A Remarkable Post For All Those of Us Who Choose the Virgin's Life: Andrea Dworkin on Female Rebellion
Also see Original Sources Joan de Arc
Listen to the words of Lindsay, and Andrea Dworkin (Lindsay was afraid you will think she wrote instead of quoted) then go to her blog to see the beautiful paintings and to read the entire article.
Andrea Dworkin on Female Rebellion by Lindsay
In her book Intercourse, Andrea Dworkin includes a chapter on female virginity, citing Joan of Arc and the two female saints who inspired her as examples of celibate women refusing to live the narrow, cramped lives to which their societies consigned them. For these women, their virgin state was both a practical strategy (since it's easier to risk your life when you have no children who depend on you, and no husband whose property you legally are) and a defiant gesture in itself:
The Church that killed [Joan of Arc] may now identify her as a martyr; but for women inspired by her legend, she is a martial hero luminous with genius and courage, an emblem of possibility and potentiality consistently forbidden, obliterated, or denied by the rigid tyranny of sex-role imperatives or the outright humiliation of second-class citizenship. Women have many martyrs, many valiant pacifists, sung and unsung; few heroes who made war. We know how to die, also how not to kill; Joan inexplicably knew how to make war.
At her trial, Joan insisted that she had never killed on the battlefield, improbable since the combat was hand-to-hand; but she was known among her own men for standing against the commonplace practices of sadism on the battlefield. It is hard to believe that she did not kill; but whether she did or did not, she was an exemplary martial liberator -- nearly unique in the iconography and history of the European female, that tamed and incomprehensibly peaceful creature. Joan's story is not female until the end, when she died, like nine million other women, in flames, condemned by the Inquisition for witchcraft, heresy, and sorcery.
Precisely because she was a hero whose biography brazenly and without precedent violates the constraints of being female until the terrible suffering of her death, her story, valorous and tragic, is political, not magical; mythic because she existed, was real, not because her persona has been enlarged over the centuries. Her virginity was not an expression of some aspect of her femininity or her preciousness as a woman, despite the existence of a cultish worship of virginity as a feminine ideal. She was known as Joan the Maid or, simply, The Maid ("La Pucelle"). Her reputation, her declaration, preceded her, established her intention and her terms; not in the context of being a holy or ideal female but in the context of waging war.
Her virginity was a self-conscious and militant repudiation of the common lot of the female with its intrinsic low status, which, then as now, appeared to have something to do with being fucked. Joan wanted to be virtuous in the old sense, before the Christians got hold of it: virtuous meant brave, valiant. She incarnated virtue in its original meaning: strength or manliness. Her virginity was an essential element of her virility, her autonomy, her rebellious and intransigent self-definition. Virginity was freedom from the real meaning of being female; it was not just another style of being female.
Being female meant tiny boundaries and degraded possibilities; social inferiority and sexual subordination; surrender to male force or violence; sexual accessibility to men or withdrawal from the world; and civil insignificance. Unlike the feminine virgins who accepted the social subordination while exempting themselves from the sex on which it was premised, Joan rejected the status and the sex as one thing -- empirical synonyms: low civil status and being fucked as indistinguishable one from the other.
She refused to be fucked and she refused civil insignificance: and it was one refusal; a rejection of the social meaning of being female in its entirety, no part of the feminine exempted and saved. Her virginity was a radical renunciation of a civil worthlessness rooted in real sexual practice. She refused to be female. As she put it at her trial [a full transcript of which is available online here - Lindsay], not nicely: "And as for womanly duties. She said there were enough other women to do them."
We have role models; Joan had voices. Her voices were always accompanied by a radiance, illumination, an expanse of light. She saw angels and was visited by saints. Her two special voices, guides and consolation, were St. Catherine of Alexandria and St. Margaret of Antioch. While many of the elaborations on their legends show the iconoclastic individuality of the two saints, the main outlines of their lives -- the substance of their heroism -- were virtually identical. Both were desired by powerful men (heads of state), turned them down, were tortured and decapitated. Both were in mortal combat with male power, were militant in their opposition to it, did not capitulate, and were killed for resisting. Both were virgins.
St. Catherine was the patron saint of unmarried girls and also of philosophers and students. She was famous for her erudition, one of the rare and great women of learning. Her father, a king, wanted her to be married but she kept turning down suitors. One night she dreamed that Mary, holding Jesus, asked her if she wanted to be his bride. She said yes, but Jesus turned her down because she was not a Christian. She got baptized; that night Jesus, surrounded by angels and saints, put a wedding ring on her hand. When the Emperor Maxentius ordered all the Christians in Alexandria killed, Catherine went to him to argue for her faith. The Emperor made her debate fifty learned men, skilled orators; she won each debate and the fifty men were burned.
The Emperor wanted Catherine for his mistress and promised that her image would be worshipped everywhere if only she would make a sacrifice to the gods. She refused, for Jesus and her faith. The Emperor threw her into prison and she was terribly tortured. The Catherine wheel, an instrument of torture, was invented for the purpose of eviscerating and killing her; but an angel destroyed the wheel. Catherine was killed by decapitation.
St. Margaret was the patron saint of peasants and women in childbirth, the latter not because she had children but because she was swallowed by the devil in the form of a dragon, and her purity and resistance were so great that he had to spew her up again whole and unhurt. Viewed as someone miraculously reborn uninjured, she became a symbol of hope in the life-and-death agony of childbirth. Margaret's father was a pagan priest, but she was secretly baptized. She tended animals in the fields. The governor, Olybrius, saw her, wanted her, and had her brought to him. She refused him and declared her faith. She was imprisoned, flogged, and terribly tortured. In prison she was swallowed by the dragon; and when she triumphed over the dragon, the devil confronted her again, this time in the form of a sympathetic man who told her that she had suffered too much:
But she seized his hair, hurled him to the ground, and placing her foot on his head, exclaimed:
"Tremble, great enemy. You now lie under the foot of a woman."
She was burned, torches applied to various parts of her body, but she acted as though she felt no pain. She was killed by decapitation.
They were shown with swords because they had been decapitated, but the abridgement of the narrative into a martial image conveyed militance, not just martyrdom. Each faced what amounted to a state-waged war against her person: the whole power of the state -- military, physical, sadistic -- arrayed against her will and her resistance and the limits of a body fragile because human.
This goes beyond the timorous ambition of today: a woman fights off a rapist. Each of these women fought off a rapist who used the apparatus of the state -- prison and torture -- to destroy her as if she were an enemy nation.
Each refused the male appropriation of her body for sex, the right to which is a basic premise of male domination; each refused a man in whom male power and state power were united, a prototype for male power over women; and each viewed the integrity of her physical body as synonymous with the purity of her faith, her purpose, her self-determination, her honor. This was not a puerile virginity defined by fear or effeminacy.
This was a rebel virginity harmonious with the deepest values of resistance to any political despotism.
In her society, virginity was "an ideal wreathed in the finest poetry and exalted in beautiful Latin hymns and conventual chants." It was a common belief cited as fact by Church authorities with whom she came into contact that "God had revealed to virgins ... that which He had kept hidden from men." Instead for Joan -- and Catherine and Margaret -- virginity was an active element of self-determined integrity, an existential independence, affirmed in choice and faith from minute to minute; not a retreat from life but an active engagement with it; dangerous and confrontational because it repudiated rather than endorsed male power over women.
For all three women, virginity was "a passage, not a permanent condition," the precondition for a precocious, tragic passage to death. As rebellion, virginity amounted to a capital crime. No woman, however, had ever rebelled the way Joan of Arc, virgin, rebelled.
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