Review of 'Femina' - Janina Ramirez
I love the wave of new examinations of the past. I'm fascinated by the idea of giving a voice to those who have for so long, been almost written out of history and I was attracted to this book because it promised to do exactly that. I'm also a huge fan of Janina Ramirez' TV work, having been introduced to it via a documentary about Sutton Hoo, which my youngest was obsessed with watching, so I began reading this book with a high level of expectation.
I was not disappointed.
Throughout, I kept stopping to tell my husband about some interesting fact that had been mentioned. I'd never heard of the Loftus Princess, but the comparisons between her burial and the one at Sutton Hoo, mean that I'm keen to learn more about her. I'd been vaguely aware of the status of women in the Viking world, thanks to a Horrible Histories sketch, particularly with regards to domestic violence. However, reading it made me wonder why it is that modern society seems to have regressed so far in this area. If societies at the time could give women autonomy to leave such relationships, why do we get it so wrong today?
The standout story however, is that of Hildegard of Bingen. Nun, musician, visionary, her book was smuggled out of Soviet occupied Germany in 1948, thanks to the bravery of two women. A fact which seems incredibly fitting. I got very excited when she was mentioned in a children's TV programme I was watching with my six year old
The final few pages are interesting in their own right though. Dr Ramirez discusses issues of gender and sexuality - a very current topic in society - through the lens of historical figures. It was a fascinating insight into the topic. Again, there was a Horrible Histories related fact that caught my eye - the Roman Emperor Elagabalus apparently liked to be referred to by female pronouns and allegedly discussed gender reassignment surgery.
This is a fascinating insight into the lives of women who deserve to be far more well known than they are and it is my sincere hope that this will not be the last book to give such people a voice.
This is well worth a read.