Joyce Chng – Women’s History Month

My love affair with Joan of Arc started in my childhood, when I saw King Arthur cartoons and wondered about the Middle Ages. At that time, it was all knights, horses and men on horses. And swords and shields and the idea of being chivalrous. I noticed that knights were all men.

When I began working on my MA, my area fell firmly and squarely in the world of Joan of Arc… and on the woman/knight/shepherd girl. My hypothesis focused on comparing the (similar) ways in which poets, artists and hagiographers portrayed Joan of Arc, and fictional lady knights of the late Middle Ages and the Renaissance. So while I was charmed by Bradamante and Marfiza, my admiration for Joan of Arc grew. I ignored the sensationalized movie that came out the same year as my research and went straight into the court recordings.

She was a teenager. As much as I love YA, I often wince at the disdain that adults accord to teenage girls. YA fiction is full of brave, courageous and powerful teen girls who fight the odds and come out bloody and triumphant. Reality, however, is about girls who cannot do this, who cannot do that, and kudos to the moral conservative right who sees girls as weak and needs protecting. Weak also means foolish and in need of constant adult (and often, male!) guidance. For some strange reason, we cannot reconcile this reality and the YA girls who are full of fire.

But Joan was a girl with fire – with conviction. Never mind the Church accused her of witchcraft and psychologists would say that she heard voices. She had the guts, mind you, to lead an army. She could ride a horse easily and wield weapons. She was one tough gal. A woman warrior. Of course, her companions all about waived aside accusations of sexual attraction/tension: “She was just one of us!” or “I didn’t notice her breasts!”. That was the Middle Ages then, replete with misogyny (thanks to the Church) and its own dark little superstitions.

How do we handle girls with fire?

Do we literally douse them with water, both real and metaphorically? Do we handle them with tongs? Do we put them behind bars and put so many strictures that their fire is gone and they are forced to change? Do we just manage the fire? Or then again, how do we manage the fire? Would we get burnt, changed or both?

For me, Joan is an inspiration. A young woman with so much energy: she has accomplished so much. How do we now encourage the young women and men in our lives? Can we tell our kids, our students, our young people around us, that they can do stuff?

Joyce can be found online at A Wolf’s Tale: She tweets too: @jolantru. When she is not busy herding students, she is either writing, gardening, baking bread and doing other assorted things like staring at the stars.

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