My on-line book club recently read “Pope Joan” written by Donna Woolfolk Cross. The novel is based on the life of Pope Joan, a woman disguised as a man who rose to be the Pope in the 9th century.
Whether the story is true is up to historians to decide. Cross made the case in a afterward about how Pope Joan could have existed. She wrote that the position of the Catholic Church is that the story of Joan is an invention of Protestant reformers eager to expose the corruption of the papacy.
I enjoyed the book for its description of life in the 9th century. Cross skillfully described the misogyny of the age. On the book’s web site (http://www.popejoan.com/faqs.htm) she wrote more about this:
“Life in the ninth century was especially difficult for women. It was a very misogynistic age. Menstrual blood was believed to turn wine sour, make crops barren, take the edge off steel, make iron rust, and infect dog bites with an incurable poison. With few exceptions, women were treated as perpetual minors, with no legal or property rights. By law, they could be beaten by their husbands. Rape was treated as a form of minor theft. The education of women was discouraged, for a learned woman was considered not only unnatural, but dangerous. The size of a woman's brain and her uterus were believed to be inversely proportionate; the more a woman learned, the less likely she would ever bear children.”
The book is reportedly going to be released as a movie soon. I recommend the book and look forward to seeing the movie.