Founded in 1974, the Women’s Center was established to:
Dismantle, from a feminist perspective, all forms of oppression, including but not limited to those based on ability, age, class, ethnicity, gender, race, and sexual orientation.
Advocate for an equitable environment free from violence and harassment based on gender, race, and sexual orientation.
Create an anti-racist, non-sexist, queer-affirmative space where all people can feel valued and safe.
Facilitate and strengthen connections among people across lines of difference through programming and educational campaigns.
Integrate an appreciation of Women's Gender and Multicultural Studies across the disciplines.

Monday, April 23, 2012

Bearded Women: Gender-nonconformity as freak show

Jennifer Miller
Come one, come all, see the bearded woman!

My interests in bearded women began when in a Women in Contemporary Society course, I learned of a modern bearded woman, Jennifer Miller.  In the documentary Juggling Gender, in which she recounts her experiences, Miller explains that she has had much difficulty with her identity as a bearded woman. Her pursuit of an alternative lifestyle, which was really her only option since she herself was alternative, led her to working in the circus. It would be greatly inconvenient to live without her facial hair, and Miller is considered part of the American  freak show and becomes a circus attraction in herself, without having to perform, but with her beard acting as a performance. She explains that her having a beard is controversial because it makes her more like a man, allows her to be confused for a man, and this threatens the realm of masculinity.

With this, I decided to look up other bearded women in history to see if their identities were also marginalized, or if they were able to regularly operate within "normal" society. While many of them did lead functional lives, all but one of the five other women I found were indeed circus performers as well. Here are brief portraits of each.

Jane Barnell 
(3 January 1871, – 26 October 1951)
Barnell widely used the stage name "Lady Olga." It is said that her mother sold her to the Great Orient Family Circus, which was later merged with a larger circus, taking her to Germany. When she became sick in Berlin, she was given to an orphanage, where her father found her. When she was working on her grandmother's farm as an adult, she was apprached by a circus strongman and offered work with John Robinson's Circus; her beard was 13 inches. Olga toured numerous circuses, including the Ringling Brothers circus, and later joined Hubert's Museum in New York. She appeared in a number of films, including Tod Browning's Freaks (1932). She was unhappy with her portrayal as a sideshow in the film. She married more than once, at one point to Th9omas last marriage was to Thomas O'Boyle, who was also involved with the circus.
Annie Jones
(c. 1860 – 1902)
Jones was an American bearded woman, born in Virginia. She toured with showman P. T. Barnum as a circus attraction. Jones joined Barnum's exhibition when she was only nine months. By the age of five, she had a mustache and sideburns and became well known as the "Bearded Girl." As an adult, Jones became the country's top "bearded lady" and acted as a spokesperson for Barnum's "Freaks", a word she tried to abolish from the business. 
Later in her career, she became a musician and married . Jones married Richard Elliot in 1881, but divorced him in 1895 for her childhood sweetheart William Donovan (who later died, leaving Jones a widow). In 1902, Jones herself died of tuberculosis.
Josephine Clofullia
Clofullia was born Josephine Boisdechene in Switzerland. Born hairy with a two-inch beard by the time she was eight, she began to tour Euruope with her father and an agent when she was fourteen. She met an married painter Fortune Clofullia, and gained fame when she mimicked the style of Napolean III’s beard on her own, for which Napolean gave her a large diamond.
Clofullia, her husband, and four children moved to the US, where they began work with PT Barnum. In July 1853 Clofullia was taken to court upon a claiming that she was actually a man During the case doctors examined her and verified that she was a female and the case was eventually dismissed.

Clémentine Delait 
March 5, 1865–1939
Delait was a French bearded woman who owned a cafe with her husband. According to some accounts, Delait saw a bearded woman at a carnival and bragged that she could also grow a beard. After her husband bet that she could not, an influx of customers were drawn to the cafe, which was re-named Le Café de La Femme a Barbe, "The café of the Bearded Woman." Delait also profited by selling photographs of herself. 

Julia Pastrana
 (1834–25 March 1860)
Pastrana, an indigenous woman from Europe, was born hypertrichosis terminalis, which caused her face and body to be covered with hair. Theodore Lent found and bought her from “a woman who might have been her mother”. He taught her to dance and play music, and took her on an international tour as the “Bearded and Hair Lady.” She also learned how to read and write in two languages. Lent and Pastrana later married; after giving birth to a baby with her same condition, both she and the baby died within a week. Lent had Pastrana and their son mummified and displayed them behind glass. Eventually, he found another woman who resembled Pastrana, named her Zenora Pastrana, and married her. He was later placed in a mental institution. The mummified remains of Pastrana and her child have produced much controversy and a number of thefts.

No comments:

Post a Comment