Saturday, July 13, 2013

191: The Self-Empowered Woman: Olympe de Gouges

Dear Followers,

It’s no secret that there’s a special place in my heart for the brave Self-Empowered Women who were born centuries ago. Today I’d like to introduce you to Olympe de Gouges, who was born in Southwestern France in 1748—I find her story of particular interest because she bravely argued for women’s rights, and (unfortunately) paid the ultimate price for doing so. Plus, it’s worth remembering that French women had to wait for the right to vote until (!) 1944, which is almost 200 years after de Gouges’ birth.

Although she was raised by a butcher and a mother who was the daughter of a cloth merchant, there was always speculation that Olympe was the illegitimate daughter of Jean-Jacques Lefranc (the Marquis de Pompignan) (1: No Paternal Safety Net). He, however, rejected her claim and many believe this was why she worked so hard on behalf of illegitimate children (2: An Early Sense of Direction).

Little is known of her childhood, but when she was 17 she “was married to” Louis Aubry, a caterer whom she didn’t really love, and they had a son, Pierre. When he died less than two years afterward (in 1770), she and her son moved to Paris, and she changed her name from Marie Gouze to Olympe de Gouges.

Three years later, she had a long relationship with a wealthy man (Jacques Bietrix de Rozieres), who was one of several men who supported—but never married—her (15: Forget About Prince Charming). Her putative biological father died in 1784, and that's when she began to write articles, essays and socially-conscious plays. During this time she began to move among the aristocracy and supposedly worked to lose her provincial accent. One of her notable works was “Zamore and Mirza,” which was an anti-slavery play that was so controversial it was renamed three times, and only performed on rare occasions (11: Risk Addiction).

She was a passionate advocate of human rights (7: Magnificent Obsession), and was an enthusiastic supporter of the French Revolution. But when “egalite” (equal rights) was not extended to women she was deeply disappointed. Even though the government would not listen to her, in 1791 she became a member of The Society of the Friends of Truth, which fought for equal political and legal rights for women. This is where de Gouges’ most famous controversial statement (“A woman has the right to mount the scaffold, so she must possess equally the right to mount the speaker’s platform”) originated (5: Life is Not a Popularity Contest).

Later that year she wrote and published “Declaration of the Rights of Women and the Female Citizen,” which was a 17-point manifesto that addressed her idea of gender equality. For example, the second “right” is “The purpose of all political associations is the preservation of the natural and imprescriptible rights of woman and man. These rights are liberty, property, security, and especially resistance to oppression.” This gender-inclusive call to action was an alarming stand for a woman of that era, especially one from the provinces (13: More Than Meets the Eye).

Her political activity seemed to anger both sides of French politics. Because she opposed Capital Punishment, she was against the execution of Louis XVI, but since the Republicans opposed any political participation by women they (like the Royalists) also loathed de Gouges. One critic even wrote that “She allowed herself to act and write about more than one affair that her weak head did not understand.”

By 1793, she was arrested, spent three months in jail, and without the help of an attorney she tried to represent herself (12: Hard Times). She was sentenced to death on November 2nd 1793, and guillotined on the next day. More recently, in March 2004, the junction of Rues Beranger, Charlot, Turenne and Franche-Comte in Paris’ Third Arrondissement was proclaimed "Place Olympe de Gouges" (8: Turning No Into Yes).

Looking forward to your comments…

Thursday, July 4, 2013

190: The Self-Empowered Woman: Rachel Barton Pine

Dear Followers,

Today I'd like to introduce you to an amazing American musician, who has had more than her share of challenges, but has survived them beautifully. Rachel Barton Pine was born on October 11th, 1974 in Chicago. When she was only three years old she heard a group of older girls (who were dressed "in beautiful dresses") play violin when she and her family were at church (3: Belief In The Unbelievable). She loved the music so much that she asked her parents if she could have lessons.

Her family didn't have much money, and they were sure that her infatuation with the violin would end by the time she started kindergarten, so they rented a violin for her, and found a local teacher for her lessons. Instead of losing interest, when she was five years old she began signing her name "Rachel Violinist" (2: An Early Sense Of Direction).

As a child, she would arrange stuffed animals on the sofa, and then stand on top of the coffee table to pretend it was a stage. She would bow and then play (9: Music) for her "audience," so she never suffered from stage fright even though she was such a young performer.

By the time she was seven, she debuted with the Chicago String Ensemble, and by ten she had performed with the Civic Orchestra of Chicago, which is the training arm of the Chicago Symphony. While most of her peers were in junior high school, she was receiving the equivalent of a graduate-level education. When she was 14, she was named concertmaster. Because she was homeschooled, by the time she was eleven years old, Pine was able to practice as much as eight hours a day (10: The Critic Within).

Her parents later divorced, but when she was a child her father had trouble holding down a job, so (as an adolescent) Rachel actually became the major breadwinner for the family. She took jobs playing at weddings and orchestras to earn money, and said "I put on a lot of makeup and pretended I was older then I was. I was responsible for the mortgage, the utilities, the groceries...there was so much pressure growing up like that" (1: No Paternal Safety Net). In spite of those challenges, at 17 she was the youngest violinist and first American to win a gold medal at the Johann Sebastian Bach International Competition in Leipzig, Germany (13: More Than Meets The Eye). 

When she was 20, and her career was just beginning to really take off, she was severely injured in a train accident in the Chicago suburb of Winnetka, where she taught violin lessons. As she was leaving the commuter train with her violin case over her shoulder, the door closed on the strap of her case, which pinned her left shoulder to the train. She was dragged 366 feet by the train, before she was pulled underneath and run over. One leg was severed and her right foot was mangled. When the train finally stopped passengers rushed to apply tourniquets, which saved her life (12: Hard Times).

After a number of operations, she was able to leave the wheelchair behind, and walk with a prosthetic leg; fortunately, her upper body was not hurt in the accident. Only two years after being injured, she began touring with the help of her mother (8: Turning No Into Yes). She is now married to Greg Pine, a former minor league pitcher she met at church, and he travels with her for her performances, and manages his computer business when they are on the road. 

In the music world, Pine is known for her amazing versatility. She has played with rock bands, and even performed her own arrangement of Metallica's "Master of Puppets." She is admired for incorporating orchestral versions of rock music into her coaching sessions with chamber music groups and youth orchestras.

In 2001, she started the Rachel Elizabeth Barton Foundation to help deserving young musicians as well as promote the study and appreciation of classical music, including string music by black composers. It provides grants, loans and scholarships to help cover everything from sheet music to instrument repair, travel expenses and supplemental lessons for musicians between the ages of 10 and 30. Awards are given on the basis of great musical talent and accomplishment, artistic aspirations, and serious financial need (7: Magnificent Obsession).

In stark contrast to her orchestral and heavy metal leanings, her latest album "Violin Lullabies" features work by a wide range of both well-known and obscure composers. Ms. Pine researched the unusual collection of lullabies around the world and on the Internet. The album was inspired by the birth of her daughter, Sylvia, in September 2011 (16: Intensive Motherhood).

Looking forward to your comments...