The Hippo


Jan 17, 2017








Rejected Princesses: Tales of History’s Boldest Heroines, Hellions & Heretics, by Jason Porath
(Dey Street Books, 369 pages)


 Here we have another collection of Amazing Women They Didn’t Teach You About in School but Should Have. 

It joins, from the past six months, Rachel Ignotofsky’s Women in Science: 50 Fearless Pioneers Who Changed the World; Sam Maggs’ Wonder Women: 25 Innovators, Inventors, and Trailblazers who Changed History; Kate Schatz and Miriam Klein Stahl’s Rad Women Worldwide: Artists and Athletes, Pirates and Punks, and Other Revolutionaries Who Shaped History; Ann Shen’s Bad Girls Throughout History: 100 Remarkable Women Who Changed the World, and Chandler O’Leary and Jessica Spring’s Dead Feminists: Historic Heroines in Living Color.
It’s the only one written by a man. Encouragingly, he writes this in the introduction: “I’ve been asked one question more than any other: ‘Why? Why are you, a random white guy from Kentucky, so interested in women’s issues? Where’d this come from?’ To which I have a simple reply. ... The reply is: Why not?”
The book and the website that sprouted it,, came out of a casual conversation Porath had with his DreamWorks Animation colleagues over the question, “Who is the least likely candidate for an animated princess movie?” So “rejected princesses” is a little misleading, insofar as it makes you think of a princess who was turned down for a date or her dream job. These are simply women whose stories do not fit our customary princess mold (e.g. Ada Lovelace), whose lives and work went unnoticed in the shadow of men’s (e.g. Rosalind Franklin), or whose stories are too PG-13, nay, R, nay even worse (e.g. Phoolan Devi, the “Bandit Queen” of India), for a Hollywood cartoon movie with a Happy Meal tie-in. The book presents them in order of that worse-ness, with color-coded ratings in the margins for violence, sex, abuse, etc. So, no, this isn’t the book you hand to your 6-year-old so she can discover new heroines — there’s rape, there’s carnage, there’s Julie “La Maupin” d’Aubigny, “The Sword Slinger Who Burned Down a Convent to Bang a Nun” — but there’s nothing overly graphic in the telling of the stories, and Porath takes care to point out “this was really awful” when he’s telling a really awful part. It’s more the book you might hand to your mature teenager so she can begin to see the harsh realities of real-life self-rescuing womanhood through the ages. Despite its fairytale-ish cover design, Rejected Princesses is classified as Women’s Studies/History. 
The stories range across continents and centuries, from Hatshepsut in Ancient Egypt to the Bandit Queen in the 1990s. Some are characters of myth and legend, but most are real people. A few you have heard of (Harriet Tubman). Most you have not (Alfhild, the Viking Who Became a Pirate). Of local interest, there’s an entry for Anne Hutchinson, which opens thusly: “Here is a list of things the Puritan leaders of early Boston disliked, in ascending order of hatred: cold weather, Native Americans, Protestants, women talking back, Satan himself, and Anne Hutchinson.” It continues: “The weather during her trial was deathly cold — literally, someone had frozen to death just the week before. … Anne was made to stand the entire time. And she did all of this while pregnant with her sixteenth child. ... The best part? She crushed it. … She argued so hard that she actually fainted in the middle of the trial, only to begin arguing again as soon as she was revived.”
It would make a good scene in a princess movie, wouldn’t it?
In keeping with the liveliness of the women and the writing, I’d like to see an edition that’s less coffee-table, more portable, something small and cheap that you can underline and dog-ear and read on the bus on your way to Women’s Studies/History class. But despite its physical doorstoppiness, I’m giving it an A. 
— Lisa Parsons 

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