Friday, 15 January 2016

Woman As Revolutionary - Frederick C Giffin


Having recently read The Girl On The Train bestseller by Paula Hawkins where women are depicted as mentally unstable lapdogs to their controlling husbands, I was in need of an antidote, so what better book, perhaps, than Woman As Revolutionary edited by Frederick C Giffin?
Basically a collection of short synopses of women throughout history who have all gone against the grain of how a woman should be during their specific lifetimes (or at all, even), it lists 22 women in total all of whom in some way have acted selflessly and heroically.

As we should all know, there's a difference in being a revolutionary and being a reformist so some of those included within this collection are out of place just as there are many that are not included who so easily could have been. Having said that, however, it's still an inspiring read.
If a lot of the names are unfamiliar to the reader it's worth wondering why this might be? So let's list them:
Christine de Pisan, Joan of Arc, Saint Teresa of Avila, Olympe de Gouges, Mary Wollstonecraft, Mercy Otis Warren, Maria Weston Chapman, Susan B Anthony, Sofia Perovskaya, Annie Bessant, Jane Addams, Helen Keller, Emma Goldman, Rosa Luxemburg, Alexandra Kollontai, Isadora Duncan, Margaret Sanger, Dolores Ibarruri, Elizabeth Kenny, Maria Montessori, Joan Baez, and Francoise Parturier.
I wonder how many of these Paula Hawkins might know?

Joan of Arc is a name most people would know, of course, but might they know enough about her? Helen Keller is renowned for her work with the blind but are people aware she was also an ardent champion of the working class and a vigorous anti-war campaigner? People should know about Montessori schools as there are nowadays hundreds of them throughout the world but do people know anything about Maria Montessori, the originator of the Montessori education method?
A favourite of mine is Emma Goldman, the so-called 'mother of anarchy in America', once labelled by J Edgar Hoover as one of the "most dangerous radicals in the country". My most favourite, however, is Dolores Ibarruri, the Spanish Communist leader, who at the start of the Spanish Civil War took to the radio to exhort the Spanish people to resist the fascists, ending her message with the slogan "It is better to die on your feet than to live on your knees! They shall not pass!"
As for those women not included in the book, I would have put in Boadicea, queen of the Iceni, who took on the might of the Roman Empire; Lucy Parsons, the American anarchist who once declared "We must devastate the avenues where the wealthy live"; Ulrike Meinhof, co-founder of the Red Army Faction; Hilary Creek and Anna Mendelson of the Angry Brigade; and Simone de Beauvoir if for no other reason than for being the partner and lover of Jean-Paul Sartre, a heroic and selfless act if ever there was one...

 someone had to do it...

In the preface to Woman As Revolutionary, editor Frederick Giffin states the purpose of the book is not to support by examples the assertion by Guido di Biagi that 'at the bottom of every revolt, every overthrow of a kingdom, or upheaval of the classes, every attempt at change of government, we shall find the martyrdom, the vengeance, the passion and inexpressible will of a woman'. For all that, however, this is what the book does.

On reading a book such as this, it's clear to see how very reactionary The Girl On The Train is. So much so, in fact, that it's enough to make any reasonable reader despair at the enormous success of it and the subsequent praise that's been heaped upon Paula Hawkins by critics far and wide.
What I want to know is why none of these critics have pulled her up about the way women are depicted in her book? I accept the fact that it's a work of fiction but in light of the number of copies sold, shouldn't someone at least mention or query this? Am I out on a limb here in criticising The Girl On The Train yet applauding Woman As Revolutionary? Down here in deepest, darkest Exmouth am I - literally - a voice in the wilderness?
And what I would also like to know is who Paula Hawkins might consider to be a revolutionary woman? Margaret Thatcher, perhaps? Ha ha ha...

We must devastate the avenues where the wealthy live

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