Unforgotten Women

September 29, 2019

One of my best friends recommended this book to me last year: Bygone Badass Broads by Mackenzi Lee, with illustrations by Petra Eriksson. It’s a fun, bright book full of captivating stories of powerful women throughout history – a jolly read. But its impact on me was more profound than I expected. Because the point of this book is to celebrate not only women, but forgotten women from history. We’re talking nonwhite, non-Western, queer, and disabled women. All the figures missing from our history courses growing up and, more personally, women who I could actually identify with.

At this point, it’s become pretty clear to me that my history education consisted of a narrow, idealized view of predominantly Western history. And that it left out a LOT of badass women from around the world.  

“According to these classes, it seemed that women were too busy being oppressed by the confines of their gender to make history. When I started doing research on my own, I found the complete opposite was true. As long as there has been recorded history, there have been women in the narrative – complex, ambitious, villainous, and virtuous women, who made remarkable contributions to the world long before Rosie the Riveter flexed on the poster.” – Author Mackenzi Lee

How can you look at these portraits and NOT be incredibly intrigued by these women’s stories? My copy is currently on loan to my sister (I gave it to her as fast as I could after I finished it), but here are some quick facts about a few of the women whom I particularly identified with – who wowed me so profoundly they’ve became my new role models. Talk about rulebreakers… traditional gender roles be damned 🙌🏽

Queen Arawelo: The Queen of Gender Equality

This c. 15 CE Somalian queen was an ultimate matriarch. After her sexist bully of a father died, she got to take over. “Citing the past decades of war that had stricken Somalia as evidence that men break everything they touch, she packed her government with women. Under Arawelo, girls ran the world, and their men stayed home, took care of the children, and cleaned."

She also hung rapists and sexual abusers by their testicles as punishment. There ya go.

Mochizuki Chiyome: The Widow who Trained Ninjas

A noblewoman from 16th-century Japan, Mochizuki opened a secret ninja school to train women. Do I need to say more? At this time, the country was in a 175-year conflict – a very violent time to be alive in. So it was in this setting that – in the public eye – she created “a religious sanctuary where women could seek refuge from the horrors of war.” Except it was actually a secret training school for lady ninjas. Chiyome went around the country and took in orphans, widows, and vulnerable war-torn women and trained them in martial arts and espionage to become badass warriors.  

Ching Shih: Most Successful Pirate Captain of Them All

Another badass asian (😏), Ching Shih went from prostitute to pirate lord.

In 18th-century China Ching Shih was abducted by pirates from her brothel home. She went on to marry the captain and oversee his crew. When he died in a typhoon, she married his former right-hand man to maintain her authority. She commanded 70,000 pirates and ran the tightest of ships to keep all the men in line. Her fleet was so powerful, when the navy attempted to take her down, the “Terror of South China” sailed right to them and defeated them soundly. And guess what – at 35 years old, she retired scot-free.

Please do yourself a favor and find the book at your library or even read an excerpt on Bustle. Perfect for #womenshistorymonth … Happy reading!

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