The Political Androgyne

  • Marian Rothstein


Compendia of the lives of famous women include numbers of women who led active and independent lives and often did so by acting as functional males. Many of those cases involved cross-dressing, as well as other behaviors that went beyond the limits generally applicable to women. While these short biographical sketches profitably float between fact and fiction, the same kinds of gender shifts can be documented among indisputably real historical women, although the modes by which they were enacted may be subtler, as befits women who intend to wield political power effectively over time. The focus in this chapter, then, is on the application of functional gender by real women interacting in the real world. The ways in which they made claim to the plenitude of the androgyne are astonishingly diverse. Here we will focus on four examples spaced over the course of six decades or so: Anne de Bretagne, Marguerite de Navarre, Catherine de Médicis, and Jeanne d’Albret. Each sought to establish or assert her power and did so by engaging in behaviors functionally gendered male or by appealing to the plenitude implied by the marital androgyne. In either case, the exercise of power was colored by words and deeds proclaiming each woman, as it were, a complete human, exploiting the possibilities inherent in one or the other or both biblical androgynes. In all these cases, the choice of behavior carried with it the assumption that it would be properly received by a broad spectrum of the contemporary public to which it appealed. The four sections of this chapter show queens and their advisors applying the ideas explored in preceding chapters to promote and preserve their own political power. Each queen’s means and aims were quite different, so each will be examined in turn in a chapter that cumulatively outlines the flexibility, diversity, and ultimate utility of the political androgyne for women in power.


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© Marian Rothstein 2015

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