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Blogging Kalamazoo Session 504: Joan the Woman

Sunday, May 12, 2019 - 06:51

Sunday 8:30

[I picked this session because it ties in with some material I’ve been looking at on Jeanne d’Arc and gender identity, and because she was on my mind from the trail materials I mentioned in my own paper on cross-dressing.]

Sponsor: International Joan of Arc Society/Société Internationale de l’étude de Jeanne d’Arc

The Redhead and the Widow: Gender Models and Modifications in Joan of Arc’s Two Trials

Tara B. Smithson, Manchester Univ.

Using the lens of a film on the subject, the paper focuses on how Joan was “rehabilitated” in the posthumous second trial, and especially how the content of that rehabilitation framed her as a gendered being, in relation to two women: her mother, and the owner of a boarding house at which Jeanne stayed. The speaker views Jeanne as a queer figure, using the definition of David Halperin as someone disruptive to the social norms. The figure of the “virgin” as Jeanne was framed, is prototypically a young, white, heterosexual, able-bodied figure. Virginity can be viewed positively at one age/life stage and negatively at others. Jeanne’s very first trial was not relating to her military activities but relating to a broken engagement, a context in which she rejected default life scripts. The “pucelle” was not simply a virgin but a specific life stage, roughly from 8-18. This term was more commonly used in her rehabilitation trial, and not the trial that condemned her. That original trial worked to undermine her as a gendered being, or focusing on negative aspects of womanhood such as accusations of witchcraft. [Key passages in the paper are being given in untranslated French.] Something about how the broken engagement was due to Jeanne’s lodging at the boarding house in a suspect age/context? In the main trial, Jeanne is depicted as alone and estranged from her family, while the rehabilitation trial reintegrates her within her family and envisions her possible life within a normative female paradigm. The rehabilitation also frames her as an innocent virgin in need of the church’s protection, needing to be also reintegrated into the family of the church. There is now a digression about the current case of Caster Semenya and how institutions define and regulation female identity.

Profaning the Pucelle: Voltaire Comments on the Body Politic

Stephanie L. Coker, Univ. of North Alabama

The author’s background is largely on modern pop cultural  and dramatic adaptations of Jeanne d’Arc’s story. Topic is a mock-epic poem by Voltaire on Jeanne’s life, asserted to be the only humorous treatment of the subject, considered by some to be unacceptably so. Later editions may have incorporated additional even more scandalous material that Voltaire disowned. This paper examines the work as a political comment on French affairs, rather than a personal attack on Jeanne herself. Voltaire had a pattern of iconoclasm into which this work fits. The satire revolves strongly around challenging the idea of Jeanne’s virginity and purity, thereby undermining her right to be the redeemer of France, but the author suggests that Voltaire is instead using Jeanne to stand for a sullied and degraded ideal of France. But to do this he raises doubt about Jeanne’s virginity and morality. A discussion of the chronology of terms used in French for young women and virgins (pucelle > demoiselle > vierge). “Pucelle” is not simply a virgin but a young woman on the edge of adulthood. In Jeanne’s day “vierge” was sometimes added to it to emphasize a virgin state. Was Voltaire’s work anti-nationalist and anti-religion? Or simply anti- the current instances of those concepts in his day?

Not As Advertised: The Ringling Bros. Joan of Arc Spectacle

Scott Manning, Independent Scholar

A circus spectacular in 1912 took Joan as it subject and may have been a major vehicle for popular images of her in the American imagination. [ So what version of Joan’s story did this spectacle tell? The primary emphasis was on the size and elaborateness of the spectacle itself. A secondary emphasis was on the inspirational nature of Joan’s story, emphasizing both Joan’s humble origins contrasted with her accomplishments. At a far third, there was an intent to educate about the historic facts of Joan’s life. The spectacle lasted 30-45 minutes (depending on sources). The posters advertised 1100 participants, but eyewitnesses, surviving cast photos, and cast lists suggest a more realistic number would be around 250. The structure was: Part 1: Joan goes to meet Baudricourt; Part 2: the court of the Dauphin with a joust and Joan’s recognition of the Dauphin; Part 3: the coronation of Charles; Part 4: a tableau of King Charles and Joan eating dinner. As might be seen, this sequence does not provide any clear idea of the historic events. Joan is presented as a “sweet, simple, poor peasant girl” and the violent and depressing aspects of her stories were carefully avoided.

The Patron Saint of Dysphoria: Joan of Arc as Transgender

M. W. Bychowski, Case Western Reserve Univ.

The question of Joan of Arc’s transgender identity is used today to disparage the concept of transgender figures in the middle ages, as well as being treated as a symbol of transgender understandings as an attack of “white womanhood”. The paper looks at the question more sincerely from a historic viewpoint and a transgender lens. Initially the paper looks at the contemporary political context and the idea of a “patron” as contrasted with interpreting Joan as personally transgender. The paper moves on to understanding how a medieval concept equivalent to transphobia was certainly a major motivating force behind Joan’s conviction and death. Joan is seen as a patron or icon for many different groups, but especially for women in non-traditional gender roles. People who identify with her in this context may feel a personal stake in Joan’s female identity and resist considering her in a transgender context lest they “lose” her as an identifying figure. And yet, patron saints are often patrons for a wide diversity of groups and activities without personally instantiating those identities (as with Saint Nicholas being patron of a variety of occupations). Saint Marinus is another saint identified as a patronage figure for trans-masculine people. Joan represents trans-masculinity in a variety of ways, including crossing gender boundaries due to the gender coding of specific occupations, such as the military. But Joan’s testimony and circumstances reflect concepts that fit well into modern concepts of gender dysphoria. A discussion of how the current definitions of gender dysphoria focuses on a mismatch between personal and societal expectations, not as purely an internal conflict. So, for example, the continuing conflict over Joan’s gendered clothing during her trial fits well into this understanding of dysphoria. Similarly the gendering of concepts such as “virgin” and “knight” create a context for gender dysphoria in the conflict over Joan’s activities. Within this context, the question “is Joan an appropriate patron for those experiencing gender dysphoria?” is entirely separate from the question “could Joan be understood as a trans man?”

[I found this paper quite interesting as it intersected the question of the discourse around Joan and clothing gender in my own presentation.]

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