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Godiva: the first superheroine

By Elizabeth Reid Boyd - posted Friday, 8 September 2017

Anon she shook her head,
And shower'd the rippled ringlets to her knee;
Unclad herself in haste;

~ Tennyson: Godiva (1842)

Can nothing stop this woman?

Nothing did.


Forget Batman's hood, Superman's cape or Wonder Woman's leotard. Forget having to find the Batcave or a phone box. With only a living cape of supernaturally long locks to cover her, Godiva must take the prize for most awesome adventurer's attire.

"Every group of activists sooner or later discovers the usefulness of the birthday suit as a uniform of rebellion, and a visual rallying cry," comments Tucker (2004) in her analysis of the phenomenon of women posing nude in calendars for good causes. While riding nude is something many 21st century women might baulk at, even for charity – calendar girls aside, it's been argued Lady Godiva deserves credit as feminist icon (Maitland and Mulford, 1998). Binding together strands of spiritual leadership and political activism in one body, jumping the old sexual double-standard of saint/sinner in a single leap, Lady Godiva's ride takes her into a higher dimension.

We need another Superheroine

And built herself an everlasting name.

~ Tennyson: Godiva (1842)

The legend of Lady Godiva has stood the test of time to be transformed. Her story has come down to us in a mix of fact, folk-lore and legend. Larger than life, she meets the essential elements of hero-status as a do-gooder, super-connected, and a crusader. Her courage continues to inspire, her tale to be told, even after a thousand years.


The last film of Godiva was made in 1955. Come on, Hollywood. It's time for her to ride again!


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Dr Elizabeth Reid Boyd is an academic in the School of Arts and Humanities at Edith Cowan University. In her academic work she has researched Lady Godiva in popular culture. She writes historical fiction and romances as Eliza Redgold, based upon the Gaelic meaning of her name. Eliza Redgold's NAKED: A Novel of Lady Godiva was published in 2015 by St Martin's Press, New York.

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About the Author

Dr Elizabeth Reid Boyd is a writer and academic based in the School of Psychology and Social Science at Edith Cowan University. She teaches in Western Australia and Singapore. She is co-author of Body Talk: A Power Guide for Girls and writes for a range of newspapers, magazines and journals.

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