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The Queen of My Self

 
Women’s Power – Part 3
By Max Dashu

Female mavericks were also active in the arts and sciences. The renegade nun Okuni originated the Kabuki theater, from which women were soon banned. In Moorish Spain, the poet Walladah bint-al-Mustakfi rejected the veil and marriage, preferring to host intellectual salons and take female as well as male lovers. Around 975, her counterpart Aisa bint Ahmad declined a proposal by a poet she disliked with a defiant stance: “I am a lioness/ And will never consent to let/ My body be the stopping place for anyone/ But should I choose that/ I would not hearken to a dog/ And how many lions have I turned down.”

The most courageous women challenged oppression. The famous Swahili singer Siti Binti Saad rose from the oppressed classes using taarabu music to call for social justice in what is now Tanzania. She protested class oppression and men’s abuse of women; her song “The police have stopped” sharply criticized a judge who let a rich wife-murderer go free. She seemed unafraid even of the sultan. The battle leadership of a Pawnee elder saved a village from atttackers, and so she was named “Old Lady Grieves the Enemy.” Afterward, she taunted wife-beaters, telling them to go after the Poncas who came to burn up the village, and leave the women, who do no harm, alone.

Women warriors appear in many historical accounts, fighting to defend themselves, their homes, their people and their country. However, although it is hard for many people today to conceive of such broad female authority, in some societies women had the formal power to veto the decision to go to war. The Cherokee Beloved Woman, in her capacity of representing the women at the men’s council, possessed this authority, and so did the Gantowisas (Matrons) of the Six Nations (Iroquois). It was the women who supplied warriors with dried food and other necessities, and they suffered the consequences of war as well.

There was a saying, “Before the men can go to war, the women must make their moccasins.” (See Moccasin Makers and War Breakers, A Call to Action by the Women of the World by Kahn-Tineta Horn, Kahente Horn-Miller, and other Mohawk women)

The Lisu people of Yunnan (southwest China) once had a tradition that fighting had to stop if a woman of either side waved her skirt to call for an armistice. Often this would be a highly-regarded elder. The skirt, imbued with the woman’s mana, symbolized the life-giver’s power. A woman taking off her outer skirt was also the signal for war or peace in the Pacific island Vanatinai, where women were also the traditional protectors of prisoners of war.

Copyright 2000 Max Dashu        

* Please send me your thoughts about power. Also stories of your own empowerment. When shared, these ideas and examples are extremely inspiring to others. Thanks.

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