And Marian Was Wounded Sore

Written in January 2014.

A few years ago I was watching Robin Hood with my family, the 2010 version with Russell Crowe and Cate Blanchett. During that scene at the end where Marian joins the battle on the beach, I heard my dad—ever the selective movie critic—say something about how of course, they never would have actually “let” her do that.

At the time, I felt kind of deflated. Later, I had l’esprit de l’escalier. “No?” I wished I had said. “Didn’t they ‘let’ Joan of Arc lead in battle? Or Lady Fu Hao, the Chinese military general? Tomyris, Queen of the Massagetae? Artemisia, Cleopatra VII, Zenobia, Boudicca, the Trung sisters?” In fact, in doing a little bit of reading earlier today, I learned that many of the early stories of Robin Hood emphasize Marian’s skill as an archer and hunter. In this one, she and Robin fight each other with swords for over an hour before realizing they’re fighting each other in disguise.

When you think about it, it’s obvious that women have always done more than we think they did. Even though the entire world has experienced millennia of patriarchal rule, we know plenty of women who broke the mold and took their stories into their own hands. Now think about the people we know from history, how few they must be compared to the populations they came from. They were just a fraction of the people who existed at the time; the stories that have made their way to us are just a fraction of what happened every day. On top of that, consider that for most of those millennia the histories were written by men, who erased women from them; consider that the patriarchal bias still exists even now, limiting the stories that reach our ears, even after so many decades of active fighting against it. When you think about it, you see how actively patriarchal culture has suppressed the stories of women, so that girls born now still grow up thinking that women doing things is a recent development.

Like Caitlin Moran says, it’s obvious that women as a whole have not yet had their chance. But it’s not fair, either, to ignore the fact that individual women have made their mark on history in a much bigger way than we acknowledge.

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