International Women’s Day: Catherine of Aragon

For me, Catherine of Aragon was the strongest of Henry VIII’s wives. Probably even as strong as Elizabeth I – the daughter of Henry’s second wife, Anne Boleyn.

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Born on 16 December 1485, and daughter to Isabella of Castile and Ferdinand of Aragon, she was given an education almost as strong as her brother’s, and we all know that knowledge is power.

She was originally married to Henry the VIII’s older brother Arthur, having been betrothed at the age of three. But their marriage was short-lived as Arthur died soon after at the young age of 16. She was then married to Henry VIII to keep the allegiance between her home country and Henry’s.

Why does she deserve a blog post for International Women’s Day? Because she was quite an interesting and strong character.

When she first came to Britain she couldn’t speak English. Gradually, her Spanish maids-in-waiting were taken from her, and replaced with English women. In essence, she was expected to forget who she was, to become fully English as the future Queen of England. Despite her homesickness, she endeavoured to learn English – which she barely spoke a word of on her arrival – and to win the hearts of the English public.

Even on her wedding day to Arthur, she defied public expectation by showing her Spanish heritage through riding into London side-saddle on a mule. Despite this, she soon won the public’s heart. So much so that when Henry VIII demanded a divorce from her years later, it was to great public disapproval. And the public continued to support her, during Henry’s long drawn-out attempts to claim a divorce from the Pope, making it an international spectacle, and probably the most public divorce you could ask for. All the more humiliating for Catherine, who was now known as the Queen who couldn’t produce a male heir (and who was no longer attractive to the king).

Even though she fought hard against the divorce, in the end she could do little more than sit back and watch as her royal status was slowly taken from her – her home, her waiting staff, her title, and even her daughter Mary. All the while she knew that once upon a time, she had stood in for Henry when he went to war in France in 1513, when he appointed her Regent or Governor of England. In his absence, she had even rode North in full armour, to defend England against the Scots, and was even heavily pregnant at the time. Of course, her daughter Mary never forgot her mother’s integrity, especially that of her religious integrity, and eventually became known as Bloody Mary.

For more information, read David Starkey’s Six Wives: The Queens of Henry VIII.

International Women’s Day: Melanie Klein

I asked my sister which women or female figures have influenced her in life. She said it’s difficult – most of the people who influenced her through her teenage years, and even now, have been men. But there were a few exceptions – Alanis Morissette, Anne Frank, Judy Blume, Joni Mitchell and Melanie Klein.

Who the frack is Melanie Klein?

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Most people have heard of Sigmund Freud, many have heard of Carl Jung, and some will now perhaps recognise Sabina Spielrein as an early, yet somewhat overlooked, psychoanalytic theorist as a result of the film A Dangerous Method. Much of Spielrein’s theories had been forgotten or hidden until the 1970s – even now she is more famous for her possible affair with Carl Jung, not her work which was on a par with her male contemporaries.

In fact it was some of Spielrein’s work, primarily on child development, that influenced Klein when she witnessed a talk given by Spielrein at the Psychoanalytic Congress in 1920.

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Melanie Klein (30 March 1882 – 22 September 1960) was a post-Freudian psychoanalyst. She was born in Vienna to Jewish parents, and became influenced by psychoanalytic therapy during the First World War in Budapest. After receiving little support in Berlin for her work in the field, she was invited by British neurologist and psychoanalyst Ernest Jones to work in Britain in 1926. She was a strong follower of Freud, who with Ernest Jones’ help, also moved to Britain in 1938 with his family to escape Nazi persecution.

Klein was the first person to apply psychoanalytic therapy to children, using Freud’s theories on the stages of childhood development, as a basis for her own – such as the object relations theory. She is probably best known for her therapeutic technique of play therapy. But this is where the British Psychoanalytic field divided, as although Klein believed that children could be psychoanalysed, Anna Freud – Sigmund Freud’s daughter – thought the opposite.

She stood out in society. Though she was a woman who was divorced with children, and worked in a field of men, she had an immense impact on psychology and psychotherapy – with play therapy still widely applied today.

International Women’s Day: Sarah Waters

“Have you ever tasted a Whitstable oyster? If you have, you will remember it…”

It was these words that I thought of as I ate my first oyster at the Whitstable Oyster Festival back in July 2012. I’m not actually sure it was a native Whitstable oyster after all, but it tasted very nice. Not sure why it took me so long to try my first raw oyster (having grown up in this Kentish coastal town), but I’ll definitely be having more.

These words are the opening phrase of Tipping the Velvet by Sarah Waters, probably my favourite book in the world.

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I first read it a few years ago, on recommendation of my sister. Of course I was aware of the TV adaptation, which was famous for its saucy lesbian sex scenes – as most people found out when they watched it with their parents.

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But in fact, the most intriguing aspect for me was this old portrayal of Whitstable – where I’d been born and raised – and the tale of a young woman moving to London in search of adventure, as so many of us from that town have done (though many have now moved back). And it’s so much more than that, because of its Victorian setting. It’s a sense of adventure as well for those of us born today, because of the attention to detail Waters describes in this Victorian world.

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Sarah Waters is probably the most strongest writer I’ve ever read, and an outright feminist and lesbian as well. I attended a talk where she spoke about her work and met her afterwards; what was so inspiring about her for me, is that she studied in Canterbury and lived in Whitstable, she writes historical fiction, and she writes it well – so well, that she has effectively re-created this part of the lesbian and gay fiction genre.

International Women’s Day: A Taste of Honey

Yes it’s that time of year – International Women’s Day on the 8th of March.

And why does it exist?

Well, because all the other days of the year are men’s days and we need a chance for all the men in the world to say “Well done, dear” for achieving…something.

Ho ho ho – only kidding! Of course that’s not the reason. No, this day is generally used to raise international awareness of campaigns regarding violence and oppression towards women. It started out back in the early 1900s following a women’s march through New York, demanding better working conditions, pay, and the vote.

Since then, it has been annually recognised. I have therefore decided that for the next 7 days, I will write about  women in history who have influenced me throughout my life (which is difficult – I’ve had to dig through the many male historical figures and the token few Joan of Arcs and Florence Nightingales that too readily spring to mind and remind myself of the women that influenced me) every day for the next 7 days…beginning with:

A TASTE OF HONEY

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This duo were a disco band in the 1970s. Why do they make it onto their own blog post? Back in the 70s, (and even the case today, as I have personally experienced) women were not taken seriously by the music industry or the general public as real musicians. Women sang songs written by other people, played by other people and generally did what other people told them. The other people were mainly men. Janice-Marie Johnson and Hazel Payne bucked the trend.

They played alongside drummer Donald Ray Johnson and keyboard-player Perry Kibble, yet they not only fronted the band but also played a collection of instruments and wrote the music. It was their song Boogie Oogie Oogie that sent them to the bigtime – staying at No 1 for three weeks in 1978, and selling more than two million copies. This song impressed me – as a bassist, it taught me that a bassist could be female, funky, lead a band, and sing at the same time. And all in heels. Even today, it still inspires me. Just see for yourself…