027. Cranky Ladies blog tour, part 3

Since March is running away from me this will probably be my last Cranky Women post, and because of that I am making it a sample meal. I still have twelve (!) people I want to write about, but I think I might limit it to these four because I’m just a little bit lazy.

In mostly chronological order:

kristinagyllenstierna

Okay I have one more queen for you. Just one. This one is also named Kristina, often referred to as Kristina Gyllenstierna (Kristina Gold Star, which is a pretty great name if you ask me) to distinguish her from the other one. At age 17 she married Sten Sture den yngre, and when he became a king in everything but name following what sounds like a coup of some kind (I’m too lazy to research this in detail, bear with me) she suddenly found herself a queen of sorts.

The actual king, Kristian II of Denmark (later nicknamed Kristian Tyrant here in Sweden — read on to see why) wasn’t a huge fan of this, and invaded the country. When her husband died Kristina suddenly found herself a leader of the resistance against king Kristian. She defended Stockholm against his troops for months, but eventually capitulated after being promised amnesty. Unfortunately Kristian was a lying liar who lied a lot, and after he was made a king he invited people to a feast, which somehow derailed into what’s called Stockholms blodbad (Stockholm blood bath). It’s pretty much what it says on the tin: at least 80 people were either beheaded or hung at hastily raised gallows, and their bodies burnt on a fire. Kristina’s late husband was dug up and thrown on the fire as well, and she was asked if she’d prefer to be burnt at the stake or buried alive. She is said to have fainted from the horror of such a choice (I do hope this was a ruse of some kind, because honestly, isn’t that an awesome way to get out of that sort of decision?), and ended up being thrown in jail instead.

Three years later Kristian was overthrown by Gustav Vasa, and the Danes kicked him to the curb as well. In 1525 the two countries finally managed to make peace and she was released. Gustav Vasa saw her as quite a threat since she’d become a bit of a national symbol, almost as big of one as he was, and it was arranged for her to marry some dude and retire from politics. Which she did.

PS. This all happened on a square in what is now Gamla Stan (Old Town), and let me tell you, it’s always a bit freaky to walk across it. I know it’s been 500 years, but seriously. BLOOD. BATH.

fredrikabremer

Fredrika Bremer (1801-1865) is considered one of the Swedish feminist movements most important activists. Her novel Hertha (1856), which was about the lack of freedom for women at the time, became very influential, and raised a debate that contributed to a law of legal majority for adult, unmarried women. It also brought up the idea of higher formal education for women, and six years after its publication the first university for women was founded. The book has cemented Fredrika Bremer as one of the Swedish feminist movement’s founders, although arguably she wasn’t the first to voice these ideas.

Many of her works were translated to English and in Little Women mrs March reads from one of her books, which is pretty damn cool if you ask me. And of course there were people criticising the way she looked at dressed — one account claimed that if you dressed like her it didn’t matter how intelligent and brilliant you were, you still look like a monster. Which, yeah, is an excellent to rag on a brilliant woman. Some things never change, it seems.

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Karolina Widerström (1856-1949) was Sweden’s first female physician. Her father was a veterinarian and a gym teacher, and encouraged her to become a teacher just like him, which got her off to a good start. She studied at what is now Gymnastik- och idrottshögskolan, one of our biggest universities when it comes to physical education, health, etc. After she finished her degree she worked as an assistant to a professor at the school, moonlighting as physical therapist. Said professor encouraged her to study medicine, and that she did. In 1888 later she graduated from Karolinska Institutet, also one of our biggest universities for medical education. The sky is the limit and all that.

After she got her license to practice medicine she focused on gynecology and published a book named Kvinnohygien (Female Hygiene), the first edition published in 1889 and the eighth and last in 1932. Karolina wanted to encourage women to get to know their bodies, and to have the same opportunities and rights as men. She was active in an organisation fighting to give prostitutes more rights, arguing that the law of forced inspections of women selling sex as a way of combating sexually transmitted diseases was not only ineffective, but also counter-productive since patient’s trust in doctors couldn’t be forced. She also pointed out a number of causes for prostitution and helped making the debate a lot less black and white.

On top of this she was a member of a number of feminist organisations. She was chairwoman of an organisation arguing for women’s right to vote (1918-1921) and another one for female academics (1910-1912), plus a regular member of various others supporting equality between the sexes. She also published four books, all focusing on women’s health and/or sexually transmitted diseases and seems to have been pretty damn awesome.

katadalström

Katarina (Kata) Dalström (1858-1923) was an author and one of our most famous socialist agitators. The picture above is of her hard at work, and although it doesn’t show her up close it was too awesome not to choose for this post.

Kata was born into a wealthy family, and her becoming a liberal was seen as incredibly radical. Never one to disappoint she drifted further and further left, going from liberal to social democrat, to socialist, and even communist. In 1900 she became the first woman elected to the executive committee of the Swedish Social Democratic Party, and later on she was the Swedish representant at a communist convention of some kind.

She was an author, mainly writing political texts but also about mythology, religion and so on. Her list of published works is seriously impressive, and includes 28 (!) works in total.

Kata wasn’t one of our most vocal supporters of women’s right to vote, since she thought that it may delay the right for all men’s right to vote, and was criticised for being Christian, since the view that you had to be an atheist to fully understand Marxism was popular. She has a street named after her in Stockholm, and it so happens to be less than 400 meters from the one named after Karolina Widerström which is a pretty damn awesome coincidence if you ask me.

This post is the third and probably final part (because why limit yourself?) as part of the Cranky Ladies of History (and also Women’s History month!) blog tour. If this sort of thing makes you squee you should go help fund the Pozible campaign for the anthology with the same name, to be published by FableCroft Publishing in 2015.

The list of cranky Swedish women I’ve put together are courtesy of the Swedish non-profit organisation Rättviseförmedlingen, created to help correct the imbalance of gender in media, culture, business and so on. You can read more about them here and see the list of historical women I pulled these names from here. That first link is in English, fyi.

026. Cranky Ladies blog tour, part 2

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Queen Kristina of Sweden (born Kristina Augusta, renamed Christina Alexandra after she converted to Catholicism) is the one I’m aiming to submit a piece about, and she, as Margrete, left a legacy of cranky ladydom behind. She is a bit different in that she didn’t have to sneakily trick her way to power, which is a good thing because I’m not sure she had it in her. She wasn’t subtle and she wasn’t sneaky, but damn if she didn’t get what she wanted either way. She was lucky in that her father, Gustaf II Adolf, had arranged to make her reigning queen if he died before having a son, that has to be said. You can also argue that her being born almost 300 years after Margrete, in 1626, also helped, but we actually didn’t get the whole queens-as-leaders as opposed to queens-looking-pretty written into law until 1980. So you know. It’s still pretty remarkable.

Kristina was raised as a prince, was interested in subjects like languages (there is a letter to her father written when she was six — in German), politics, philosophy and history, and enjoyed riding, hunting and other traditionally male pursuits. She wore men’s shoes, forgot to brush her bushy hair, hated and/or failed miserably at any typically female pastime she attempted, and spent hours and hours studying and discussing non-ladylike topics. (Politics, you know. Penis required to understand it.) There are accounts of her walking, talking, behaving and even riding like a man, and I’m pretty sure that I read somewhere that after she abdicated she cut her hair short and was never seen wearing skirts again. But then again, everything surrounding Kristina seems to have been propaganda. On one hand she’s described as incredibly intelligent and politically aware, as determined, chaste (of course) and very competent. Other accounts talk about her as being too proud, too headstrong and far from above average in intelligence. These stories either describe her as promiscuous (with men), a lesbian, or, if they wanted to be a bit more on the polite side, a ‘hermaphrodite’.

(Interlude: I hate that word and would never use it myself, but apparently that was how you did it back then. It was also, according to at least one book I’ve read, a lot less taboo than being a lesbian.)

It’s pretty interesting, these different accounts. People seem to have a lot of differing opinions about her, down to the reason she abdicated in 1654. She did cause a scandal when it came out that she had become a Catholic, about a year after she left Sweden, but she also refused to marry, she definitely wasn’t interested in producing heirs, and some have suggested she was simply bored of the lack of culture in Sweden (she attempted to change this, with mixed results) or that she was tired of the many responsibilities that came with ruling a country. People can’t seem to agree about her sexuality either; some claim the love of her life was Ebba Sparre, a female lady-in-waiting. Others talk about the male Cardinal Azzolino. Some claim she was transgender or intersex, and others that she emphasized her traditionally male attributes in order to be seen as more competent. Because that she did. In her biography she went on and on about all the ways she was better than women in general. She was smarter than them, better than them, she chose to be raised a boy (debatable; it was actually her father’s instructions), she was awful at sewing and other lady things, she was grateful to God that he had not let the weakness of her sex touch the strength of her soul, and so on. She also seems to have been of the opinion that the body and soul didn’t necessarily had to be the same gender — which is something historians often use as ‘proof’ of her not being cisgender. This has been so debated that her bones were dug up at one point to determine whether her skeleton was biologically male or female. (It was the latter, by the way.) I read somewhere that people back then believed that if a woman acted manly enough she would become one — some historians claim this was what she was hoping for. Whether or not this was true is hard to say, but there is no doubt that she had no interest in conforming to traditional gender roles.

Kristina spoke at length about how the idea repulsed her, and even claimed that she was too proud to sleep with or have a relationship with a man, in the way that she simply had no interest in being dominated by or controlled by a man. Which, yes, isn’t how sex works, we all know that now, but back then? Yep. That’s how it was seen. With this also comes a quote, in which she said that she didn’t want to be used by a man like a farmer cultivates his land — note that the word for ‘use’ and ‘cultivate’ in the farming sense of the word is the same in Swedish.

I could go on and on here, but the fact is that Kristina was a woman who not ruled a country in an age when it was unheard of, she also did it in her own way. Some accounts seem to believe that Gustaf Adolf put her on the throne with the intent of her marrying early to some competent dude who could said ruling, which may very well have been true, but it didn’t matter in the end. Kristina wouldn’t have any of it, after all. She was repeatedly pushed into considering marriage by her council, and abdicated rather than letting herself be talked into it. I found a statement made by her at age twenty-two, which I found really interesting. From the book Christina, Queen of Sweden by Veronica Buckley:

I’m telling you now that it is impossible for me to marry. I am completely sure of it. I will not state any reasons. My nature simply isn’t made for marriage. I have asked God to change my disposition, but it’s impossible for me to get married.

This far too long already and that’s with me having cut out about half of what I originally wrote, so let’s just say that she spent her last few decades in Rome, being friends with the pope, scandalising people, wasting money she didn’t have, writing biographies about her own awesomeness and, when she got bored, attempting to conquer Naples.

Basically, if Kristina wasn’t a cranky woman, I don’t know what she was. The things she accomplished in her lifetime were many, and although they were occasionally of the more questionable kind (randomly executing people in one of the French king’s palaces? Selling paintings right off the walls in a building she didn’t own? Becoming a Catholic after her father more or less died for Protestantism? Telling a blushing ambassador she had a woman as a ‘bed fellow’? Check, check, check and check), I still maintain that living this kind of life takes a special kind of woman. She may have been fickle and impatient, with a quick temper and too much pride for her own good, but really? I don’t think a woman could’ve gotten away with half of this today. The fact that she did it almost 400 years ago speaks volumes. I haven’t even touched on her political competence or the things she managed before abdicating, but let’s just agree that she was amazing in her own right, shall we? Because honestly, I could go on all day about her.

Cranky-Ladies-logo

This post is the second part (because why limit yourself?) as part of the Cranky Ladies of History (and also Women’s History month!) blog tour. If this sort of thing makes you squee you should go help fund the Pozible campaign for the anthology with the same name, to be published by FableCroft Publishing in 2015.

The list of cranky Swedish women I’ve put together are courtesy of the Swedish non-profit organisation Rättviseförmedlingen, created to help correct the imbalance of gender in media, culture, business and so on. You can read more about them here and see the list of historical women I pulled these names from here. That first link is in English, fyi.

025.Cranky Ladies blog tour, part 1

Margareta001

Queen Margareta (if you’re Swedish), Margrete I (if you’re Danish) or Margaret I of Denmark (if you’re desperate to anglicize her name) was born a Danish princess in 1353, and was, like other women of her age, never meant to rule a country. She was married off to the Swedish-Norwegian king Haakon when she was ten, had her only child at seventeen and really, was only meant to produce heirs and tie the Danish kingdom to the Swedish-Norwegian through said marriage. Instead she earned the nickname ‘King Pantsless’ during her lifetime, and when some king or another sent her a small grindstone so she could sharpen her needles and go back to her lady hobbies rather than trying to rule three countries at once she sent her men to defeat him in battle, dressed him up as a jester and threw him in jail for six years. As you do.

So yes, Margrete was an amazing cranky lady, not least because she ruled Denmark in an age when that was Simply Not Done. She managed this mostly by sneakily electing underaged male relatives as kings, and then ruling in their place, proving to people that she was more than competent. Eventually she also won over king Albrekt of Mecklenburg, the current Swedish king (the one who replaced her husband on the throne after his death, and yes, also the one with the grindstone and the jester costume) and added Sweden to her pile of countries to rule. She was, of course, not really supposed to do more than elect an actual king to do said ruling, but hey — she had another underaged relative hanging around, didn’t she? (Okay, she didn’t. But she quickly adopted her great-nephew, slapped a Swedish name on him and put him on the throne.)

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She was also the driving force behind the Kalmar Union, which united what is now Norway, Denmark, Iceland and parts of Sweden and Finland. This made her one of the most powerful women of European history. Swedish medieval history is complicated, convoluted and I’m sure I have messed up somewhere in here, but even so? This takes a special kind of cranky woman. And what’s even better is that she’s just one of many. We’ll see if I’ll be able to get through the whole list I’ve made for the month, but either way Margrete is an excellent way to start, isn’t she?

Cranky-Ladies-logo

This post is the first part (because why limit yourself?) as part of the Cranky Ladies of History (and also Women’s History month!) blog tour. If this sort of thing makes you squee you should go help fund the Pozible campaign for the anthology with the same name, to be published by FableCroft Publishing in 2015.

The list of cranky Swedish women I’ve put together are courtesy of the Swedish non-profit organisation Rättviseförmedlingen, created to help correct the imbalance of gender in media, culture, business and so on. You can read more about them here and see the list of historical women I pulled these names from here. That first link is in English, fyi.