An open letter to my niece

By July 1, 2015Comms


I’m reading this book about Joan of Arc and it made me think of you, not least because Joan was born and grew up in Domrémy-la-Pucelle, a little town that’s about a four hour drive from Paris, where you are while I write this.

France is pretty cool when you’re a girl in 2015, but Joan grew up over 500 years ago, when being a little girl in France, or pretty much anywhere, was a lot more restrictive. To hear Harrison (the lady who wrote this book I’m reading) tell it, women in the 15th centuryIMG_7234-0.jpg were consigned to three gender roles: virgin, wife or widow. You’ll notice that all of those roles are defined by their relationship to men. All people in 15th century France lived under Feudalism, which you’ll learn about in high school. What you need to know now is that social mobility (the ability to change your lot in life) was super limited. You usually were born and died in the same economic, educational and social circumstances. People in 15th century France generally fell into three categories: those who worked (peasants), those who prayed (priests and monks) and those who fought (knights). Knights were at the top of the heap, and while their lives could be bloody, they were also richer and more comfortable than everybody else’s.

As I’m sure you already know, girls could never be knights.

Except, you know, when they could.

You see, Joan was a peasant (albeit a pretty well-to-do one), from the lowest social class. While some peasants could technically fight as footsoldiers, it wasn’t the same as being a noble knight. On top of this she was a girl, which meant that she was part of a social order that viewed her as being inferior to her father and brothers, and every other man in the world. On top of this, she was young, not much older than you, which was a triple whammy against being a warrior.

But she was a warrior, sweetheart. Joan of Arc became one of the most powerful and celebrated warriors in the history not just of France, but of the world. Her story was so incredible that it marked history, so that I, sitting here over 500 years later, know about it, am reading about it, and am telling it to you. Joan was a knight. She was a warlord. She was a general. Best part? This isn’t Tolkien. This isn’t Harry Potter. This is history. Joan was real.

When your dad and I were little, grandma used to talk to us about “worlds.” When she didn’t think we’d be good at something, even though we hadn’t really tried to do it yet, she would sometimes shrug and say ,“that’s not your world.” When my stepdad died, I remember grandma saying that he was from the “long-waisted world” of American Protestants, and she was from the “short-waisted world” of Slavic Jews. I thought that was a creative way of putting it, but also wrong, and I still do.

And look at grandma. She lives in Mexico. She speaks Spanish. Did she ever tell you about the programs she ran at the New York Hall of Science? One of them brought portable planetariums into the jungles of India. Another one trained at-risk kids to be “explainers” at science museums. A lot of those kids would have gotten into trouble if not for grandma. If you’d told her she’d be doing those things when she was your age, she’d probably have told you that you were crazy. Your grandma did incredible things. The only world grandma ever lived in was the amazing one she built herself.

And you’re already doing amazing things. Remember how the world reacted to that page in your scrapbook? How about the time you wrote a letter asking why you couldn’t play as a girl in Infinity Blade, and the CEO of the company wrote you back?

Joan of Arc was a rough customer, and she took up the sword based on voices she heard that she believed were from heaven. You’re still learning how you feel about religion, and you’ll decide for yourself if you agree with the reasons Joan used to go to war. But it doesn’t change the point. Joan lived in a world where a peasant girl putting on armor and leading an army was impossible, and she did it anyway.

Reading about Joan makes me realize that the world is so big and history so long, that it’s impossible for me to really know anything about either.

That’s not true, actually, I know two things:

The first is that I love you.

The second is that there aren’t many worlds, some of which you’re not a part of, some of which are closed to you.

There’s just this one.

And it’s yours.

Author Myke Cole

Myke Cole is an American writer of history and fantasy who leverages a lifetime in military, law enforcement and intelligence service to take you to battlefields, real and imagined.

More posts by Myke Cole

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  • Terri Lynn Coop says:

    And Queen Elizabeth I who sat a horse before the troops and declared that she had the “heart and belly of a King of England” and then proved it. Queen Victoria who ruled an empire so vast that the sun never set on it. This goes out to my great niece as well. There is nothing closed to you. You will cross the bridges built by your mothers and you will see far because you stand on the shoulder of giants. <3

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