Women writers Wednesday — blogging edition

Part something in an irregular series.

So yeah, today I would like to spotlight some of the female bloggers I started reading in the past of couple of weeks, partially thanks to the whole ongoing SFWA kerfuffle. Everytime we’ve had an outbreak of sexism in science fiction fandom it also has brought new female voices to the foreground and this time hasn’t been any different.

Natalie Luhrs has been one of the most sensible voices during the SFWA controversy, as well as with the more recent Loncon Jonathan Ross fiasco. Beyond that, she also has a great ability to find interesting and thoughtful links.

S. L. Huang like Luhrs has been a voice of reason during the recent sexism scandals, is a new writer whose first book will be published this year and who keeps writing great posts on the same subjects I would’ve written about, but she does it better.

Susan Abernethy writes about history and her blog is a treasure trove of posts about well known and not so well known parts of history, especially British history.

Loretta Chase & Isabella Bradford also write about history, both in their dayjobs as bestselling writers of historical romances and on their blog. They seem to have a real affinity for the Georgian era, but roam wide and far and have a knack of finding links to other interesting blogs — like Susan Abernethy’s above.


To call a woman a kenau in Dutch is to call her a harridan, a bitch, harsh, strident, aggressive, taking on masculine qualities. It’s a slur that’s rooted in an actually existing, historical woman, Kenau Simonsdochter Hasselaer, a Haarlem born widow, woodsmerchant and shipbuilder who became famous due to her role in the siege of her hometown by the Spanish in 1573.

As you of course know, the Netherlands fought the Eighty Years War to liberate themselves from Spanish and Catholic oppression, a large part of which consisted of the siege and countersiege of rebel or loyal cities. Haarlem in the 1570s was one of the richest, most important cities in the north of Holland and when it rebelled the Spanish were quick to put it down. The siege ended in a defeat for the rebels, but not before Kenau’s role in it had become legend.

19th century painting of Kenau Hasselaer on the walls of Haarlem by Barent Wijnveld and J.H. Egenberger

As legend has it, Kenau Hasselaer was the leader of an army of women who fought together with the men on the walls of Haarlem, pouring boiling pitch and water over the Spanish troops attempting to climb the walls. How historical this is, has been disputed, but what’s undisputed was that she was involved in supporting the soldiers on the walls, organising repair works and the like.

But of course the idea of Kenau Hasselaer as the firebreathing leader of a monstrous regiment of women is much more interesting, something that was played up in Dutch propaganda after the siege and which ultimately led to her name becoming the synonym for an aggressive woman, with the connection to the historical figure forgotten. A new Dutch movie, which premiered only this week, seeks to restore that connection, to rehabilitate Kenau as a name of pride, not a slur.

Course, being a Dutch film it’s not likely to be much good, but the idea is interesting.

Sun City

Little Steve van Zandt talks to Dave Marsh about Sun City, Paul Simon and the fight against Apartheid, on the eve of Bruce Springsteen’s first tour of South Africa:

And I met with AZAPO, who had a very frank conversation — I was talking to the translator — about whether they should kill me for even being there. That’s how serious they were about violating the boycott. I eventually talked them out of that and then talked them into maybe going kinda with my thing.

They showed me that they have an assassination list, and Paul Simon was at the top of it. [NOTE: In 1986, Paul Simon recorded tracks for his Graceland album in South Africa, in direct violation of the cultural boycott.] And in spite of my feelings about Paul Simon, who we can talk about in a minute if you want to, I said to them, “Listen, I understand your feelings about this; I might even share them, but…”

What strikes me almost thirty years later is how modern the Artist United Against Apartheid project was, especially compared to the other Big Cause projects (We Are the World, Live Aid). Much of that is of course because Little Steve was smart enough to bring hip-hop artists into project, not just pop and rock musicians. Also how much more and much more explicitly political. The famines in Ethiopia were presented as natural disasters, but Little Steve and co from the start made clear not only that the South African government was to blame for Apartheid and its evils, but also how much western support it received over the years. “Why are we always on the wrong side” indeed.

The Normans — Marjorie Chibnall

Cover of The Normans

The Normans
Marjorie Chibnall
191 pages including index
published in 2000

So the Normans eh? Bunch of Vikings who plundered the English and French coasts for a while, before the king of France made an offer they couldn’t refuse and they settled in what became Normandy, named after them, to defend France against, well, other Vikings. Traditionally this is supposed to have happened in 911 CE. unlike other Scandinavian invaders attempting to set up stock in the countries they raided, these Vikings not only survived but thrived, creating essential a new people, the Normans and a new country, Normandy, in the process. Not only did Normandy become a powerful duchy, more or less indepdent from the kingdom of France, from there on William the Conqueror went on to take over England and Wales and invade Ireland, while other Normans went on to the Mediterranean and found kingdoms in Sicily and Antioch.

What the Normans managed to do looks a whole lot like what earlier “barbarian” invaders like the Goths did to the Roman empire, grabbing a piece of it and settle there in return for protection against other “barbarians”. But, as Marjorie Chibnall explains in her book, the Normans were “a product, not of blood, but of history”, not so much a people on the move as in the “classic” — and quite likely never to have happened in that form — people movements of Late Antiquity. Instead, it was a tightly knit group of warriors loyal to a specific ruler which took over and created Normandy, mixing with and ruling over the original populations. It was similar ties between ruler and noblemen that would later enable William the Conqueror to win the English kingdom.

Read more

Female brewers in early modern Holland

Gravure of female beer brewer

Here’s an interesting history paper by Marjolein van Dekken about female beer brewers in Holland during the fifteenth-seventeenth centuries:

As an important part of daily nourishment, women had always produced beer at home and for their own household. However, in Holland from the beginning of the thirteenth century beer production for the general market commenced. In the developing cities more and more labour was divided among specialised craftsmen. Professional breweries were established and the beer industry became a serious trade. In several cities of Holland like Haarlem, Delft and Gouda, the brewing industry played a major economic role during the fifteenth, sixteenth and seventeenth centuries. Even after the industry’s decline from the second half of the seventeenth century, breweries remained important for the local economy in those cities.

The full article is available as a Word document. It’s part of a project that looks at women’s work in the early modern period:

Foreign travellers who visited the Dutch Republic in the early modern period were impressed by the remarkable prominence of Dutch women in public places. Dutch women were reportedly independent and capable entrepreneurs, conducting business either in their own name, or that of their absent spouses. To what extent these frequently repeated observations reflect historical reality is still not clear. There is evidence that the economic success of the Dutch Republic is reflected in the position of women on the labour market. Two opposite hypotheses can be formulated. According to some historians female labour market participation in the Dutch Republic was lower than in neighboring countries. The economic prosperity and the high standard of living enabled the practical realization of the ideal of domesticity. Many women could afford not to work, and withdrew from the labour market as early as in the seventeenth century. According to the second, opposite hypothesis female labour market participation in the Dutch Republic was higher than elsewhere. Dutch gender norms were not very strict, women performed paid work on a large scale, and thus contributed to the increase of income and the standard of living and to the economic success of the Dutch Republic.

Things change

Some new horrible history I learned about today: forty years ago today In New Orleans, thirtytwo people were murdered through arson, in what was the largest mass murder of LGBT people in US history:

Just before 8:00p, the doorbell rang insistently. To answer it, you had to unlock a steel door that opened onto a flight of stairs leading down to the ground floor. Bartender Buddy Rasmussen, expecting a taxi driver, asked his friend Luther Boggs to let the man in. Perhaps Boggs, after he pulled the door open, had just enough time to smell the Ronsonol lighter fluid that the attacker of the UpStairs Lounge had sprayed on the steps. In the next instant, he found himself in unimaginable pain as the fireball exploded, pushing upward and into the bar.

It’s a horrible, upsetting piece of history, depressing even, but what is important is that it is history and things are getting better, as Joe Belknap Wall argues:

Forty years ago, when I was five, I was destined to be a victim, but things changed. We spoke up, sat in, made our points. Things changed.

Thirty years ago, when I was fifteen, I was destined to be a marginal citizen, but things changed. A disease came out of nowhere and shook the world, even as our President did nothing and said nothing, even as the population cracked jokes and shrugged it off and the preachers waved their crosses to stir up the hate, but we spoke up, stood fast, and made people see. Things changed.


Today, I am forty-five, and I am still a citizen without full protection under the law, but—

Today, I can marry in my state, and receive the protections accorded to the rest of my neighbors. If I fall victim to a crime driven by hate, it will be investigated. Few, if any, people will laugh and point and make a mockery of my basic human dignity. I am no longer required, by the dominant cultural norm, to be ashamed of who I am, and the people who once felt empowered to fuel the fires of hatred and intolerance are the ones on the run. The last of the churches built on foundations of hate are being deserted by their children, who were not raised with the old faith that had them accepting an injustice because they were told to, and the louder they get, the more they demonstrate that it’s all just a death rattle, destined to go silent as the older generations fade away, and the churches may yet turn back to the message of love.

When I feel that hot rush of rage, reflecting on what happened forty years ago today, I want to say “WE ARE COMING FOR ALL OF YOU,” but I don’t need to. The future is coming, and daylight and information wipe the world clean of those old, ugly falsehoods and make fools of those who used to get away with promulgating that fetid, soul-killing bullshit. There are miles to go on the way to a just, open, loving world, but we have come farther than ever before.

The grey realist seventies

agata pyzik talks about living in the seventies:

One of the reasons the punk generation reads dystopias like A Clockwork Orange as if they were their lives, and looks longingly towards the communist East in their aesthetics, is their depoliticisation. The generation of their grandparents was the one who survived the war, believed in socialism, was changing the world, joined political parties. Earlier, to piss off your parents, you’d join a communist party. By the 70s, those who wanted to change the world, were discredited and all that had left was the aesthetics.


If you look at any footage of West Berlin in 70s, you see a murky, sinister city, whose punctum, trauma, is the Wall. People gravitate around it. Living next to a prison, even if theoretically you’e not the prisoner, you can develop symptoms of suffocation. Seeing people regularly being killed over an illegal crossing of the Wall, not being able to walk through your city, imagining what there can be on the other side.

One of the things that defined the seventies, especially the second half of the decade, was the freezing of the Cold War into stalemate. The excitement of the fifties and the sixties, when war between the capitalist and communist blocs seemed just around the corner had ebbed away, Vietnam was just a memory and all that was left were petty little squabbles in Third World countries of no great interest to people in Europe or America. You can see that period reflected in Jerry Pournelle’s mil-sf stories of the period, with their background of a codominiom of the US and USSR ruling the stars for the next couple of centuries.

The late seventies and early eighties before the feverdreams of Reaganomics and yuppism took hold were a time without great dreams, a grey, dour, chilly time where economic depression and political stagnation looked to be permanent.The generation that grew up in the seventies was perhaps the first to really grow up with the Cold War as a constant, something that had always been there and that short of nuclear war would not go away.

And then at the tail end of the seventies there was the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan, the first major crisis in the Cold War since Vietnam and there was a president in the White House, a southern Baptist, who was a ruthless son of a bitch despite his public image, who deliberately set out to create the USSR’s own Vietnam from this invasion. A few years later he would outflanked on the right by another born again Christian and actor, who was even more determined to suckerpunch the Russsians, fed as he was by Team B propaganda about the overwhelming might of the Soviet War Machine. In the USSR meanwhile, the leaders there were well aware of how vulnerable they really were and several times during the early eighties would creep close to starting the inevitable war themselves out of fear of being surprised otherwise.

The realists were in charge during this time and they all agreed that the Third World War was inevitable and that sense of realism is visible throughout popular culture in the late seventies and early eighties. Nihilism and cynicism ruled as we all expected to die in nuclear holocaust anyway. The idea that a youth revolt could avoid this, that the counterculture could offer an alternative had been shown to be false.

Is it this shared experience that paved the way for the neoliberal revolution of the eighties, as nuclear war receded as a threat? Perhaps.