men. We can do things. We are not useless."

Loroupe has set world records, organized Peace Marathons in her homeland, and served to further diplomacy and peace around the world.  So, it was hardly surprising in June of 2011, when the International Olympic Committee honored six women (one from each continent and one from the world at large) for their athletic achievements and work promoting women's sports, Loroupe was awarded the world trophy. In-your-face women are in a category by themselves.

Friday, June 1, 2012

Audre Lorde

It is not by happenstance that world famous author and poet Audre Lorde put the word "warrior" before the word "poet" when referring to herself. Active in civil rights, anti-war, lesbian and womanist movements in the 1960's and beyond, Lorde was one of the first and most vehement of critics of early feminists for focusing primarily on the experiences of White middle-class women to the exclusion of women of color, whose lives were radically different.

Her essay "The Master's Tools Will Never Dismantle the Master's House" is considered by many to be a classic discussion of one of the most crucial concepts related to social change. Declaring without apology that White feminists who ignore the double burden of women of color (on both racial and gender lines) are "agents of oppression" just like White men, Lorde responded to their outrage by saying, "What you hear in my voice is fury, not suffering."

When arch-conservative and well-known racist Senator Jesse Helms attacked her work, Lorde wrote like the in-your-face woman she was: "Helms' objection to my work is not about obscenity...or even about sex. It is about revolution and change...[He] represents...white patriarchal power...[and he] knows that my writing is aimed at his destruction, and the destruction of every single thing he stands for."