– By Jill Greenwood
First off, I have no idea if this will publish on time because I’m writing it on Sunday morning. With all the hubbub about Hurricane Sandy, I figured I’d rather be safe than sorry and schedule this bitch in advance. Second, in a month of women, I’m coming up short with my final post. We’ve already covered all the topics that I care about, most of which were far more eloquent than I ever could hope to be. So I’m going with a topic that rattles around in my brain every once and a while when I’m thinking about the women who have gone before me. I’m playing make believe today and figuring out which women I would invite over for some wine and cheese and conversation.
Years ago, when my daughters and I were stranded in a train station in London (there are worst places to be stranded, for sure), I picked up a book on the sublime Eleanor of Aquitaine and was smitten within the first few pages. She was the original bad-ass. Duchess in her own right – no need for a husband. Queen of France until she tired of being the king’s arm candy . . . so she sought divorce and regained her lands and money and kept her kids legitimate, which was no small feat back in the day. Eleanor must have had a thing for kings (actually, her money and lands made her very desirable by men) because then she married Henry II of England. Eventually, she fell out of favor with him, so he locked her up in a nunnery for over a decade. Eleanor was smart, wily, and shrewd . . . plus she had a thing for red shoes. Is it any wonder that my girls once said, “If you were a time-traveling lesbian, you’d totally go back and marry Eleanor of Aquitaine.” Smart, my kids.
Anne Boleyn also gets an invite. Seriously, how could she not? I’m of the mindset that Anne gets a bad rap when you think about powerful women in history. She was used as a pawn by her family members who really only wanted to secure a spot in the English monarchy; at one point, it really didn’t matter who took one for the team – Anne or her sister, Mary – as long as her father got what he wanted: access to the king. People have long misrepresented Anne, claiming that she broke up the Catholic church in England. But the sad fact is, her boyfriend did that for her . . . all for the desire of a little tail (all hail the V, indeed). After it became apparent that Anne couldn’t produce a son (hello, science! It was all Henry’s fault), the palace began scheming for ways to get rid of its little problem, ahem Anne, and they decided that since she wouldn’t go quietly, they’d just restrict access to her mouth a la a French sword. Since Anne is dropping by this little party, she’s more than welcome to bring along Lady Jane Grey, another woman used cruelly by her family for their own material gain, and Elizabeth I, who could tell them what it was like to have power on her own.
This one is a given, but Mary Dyer is coming around for a few cocktails. Growing up with a name that everyone butchered, it was a welcome surprise when all of a sudden people started asking about my “long lost cousin” in class. Here’s a woman who stands up for her convictions believing that all people – men and women – had the right to read the Bible. Who gave birth to a stillborn child and later had to listen to people say that its deformities were the result of its wicked mother. Who was banished from her home for refusing to give up her religious freedom. Who continued to preach against the wishes of her family. Who ultimately was hung for all of the above.
Elizabeth Zimmerman, please come to my dinner party. Bring your knitting. Bring your voice. Bring your wit. As a knitter, I owe you a debt that can never be repaid. But I have a ton of questions . . . like why can’t your directions be a little easier to follow and why must you go on and on and on about geese when I am just getting a pattern. Plus, I’d like to figure out the Greenwood connection.
On the invite list . . . any of the women who transported their families across the harsh realities of their lands in search of a better place. Any of the women who kept their families together during war and strife. Any of the women who started businesses to make their lives better. Any of the women who scraped and scrounged and scrapped to make a difference. Wonder Woman is coming. So’s my mom. My mother-in-law. My grandmothers. My aunts. My daughters. My sisters. My nieces. My O + U compatriots.
And you. You’re invited, too . . . who is going to be your “plus one” to this epic party?