Dead Queens Discuss Modern Women’s Issues

What is the role of women in society? This is a hotly debated topic that no one seems able to reach a consensus on. Recently, BYU’s History Department thoughtfully resuscitated four dead queens to teach us more about the topic: Empress Cixi of the Ching Dynasty; Hurrem Sultan; Joan of Arc; and Martha Ballard, queen of colonial midwifery. For an hour on March 1, these women debated various questions surrounding women’s involvement in politics, the work force, and life in general. Like the Dead Presidents’ Debate of last fall, it was an engaging and humorous look at history and its bearing on matters of importance today.

Women in the Workforce

The moderator asked in what capacity should women be involved in the workforce? The queens agreed that females were essential. Martha, who, as we mentioned here, was an 18th century midwife who is primarily known from Laura Thatcher Ulrich’s Pulitzer-prize winning book A Midwife’s Tale, said that women had always worke,d while Joan declared women to be an “absolutely important economic force.” Hurrem had worked as her husband, Suleiman the Magnificent’s advisor, and Cixi, who ruled China on behalf of her son during the Qing Dynasty, termed herself “a professional politician.”

Women in Politics

Her proclamation perfectly segued into the moderator’s next query, which was: “What role should women play in politics?” On this question, the queens were divided. Both Hurrem and Joan supported the idea of females participating in politics. The latter said that women could be inspiring leaders, and Hurrem stated that women needed to be more involved.

Martha and Cixi, however, favored a more restrained role for females in politics. The midwife declared policy-making to be a man’s role and maintained that that was the natural order of things. Similar to this natural order was the “Mandate of Heaven” advocated for by Cixi. Even though lots of women are smarter than men, she said, women in politics violated the divine order. 

The Women’s March and whether not women’s involvement in politics was good or bad were the topics of the third question. As with the last query, the queens differed in their responses. Hurrem declared that while it was ok to protest officials, it was not ok to protest rulers. Cixi took this a step further by adding that “no one should have the right to demonstrate…Nobody should march- wrong.” She advocated that God appointed rulers, therefore, people should obey them. “You don’t have to think about it,” she said. “Just obey.” According to Martha, however, marching is a “good way for people to show support, not to protest.” Joan believed the opposite, saying that people need to “make their voices heard.”

Modern Women

 Next, the queens were asked if they thought modern women were better off than those in previous generations. Joan and Cixi asserted that they were, the former praising the fact that women could wear pants. Martha acknowledged that while modern times were better in terms of medical care, people spent too much time on their phones. “The old ways are the good ways.” Hurrem, however, pointed out the “big inequality in the world today,” of medical care.

Advice

Lastly, the queens were asked if they had any advice to women as they began their lives as BYU students. Joan admonished that it is “important to listen to what God wants you to do.” Hurrem said to overcome obstacles and that “you have to believe in yourself.” Martha encouraged women to keep journals, and Cixi offered sage advice: “Addiction is bad. Pursue your education.”

Hurrem, Martha, Cixi, and Joan debated many pertinent issues facing contemporary women. While they often disagreed, their varying answers provided perspective on the issues that could inform current students and modern women. All in all, the debate served as a fun way to learn more about women’s issues.

Each of the “queens” was interviewed by the professor in separate videos leading up to the debate, in parodies of Zach Galifianakis interview of Hillary Clinton: Joan of Arc here, Empress Dowager Cixi here, Hurrem Sultan here, and Martha Ballard here. We look forward to more fun history debates!

Did you attend the debate? What did you think?

Students Seek Advice From Dead Presidents and Dead Queens

You think the current political scene is bad? How about adding President’s Lincoln, Eisenhower, Roosevelt, and Jackson to the mix. That should make it better, right? If you were in attendance at the History Department’s Dead Presidents’ Debate on October 5th, then you already know the answer: It only makes things messier.

The Debate

The professors−Grant Madsen, Karen Auman, Matt Mason, and Rich Kimball−truly personified the presidents they were representing: Eisenhower, Lincoln, Jackson, and Roosevelt, respectively.  Jackson blustered and said racist remarks; Lincoln parried with him. Roosevelt, ever taciturn, offered smart insults to all. And Eisenhower beat the Nazi’s, which he made sure to tell us in nearly every comment he made.

Edward Stratford acted as moderator. When asked for the impetus behind the event, he answered, “We wanted to create this format to help students understand that the past is the primary dimension that informs our perception of the present.” Did it? Were the presidents able to help us better comprehend the present political debates?

The presidents were asked varying questions regarding Trump and Clinton: their strengths, immigration and economic policies, and whether or not Trump was validated in  having hurt feelings. There were varying responses to all, with little agreement- reminiscent of the current political debates (still ongoing even after Trump’s win). In the end though, were Roosevelt, Lincoln, Eisenhower, and Jackson able to accurately able to predict our modern political atmosphere? The answer is best seen through History Professor Christopher Jones’ tweet: “This ended up being a lot of fun. But it also helped emphasize just how foreign the past is.”

Dead Queens’ Debate dq2

Continuing in the tradition of the Dead Presidents’ Debate, the Dead Queens’ Debate will be held on March 1st at 7pm in the Varsity Theater. The event is being hosted by both the Women’s Studies and the History Department.  Dr. Ed Stratford, who will be playing Professor Stratalacactus, has overseen the resuscitation of four historical queens: Empress Dowager Cixi, (Ching Dynasty) Joan of Arc, Hurrem Sultan, (wife of Suleiman the Magnificent) and Martha Ballard, “‘queen’ of colonial midwifery.” They will be discussing modern problems facing women. Playing the queens will be Dr. Diana Duan, Dr. Christine Isom-Verhaaren, Dr. Sarah Loose, and Dr. Jenny Pulsipher respectively.

When asked what the purpose of the event was, Dr. Stratford replied: “What we are interested in doing is providing a forum where historical viewpoints on current issues can be presented in an engaging way… We hope anyone who attends (students, faculty, or anyone from the community) will enjoy a consideration of [women’s issues] by some figures from the past.”

queens-2
From left to right: Joan of Arc, Hurrem Sultan, Martha Ballard, and Empress Dowager Cixi

 The Queens

Joan of Arc was a young girl from France who, during the Hundred Year’s War, led an army and defeated the English many times, most notably at Orleans. Furthermore, she succeeded in having Charles the Seventh crowned king of France. Joan believed God had instructed her to do these things. Several hundred years after her capture and execution at the hands of the English, Joan was Sainted.

Originally a member of Suleiman the Magnificent’s harem, Hurrem Sultan eventually became his wife. She oversaw the construction of universities and mosques and promoted female education

Empress Dowager Cixi ruled China on behalf of her son during the Qing Dynasty. Dubbed The Dragon Lady remained a force in government in the face of endless court strife.

Martha Ballard was an 18th Century midwife from Maine who is primarily known from Laura Thather Ulrich’s Pulitzer Prize winning book, A Midwife’s Tale. Ballard kept a journal from 1785-1812 that “illuminates the medical practices, household economies, religious rivalries, and sexual mores of the New England frontier.”

Which Queen do You Want to Meet?