The “Mutinous Women” Book About Women Convicts Turned Into Slaves Centuries Ago Very Similar To Women’s Stories Today
I’m reading Joan DeJean’s book Mutinous Women about how French female convicts became the Founding Mothers of the Gulf Coast. Her book should be required reading not only in Women Studies classes but also Western Civ when the topic turns to France in the 1700s. The opening chapter reminds me much of the Amber Heard and Johnny Depp trial, which I’m sure someone is writing a book about as I type.
It opens with a tale about a woman, named Marie Fontaine who is convicted as an accessory to a murder because she cried out, “Help me!” when a man killed another man. Manon, her nickname, was tied up naked for anyone in Paris to see, flogged and branded on her right shoulder with a “fleu-de-lys”. If you know New Orleans, you know fleu de lys, the symbol of the French monarchy which means the King owns you.
Following her public flogging, she served about 19 years in some really bad French prisons and later received a life sentence, not long before the lawyer for the eight-year-old King Louis XV decided to ship her and another 131 women from prison to slavery in the French colony, referred to as “the Mississippi” now known as New Orleans. France needed women in the future Louisiana Territory to work, as well as populate more workers for the land, sold in 1803 to good-ole, women-loving Thomas Jefferson.
I haven’t finished the book but life improved for Manon because she was tough and fought her way to freedom. I won’t reveal the details because you readers need to buy the book. Manon may have done some of the things both credible and uncredible witnesses said she did, but she didn’t help murder a man, DeJean’s investigation found. Still she landed as a slave in a foreign land she knew nothing about.
The Manon story is similar in many ways to the flogging Heard took during Depp’s defamation trial which he, for the most part, won.
The same question Manon must have asked herself as she sailed across the Atlantic, Heard must be thinking, “What do I do now? Where will I land?” She is appealing the case. I hope she wins her appeal based on what I read and heard during the trial. But, her reputation and Depp’s reputation will forever be damned based on the recordings and other evidence produced by both sides. As we know, Heard wrote a Washington Post oped about sexual abuse, harassment and misconduct. She didn’t mention Depp’s name because of the non-disclosure agreement she had with her former husband, Depp.
First, Heard is not an angel. I’m not either. Most humans are not. But self-defense from your husband’s abuse is not against the law. A kiss for a kiss. A slug for a slug. Heard won in the UK where, in a similar case, a judge made the decision not a US jury who must have been reading all the social media damning Heard.
Second, the NDAs have got to go. Lawyers and bosses should not force women, who have the courage to stand up to men, to sign a NDA. Women’s rights groups have tried to get this passed in Congress. So far, not happening.
Third, the French investigators in Mutinous Women also reminded me of the Andrew Cuomo fan club who verbally flogged some of the women who worked for the former New York Governor and spoke out about his sexually harassing them in the workplace. He called them liars, disloyal, antagonists and women too dim to understand what he meant when he planted a kiss on the lips of one woman, asked a 25-year-old woman if she would essentially have sex with him, and slid his hand under one woman’s blouse and across another woman’s stomach.
His lawyer accused one of the victims of having a “more than a professional” relationship with her boss, who was one step down the ladder of power from Cuomo. I don’t know what “more than a professional” relationship means exactly, but what does that have to do with anything Cuomo did? Having a relationship of any kind with another man does not mean she is lying about Cuomo. Ranting and raving about Debb and shoving him after he shoved her does not mean Heard is lying, either.
Fourth, meanwhile, we have hundreds of mostly white male Governors and state legislators who are more than willing to turn women, instead of prisoners or slaves, into wards of the state, telling them what they can and can’t do with their bodies.
Fifth, 2022 isn’t that much different from 1719, when the French women landed in New Orleans as slaves and helped populate not just New Orleans but a lot of the Deep South as families moved away from the wetlands of the Crescent City. There’s some Manon DNA down South searching for a voice.
And, finally, if you are a woman reading this, you can fill in number six because we need to hear your story.
Karen Hinton is the author of Penis Politics: A Memoir of Women, Men & Power. She also served as press secretary for former HUD Secretary Andrew Cuomo and former NYC Mayor Bill de Blasio.