Pope Joan went there first…

While we are on the subject of women in leadership, I was reminded of the story of Pope Joan the other day. (Check out book of the week on radio 4)

She supposedly reigned for a few years some time thought to be between 853 – 855 AD. It is probably just a story, but what a story!

The first mention of the female pope appears in the chronicle of Jean Pierier de Mailly, but the most popular and influential version was that interpolated into Martin of Troppau‘s Chronicon Pontificum et Imperatorum somewhat later in the 13th century. Most versions say that she was a talented and learned woman who disguised herself as a man, often at the behest of a lover. Due to her abilities she rises through the church hierarchy, eventually being chosen as pope. However, while riding on horseback one day, she gives birth to a child, thus revealing her sex. In most versions she dies shortly after, either by being killed by an angry mob, or from natural causes, and her memory is shunned by her successors.

She probably never existed.

But the point is, that for Centuries, people thought that she did- and for many she has come to personify something of the way Church has vilified and marginalised women. How women are seen as carriers of an evil seed- eaters of the fruit in the Garden.

I wonder if it also says something about how for women to succeed in a male dominated leadership environment, they have to disguise themselves as masculine. The Margaret Thatcher complex perhaps…

How do we celebrate difference whilst at the same time promote the sharing of power?



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