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View Diary: If women are going into combat, then it's time to ratify the ERA [Important Update] (181 comments)

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  •  Joan was more complicated than that. (17+ / 0-)

    than that, and it's important that people remember to view the situation not through modern eyes, but through historic eyes.

    The English never forced Joan to wear anything.  In fact, it was rather preferable to them that Joan not wear a dress.  Remember that they were trying to run a trial for heresy.  But it was even more important that, after Joan started wearing a dress, that Joan stopped wearing one.  That way Joan could be classified as a "relapsed" heretic, making execution a very simple case.  Some of her supporters, during the subsequent "rehabilitation" trial, claimed that Joan was forced to wear the old male clothes again by the dress being taken away, although this is contradicted by others.  Regardless, nobody - including Joan - disputed that the dress was worn willingly when in captivity.

    Joan had no conceptualization of "transsexualism" (and probably none of lesbianism, although some medieval writers did write about it - generally either in a "aw, those poor women, so bereft of a man's touch that they turn to each other" manner or a "tittilating-for-men" manner (often both)).  However, Joan did have a number of examples of the "holy transvestites", saints ranging from everything from women who disguised themselves as men in order to become monks, all the way to St. Wilgefortis, a female saint who, when she was to be wedded off to a pagan, prayed to God to make her repulsive to him - God made her grow a beard.  Joan likewise probably knew of the old Greco-Roman legends of the Amazons (they were discussed in Joan's time), as well as stories of Boadicea of the Celts.  

    Church doctrine at the time had made it clear that crossdressing was acceptable if it existed only for safety.  Hence the standard approach in a trial was to show that the person blurred the genders - for example, if Joan had attempted to pass entirely as a man, rather than as - well, Joan - then there would have been no grounds on which to base a trial.  But Joan made no attempt to hide being someone who is anatomically female.  And indeed they seemed to bear forth their virginity as a mark of pride.

    Of course, the "necessity" arguments of Joan's supporters don't fly either.  In Joan's rehabilitation trial, the supporters argued that the clothing was merely a necessity to prevent rape.  They go into detail about how difficult the clothes are to remove.  Yet by all accounts, both in the field and in captivity, Joan slept naked.  Also, Joan never once made the necessity argument.  Joan's argument in the trial was simply, "It pleases God that I wear it."

    How would Joan have reacted and preferred to be seen if in today's modern world?  I have no clue whatsoever.  You can't divorce the person from the time.  But from the description of Joan's approach to both leadership and combat in battle, there's no question that they could be well described by the modern word "butch" (very!) - and the behavior suggests some serious internal conflict, bare minimum, over gender roles and in how society would perceive them.  And Joan certainly voluntarily did an awful lot to queer the period's gender norms.

    And, interesting sidenote.  When Joan was burned, they deliberately stripped the clothes off the corpse to show the remains to the crowd, many of whom still had doubts as to the gender.  One person wrote (paraphrasing from memory), "Whatever IT was, God only knows."

    What I find most interesting about the whole saga, however, is how many rallied to Joan's side and how fiercely loyal they became.  There were very few reports of derision among the ranks.  Joan represented victory while the older male leaders they'd been following represented defeat after defeat.  And that seemed to be all that they really cared about.  So as much as one may want to view the period as being jam-packed with bigots on every corner, at least in this case, it looks like most were willing to at least overlook the gender issue, if they didn't outright care less.

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