Since this month at The Pagan and the Pen is dedicated to women’s issues I thought I’d write about women in positions of power and save the readings for the next go round.
I read a fascinating story recently about Boudica, Queen of the Iceni tribe of ancient Britain. She was a force to be reckoned with for a moment in history, when she fought against Rome and won. In fact, she was so fear inducing the Roman Emporer, Nero, seriously considered the idea of abandoning the country to the indigenous people.
Boudica (there are several spellings of her name, for ease of use, I chose one of the more modern representations) was married to Prasutagus, an Icenian king who ruled, only barely, in conjunction with Rome, and from whom borrowed considerable amounts of money. When he died, the Celtic king left joint rule in his will to his daughters as well as the Roman Emporer. The patriarchal society of Rome refused to honor his request upon his passing. His kingdom was annexed immediately and Boudica was flogged, while her daughters raped, publicly. All the money borrowed by Prasutagus from Roman lenders was called in. The Iceni people didn’t stand a chance against such manipulation.
In about AD 60/61, while the Roman governor Paulinus was away at war, Boudica led the Iceni and the Trinovantes in a revolt. Her wrath was unrelenting, her vengeance mighty. They destroyed Camulodunum (Colchester), routing a Roman legion, the IX Hispania, which was sent to protect the settlement. Londinium (London) fell next, completely razed and burned to the ground along with Verulamium (St. Albans). Supposedly, close to 80,000 people died, but that statistic is unverified. Shortly thereafter, the Romans regrouped in the West Midlands and despite the Queen’s overwhelming numbers, she was defeated at the Battle of Watling Street. Rather than be captured by despised Roman hands, she poisoned herself.
Another woman of power, also attempting to force the hand of Rome, shared the same fate. Cleopatra VII Philopater ruled Egypt at a time when Rome was at its most strong–the time of Julius Caesar. Her charisma and her beauty combined with an exceptional mind captured the attention some of the world’s most powerful men. Contrary to popular belief, Cleopatra was descended from a Greek line, not an Arabic one. Much was made of this incredible woman who could charm the skin off a snake and according to legend, ultimately died from its bite. In the Life of Antony, Plutarch wrote “judging by the proofs which she had before this of the effect of her beauty upon Caesar and Gnaeus, the son of Pompey, she had hopes that she would more easily bring [Marc] Antony to her feet. For Caesar and Pompey had known her when she was still a girl and inexperienced in affairs, but she was going to visit Antony at the very time when women have the most brilliant beauty.” According to Plutarch what ultimately made Cleopatra attractive were her wit, charm and “sweetness in the tones of her voice.”
It was recorded by Roman historians that Boudica was “possessed of greater intelligence than often belongs to women”. She was tall, had long red hair down to her hips, a harsh voice and a piercing glare.” In my mind, she was considered a woman of beauty as well as power. Perhaps her appearance was too much for Roman taste, but I think her stature was impressive enough for a people whose sense of independence was resolute and unwavering. The fact they respected women as equal enough to lead them, the fact their king willed his kingdom to his daughters, speaks volumes to me about a woman’s equality in their culture.
So what happened to us? What rabbit hole did the human race fall into that women became gelded over time and were treated as chattel? One could argue, hey, men are physically stronger and eventually realized that power was a great equalizer. Perhaps. Another argument indicates that women became too full of themselves and their egos led to their downfall, again, perhaps.
My personal life experience has shown me the strongest woman is stronger than the strongest man. Oh, I hear the groaning now. That is NOT a She-Ra Manhater comment. Men have a different kind of mental, emotional and physical strength. Both sexes have a purpose, both have strengths and weaknesses the other can use and shore up when the going gets tough. We need one another for harmony and balance. It is the natural order of things. What I’m stating is in our modern-day society, women are still allowed to feel and men have been forced over time to stifle the free expression of their gentler emotions. It seems only pride, boasting, anger, aggressiveness are dominant although to be fair, joy, celebration, and love can still be shared if the moment is right. Goddess forbid a man is caught crying in public, he will, 9 times out of 10, be shunned for it (even by women, truth be told), unless he is in mourning. Again, just personal opinion, but a fairly accurate one, I think.
When I watched Hilary Clinton try for the Democratic nomination for Presidency, I was all for it. She has the mind and tenacity to serve in such a position and it’s high time women started vying for that most vaunted of public service. What dumbfounded me though, was watching the crowds around her. In one speech she gave, the camera panned the audience of supporters. As the camera moved right, a man, more than likely put in the audience by the male competition she ran against, held up a sign. It read, “WASH MY SHIRT.” Goddess help me I wanted to reach right through the television screen and pound that man into submission, Boudica style. Then, I laughed. What it ultimately showed me was how threatened he was by a woman in power. I tickled myself with the thought his sex life must be very boring if he’s always the dominant partner to his woman, i.e., Missionary style.
We have come so far, we women. I do not underestimate how hard we have worked to re-establish our equality, nor the male support we have in pursuing it. The sign incident during Hilary’s campaign shows we still have far to go, though. Until then, I will teach by setting an example not only to my daughters, but to everyone, male and female, power and/or leadership is not about dominance or the ability to dominate (which works, but is a very dangerous way to live), it is not about gender. It is about discipline, self-control and, in my opinion, altruism, working for the highest of purposes for the benefit of all.
Until next time!
Erin Sinclair, (“For love that’s out of this world!”), www.erinsinclairauthor.com