Being descendants of a male dominated history, the idea of women figures leading and doing the extraordinary is not only alien but unnatural.
I however,support the notion that human societies were originally matriarchal; Women were respected for birthing children, they took up important leadership positions in the society, held together the society and most of the deities were female, but around 3000 B.C. , the patriarchy was born. Lucky for us, history has evidence of women who dared to stand out such as Hatshepsut, Zenobia, Catherine the great, Joan of Arc, Trung sisters, Cleopatra, khutulin, Noor Inayat Khan… The list is long , but in this blog I’ll write about four of my favourites;
Hatshepsut : ( 1479 B.C. – 1458 B.C. ).
After the death of her father, King Thutmose I, twelve years old Hatshepsut married her step brother Thutmose II to become queen. Hatshepsut and Thutmose II had one daughter, Neferure. He had other children through secondary wives including his heir Thutmose III. Upon Thutmose II’ s death, the throne went to his young son Thutmose III and it was Hatshepsut’s duty to handle matters of the kingdom until her step son was of age. The ambitious queen assumed the powers of a pharaoh and fought to maintain her position. She not only wore the traditional fake beard worn by pharaohs, but also had sculptors and painters portray her as a man with a beard and muscles. She was a wise ruler who surrounded herself with political supporters such as her chief minister, Senenmut. Rumor had it that Senenmut had been her lover, there is little proof to this claim… but who doesn’t love a good gossip? As pharaoh, she made great building developments in Egypt and brought back wealth through trading expeditions. Hatshepsut died in her mid forties and was buried in the valley of Kings. Her step son ruled after her death and later on during his reign, had evidence of Hatshepsut as a powerful female ruler in the lineage of the male dynasty erased.
Jeanne d’Arc : ( 1412 – 1431 ).
Jeanne ( famously known as Joan of Arc / The maid of Orléans ) was the daughter of a peasant farmer, living in medieval France. At the age of twelve, Jeanne claimed to have seen visions that were always initiated by a bright light and followed by voices of saint Margret, saint Catherine and Archangel Michael. The voices commanded her to remain a virgin and leave her home to save Orleans. She believed herself to be choosen by God to lead France to victory in the hundred years’ war with no military training and skills. Jeanne convinced the Prince, Charles of Valois, to allow her to lead an army to Orléans where they defeated English and Burgundian forces and emerged victorious. Jeanne inspired the army to win battles, worked as a battle field nurse and encouraged Charles to match to Agincourt and seize the crown. She was captured by Anglo-Burgundians and accused of witchcraft, dressing like a man and heresy. The French king Charles, distanced himself from the accused witch and heretic making no attempt to negotiate her release. At the age of nineteen, Jeanne met with her death when she was burnt at the stake and. Twenty years later, her name was cleared and was sainted by pope Benedict XV.
Theodora: ( 527 CE to 548 CE ).
Theodora’s story is the typical ‘from rags to riches kind of story ‘. She, like her mother before her, worked in the Hippodrome as an acrobat, actress, dancer and stripper. In 525 CE she left the Hippodrome and traveled to Egypt as a mistress to a man. After the love affair ended, she made her way back home a converted Christian. After returning to Constantinople, she got the attention of emperor Justinian. However, Byzantine laws did not permit aristocrats marrying actresses, therefore Justinian revoked the law and married Theodora adopting her illegitimate daughter too. The emperor demanded his wife be crowned as an equal. Theodora is portrayed as a scheming, immoral empress who used her sexuality to control the emperor, but let’s not forget that those are men’s perspectives ( any woman who dared to choose a path other than the usual submissive one was downright demonised ). She was an active politician who fought for women rights, prohibited the trafficking of young girls and made adjustments in the divorce laws. She also supported her husband and this was seen during the Nika revolt where she gave a moving speech about the honor of a ruler and saved her husband’s throne. It’s believed Theodora died of cancer at the age of fourty eight.
The Trung sisters. ( AD 39 – AD 43 ). These sisters were heroines of the first Vietnamese independence movement. Trung Trac, the elder sister, was widowed when her husband was killed by a Chinese general for plotting to overthrow the Chinese Han dynasty colonists. The spirited sisters however were no match for the well trained and equiped Chinese troops. The sisters were defeated, and unable to accept defeat, committed suicide by drowning themselves at the juncture of the Red and Day rivers.