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History’s Victorious Women

History’s Victorious Women

A young woman holding a spray paint bottle, stands proudly in front of her mural depicting the face of Mahsa Amini.
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Gender inequality has been cruel, with many countries treating women as inferior.  Women were assigned domestic roles, expected to be agreeable, and live in the shadows of their fathers, brothers, or husbands. When women excelled, their stories were less celebrated than those of their male counterparts or told in a way that vilified their characters and magnified their flaws. Despite this disparity, women continued pushing boundaries and challenging society during times when gender roles did not favor females, transcending the status quo.

“I come as one, but I stand as ten thousand.” The modern world personified Maya Angelou’s famous quote as they disapproved of Iranian women’s status.  The catalyst was the unjust killing of a 22-year-old woman, Mahsa Jina Amini, in September 2022. The Tehran police killed her for allegedly defying the hijab laws. Mahsa was said to have worn her hijab incorrectly, leaving some hair exposed, a crime punishable by death according to her killers. The hijab—originally a harmless conservative head-dress for Muslim women, has attracted controversy as its meaning has been appropriated and weaponized to oppress women.

Below are some fields that, historically, women were forbidden from participating in. We will briefly examine some women who claimed a place in history by navigating unchartered waters.

Politics and Lawmaking

The United States recently wrapped up the midterm elections with women such as Katie Britt and Delia Ramirez following in the footsteps of fierce females who pioneered government roles. The US has progressed beyond merely giving women rights but having women as influential lawmakers.

However, inclusion, success, and freedom weren’t handed to women on a silver platter. Given a global history that didn’t favor women, those who would achieve extraordinary things had to be relentless with their goals. It’s important to acknowledge women who fearlessly confronted patriarchal systems in their quest for change.

Some of the faces of resistance and change included Susan B Anthony, a women’s suffrage movement leader who fought for women to be granted the right to vote at a time when they were not even allowed to speak in public. Indira Gandhi, Ellen Joseph Sirleaf, and Angela Markel became heads of state because of the women revolutionaries who paved the way.

 

Humanitarian Work.

Humanity would not have advanced without compassion and those members of society who feel compelled to change the lives of the needy people in ne. Men lead philanthropy with names such as Warren Buffet, Bill Gates, and, historically, the 18th-century William Wilberforce. Men tend to be more inclined to give financially than women, who may be more willing to volunteer. Some women chose not to lead protests but to impact the world through compassion and nurturing, traits that were assigned and associated primarily with women long ago. Nobel Peace Prize recipient Mother Teresa was a selfless woman, generous with her time and touching millions of poor and sick people in her lifetime. Princess Diana effectively used her position to drive social change. She was extensively involved in charity work, giving time to causes involving children and spreading awareness about HIV and AIDS.

 

STEMM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Mathematics, and Medical)

In some ancient civilizations, there was speculation about females influencing the sciences. But as far as the documentation for the Middle Ages shows, women were not prominent in science or technology. We already know that women did not have equal access to education. Fortunately, that started to change in the 19th century. Previously reserved as a discipline for only males and women from wealthy families, more people could get an education, including studying science or technology. In our digital age, driven by algorithms, it is worth acknowledging the work of Ada Lovelace, an English mathematician credited as the first-ever computer programmer. Rosalind Franklin was a game-changer in STEMM, surpassing men with her key findings that led to understanding the structure of DNA and enhanced insights on viruses, opening new doors to a new medical field-virology.

 

Entertainment and Performing Arts:

Life would be boring if all women fought for rights and participated in activism, but yet again, women had to fight their way into the performing arts. Theatre was a common form of entertainment in ancient Greek through to the times of Shakespeare, but women were not allowed to participate. All roles were played by men, even when it meant dressing up to portray females. With rules carved in stone and some women performing secretly, the idea of women performing publicly was shunned. The church described women who took the stage as immoral, and in some areas, women acting was altogether illegal.

We can only imagine their dismay if they discovered they had lost out on award-winning performances such as those of Audrey Hepburn or Viola Davis. Having found their way to the silver screen, women subsequentlyHamlet made significant contributions to theatre and television, onscreen and behind the scenes. Sarah Bernhardt, the first female on stage, acted in Shakespeare’s hamlet plays, and Asta Nielsen portrayed the same, but on television, paving the way for women in entertainment. South Africa’s Miriam Makeba applied her activism in music, becoming one of Africa’s greatest singers and influence in ending apartheid.

 

Literature and Art

It is said that until the lion learns to write, the story will always glorify the hunter, or in other words, people must take the opportunity to write their own stories, which was not common for women. Education was reserved for boys and, at times, for a few girls from wealthy families. This robbed women of an opportunity to tell their stories and omitted many from historical records. Maya Angelou successfully spun her adversities into a successful writing career, proving that women were equally capable in the literary world. Artemisia Gentileschi’s name sits comfortably among some renowned seventh-century painters—an uncommon discipline for women of her time.

 

Sport

Greece and Africa have always held a relaxed stance for women participating in sports, with early history showing that women participated in running and wrestling. This wasn’t the case for European and American women, who were restricted from doing sports as they were perceived to be too fragile. As they progressed, they were allowed to participate in sports such as horseback riding and swimming but only for leisure and not competitively. The 19th century saw the emergence of women’s sports, and the 20th century saw women like Billie Jean King setting precedence for tennis greats Serena Williams and Maria Sharapova. Wilma Rudolph, Katherine Switzer, Elizabeth Wilkinson, and Marie-Louise Ledru, among others, created a foundation of successful sporting careers and a positive change in women’s sporting prospects. There is still more room for progress, as pay disparities between men and women athletes illustrate.

 

Business and Tech

Freedom would have more meaning with financial independence and literacy; historically, making money was challenging for women. Women with the business acumen of Katherine Graham and Oprah Winfrey were a rare occurrence in the past. Historically women depended on their fathers and husbands as providers, and in the few cases when women were wealthy, it was because of their inheritance, not their business know-how.

A few distinguished rich women, such as China’s Wu Zetian and Egypt’s Cleopatra, leveraged their social standing for economic gain. As time progressed, the emancipation of women afforded them voting rights and advanced education, ushering in a new era of entrepreneurs. With women fighting to level the playing field and refusing to be left behind, some grabbed the bull by the horns and succeeded.  Going head to head with men on the stock exchange, Muriel Siebert earned herself the title of “The first woman of finance.”  Determined to succeed, Madam CJ Walker overcame poverty to become one of the wealthiest women of her time, running a beauty and hair care products business.

Women continue to win, time and time again, refusing to be held back by limitations imposed by religion, culture, economic status, or legislation. Their triumphant stories affirm that lesser-regarded members of society can soar against all odds. These women stood out, unrelenting in their ambitions at a difficult time, pushing boundaries, and achieving great things. Like history’s prominent men, women have the aptitude, competency, and determination to lead and advance the world. Competency and abilities do not come assigned with a gender, and if a man can’t play the role of a woman’s supporter, the least he can do is stop playing the role of a gatekeeper to women’s progress. Women’s progress should not be limited to women of specific geographic locations. Stay tuned as this series embarks on a journey that spotlights inspiring women who excelled across different spheres of influence, transcending the status quo.

 

 

Edited by Michael Moss

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