Happy Thanksgiving in Honor of A Rebel in Herstory: La Maupin

Bread rolls and gender roles

A belated Happy Thanksgiving to those of you who celebrate this holiday (which is probably most of you because most of my readers are from the US)! It’s a holiday I enjoy because I have time off from school, but it’s not a perfect holiday by any means. Not only does it have a gory past, but the holiday is still, for most households, a scene straight out of the sixties: the women cook in the kitchen while the men relax. I would give you a more vivid analysis of this too-common scene, but Linda Lowen does an excellent job of this so I’ll send you over to look at hers instead.

Personally, I had a very untraditional Thanksgiving; because I didn’t want to fly home for such a short break, I ended up staying in my dorm room and so yesterday I slept in, made a statue of Princess Leia out of snow, cooked eggplant pasta with my girlfriend, and watched Gilmore Girls for nostalgia’s sake. What did you do for Thanksgiving?

Anyway, for all of the women who spent their Thanksgiving in the kitchen with their hands inside a turkey’s ass and resenting the guys just a little, here’s a true story about  a women who never took any shit from any man.

What do sword fighting, opera singing, the 1600s, cross-dressing, nunnery heists, and avoiding death sentences (by fire) have to do with each other? Julie D’Aubigny, or “La Maupin,” as she is nicknamed, was a master of them all.

Honestly, not too much is known about her except that no one knew what to do with her. Born in 1670, Julie D’Aubigny was born into a wealthy life and taught how to ride horses and handle a sword by her father, who was fairly badass himself because he trained pages for King Louis the XIV. She quickly became too much for him to handle, though, when at the age of 16 she slept with his boss. After that, she was married off to some Maupin guy who lived in the colonies. D’Aubigny didn’t go off to live with him, though. Instead, she galavanted around France doing all kinds of extraordinarily naughty things. For a full and entertaining biography, read all about her here, but in case you are pressed for time I’ll give you the highlights:

  • She gave singing and fencing demonstrations in the streets, challenging crowd members to duel, singing humiliating songs about those challenged, then easily defeating them. She wore men’s clothing but once, upon being accused of being a man, opened up her underthings so the crowd could judge her sex for themselves.
  • She became an incredible opera singer and had an almost photographic memory, making her a very fast learner.
  • She had flings with lots of women, but with one woman in particular was thrown into a nunnery by her horrified parents. D’Aubigny followed her to this nunnery, joined it, stole the body of a recently-dead nun to put in her lover’s bed, and set the room on fire so that they could easily escape together. For this, she was charged as a man with body-snatching, kidnapping, and arson, the penalty for which was death by fire, but she escaped to Paris instead.
  • In 1695, she kissed a woman at a society ball and was consequently challenged  to a duel by three outraged noblemen; she of course beat them all.

How’s that for a 17th century woman?

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Reina With A Paintbrush: Frida Kahlo

I have loved Frida Kahlo for a very long time; when I was twelve, I even dressed up as Frida for Halloween. But it wasn’t until I read The Lacuna by Barbara Kingsolver (it’s a great book, you should read it!) that I became obsessed.

Frida Kahlo, Self-Portrait Dedicated to Dr. Eloesser, 1940, Oil on masonite, 59,5 x 40 cm, Private Collection. Licensed Replica: © Banco de México Diego Rivera & Frida Kahlo Museums Trust / VG Bild-Kunst, Bonn 2008

She is, of course, most famous for being an incredible painter and for being married to the equally-famous muralist Diego Rivera. Personally, having seen both of their art in real life, I must say that Frida’s work is my favorite. Then again, I am biased because I love her life’s story as much as I love her work.

There are so many things to admire about Frida Kahlo. The majority of her paintings were self portraits, a sort of visual diary to cope with the traumas in her life. She experienced a lot of pain: when she was six she contracted polio, which left her with a lifelong limp; when she was 18, she was in a bus crash in which she was impaled by a steel handrail; had several miscarriages as a result of the bus accident; was cheated on by her husband, Diego Rivera, with her sister Cristina; and dealt with back pain for her whole life.

Despite her pain, or perhaps because of it, she had an incredible free spirit and ideas about beauty. I admire her pride in her untrimmed facial hair and devotion to leading an independent life. Though being married to Diego Rivera (twice), they lived in separate but connected homes. Both had various affairs; Frida had affairs with both women and men, including Leon Trotsky who stayed at her house for a time while in exile.

In any case, her life is fascinating and I encourage you to read more about her (or watch a documentary about her). And in the meantime, you should check out more of her work:

Without Hope, 1945 by Frida Kahlo, painted during the time when she had no appetite due to various operations and was force fed food.

Frida Kahlo, Self Portrait Along the Boarder Line Between Mexico and the United States, 1932. This is one of my favorites.

Frida Kahlo, Roots, 1943.

Frida Kahlo, Two Nudes in a Forest, 1939. This painting was originally titled “The Earth Itself” and was a gift to a lover, actress Dolores Del Rio.

Five American Female Inventors You Wish You Could Write a Thank You Note To

1. Ever ridden in a car in the winter without freezing your butt off? You have Margaret Wilcox to thank for that. While her designs have been improved upon over the years, the first car heater design was created by Wilcox in 1893.

“Aaah! Warmth!”

2. If you watched The Titanic recently, you might’ve noticed a distinct lack of these: life rafts. While the life raft is the invention that made Maria Beasley famous, another patent that she made in the late 1800s, a barrel-making machine, is the design that made her rich. She also designed a steam generator and a device that helps keep trains from being derailed. Thanks Maria Beasley!

“Help! I’m stuck in a Beasley life-saving doohicky!”

3. I don’t know about you, but I like food. Fresh food, specifically, so I am big fan of  Florence Parpart‘s invention, the refrigerator. In 1914 she came up with the idea that would replace the icebox forever. Of course, that was only after Parpart received a patent for improved street-sweepers. You go, Florence!

“If Daddy says he wants a sandwich, tell him we keep meat and cheese right here in Florence and he can go ahead and just make it himself, the lazy bastard.”

4. As a student attending a college in Western Mass, I’ve felt a winter chill or two. Thankfully, I can generally stay warm in buildings thanks to Alice H. Parker‘s invention: a gas-fired “heating furnace.” Her invention was the first step towards the central heating we use today. Parker was also a pretty badass woman because she was one of the most well-educated woman of her time and one of the lucky few African American women to attend college back then (Parker graduated from Howard University in the early 1900s). Thanks Alice!

Alice Parker and her heating furnace design

5. To some, she is known as “Queen of paper bags.” To others, she is “the female Edison.” To me, she is the incredible Margaret Knight. Born in 1838, Knight received 26 patents throughout her life. Some of her inventions were a paper bag machine (we still use the basic design today), a rotary engine, and a device to shut down machinery to keep it from injuring textile mill workers (which she designed when she was only 12 years old). I’m super impressed.

“I’m Margaret Knight, a badass female inventor and I’m glamorous to boot!”

So that’s what they did. Now it’s your turn. What are you going to invent?

Lets Hear it for Some Queer Poets: Alix Olson, Andrea Gibson and Staceyann Chin

I am a poet and a lesbian, so naturally I am drawn to queer spoken word artists. These three artists have not only taught me more about the craft (while I’ve been a poet for a long time, I’m very new to spoken word), but they also taught me a lot about life, the subjects that anger and impassion me, and how to be brave enough to write about the things I care about. Let’s hear it for these fabulous poets.

Alix Olson

Alix Olson is one incredibly badass, feminist, queer spoken word artist. (She also edited a spoken word anthology called Word Warriors: 35 Women Leaders in the Spoken Word Revolution which changed my life, so if that’s your thing you should totally check it out!). You probably don’t want to listen to her without headphones at, say, work or your grandmother’s house. Unless you are hardcore like that; then, by all means, go ahead.

Anyway, her poems are focused on capitalism, feminism, queer issues, and are sharp and unapologetic, clever, and get my fingers snapping like they are possessed by the poetry devil. Hell, she may be the poetry devil (in a good way). The poem below is called “Gender Game.”

Andrea Gibson

Andrea Gibson may be my favorite spoken word poet of all time. If you want to make me cry, just sit me down, give me a CD of Andrea Gibson and watch my tears flow because Gibson’s poetry is beautiful, heart-wrenching, raw, honest, and unbelievably well-written and performed. Anytime I need inspiration for writing better prose I listen to her work and am completely inspired. I was lucky enough to see Andrea Gibson perform last year and you should too if you ever get the chance. In the meantime, here’s a video of Andrea Gibson’s “Honey”:

Staceyann Chin

Last year I got to see Staceyann Chin and holy crap was she amazing. I was a fan before I went to go see her, of course, but everything about her show was amazing, from the excerpts from her book The Other Side of Paradise (read it!), to her poems to her personality (she is so kind and humble and ridiculously cool, oh my goodness!). Staceyann Chin is a gem. Now, after reading The Other Side of Paradise, which is her memoir about growing up in Jamaica and exploring her identity as a half-Chinese, Jamaican lesbian poet, I am completely in awe of all she has done. I am so thankful that I know about her! Here’s “Not My Fault”: