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

Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Alva Vanderbilt

Alva Smith was born to money in the mid-1800's, grew up summering in Newport, Rhode Island, and attended private school in Paris, France. So it was hardly remarkable that she might marry one of the Vanderbilt boys and wind up even richer.

Then, in 1895, she shocked polite society by divorcing her husband of twenty years, taking more than $10 million and several estates with her, and shortly marrying a good friend of the family who happened to be five years younger. Unfortunately (or fortunately, depending on how you look at it), he died only eight years later, giving Alva the opportunity to turn her undivided attention to the women's suffrage movement, which she did.

She used her money to bankroll the fight for women's right to vote in Great Britain, as well as the United States, founded the Political Equality League, and even bailed out women sweatshop workers who were arrested for picketing at a labor strike in New York City. More importantly, at a time when most of the women pushing for the vote were educated, middle class White women, Vanderbilt established a "suffrage settlement house" in Harlem and openly welcomed African-American and immigrant women to weekend retreats at one of her many opulent estates.

It is true that she was a pushy, sometimes arrogant millionaire who loved to live in the lap of luxury and once paid $3 million to put on a single party for a thousand guests. But she also wrote newspaper articles and spoke at and chaired conferences she often paid for, as well. And as the President of the National Women's Party, Vanderbilt helped to organize the first ever picketing of the White House. Her goal -- which she did not achieve (more's the pity) -- was to push through the Lucretia Mott Amendment to the U.S. Constitution. It would have read "Men and women shall have equal rights throughout the United States and every place subject to its jurisdiction." That might well have turned every woman in America into an in-your-face woman.

Tuesday, October 30, 2012

Adeline & Augusta Van Buren

Adeline and Augusta Van Buren were "society girls" in the early 1900's, but they were also most assuredly in-your-face women. The U.S. was gearing up for World War I and women were still being pushed to the side. They weren't allowed to fight. They weren't allowed to vote. They weren't even allowed to wear pants.

But the Van Buren sisters decided it was time to make a statement about how ridiculous all that was. So they put on military-style leggings and leather riding breeches, climbed on a pair of 1000 cc Indian Power Plus motorcycles in Brooklyn, New York, and set out across country to prove that women could carry military dispatches in a war zone, freeing up men to do other tasks.

Sixty days and 5,500 miles later, Addie and Gussie had proven their point. All it required of them was that they traverse awful roads through heavy rains and mud and the Rocky Mountains. They had to climb Pike's Peak. They had to be saved by a prospector when they ran out of water in the Mojave Desert. They even had to cross the Mexican border at Tijuana to complete their journey. And they did all that without flinching.

In spite of it all, however, not only were the two sisters still not allowed to join the military (or vote), but all along the route, they were repeatedly arrested by local police officers offended that the two were wearing "men's" clothing. The bikes were praised, but not the women. Newspaper articles criticized them at every turn for displaying their "charms" in public and using the military preparedness issue to escape their "appropriate" roles as wives and mothers.

Addie countered by becoming a lawyer and Gussie by becoming a pilot. So much for being ashamed of themselves. In-your-face women are too busy having fun to care if somebody else doesn't want them to.

Monday, October 29, 2012


When Queen Urraca of Leon and Castile married Alfonso the Battler of Aragon in her late twenties, it set off some drama because her father had just died and his advisors were concerned that Alfonso would take undue control. And he might have. If he could have controlled Queen Urraca, that is.

Less than three years after they were married, however, the good queen left Alfonso because -- while he may have been "the Battler" at war -- she wouldn't stand for his physical abuse on the homefront. Outraged at his young wife's belligerance and not realizing that she was an in-your-face woman, Alfonso unwisely escalated the disagreement by entering into armed conflict with the queen. Two lovers later, Urraca had proved to be a formidable enough opponent that Alfonso agreed to an annulment of the marriage, which was a smart move on his part.

Queen Urraca never bothered to marry again, though she did have two babies out of wedlock, effectively using personal relationships and sex as a way to cement alliances without having to risk putting herself under another man's authority. Focusing on getting back every bit of the land she had lost in her conflict with Alfonso, she handed it over to her son when she died in 1126. Proving yet again, that an in-your-face woman doesn't need someone to put her on a pedestal. She prefers having her feet firmly placed on the ground. Her ground.

Sunday, October 28, 2012

Tina Turner

When singer Anna Mae Bullock married guitar player Ike Turner and changed her name to Tina, the world was introduced to an in-your-face woman. Her voice (that seemed to emanate from the roots of the earth), her energy level (that was off the charts), and her breathless dance routines (that seemed unimaginable for an ordinary human being to deliver) had her millions of fans around the world buying the records and flocking to see the shows of this one-of-a-kind phenomenon. Surely, she was a powerhouse and a force of nature!

Then, in 1976, Tina left the Ike and Tina Turner Revue and wrote a book about the ruthless physical and emotional abuse she had suffered at Ike's hand throughout their fourteen years of marriage. A stunned world stepped back, trying to compute this new information. How could a powerhouse be overpowered? How could a force of nature be forced to submit?

But proving that an in-your-face woman has even deeper resources than her beauty and her talent, Tina Turner proceeded to crawl back up the ladder of success one rung at a time until she was even more amazing, more popular and more beloved than ever before. Called One of the Greatest Artists of All Time by Rolling Stone Magazine, Turner has eight Grammys, three songs in the Grammy Hall of Fame, and a position in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. And her tour (at the age of seventy!) was one of the highest selling ticketed shows of 2008-2009. An in-your-face woman may do her share of crying, but she will have the last laugh.

Saturday, October 27, 2012

Mary Tudor

Since Mary Tudor was the younger sister of King Henry VIII of England and stunningly beautiful to boot at a time when women were meant to do as they were told and above all else, marry well, she was more or less forced to become the wife of King Louis XII of France. The problem, as far as Tudor was concerned, was that Louis, at fifty-two, was thirty-four years older than his blushing bride. Unfortunately for Louis (and fortunately for Tudor), he was dead three months later from...well...too much "activity" for a man of his age. Which left Tudor a wealthy widow and free once more.

When her brother sent a young duke to escort Tudor back to England, she promptly married him before His Highness could trap her in another "good match" with another older man she didn't like. Henry was furious, of course, but it was too late. And the heavy fine they had to pay as punishment for Tudor doing what she wanted to do rather than doing her brother's will seemed inconsequential beside her triumph at having her own way and her happiness.

Later, when King Henry wanted to annul his marriage to Catherine of Aragon so he could marry Anne Boleyn, Tudor further angered the ruler by publicly opposing what he wanted to do. Choosing what she wants for herself? Questioning what a man chooses? "What kind of woman is this anyway?" some at court must surely have asked. "An in-your-face woman," Mary Tudor might well have answered if she had ever heard the term.

Friday, October 26, 2012

Harriet Tubman

Araminta "Minty" Ross was born a slave in Maryland in the early 1820's, but she had a great role model to teach her how to resist her oppressors: her in-your-face woman mother who refused to give up her baby son when the man holding them both in bondage tried to sell him. Knowing she could easily be to whipped to death for her insubordination, she threatened to "split the skull" of anyone entering her shanty to take him and then hid him out until the whole idea of selling him just blew over.

Perhaps her desire to follow in her mother's footsteps is the reason Minty took her mother's name when she married a free Black man named John Tubman, but in any case, follow she did and always had. In fact, she started getting in trouble with racist White folks as a young girl, which once got her hit in the head with a two-pound chunk of metal, causing seizures for the rest of her life. But she didn't let a little thing like falling asleep in the middle of a sentence no matter where she was slow her down.

She set herself free -- leaving her husband behind -- when she was in her late twenties, returning at great risk multiple times over the next decade to rescue relatives, friends, and even strangers. "I freed hundreds of slaves," she later said, adding, "I could have freed thousands more if they had known they were slaves."

Her personal best moment among many might have been when the Union Army enlisted her aid in organizing and carrying out the Combahee River Raid in South Carolina. With General Tubman's able leadership, a whole string of plantations were burned to the ground, thousands of dollars in food and supplies were seized, and more than seven hundred slaves carrying soup pots, pigs and their children boarded ships for the promised land -- all without loss of a single life on either side.

Lest we imagine that this in-your-face woman gave up all joy and only suffered through her life, it's important to note that, at nearly fifty-years-old, Tubman married a second time -- a man twenty years younger than her -- and they spent the next two decades together happily raising an adopted baby girl. She was also busy stumping for women's right to vote during that same period, of course, since an in-your-face woman often has trouble not being in anyone's face. On the other hand, that can make her pretty attractive to a certain type of man.

Thursday, October 25, 2012

Trai and Nhi Trung

Trai and Nhi Trung were born into a military family in Vietnam at the beginning of the Common Era, so they learned martial arts as a matter of course. Even though they were girls, they spent long hours studying warfare and honing their fighting skills, at least partly in response to what they saw the Chinese doing to Vietnamese people after more than a century of occupation.

When they grew old enough, Trai married a young radical who was eventually executed for rebelling against the Chinese. So Trai and her younger sister decided enough was enough and in the year 39, they took over one city, amassed an army (constituted mostly of in-your-face women), and proceeded to take over sixty-five other cities, running the Chinese out of Vietnam. Trai's reign as queen didn't last forever, but she held off her much stronger foes for more than two years -- which no one else had been able to do.

Ultimately, the Chinese overpowered the Trung sisters' forces and re-occupied Vietnam for another seven hundred years. In a last act of belligerent self-will, the sisters robbed the Chinese of the satisfaction of ridiculing, torturing and executing them by jumping into the Hat River to drown.

Some have said that the power of the Trung sisters suggests that pre-occupation Vietnam was a matriarchal society. Either way, an in-your-face woman will always be just who she is and go out, when necessary, on her own terms.
NOTE: The statue in the photo is of the Trung sisters and can be found today in Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam.

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Evelyn “Bobbi” Trout

Evelyn "Bobbi" Trout was just short of her twenty-second birthday when she started taking flying lessons at Burdett Fuller's School of Aviation in California in 1928. A few lessons later, her instructor told her to three-quarter turn at a low elevation, causing her to send the plane spinning out of control. The resulting crash -- which totaled the plane -- would have discouraged most folks from trying it again. But Bobbi Trout was not easily discouraged. So she received her pilot's certificate a few months later.

Over the next decade, Trout engaged with a number of other women pilots in an almost continual process of beating each other out of one record or another: being in the air the longest; going the furthest; taking the most risks; pushing the envelope, their planes, and themselves to the limit over and over. On one occasion, Trout talked Hollywood starlet Edna May Cooper into going up in a plane for nearly 123 hours straight, a feat that got Trout recognized by King Carol II of Romania who gave her a Royal Decree and the Aviation Cross, only awarded to two other pilots ever: Amelia Earhart and Charles Lindbergh.

Awards and recognition -- including a spot on the Women in Aviation Hall of Fame and the Howard Hughes Memorial Award for her lifetime contributions to aviation -- were common for Trout who never married, so she had plenty of time and energy to dedicate to her various career moves, in the air and on the ground.

Asked why she flew, Trout told a reporter, "Because I do it a lot better than I do other things." But according to a headline on one news story, she claimed she stayed in the air for seventeen hours once just to avoid washing the dishes. In-your-face women like to do what they like to do. Housework rarely makes the list.

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Trieu Thi Trinh

When the Chinese took over Vietnam in the year 111 BCE, their massive military might, brutality, and sheer numbers more or less neutralized any opposition. Nevertheless, some resistance (such as that by the in-your-face women Trai and Nhi Trung) continued. And among its leaders was the revered Trieu Thi Trinh, often called Lady Trieu in Vietnam. Lady Trieu  -- in her early twenties in 245 CE -- was said to be nine feet tall with breasts three feet long, which she threw over her shoulders or tied behind her back when she rode into battle on the head of a war elephant, as she was wont to do.

Wearing yellow tunics and shoes with curved fronts, Lady Trieu had already killed her own sister-in-law and run into the hills before the Chinese arrived. Gathering a thousand followers because of her boldness and bravery, she robbed and harassed the occupying forces until she had to take them on full tilt. When her brother tried to talk her out of the onslaught, Lady Trieu is quoted as saying, "I only want to ride the wind and walk the waves, slay the big whales of the Eastern sea, clean up frontiers, and save the people from drowning. Why should I imitate others, bow my head, stoop over and be a slave? Why resign myself to menial housework?"

Ultimately overpowered, Lady Trieu committed suicide. But it is said that her ghost came back and haunted the Wu general who defeated her and continued to be a source of spiritual support to her people throughout a thousand years of Chinese occupation. An in-your-face woman quits when she's damn good and ready.

Monday, October 22, 2012

Tererai Trent

In the Shona language of Zimbabwe, the word "tinogona" means "it is achievable."And in-your-face woman Tererai Trent knows this very well first hand.

Born in the mid-1960's, Trent was told early and often that women are for marriage and not for school. So she tried to learn by doing her brother's homework, but it didn't prevent her from being married off at eleven-years-old to a man who beat her for wanting an education. Still, beatings or no, she worked as a community organizer and used her meager earnings to pay for correspondence courses while she bore and cared for the three children she had before she turned eighteen.

Two more children and many beatings later, Trent and her husband moved to the United States and she became adamant that she must have a college education. So, by 2001, she was awarded her Bachelor's degree in agricultural education at Oklahoma State University. Then, two years later, she earned a Master's degree and waved good-bye to her husband as he was deported for domestic violence. And in late 2009, this in-your-face, you-cannot-make-me-quit woman earned her Ph.D. with a dissertation on HIV/AIDS prevention programs for women and girls in sub-Saharan Africa.

Impressed by her courage and perseverance, media mogul Oprah Winfrey interviewed Trent on her television program and then gave her $1,500,000 to build a school for girls in Zimbabwe. Some in-your-face women live their whole lives on a wing and a prayer. Others don't.

Sunday, October 21, 2012

Kishida Toshiko

When Kishida Toshiko was eighteen in 1881, she was so smart, refined and intelligent that she was chosen to tutor the Empress of Japan in literature. The problem was that her intelligence actually got in the way of her doing her job. So a year later, disgusted by the differences in men's and women's freedoms, she pretended to be sick to get out of her job and started speaking on women's rights instead.

In almost no time, she became famous for a speech she was busy delivering entitled "Daughters in a Box" -- about how well-intentioned Japanese parents were doing their daughters great harm by hiding them away and teaching them absolute and unquestioning obedience to authority. Unfortunately, the "authorities" didn't like the young in-your-face woman's speech. In fact, they disliked it so much, they arrested Toshiko, fined her, and locked her up for a while.

Even after Toshiko married a young politician, police continued to harass her, but Toshiko was unmoved. She wrote. She spoke. And she wrote some more. About women's rights and need for education. And most especially about the double standard related to sex. Men could have sex outside their marriage without risking divorce for adultery, while women most certainly could not.

Toshiko was convinced that equal rights for men and women would strengthen not only the home, but the nation. The politicians, however, disagreed and delayed until the 1920's the social change for which Toshiko called. The sad part of this was that Kishida Toshiko died of tuberculosis in 1901 so she didn't get to see the day when young Japanese women were finally able "to tread wherever their feet might lead and stretch their arms as wide as they wish," as she had suggested in "Daughters in a Box." In-your-face women don't always get to see the results of their work, but they know what those results will look like.

Saturday, October 20, 2012


In the year 530 BCE, the Massagetae, a nomadic people, lived east of the Caspian Sea on the steppes in modern day Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan. They were ferocious warriors who sacrificed and ate their elderly. And eventually, they were called upon to face the Persian Emperor Cyrus the Great in battle. Cyrus had already beaten the Babylonians and was riding high on his power and might, but he didn't take into consideration an important fact: that the leader of the Massagetae was an in-your-face woman, Tomyris, who did not intend to lose.

Initially, it looked as if Cyrus had outsmarted Tomyris' soldiers when they were lured into what appeared to be an abandoned camp full of rich food and lots of wine (which the Massagetae weren't used to drinking). When the troops were sufficiently drunk that they were vulnerable, Cyrus attacked and captured them, including Tomyris' son, who promptly killed himself.

Tomyris, in a rage, donned a golden helmet, picked up her favorite brass battle-axe and rode out at the front of a new group of warriors. The fight -- at close quarters -- lasted a long time, but the Massagetae ultimately won, after which Tomyris crucified and then beheaded Cyrus the No-Longer-So-Great, plunging his head into a wineskin filled with human blood. "I warned you I would quench your thirst for blood," she is quoted as saying, "and so I shall." An angry in-your-face woman is nothing to play with.

Friday, October 19, 2012

Madame Efunroye Tinubu

Thanks largely to the brutal effects of colonization at a point when European nations desperately needed sources of massive wealth to bankroll their industrialization process, African history and "development" over the past five hundred years or so has been quite complicated. One in-your-face woman who bore this out was Madame Efunroye Tinubu, who started out as a prosperous slave trader, but changed horses in mid-stream when she began to understand that the nature of African slavery was radically different from what was being perpetrated in Europe and the Western Hemisphere. African traditions and practices consider all life sacred, so it was possible -- over time -- for a slave in Africa to marry into or even wind up leading the group they had been serving as a slave. But the slavery of Africans that was being used to establish England, Portugal and Spain as world powers dehumanized both the slave and the slaveholder and was gutting the African economy to boot.

Madame Tinubu's response when she recognized this was to become an unapologetic adversary of the British colonizers in what is now Nigeria. A member of the Egba clan of the Yoruba tribe, she not only became an opponent of all slave trade, but she built a financial empire by trading salt and arms and took position as a person of great political power and influence in the region. By the time she died in 1887, Madame Tinubu had ensured her position in history as a leader among her people, a vocal advocate for the rights of all humans, and an in-your-face woman. New information brings new ideas and calls for new responses. In-your-face women pay attention to new information.

Thursday, October 18, 2012


Tyrants in the early 4th Century BCE didn't take kindly to having their offer of friendship rebuffed. So when Timycha of Sparta and her husband Millias of Croton chose not to become Dionysius the Elder's new best friends, he sent his Syracusan soldiers down on their little band of Pythagorean pilgrims.

The pilgrims could have run into a vast bean field stretching out beside the road, but those who followed Pythagoras pledged -- for some reason -- to die before they tread on beans. So Timycha and Millias were taken captive while the rest were killed.

Under interrogation, Timycha (who was pregnant at the time) was told that if she didn't disclose the secrets of the sect that followed Pythagoras (such as why they refused to step on beans), she would be tortured. Afraid that her pregnant condition would weaken her resolve, Timycha bit off her tongue and spit it in Dionysius' face so she would be unable to talk no matter what. In-your-face women get the job done -- one way or the other.

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

Mamie Till

Mamie Till was a pretty eighteen-year-old girl when she married a handsome young man -- also eighteen -- and immediately became pregnant with a son, Emmett, born nine months later. It could have been the beginning of a storybook life, but it wasn't.

First of all, the marriage didn't work out. Her husband was unfaithful and abusive and wound up having to enlist in the Army to avoid going to jail. But Till didn't let it get her down. She had her son to focus on and he was her reason for living.

Fourteen years later, in 1955, while visiting his uncle in Money, Mississippi, Emmett, the beloved son of his mother, was brutally murdered after he was accused of being rude to a White woman. He was beaten, tortured, shot in the head, and sunk in a pond with barbed wire wrapped around his neck and a cotton gin fan weighting down his lifeless body. When she saw her son's garishly mutilated form, the broken-hearted mother was beyond devastated. But this terrible moment was when Mamie Till became an in-your-face woman.

Everyone she knew encouraged her to hide her son away in a closed casket, but Till wouldn't even consider it. "I wanted the world to see what they did to my baby," she later said. "Everybody needed to know what had happened to Emmett Till." So Till used the broken body of her only child to give an entire nation a much needed object lesson.

The day of the funeral, fifty-thousand people filed by the casket with Emmett's misshapen body inside it. And within a matter of months, in-your-face woman Rosa Parks had refused to move from her seat in a Montgomery, Alabama, segregated bus and Martin Luther King, Jr., had set a bus boycott in motion, two acts that are often seen as the beginning of the civil rights era of U.S. history. The courage of a grief-stricken mother standing firm in her in-your-facedness turned a tragedy into transformation for millions of Americans.

Tuesday, October 16, 2012

Helen Thomas

Helen Thomas knew when she was in high school that she wanted to be a journalist, so she went to college at Wayne State University in Detroit, graduating in 1942, and went immediately to Washington, D.C., as if her fate had called her there. Actually, in retrospect, it had.

During the first fifteen years or so, she went from writing "women's news" to interviewing Washington celebrities and on to covering an increasingly broad spectrum of interests. Then, in 1959, Thomas became the President of the Women's National Press Club and she rabble-roused a few of her colleagues into demanding that they be allowed to be present at a speech by then Soviet leader Nikita Khrushchev. It wouldn't have been such a big deal, but the speech was to be delivered at the National Press Club, which banned women. When the dust settled, needless to say, Thomas and her in-your-face sister reporters were in the room.

Thomas' in-your-faced-ness soon got her appointed White House Correspondent for United Press International and then subsequently made UPI's White House Bureau Chief, a post she held for twenty-five years. Called "the Sitting Buddha" and "the First Lady of the Press," Thomas sat in the front row at Presidential briefings from Eisenhower to Obama, asking the first question and closing the proceedings with her signature, "Thank you, Mr. President." Until she upset the wrong folks, of course (something in-your-face women tend to do).

It all started when Thomas retired from UPI and became an opinion columnist for the Hearst Newspaper group. "I censored myself for 50 years when I was a reporter," she said at the time, "Now, I wake up and ask myself, 'Who do I hate today?'" In short order, in no uncertain terms, Thomas was making public her frustration over the occupation of Palestine by Israel. And it was downhill from there.

Attacked from all directions by those in power who disagreed with her perspective, Thomas rapidly lost much of her support, many of her honored positions, and even some of her accolades. But, though she did apologize for upsetting people, this in-your-face woman still would not disavow her views.

Called "outspoken, blunt, demanding, forceful and unrelenting" by the Christian Science Monitor in 2008, Thomas, like most in-your-face women, has now been rejected by most of the mainstream in the United States, though it's always interesting to note that folks only have a problem with in-your-face women when they oppose the popular view. Nevertheless, in-your-face is in-your-face. Something Fidel Castro understood when he said that the difference between democracy in America and democracy in Cuba was that "I don't have to answer questions from Helen Thomas." Something few would ever want to have to do.

Monday, October 15, 2012

Carey Thomas

Carey Thomas was born and raised in an Orthodox Quaker family, but thanks to her education, her traveling, and her mother's feminism, Thomas turned out to be an in-your-face woman who didn't espouse Quaker views. She preferred music and theater to silent meditation and that was that.

Born in the mid-1800's, Thomas' forays into education distinguished her greatly, but not without slaps and struggles. She managed to graduate from Cornell University, for example, but though she was admitted to Johns Hopkins for grad school, she wasn't allowed to attend classes because she was a woman. Then she enrolled and did further graduate level work at the University of Leipzig, but they didn't grant degrees to women, so she was still stuck. Finally, in 1882, the University of Zurich allowed Thomas to earn a Ph.D. (summa cum laude) in linguistics. But anyway, the only reason she kept trudging through academe was to prove that a woman could do it just as well as a man.

Extremely rigorous in scholarly pursuits herself, at the age of only thirty-seven, Thomas was elected President of Bryn Mawr College, one of the most demanding institutions of higher learning in the nation.  And from then on, besides helping to turn out some of the best trained minds in America, Thomas served in a whole string of leadership roles in various organizations fighting for women's right to vote and even an equal rights amendment to the U.S. Constitution.

Then, when her significant other, Mary Garrett, died, leaving her $15,000,000 to do with as she pleased, Thomas spent the last two decades of her life living in the lap of luxury. Some might find this inconsistent with her lifetime of selfless service and commitment to the pursuit of knowledge. Others might find it simply the act of an in-your-face woman who felt she had earned her fun.

Sunday, October 14, 2012


Sometimes history -- and people in history -- are a lot more complicated than we realize. In-your-face women are no different. Theodora, for example, was the Empress in Byzantine Rome in the first half of the 6th Century CE, but before she married Emperor Justinian, she was an actress. In ancient Rome, that meant prostitute, more or less, as "actresses" typically put on sex shows of various types (Theodora's involved her nearly naked body, some barley and some geese). And when show audiences ran thin, the "actresses" entertained "clients" seeking sexual favors.

According to the records, Justinian fell for Theodora, but it was against the law for an Emperor to marry an "actress." So he got the law changed, to make it possible for Theodora to help him rule Rome. And help him rule, she did. She virtually single-handedly stopped Justinian and his government from running for the hills during the Nika revolt. She was instrumental in turning Constantinople into one of the finest cities in the world. And she increased women's rights related to divorce, property ownership and children, instituted the death penalty for rape, and outlawed the killing of a woman for adultery, making the Byzantine Empire much more hospitable for women than most of the rest of Europe and the Middle East at that time. In-your-faced-ness is often not as much about what a woman does as it is how she does it and ultimately not as much about where she starts out as how she finishes.

Saturday, October 13, 2012

Helen Thayer

What does it take to be named One of the Greatest Explorers of the Twentieth Century by National Geographic Magazine? Helen Thayer knows.

She walked across the Sahara and Gobi Deserts for a total tally of more than 6,000 sandy miles. She kayaked more than 2,000 miles down the Amazon. She traveled the Canadian polar sea to study wild wolves for a year, living right next to a wolf den for half of that time. At the age of fifty, she pushed her own sled to the magnetic North Pole accompanied only by her polar bear dog, Charlie. And when she's not doing something else, she'll climb a mountain.

In-your-face women, it seems, rarely sit still.

Friday, October 12, 2012

Queen Teuta

Queen Teuta lived a couple of hundred years BCE (Before Common Era) in Illyria, which latest research has placed in what is now Bosnia and Herzegovina. She was the widow of King Agron and Regent for their son and she followed in the Ardaei tribal traditions of heavy drinking and pirate activity on the Adriatic Sea. Even the Romans, though they eventually defeated Queen Teuta, saw the Ardaei as formidable opponents and a real problem.

At one point, when the Romans tried to negotiate some kind of peaceful co-existence, Queen Teuta simply explained to them that Illyrian law considered piracy -- like fishing -- a lawful enterprise and her government had no right to try to stop people from engaging in it. The Roman ambassadors didn't appreciate her attitude and let her know it. So when they boarded their ships to return to Rome, she had her troops seize the ships, kill one of the emissaries, and take the other captive.

It took 20,000 troops, 200 horsemen, and the entire Roman fleet of 200 ships to conquer Queen Teuta and her people. They took her holdings, severely restricted her movements, and demanded an annual tribute, all of which Queen Teuta initially accepted. Eventually, however, in-your-face woman that she was, she decided she'd rather step down than continue to live under their rules. Her resistance to Roman oppression got her honored on an Albanian coin in the year 2000 because some historians believe that Albania is the true site of the Illyrian kingdoms. In-your-face women's faces are liable to pop up anywhere and anytime and be claimed by many. So be on the lookout!

Thursday, October 11, 2012

Lucy Terry

Lucy Terry was stolen from her family in Africa and carried to the Western Hemisphere when just an small child in the 1730's. But she was writing poetry in English by the time she was sixteen and the verses were still around to be published more than a century later.

She was bought out of slavery and married at twenty-six years of age and started having a family immediately, but Terry still had time to distinguish herself as an uncommonly notable member of the community -- unusual for a woman and very unusual for a Black woman. According to her lengthy obituary in 1821, "the fluency of her speech captivated all around her." And she got plenty of opportunities to demonstrate this.

On one occasion in 1785, for example, when a White family threatened to take the land belonging to Terry and her husband, she went straight to the Governor and Council of Massachusetts and got them to instruct the local selectmen to protect the Black family's interests. Another time when Whites tried to steal her land after her husband died, Terry argued against the two best lawyers in Vermont before the Supreme Court of the State and beat them both. Presiding Justice Samuel Chase said her argument was the best he'd ever heard. But then, he probably didn't realize he had just heard an in-your-face woman.

Wednesday, October 10, 2012

Mary Church Terrell

"While most girls run away to marry, I ran away to teach," Mary Church Terrell once said. The wonder is that she ran away from home at all. Her father, born a slave, had made a very great deal of money buying and selling real estate in Memphis, Tennessee, by the time Terrell was born. So nobody would have blamed her if she had just hunkered down and been rich for the rest of her life. But Terrell was too smart for that. And too in-your-face by a long shot.

So she became the class poet at Oberlin College (the student body of which was primarily White and male) and graduated first with her bachelor's degree and then with her Master's, editing The Oberlin Review when she had a minute. Becoming a college teacher herself, Terrell did ultimately marry at the age of twenty-eight (which was old for a woman at that time). But even after marriage, she let Frederick Douglass persuade her to remain an activist, rather than settle down to be a respectable judge's wife.

So she served on the District of Columbia Board of Education for a decade in the late 1800's and early 1900's. She was active in the National American Women Suffrage Association. She helped to form the Federation of Afro-American Women and served as the first President of the National Association of Colored Women's Clubs. She founded the National Association of University Women, was the only Black woman at the International Congress of Women in Berlin in 1904, was one of the founding members of the NAACP, helped to organize the Delta Sigma Theta Sorority, Inc., picketed the White House over one thing or another on a regular basis, and helped to force the desegregation of restaurants in Washington, D.C., in the early 1950's. In her eighties. An in-your-face woman may look soft and pretty, but sometimes that's just camouflage.

Tuesday, October 9, 2012

Valentina Tereshkova

Valentina Tereshkova was born in central Russia in 1937 to working class parents and she followed in her mother's footsteps, going to work in a textile factory in her early adulthood. But an ordinary life was not enough for Tereshkova, so -- at the age of twenty-two -- she joined the local Aeroclub and started parachuting out of planes.

Then, fate and her in-your-facedness joined hands and Tereshkova was chosen out of a pool of four hundred applicants to be trained as a cosmonaut, to go up in a space capsule in the very earliest stages of space exploration. The training was rigorous. Tereshkova and four other women were subjected to weightless flights, isolation tests, and centrifuge tests. They spent many hours intensely studying rocket theory and spacecraft engineering. They made more than 120 parachute jumps. And they were trained to fly MiG-15UTI jet fighters.

When her preparation was complete, only four years after her first jump from a plane, Tereshkova climbed aboard the Vostok 6 on June 16, 1963, and was launched into space to orbit the Earth forty-eight times over a three day period. Upon her successful return from the adventure, Tereshkova was named a Hero of the Soviet Union, the highest distinction her government could bestow.

Through the years after her historic flight, Tereshkova received many other awards around the world, completed a doctorate in engineering, and was recognized for her work in support of world peace. Today, she not only remains revered by the citizens of her homeland, but, in addition to all the other accolades she has received, Tereshkova has a crater on the far side of the moon named after her. It's a remarkable thing to be an in-your-face woman. It's even more remarkable to be an in-your-face woman a quarter of a million miles away!

Monday, October 8, 2012

Corrie ten Boom

Two years after the Nazis took over the Netherlands in 1940, Corrie ten Boom and her family began taking in Jews and Dutch resistance fighters who needed to hide. At the time, ten Boom was an unmarried fifty-one-year-old watchmaker. Hardly the type of stuff heroes are typically made of. But she made her decisions one situation at a time and her family co-signed all of them.

It's impossible to guess how many people they saved, but one thing we know is that ten Boom's father and sister Betsie both died after the family was finally taken into custody in 1944. Ten months after ten Boom herself landed in Ravensbruck Concentration Camp in Germany and one week before all the women in her age group were sent to the gas chambers, she was released -- because of a clerical error!

When the war ended a few months later, ten Boom immediately kicked into high gear, first helping to set up refuge houses in the Netherlands for other returning concentration camp victims. Then, she took her in-your-face woman self right back to Germany to begin re-building her emotional and psychological psyche.

For the next thirty-seven years, ten Boom traveled the world (visiting sixty different countries) and wrote more than two dozen books, the most famous of which -- the story of her adventures during the war -- was published in 1971 under the title The Hiding Place. After fearlessly and boldly resisting Nazi authority, surviving the horrors of Ravensbruck, and suffering the loss of her beloved father and sister, of all the messages she could have chosen to give to those who flocked to hear her speak, the one she always gave was: "There is no pit so deep that God is not deeper still."

Sunday, October 7, 2012


In ancient Greece (circa 500 BCE), there was a group of famous women poets that are still called The Nine Muses. Among them was a woman in Argos named Telesilla. Little remains of her writing, though there is ample record of her literary renown in her day. But Telesilla was an in-your-face woman and that story is still around 2500 years later.

It all started when the Spartans invaded and overcame the Argive army and then headed for the city of Argos to gather the spoils of war, which would surely have included the women who had been left behind. Telesilla, poet though she was, sent the elderly to the top of the city's wall. Then she put on men's clothing (including armor, of course), instructed the other Argive women to do likewise, and led them into battle against the Spartans -- who they promptly beat.

Afterward, the local folks held an annual festival in memory of the event, celebrated by women dressing in men's clothing and vice versa. Not a bad legacy for a woman poet who was sickly as a child. Whatever her day job, an in-your-face woman does what she needs to.

Saturday, October 6, 2012

Susie King Taylor

When the Emancipation Proclamation set slaves free so Black men could join the Union Army and win the Civil War for the northern states, Susie King Taylor became a nurse and went to battle with them. But how did she get an education in the first place? After all, it was against the law to educate a slave in the South at the time and Taylor was born a slave in Liberty County, Georgia.

The way it happened was that Taylor (who was born Susie Baker) was allowed to move to Savannah when she was seven-years-old to live with her grandmother. In Savannah, her grandmother sent her to two different secret schools run by in-your-face Black women. When she outgrew them, two young White people continued to teach her, knowing it was against the law and highly dangerous for them to do so.

When some Union troops found out Taylor could read, they got her to open a Freedman's school on St. Simons Island for a while in 1862. After marrying a Black soldier named King, she traveled with the Army for a few years and, at the end of the war, returned to teaching Black students to read even though her husband had died, leaving her a widow with an orphaned child.

Though she became a domestic servant to a wealthy family in Boston and married for the second time in her thirties, Taylor made the cut as an in-your-face woman because she had the brass to go to secret schools as a child and then pass along what she learned as the best way ever to undermine the White Supremacist system in the U.S. in the mid-1800's. Well, that and the fact that, in her autobiography, she touted her skill as a sharpshooter: "I learned to handle a musket very well while in the regiment, and could shoot straight and often hit the target. I assisted in cleaning the guns and used to fire them off to see if to see if the cartridges were dry...I thought this great fun...[being] able to take a gun all apart and put it together again." Oops! There it is!

Friday, October 5, 2012

Annie Edson Taylor

Many women grow up, get married, have babies, and spend their lives in loving service or quiet desperation -- or a combination of both. This is such a common path that most women don't imagine what they would do if they didn't have a husband and family to take care of. Annie Edson Taylor found out.

Taylor's father died when she was twelve. Then, after she graduated from college, got married and had a baby, her son died in infancy. And, before she could recover from that blow, her husband died, making her a widow, as well. Being left to her own devices in the mid-1800's, most young women would probably have remarried and proceeded to fulfill the dream they'd always been taught to fulfill. But Taylor went another direction.

Moving from New York to Michigan to Texas to Mexico City and back to Michigan, while trying a whole string of different jobs, Taylor taught school, taught music, taught dancing -- whatever would pay the rent. By the time she reached her sixties, however, she feared she was going to be facing the poorhouse if she didn't come up with some money to support herself in her old age. So she decided to go over Niagara Falls in a barrel.

It's hard to imagine how she came up with such an idea, but she did. And more importantly to her position as an in-your-face woman in history, she carried it out. On October 24, 1901 (her 63rd birthday), Taylor climbed into a custom made oak and iron barrel padded with a mattress and persuaded a group of very reluctant assistants to shut and launch the barrel into the river. They didn't want to. They argued with her. They were convinced she might die. And, of course, it could have happened. But Taylor was adamant. So her assistants screwed down the lid and set her afloat.

Twenty minutes later, the barrel was pulled out of the water at the bottom of the falls and Taylor climbed out without injury other than a small gash on her forehead. Unfortunately, the feat didn't make her rich as she had hoped. She made a little money speaking for a while. And attempted a few other related ventures: a novel, a film, and selling her services as a clairvoyant, among other things. But she never accumulated the wealth she had hoped. On the other hand, she didn't wind up in the poorhouse either. Sometimes, what keeps an in-your-face woman going is the inspiration she receives from her own life.

Thursday, October 4, 2012

Ida Tarbell

Sometimes, it's only in looking back that we can see the early indicators of a developing in-your-face woman. Ida Tarbell is an example of this, since she grew up in Pennsylvania, graduated at the top of her high school class, majored in biology in college, and then taught math, science and languages as a teacher after that. Sounds pretty straight down the middle, doesn't it?

But if you pay attention to the hidden details, you realize that Tarbell was deeply affected when her father was put out of business by a sleazy arrangement between the railroads and the big oil interests while she was still a girl. Then, as a young woman, she decided she'd rather write than teach and went to do it in Paris. And her choice of topics for post-graduate examination was an in-your-face woman in the French Revolution. All of which makes it no surprise that Tarbell eventually became one of the primary journalistic muckrakers in the early 1900's.

She wasn't the only one, of course, but it might have been somewhat easier for her to gain information early on. Who could feel threatened by a woman asking a few simple questions? How seriously would corporate executives be likely to take a mild-mannered, highly cultured female? And which of them would guess a woman could even understand the complicated world of big business? So they talked to her again and again and let her gain access to hundreds of thousands of documents outlining how John D. Rockefeller and the Standard Oil Company had ruthlessly operated to make millions through all manner of shady and even illegal plans, acts and manipulations.

In the process, Tarbell recreated the idea of investigative reporting based on grueling, committed, and in-depth research, setting the bar for a century afterward. When Tarbell's expose' was published as a 19-part series in McClure's Magazine, the entire world read it. And in the end, her work was used to break up the Standard Oil monopoly and give the public in the U.S. a whole new perspective on corporate practices from then on. What made the difference? Imagination. "Imagination," Tarbell once wrote, "is the only key to the future. Without it, none exists. With it, all things are possible."

Wednesday, October 3, 2012

Ma Ying Taphan

In the mid-1800's, King Mongkut of Siam (now Thailand) had a harem with a population of 9000. A city that size -- and with that very special importance -- required an absolutely trustworthy protective force. Under normal circumstances, Siamese kings used samurai warriors and other mercenaries as their elite forces, but this was an unusual situation and necessitated unusual measures. So King Mongkut had a group of women drilled in the use of muskets and placed under the leadership of Ma Ying Taphan ("Great Mother of War").

Taphan's 400 troops, who dressed in yellow uniforms, were the best trained of all the King's soldiers and were never defeated in battle. The name Ma Ying Taphan appears in Siamese history in 1688, as well, suggesting that the title Great Mother of War might have been used in a more honorary fashion than bestowed as a name, per se. But the great photo to the left demanded that we recognize the later warrior.

A picture of an in-your-face woman is worth ten thousand words.

Tuesday, October 2, 2012

K’tut Tantri

Muriel Stuart Walker was born in Scotland in 1898, but as a young adult, she moved with her mother to Hollywood, California. Watching people change names and characters as often as they change their clothes appealed to Walker so much that she ultimately packed up her paints and brushes and took off for Bali, where she died her red hair black and took the name K'tut Tantri.

After hob-nobbing with the Balinese royalty for a time, Tantri opened a hotel for tourists in a small fishing village and settled in for the long haul. During the Japanese occupation in World War II, "Mrs. Manx," as she was known by her customers, went to Java, but didn't escape the pains of war. Some believe that she was imprisoned, raped and tortured by the Japanese. Others are not so sure, at least partly because Tantri re-invented circumstances (and herself) so many times, choosing to keep much of her past both contradictory and shadowy, it's hard to say.

When the war was over and Tantri took on the personna of "Surabaya Sue," broadcasting propaganda in support of the radical guerrilla armies fighting to free Indonesia from its Dutch colonizers, the Dutch ordered her shot on sight. Nevertheless, her fearless in-your-facedness earned her many subsequent opportunities to write speeches for and consult with various Indonesian leaders, including Sukarno.

Still, ever an outsider, Tantri went from there to Australia and back to the United States, wrote Revolt in Paradise about her adventures as a revolutionary, and then spent thirty years trying to get it made into a movie, which would have closed the circle of her life from Hollywood and back. Unfortunately, the movie was not to be and Tantri died secluded and bitter. In-your-face women get really crabby when they don't get their due.

Monday, October 1, 2012

Tamar the Great

A mural created in 1184 in the Kingdom of Georgia identifies one of the figures in it as "King of Kings of all the East, Tamar." What makes this particularly interesting, though, is that Tamar was actually a woman. The reason for this was that the Georgian language didn't gender words, so, since Tamar was the ruler of the Kingdom, she was called King. As simple as that.

Her father had named her Heir Apparent before his death, but there was much strong opposition and, had Tamar been less adept, she would not have been able to hold her position. As it was, her sharp mind, strength of character and general in-your-facedness -- backed up by a powerful military force, of course -- established what is still known today as The Golden Age in Georgia, which lasted throughout her reign.

Besides the flourishing of art and architecture, Tamar's reign was marked by the spread of the kingdom's influence in several directions. In fact, her power was so absolute that on coins and charters of the region, Tamar was called "by the will of God, King of Kings and Queen of Queens of the Abkhazians, Kartvelians, Arranians, Kakhetians, and Armenians; Shirvanshah and Shahanshah; Autocrat of all the East and the West, Glory of the World and Faith; Champion of the Messiah." Seems as if that should be enough for any woman, even one that's in-your-face, don't you think?