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

Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Jeanette Rankin

In-your-face woman Jeanette Rankin apparently had it in her to serve the State of Montana and her country in the United States Congress. Unfortunately, she couldn't get there without women securing the right to vote. So she started her campaign, as it were, by working for women's suffrage five years before Montana allowed its female citizens to vote in 1914 and seven years before Rankin herself went to Washington.

Committed to women's rights, the rights of the poor (with whom she had worked in the Lower East Side of New York City), and the establishment of a participatory democracy welcoming input from all citizens, Rankin was a woman of the people and, as such, was so popular that she was elected in 1916 and again in 1940.

Unfortunately for Rankin's political career, her vote against sending the U.S. into World War I cost her much support because, even though forty-nine other Congressional Representatives voted against joining the war effort, as well, Rankin, as the only woman in Congress, was already hanging by a thread. Consequently, her first term ended the year before the 19th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution was finally enacted, giving women the right to vote.

Rankin, however, stayed busy. She lobbied to promote maternal and child health care. She moved into a one-room cabin without electricity in Georgia and began the Georgia Peace Society (which many Georgians called treasonous, accusing her of being a Communist). And she went back to Congress in 1940 and again voted against entering a world war (the only member of Congress to do so). "As a woman, I can't go to war," she told her fellow Congressional Representatives, "and I refuse to send anyone else."

Needless to say, she was sent packing the next election day, so she retired from electoral politics, but when the Vietnam War reared its ugly head nearly thirty years later, Rankin -- now 88-years-old -- organized and sent thousands of young protesters to Washington, D.C., calling themselves the Jeanette Rankin Brigade. In-your-face women stand for something and will, when necessary, stand alone.

Monday, July 30, 2012

Sally Rand

It's hard to imagine what Hattie Beck's Army colonel father and school teacher mother must have thought of her becoming a chorus girl in Missouri at thirteen years of age in 1917, but they either didn't -- or couldn't -- stop her.  Proceeding to work her way to Hollywood, Beck's in-your-face ambition (and long shapely legs, we can assume) soon got her noticed by Cecil B. DeMille, who put her in a few silent movies after changing her name to Sally Rand.

When the talkies came on the scene, any actor with a voice that didn't satisfy producers' criteria was pushed out or switched over in some way. So Rand became a dancer, but not just any kind of dancer. Rand became an in-your-face, over the top, looks-like-she's-naked dancer. And was promptly arrested four times in one day at the Chicago World Fair for riding down Chicago streets on horseback dressed only in feathers. In fact, from then on, she was routinely and often arrested for appearing to be naked.

It wasn't that people didn't know she wasn't naked. Au contraire! One judge, for example, even gave her immunity in advance in case she was arrested again for indecent exposure while she was out on bail after the current indecent exposure arrest. People (including judges, apparently) loved Rand's fan dancing. And Rand was getting so much attention -- and making so much money -- there was no way she was going to modify her costumes or her techniques.

It ultimately became so much fun for everybody that Rand was even arrested once wearing long underwear and a "censored by the SFPD" sign -- despite the judge's immunity ruling. "I haven't been out of work," Rand told reporters, "since the day I took my pants off!" Was that just an observation? Or was that an in-your-face woman's advice to the rest of us?

Sunday, July 29, 2012

Alice Huyler Ramsey

Nine months after the first Model T Ford rolled off the assembly line, while women were still being told that driving cars would be too much for them, Alice Huyler Ramsey, a 22-year-old wife and mother from Hackensack, New Jersey, loaded up three other women in a green Maxwell 30 and set out to drive across the United States. Fifty-nine days and 3,800 miles later (only 152 of which had been paved), Ramsey cruised into San Francisco to tell the tale to crowds of delighted well-wishers.

On the journey, Ramsey (who was the only driver in the car) changed eleven tires, cleaned the spark plugs, and repaired a broken brake pedal. And those weren't the only inconveniences. There was a killer loose in Nebraska, bedbugs in Wyoming, angry Native Americans in Nevada, and at least one night when they had to sleep in the car because it got stuck in the mud. But Ramsey -- in true in-your-face woman fashion -- not only didn't crack, she made the trip more than thirty times from 1909 to 1975 (when she was 89!). Interviewed by Ms Magazine after her last trip, Ramsey said simply, "Good driving has nothing to do with sex. It's all above the collar." Duh!

Saturday, July 28, 2012

Harriet Quimby

Only seven years after the Wright Brothers flew the first circle in a heavier-than-air powered machine, Harriet Quimby was awarded her pilot's certificate and the following year she flew across the English Channel. Unfortunately, she scheduled her flight for the day after the Titanic sunk and nobody -- but nobody -- was paying attention.

Far from being the tough type, Quimby was, in fact, a farm girl who became a photo-journalist and a screenwriter in the very early 1900's. But then she discovered flying. “If a woman wants to fly," she declared, "first of all, she must, of course, abandon skirts."

Taking planes into the wild blue yonder in the purple satin hooded jumpsuit she designed herself, she became such an overnight sensation that she was offered $100,000 to present a flying exhibition to an obviously large and well-paying crowd near Boston, Massachusetts, on July 1, 1912.

Buzzing around 1500 feet in the air in a brand new open cockpit two-seater Bleriot monoplane, Quimby and her passenger (the guy who had organized the event) were having a swell time thrilling the folks below when an air pocket caused the plane to lurch, ejecting them out of their seats and they fell to their deaths in front of their horrified viewers.

Quimby was thirty-seven. She wasn't married. She had no kids. She was supporting her parents. And she didn't even leave a diary. Oh, those in-your-face women! They can be a carefree and mysterious bunch, huh?

Friday, July 27, 2012

Anna Henryka Pustowojtowna

Polish nationalist Anna Henryka Pustowojtowna was the daughter of a tsarist general of Hungarian roots and a Polish mother who apparently felt strongly about her motherland. She lived for a time with a family of Polish soldiers who taught her how to fight. And she was arrested for her nationalist political activities the first time -- and escaped! -- at only eighteen years of age.

Taking the name Michal Smok, she fought valiantly under insurrectionist Marian Langiwicz. She was so valiant, in fact, that she was reported to have ridden into a hail of bullets in one battle, striking those who cowered with the flat of her broadsword and shouting, "Shame on you! Forward! Win or die!" Captured by the Austrians (along with Langiwicz), Pustowojtowna tried several times after her release to break her leader out of jail, but was ultimately forced to face the fact that she wasn't going to live long if she tried to stay in Poland.

So she went to Paris where she spent the rest of her life selling artificial flowers, teaching music, and raising children (her own and other people's). Oh, yes...and also fighting on the barricades to establish the Paris Commune of 1871. Sometimes, the in-your-faced-ness is part of a situation in which an ordinary woman finds herself. Sometimes, on the other hand, the in-your-faced-ness is part of the woman.

Thursday, July 26, 2012

Eleonore Prochaska

Not only have women fought in every war waged throughout history, but their stories have been a matter of public record. Ludwig van Beethoven wrote music for a play about Eleonore Prochaska, for example, and a memorial to the woman sometimes called the Potsdam Joan of Arc was erected in Potsdam in 1889, yet her name is hardly a household word.

Prochaska was born in 1785 to a poor Prussian army officer who sent her to an orphanage when her mother died. Like many European girl children set adrift, she was trained for domestic service, but something in her in-your-face woman's soul wouldn't let her settle for that. So she enlisted in the forces fighting against Napoleon, put on a uniform, and marched to war where she served first as a drummer and then as a regular foot soldier. Signing a letter August Renz, Private Voluntary with the Lutzow Freicorp, Prochaska wrote her brother that she was "convinced from the depth of my soul not to be committing any evil or light-headed deed...just consider how girls and women in Spain and Tirol have behaved [in fighting against Napoleon]...!"

A relatively short time later, she was wounded in battle and uttered her last recorded words, "Lieutenant, Sir. I am a girl." Unfortunately, she died of her wounds three weeks later after what was described as "unspeakable suffering," so we'll never know what would have happened next.

But the bottom line is that women have always and often demonstrated the same passions, courage and determination of men, despite the fact that they have been forced by patriarchal power structures to hide who they really are while they're doing it. It was no mistake, however, that Eleonore Prochaska's last words put her on the historical map not as just one more fallen soldier, but as an in-your-face woman.

Wednesday, July 25, 2012

Mary Ellen Pleasant

There are a lot of stories told about Mary Ellen Pleasant, most of them started by Pleasant herself. Insofar as she was apparently born sometime in the early 1800's, however, it's hard to know exactly which are true and which are not.

She claimed to be the daughter of a Virginia governor's son and a vodou priestess slave, for example. In any case, she appeared as a servant in a household on Nantucket in the 1820's, a wealthy household that was not only a stop on the Underground Railroad, but a place where well-known abolitionists showed up on a regular basis, as well.

Supported by her employers, Pleasant, passing for White, was soon deeply involved in Underground Railroad activities, which she carried out for many years in the North, in New Orleans (where she spent much time with the famous vodou practitioner Marie LaVeau) and in San Francisco, where she lived for the last decades of her life.

Pleasant married money on two occasions and learned how to make plenty of it herself, as well, by running exclusive restaurants where bankers and stockbrokers lunched and openly discussed their business matters. Consequently, by 1875, she shared a thirty million dollar fortune with her lover du jour, which she used to bankroll abolitionist endeavors. In fact, when John Brown was arrested while trying to rob the armory at Harper's Ferry, Virginia, he had a note in his pocket from Pleasant and it was only because the authorities failed to read the initials on the signature correctly that she escaped arrest and execution herself.

Pleasant's successful forays into anti-discrimination legal battles got her named the "mother of the civil rights movement" in California and her home designated in certain circles as the "Black City Hall." Nevertheless,  while she never made any bones about being Black in the Black community, she shocked more than a few White folks when she modified her listing in the San Francisco City Directory to read "Black" instead of "White" after the Civil War. In-your-face women play by their own rules and don't care much how other people feel about that.

Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Countess Emilia Plater

Poland, Lithuania, and Belarus all celebrate the legacy of the revolutionary Countess Emilia Plater who died young but has not been forgotten. Well educated as a child, her first heroes were women warriors Joan of Arc and Laskerina Boubalina (see the list of in-your-face women to your right), which would certainly indicate her commitment to in-your-facedness early on, especially since she bolstered her scholarly endeavors with training in how to ride horseback and shoot a gun.

When the Baltic States rose up against Imperial Russia in 1829, Plater cut off her hair, put on a uniform and equipped a unit of more than six hundred volunteers -- half trained soldiers and half peasants with war scythes. She led her unit into battle for more than a year alone or with others until a General tried to tell her to stand down and go home. When Plater flatly refused, the General made her the commanding officer of a regiment and ultimately promoted her to Captain.

Eventually, of course, Plater being already in-your-face, refused to follow an order and led her unit off on its own just before she became ill and died in 1831. Poems, books and paintings have established Plater's place in history and in World War II, a unit of Polish women soldiers was named in her honor. So why are we still debating whether or not women "should" go into combat?

Monday, July 23, 2012

Christine de Pizan

Not every in-your-face woman is immediately apparent. Though Christine de Pizan's father was a highly educated man in the 1300's in Venice and she was given unusual freedom to study languages and literature at will as a child, she married at fifteen as was the custom and brought three children into the world over the next decade. Then her husband died and de Pizan had to figure out how to support not only herself and her two living children, but her mother and niece, as well.

The standard practice would have been to marry again -- and quickly -- as high up the court's food chain as possible. But de Pizan had a different idea. She started writing and her poems about romantic exploits were clever enough that they soon became popular with the wealthy class who could afford to pay for her services. This would have been remarkable enough in and of itself, her being a woman and all. As a matter of fact, it was her being a woman that helped to sell her work, but de Pizan didn't stop there.

In the early 1400's, having established herself as a poet of some renown and therefore feeling her oats as an intellectual and writer, de Pizan jumped deeper into the written world to challenge writers whose work claimed that women are inferior to men for good and many reasons. Taking on Jean de Meun, one of the major literary players of the day, in a long and vigorous debate, de Pizan wound up making a good enough case against the slander of women in general in popular literature of the day that she was vaulted not only into history but into the annals of the in-your-face woman. She followed up her success by writing a book on the contributions of women to European society and then another on how women could combat the denigration of women generally. How in-your-face is that?

Sunday, July 22, 2012

Pine Leaf

When Pine Leaf's twin brother was killed by a member of the Blackfoot tribe, even though she was only a child, she vowed that she would never take a husband until she had personally killed a hundred enemy warriors. She was so serious about her commitment that the men of the Gros Ventre tribe (into which she was born in 1806) started training her in the art of war immediately.

At ten, she was captured by a Crow tribe, but her training continued. And by the time she reached adulthood, she was a legendary Crow warrior with many victories to her credit. Though she looked and dressed like the other women of the tribe, she ignored "womanly" duties to focus on honing her skills with the bow, the rifle, and the coup stick (a way of tallying up points for bravery by touching an enemy without injuring him or being injured yourself).

Her large herd of horses and many scalp locks demonstrating her fierceness in battle eventually got her voted onto the Council of Chiefs where her name became Woman Chief. Because of this, her lodge was ranked third out of 160 in the band and she had no less than four wives to take care of all her holdings. Ambushed and killed by Gros Ventre raiders in the mid-1800's, Pine Leaf was seen by Native Americans as one of those having two spirits (male and female). But maybe that's because they hadn't yet heard about in-your-face women.

Saturday, July 21, 2012

Emeline Pigott

Not only did Emeline Pigott tend to the sick and wounded Confederate soldiers quartered across the creek from her parents' house on the North Carolina coast, but she helped to provide them with food, clothing and medicine she had to stash in hollow logs for them to find because it was illegal to support the boys in gray. That was far from all she did, however.

Her main interest was to move mail, messages and supplies in big pockets under her hoop skirts -- sometimes as much as thirty pounds at a whack. Crossing the lines back and forth between those serving the Confederacy and those serving the Union, she became a primary source of sustenance and information for the Confederate cause, even though it put her in constant danger.

Finally arrested in the latter months of the war for suspicion of spying, she demanded to be searched by a White woman (rather than the Black woman that was already present) and while the Union soldiers were locating a White woman they could trust, Pigott promptly ate as much of the evidence as she could get down and tore the rest into little tiny pieces. Needless to say, it didn't get her off the hook. Still, for some odd reason, though she could have been executed, if found guilty, she was simply released to go home. The story goes that she was a very charming (in-your-face) woman. Indeed!

Friday, July 20, 2012

Gabrielle Petit

Having your mother die while you're just a child would be a hard thing to deal with. Having your working class father send you to a boarding school rather than let you stay with your one remaining parent would certainly add another emotional burden to your load. But Gabrielle Petit, who reached adulthood in Belgium just as Germany occupied her native land at the beginning of World War I, had already suffered both of these hardships by that time and was still standing.

So when her soldier fiance was wounded, Petit not only helped him to escape back into The Netherlands to rejoin his unit, but she reported everything she could remember to the British Intelligence authorities while she was there. Immediately impressed by her in-your-facedness, the Brits recruited her on the spot, gave her some training and ushered her back into Belgium to feed them additional and ongoing information about the German troops.

For nearly two years, using multiple false identities, Petit not only gathered and passed information, but assisted the underground resistance and distributed copies of the resistance newspaper, La libre Belgique, as well. Finally, in February of 1916 someone ratted her out to the Germans and she was arrested, tried and convicted of being a spy. Only twenty-two at the time, Petit divulged no information about her co-conspirators, even when offered clemency in exchange.

When the Germans preparing to execute Petit by firing squad offered her a blindfold, she refused, saying only, "Now you will see how a Belgian woman dies." Like an in-your-face woman, yes? Yes!

Thursday, July 19, 2012

Eva Peron

By the time Eva Peron died at the age of thirty-three, she was the wife of the President of Argentina and might well have been Vice President herself had she not developed cancer. Some consider her still the "collective consciousness" of her country. And Christina Fernandez (Argentina's current President) believes that her generation has been greatly inspired by Peron's "passion and combativeness."

Still, Peron's story didn't start out that way. Born in a poverty-stricken rural area in 1919 to the mistress of a wealthy man who eventually abandoned Eva's mother and five children without any type of support, Peron was early introduced to the daily struggle to find enough to eat. The realities of her family's life gave her an early determination to move to Buenos Aires and become an actress, which she did at the age of fifteen.

Meeting and marrying Col. Juan Peron (who was twice her age) a decade later, however, was the development that moved the ambitious young in-your-face woman into a whole new arena. First, she helped her new husband be elected President by using her own experiences with poverty to appeal to poor voters, who she called "the shirtless ones." Then, instead of focusing only on what she was to wear as the First Lady, Peron stretched her spheres of influence to include pushing for worker's rights, campaigning for women's right to vote (which she was instrumental in securing), and reaching out to provide housing, medical care and education for the poor. In fact, she felt so strongly about the plight of the poverty-stricken in her country that she was once quoted as saying she wished sometimes she could hit people in the face to make them see the pain poverty causes. Speaking to the crowds of poor who gathered readily to hear her wherever she went, she cried, "You must want! You have the right to ask! You must desire!"

Not everybody loved Peron's perspectives, however. Because of her background, her passion for the poor and her willingness to meet with them personally on a daily basis to show her affection and concern, the old guard rich in Argentina rejected Evita, as the public came to call her. Other critics couldn't believe she wasn't just greedy and self-serving. Nevertheless, unintimidated by their attempts to undermine her power and influence, the in-your-face woman once barked, "If I fall, look out for the crash. There won't be anyone left standing." Either way, it hardly matters. Even today, seventy years after her death, she is still such a cultural icon in South America that one of her biographers wrote: "Evita's life has evidently just begun."

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

Annie Peck

Annie Peck could have just kept teaching Greek and Latin at Purdue University and Smith College in the late 1800's, but the mountains called and Peck listened. The next thing she (or anybody else) knew, this in-your-face woman was climbing mountains all over the world and then traveling around to talk about her adventures.

After she climbed the Matterhorn, in particular, Peck really started getting attention and the more she climbed, the more she wanted to. Even turning fifty didn't slow her down. In fact, she kept climbing so long and so vigorously that the northern peak of the Huascaran in Peru was named Cumbre Ana Peck in her honor in 1928.

Peck had more on her mind, though, than just proving over and over that women have always done what they want. In 1910, for example, at the age of sixty -- a decade before women got the vote in the U.S. -- Peck planted a "Votes for Women" pennant on Peru's Mt. Coropuna, a volcano 21,000 feet tall. In-your-face women are always multi-tasking and always just as serious about what they do as any man (see second from left below).

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

Alice Paul

By 1910, Alice Paul (second from the right) was a young college-educated woman with an ax to grind: she didn't appreciate being seen and treated as a second class citizen just because she was born a woman. And she knew that, as long as men alone decided women's fate, women would be seen and treated just that way. So she committed herself to do something about it.

Her first major effort was to organize a full scale march in Washington, D.C., the day before President Woodrow Wilson's inauguration in 1913. Standing in front of the White House with banners reading: "Mr. President, how long must women wait for liberty?" and "Mr. President, what will you do for women's suffrage?" got them arrested.

Before women forced the government to acknowledge their right to vote seven years later, many in-your-face women -- including Paul -- had been beaten, incarcerated in prisons and jails, spat upon, burned by lit cigars thrown at them, and force-fed using metal frames to hold their lips apart while liquids were pumped into their stomachs through a hose. Ultimately, things got so bad that the banners began to read: "To ask freedom for women is not a crime. Suffrage prisoners should not be treated as criminals." and "Alice Paul got seven months because she opposed a political party. We demand that she be treated as a political offender."

Immediately after the vote was secured, Paul began working to get an Equal Rights Amendment added to the U.S. Constitution to protect women's rights in general in the future, just as the 13th, 14th, and 15th Amendments were added after the abolition of slavery to ensure the rights of people of color. Today, though nearly half the states in the U.S. have added such an amendment to their state constitutions, Alice Paul's dream is still not yet a reality. Sometimes it takes generations of in-your-face women to accomplish the goal at hand.

Monday, July 16, 2012

Mary Patten

Mary Patten was a twenty-year-old newly wed, so in love (and in-your-face), she followed her ship captain husband onto a clipper ship twice in 1855 and 1856. Fortunately, on the first voyage -- from Boston to San Francisco, China, London and back to New York -- Patten learned how to navigate a massive sailing vessel full of cargo. And a good thing it was, too.

When the ship's Mate on the second voyage was found to be sleeping on the job and relieved of his duties, Patten's husband tried to serve as both Captain and Mate until he became so ill he could no longer do either. The Mate  (of course) offered to take over the Captain's duties, but using her in-your-face woman's logic, Patten replied that if he couldn't be trusted to do a good job as Mate, he certainly shouldn't be trusted with anything higher than that.

Angered, the Mate tried to foment a mutiny against Patten, but she gathered the Neptune Car's crew together and convinced them that she could navigate, reckon and plot the course for the remainder of the voyage (more than two months through some of the most dangerous waters in the world rounding Cape Horn). Not only did she successfully complete the voyage with all crew and cargo safely in tact, but she made delivery at the San Francisco port in less time than three of the four other ships that left Boston together. And she was nursing her husband during the entire ordeal.

How did she do it? She later said that she didn't remove her clothing for fifty nights. Sometimes in-your-face women step up, do what needs to be done, and slip quietly back into the shadows of history -- all without making any kind of big deal about it.

Sunday, July 15, 2012

Medha Patkar

In the country of India, where a billion and a quarter people live, as many as half of which are poverty-stricken, the struggle between the poor -- who often don't even have anywhere to live -- and the corporations that are protected and even encouraged by the government to produce ever more profit for private investors has been going on for centuries. One of the heroes of this struggle is an in-your-face woman raised by parents who were themselves advocates and activists for the poor and her name is Medha Patkar.

Deciding more than fifty years ago to live in active opposition to private money-making over the public good, Patkar has been arrested, severely beaten, and harassed at every turn. Because her efforts sometimes block the establishment of chemical or car manufacturing plants (which would bring jobs), Patkar's stance is sometimes misunderstood. But her overall message is clear: declaring money more important than life is never in the best interests of the human race.

Patkar fights tirelessly against the building of dams that will produce electrical power but put thousands of acres of fertile farm land under water and displace tens of thousands of indigenous people with no place else to go. And she demands, at the least, just compensation for families who have suffered the negative impacts of "development" projects calculated to make the already rich richer. Patkar has nearly died on more than one occasion participating in hunger strikes to draw attention to the anguish of the dispossessed. And while her organization (Narmada Bachao Andolan) has won some battles, they have continued to lose the war.  So far.

Still, Medha Patkar is an in-your-face woman. They never give up. They never give in. They know what's important. And they're willing to sacrifice their lives.

Saturday, July 14, 2012

Mona Parsons

Canadian Mona Parsons wanted to be an actress back when the road to that goal was taking courses in elocution (speech), so she did. But for an in-your-face woman like Parsons, being a showgirl in the Ziegfield Follies promised a more direct route. So she did that, too. Then, trying to devise a fall-back plan (just in case), Parsons became a nurse. And finally, she decided to hedge all her bets and married a Dutch millionaire.

Fortunately -- since in-your-face women are easily bored -- that was only several years before Hitler invaded Holland. So Parsons dismissed all her servants and turned their quarters into a hiding place for downed British and American airmen. No one knows exactly how many airmen she hid and safely returned to their units during the eighteen months she ran her clandestine operation, but in September of 1941, she was arrested, tried, convicted and sentenced first to be executed and then to spend her life at hard labor.

For more than three years, Parsons slaved for the Nazis in one prison camp or another, denied the "privileges" of reading, writing or even speaking. Then, on March 24, 1945, Parsons and a Dutch baroness escaped and walked 78 miles in freezing winter weather without either shoes or coats. Though she knew German, Parsons didn't want any German soldiers to pick up on her Canadian accent, so she used her old acting skills to pretend to be mentally challenged. It worked and within a few weeks, she reached safety where she enjoyed another twenty-five years of life after an ordeal only an in-your-face woman could survive. Just because a woman is beautiful doesn't mean she isn't tough.

Friday, July 13, 2012

Lucy Parsons

African-Americans, Native Americans and Mexicans can all claim credit for Lucy Gonzalez Parsons, who was born in Texas in 1853 -- which would mean she was probably a slave -- but whatever her heritage, she was most definitely an in-your-face woman. In fact, she proved it at the age of eighteen by marrying a White former Confederate soldier right before the two of them were run out of Texas.

In Chicago, where they settled, Albert and Lucy Parsons -- quickly identified as smart young energetic and wildly radical socialists and labor organizers -- were considered by the local police to be "more dangerous than a thousand rioters." They fought tirelessly and effectively for the rights of political prisoners, people of color, workers, the homeless and women until Albert was charged, convicted and executed for his part in organizing the famous Haymarket Uprising in 1886.

Losing the love of her life, Lucy didn't miss a hitch in continuing her work. She published Freedom: A Revolutionary Anarchist-Communist Monthly for a time.  She helped to organize the Industrial Workers of the World. And she eventually published an anarchist newspaper called The Liberator. Her fiery political speeches -- which she continued to deliver well into her eighties -- inspired a whole generation of activists, including writer Studs Terkel. "My conception of the strike of the future," she admonished her listeners, "is not to strike and go out and starve, but to strike and remain in and take possession of the necessary property of production!"

Even today, in-your-face woman Lucy Parsons urges us to push the envelope: "The reinvention of daily life," she is quoted as saying, "means marching off the edge of our maps." Forward, march!

Thursday, July 12, 2012

Elsie Parsons

As the daughter of a wealthy New York City banker, the wife of a U.S. Congressman, and a scholar in her own right with a Ph.D. from Columbia University, Elsie Parsons might not have made a blip on the in-your-face women radar. If she hadn't chosen to teach Sex Roles and the Family at Columbia in 1905. If she hadn't joined a radical feminist network called Heterodoxy. And if she hadn't written a book entitled The Family that was so controversial, she had to publish two of her subsequent books under a male pseudonym to keep from destroying her husband's career.

Her main ideas (in the very early 1900's!) covered such topics as how religion teaches sexual repression, how women are socialized to accept a reduced position in life, and what part fear plays in all this. She and her husband both had sexual relations with others throughout their marriage, despite the fact that they had four children and were constantly held in the public view.

Parsons was convinced that the patriarchal belief that men are superior and ought to be dominant stifles not only women, but men, keeping both from fulfilling their full potential. She pushed for the practice of trial marriage, no-fault divorce, and easy access to contraception. Needless to say, religious leaders thought she was going to take the whole country to hell in a handbasket. But that's what Those-With-The-Power-To-Define always think about in-your-face women.

Wednesday, July 11, 2012

Rosa Parks

Most people in the United States and many people in the world have heard the story of how Rosa Parks wouldn't give up her seat on a public bus to a White person in Montgomery, Alabama, in 1955 to stand quietly in the back the way the bus company policies said she should. Few realize that there were three such in-your-face women before her, dating all the way back to 1946. Parks took center stage because the NAACP decided to use her arrest as a test case. And eventually, as we now know, they won the suit.

What practically nobody understands is that Parks' refusal to move wasn't because she was too weary from her long day as a seamstress to stand. She was an in-your-face woman long before that and had prepared herself for more than a decade to take just such a step.

After thirteen years of being the secretary of the Montgomery branch of the NAACP, a civil rights organization that had already won numerous struggles through legal litigation and street protest, Parks spent some time at the famous Highlander School in Tennessee where many radical rabblerousers were trained for more than four decades, including Martin Luther King, Jr., another Montgomery activist. Then, in August of 1955, Parks (like many others) were both horrified and inspired to act by the brutal death of teenager Emmett Till. So a scant three months later, Parks got on the Cleveland Avenue bus and sat in the front row of the "Colored" section, knowing full well that if the ten seats set aside for White folks got filled, she would be instructed to move. They did, she was, and she didn't.

As Parks told it later, "People always say that I didn't give up my seat because I was tired, but that isn't true. I was not tired physically -- or no more tired than I usually was at the end of a working day. I was not old, although some people have an image of me as being old then. I was forty-two. No, the only tired I was, was tired of giving in." And that's how history -- and in-your-face women -- are made.

Tuesday, July 10, 2012

Charlotte Parkhurst

Charlotte Parkhurst put on boy's clothes to avoid going to an orphanage when she was just a kid and never saw a need to put on a skirt again. In fact, nobody knew she was a biological woman until after she died in her late sixties.

Following the call of the west during the Gold Rush, "One-Eyed Charley" Parkhurst (as she became known after a horse kicked her in the face while she was shoeing it) found her spot in life on the driver's box of a stagecoach and she never let her passengers down. The first two robbers that tried to stick up her coach wound up dead in their tracks, so nobody else was ever willing to try it.

When she got too old to drive, she cut trees, raised cattle and hauled freight for her neighbors, but she hung by herself so she could live her life in peace. For rough, tough Charley Parkhurst -- and other people like her -- being lonely is just one of the prices you may have to pay for being an in-your-face woman.

Monday, July 9, 2012

Dorothy Parker

Most women born in the U.S. in 1893 made some attempt to mind their manners or at least their tongue. Dorothy Parker did neither.

Her troubles started early. For example, when her Jewish father and Protestant stepmother sent her to a Catholic elementary school to be educated, Parker was soon expelled for calling the Immaculate Conception "spontaneous combustion."

And her wit just got sharper from there. "If you want to see what God thinks of money, look at the people he gave it to," she once wrote. And yet  another Parkerism was: "If all the girls who attended the Yale prom were laid end to end, I wouldn't be a bit surprised."

Needless to say, the things she wrote and said -- especially about important people -- made it hard for her to keep a job. Not to mention the way she downed alcohol (which might be one reason she didn't watch her mouth). But her first husband was a stockbroker and she did have some critical success writing for the stage and won some awards for her fiction (though that hardly pays the rent). It was when she moved to screenwriting in Hollywood, however, that her short snappy answers started putting money in the bank in a substantial way.

Unfortunately, it was about that same time that Parker's leftist political leanings -- particularly in the areas of civil liberties and civil rights -- began to bring down the hounds of hell on this in-your-face woman. Her highly public commitments (in both time and money) to anti-fascist and anti-Nazi causes in the 1930's and 1940's got Parker blacklisted as a Communist during the McCarthy era. With all that pressure, her personal relationships strained, and her drinking escalating by the minute, it was perhaps to be expected that Parker might give up trying and decide to overdose on drugs -- which she did. Some in-your-face women even decide when they want to die.

Sunday, July 8, 2012

Bonnie Parker

Bonnie Parker died only twenty-four years after she was born in 1910, but she managed to be so in-your-face that many Americans know her name nearly eighty years after her death. What drew the public's attention was that she became Clyde Barrow's main squeeze and a loyal member of what has gone down in history as The Barrow Gang.

Folks talk about the bank robberies because those were so dramatic, but Bonnie and Clyde preferred to rob gas stations and small country stores. The money wasn't nearly as good, but the risk was much smaller. In and out, down and dirty, with a carton of Camels and something for dinner, a couple of bucks and a bottle of booze and a box of bullets on the side.

Married at fifteen to a petty criminal who was doing time when Parker was shot to death in a police ambush in 1934, Parker demonstrated early her affinity for the wild-and-crazy life, but that's not how she started out. In fact, she was a top notch student before she ran off from home and was still writing poetry with such titles as "The Story of Suicide Sal" and "The Street Girl" when she died.

As best we can tell, Parker probably wracked up a hundred felonies -- including connection to a number of  civilian murders, seven kidnappings, and as many as nine cop killings -- in her two years with Clyde Barrow, whose real goal was finally met when he and Parker sprang some of Barrow's old buddies out of the prison in Eastham, Texas. So it's no surprise in retrospect that Parker was shot twenty-six times (nine times more than Barrow) when she and her partner-in-crime lover were ambushed in Louisiana. Nothing pisses off the authorities like an in-your-face woman.

Saturday, July 7, 2012

Emmeline Pankhurst

Even though she was born into a middle class British family in 1858, Emmeline Pankhurst's parents raised her to be an in-your-face woman. They read her Uncle Tom's Cabin as a bedtime story. They invited U.S. abolitionists to visit them. And they encouraged their children to read from an early age books such as Thomas Carlyle's trilogy on The French Revolution: A HistoryAs she grew up, though, it was going with her mother to hear Lydia Becker speak on the struggle for women's rights and especially women's right to vote that set Pankhurst on the path she would trod for the rest of her life.

In fact, she was so single-minded that, even though barely out of her teens, when she met and fell in love with Richard Pankhurst -- a confirmed bachelor and lawyer twice her age as committed to women's rights as she was -- she suggested that they just live together rather than marry. It was only after he convinced her that she would be taken more seriously politically as a married woman that she agreed to the union.

While birthing and raising five children, Pankhurst turned her home into a center where abolitionists, anarchists, activists and revolutionaries of all types from three continents met and encouraged each other. But by the time her children grew up and her husband died, Pankhurst had begun to feel that agitation, speeches, letters and legal ploys were not enough to change the plight of women and the poor and make society more equitable. So she amped up her volume, formed the Women's Social and Political Union, and began going to jail at the age of fifty. "Deeds, not words, was to be our permanent motto," she said, adding "Trust in God -- She will provide."

Needless to say, smashing windows and punching police officers in the face are not everyone's cup of tea, so Pankhurst and the WSPU lost support from some, including eventually, a couple of her daughters. But Pankhurst paid no attention. Ridiculed, heckled, and pelted with rotten eggs and stones by crowds of men offended by their demands, Pankhurst and her merry crew went to prison and jail over and over, where they were beaten unconscious, threatened with the loss of their children, and force-fed with a hose when they went on hunger strikes over the conditions in which they were held.

Ultimately, as we now know, Pankhurst and the WSPU were instrumental in winning the vote for women in Great Britain, but not until after they became infamous for setting things on fire, burning messages with acid into golf course greens, and organizing a squad of jujitsu-trained woman bodyguards to protect them when attacked. In-your-face women mean business -- in no uncertain terms.

Friday, July 6, 2012

Tamara Pamiatnykh

During World War II, fighter pilots Tamara Pamiatnykh and Raisa Surnachevskaia were hanging around the barracks when they got the word that there were two enemy aircraft in the area. Jumping into their planes and taking off for the wild blue yonder, they got up there only to discover that there were not two, but forty-two German bombers on their way to destroy a Soviet railway junction where crucial troops and supplies had been gathered. The women contacted their superiors, asking for orders, and were told (by people on the ground and far away, of course) to attack. So they did.

Plowing right into the middle of them all, Pamiatnykh (third from the left on the bottom row above) and Surnachevskaia (last one on the right in the third row down above) routed the bombers, forcing them to drop their bombs early and not on their original target. And while they were at it, the women shot down two bombers each just for good measure. Then they flew back to the barracks and continued their afternoon.

When the King of England heard about the feat, he sent the two in-your-face pilots inscribed gold watches. The Soviets, on the other hand, didn't officially recognize their act of bravery at all and after the war, Pamiatnykh's husband (also a military pilot) made her leave the cockpit behind. Sometimes in-your-face women can't win for losing, but that must have been some conversation!

Thursday, July 5, 2012

Kitty O’Neil

Four months after she was born in Corpus Christi, Texas, in 1946, Kitty O'Neil became deaf. But that didn't stop her from becoming an Olympic contender in diving.

Before she could finish qualifying for the Olympics, however, she developed spinal meningitis, which the doctors said would probably paralyze her for life. It didn't.

Then, she had two (count 'em -- two!) bouts of cancer. But she survived both sets of treatment.

And at twenty-eight years of age, having beaten every challenge life threw her, O'Neil climbed into the seat of a hydrogen peroxide powered rocket dragster and went more than 512 miles per hour. The only reason she didn't break the men's speed record -- and the speed of light -- was that the decision makers wouldn't let her try. They felt it would be "degrading" for a woman to hold the "man's" record.

Lightning fast cars weren't O'Neil's only fun, though. In fact, through the years, she's hung on sixth floor window ledges, nearly drowned in a submerged plane body, and been set on fire on multiple occasions. And once she was paid to fall 105 feet for an especially exciting shot. Who would call this a good time? An in-your-face woman so bored with being a stay-at-home wife and mommy, she learned the art of performing stunts, that's who. Before she was done, O'Neil had been filmed risking her life for a whole raft of television shows, including "Quincy," "The Bionic Woman" and "Baretta," and such movies as "Smokey and the Bandit," "The Blues Brothers" and "Airport '77." One way or another, an in-your-face woman will get noticed.

Wednesday, July 4, 2012

Annie Oakley

Phoebe Ann Moses' father died of pneumonia in the mid-1860's, which could have left her family starving. Instead, however, eight-year-old Annie, as she was called, just picked up a rifle and started providing meat for her widowed mother and her seven brothers and sisters on a regular basis herself. In fact, she not only fed them, but by the time she was fifteen, she had paid off the mortgage on the family farm selling game to restaurants and hotels in the area of Ohio where they lived.

She so fascinated a sharpshooting Irish immigrant named Frank Butler by beating him out of a hundred dollar bet that he married her and they were soon performing together with Moses using the name "Annie Oakley." But that was only until Buffalo Bill heard about them and invited them to join his show. It was no wonder. Annie's best trick was to aim her .22 caliber rifle while Frank, standing 90 feet away, would drop a playing card. She would then split the card repeatedly edge-on -- and shoot several holes in it -- before it could hit the ground! Yes, ma'am!

Not only was she known to help women meet their other goals for independence, but over her lifetime, Oakley taught more than 15,000 women how to shoot a gun to defend themselves. In fact, she was quoted as saying, "I'd like to see every woman able to handle [guns] as naturally as [she] handles babies."

Despite being badly injured first in a train crash and then in an automobile accident, Oakley was still setting shooting records into her sixties and when she died in 1926, Frank Butler was still so in love with this in-your-face woman, he stopped eating and died himself eighteen days later. Only then was it was discovered that Annie Oakley had spent everything she ever made on people she loved and causes she supported, including women's rights. How could it have been otherwise?

Tuesday, July 3, 2012


Because a Wise Woman prophesied that Nzingha would be a queen one day, her father, the king of the Ndongo and Matamba Kingdoms in West Africa in the late 1500's, used to let her follow him around -- not only into court, but into war. So she was already well prepared at sixteen-years-old to be the envoy who represented her people at a major sit-down with the Portuguese in 1599.

The Portuguese, of course, were interested in working a deal whereby they would have a lock on the slave acquisition market in the area and no doubt believed that their superior firepower and European sophistication would carry the day for them. Actually, when the dust settled and everybody went home, Nzingha had negotiated an arrangement that included the Portuguese abandoning the fortress they had established at Ambaca in 1618, calling off the African mercenaries they were using to build up their stock of slaves, and returning some of those they already taken.

As the story goes, the Portuguese governor tried to humiliate Nzingha out the gate by providing only a mat (rather than a chair) for her to sit on during the negotiations, knowing that, among her people, sitting lower meant accepting a position of less status. Undaunted, Nzingha simply had one of her attendants get down on all fours on the mat so she could sit on his back and look the governor in his startled eyes.

The Portuguese, of course, never honored their agreements, so Nzingha formed an alliance with the Dutch and spent the rest of her days leading troops into battle against them. And despite the continual efforts of her enemies -- both African and European -- to dethrone her, Nzingha stayed in power and died in her bed at the age of eighty. Did she murder her brother and his son to gain the throne in the first place? Maybe. Did she embrace Christianity to manipulate Europeans into trusting her? Could be. Regardless, she did what in-your-face women do: what they think will work to accomplish what they want to accomplish.

Monday, July 2, 2012

Anais Nin

Today's in-your-face woman's name is Angela Anaïs Juana Antolina Rosa Edelmira Nin y Culmell. So -- needless to say -- she grew up with an attitude. Of French, Cuban and Danish descent, she moved with her mother and siblings from Cuba to Spain to New York City and, while she quit school at sixteen, she wrote journals from the time she was eleven until she died at seventy-three.

Hanging around with an arty crowd in the 1920's, she took flamenco dancing lessons in Paris and wrote critiques of D.H. Lawrence's work for publication. And then she met Otto Rank, a therapist who had broken with Freud to forge new pathways to understanding artistic expression and the power of women's sexuality. "As [Rank] talked," Nin later wrote, "I thought of my difficulties with writing, my struggles to articulate feelings not easily expressed. Of my struggles to find a language for intuition, feeling, instincts which are, in themselves, elusive, subtle, and wordless." In other words, he helped to unleash Nin's in-your-faced-ness.

Though married to a banker during the 1930's, Nin lived out a rollicking and passionate love affair with writer Henry Miller in Paris and then married Hubby #2 (who she kept in California) while still married to Hubby #1 (who had the common sense to stay in New York City). The fact that she was in her forties at this time and Hubby #2 was in his twenties was irrelevant to the in-your-face woman and she maintained both marriages and separate personal identities (complete with checking accounts in each name and so on) for eleven years until the question of who should claim her on his income tax return forced the issue. Mess though it was, Nin's solution was to go ahead and have the second marriage annulled (she was raised Catholic, after all), but to continue to live with "Hubby" #2 while remaining married to Hubby #1 and swinging from coast to coast as the spirit moved her.

Famous for her fifteen volumes of memoirs, Nin is also famous for her erotic novels, Delta of Venus and Little Birds. And she's famous for having sex with a goodly number of famous men writers and artists, as well. Her practice of living as an in-your-face woman and writing about it, too, made her something of a hero to young women in the 1960's trying to free themselves from social compunctions that restricted them only because they were women. Despite her willingness to speak regularly on college campuses, though, Nin herself didn't embrace the political implications of either her life or her work. Sometimes, in-your-face women are so busy living in-your-face lives, they really can't be bothered to put it all in some big fat social context to make sense of it for the rest of us. Encapsulating her philosophy of life, Nin simply told her youthful listeners, "Life shrinks or expands according to one's courage."

Sunday, July 1, 2012

Ruth Nichols

Ruth Nichols was born in New York City in 1901 with a silver spoon in her mouth. She was sent to the prestigious Masters School and then to Wellesley College where she majored in pre-med. So it never occurred to her stock broker father and socialite mother that Nichols had been secretly taking flying lessons while still in college. And we can only guess what they thought when she announced that she had been granted her pilot's license shortly after graduation in the mid-1920's.

In 1930, Nichols beat Charles Lindbergh's record time for a cross country flight. In 1931, she set the world altitude record for diesel powered aircraft. By 1932, she was officially a commercial pilot. And she kept up the record setting until she was fifty-seven years old.

When the National Aeronautics and Space Administration started playing with the idea of putting women into space in the late 1950's, Nichols was one of the first in line to be tested experimentally to determine the viability. When scientific and political backlash against the idea deep-sixed the whole thing right in mid-stream, she went into a crashing depression and ultimately took an overdose of sleeping pills. Sometimes an in-your-face woman gets tired of having doors shut in her face. After all, as Nichols once said, "It takes special kinds of pilots to break frontiers and in spite of the loss of everything, you can't clip the wings of their hearts."