Our wonderful co-president Abby Ferraro explains why Joan of Arc, nearly six centuries on, continues to be an inspirational Womxn in Theology.
I was immediately drawn to the story of Joan of Arc when I was a young girl struggling with gender identity. I remember the confusion and embarrassment that I felt at age 7 when a retail worker laughed at me for looking at the spy gadgets in the toy store - informing me that I was ‘in the boys section’. Disheartening experiences like these prompted me to reject anything associated with femininity. It was during this ‘tomboy phase’ that I sought refuge in the story of the heroic female warrior who led military campaigns donned in male clothing. Reading about Joan’s adventures, I felt much less alone in my own feelings of discomfort around gender. Joan subverted the expectations placed on her and despite facing ridicule at the time, her defiance was ultimately praised.
Nonetheless, my fascination with Joan was not always rooted in admiration; during my teenage years I found myself resenting what I believed that she stood for. I perceived her sainthood as a sinister manifestation of patriarchal values; I thought that her idealised virginity was a reflection of Christianity’s obsession with female purity. I also believed that the concept of martyrdom glorified suffering and so was dangerous for victims of abuse.
It wasn’t until I arrived at Oxford and read Andrea Dworkin’s book ‘Intercourse’ that I rediscovered my appreciation for Joan of Arc. Dworkin presents Joan as the embodiment of female rebellion and resistance. Her virginity was not a sign of docility, but rather a courageous refusal to be dominated by a man. Her death was not a passive acceptance of her fate but rather a triumphant manifestation of her integrity. Dworkin’s portrayal of Joan really resonated with me - she acted in an uncompromising manner, was brave enough to take risks, and refused to be victimised. It is for these reasons that I find Joan of Arc an inspirational womxn in Theology!
Writer: Abby Ferraro of Lady Margret Hall College
Editor and illustrator: Mary Whittingdale of Mansfield College