Sunday, September 30, 2012
For a time afterward, she served the Communist Party in various capacities, but eventually, she decided that she must dedicate her energy to fighting the government's attempts to wipe out her community. It was all she and her neighbors had, ramshackle as it was. Rather than tearing the neighborhood down, they argued, conditions should be improved and the government should lead the efforts to accomplish that improvement.
When World War II caused severe food shortages on top of everything else, Tamana joined the African National Congress. If the White-controlled government would not be responsive to the needs of all South Africans, reasoned ANC members, then the government should be replaced. Over the next decade, Tamana marched, organized, protested and refused to cooperate when the government told her to move or not to leave her house.
In 1954, Tamana helped to organize the first Conference of the Federation of South African Women and she was elected to the organization's national executive committee. This gave her the opportunity to spend time in Switzerland, China and Russia, but that just drew further negative repercussions from the government, including two stints in prison, which debilitated her health. Still, whenever she could, Tamana continued her work, adding to everything else visiting and meeting the needs of political prisoners, one of whom was her son.
When the United Women's Organization was formed in 1981, Tamana -- eighty years old, blind and in a wheel chair -- gave the opening speech: "We must share the problems so that we can solve them together. We must free ourselves. Men and women must share housework...must work together in the home and out in the world. Women must unite to fight for...rights. We have opened the way for you. We must go forward!"
Saturday, September 29, 2012
At fourteen, however, Talbot was smuggled onto a ship by the ship's captain to serve, we must assume, as his mistress. She was listed as a footboy under the name "John Taylor," and so began Talbot's adventures in men's clothing.
After the captain was killed in battle in the Napoleonic wars, Talbot was wounded while serving as a drummer, but managed to keep her identity a secret. So, when she discovered that her inheritance had been squandered by the man who was supposedly looking out for her interests, Talbot decided to just keep up her ruse.
Going from ship to ship, Talbot served as a cabin boy and a powder monkey (keeping shooters supplied with gun powder during battles) until she was captured by the French and held in a dungeon for eighteen months. Having nearly lost her leg her last time out at sea forced Talbot to give up life on the ocean, after which she puttered around from one menial job to another and spent a time in debtor's prison.
When she died at the age of thirty, Talbot was acting as a houseservant for a publisher who promptly celebrated her death by publishing The Life and Surprising Adventures of Mary Anne Talbot. Sometimes in-your-face women boldly make unexpected choices or belligerently demand to do only what they want to do and, sometimes, they just play the hand they're dealt. Two hundred years later, we can't always know which it was.
Friday, September 28, 2012
On arrival, Szabo immediately helped to organize a new French Resistance group and went about the business of sabotaging roads, railway bridges and communication lines while sending back information to the Allies on the best targets for bombing. Then, after a month of intense activity, she returned to England for re-assignment.
When Szabo re-entered occupied France in June to help prepare for D-Day (the U.S. entry into the war), an unexpected Nazi roadblock resulting in a shoot-out put her in the hands of Nazi SS interrogators. After two months of imprisonment and torture, she was transferred to Ravensbruck Concentration Camp in Germany where she was executed in February of 1945, only three months before the war's end, in a flurry of killing intended to keep secret -- to the extent possible -- the scope and severity of Nazi war crimes.
A book written by Szabo's daughter Tania is entitled Young, Brave and Beautiful. The dramatized film version of her life is entitled Carve Her Name With Pride. And the video game Velvet Assassin, released in 2009, was inspired by Szabo and her missions in World War II. In-your-face women's bodies are sometimes murdered, but their spirits live on and on.
Thursday, September 27, 2012
Then, in 1967, Kathy Switzer registered under the name "K.V. Switzer," ran in, and completed the race. She knew she could do it. She and her boyfriend were both marathon runners. And she was used to presenting herself as K.V. Switzer as a journalist for her college newspaper. But they certainly knew what they were doing when she registered for the race and received the numbered sign all official participants wear.
It's not that women didn't participate, you understand. In fact, Kathy Switzer finished nearly an hour behind Bobbi Gibb, who just ran without being registered. But Switzer registered (illegally) and completed the race (thanks to her boyfriend, who intervened when a race official yelled "Get the hell out of my race and give me those numbers!" while trying to drag her off the course). The Amateur Athletic Union subsequently ruled that any woman who competed against men athletically would be barred from further competition in sanctioned athletic events. But five years later, women were -- finally -- allowed to register and run in the Boston Marathon.
For her single act of courage, Swtizer was subsequently inducted into the National Women's Hall of Fame and named Female Runner of the Decade (1967-1977). Why did the in-your-face woman run down the road? Because it was there.
Wednesday, September 26, 2012
One might have expected that, after graduation, she would just spend the rest of her life trying to recuperate from her awful childhood, but while it was not immediately recognizable, Sullivan's struggles had made her an in-your-face woman. So when a family named Keller in Tuscumbia, Alabama, contacted the Director of the Perkins School about needing a teacher for their out-of-control blind and deaf daughter, Helen, Sullivan agreed to pick up and go.
Moving from the Boston, Massachusetts, area to a small town in Alabama as a blind twenty-year-old -- after all her other ordeals -- was daunting, indeed. For one thing, the rampant racism and sexism so embedded in local tradition horrified Sullivan. And Keller showed no signs whatsoever of being teachable. Nevertheless, Sullivan hunkered down and refused to walk away. So, in time, she broke through to her young charge and a forty-nine year relationship was forged.
The story -- entitled The Miracle Worker -- appeared on television, then moved to Broadway, and ultimately was produced as an Oscar-winning feature-length film. A book about her first month with Keller (from Sullivan's perspective) was published in 2007 under the title Miss Spitfire: Reaching Helen Keller. And the play was back on Broadway as recently as 2010. Even when in-your-face women's lives are primarily private, the way they live them often finds its way into the public eye. How could it be otherwise?
Tuesday, September 25, 2012
Instead of giving up the famous Zamzama gun made of copper and brass as the Emperor had demanded that she do, Sukhan sealed the city and posted her warriors in strategic positions for a brutal military battle. While she did not win, the Emperor was forced to realize that Sukhan was a contender worth considering and ultimately gave her five or six villages rather than disrespecting her by offering no concessions.
In-your-face women win even when they don't win. And even when they don't win at all, they go down swinging.
Monday, September 24, 2012
Her family wasn't happy. According to Stuber, they told her she "should be sitting on the front porch in a rocking chair instead of in front of a computer screen raising hell with the status quo." But she didn't listen (one of the marks of a true in-your-face woman when she's on a mission). And women ever since have been glad she didn't.
Catt's Claws started out as a commentary blog on what was going on in the world and lasted until 2001, but over time, Stuber collected, published and archived an impressive mountain of information on women's contributions to life on earth. Today, it's a permanent part of the women's and families' resources available at The Liz Library, a website belonging to lawyer Elizabeth J. Kates. Irene Stuber's work (augmented by the work of thousands of women whose daily emails not only added to her information, but convinced her of its need and importance to other women) has become a monument to "herstory." In-your-face women almost always leave a legacy.
Sunday, September 23, 2012
Initially, Stringer and other women correspondents were prevented from going to the front lines, but that denial didn't last either and eventually, she sent back articles from the front in France, Holland, Belgium and Germany. In fact, Stringer was with the troops when they liberated Buchenwald and Dachau Concentration Camps and she covered the Nuremberg trials, as well.
What she's best known for, however, is that at one point, while the male reporters were all ignoring her and focusing only on their competition with each other, Stringer jumped on a C-47 cargo plane to Paris. Looking out the window, she noticed unusual activity in a village below and talked the pilot into landing in a field. Which is how Stringer came to know that the Russian troops and the U.S. troops had finally linked up in Germany -- major news around the world! In-your-face women can't seem to help staying one step ahead of everybody else. It's just who they are.
Saturday, September 22, 2012
When she married an abolitionist, it was only a matter of time before they became part of the Underground Railroad, hiding escaped slaves and helping them along their path to freedom. And after the Fugitive Slave Law was passed in 1850, making it against the law to do what they were doing, it took Stowe barely a year to respond by publishing the first segment of her book Uncle Tom's Cabin.
Uncle Tom's Cabin was only a novel about life as an African slave in the southern United States, but it sold more than 300,000 copies in less than a year, was turned into a play in New York City, and resulted in hundreds of babies in Boston alone being named after one of the principle characters. There's no way to be sure, of course, but it is often said that Uncle Tom's Cabin and Stowe's other works on slavery in the 1850's helped to start the Civil War. And that's a lot of in-your-faceness!
Friday, September 21, 2012
But that wasn't all Stone loved. By the time she was fifteen (having started in the Midget Leagues at ten), Stone was playing baseball for the St. Paul Giants, a men's semi-professional team. And after she graduated high school, she played for a whole string of professional teams in the Negro League: the San Francisco Sea Lions, the New Orleans Creoles, and the Indianapolis Clowns (similar to the Harlem Globetrotters of basketball fame).
Stone is one of the few ever to snag a hit off the legendary pitcher Satchel Paige. Still -- and maybe because of how well she played -- she was continually shunned, humiliated, and even, on one occasion, purposely spiked by an opposing player, to encourage her to give up being an in-your-face woman and get back to where she belonged. At the end of her career, the Kansas City Monarchs made her ride the bench till she quit. "It was hell," Stone remembered.
Nevertheless, Stone is now in four different Halls of Fame, has a ball diamond named after her, and, in 1990, St. Paul declared March 6th "Toni Stone Day." Being an in-your-face woman is never easy, but it's always an option.
Thursday, September 20, 2012
And where did Stone get her ideas? From watching her mother scrape and beg to take care of her nine children while Stone's father drank, raged, and quoted the Bible about how women are supposed to be submissive to men. Stone's take on those Biblical exhortations (even as a child) was that if she learned Greek and Hebrew and read the original documents, she was sure they didn't actually say what the translators had written.
So Stone -- encouraged by the writings of the in-your-face women Grimke sisters -- studied one way or the other until she was nearly thirty. When her first teaching position (at the age of sixteen) offered her only half what a male teacher would make, she protested and received a raise, but not to equal wages. And she made it a practice all her life to counter every social demand that tried to reduce her.
Later, when the Congregationalist church, to which Stone's whole family belonged, sent out an edict that slavery abolitionists -- and most particularly those who were women -- should not be allowed to speak from Congregationalist pulpits, Stone determined to speak as often and anywhere as she saw fit. Even at Oberlin College in Ohio, the first U.S. institution of higher education that admitted both women and African-Americans, women in rhetoric class were supposed to learn by watching the men debate. So Stone and other women so inclined went out into the woods and debated loud and long among themselves to hone their skills for the future.
After her graduation from Oberlin in 1847, Stone proceeded to live the life of a lecturer on abolition and women's rights, though her family had strongly counseled her not to do it and ultimately asked her to at least stay out of Massachusetts where they were. Needless to say, she spoke anyway and headed straight for Massachusetts to boot. She shortened her skirts and wore bloomer-style pants for the freedom. After a year of marriage, during which she struggled with the issue, she officially refused to take her husband's name. And for her belligerence (both public and private), she had ice water, rotten fruit, eggs and even Bibles thrown at her pretty much everywhere she went.
Still, she said, "We want to be something more than the appendages of Society; we want that Woman should be the coequal...of Man in all the...perils and enjoyments of human life. We want that she should attain to the development of her nature and womanhood; we want that when she dies, it may not be written on her gravestone that she was [only] the [widow] of somebody [else]."
Wednesday, September 19, 2012
The first aviation teacher she approached would only let her go up as a passenger. The next one refused to teach her to fly because she was a woman. But Stinson was so insistent, the pilot finally agreed to give her a "trial" lesson and four hours later, she was flying on her own.
Because she looked so young, she was advertised as "The Flying Schoolgirl," though she tried to tell reporters her true age. They just didn't believe her. Or it made a better story to say she was sixteen.
After flying more than 500 loops during exhibitions without a single accident, Stinson turned to teaching others how to fly at a school she opened in Texas with her sister Marjorie, who was also a pilot. Then, she spent a while flying Airmail for the postal service. But when World War I came along, she volunteered to drive an ambulance for the Red Cross in Europe, contracted the flu and then tuberculosis, and wound up out of the sky permanently. Still, she maintained her in-your-face attitude. "My mother never warned me not to do this or that for fear of being hurt," she was quoted as saying. "Of course, I got hurt, but I was never afraid."
Tuesday, September 18, 2012
As a Naval aviator, Still-Kilrain has logged more than 3,000 flight hours in thirty different aircraft. And before she retired as an astronaut, she had traveled more than 7.8 million miles as Shuttle Commander on two Columbia flights in 1997.
Still-Kilrain was in training when the Space Shuttle Challenger exploded with all on board in 1986, but like the in-your-face woman she was, she continued anyway. "I knew the risks," she told one reporter. "I knew the astronauts on the Challenger knew the risks. So I just kept going."
Now, the former astronaut travels around telling audiences of her fans that anyone can be anything, so "Live Your Dream." That makes it sound as if any girl can be an in-your-face woman. Which is absolutely true.
Monday, September 17, 2012
Convinced that at least some portion of her mother's difficulties were caused by anti-women sentiment in U.S. culture, Steinem burst on the scene in the mainstream media from her very beginning as a published writer by shining the light of truth on social institutions and social practices everyone else seemed to take for granted as just the way things are. Articles on such topics as how women are forced to choose between careers and marriage and what being a Playboy bunny was really like quickly vaulted Steinem into the gutsy forefront of the feminist revolution in the late 1960's and 1970's. And she has stayed there ever since.
She co-founded Ms Magazine, the National Women's Political Caucus, the Women's Action Alliance, the Coalition of Labor Union Women, Choice USA, and the Women's Media Center. And in her spare time, she toured the country with in-your-face woman Florynce Kennedy in support of the Equal Rights Amendment, led the New York City parade as part of the nation-wide Women's Strike for Equality, and wrote and wrote and wrote. One of Steinem's well-known quotes is: "A woman without a man is like a fish without a bicycle." And yet another is: "The truth will set you free, but first it will piss you off."
Sunday, September 16, 2012
She was twenty years old and her Prussian countrymen were in a battle with Napoleon's troops when they ran out of ammunition. So Stegen loaded up her apron with bullets, grabbed the hem with her teeth to make a pouch, and ran straight out into the fray, handing out ammunition with both hands as she went, greatly contributing to Napoleon losing the battle.
Today, there are streets named after Stegen in Berlin and Luneburg and once a year, a woman dressed like Stegen probably did cleans a war memorial dedicated to her and reminds passers-by of the story. It was only one battle, but it might have cost the war. And, regardless, the Prussians that lived to tell the tale were probably seriously glad to see an in-your-face woman with a handful of bullets coming across the battlefield to save the day -- and their lives.
Saturday, September 15, 2012
At a time in history when racial segregation was the norm from coast to coast in the U.S. and most people of color accepted it because you could be risking your life to do anything else, Staupers flatly refused to play the game, in spite of the fact that she wasn't even born a U.S. citizen. Her parents had emigrated to the U.S. from Barbados in 1903, when Staupers was thirteen years old. And segregation or no segregation, she would not take no for an answer.
Her concerns: that Black nurses weren't welcome in mainstream professional nursing organizations because they were thought to be less capable than White nurses, that most Americans didn't realize the degree to which Black nurses experienced discrimination of all kinds, and that the health care of Black Americans in general was often substandard compared to the care that Whites expected and received. So, in the 1930's, she helped to lead the National Association of Graduate Colored Nurses until such time as she could get the American Nurses Association to change their racist policies and accept Black nurses as members. She uncovered and publicized serious deficiencies in the health care of the people living in Harlem, New York. And she used the mainstream media highly effectively to push the military (in the middle of World War II) to accept Black nurses in the same way and to the same extent that White nurses were accepted. And it only took her thirty years to do it all. In-your-face women don't care how long it takes. Once they take on a task, they see it through.
Friday, September 14, 2012
When her first husband was killed in 1874, he left his grieving widow free to marry a Cherokee cattle rustler named Sam Starr and move into Indian Territory. Quickly learning how to make herself useful to rustlers and horse thieves, Starr -- who now called herself Belle -- got so adept at planning and cleaning up after escapades that she even handled bribing lawmen and judges (one way or the other) whenever it was necessary.
Eventually, of course, Starr's second husband was also killed and a couple of years later, Starr herself was ambushed and blown out of the saddle by a shotgun. Nobody was ever found guilty of the crime, but one story has it that her son did the deed. In-your-face women are not always lovable lasses.
Thursday, September 13, 2012
So, in her mid-thirties, having waited as long as she could, trying to act like women are supposed to act, Stark lit out for Beirut and spent the next forty-five years traveling like a nomad through the lands she had read about so long before. In the first few years, she took three highly dangerous journeys, often visiting areas no Westerner had ever seen, and began writing about them in books with titles like Baghdad Sketches, The Valley of the Assassins and Other Persian Travels, and The Southern Gates of Arabia: A Journey in the Hadhramaut.
Stark continued to travel until she was nearly eighty and she continued to write almost as long as she lived, which was more than a hundred years. But she wasn't just gallivanting around to see the sites. This in-your-face woman was exploring human existence at its edges where few -- male or female -- have the courage or the willingness to go. "One can only really travel," Stark wrote at one point, "if one lets oneself go and takes what every place brings without trying to turn it into a healthy private pattern of one's own and I suppose that is the difference between travel and tourism."
Wednesday, September 12, 2012
Though she was formally educated at Johnstown Academy, where she won several awards for her academic abilities, Stanton still smarted under the knowledge that her father would have preferred her to be a boy. And though she loved her husband and children dearly, she nevertheless rejected the usual custom of using the term "Mrs." "[T]he custom of calling women Mrs. John This and Mrs. Tom That and colored men Sambo and Zip Coon," Stanton was quoted as saying, "is founded on the principle that white men are lords of all."
So, it was not surprising to anyone, least of all her husband, when she wrote in her early thirties: "The general discontent I [feel] with woman's portion as wife, housekeeper, physician, and spiritual guide...and the wearied, anxious look of the majority of women impresse[s] me with a strong feeling that some active measures should be taken to remedy the wrongs of society in general, and of women in particular."
And the next thing anyone knew, the first women's rights convention was being held in Seneca Falls, the town where Stanton lived in upstate New York. Over the decades after the convention, Stanton eventually claimed that the 14th and 15th Amendments, in fact -- because of the way they were worded -- gave women the right to vote. So she and her principle partner in crime, in-your-face woman Susan B. Anthony made it a point to repeatedly go to the polls and demand to vote -- no matter how many times they were turned away. And another of her pet projects was a book re-interpreting the Bible to put women in a less submissive role. In-your-face women aren't shy about taking on any opposition. Why should they be? They know they're right.
Tuesday, September 11, 2012
On her way to Cairo, a storm blew her and her shipmates ashore on the Island of Rhodes without their luggage. So Stanhope showed her true in-your-face woman colors by deciding that, rather than wear a veil the way women were expected to where she was now, she would dress like a man. Adopting the baggy trousers, vest and turban of a Tunisian male, Stanhope spent the rest of her life dressed just like that, whatever the locals might have thought of it.
Over the next three decades, her Ladyship charmed the socks off one sheikh after another, her unmitigated fearlessness leaving them breathless. When she rode into Damascus astride a horse like a man (instead of sidesaddle) and with her White Christian woman's face boldly uncovered, the highly devout Syrian Muslims were so stunned, they wound up cheering.
Then, when she subsequently decided to visit the ancient city of Palmyra, she was told the Bedouins would never let her pass safely to get there. Undaunted, Stanhope rode out alone to talk with them in their camp and when the talk was over, she rode back out with a small herd of Bedouin bodyguards accompanying her on her journey. This time, riding into the city, the public greeting was so wildly enthusiastic, Stanhope wrote of the event: "I have been crowned Queen of the Desert...I have nothing to fear...I am the sun, the stars, the pearl, the lion, the light from heaven.” And who knows? Maybe she was. An in-your-face woman isn't hard to recognize.
Monday, September 10, 2012
Sally Stanford moved from Baker, Oregon, to San Francisco, California, in 1924 with big dreams and a willingness to go outside the lines to reach them -- way outside the lines. Starting out with speakeasies where she served salty chicken to encourage the customers to drink more bootleg hootch, Stanford eventually broadened her scope to include houses of ill repute. And by 1940, she had opened one of the finest bordellos in the city -- in Nob Hill, no less.
Stanford and her ladies entertained such celebrities as Errol Flynn and Humphrey Bogart and when delegates from around the world met in San Francisco in 1945 to discuss organizing the United Nations, some of their best work was done at Stanford's establishment. As the most successful madam in a world class city, Stanford beat seventeen arrests before retiring as a multi-millionaire in 1949. But she was hardly done. In fact, she was just getting started.
Her next adventure involved opening a fabulous upscale restaurant looking out over the bay in Sausalito, where the likes of Bing Crosby and Lucille Ball could be seen dining with friends on a regular basis. And with her newfound respectability, Stanford managed to win a seat on the Sausalito City Council in the early 1970's and go on to become the Mayor at the age of 72.
Respectable or not, her constituents seemed to like having a Mayor with such a colorful past. So they apparently didn't mind that Sally Stanford's real name was Mabel Busby and she had used a couple of dozen others on occasion -- at least seven of which belonged to her various husbands. In-your-face women know how to do it their way and make people like it.
Sunday, September 9, 2012
In Europe, Snow was taken somewhat more seriously and didn't have to bump up against the added insult of racial segregation as much, so she spent as much time as possible there. Unfortunately, this left her vulnerable to being taken by the Nazis in Denmark in 1941 to a concentration camp for eighteen months. Some think it had to do with her drug use. Others cite her skin tone. Regardless, when Snow was traded for a Nazi prisoner-of-war in 1942, she weighed less than 100 pounds and was in an emotional state from which she never fully recovered before her death at the age of fifty-two.
Perhaps she was, in fact, broken, but whatever her real experience in the camp, a fictionalized version has Valaida saying, "They beat me and fucked me in every hole I had. I was their whore. Their maid. A stool they stood on when they wanted to reach a little higher. But I never sang in their cage...Not one note." Did the writer just make this up or was he privy to some inside information? In-your-face women sometimes go to the grave with the best and strongest parts of themselves never fully recognized, but that doesn't mean it wasn't in there.
Saturday, September 8, 2012
When she couldn't find her husband (because he had been executed for committing murder), she went to a shipyard and joined the Royal Marines. It may not seem like a logical progression of events, but it appears from the way the story unfolds that Snell was an in-your-face woman.
In any case, she sailed with her unit to Lisbon and on to India, where she fought -- and was wounded -- in the battle of Devicotta. After two years in the service of the King, when Snell finally revealed her gender to her shipmates, they were so impressed with what a fine job she had done fooling them in very close quarters that they encouraged her to approach the Duke of Cumberland and request the pension she had earned as a sailor. So she did. And she got it.
Her story, entitled The Female Soldier, was published in two different editions and she made money for a while appearing on stage in her uniform demonstrating drills and singing sailor's ditties. But in the end she wound up marrying a couple more times and having a couple of sons, a pretty ordinary life for a woman who had already been to war. But in-your-face women make their own choices -- and few apologies.
Friday, September 7, 2012
Smyth toughed it out through two months herself, but she didn't let it get her down. In fact, at one point, a visitor reported seeing a group of WSPU members singing in the prison yard as they marched around and around while Smyth conducted them gaily out her barred window with a toothbrush. In-your-face women roll with the punches.
Thursday, September 6, 2012
Though it was only thirty days (this time) because the "crimes" they committed were rarely grievous and were often only misdemeanors, the point was being made. These were young people who were prepared to suffer. Warriors who would not be denied.
Hitting the ground running as an social change agent, Smith-Robinson joined the Student Non-Violent Coordinating Committee and immediately helped to organize chapters in Charleston, North Carolina; Nashville, Tennessee; and Macomb, Mississippi. Then she went on to participate in the Freedom Rides, for which she spent 45 days at the infamous Parchman Prison Farm.
Within two years, despite her youth and her gender, she had become such a responsible member of SNCC, she was in charge of an entire summer voter registration drive in Mississippi and the Sojourner Truth motor fleet that provided transportation for organizers to move around the southern United States. Eventually, she was voted the organization's Executive Secretary (its chief administrator) and, as such, was a focused and militant Black Power proponent.
Once, when a group of SNCC volunteers were waiting to board a plane for a trip to Africa, they were told the plane had overbooked and they would need to wait for a later flight. Without a signal to anyone, Smith-Robinson simply marched out and plunked herself down on the jetway until they were given their seats. In-your-face women don't mind taking the lead and will do what's necessary.
Wednesday, September 5, 2012
After honing her skills for a couple of years, Smith took a dare and successfully flew a Waco 10 under all four of New York City's east bridges, which got her the hand slap of 15-days grounded and a lot of publicity as "The Flying Flapper of Freeport" (the community on Long Island, New York, where she lived). Over the next year (and before her nineteenth birthday), Smith soloed more than 26 hours -- straight! -- in a Bellanca CH monoplane; flew 190.8 mph in a Curtis military aircraft; became an Executive Pilot for the Irving Chute Company; set an endurance record (with in-your-face woman Bobbi Trout) of 42-1/2 hours in the air which demanded an in-air refueling, of course; added a mile to her altitude record; and won a position as an aeronautics broadcaster for NBC.
After she married, Smith spent twenty years taking care of her family, and then, when her husband died, she returned to flying for another forty-five years and was still flying experimental aircraft for the military at the age of eighty-nine. In-your-face women make time -- if they want to -- to do it all!
Tuesday, September 4, 2012
Singing songs with titles like "I'm Wild About That Thing," however, wasn't all that Smith was known for. She was a hard drinker and given to violence when she'd been hitting the bottle. She once beat a rival unconscious, ran one of her husbands down a train track by shooting at him repeatedly with his own gun, and, on another occasion, horrified a wealthy White audience at a small private house party by belligerently telling her host to "get the fuck away from me."
Further, just to spice things up, she made no bones about being bi-sexual, liked going to live sex shows and orgies, regularly seduced her women back-up singers, and encouraged drag queens to follow her around on tour. Consequently, despite her giant talent and profit-generating popularity, she was on the downward slide by the early 1930's, partly because the listening public was shifting from the blues to swing, but partly because many producers and musicians had come to feel that Smith was just more trouble than she was worth.
Still, there were those who loved Smith's in-your-faceness. After her untimely death as the result of a car wreck in the middle of the night returning from a gig in Mississippi, for example, one of Smith's nieces recalled, "When she said 'kiss my Black ass,' I don't think no one could say it nastier than Bessie." And it was this agonizing, raw and brassy, full-tilt boogie attitude that made another in-your-face woman -- blues singer Janis Joplin -- buy Smith a tombstone when she discovered that her predecessor was resting in an unmarked grave. In-your-face women recognize each other and show due respect.
Monday, September 3, 2012
In the 1920's, Smedley followed a brilliant young Indian communist to Germany and worked with several left-wing groups there until 1928, when she took a position as a correspondent for a German newspaper that wanted someone to cover the revolution unfolding in China at the time. And cover it she did. For thirteen years.
Initially, in Shanghai, Smedley became involved in the work and workings of the Communist International that was trying to organize a world revolution from Moscow. But she ultimately committed herself and her almost inexhaustible energy as an organizer to the struggle of the people in China, becoming a close friend of Mao Tse-tung, among other revolutionary leaders.
She asked to join the Chinese Communist Party and was denied membership because of her "independent" (read "in-your-face woman's") mind. Still, when she died in 1950, Smedley's ashes were buried in a cemetery for revolutionaries outside Beijing. She entitled her autobiography Daughter of Earth and she was indeed; willing to work together with her fellow revolutionaries or stand alone, if need be, for all who are exploited and oppressed.
Sunday, September 2, 2012
While she was in nurse's training, South African Albertina Thethiwe met and married a young lawyer named Walter Sisulu who warned her that he was a political activist and that their lives would be sacrificed to that fact. Nelson Mandela was the best man at their wedding and there was no courtship or honeymoon, but despite having five children in fairly rapid succession (and adopting four more), Albertina Sisulu slowly but surely became committed to political activism in the African National Congress herself.
By 1955, she had helped to launch the Freedom Charter (a set of principles demanding that all the people of South Africa should govern the nation rather than just the White ones). The following year, she and in-your-face woman Sophia Williams DeBruyn organized a march of 20,000 women against the government. And from then on, she was in and out of jail for more than a decade and spent most of the 1960's even when she wasn't in jail on what amounted to house arrest.
When her husband was sentenced to life in prison with Nelson Mandela in 1964, Albertina could have withdrawn from public life, afraid and concerned for her family, but she didn't. Instead, she set up The Albertina Sisulu Foundation to improve the lives of the very young and the very old. She recruited and smuggled South African nurses into Tanzania when the British nurses left after independence. And she served as President of the World Peace Council in Switzerland in the mid-1990's.
When she died at the age of ninety-two, the President of South Africa said: "Mama Sisulu has, over the decades, been a pillar of strength...for the entire liberation movement, as she reared, counselled, nursed and educated most of the leaders and founders of the democratic South Africa." Though it was through her husband that Albertina Sisulu first became involved in these activities, she said of her role and the role of other in-your-face women in her country: "Women are the people who are going to relieve us from all this oppression...It is the women who are...educating the people to stand up and protect each other." The in-your-face women, that is.
Saturday, September 1, 2012
Born into poverty in Monrovia, Liberia, in 1938 and subsequently educated as an economist in the United States, Ellen Johnson Sirleaf hit the radar as an in-your-face woman in the early 1970's when she gave a speech accusing her country's corporations of hoarding profits and sending them abroad rather than using them to strengthen Liberia. When a coup took over the government, though Sirleaf gave them a chance to prove their good intentions, by 1980, she was openly criticizing the new leaders so boldly that she had to flee the country. And her speeches got her in so much trouble that she was eventually tried and sentenced to ten years for sedition, then released because of international outcries, re-imprisoned for being connected to a different coup, and finally forced to flee the country yet again.
Because Sirleaf had spent some time at the World Bank and Citibank before joining the United Nations where she helped to investigate genocide in Rwanda and studied the effect of conflict on women in Africa, she was recognized by the international community as well as being famous in Liberia. So no one who follows African politics was surprised when Sirleaf ran for office and ultimately won the Presidency of her country in 2005 and a second time in 2011.
As President, Sirleaf has made education free and compulsory for all children in Liberia. She was responsible for the establishment of a Truth and Reconciliation Commission to unify the country after thirty years of civil war. She signed into law a Freedom of Information Act (the first like it in any African nation). And she has pulled Liberia out from under a massive load of debt and asked for legislation to make it illegal to put the country in such a position again.
In 2006, Forbes Magazine called her one of the most powerful women in the world. In 2010, Newsweek called her one of the ten best leaders of the world. And in 2011, she was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize for her work related to the rights of women and their involvement in the peace process.
Sirleaf has herself garnered criticism for backing the wrong political horse in 1989, but -- in-your-face woman that she is -- she has simply pointed out that she always jumps in with both feet to support whoever and whatever she thinks is the best choice. Then, should she subsequently decide she's wrong, she'll be first in line to mete out the criticism loud and long, not only withdrawing her earlier support, but jumping in with both feet to work against her earlier point of view. In-your-face women aren't afraid to admit they can be wrong, but don't get in their way when they think they're right!