“The Slut Shaming of Catherine the Great”, by Kyra Cornelius Kramer

by Kyra Cornelius Kramer

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Catherine the Great of Russia  Portrait of Catherine II the Legislatress in the Temple of the Goddess of Justice (Artist: Dmitry Levitsky)
Catherine the Great of Russia
Portrait of Catherine II the Legislatress in the Temple of the Goddess of Justice
(Artist: Dmitry Levitsky)

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Of all the slut shaming lies about famous queens that drive me bananas, the belief that Catherine the Great of Russia died when the horse she was having sex with fell on her is the one that sends me furthers around the bend. One day, someone is going to mention the ‘fact’ she died while having sex with a horse and I will snap and run amok, ripping my hair out and beating my chest whilst shouting denials. Catherine did NOT have sex with a horse. She did not die because a horse fell on top of her during one of her sexual escapades with the animal. She did not have a special sling made so she could tupp her horse in comfort. Everything about Catherine the Great and sex with a horse that you have ever heard is utter rubbish with extra garbage sauce.

In fact, most of what you may have heard about Catherine’s sexual adventures with humans is hogwash as well. Yes, she had lovers and several of the men she dated were younger than she was, but she was mostly a serial monogamist. There is no evidence that there were scores of men who shared her bed or that she had them tested out on her maids of honor first, as was suggested by her enemies. The young men weren’t “procured” for Catherine, either. It is all a tissue of historically debunked lies.

Catherine the Great (Artist: Louis Caravaque)
Catherine the Great
(Artist: Louis Caravaque)

Do you know what Catherine actual DID that she is NOT remembered for? She saved the lives of literally millions of Russian men, women, and children with her progressive leanings in healthcare. For a start, she was profoundly concerned with child health and life expectancy among her subjects. She wrote, “If you go to a village and ask a peasant how many children he has he will say ten, twelve, and sometimes even twenty. If you ask how many of them are alive, he will say, one, two, three, rarely four. This mortality should be fought against” (Massie, 2011). To combat this problem Catherine exponentially increased the number of schools and hospitals in her country, and introduced institutional orphanages in Moscow and St. Petersburg. She also founded Russia’s first College of Medicine in 1763 and attempted to lure European doctors to the country by offering them lavish salaries and benefits.

Most importantly, Catherine embraced the new technology of vaccination. To prove its safety she allowed Dr. Thomas Dimsdale to inoculate her with the smallpox vaccine in 1764, a full 20 years before Edward Jenner developed a safer vaccine from cowpox. The whole of Russia waited to see what would happen, and when after “two weeks of fearful waiting … Catherine did not succumb to the dreadful disease … special prayers of thanksgiving were offered in Russian churches” (Gorbatov, 2006). After she used her own flesh to prove the safety of inoculations, Catherine ordered that her people all be inoculated as well, making Russia one of the first countries in the world to inoculate its populace. She was a benevolent tyrant, but a tyrant nonetheless, so people were inoculated whether they liked it or not.

Catherine the Great (Artist: Aleksei Antropov)
Catherine the Great
(Artist: Aleksei Antropov)

This saved countless lives because smallpox was the single deadliest disease during the 18th century. During this time smallpox killed nearly 400,000 Europeans a year, including a tenth of the children born in Sweden and France and an even higher percentage of the children born in Russia. It is believed that 300 to 500 million people worldwide died of smallpox before vaccinations finally wiped it out. Catherine the great used her own body, the body that was supposedly so sexually rapacious she needed a horse to satisfy her, to save the lives of her Russian subjects.

Is she remembered for that? No. She is remembered for a crass lie about bestiality.

That’s why slut shaming is such an effective tool for discrediting women or negating their accomplishments. “Slut” becomes the defining feature of the woman being targeted. Here theoretical harlotry outweighs any positive thing she might do. It also minimizes women because it downplays any of their negative actions as well. Catherine the Great is neither lauded for her charities nor castigated for the usurpation of her husband’s throne to the extent that she is talked about for her active sex life. More than three decades of exemplary rule have been reduced to exaggerations about her sexuality.

Her nobility on behalf of Russian children has been almost completely elided by the smirking tittle-tattle she had sex with a horse. I think that sucks.

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Kyra Cornelius Kramer
Kyra Cornelius Kramer

Editor’s note: Kyra’s biography is provided by her website, Krya Cornelius Kramer and is provided to us in her own words.

Kyra Cornelius Kramer is an author and freelance medical anthropologist. She holds BS degrees in both biology and anthropology from the University of Kentucky, as well as a MA in medical anthropology from Southern Methodist University. She  and her beloved husband live in Bloomington, Indiana, USA with their three young daughters.

Kyra is diagnosed with Asperger’s syndrome. Kyra is high-functioning, meaning that most of the time Kyra can pass for “quirky” with a dash of “gauche”. As a function of being an “Aspy”, she has a deep and abiding love for facts, which she stuffs into her writings like chestnuts in a Christmas goose. Seriously, you will knee-deep in facts by the time you are three paragraphs into her work. Moreover, she has a sardonic sense of humor that flavors her writings, no matter how academic they are in nature. Her editors appreciate this, but the review board usually makes her take any humor out before publishing in a peer reviewed journal. Kyra hopes that the academic reviewers were at least amused before they crossed the sentence out with heavy red pencil marks. She suspects not.

Editor’s note: For more information about the remarkable accomplishments of Kyra Cornelius Kramer, do visit her website linked above. Queenanneboleyn.com will be publishing a review of Kyra’s newly released book The Jezebel Effect: Why Slut Shaming of Famous Queens Still Matters in the coming days.

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The Jezebel Effect

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Beth von Staats

is the owner and administrator of QueenAnneBoleyn.com. The author of "Thomas Cranmer in a Nutshell", Beth specializes in writing magazine articles, online historical articles, short stories, and flash fiction.

One Reply to ““The Slut Shaming of Catherine the Great”, by Kyra Cornelius Kramer”

  1. I remember one of my history exams asked if Catherine was an enlightened monarch or a despot. She may have been enlightened in areas but she certainly was a despot. I loved her discussions with Volataire. This happens to so many women in history, that it is more the norm. We have Cleopatra, Anne Boleyn, and the list goes on. If they are not sluts, then they are she devils. I look forward to reading this book.

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