Scandalous Women / Elizabeth Kerri Mahon

Scandalous Women might be the first non-fiction blog-to-book project I’ve read. I grabbed this at a fundraising table at WisCon in May. It’s a series of short biographies of scandalous women throughout history. Elizabeth Kerri Mahon notes in her introduction that most This Day In History bits cover men predominantly. Her stated goal with the blog and book is to reclaim history, one woman at a time. All the included women caused a scandal, a commotion, they bumped up against the status quo.

Cover of Scandalous Women

The obvious thing about a patriarchal society is that pretty much any woman who did anything before recent times was bound to piss people off and cause a commotion. There are a lot of women who could be included. Scandalous Women has seven sections, each with five biographies: Warrior Queens, Wayward Wives, Scintillating Seductresses, Crusading Ladies, Wild Women of the West, Amorous Artists, and Amazing Adventuresses. Some of the women highlighted are Joan of Arc, Mary Wollstonecraft, Carry Nation, Josephine Baker, and Amelia Earhart.

What struck me most was how many women were scandalous primarily because of who they slept with. For a long time there weren’t a lot of ways for a woman to become well known enough to be recorded in history at all except by who she slept with. Thankfully, most of Ms. Moon’s examples that fall into this category weren’t scandalous just because of who they boinked. Barbara Palmer, for instance, wielded her status to become very influential. Story-wise the sleep your way to the top focus was repetitive.

That’s not to say all or even most of the biographies classify that way. My favorites were Joan of Arc and Amelia Earhart. Joan of Arc for her drive and the complete lack of sex in her story as well as for her meteoric rise from nothing and fall. Amelia Earhart because of her boldness. According to the author, she wasn’t a great pilot. She pushed herself in spite of her lack of virtuosity. That story celebrates what she did, not that she disappeared.

The only criticism I have is how Western focused the book is. There’s a little that’s covered that happened outside the sphere of the West. Cleopatra was based in Africa. Anna Leonowens achieved fame for her time in Thailand. Josephine Baker was of African descent. A few other bits and pieces as well. That doesn’t make this a bad book, but it is a large group that simply isn’t covered at all.

A quick glance at the Scandalous Women blog shows it’s still active.

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