A Tribute to Womanhood

Welcome to "I Am Woman"...a tribute to all those women who had the courage and perseverance to stand up and fight for their rights. Thanks to those who came before us we enjoy a freedom unknown to women not too long ago. But, sadly, in many parts of the world, women continue to be repressed. In fact, even in this country there are women living today under the threat of violence...completely controlled by a violent spouse. Some may make it; others won't. Hopefully, one day ALL women will be free. May that day come soon.


Waking Up and Breaking Up

For the next several years, my marriage was such a sham. In front of others, we were the perfect couple; behind closed doors, it was another story. He was afraid to hit me, afraid that I would strike back, but the verbal and emotional abuse were another story. He knew he had me there. He knew that I was beaten down...fair game for his tirade of dirty, insulting words.  

Then, there came a time that I decided to try my hand at my own creative abilities.  I've always loved to write, and writing has always been healing for me, so I said, "Okay, I am going to try my hand at writing a play."...and write I did; it became like an obsession...all of the hurt and pain inside of me was pouring out onto these pages. I wrote whenever my boys were in school and then after they went to bed at night.  Sometimes I typed standing up. My ex, who still had his dreams of becoming a big star, was still getting no more than an extra part here and there.  He would come in the kitchen and sit across the table from me while I was working and begin to sing at the top of his lungs.  If that didn't work, if that didn't stop me from concentrating,  he would pick an argument....over anything...he was just so determined to sabotage my work.  That time I didn't let him win. 

Eventually I did complete my play, and it was pretty good. I began sending out the synopsis, and several theatrical    companies wrote back and said wanted to see the play, but none was more surprising than the famous  Manhattan Theater Club.  When I tore open that envelope and read that they were intrigued and asked me to send my play, I swear, I literally screamed in joy.  I began calling everyone I knew...and all were overjoyed for me.  Why, even my mother-in-law wished me luck.  Then, the ex came home, and I excitedly told him my good news.  Well, talk about being shot down.  It only took a few hurtful words, "Well, I don't know why you are so excited.  You haven't sold it yet...and you probably won't."  And then he proceeded to tell me about an audition he had coming up. Needless to say, I was so upset that I mailed out the first draft of my play rather than the final draft.  I never heard from the company...and I never wrote again.  Somehow, he had taken all the wind out of my sails. 

It wasn't until years later when I had finally left him for good and was meeting with my therapist that I realized, he was actually so jealous of me, so fearful that his own career didn't seem to be going anyplace that he would have done anything not to see me be a success before him. There was no room in the spotlight for anyone but him. It struck me that his auditions were much the same as the company asking for my play; he hadn't gotten it yet. 

Several more years had passed by before the marriage was finally over.  I continued working in the evenings because he refused to watch the boys during the day so I stayed home all day and played like the perfect little homemaker.  He continued his job as a bouncer...never moving forward...always remaining stagnant.  He continued with his belittling, his name calling...and I continued to sink deeper and deeper in despair. What was I to do?  How could I be out there on my own taking care of two growing boys?   Several times during those years, I packed to leave during the night, only to fall asleep and unpack the next morning.  

I don't know where my courage finally came from, but  one day, it hit me.  I couldn't live like this anymore.  What kind of message were my boys getting?  That it was okay to abuse their wives?  I was hurting them as much as I was hurting.  So, one day, I stood up and faced the problem (him) head-on.  See, the truth was, I had been paying the rent all these years...as well as part of the bills.  Yes, he helped with the food and some of the bills, but there was no reason that I couldn't survive without him. I told him, no, I ordered him out of the house...after all, it was my apartment. When he balked, I assured him that I would call the police to help get him out.  That's all he had to hear...another career ender for him...so he left.

And so did we.  I let the apartment go, and we moved to another borough--Brooklyn.  I settled the boys into their new school and got myself a new and decent paying job.  I went into therapy to face the demons that had held me down for so long....and I survived.  I Am Woman.  I Am Strong.  I can do Anything.  I am a Strong Surviver.
Thanks for listening to my story...and if anyone would like to share their story, please let me know.  This is your blog as well as mine.  It helps to have someone to talk to.


Why Women Stay

Why do women stay in abusive relationships?  Why don't they leave?  It is so hard for someone who has not lived through it to understand.  Not having been abused, friends or family members have no idea what it is like to feel totally worthless, ashamed.  They have not been kicked, punched, slapped, humiliated, or degraded.  Only one who has been abused can understand...it is not always easy to leave.

Fear: This is the number one reason that women stay in abusive relationships.  They feel their abuser may become more violent--even fatal---stalking them if they leave.  And this is not an unfounded fear.  In fact, women are most at risk after they have left an abusive relationship.  I know what these women are feeling.  I was one of them.  I will never forget always having to look over my shoulder...always being fearful that he would show up.  The woman may fear being alone, that she cannot survive without someone to take care of her.  She may fear that she will lose her children or that others will blame her. 

Lack of Resources:  This is another biggie.  One of the major components of the abusers control is to sever the victim from family ties and friendship. The victim may also have tried to hide signs of the abuse from the outside world.  Either way, the victim lacks a support system and is isolated from family and society in general and feel they have no place to turn.

Financial Resources:  In most abusive relationships, the abuser controls everything...including the finances.  The victim, particularly those with children, has no means of support.

Children:  It is not easy being a single parent, and for most women, navigating the court system for custody.  Children may be pressuring to stay with their dad.  And, if she does get the children, there are childcare issues to consider.  Who will take care of the children if she goes to work...and she will have to work.

Promises of Reform:  The abuser promises that it will never happen again, and the victim believes this is true.  She believes that over time, she can change him.

Love:  Most of us enter into a relationship because we love someone, and that feeling does not simply disappear easily, and after a battering, the abuser is often very penitent, and usually between violent episodes there are periods of calm where the abuser can appear charming, nurturing, and caring.  The victim, whose self-esteem is at its lowest, perceives this to be the end of the violence.  The victim is confused about difference in being loved and being controlled by their partner.

The above are just some of the reasons that victims do not leave.  Other reasons include religious beliefs that reinforce commitment to marriage, sex role conditioning, and feelings of guilt.  The victim believes that she is at fault.   




Cycle of Abuse

The goal of an abuser is control.  They want the victim to behave in ways that they want the victim to behave.  They achieve this with abuse.  Domestic violence falls into a specific pattern, the cycle of abuse.  The following is an example of how the cycle works.

A man abuses his partner, then, after hitting her, he begins to feel remorse.  He tells her he is sorry that he hurt her and that it won't happen again, but what he doesn't tell her is "because I am afraid I might get caught."  (My situation was similar to this.  My ex had been pretty free with his hands until one time I picked up the phone to call 911.  When he tried to take the phone from me, I lashed out with the receiver and hit him in the head.  He was an actor and was so worried about my messing up his face, that  he never hit me again. I can hear his thoughts, "because she will hit back and scar me.  Then I will be ugly)   He buys her flowers and tells her how much he loves her....the pursuit phase.  He is trying to win her back.  They enter the honeymoon stage.  All is well...on the outside...because by now, the irrational thoughts are once again beginning to creep in.  In his mind, he rationalizes his abuse, "she deserved it; the slut is cheating on me."  Now, mind you, she has been true to him since the day they married.  

And the more he thinks about this, the angrier he becomes.  In his mind, he begins plotting ways to get even with her.  Tension is beginning to build.  He tells her to go to the store for him; he gives her a certain amount of time to get the shopping done.....She gets caught up in traffic on the way home, and when she arrives, he is there waiting for her.   He is now at the explosion stage.  

She knew this was going to happen.  She has been through this before.  So, why does she go back?  We will go over this in the next installment.


Understanding the Batterer

Men who batter women come from all racial, ethnic, socioeconomic, and religious backgrounds.  The abuser may be young or old...blue collar, white collar.  He might drink or use drugs, or he might not use at all.  There is no typical batterer, but, although there is no profile for the abuser, we do find certain behaviors that are common among those men who batter their wives.

Jealousy of the Partner 
Men who batter almost always accuse their victims of having sexual relations with others.  The slightest little thing is enough to convince them that their partner is having an affair.  A car parked across the street...a hang up phone call.  His jealousy is totally irrational and may arise from his own insecurities.  It's also quite common to find that the batterer has been having his own sexual affairs outside of the home and is projecting his own guilt onto his partner.

Explosive Temper
This one is pretty much a given.  Something so trivial as burning the toast or a piece of dust on the cocktail table can be enough to send him into a rage.  Many women have actually been pulled out of their beds and beaten due to some perceived shortcoming.

Control and Isolation of Partner
Batterers will go to any lengths to isolate and control their partner.  They refuse to let the victim spend time with family and friends; one woman was not even allowed to go out to the backyard without her husband.  When he was working, he would call all the time to check on her...and if she didn't answer, that was just cause for a beating.  

A History of Family Violence
This one is a biggie. Many batterers grow up in homes where they or a sibling were physically abused or their mother was. Statistics show that those who have witnessed violence as they were growing up are more likely to become batterers themselves.  One study of batterers showed that 75% had seen their father's beat their mothers. 

Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde Personality
Many batterers exhibit what could be called 'drastic' personality changes.  While much of the time they may be gentle, loving husbands, they suddenly undergo a drastic change where they become an ogre.  And, to make it worse, they usually show their loving side to the public while the ogre appears only at home...so when the victim tries to tell about what is going on, others do not believe her.

Verbal as Well as Physical Abuse
The man who verbally abuses his spouse with a barrage of derogatory names such as 'whore', 'stupid bitch' and 'ugly slut'. Some verbal abuse is less obvious such as telling her that she is a sloppy housekeeper, unappealing to anyone but him, a poor excuse for a mother...and on an on.  Eventually she accepts his judgment, and her self-esteem slips even lower.   



Battered Women's Syndrome

The "Battered Woman Syndrome" is a recognized psychological condition which is used to describe a woman who, because of severe and constant physical abuse by her partner is depressed and unable to take any independent action to escape the abuse. There are four stages to the syndrome.

The first stage is denial.  In this stage the woman refuses to admit...even to herself...that she has been beaten or that there is a problem in her marriage.  He didn't mean it, it was just an accident.  She makes excuses for his violent acts, and each time she believes that it will never happen again. 

In the second stage, she is willing to acknowledge that there is a problem, but believes that she is at fault, that she deserves to be hit. It happens because of the defects in her character or that she is not living up to her husband's expectations. Her self-esteem is at its lowest, and her husband is taking full advantage of it...by berating her every chance he gets. It is all about control.

In the enlightenment stage, the she is no longer assuming responsibility for her husband's abusive treatment.  She now realizes the 'no one' deserves to be hit.  However, she remains committed to her marriage and chooses to stay with her husband...always hoping that they can work things out.  The husband may offer to attend counseling sessions, but after attending only a few, he gives up.  He doesn't need this.  He is not at fault. 

The final stage is the stage of responsibility.  She now has to accept the fact that her husband will not...or can not...control his violent behavior.  It is in this stage that she makes a commitment to start a new life.  (Sadly, there are many women who never make it this far.)


What is Abuse?

Many people who are being abused do not seem themselves as victims...and abusers do not always see themselves as being abusive. In fact, abuse is not always the easiest thing in the world to recognize, even if it is happening to you because some types of abuse are more subtle than others. Some may recognize that something isn't right about the way they are treated, but may be afraid to speak up and name it as abuse for fear of retribution from the abuser.  Becoming aware of the forms that abuse can take can help one to label it as abuse. The following list describes various interactions that are examples of abuse.

Physical Abuse
This one is obvious. Abuse occurs when one person uses physical pain or threat of physical force to intimidate another person.  Actual physical abuse may include scratches, bites, kicking, hair pulling, or punching. In particularly violent episodes, people can die from injuries sustained, but physical abuse is abusive even if bruises or physical damage do not occur.  The mere threat of physical violence is still considered physical abuse.

Psychological Abuse
Psychological abuse often contains strong emotionally manipulative content which is designed to force the victim to comply with the abuser's wishes.  It may be emotional abuse in a sense that it is designed to cause emotional pain; it is being called hurtful names or being put down and humiliated on a regular basis be it in private or in public. The abuser attacks the victim's vulnerabilities while playing mind-games such as withholding approval or affection as punishment.  The abuser always claims to be right, and may harass about perceived affairs and ignores feelings.

 Sexual Abuse
This includes any sort of unwanted sexual contact perpetrated on a victim by an abuser.  Molestation, inappropriate touching, partner rape are all instances of sexual abuse. The abuser may call the victim sexual names or deny her contraception or protection against sexually transmitted diseases. It is forcing one partner to take part in a sexual act when the partner does not give consent. or one partner is coerced into sexual acts that he/she is uncomfortable with, such as sexual activity she/he finds as offensive and degrading.  Stalking goes hand-in-hand with domestic violence and sexual abuse.

Verbal Abuse
Verbal abuse occurs when one person uses words or body language to inappropriately criticize another person.  It most often involves put downs and name calling which is intended to make the victim feel as if they are not worthy of love...or that they do not have ability or talent to make anything of themselves...a form of emotional abuse.  My ex-husband was great for this form of abuse...and after awhile you really start to believe you are worthless.  This kind of abuse causes severe damage to the victim's self-esteem and self-worth; it took me years to begin to believe that I was actually worth something.  

Economic Abuse 
Economic abuse can be indicated when the batterer controls all of the finances and refuses to allow the victim to work outside of the home.       



Common Myths About Domestic Violence

Most domestic violence incidents are caused by alcohol or drug abuse...Abusers may often use this as an excuse, but it is not true.  There are many people with alcohol/drug problems who are not violent...just as there are many batterers who have never used alcohol and drugs. 

Domestic violence is often triggered by stress; ie, loss of a job, marital issues...Again not true.  Daily life is full of stress and frustrations, but most people don't become violent over it.  Violence is, in fact, a learned and chosen response to stress...real or imagined.  Some people take their frustrations out on themselves with drug or alcohol use, but some choose to take it out on others with verbal or physical abuse.

Most domestic violence occurs in lower class or minority communities...The fact is, domestic violence occurs at all levels of society...regardless of social, economic, racial, or cultural backgrounds.  Anyone can be victim.  

Some people deserve to be hit...This one really irks me.  NO ONE deserves to be beaten, battered, or threatened in any way.   Period.  In fact, putting the blame on the victim  is a way to manipulate. 'You made me jealous."  "You made me mad".  My ex-husband used this one on me.  "If you were this...or if you were that...or if you did this...then I wouldn't have to be this way.  It's all your fault." This is only a way of shifting the burden.  The only person responsible for the abuse is the abuser.  

I wanted to share a little story here.  Although I became a certified victim's advocate, I ended up running a group for batterers...the total opposite of what I took the course for.  Well, one man in my group stands out.  His story and his 'she deserved it' attitude makes my hair stand up on end.  He was a wealthy banker, and his wife had a good job with a publishing company.  One day she asked him for a divorce.  That night he took a barbell and beat her face so badly that he knocked teeth out and she had over 150 stitches in her face.  He did this with the children standing in the doorway watching and crying.  

Well, when this case went before the judge, not only was he found guilty, but this case set precedence in New York State for the wife was given everything he had in a settlement.  He went to prison and when he got out, he was mandated to attend my domestic violence group...and what did he say? He was angry that she got all his money, that she shouldn't have asked him for a divorce; she must have been cheating. There was no remorse for what he had done.

When a couple is having a domestic violence problem, it is just that they have a bad relationship.  Poor communication is the problem...In no way do bad relationships result in or cause domestic violence.  This is a common and dangerous misconception which encourages the parties involved--especially the victim--to minimize the seriousness of the problem while they focus their energies on improving the relationship...hoping that will stop the violence.  It also allows the abuser to take the blame of self and place it on the bad relationship and the victim.  There are many bad relationships out there where neither partner becomes violent.  

If it were that bad, she would just leave...There are many reasons why women may not leave...children, financial, a place to stay.  This one is important.  Most people just don't understand.  I stayed in an abusive relationship for thirteen years because I was made to believe that there was no place for me to go and that no one would ever want me. More on this misconception in the future.


I Got Flowers Today

(The following is a powerful reminder of how devastating domestic violence can be.  Many of you probably have read this before;  it sends such a powerful message.  I only wish that all women would hear before it is too late)

I got flowers today.  It wasn't my birthday or any other special day.  We had our first argument last night, and he said a lot of cruel things that really hurt me.  I know he is sorry and didn't mean the things he said, because he sent me flowers today.

I got flowers today.  It wasn't our anniversary or any other special day.  Last night he threw me into a wall and started to choke me.  It seemed like a nightmare.  I couldn't believe it was real.  I woke this morning sore and bruised all over.  I know he must be sorry because he sent me flowers.

I got flowers today, and it wasn't Mother's Day or any other special day.  Last night, he beat me up again.  It was much worse than all the other times.  If I leave him what will I do?  How will I take care of my kids?  What about money?  I am afraid of him and scared to leave.  But I know he must be sorry because he sent me flowers today.

I got flowers today.  Today was a very special day.  It was the day of my funeral.  Last night he finally killed me.  He beat me to death.  If only I had gathered enough courage to leave him, I would not have gotten flowers today.

                        --Paulette Kelly--


Domestic Violence

Several years ago, I took a certification course on "Victim Advocacy", and although the course centered on victims of all types of crimes, I was especially interested in learning about the victims of domestic violence.  Perhaps that is because for so many years I, myself, was a victim and still have a knot on my leg where I had been hit with a chair to remind me of those times. In creating this blog, I not only wanted a place to honor those women of great accomplishment that have come before us, but also raise awareness that not all women are free.  Women are still out there suffering, and it is important that we remain aware.  Maybe you have been a victim of abuse or maybe you are working or living near someone who is being abused.  It could be a family member, a friend, a co-worker.  Whoever you are, it is hoped that this series will help you to understand...to become more aware. Domestic violence should not happen to anyone...ever. 

Domestic violence is not about love; it is all about control over one person by another.  Partners may be married, or they may be unmarried...heterosexual, gay, lesbian, separated or just dating.  Anyone can become a victim regardless of age, sex, race, education, and marital status.  Abuse is physical, sexual, emotional, economic, and psychological.  It may include such behaviors that frighten, intimidate, terrorize, manipulate, blame, or injure someone.  At any moment, any one of us can become a victim.  

As a counselor, I have had clients come to see me, beaten, battered, with blackened eyes and missing teeth.  I've also worked on the other side with the 'batterers' and have heard some horror stories what would make your hair stand on end.  This is a topic which is dear to me, and I hope  you will follow me along in this series.  

If you, or anyone you know, is being abused at the current time, here is the National Domestic Violence Hotline...1 (800) 7990-SAFE (7233)


Empress Maria Theresa of Austria

(One of the great reforming monarchs of the 18th century)

She was born May 13, 1717 in Vienna, the eldest daughter of the Emperor Charles VI.  Two of her siblings died, and only Maria and her sister lived to adulthood.  She was always very close to her father who, was not only an emperor, but also a music composer.  And, because of his great love of music, he encouraged both of his daughter to study.  And, along with her musical training, Maria also received an education by the Jesuits.   But none of this helped her to become a great empress.  This was to be found within.

In she was nineteen, she fell in love with and married Francis Steven, the heir to Lorraine, a man nine years older than she. In fact, she was one of only a few people in her era who married for love.  Her love for him was so deep that, even though he had several affairs, she always remained faithful to him.  They had 16 children, and Maria always made sure their family life was happy.  Her youngest daughter was Marie Antoinette. When her father died unexpectedly in 1740, he was without a male heir, and Maria, only 23,  found herself in the possession of the territories in Austria...the Empress of the Holy Roman Empire.  Her husband was of little assistance to her. And, because her father had assumed she would give the power to her husband, he left her with little information on government.

It was at this time that the eight year war of Austrian succession began, with many nations taking advantage of the ill-prepared empress and tearing her empire apart, and she lost one of the most expensive areas of the empire, Silesia to Persia. Eventually, a peace treaty was signed, but Maria never regained possession of Silesia.  Two years later, Francis died of heart problems and from that day on until the day of her own death, Maria  painted her rooms black and wore mourning clothes.

In the years after the war, Maria accomplished sweeping reforms of the empire.  She formed a new alliance with France and focused on improving conditions within her realm, on human concerns and less on financial and administrative improvements, launching a series of domestic improvements which helped her people.  She reformed the government and formed new schools to train people to serve in her government.  She also one the right to set taxes for ten years at a time.  And, realizing that the peasants paid the major share of the taxes, she issued laws that made the system fairer and limited the power of the large landowners.  She made the army larger and better.  In addition to all of the above, she issued and order to set up a public school system on Austrian lands...and finally, she brought people to settle in the rural areas where no one lived.    
 On November 29, 1780, Maria Theresa passed away.  At her death, when the doctors had attempted to give her alcohol to put her to sleep, she said she would rather meet her God while awake.  She was a courageous, generous, and kind women who respected the rights of others and expected others to respect her rights.  Some historians have termed her as the savior of the Habsburg and is credited with providing a strong foundation for the continuation of the dynasty into the modern era.     


The Bandit Queen

Phoolan Devi was born to a poor, low caste family in India on August 10, 1963.  She was from a community where those of the lower caste were called Mallahs.  Most of the Mallahs owned no land of their own and were forced to work for a higher caste of landowners.  Mallahs were often harassed, abused, or beaten by the ruling caste.  It was a thankless life that the young Phoolan was raised in...and, when she was only 11 years old, a man of at least three times her age asked her parents for her hand in marriage.  And, her parents agreed and even got a cow in trade.  Young Phoolan was terrified of this man...and with very good reason, for in her marriage, she knew nothing but rape and abuse.  Then, a few years later, her husband tired of her and sent her back to her village.  But, this was something that was considered shameful and dishonorable.

And this is where the next chapter of her life began.  Although the other villagers and the ruling caste thought her deviant and impure, at least, she was not being openly shunned by everyone.  Phoolan began spending her time devising ways to help the poor making sure that they would be paid for their work...and in doing so, she may have made friends, but she made far more enemies while she gained a reputation for being a troublemaker.  It was in the late 1970's that she was kidnapped by a gang that the ruling caste  had  sent to remove her from the village for good.  The gang leader wanted to rape her,but Mallah named Vickram took it upon himself to protect her.  One night, when the gang leader attempted to rape her, Vickram killed him and then became the leader himself...declaring that Phoolan was never to be touched again.  

The gang, along with Phoolan, began to travel from village to village robbing the rich to give to the poor until they reached the village where her husband was living.  They found him and beat him; Phoolan made sure to stab him where he had once previously stabbed her, and then they led him down the road, naked and bleeding, in front of the villagers.  Then, they left him near death on the road with a note that said, "Warning:  This is what happens to old men who marry young girls." 

The gang continued to loot the villages of the rich until a man named Shri Ram, one of Vickram's prison friends, was released and claimed status as leader of the gang. His brother had been with the gang for some time, and he and his men sided with him.  Vickram's men were not pleased with this. Shri Ram then began making attempts to be sexual towards Phoolan.  Vickram managed to get him to apologize, but the tension was inccreasing.  The Mallahs were leaving the gang, and with them gone, it left only Shri Ram's followers.  Vickram was killed.  Phoolan was taken as a slave and repeatedly beaten and raped by Shri Ram and his men.  She was also dragged by rope, naked, from village to village until one night, a lower caste man took pity on her and helped her and the few remaining Mullahs to escape the gang.  

After she recovered, she gathered a new gang of bandits that she led, along with a former member of Vickram's gang.  They began robbing from the rich to give to the poor.  They also searched for Ram and his brother, but were unable to find the pair. It was almost two years later that they came upon a village, and what had begun as a robbery, was transformed into a massacre when Phoolan recognized two members of the Ram's gang.  When the villagers refused to disclose the whereabouts of Ram and his brother, an enraged Phoolan ordered the villager into a line, and she and her gang opened fire.  Thirty men crumbled, 22 died.

For two years, the police searched for her and her gang, but were unable to find them.  The prime minister, Indira Ghandi, told law enforcement that it was impossible to catch Phoolan so they should offer her a deal on her terms for her surrender.  And, in February, 1983, with most of her gang members dead, she agreed to surrender on the condition that she was not to be hanged and that her men would serve no more than eight years in prison. In front of a crowd of 10,000, she relinquished her rifle. 

She was charged with 48 crimes, including the massacre.  Then, with Indira Ghandi being assassinated, her trial was delayed for 11 years until a lower caste political party won election.  The new chief minister ordered her release, saying she had had enough.  And, instead of being a bandit, free, but very frail, Phoolan got involved with politics and became a member of the lower house of parliament.  She focused on the rights of lower caste families, once again representing the rights of the untouchables...especially the women.  
 Phoolan Devi was shot to death in front of her house on July 25, 2001.  To this day, it is unknown who killed her.  A violent death reflecting what had been a life of violence.  She had been loved, feared and hated my many, but no one can deny that she was in a class of her own.  She had risen from poverty, rape, abuse, and degradation to infamy as an outlaw...avenging her honor...raiding the rich with her gang and sharing the spoils with the poor.  She had become the modern-day Robin Hood, a superwoman to the poor.



(One of the greatest poets of ancient Greece)  
 Sappho was a Greek poetess born around 600 BC on the island of Lesbos--one of the larger islands in the Agean.  It is said that she was born into a noble family, but little is known of her except that she married a wealthy merchant and had a daughter, Cleis.  It is also believed that, for a time, she ran a Greek finishing school  for young women; many of her verses were addressed to her students.

She became very famous in her day for her poetry and appears to have been the center of a closely knit group of women in Lesbos...one that was devoted to art, poetry, and all other forms of culture.  Plato called her the tenth muse, and Roman poets like Cotullus and Ovid were inspired by her. Many legends surround her life.  Some say that she was the lover of the poet, Alceaus, also from Lesbos and Ovid tells a tale that she jumped off a cliff to her death because her love for a boatman, Phaon, was unreturned. It also has been said, that she was short, dark, and not very pretty.  None of these tales have been substantiated.

Sappho wrote mainly love poems, of which only fragments survive. Her poems often refer to the Goddess of Love, Aphrodite.  Some of her love poems were addressed to women, from which she developed a reputation for lesbianism.  The word lesbian itself is derived from the name of the island of Lesbos from which she came.  Sadly, it is due to its homosexual content that very little of her work survives.  The early church ordered that her work be burned.  

It is sad, indeed that so much of her work has been to us lost forever.  Sappho was one of the first to write lyrical poems that expressed personal feelings.  And what we have left today of her works are considered remarkable for their passionate descriptions of emotion and the simple beauty of their language.  The world lost a valuable treasure in her work. 

The following is a fragment of one of her poems.

Aphrodite dressed in an embroidery of flowers,
never to die, the daughter of God,
untangle from longing and perplexities
O Lady, my heart.

But come down to me, as you came before,
for if every I cried, and you heard and came,
come now, of all times, leaving
your father's golden house.

In that chariot pulled by sparrows reined and bitted
swift in their flying, a quick blur aquicer,
beautiful, high.  They drew you across steep air
down to the black earth;

fast they cam, and you behind them, O
hilarious heart, your face all laughter,
asking, What troubles you this time, why again
do you call me down?

Asking, in your wild heart, who now
must you have?  Who is she that persuasion
fetch her, enlist her, and put her into your binding love?
Sappho, who does you wrong?

If she balks, I promise, soon she'll chase you,
if she's turned from your gifts, now she'll give them.
And if she does not love you, she will love,
helpless, she will love. 


Anna Comnena

(Byzantine princess and the first known female historian)

She was born in December 1, 1083, She was the eldest daughter of Alexius I., Emperor of Byzantium, and until her brother was born, she was father's favorite child.  When she was a child, she was carefully trained in the study of poetry, science, and Greek philosophy....and, she expected that, at her father's death, she would take his place at the head of an empire which stretched from Italy to Armenia...and, she was willing to go to any lengths to gratify her need for power. 

In 1097, Anna married an accomplished young nobleman and united with the empress Irene in a vain attempt to prevail upon her father during his last illness to disinherit his son and give the crown to her husband.  The attempt failed when the plot was discovered; Anna was forced to relinquish her property and fortune and to retire from court life; she was lucky to have escaped with her life.

 Anna's husband died in 1137, and she and her mother were sent to a convent which Irene had founded.  It was there that Anna, then 55, began to write a history of her father's life.  The history, The Alexiad, consisted of 15 volumes.  The book was finished in 1148 and describes the career of her father until his death in 1118.  Anna's book has been considered one of the most remarkable feats of medieval history.  

Little is known of her life after she completed her masterpiece, and it is believed that she died somewhere around 1153.  Anna had lived in an age when women were expected to remain secluded...attending only to matters pertaining to the family...but Anna never settled for that.  She always wanted so much more...and even though she never did inherit her father's empire, her legend lives on forever.

The following, lamenting her widowhood, is found in the prologue of the book.

Her soul is dizzy. "And with rivers
of tears," she tells us "I wet 
my eyes...Alas for the waves" in her life,
"alas for the revolts."  Pain burns her
"to the bones and the marrow and the cleaving of the soul."

But, it seems the truth is, that this ambitious woman
knew only one great sorrow;
she had only one deep longing
(though she does not admit it) this haughty Greek woman.
that she was never able, despite all her dexterity,
to acquire the kingship; but it was taken
almost out of her hands by the insolent John.
                  --C.P. Cavafy 


Yang Gui Fei

(concubine of the great Tang emperor Xuanzong)

She was born 719 CE, the daughter of a census official in Sichuan. Her father died when she was very young, and she was raised in the household of an uncle.  She was one of the few obese women in Chinese history to have been considered beautiful; in fact, she grew up to be one of the four great beauties of ancient China.  And, in addition to her beauty, she was an accomplished singer and dancer.  

Lady Yang lived during the Tang Dynasty and began her court life at the age of 16 when she was chosen to enter the imperial harem as a wife of an Imperial Prince.  This marriage didn't last very long for when the 60 year old emperor Xuanzong saw her, he fell in love with her and asked his son to divorce her because he wanted to take her as his wife.  So, it was arranged for her to become a Taoist nun...merely a ruse to prevent criticisms that might make it difficult for him to fulfill his plan of making her his concubine. 

The emperor adored her so much that he made her his favorite concubine.  Just a smile from her was enough to enchant him, and he loved her more than anything else in the world. The emperor wallowed in a life of pleasure with her. And for the next 15 years he wrote her poetry, played her music, and spent so much time with her that the country was beginning to show signs of unrest as the economy began to slip

His generals met with him to advice him of the upheavals in the Mongolian mountains, but he didn't pay any attention to them.  After repeated warnings, the generals made a stand...Choose your country or choose your wife. Now, Lady Yang's family held several high ranking positions, and the army began killing them to regain control.  They were about to kill Lady Yang when the Emperor begged for mercy and asked that she be taken away from the city, but allowed to live in the country.  But, on the road the imperial soldiers became so enraged with Lady Yang whom they blamed for all the problems, they executed her.

Emperor Xuanzong and Lady Yang's love story has inspired many television shows and movies in Hong Kong and China.  She was one of the few women whose beauty has caused the downfall of manarch and a nation.


Margaret Fuller

(Champion of women's rights, teacher, editor, foreign correspondent, first American feminist)

She was born Sarah Margaret Fuller on May 23, 1810, in Cambridge, Massachusetts.  She was the first child of Timothy Fuller and Margaret Crane.  Her father taught her to read and write at the age of 3 1/2.  By the age of 6, she could read fluently in Latin and by 12, she was reading Shakespeare, Cervantes, and Moliere.  She loved the study of Locke's metaphysics and enjoyed reading everything she could on Plato.  

In 1833, the family moved to Groton, Massachusetts, and by 1835, both her mother and her father were ill. When her father died of cholera, Margaret took over the household duties and became the head of the family, forced at a young age to support her siblings and her ailing mother. She was deeply affected by her father's dath and once said, "My father's image follows me constantly." She taught school in Boston from 1836 to 1837 and then moved on to Providence, Rhode Island.   It was also during this time she met Ralph Waldo Emerson who became her teacher and her mentor.

In 1839, Margaret returned to Boston where she began holding a 'conversation' in her home on various topics each week, and many renowned men and women attended her seminars.  Since there was a ban on public speaking by women for pay at that time, this was all done in violation of the law.  From 1840-1842, she served as editor of the literary publication, "The Dial" which she had co-founded with Emerson and the reformer, George Ripley.  In "The Great Lawsuit: Man vs Men and Woman vs. Women" she examined the problems of women's rights and sexual roles.  Her book, "Women in the Nineteenth Century" was the first detailed statement of feminism in the United States and inspired the first women's rights conference in Seneca Falls.

 In 1844, she accepted an offer from Horace Greeley and began writing reviews for the New York Tribune and became one of the first women to earn a living at full-time journalism.  In 1846, she sailed to Europe as America's first female foreign correspondent, and in England she met Guiseppe Mazzini who had been in exile from Italy since 1837.  In 1847, Margaret  settled in Italy and took part in the revolution of 1848-1849 where she played an active role in the Siege of Rome. It was during this time that she met and fell in love with the 26 year old Italian revolutionary, Giovanni Ossoli, and the two moved in together in Florence, Italy.  She was 38 years old when she gave birth to their only son.

It was 1850 when the family set sail for America on the USS Elizabeth.  On the way, the ship's master died of smallpox, and their young son also caught the disease, but they were able to nurse him back to health.  Fuller had written a manuscript on the history of the Italian Revolution and had it on board with her, but on July 19. 1850, the ship hit a sandbar off Fire Island, New York. Margaret, Giovanni, and their son drowned after clinging onto the boat wreckage for twelve hours; she had refused to leave Giovanni.  Survivors say that she sang songs to the baby to keep him calm.  Only her son's body was recovered along with a trunk full of letters and some of the baby's clothes.  Henry Thoreau searched the shore in vain for Margaret, Giovanni, and her last manuscript were lost to the world forever.  The Fuller family erected a monument to Margaret on their plot at Mount Auburn Cemetery in Cambridge.

Margaret Fuller was truly America's first feminist and holds a distinctive place in the cultural life of the American Renaissance.  The powerful plaque her family had placed at her grave site truly brings tears to my eyes.