The Relevance of Gender, Class, and Joan of Arc in The Business World Today

The Relevance of Gender, Class, and Joan of Arc in The Business World Today

Today, Joan of Arc is revered around the world. The Roman Catholic Church canonized her in 1920 and claimed her image as their own. During my most recent trip to Paris, we visited a prominent boulevard named “Jean D’Arc”, after the beloved “Maid D’Orleans.” However, my visit to Rouen, France recently, with my nine-year-old niece in tow, revealed quite a different side to the story. Why is this young girl, only 18 when she led the army of France into battle, and 19 when burned at the stake, portrayed so differently now, than at the time of her execution in 1431?

Joan of Arc’s family expected her to marry and have a family. Constrained by both class and gender, Joan’s life consisted of church and farmwork. At the age of 18, most women in France married and began families. Nevertheless, Joan, by her own account, asked to be brought to the Dauphin, or “Crown Prince” of France, and, while dressed in men’s clothing, asked to lead his army into battle. While at first, the Dauphin did not take her seriously, he ultimately acquiesced, figuring he had nothing to lose. Dressed as a male knight, and indistinguishable from her male counterparts, Joan led the French army to victory over the English at Orléans. Soon thereafter, she accompanied the Dauphin to his coronation, made possible by this military success.

No one had ever seen the likes of Joan of Arc, with her unsurpassed bravery. A slight young girl, no one expected such behavior or such bravery. Celebrated by the French, the English demonized her as a witch. Captured a year after her military success by the angry British, Joan of Arc faced various accusations, including, the charge “of wearing men’s clothing.” Having stepped outside her traditional gender role, in the field of battle, no less, against a very bitter enemy, Joan of Arc found herself declared “a witch” and burned at the stake in a public market.

Despite the strides that women have made today, we still face hardships and criticisms with very real consequences. Women in business today often find themselves “playing in the sandbox” of men, and war in business can be as real as war on the battlefield. Previously, as a business co-owner, I personally felt the repercussions of demanding equality with a male counterpart. The struggle included demanding equal pay and authority, followed by the pushback, the slander, and the demonization he portrayed about me to others. Nevertheless, I continued on without him, rebuilding and rebranding the company. Joan of Arc, while also very strong, could not escape the harsh Catholic trial at the hands of the English. 500 years later they publicly apologized and made her a saint. I am unsure if any such apology will ever come to me, or the countless other women who have categorically suffered after demanding equality within the confines of the business world.

My nine-year-old niece sat through the trial of Joan of Arc and heard the stories of a black cat being thrown at her burning body. A cross now stands where her execution occurred. Had Joan of Arc lived, she would have been at the right hand of the King of France? Today her identity is defined and claimed by those her killed her. Contemporary women have a greater opportunity to define themselves, their successes, their gender, and their lives. While we still face barriers, they can be overcome through personal perseverance, and by not allowing others to define our identities to others. As a female business owner, I am certainly thankful to have received an excellent education, to have a supportive husband and the self-esteem that my parents encouraged within me, to fight, to win, and to most importantly help others do the same.

My visit to Floors Castle and American Ingenuity in the Face of Adversity

My visit to Floors Castle and American Ingenuity in the Face of Adversity

Born of a father from the North and a mother from the South, I am more than familiar with the terms Yankee and Dixie. I have been called both, as well as half-Dixie. However, in England, Americans are all referred to as “Yanks,” and it is not always as a compliment. Nevertheless, as a child of America, I have come to recognize the inherent qualities that are readily existent in nearly all Americans. Northerners call it “Yankee ingenuity,” but it truly applies to all the children of America. Americans tend to have a tenacity to compete, to win, and to most importantly, to make the best of any and all situations.

A prime example is Mary Goelet, a so called “bride of fortune,” married off at the turn of the century to a well-titled, well-connected, but nevertheless very broke Scottish Aristocrat. Following in the footsteps of her very unhappy distant cousin, Consuelo Vanderbilt, Duchess of Marlborough, opinions regarding the match vacillated between exuberance and pity. Consuelo made no secret of unhappiness with her aristocratic, arranged marriage. She loved another, and lived a life of dometic upheavals. High society worried that such a fate awaited the young Mary Goelet. Nevertheless, they needed not to worry.

Mary Goelet, Duchess of Roxborough, restricted in her choices by both class and gender, embraced her new life and did more than make the best of it. Rather than marrying an aristocrat, she viewed it as marrying an opportunity–that is, the opportunity to put her own stamp on a once grand, but now somewhat downtrodden, country home. The home had potential, and with her dowry of $20 million dollars, Mary turned this country home into a castle. Today this country home is known as Floors Castle, and the family is supported, at least in part, by the opening of sections for a fee to the public.

During the time period of Mary Goelet, very little of heard of the Duke. Probably a meek and mild fellow, it seems he deferred almost entirely to his American wife. My tour of Floors Castle was sprinkled with negative comments about Mary Goelet. The tour guides simply referred to her as “The American lady,” who “made unfortunate changes…..nothing we can do about it now.” They explained she turned a dining room into a ball room, turned a bedroom into a sitting room, closed off hallways, eliminated windows, added a new wing. Most wretchedly, they commented, she brought in French tapestries, and frenchified an entire room! Despite all the negativity regarding this “American lady” from the staff, I could not help but see the penumbras of Yankee ingenuity in her work. Mary Goelet did not marry a man-she married a house-and she made that house her castle. She ran the home like a business, growing and selling vegetables in the garden. She opened a wing of the castle and starting charging a fee. The money she brought with her became supplemented by the business practices she likely learned from her prominent, business-minded relatives in America. The Floors Castle we know today is in great part, because of Mary Goelet. Unlike Consuelo Vanderbilt, who ultimately left her husband, Blenheim Palace, and her riches she brought with her to marry another, Mary Goelet held the course of her marriage and set the foundations for an empire. While a bride of fortune, forced into an arranged marriage, she claimed the house and the life as her own-arguably, Yankee ingenuity at its best.

As Americans living in the 21st century, we are lucky to live in a time period, almost entirely free of class constraints, where we can pick our own spouses and forge our own paths. And yet, these freedoms came about because of the evolution of past cultures our forefathers lived in- a culture today that cries the anthem of Winston Churchill, an English politician with an American mother- ‘Young men (and women), never give up. Never give up! Never give up!! Never, never, never-never-never-never!'” Play the cards you have-and if you don’t like the cards you have-reach for another. This is Yankee ingenuity at its best.

As a business leader, one constantly comes across problems. They key is to always search for a solution, and to never give-up. As Americans, this anthem is in our blood. As an American, I was thrilled to see good old Yankee ingenuity within the walls of a Scottish Country home. As a business owner, I will continue striving to apply that Yankee ingenuity into the lifeblood of my business. May we all strive to do so within our lives and businesses, as Mary Goelet did within hers.

My Trip To France

Having just returned from Europe for a three week trip, I have come to appreciate the fact that I am an American. The beaches of Normandy had a huge impact on me. My nine year old niece and I, accompanied by my parents, learned of the fate of over 4,300 young men who gave their lives, on the first day of D-Day alone, for the freedom of France, England, and ultimately the world. The German government had no bounds-they took what was not theirs and wreaked havoc upon Europe. As an American of German descent, I am still baffled by the fact that all of my relatives in Germany have no accountability for what happened; no memory of what occurred. Supposedly, none of their grandparents, uncles, or cousins were in the war. Really? They are a country with amnesia.

Walking through the cathedral of Rouen, France, I was shocked to see plain glass where stained glass should appear. My niece and I noticed a staircase that went to a blocked up door. Walking outside, we saw that scaffolding encased a large part of the cathedral’s main belltower, and another smaller belltower appeared as through it had been burned to bits as recently as yesterday. Furthermore, a place where a wing of the cathedral once stood, stood no more. This beautiful building, partially destroyed in WW2, still had not been fully restored. The remnants of fire my niece and I viewed, had occurred over 75 years ago. A trip nearby took me to the town of Le Havre, where cinder block building littered the city, with no architecture of historical significance to be seen. My mother informed me that the city had been bombed in WW2, and 2,000 civilians had died. With no war reparations from Germany, rebuilding of the city fell on the city fathers, already beaten down by the perils of war.

Viewing the pain and suffering by the French, and the perils of rebuilding they still face, I reflected upon my own struggles. My anxieties to please others; the challenges of having business partners and the fallout of when partnerships end; my desire to make sure that clients are always happy and taken care of, and that everything in my office runs smoothly. I came to the conclusion long ago that one can not always please others, but, for me, the desire to reach perfection never ends, despite its unattainability. Nevertheless, the challenges and anxieties I have faced, and that my company have faced, are nothing, when faced with the calamity of WWII and the devastation wreaked upon the continent of Europe. My daily issues absolutely pale in comparison. As my father said, “This country (France) will not truly be rebuilt until my
grandchildren have grandchildren.” I also learned that the French do not take what we did for them for granted. My niece and I, as well as my parents, were treated like royalty in the region of Normandy, where the restaurants proudly state on their windows, ‘Welcome our liberators!”

Arriving back in the office today, I have a renewed look on life and business. We live in America, where we have everything we could ever want-but most importantly, we have peace. We don’t have to rebuild our country after the perils of war. We only need to rebuild ourselves. To make ourselves better, stronger, and perhaps more compassionate toward others. We have it all. Let’s take advantage of this beautiful gift that is America.