Disclaimer: I won a copy via a giveaway on Librarything.
My brother reads quite a bit of John Keegan. I’m not entirely sure if he has read every book Keegan wrote, but it must be close. Every so often I think I should read Keegan, but then I read something and go, “yeah, he might be a brilliant dude, but he sounds like a bit of a dick”. Years ago, it was his comments during the case Irving brought against Deborah Lipstadt and Penguin books. Recently, it is the comments of his that Dr. Toler quotes in this excellent book about women warriors. Apparently, Keegan cannot conceive of women ever fighting.
Yes, it made me gnash my teeth too.
Dr Toler’s book is, in part, a rebuttal to those like Keegan or those, as Toler points out more than once, that presume one thing about warrior grave goods in a grave of a woman and make a totally different presumption about the use of weapons in a man’s grave.
But it is also an analysis of why women who fight got written out of history in some cases. So that bit about the Viking warrior that was really a woman, is in this book.
The women that Toler writes about come from across the world, except for Australia for some reason. The number of women mentioned by name is a vast, and Toler covers Asia, Africa, and South America as well as Europe. When she deals with North and South America, Toler includes Indigenous women. Therefore, we have a discussion about Molly Pitcher but also Nanye’hi (White Rose) who lead a Cherokee victory against the Creek. (Don’t worry Buffalo Calf road Woman is also here).
But the book isn’t just about women warriors, it is also about how cultures and society saw them. For instance, the motivation for a woman warrior in China, say, would be different than that of a woman of Europe. Japanese warrior women also composed poetry after fighting in sieges.
And the footnotes, Toler’s footnotes are a joy to read.
The book is divided, loosely, into type of warrior and type of popular warrior in history. So, there is a chapter on Joan of Arc and her sisters, but then on women in siege warfare. The book covers the ancient world tilt the end of the Second World War, and serves as a history to illustrate that women in warfare isn’t something new.
While famous women warriors make appearances, such as Queen Ninja, Joan of Arc and Mulan, Toler includes lesser known women such as Kenau Simonsdochet Hasslaer and Cathy Williams, the first African-American woman to join the Armed Forces. She disguised herself as a man and then they refused to give her a pension.
When dealing with woman of color who exist in a white society, Toler does not forget to include racism as a factor for the treatment of the women in terms of historical texts. This is particularly true when she is discussing Buffalo Calf Road Woman.
Toler presents an entertaining, informative read that cements women’s place on the battlefields of history.