[GUEST POST] Tansy Rayner Roberts on “Cranky Ladies”


Tansy Rayner Roberts is a fantasy author who lives in Tasmania. She is one of the three voices of the Hugo-nominated Galactic Suburbia podcast. She also writes crime fiction as Livia Day. In 2013, she won the Hugo Award for Best Fan Writer. Her latest project is the Cranky Ladies of History anthology. You can follow Tansy on Twitter as @tansyrr.

Let’s Talk About Cranky Ladies

by Tansy Rayner Roberts

Late in 2013, Australian writer and editor Liz Barr blogged about Tsaritsa Sophia Alekseyevna of Russia, dubbing her one of history’s great “cranky ladies”. This inspired Tehani Wessely of FableCroft Publishing to start planning an extravaganza of an anthology about those women who bucked the trends of their time and took on cultural norms to challenge society’s rules and ideas about how women should behave.

This anthology, Cranky Ladies of History, is crowdfunding right now. Check out our Pozible page and prepare to get excited about our book as well as some really cool rewards.

Tehani called me in as co-editor for a couple of reasons. The first is that I specialised in this topic academically – my PhD thesis was on the public image of Roman imperial women, who are infamous for their ambition, their saucy behaviour, and their tendency to poison other members of their family. (They all had great hair, though)

The second reason is that I have spent an awful lot of energy over the last few years railing against the assumptions that people make about gender issues in history, fantasy and well, real life, too. In particular, my essay “Historically Authentic Sexism: Let’s Unpack that” is probably the thing I am best known for on the internet.

History is important, because it’s still happening. We decide, here and how, how the past is going to be remembered, and people in the future may well base their image of the past on what we have to say.

And I say, we still need to talk more about women.

We need to talk about women of history because we have had centuries of male scholars assuming that what women did was not of historical import (because of course if it was of historical import, it would have been done by men, right?) and while academic scholarship has been climbing out of that particular hole since the 1960’s, those assumptions still hold.

One of those assumptions is that women of history were repressed, hidden in the home, and kept so busy popping out babies and dying in childbirth that they didn’t get to do anything else.

This might be true of some women, and it’s certainly true that millions of women throughout history spent most of their lives keeping their mouths tightly shut about the discomfort and injustice that they faced. It’s even true that many women didn’t even think about those discomforts and injustices as being specifically directed towards them because of their gender.

Millions never noticed what was happening to them, or that it was something that could or should be challenged.

And yet…

There were always women who spoke up, who got angry, or got even, and decided to take on the world anyway.

One of the most exciting things about this anthology was when our in boxes filled up with pitches from enthusiastic authors, enthusing about the cranky woman from history that they most wanted to write a story about. If ever I feel depressed about the narrow minded ideas people have about historical women, I just have to go back and look at that heaping collection of pitches, many of them naming women I’d never even heard of, and others celebrating historical characters that I have kept near to my heard for decades.

Authors who have submitted pitches for stories or accepted an invitation to contribut to Cranky Ladies

My name is Tansy Rayner Roberts, and I am a self-confessed, dyed-in-the-wool, hopelessly devoted historical fangirl. Say the word ‘virago’ near me, and I’ll give you a lecture about Fulvia. Namedrop Agrippina or Livia and I will be talking for hours about how impossible it would be to write a novel in which both those women featured, without one of them being the villain (someday I hope to achieve the impossible).

Mention Artemisia Gentileschi and you’ll be hearing about the art class that changed my life, and you’ll be googling images of Judith beheading Holofernes within the hour.

Mention Colette, and watch me get angry about men stealing the intellectual property of their wives.

Mention the Mitford sisters, and watch me cry.

Mention Enid Blyton, or E. Nesbit, or Agatha Christie, or Laura Ingalls Wilder, or Louisa May Alcott, or Jane Austen, or Elizabeth Gaskell, or…

There are too many to mention. That’s the best part.

But while I am secretly (not so secretly) longing for some of the historical figures who are my favourites and my bests to end up in the final anthology, that’s not what I’m most excited about. What I’m most excited about is the historical characters who I don’t know enough about yet, but I will by the time the project is finished. We’re hoping for as wide a range as possible of women from different countries, different eras, and different reasons for significance – and I’m hoping that by the end of it all, I’ll have some new favourite Cranky Women to fangirl about.

I really hope the rest of you will, too.

Check out the Pozible crowdfunding campaignCranky Ladies is currently at 43% and rising, thanks to a huge swell of support in the first few days of the campaign. We’re also spearheading a new arts grant, with Arts Tasmania sponsoring us for an extra $2000 if the project meets its target goal.

You can also check out the Cranky Ladies of History Blog Tour, with new links going up every day to essays and other historical fannishness. And check out our Cranky Ladies of History Pinterest Board.

4 thoughts on “[GUEST POST] Tansy Rayner Roberts on “Cranky Ladies””

  1. Thanks, Tansy.

    “Say the word ‘virago’ near me, and I’ll give you a lecture about Fulvia. Namedrop Agrippina or Livia and I will be talking for hours about how impossible it would be to write a novel in which both those women featured, without one of them being the villain (someday I hope to achieve the impossible).”

    That’s partly because of the subject of your PHD ;)

  2. Not sure if you’ve read it, but a great history book came out last year called Princesses Behaving Badly: Real Stories from History Without the Fairy-Tale Endings, by Linda Rodriguez McRobbie. Loads of fun. And the author’s good about explaining that historical sources do not necessarily = truth. Another favourite is the Uppity Women series of books by Vicki Leon.

  3. There is a new biography of the Empress Dowager Cixi by Jung Chang. Jung Chung is the author of Wild Swans. The book reclaims the Empress using primary sources to highlight not only her role in modernising China but how she has been lied about in discredited sources.

    I listened to an interview with the author on ABC (Australia) Radio National. “She says that the Dowager Empress was a pioneering woman who triumphed over a xenophobic and misogynist male elite to take control of a medieval China and set it on its path a modern nation. It is her 47-year rule (from 1861 to her death in 1908) which is the real Chinese revolution.”

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