In this episode of Shit We Don’t Talk about, Mia chats with Rahaleh Nassri host of the Violent Femme podcast. What’s the Violent Femme podcast? Glad you asked!
Violent Femme is a narrative podcast about women in history who were brave, bold, and ingenious, yet are mostly remembered for their brutality or villainy, if at all. Each episode will resurrect one of history’s brutally brave women whose image has been tarnished or even erased by men who fear such women but have long been entrusted with our history. Violent Femme will retell and sometimes reimagine history from the heroine’s perspective. This is herstory.
Talking about what women need is awesome, but talking about that in the context of women always being victims is not healthy or productive. Rahaleh started Violent Femme to tell the stories of women that history largely ignores. These are women that embody the flawed hero archetype normally reserved for men. Through their action, these powerful women redeemed themselves and moved beyond their flaws. These are stories worth telling.
I started to look at how men get all these stories where they get to be heroes, and have a good heroic story. You’ve got a flawed hero who can redeem himself and do great things. Women do not get those stories. Women cannot be flawed. You have to be a saint. If you fuck up, if you get pregnant, if you get drunk, if you do anything wrong — we were just raised believing that you’re done. You’re through. But there’s no path to greatness or power without mistakes.
Women have traditionally been denied those stories. History is full of women that have performed heroic acts, redeemed themselves, and achieved great things, but these stories are largely untold or ignored. Even in fiction, women have been denied access to the heroic redemption story, and in many ways, denied a common path to power.
Rahaleh comes from a background rich in both politics and theater. Having played the ingenue character, again and again, she wanted to change direction by delving into bolder female characters taken from the pages of history. Her experiences in facing political unrest in her native Iran and fighting for human rights drew her the stories of rebellious or even violent women from history, leading directly to the creation of the Violent Femme podcast.
As of January 2022, Rahaleh has told these stories:
Tomyris: Savage Queen
Tomyris, the 6th century BC queen who with her small army of men and women brought down the greatest ruler of her time, Cyrus the Great.
Ching Shih: Pirate Leader
Ching Shih was a master strategist who took the business of piracy to a whole new level and brought three nations to their knees.
Stephanie St. Clair: Harlem Gangster
Stephanie St. Clair was a controversial early 20th century Harlem businesswoman and activist who fought back against bullying cops, mobsters, and politicians. Some ended up behind bars and the worst of them ended up dead.
Phoolan Devi: Outlaw Law Maker
Phoolan Devi was a poor girl from India’s low Mallah caste who fought the patriarchy with every ounce of life she had from the time she was a child until her untimely death.
She has a list of 50 more to tell, so stay tuned!
In telling these stories Rahaleh shows us that while women have come so far in the modern world, they have also come not so far. Women are denied access to traits like assertiveness and confidence that are revered in men. “Kicking ass” is a thing that men do while we cheer for them. That is not what a woman does, where even in 2022 she is more likely to be punished rather than applauded.
Men can be what they want to be, and they get to be warriors and alpha dogs along the way. Women can be what they want to be, as long as they do it politely and in a non-threatening way.
I think equal rights is also the right to be an asshole sometimes.
Rahaleh points out that using these stories to inspire a rise to power does not always have to mean taking power away from men. Maybe we can all be powerful? Is that so crazy?
Violent Femme stories may trigger some fear in men. Consider that women often automatically live in fear of men, at a minimum based on the threat of being physically overpowered. Experiencing some of that fear when hearing the story of a powerful or even violent woman from history might not be such a bad thing if it encourages a sense of empathy in men.
Rahaleh is telling stories of women that today would be equivalent to the most highly respected male CEOs of some of the largest companies in the world. Yet these women, when they are remembered, are often remembered solely for their brutality, or for the trauma or early experiences that “made them that way”. When a man conquers, achieves, and vanquishes opponents on the battlefield or the board room, do we automatically dig into their childhoods to explain such horrible behavior? We don’t, do we?
History is generally written by men. Having someone like Rahaleh tell the stories of strong historical female figures brings greater depth, greater “realness” and far greater impact because a woman understands how a woman feels. Rahaleh can see the triumph in these stories, and she can bring that triumph to light when it otherwise might be automatically dimmed or discarded entirely by a male-dominated recording and storytelling process.
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