Before ending in a mostly empty gesture of solidarity, “Six” simplifies and updates many of these women, turning Anne Boleyn, an astute political player, into a foxy good-time-girl, framing Katherine Howard, a blatant victim of abuse, as a barely legal tease. (“Lock up your husbands, lock up your sons/ K-Howard is here and the fun’s begun.”) The costume design, in a nod to pop norms, sexualizes each women, coupling their worth with their hotness.
In her song, Katherine Parr, Henry’s widow, reminds listeners of her accomplishments:
I wrote books, and psalms, and meditations,
Fought for female education
So all my women could independently study scripture
I even got a woman to paint my picture
Why can’t I tell that story?
Well, why can’t she? Instead, the songs from “Six” center the women’s relationships to Henry, emphasizing his attraction to them (or rejection of them) over any of the wives’ accomplishments. “The things that these women were doing should be of historical interest, regardless of whether or not they were all married to this [expletive] dude,” Jessica Keene, a history professor who studies the Tudor period, said.
This substitution of sexuality for excellence can extend even into more enlightened shows. That sewing circle episode of “Dickinson” includes a dynamic cameo from Sojourner Truth, played by the writer and talk show host Ziwe. Because “Dickinson” remains exquisitely self-aware, it jokes about Ziwe’s youthful appearance (“I’m roughly 66, but I look good as hell”) and Truth’s 19th-century sex bomb vibe (“Oh, they’re going to know I’m a woman in this dress”).