(made rebloggable by request)
I’m not sure if there’s an official definition, but I use the terms as descriptors for two different mechanisms/means to power for women in systems (usually courts/royalty/government of some description). It’s important to note that neither is more valid than the other, nor is either any more feminist than the other.
Woman Kings, for me, represent something entirely other; an aberration; a space carved out above and beyond traditional ruling roles. There will be some aspect to a woman’s ascension to the throne and maintenance of power that elevates her beyond her definition of ‘woman’ in any given patriarchal society, thereby allowing her to transcend the title of Queen/Insert Feminine Ruling Title Here.
For example, religion, if she makes of herself a kind of high priestess or divine entity, or magic, (which intersects with both high priestess and Witch Queen), or (and this is my favourite) actual physical might. The clearest way for a woman to openly (note: openly; i’m talking all out, not playing the game, burn down the world style) shatter patriarchal systems is by being a warrior-ruler. This is something so male, so traditionally kingly, where the King is always the warmaker, the conqueror, the violence of a nation and its laws and god personified and embodied, that if a woman can embody it equally - or in some cases does even more and transcends what others perceive as the limits of nature/human power, thereby leaving behind the strictures of gendered rulership by way of leaving behind the strictures of even being quite human anymore - then she is a Woman King.
Essentially, it’s about not being reliant on a male for title/power. But what about Queens who rule alone, without a husband? Usually this occurs in situations of widowhood/inheritance where the woman is still beholden to her late husband or father, or is still moving within the understood regulations of women within a patriarchal system.
This is why Queenship is my other favourite kind of ruling power, because it involves being the power behind the throne, in playing the game so well, she is able to effectively wield just as much power, if not more (because she is less exposed) as any king. Whether with her beauty, her wits, her ruthlessness, her kindness, her political genius, her charisma, her body, any resources at her disposal, she moves within the system and uses the avenues it gives her to exert her will upon the world.
To give one of my favourite examples. Anne Boleyn was an exemplar of Queenship, using the restraints on sexuality and her beauty and her intelligence to rip the church in two (through the powerful body/voice of Henry VIII over which she held no small sway) in order to crawl into the space forcibly vacated by Catherine of Aragon.
Her daughter, on the other hand, Elizabeth I, is not a clearcut example of a Woman King, but rather brilliantly used the entire concept of Virgin Queen/marrying England in order to maintain the pretence of queenship so that the patriarchal system would not topple her for what she was doing in reality, which was ruling as a King, which would have been viewed as tantamount to revolution/blasphemy, depending on whether they view the throne as based in earthly politics or divine ordinance. (that itself brings up interesting conversations about the divinity of kingship and it being about who can most convincingly perform god-embodiment or has the best propaganda, which brings in kingmakers and their silver tongues, but that’s a different conversation)
These two concepts of power, Woman King and Queenship, directly intersect with lady swords/woman warriors and weaponized femininity (which i’ve talked about a bit here), but are more directly focused on means to power and actual rulership of a system, rather than general concepts of how different women may exert their will upon the world.
And these two are merely flipsides of one coin, in which I am intensely interested; there’s countless, endless ways to be a woman, to function as a woman in a system, to exert one’s will as a woman, all of which are fascinating and complex and equally valid as each other.