“Not a woman”: Joan of Arc, non-binary icon on stage in London

“Not a woman”: Joan of Arc, non-binary icon on the boards in London


“I am not a woman. I don't fit that word.” The prestigious Shakespeare's Globe Theater in London reinvents Joan of Arc as a non-binary icon who rejects her identity as a woman while struggling to find her place in a world of men.  

“I, Joan” (“Me, Jeanne”) had not yet been played when Time Out magazine was already talking about it, in mid-August, as “the most controversial play of the year”. The first images showing Jeanne with her chest bandaged were enough to ignite social networks. In the United Kingdom, where not a month goes by without controversy over gender identity, activists of all stripes have found a new battleground here.

The play, the umpteenth work dedicated to one of the most famous women in the history of France for having repelled the English during the Hundred Years' War, was written by Charlie Joséphine and is played by Isobel Thom: two people born women who define themselves as non-binary. 

The staging is resolutely contemporary. No period costume here. Dauphin Charles' wife is a black woman. The fights are represented by modern choreographies. Women fight alongside men. But the story of Joan of Arc is there, from her presentation to the Dauphin to her death at the stake in Rouen in 1431, including of course the battles and her trial.

And in the middle, the question of gender. “Being born a girl when you're not. God, why did you put me in this body? asks Jeanne, with her hair cut short on stage, and in her men's clothes. She rejects the dresses that we try to impose on her. 

“I am not a woman. That's not the right word for me. It doesn't suit me,” says Jeanne again. At his trial for heresy, a sentence was repeated dozens of times by the judges: “Do you think it is good to dress like a man, even if it is illegal? “. ” What are you afraid of ? “, answers Jeanne, laughing. “I am not a woman, I am a warrior! »

“Insulting ideology”

Enough to make feminists jump, like Heather Binning, founder of the Women's rights network, which fights for the defense of women's rights: “Jeanne d'Arc lived what she lived because she was a woman! You can't change it! »

She denounces an “ideology that insults women”. “Little girls need to see women succeed. This is what Joan of Arc represents: she had a goal and she did everything to achieve it. For her, few women have remained in history, because it was “written by men for men”. “And now, this lobby takes the women who inspire us! “, denounces the feminist.

In response to criticism, Charlie Joséphine attempted humor in the daily The Guardian: “I forgot that I was blaspheming a saint! “. “No one takes away your Jeanne, whatever she means to you. (…) This piece is about exploration,” wrote Isobel Thom on Twitter.

Protection against rape

Same tone from Shakespeare’s Globe Theatre: “Shakespeare did not write historically accurate plays. He took figures from the past to ask questions about the world around him. “History has provided countless wonderful examples of Joan portrayed as a woman. This production simply offers the possibility of another point of view. This is the role of theatre: simply ask the question + imagine if?+”.

In France too, the subject is beginning to arise. “It's in tune with the times,” comments Valérie Toureille, university professor, specialist in the Hundred Years War. “It doesn't shock me. There are women who have decided to chart a different path, neither that of men, nor that of women. This is the case with Joan of Arc”.

Why did she wear masculine clothes? “It's a protection against rape and it's easier to ride like a man than riding sidesaddle”, explains the historian, author of “Jeanne d'Arc”.

But for her, Jeanne fell well because of her clothes during the trial for heresy. “It is the material evidence that completes the whole religious argument. For the men of the Church, Joan with these clothes went beyond her status as a woman”.