Posted By Claire on April 16, 2015
Before I launch into my review, I feel that I need to say that I’ve got to know the author of this book, Kyra Cornelius Kramer, really well over the past few years and I liked her writing style so much that I asked her to be a regular contributor to Tudor Life magazine. There, full disclosure! Having said that, I’m honest with my reviews.
I took The Jezebel Effect: Why the Slut Shaming of Famous Queens Still Matters on holiday with me recently to read on the plane. As someone who spends my time writing about Tudor history, I was particularly interested in the sections on Anne Boleyn, Mary Boleyn and Catherine Howard and thought I might just speed read or skim over the sections on women who didn’t appeal to me in the same way. Well, my plan to speed read didn’t quite work out. Kyra’s accounts of these women, her explanation of historical propaganda that is still effecting how we perceive these women today, and her reference to modern cases of ‘slut-shaming’ and the damage it has done – even leading to young girls committing suicide – drew me in and before I knew it I was reading every word.
Kyra is an academic and an anthropologist, but although her writing is academic in that it is well-researched and referenced, it is far from dry. It could be a heavy subject and there are some heart-rending modern stories in the book, but Kyra’s little sarcastic asides inject some humour into the book and I loved that.
Her section on Anne Boleyn was excellent. I’m always thinking that Anne was ‘damned if she did and damned if she didn’t’ regarding her relationship with Henry VIII. I quite often receive comments on my blog and Facebook page calling Anne a whore and home wrecker, or, on the other hand, a woman who manipulated Henry by holding out on him. Kyra writes:
“On one hand, Anne Boleyn was a nasty vamp if she had sex with the men who wanted her. On the other hand, Anne Boleyn was a cold-hearted prick tease and manipulator if she didn’t have sex with the men she charmed. Simply by being desired, Anne is placed in a no-win situation. Men desired Anne Boleyn but could not have her and she has been punished for it ever since.”
“Exactly!”, I almost cried out on the plane.
Kyra goes on to talk about how even Anne’s failure to reply to Henry VIII’s love letters to her has been seen by some historians as a ploy to “increase his ardour” because Anne knew that Henry just couldn’t give her up. Face palm, head bang… Couldn’t Anne have just been trying to show Henry she wasn’t interested?
As I read this book I felt a solidarity with Kyra, I felt that we were both doing face-palms at the same time with how these women’s actions (or lack of action) have been interpreted.
Anne Boleyn is, of course, not the only woman to be looked at in this book. Kyra also examines the stories and treatment of Jezebel, Cleopatra, Mary Boleyn, Catherine Howard and Catherine the Great, along with examples of how women are still slut-shamed by society today. It is a provocative book. It makes you question what you were taught in history classes, it makes you think about how your children are being educated and the mixed messages that society gives them, it makes you want to get on your soap box!
I thoroughly enjoyed the book. I found myself nodding as I read it, getting angry about the treatment of these women and girls, and reading parts out to my husband. It made me interact with it and it made impression on me, and that’s the sign of a very good book in my opinion.
Have you heard that Catherine the Great died having sex with her horse? Or perhaps you prefer the story that Anne Boleyn had six fingers and slept with her brother? Or that Katheryn Howard slept with so many members of the Tudor court that they couldn’t keep track of them all? As juicy and titillating as the tales might be, they are all, patently untrue.
Modern PR firms may claim that no publicity is bad publicity, but that, too, is untrue. The fact that Cleopatra is better known for her seductions than her statecraft, and that Jezebel is remembered as a painted trollop rather than a faithful wife and religiously devout queen, isn’t a way for historians to keep these interesting women in the public eye, rather it’s a subversion of their power, a re-writing of history to belittle and shame these powerful figures, preventing them from becoming icons of feminine strength and capability.
Slut shaming has its roots in our earliest history, but it continues to flourish in our supposedly post-feminist, equal-rights world. It is used to punish women for transgressions against gender norms, threatening the security of their place in society and warning that they’d better be “good girls” and not rock the patriarchal boat, or they, too could end up with people believing they’ve slept with everything from farm animals to relatives.
This is The Jezebel Effect.
Paperback: 412 pages
Publisher: CreateSpace Independent Publishing Platform (March 12, 2015)
Kindle ASIN: B00U2NXG6K
Kindle File size: 2886 KB
Available from Amazon.com, Amazon UK and other book retailers.