*Anneka Harry. Gender Rebels. 50 Influential cross-dressers, Impersonators, Name-changers, & Game-Changers.
Read by Suzanne Jones, Anneka Harry, Gemma Cairney, Maya Jama.
7 CDs. 8 hrs.
Clipper Audio/Recorded Books. 2020.
It takes a lot of energy to be angry all the time, yet there is so much to be angry about. Consider the gender discrimination and homophobia that forces women to disguise themselves as men in order to make a living, pursue their dreams, or love whom they choose. In many parts of the world, this is still a reality. 2019 marked the first year since the Iranian Revolution that women were permitted to attend a soccer match. There are many countries in which being gay is still a crime. Think about it too long, and you will scream until you lose your voice. Gender Rebels is read by four narrators: author Anneka Harry, Maya James, Suranne Jones, and Gemma Cairney. Each reader speaks in a boisterous, decidedly unposh – at least to this American ear – English accent, and these readings ramp up the fun of Gender Rebels. I especially enjoyed Anneka Harry's narration in her West Midlands accent, which emphasizes the cheek of this informative, irreverent, and empowering book.
Gender Rebels profiles fifty extraordinary women who faced discrimination so suffocating that they chose to hide, either temporarily or habitually, under male identities. From Queen Hatshepsut, who proclaimed herself male to rule Egypt, to Ellen Craft, an escaped slave who masqueraded as a man to reach freedom in the northern United States, their stories will disgust you afresh about how the world treats women.
Anneka Harry, presenter, comedic actor, and author of Gender Rebels, acknowledges the unfairness, but she also understands how exhausting rage can be. And so Gender Rebels is history told by your funniest friend, which softens the blow of ceaseless misogyny quite well. Her comedic style of storytelling also emphasizes how heroic and brave these women were, which can get lost when we focus only on how tough they had (or still have) it. To take one example, in Harry's chapter about Catalina de Erauso, a nun turned Spanish lieutenant born in the late sixteenth century, she describes de Erauso's escape from a restrictive convent. According to Harry, "She opted for the only safe escape she had: to become a man. Catalina would utilize more disguises during her lifetime than we all do trying to create multiple, one-month free trial subscriptions."
While Harry clearly has done her research for Gender Rebels, the more recent stories show her skills as an investigative journalist. Harry interviewed Iranian women to better understand the story of Sahar Kodeyari, who set herself on fire after being imprisoned for disguising herself as a man in order to watch live soccer. Her chapter about the Pakistani squash pro Maria Toorpakai, who dressed like a boy in order to learn squash, then had to hide from the Taliban to not to be killed for her "crime," is particularly powerful, and will have you pulling out your wallet to donate to Toorpakai's foundation.
Reviewed by Joanna Theiss