Saturday, March 17, 2012

Joan of Arc: an early feminist

March 17 - Today's post provided by Michelle Holt of Peaceful Reader

Joan of Arc: An early feminist

It may be the 21st Century but women still struggle to be heard and to be treated equally.  It’s hard to imagine a world where women coexist with men without fear of intimidation, with equal pay, equal time for families and equal expectations.   Positive steps have been made but for a woman to succeed she is almost required to put up with crass jokes, negative stereotyping, and horrible discrimination.  

My daughter and I, through our research, have found examples of strong female leaders.  Harriet Tubman, Elizabeth Cady Stanton, Eleanor Roosevelt, Sojourner Truth, and Amelia Earhart are just a handful of our favorites.  These women broke new ground by standing by their opinions even when it went against the collective male agenda of the day.  Every young girl should have a pocket full of women to call on for inspiration.

When I was first asked to write a post for KidLit Celebrates Women's History Month, I was honored and then stumped.  I have a lot of women I find inspiring but  would I choose to highlight for this post? Luckily I’d recently watched a movie, at the request of my husband, about Joan of Arc.  After watching it I felt compelled to make Joan the focus for this post.

Quote:  “One life is all we have and we live it as we believe in living it.  But to sacrifice what you are and to live without belief, that is a fate more terrible than dying.”  ~Joan of Arc

The beautiful Joan of Arc book written by Demi (2011 Marshall Cavendish), whose artwork strikes a perfect match for her unique historical narrative shares with us Joan’s amazing story.

She was born January 6, 1412, in the small French village of Domremy.  At an early age she was drawn to the church and felt connected to God.  Throughout her childhood France was engaged in the Hundred Year War with England and Burgundy.  English and Burgundian soldiers would burn villages and kill the people.  Joan, even at an early age, could see the injustices surrounding her life both in the village and in her country.  She prayed hoping to bring forth balance.  At the age of 13 Joan saw a vision of the Archangel Michael.  He told her she would be the one to save the kingdom of France by leading the dauphin, Charles VII, to his coronation at the Reims Cathedral. 

Joan, an illiterate village girl, took charge of her destiny while Charles VII chose to hide from his birthright.  She had God on her side and after her vision she prayed more fervently and often heard angels speak to her.  Eventually she left home against the wishes of her father.  On the first leg of her journey she was told she was crazy (by a man, of course) and forced to return home.  She continued to listen to the angel’s wishes for her and, through her persistence, ended up finding and impressing the dauphin.   Joan stayed strong in her convictions to lead France, and Charles VII to many victories. Eventually she ran out of luck and was captured by the English. 

On February 21, 1431, Joan’s trial began with forty-four men questioning her faith.  She was given a death sentence for wearing men’s clothing and sentenced to be burned at the stake.  They question her faith but all they could come up with was a wardrobe malfunction!

What?  Yes, for wearing men’s clothing, not for having private conversations with God, listening to angels, or that she’d lead the French army against the English.  They convicted Joan on the basis that she didn’t dress the way they wanted her to: in the proper woman’s attire of the day.  

How frustrating it must have been for Joan to explain God’s word again and again to those 44 men and not be heard or believed.  I don’t know what it is like to stand before a jury and plead for my life but I do know, as do most women, what it’s like to have men not hear me or care what I’m saying.  We still have evidence of this battle between men and women raging today in courts and in the news.   We’ve all had bosses who wink and nod, crack disgusting jokes, and generally play down the important role women take in the world today just as Joan was treated hundreds of years ago.  Quite often their sentiment for us does come down to what we wear and how we should be seen and not heard.

It is important to reflect on Joan’s contributions to our history as she forged an early path for women to voice their beliefs.   Reading her story to my daughter I know she will keep Saint Joan in her pocket to bring out when she needs a valiant warrior to hear her. 

Editor's Note:
Michelle works as a teacher-librarian at an elementary school, forcing good books into the hands of her students while teaching them how to be good leaders and readers.  She as been blogging at Peaceful Reader since 2009.  Her most important job every day though is listening to her nine-year-old daughter Groovy Girl.

A review of Demi's, Joan of Arc, may be found on The Fourth Musketeer.


  1. Excellent post. I love the idea that your daughter carries the strength and determination of Joan of Arc in her pocket!

    1. Thank you. My daughter is more of a nonfiction reader than I am so she loves finding biographies at the library. She did a report this year on Amelia Earhart and we learned a great deal about this high-flyer. Lucky for my daughter she has a few strong women in her pocket!

  2. What a great post! I thought I knew about Joan of Arc...but I had no idea the actual conviction and death sentence were FOR HER CLOTHES!?!?!? I am glad you are sharing her story with your daughter, and I am going to share it with mine too. But, just as importantly, I am going to share it with my sons, so they know.

  3. Thank you, Libby. The clothes issue struck me as well and I find it fascinating that we still are still very much judged by our clothes.

  4. I didn't know about the "clothes" issue either . . . how fascinating! Thanks for sharing that little-known fact and for this very interesting post. Several years ago, my daughter and I stumbled upon the film about Joan of Arc starring Li-Li Sobieski . . . I recommend it highly.

  5. Joan of Arc continues to fascinate us for good reason. I'll have to check it out.

  6. Before all else, I'd like to say that I, too, am very fascinated by Jeanne's story and admire her for various aspects, among others her devotedness and will. While this post doesn't fail to honour her legend, I find it a bit one-sided. Regardless of my 'resentment' to all of Jeanne's admittedly unfair (bastards of) opponents, one-sidedness (and not mentioning all key aspects) just is a pet peeve of mine, so bear with me.
    Yes, Joan did eventually burn at the stake more or less for wearing men's clothing, however that had more reasons to it:

    Joan has been frightened (by a set-up of a stake) into signing a contract which said that she renounces her visions and agrees to stop wearing soldiers' clothing.
    Yet, 4 days later, Joan recanted her abjuration and put on her men's clothing once more. As a result, she was accused of (regressing to) heresy and finally executed.
    There are rumours that the Englishmen actually forced her into putting her men's clothing on again by taking away her females' clothes and not giving her anything else besides her old attire.
    Thus, Jeanne was indeed executed for HERESY; the men's clothing was just used as example to show that she was relapsing. And yes, of course the accusation of heresy itself was just used as excuse to get rid of the Maid of Orleans.

    I also want to add that Joan of Arc was NO feminist, that's an anachronism (par example her attire: she didn't wear men's clothing to make a point as feminist but, as she stated herself, rather because she was always surrounded by men and wanted to protect herself from sexual harassment). She was and is still often used as inspirational symbol for feminists, which does have its justified reasons, but she herself was not one.

    Still, I'm very glad that there are people like you who keep the memory of Jeanne alive :) It's just that I don't want this memory to be marred because of distorted statements, and I hope you understand me for thinking so.