Posted: March 30th, 2022
Joan of Arc Using Intersectionality
Medieval Europe provides a significant number of examples of women who developed to become leaders and popes at a time when women were increasingly oppressed. The conventional self-image of women during this period was characterized by low self-esteem, which was influenced by increased oppression that disadvantaged women. However, the rise of some women to become influential leaders demonstrates their visionary experience in breaking up the conventional female self-image. An example of a woman who developed to become an influential leader in medieval Europe through visionary experience and breaking up the conventional female self-image is Joan of Arc. Joan’s development to become an influential leader was influenced by her prophesy for a king and ability to become the central actor in her vision. Joan of Arc can be understood as a unique character in the context of other female mystics using intersectional analysis.
Brief Background of Joan of Arc
Joan of Arc was born around 1412 in Domremy in Eastern Europe at a time that the Hundred Years’ War had been ongoing for over 70 years (Sowards, 1994, p.201). During this period when she was born, France had been significantly affected by the Civil War and foreign invasion. Actually, the birth place of Joan of Arc was characterized by prevalent marauding bands of soldiers who were causing significant damage by burning and looting towns as well as killing the feeble peasantry. Under the leadership of Dauphin Charles, the French royal cause was damaged, which did not help matters in the country.
At the age of 16, Joan of Arc believed that her village’s patron saints were encouraging her to approach Dauphin and secure his coronation. As a result, she went to a nearby castle where she won over Robert de Baudricourt who gave her an escort comprising six men-at-arms. She proceeded to Chinon and the Dauphin after travelling across an enemy-held territory for an 11-day journey. Joan of Arc found Dauphin living like a servant since he had bullied and robbed by nobles around him. Joan informed him that she wanted to fight the English and would have him crowned at Rheims. Since he was superstitiously religious, Charles believed Joan and gave her a modest military staff of a few hundred soldiers and weapons as well as a banner with Jesus’ name. As she utilized her small force to fight the English, Joan ended up encouraging the seemingly discouraged French army and capturing Orleans, which was besieged by the English. After a series of other military successes, Joan secured the coronation of the Dauphin and crowning of Charles at Rheims as promised.
However, Joan of Arc was soon captured by the Burgundians who sold her to the English where she was imprisoned and persistently questioned. She was later found guilty of witchcraft since her faith and simplicity could not save her from the hands of the English. Joan of Arc was subsequently executed by the English in Old Marketplace of Rouen, which was an English-held and dominated town (Sowards, 1994, p.202).
How Women and Men Live their Lives
The life of men and women during medieval times when Joan of Arc was born is contrary to the contemporary ideals of stereotypes of both genders (O’Pry-Reynolds, 2013, p.37). Medieval literature shows several examples of gender equality, which is portrayed through highly idealized perspectives of society, morality, and manners. During the time of Joan of Arc, men displayed knightly personalities characterized by masculinity, aggressiveness, and even violence in some cases. On the contrary, women were considered as vessels of goodness, purity, and chastity because of their roles in taking care of the home and family. However, unlike common stereotypes and novels, women during this time were not necessarily damsels in distress awaiting men (or knights) to come rescue them. In essence, men during this period were defined by who they are, their pursuits, and their victories. On the contrary, women were defined on the premise of their roles that were assigned to them by the society. As a result, the life of men in medieval times revolved around playing as main characters while women were predominantly ascribed supporting roles.
Unlike their male counterparts, the roles of women in the medieval society were increasingly limited. However, these roles were not necessarily stable but repeatedly reinforced through constraint and freedom, passivity and agency, and submission and authority. While men displayed masculinity and aggressiveness, women were considered as their downfall because they (women) were seemingly objects to be worshipped. This is primarily because women were symbols of sexual desire, beauty, love, purity, kindness, motherhood, and conquest.
The other important aspect of the life of men and women during the time of Joan of Arc is that they were both confined by societal norms. Men were represented as heroic warriors looking for or involved in fights and battles whereas women were represented as daughters of Eve’s sin i.e. the basis of original sin and instruments of the devil (O’Pry-Reynolds, 2013, p.38). Despite this consideration, women played a crucial role in the society primarily because of the need for someone to acknowledge the brave and heroic adventures of men or someone to mourn the dead since men were not expected to mourn and grieve.
The main role of women during the time of Joan of Arc was to care for the family and look after the home since their responsibilities included cooking and housework (“Femininity during Medieval Times,” n.d.). On the contrary, the principal role of men was to provide for the family through pursuits that would generate money for supporting the family. However, women’s roles were very important with regards to the need to look after the home and take care of children and the husband. Consequently, very few women during this period would work or assume roles that were considered masculine. While in some cases women were involved in roles that were seemingly masculine, they did not receive similar incentives, wages or rewards for their work alongside men in the fields.
Influences that Shape Women’s Lives
As evident in this analysis, the lives of women during the medieval times, especially during the time of Joan of Arc, were influenced by various factors. Some of the major influences that shape women’s lives include
Role in the Society
One of the major influences that shaped women’s lives was their role in the society as individuals who looked after the home while caring for their husbands and children. This was a significant influence that hindered the progress of some women and promoted the progress and development of others. Some women felt that their roles in taking care of the family and the home confined them and contributed to their portrayal as the weaker sex. In contrast, some women capitalized on their caring role to play influential roles at home and in the society in general. Throughout the history of mankind, one of the major influences that have constantly shaped women’s lives is their role, which also influences perceptions about them.
Treatment by Men
The second major influence that shaped women’s lives is how they were treated by men in the society. As previously mentioned, women in medieval times were not necessarily damsels in distress waiting for knights or men to rescue them through marriage ((O’Pry-Reynolds, 2013, p.37). However, in some cases, women were treated as the weaker sexes who were forced to submit to men, especially their husbands. This contributed to increased discrimination, especially on the basis of gender as women were expected to assume relatively trivial roles in the society and excluded from societal aspects that were regarded as masculine and male-dominated. Joan of Arc sought to overcome this gender discrimination and bad treatment by men following her visionary rise to roles that were dominated by men and considered masculine than feminine. The treatment of women by men was largely driven by gender stereotypes, which follow women throughout their entire lives.
The other major influence that shape women’s lives is culture since cultural factors affect the determination of the concept of a woman. According to Butler (1988), becoming a woman entails forcing the body to conform to a historical concept of a woman in order for the body to become a cultural sign (p.522). Therefore, culture plays an important role in shaping woman’s lives by influencing the prevailing understanding of the concept of a woman. Cultural factors shape women’s lives through influencing determinations of the role and status of women in the society. In essence, women’s lives in different places across the globe are largely influenced by the respective cultural factors within the particular society.
Experiences of Women during the Time of Joan of Arc
As reflected in the life of Joan of Arc, women during this time had different experiences that were influenced by various factors including their role in the society, treatment by men, and cultural factors. These experiences varied across those living at the margins, the poorest of the poor, and those suffering from different kinds of oppression or discrimination. Women including Joan of Arc responded differently to these experiences because of their multiple identities. This is reflected in the fact that some women were pushed to intense margins and experienced significant discriminations whereas others like Joan of Arc benefited from more privileged positions and status. However, Joan’s benefit from more privileged position was fueled by her response to prevailing situations in the society rather than being something that was given to her on a silver platter.
In essence, the heroism of Joan of Arc is largely attributable to the extraordinary and attractive quality of the uniqueness of her personality, which she used to develop the reality of her experiences (Warner, 1999, p.4). Joan’s personality is a major factor that underpinned her success and rise to become a symbol of female heroism. During her time, England and France had been engaged in a long war that was characterized by struggles for supremacy between these two major dynastic powers of medieval Europe. Joan, a 17-year-old girl with exceptional attributes and multiple identities, appeared and reversed the fortunes of France at a time when women, especially young women, were subjected to discrimination and oppression. Joan’s exceptional qualities and identities played an important role in inspiring and transforming Dauphin Charles and his troops. Actually, she used her personality to inspire Charles’ troops towards a course for the nation’s prosperity and quest for victory in the supremacy battle with England, the other dynastic power in medieval Europe.
Women during Joan’s time were largely handicaps of class, poverty, and gender stereotypes or discrimination. Generally, women living at the margins, the poorest of the poor and those suffering from different kinds of oppression were seemingly forced to be dependent on men. As a result of their socio-economic status, widespread perceptions and cultural influences, these women did not have significant roles in leadership or politics. They were confined to the roles of caring for their family and looking after the home while men were out in the fields seeking to provide for their wives and children. Since women during Joan’s time were handicaps of class, poverty and gender, they were disaggregated on the basis of sex, citizenship status, age, and caste. Most of them were illiterate peasant girls whose life revolved around decisions and treatment by men. Consequently, unlike Joan, these women did not have autonomous female experiences because their lives were relatively dependent on men. For instance, many charismatic women required protection against alleged heresy because of the belief that mystical experience was relatively difficult to control by the church (Barstow, 1985, p.30). As a result, these women became dependent on priest or confessors who were regarded as champions and guided women’s spiritual lives into secure avenues of orthodoxy. Visionary women like Joan of Arc who did not seek for such protection were increasingly susceptible to charges of heresy, which was a significant hazard for charismatic women in the medieval period.
Joan of Arc combined her exceptional qualities with mystical experience to create an awareness of her power and utilized it to make her voice heard in the then patriarchal society. The use of mystical experience by Joan was beyond male control and acted as an integrative and activating force for medieval women. Through her mystical experience, Joan played an instrumental role in creating a new awareness among late medieval women of themselves as individuals in a male-dominated world. In this case, she inspired and transformed women living at the margins, the poorest of the poor and those suffering from oppression to view themselves in new roles and weigh themselves against male authority figures. Consequently, Joan not only appeared as non-feminist in her native country but was also regarded as a feminist symbol in other countries such as the United States and Britain (Margolis, n.d.).
One of the most important factors that contributed to Joan’s success and rise to become a symbol of female heroism was her religious convictions. She attributed her dramatic change to God and did not rely on protection or guidance from priests or confessors. While this made her vulnerable to charges of heresy, Joan used it to inform her visions and direction in life rather than remain confined to these priests or confessors like other charismatic women. Joan’s religious instructions that guided her life and contributed to her prominence were based on personal religious convictions, which was a major part in her identity. In essence, there was a bridge between her internal spiritual life and outward actions that are considered as the visible manifestation of her piety (Lualdi, 2004). Therefore, one of the important aspects of Joan’s multiple identities is her religious convictions that acted as the inner drive for outward actions and influenced her decisions to avoid becoming a handicap of class, gender, and poverty like other women in medieval Europe.
Secondly, Joan’s mystical experiences played an important role in development of her personality. She used these experiences as a framework for independence given that she did not share her visions with anyone including parents, confessors or friends. Since she had no links to the world of power, Joan used her mystical experiences and private spiritual realities to become one of the nation’s heroes and symbol of feminism. In essence, Joan’s self-image was shaped by these experiences and the private spiritual world. The significance of Joan’s mystical experience and religious convictions is evident in her claims that she would have preferred being at home instead of leading men into combat if it were not for God’s will (Hertz, 2014). Therefore, the multiple identities that Joan used in her successful quest to dislodge the English include her identity as a woman, religious convictions, and mystic experiences.
In conclusion, Joan of Arc rose to become the image and symbol of female heroism through her exceptional attributes that enabled her to develop and become influence in a world and society that was dominated by men. During this process, she overcame being a handicap of poverty, class, and gender like other women during the medieval period. Her success is attributable to her personality that contributed to beliefs that she was non-feminine.
Barstow, A.L. (1985). Joan of Arc and Female Mysticism. Journal of Feminist Studies in Religion, 1(2), 29-42.
Butler, J. (1988, December). Performance Acts and Gender Constitution: An Essay in Phenomenology and Feminist Theory. Theatre Journal, 40(4), 519-531.
“Femininity During Medieval Times.” (n.d.). Medieval Gender. Retrieved December 7, 2015, from http://www.medievalgender.org.uk/about/
Hertz, S. (2014, April 9). Joan of Arc: Scourge of Modern Feminists. The Remnant — A National Catholic Newspaper. Retrieved December 7, 2015, from http://remnantnews***.com/web/index.php/articles/item/503-joan-of-arc-scourge-of-modern-feminists
Lualdi, K. (2004). “Joan, Are You in a State of Grace?”: Joan of Arc and Late Medieval Catechesis. Proceedings of the Western Society for French History, 32. Retrieved December 7, 2015, from http://quod.lib.umich.edu/w/wsfh/0642292.0032.001 / — joan-are-you-in-a-state-of-grace-joan-of-arc-and-late?rgn=main;view=fulltext
Margolis, N. (n.d.). Joan of Arc: Maneuverable Medievalism, Flexible Feminism. 21-25.
O’Pry-Reynolds, A.K. (2013, March). Men and Women as Represented in Medieval Literature and Society. Saber and Scroll, 2(2), 37-45.
Sowards, K.J. (1994). Joan of Arc: Maid and Martyr. In Makers of the western tradition (6th ed., pp.200-219). New York, NY: St. Martin’s.
Warner, M. (1999). Joan of Arc: the image of female heroism. Berkeley and Los Angeles, CA: University of California Press.
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