Addressing women in history with a unique perspective and a bit of flair!
History textbooks haven’t changed in at least thirty years. Imagine the author’s disappointment when she realized her children were learning the same misinformation she did in K-12. Where the fuck were the women who refused to conform? Who refused to live under a man’s boot? The villains? The criminals? Did they not exist?
A handful of badass women are mentioned, usually in passing, in mainstream history books as a sort of appeasement for the feminist crowd—Sojourner Truth, Harriet Tubman, Cleopatra, Catherine the Great, et cetera, et cetera—but the author, a feminist, was not appeased. Or amused.
You won’t recognize many of the names here, if any, but there are some familiar names who merit a more honest accounting than they’ve been given. These are women who broke the law; who committed murder; who stole; who got a bad rap; who defied convention; who were so fucking fierce in their own time that contemporary historians exaggerated their villainy.
You ought to meet these badass—and sometimes really fucking scary—bitches. Some will make you cheer; some will make you laugh; and some will make you say, “Holy fuck! I hope that bitch is burning in Hell!”
The book’s title and its sardonic disclaimer at the beginning caught my interest. I started off by laughing at most things C.H. Burford had written because I thought it was quite a refreshing take on historical infamous figures.
I quite liked the gritty, sarcastic, edgy treatment Burford has given them. She seems to have worked hard in terms of the sheer volume of in-depth research that has gone into the book.
I believe that women, whether their contributions are positive or negative, are an integral part of history. They should not be confined to just bare mentions or be portrayed as sidekicks or supporting actors. They also need not be painted as virtuous or villainous to suit the so-called normal/moral standards of society.
However, my enthusiasm started waning as I reached about a quarter of the book. Repetitive swear words, asides, and descriptions made the writing predictable.
Profanity: I don’t use swear words but I am no prude. I am interested in etymology, and I respect all words because all of them were coined for some purpose and used so. I found the use of most swear words in the book purposeless.
Characters: In all anthologies, I look for the basic theme. Burford says: “So here I´ve gathered for you a collection of women who most of the world don’t know existed. (…) These are women who broke the law, who committed murder, who stole, who got a bad rap, who defied convention, who were so fucking fierce in their own time that contemporary historians exaggerated their villainy. I think you ought to meet these badass – and sometimes really fucking scary – bitches.”
Again, I am all for highlighting the feats of strong, fierce women but after a while, I started wondering whether she wanted to show that women can be as cruel/violent/terrifying as men or more so!
Asides and strange descriptions: I could overlook even the swear words but the asides – the frequent explanations or descriptions in parentheses – were unbearable. Were they meant to be funny, snarky, or cheeky? They were so irritating!
To sum up, this book is a missed opportunity. Had Burford excluded the profanity and the asides, it could have been an excellent reference book.
BookSirens provided me with an advanced review copy in exchange for an honest review.