because the woman's place is wherever the woman is...

Tuesday, January 1, 2013

The End of the Beginning

A year ago today, I started a book project as a blog for which I promised to write a short introduction to an in-your-face woman every day for a year. 2012 happened to be a leap year, so here we are, 366 days later, and I never missed a single post. I delivered 366 stories of in-your-face women to you, my Faithful Readers, and from what I can gather from the stats and your comments and emails, for the most part, you enjoyed them greatly.

While I busily wrote my daily posts, my university public radio station started recording me reading some of them, which went so well, they ultimately archived them on the Public Radio Exchange for use by any public radio station in the world, routing their listeners back to my blog. Then, in the fall, I heard from one of the most prestigious girls' college preparatory schools in the nation that they might want me to come spend some time on their campus as an artist-in-residence. There's been some talk of subsequent spin-off projects in the not-so-distant future. And now, I'm going to scout out a few agents and see if any would like to represent me on this hobbit journey called publication and its aftermath.

So where does this blog go from here? I cannot possibly continue to write daily posts as I have for the past year. The plan was just to use this blog to complete the first volume of In-Your-Face Women (the book) consisting of 366 mini-bios in alphabetical order -- one for every day for a year -- so that women and girls (and anyone else who chooses to read them) could get a whole new perspective on the women of the world since time began. I followed the plan and finished step one. And frankly, it was pretty tough. Especially considering that I have a full time job with major responsibilities and some of the bios took hours to research and write.

In any case, other steps lie before me now related to In-Your-Face Women and other projects. And I am excited to move forward, but I don't what to just walk away from this blog. So, I've decided to post stories about more in-your-face women. Just not so often. I'm thinking one a week (maybe on Sundays?). And not in any particular order. You could suggest women you think I should check out. I could write occasional other pieces, listing their titles on the right hand side of the blog posts, starting out with an open letter to Diana Nyad, the sixty-three-old in-your-face woman who tried to swim from Cuba to Florida last August.

Regardless, I'm open to input at this point, so feel free to comment on this post or email me directly. And I will see you around the corner, I suspect. I'll be the in-your-face woman with the gleam in her eye coming at you when you least expect it.
NOTE: The graphic above is Somnium Sacrum (Sacred Dream), a giclee print by Steven Graber. She looks over my shoulder while I write this blog.

Monday, December 31, 2012

Princess Kasune Zulu

Princess Kasune Zulu was sixteen-years-old when her parents both died of AIDS in their home country of Zambia. A year later, though still a student in school, Zulu began seeing older men in the effort to support her younger brothers and sisters. Within a short time, she became pregnant and agreed to marry a man more than twice her age. And at the age of twenty, having borne two babies in rapid succession, she was diagnosed as HIV positive herself. Surely, that could have been the end of a sad, sad story. Except that Princess Kasune Zulu is an in-your-face woman.

First, without her husband knowing it, she began working to increase AIDS awareness in her community, even opening a community school without financial support. Then, not feeling this was really attacking the root of the problem, she dressed up like a prostitute and began educating the truckers on the highways about the pandemic that has afflicted the lives of nearly a million Zambians and millions more throughout the world. Still unsatisfied, Zulu walked or hitchhiked to companies where she spoke with the workers about AIDS prevention. And in time, she was speaking, instead, before the Congress of the United States, taking her message to the U.S. President, the Secretary General of the United Nations, and other world leaders.

With her book, Warrior Princess, published in multiple languages and being sold around the world, Zulu is now in her mid-thirties and living -- quite successfully -- with HIV. As in-your-face as ever, she continues to  spread the word that HIV and AIDS can and must be prevented, but that part of its prevention requires addressing gender inequality, harmful cultural practices, and sexual violence wherever they rear their ugly heads. An in-your-face woman takes on her enemies as if she has no fear.

Sunday, December 30, 2012

Joanna Zubr

Joanna Zubr was thirty-eight-years-old when she left Austria with her husband to support Napoleon's war effort by joining the army of the Duchy of Warsaw in 1808. Initially just a camp follower (cooking and doing laundry and such), Zubr quickly bored of the role, put on a uniform and enlisted in the 2nd Infantry Regiment as a Private herself.

The following year, she took part in the Galician Campaign, so distinguishing herself at the Battle of Zamosc that she was awarded Poland's highest honor for bravery, the Virtuti Militari. Emboldened by this, Zubr joined the same company her husband was in, where she was promoted to Sergeant and took part in Napoleon's invasion of Russia.

Separated from her unit when they retreated, Zubr had to find her own way out of Russia, which took weeks, alone and in hostile territory. Nevertheless, she eventually located her division and fought for another year until Napoleon was defeated, leaving her and her husband unable to return to their original home. Being an in-your-face woman doesn't necessarily guarantee you'll choose the winning side in the battle. It just guarantees you'll get to fight on the side of your choice if you please.

Saturday, December 29, 2012

Mai Zetterling

As a drop-dead gorgeous young Swedish movie starlet in the 1940's and 1950's, Mai Zetterling received plenty of applause and made a lot of money. But in the 1960's, when she moved into film direction, instead, as actors often want to do, things went differently.

In her autobiography, All Those Tomorrows, she wrote: "When the reviews of my first full-length feature movie came out, I was horrified to read that 'Mai Zetterling directs like a man'...[I was] not the same any more in the eyes of men...[It took years to realize that] the change I had made was positive and, in the end, the only way."

Her ultimate response to her critics was to begin making movies that examined how women are seen and treated in society.  "The Girls," for example -- produced in 1968 and suggesting that the modern day condition of women isn't vastly different than that presented in the ancient Greek play "Lysistrata" -- not only pulled no punches, but was voted in 2012 one of the twenty-five best Swedish films of all time.

Zetterling's in-your-facedness, of course, brought her even more criticism. In fact, at one point for at least a while, she was kept under surveillance by British agents as a possible Communist. As if being an in-your-face woman automatically makes one a proponent of a particular political or economic view. Silly, isn't it?

Friday, December 28, 2012

Clara Zetkin

Born in Germany in 1857, Clara Zetkin first studied to be a teacher, but her heart was in workers' rights in general and women's rights in particular and she became involved in movements related to both by the time she was seventeen-years-old. When her political affiliations became illegal in 1878, Zetkin went into exile in Paris, but her work went on.

First, she helped found the Socialist International while bearing two sons to a Russian revolutionary who then died. In the late 1800's and early 1900's, Zetkin returned to Germany, started a newspaper on women's rights entitled Die Gleichheit (Equality), married a man eighteen years her junior(!), and launched the idea for International Women's Day (originally International Working Women's Day) in Copenhagen in 1910.

No one -- not even her -- knew if anyone would take notice, let alone do anything about it, but women all over Europe responded in 1911, holding meetings even in small towns and villages. Tens of thousands of women marched in the streets of most of Europe's major cities (more than a million in all) while the men stayed home with their children.

In 1916, Zetkin and a few others formed a Marxist revolutionary movement they called the Spartacus League, which morphed into the Communist Party of Germany a few years later. Staying highly active in this organization for more than a decade, Zetkin called for Germans to fight National Socialism when Hitler began his meteoric rise. Consequently, she was forced into exile once more (in the Soviet Union this time), where she died and was buried by the Kremlin wall with other people who had spent their lives fighting for workers' rights. It's doubtful that many women who celebrate International Women's Day even know who Zetkin was. But every year on March 8th, this in-your-face woman's work makes yet another contribution to the evolution of in-your-face women around the world. Impressive, huh?

Thursday, December 27, 2012


When Zenobia's husband was assassinated in the year 267, she stepped into the role of ruler of Palmyra as if she was destined to play it. Indeed, she was said to be a descendant of both Cleopatra VII and Queen Dido of Carthage.

Dark complected and beautiful, with sparkling black eyes, Zenobia was, nevertheless, not as cavalier sexually as many of the nobility were at the time. Additionally, she was well educated and highly intelligent, speaking multiple languages and surrounding herself with poets and philosophers.

But her real forte became apparent when she decided to lead her armies into a string of victories as the "Warrior Queen," riding, hunting, and drinking with her officers like the military leader she obviously was.  First, she conquered Egypt (which required beheading the Roman governor). Then, in rapid succession, she added Syria, Palestine, Lebanon, and Asia Minor to her Palmyrene Empire, which she proceeded to rule for more than four years, awarding herself the honorific title of "Augusta" (meaning "majestic" and reserved only for the most powerful figures of the day). Rome, needless to say, was not pleased.

So, in 273, they amassed forces sufficient to take Palmyra and deliver Zenobia to Rome in golden chains. Varying accounts suggest different ends to Zenobia's story. One is that she was beheaded. Another was that she starved herself to death. But the most credible appears to be that she finessed her way into a luxurious villa in Tibur in the hills on the outskirts of Rome where she became active in society, marrying well and raising several daughters who also married well. Sometimes, in-your-face women only appear to be defeated when they're carried away in chains.

Wednesday, December 26, 2012

Rozaliia Zemliachka

One's view of Rozaliia Zemliachka would depend largely upon which side of the Russian Revolution of 1917 one was on, but certainly she was an in-your-face woman. Born in 1876, she joined the Communist Party in Russia when she was twenty-years-old and shortly found herself allied with in-your-face woman Vera Zasulich' newspaper-driven movement entitled Iskra. Described by her peers as commanding, energetic, and hard-working, Zemliachka was also often referred to as "tactless," which meant that many found her unbearably driven and far too demanding for their taste.

More to the point, however, was the fact that Zemliachka was eventually called "the hardest of the hard" Bolsheviks against those she considered "enemies of the people." Stories  about the woman some called "Demon" included brutally violent descriptions of people being burned alive or loaded on barges and drowned, especially in Crimea, where those still supporting the monarchy were crushed by the Bolsheviks. By the time Stalin had taken over and implemented his own bloody purges, Zemliachka was the only woman he trusted anywhere near the top of his governmental organization.

Regardless how anyone feels about her or her legacy, though, Zemliachka was buried with honors at Red Square on the Kremlin Wall, having believed to the end that the brutalities committed and the terrible sacrifices made would be shown eventually to be worth it all. Sometimes in-your-face women are correct in their assumptions. Sometimes they are not. Those who come after them may judge.

Tuesday, December 25, 2012

Katharina Zell

Historical accounts of the Protestant Reformation make it sound like a campaign made up entirely of men. Actually, there were a number of women key to its unfolding and one of the principle such figures was Katharina Zell, born in Strasbourg, Germany, in 1497.

Zell first became a public personna when, at twenty-six, she agreed to be the bride of the first priest to marry. This union, needless to say, got him thrown out of the Roman Catholic church. But the following year, it was Katharina -- not him -- that published a response to his excommunication.

From that time on, Zell's writings -- on Christian tolerance of other, newer Christian perspectives, on reaching out and caring for the poor, and on being a woman in the church -- challenged the traditional religious power structure and are still read today for their clarity of vision. But espousing ideas outside the mainstream wasn't all Zell became known for. She sheltered people who were being otherwise attacked. She visited those in prison. She conducted Bible studies attended by both men and women (unheard of at the time). And she conducted parts of her husband's funeral, a practice which would still be questioned in many churches today.

When she was accused of "disturbing the peace" with her in-your-face exhortations and behaviors, Zell wrote: "Do you call this disturbing the peace that instead of spending my time in frivolous amusements I have visited the plague-infested and carried out the dead? I have visited those in prison and under sentence of death...I have done more than any minister in visiting those in misery." And whenever it was mentioned that St. Paul said women should be silent in the church, Zell countered with: "I would remind you of the word of this same apostle that in Christ there is no male nor female." One wonders what Zell would have to say about churches today that relegate women in general to a reduced status. And in-your-face women to a non-existent one.

Monday, December 24, 2012

Amina Sarauniya Zazzua

That Amina Sarauniya Zazzua was a Muslim warrior queen in Hausaland for at least several decades is accepted. When she lived is a matter of some conjecture. It may have been in the 1400's. It may have been in the 1500's. But what's a hundred years one way or the other more or less when you've been talked about for five hundred years?

As a young child, Amina was caught playing with a dagger, holding it like a soldier would, which should have told somebody something. Then, when she grew up, she trained with the military so that after she became Queen of Zazzua (now the province of Zaria in northern Nigeria), she led her own forces to spread her empire and influence throughout the region.

Since the Zazzuans were adept at tanning leather, weaving, and metalworking, it's likely that Amina's troops wore armor, including metal helmets. Additionally, she was responsible for having walls built around the cities and military camps in her kingdom -- still standing in some places and still called "Amina's walls."

Convinced that to take a husband would weaken her power, Amina chose, instead, to pick out a lover from among her vanquished foes every time her troops won a battle. Then, the following morning, she would have the lover killed. She died, not surprisingly, in battle, said to be "a woman as capable as a man." As if that's difficult.

Sunday, December 23, 2012


Some accounts say she was fourteen. Others say sixteen. But the bottom line is that Rosa Richter (performing under the name "Zazel") was an accomplished tight rope walker and aerial acrobat while she was still an adolescent. The protege of a Canadian rope walker who called himself "The Great Farini," Richter agreed to add a feature to her performance at the Royal London Aquarium on April 2, 1877. She would lower herself into a metal cylinder designed by her trainer and become the first human cannonball in history.

Richter was not shot from an actual cannon, of course. There was a big explosion and some smoke to make the crowd jump, but the propulsion was accomplished by a spring-loaded machine. Still, it had enough thrust to send Richter thirty feet into the air over the astonished crowd below her before landing into the net seventy feet away. The act, needless to say, was a huge success, with Richter soon appearing in England and the U.S. to as many as twenty thousand people a day and banking two hundred pounds a week.

Richter had to maintain rigid physical training and dietary regimens to keep herself in shape and make sure the carefully calibrated trajectory into the net was always on target. Nevertheless, she did ultimately break her back, which forced her retirement. Still, of the fifty human "cannonballs" who followed in   Zazel's wake, thirty died during performances, so she came out better many. In-your-face women don't mind taking a calculated risk to make a bit of money, get some deserved attention, and earn a page in the history books, even if there's a cost to pay.

Saturday, December 22, 2012

Vera Zasulich

Vera Zasulich went to prison for her politics in Russia in 1869. She was only twenty, but she was already reading radical literature, teaching factory workers to read, and hanging around with anarchists. Four years later, when she was released, she went straight to Kiev and joined a group of active insurgents there.

When General Fyodor Trepov, the governor of St. Petersburg, had a political prisoner flogged for refusing to remove his hat in respect, Zasulich plotted against and shot Trepov before anyone else had a chance. The colonel didn't die, but he was badly wounded and everybody knew who did it. Nevertheless, Zasulich was such an in-your-face woman (and her lawyer was so adept) that she was actually acquitted and released, turning her into a huge hero among Europe's radical underground.

Fleeing to Switzerland before she could be snatched up and retried, Zasulich spent her initial time there chain smoking and translating Karl Marx' work into Russian, which helped to spread Marx' ideas across her homeland and  resulted in other revolutionaries, including Vladimir Lenin, joining her. They collaborated to put out a Marxist newspaper that was eventually read all over Europe. Whether in prison, in hiding, or in exile, Zasulich remained committed to her organizing efforts and political views to the day of her death at seventy-years-old. In-your-face women remain who they are no matter where they are.