The Jezebel Effect: Why the Slut Shaming of Famous Queens Still Matters


[Note: This is a guest post by Kyra Cornelius Kramer about her new book, The Jezebel Effect: Why the Slut Shaming of Famous Queens Still Matters.]




  When someone mentions Jezebel, what are they usually talking about? I’ll bet you little green apples to emeralds that they aren’t discussing the fact she was a powerful Phoenician princess and diplomat who opened up ancient Israel to Mediterranean trade. Nope, she is remembered as a makeup wearing harlot who married King Ahab, a woman so naughty even her very name became synonymous with “slut.”  

She is far from the only strong female ruler remembered more for bogus slanders than for real accomplishments. When people think of Cleopatra, most remember her for asses’ milk baths and seduction, not the fact she offered refuge in Alexandria to the Jewish peoples fleeing Roman oppression. When the topic of Catherine the Great comes up, people are more likely to remember the falsehood that she died during sex with a horse than the fact that she was the first ruler to coax her populace into being inoculated against smallpox, saving thousands upon thousands of lives. Henry VIII’s second wife, Anne Boleyn, is unfairly and erroneously remembered as a homewrecker, not a woman who was relentlessly pursued by the king and had little choice but to eventually agree to marry him. Henry VIII’s fifth queen, the young and vivacious Katheryn Howard, is remembered as a dimwit who couldn’t keep her skirts down, not as a victim of a Renaissance honor killing. None of these women are remembered for facts -- they are immortalized as evil feminist snakes in the patriarchal paradise.  

The Jezebel Effect: Why the Slut Shaming of Famous Queens Still Matters exposes the lies about these female rulers, and tries to drive away the dark myths surrounding them with the light of historical truth. The book points out that Jezebel was a grandmother whose son and grandson were just murdered by the man who ordered her thrown out a window to her death; he had a vested interest in tarnishing her memory. Cleopatra was a queen fighting for her nation, and she held off Roman imperialism using every means at her disposal, including using her body as a way to seal peace treaties. Catherine the Great was a despot, but an Enlightened one determined to bring education and roads and hospitals to a country sorely lagging behind the rest of Europe. Anne Boleyn was a woman forced to wed her stalker, and she was the driving force behind the English language Bible. This queen’s biggest sin was actually to be stronger and smarter than most of the men around her. As for her cousin, Katheryn Howard, this young woman was murdered for the iniquitous crime of having slept with one man -- her long term boyfriend -- before she caught King Henry VIII’s eye.  

Why are these women remembered as trollops rather than troopers? Why are their accomplishments and victories elided, and their deaths celebrated? Why is their sex life fictionalized or exaggerated and used to slut shame them?  

These famous queens aren’t called sluts because they were promiscuous -- only two of them could even boast serial monogamy, let alone promiscuity. The only one of these rulers to have multiple lovers was Empress Catherine, and even then she was romantically involved with only one man at a time, often for a duration of several years. No, these queens aren’t called sluts because of who they did -- they are called sluts for whatthey did. Like all forms of slut shaming, it has very little to do with a woman’s actual sex life. Boss queens were not slut shamed because they had sex with men; they were slut shamed because they behaved like men. They had power and autonomy and changed their sociocultural environment. That’s the true crime for which they are have been historically slut shamed as punishment. Slut shaming is just the means to the end of disempowering these rulers.  

The Jezebel Effect isn’t just about correcting historical misconceptions and exposing the lies about some of history’s most dynamic female leaders, although that is certainly a worthy goal. It is also about the larger issue of gender ideologies and slut shaming as a whole. One of the ways that cultural norms about gender, the understanding of the “way people should be,” is transmitted and solidified in the public mind is by official history. A shared understanding and belief in history is a key part of the construction of social identity. What cultural message does it send when the strongest women in history are almost always portrayed and rewritten as sluts? Gender ideology is often implicit, and the way history depicts women is one of the major ways of culturally messaging how women SHOULD behave.  

Moreover, The Jezebel Effect attempts to show how historical slut shaming is used to replicate slut shaming in the modern era. Don’t think there is a connection between Anne Boleyn and GamerGate in 2014? Ah, let me sing you a song that says otherwise! In The Jezebel Effect, I have attempted to spell out the link between slut-shamed queens and the sociobiological arguments of gendered stereotypes, discrediting women, the glass ceiling, and rape culture. From Shirley Temple to Wikileaks, I try to reveal the way the cultural tapestry is woven, so every woman can see the hidden picture in the fabric. Strong women are slut shamed, then as now, for the audacity of being strong, rather than anything they actually do with their bodies.  

That’s what I want more people to know. That’s why I wrote the book.  


About the Author:

Kyra Cornelius Kramer has degrees in biology and anthropology from the University of Kentucky, and a graduate degree in medical anthropology from Southern Methodist University. She has been published in several peer reviewed journals, including The Historical Journal (Cambridge) and the Journal of Popular Romance Studies. Her first book, Blood Will Tell: A Medical Explanation for the Tyranny of Henry VIII, was a #1 best-seller on Amazon. She is an American living in Wales with her husband, three daughters, and several yappy wee rescue dogs. You can read her blog at kyrackramer.com, keep up with her on her Facebook author page, or follow her on Twitter @KyraKramer. Her book, The Jezebel Effect: Why the Slut Shaming of Famous Queens Still Matters, is available on Amazon.      



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