Sunday, July 4, 2010

And "best woman in human history" goes to....

Today is July 4th - which, if you're American, means a national holiday involving alcohol and the lighting of explosives. Hooray! If you're not an American - well, it's just a normal Sunday for you, sorry; you have to have your alcohol without explosives, poor souls that you are. Don't feel too bad - at least you'll have all of your limbs intact at the end of the day. Good for you!

Anyway, for the past 2 years, Shakespeare Orange County has had a free and public reading of the Declaration of Independence, and so we did again this year. My favorite section of this little gathering entails the reading of passages written by our fore-fathers and mothers, incorporating Shakespeare. Example? Abigail Adams and John Adams quote a lot from Julius Caesar back and forth to each other during their letters throughout the days leading up to the Revolutionary War. Jefferson uses Shakespeare, Washington uses Shakespeare, I'm sure even Benjamin Franklin quotes some kind of irreverent piece of text at some point. Shakespeare's use of rhetoric - the art of persuasion - is the cornerstone of our country's important documents; straight up. 

This year, my dad couldn't find the Abigail Adams passages, and I became very sad. And I told this to my monkey, and said, "Abigail Adams is in my top 5 women of all time..." And then I started to think about my top 5 women of all time ... who are they? what did they do? how did they change our world? do I always ask myself rhetorical questions? 

In a word, yes. 

Then, I asked my sister last night as we were walking the dogs, who her top 5 women of all history would be. She came up with three, initially. She had trouble thinking of more. "I don't know a lot of great women in history." Excuse me, WHAT?!?! How can you say that and call yourself my sister??? Then, because she was grasping at straws, she picked some weird choices out of thin air ....

"Oh! I know who I'm missing ... Marie Antoinette!"
"Marie Antoinette?!?! Really?? Why??"
"Because I think she was really good."
"Uhm ... really good at what?"
"That's not what I mean - like, everyone thought she was this heartless bitch, and I don't think she really was."
"Oh. You think she was a scapegoat."
"Okay ... but what did she do?!"
"What do you meant?"
"Well ... I guess when I think about great women of history, they tried - against all male odds - to make the world a better place, when usually they wouldn't have been able to - because they were women, and therefore second rate citizens - if citizens at all. You know? Women who have had an impact to change the course of our lives and the way we live." 
"Oh. Well, I can't think of very many."

Then she asked me about my choices for great men in history, and I let her off the hook. 

So, on this July 4th, in the spirit of my own feminist pride, I give you:

PB's Top 10 Women of World History
1. Boadicea - led an uprising against the occupying Roman Army in Brittain in AD 60, after her husband was captured, and her daughters (and herself) nearly raped. Sure, she was later caught and executed, but I have three words for you: ORIGINAL. BAD. ASS.

2. Abigail Adams - She's the original feminist. People credit Emmeline Pankhurst or other suffragettes ... no no no. She wasn't a wife-as-commodity, she was a partner and an equal to her husband, on her own insistence - though I'm sure she wouldn't have married John Adams if he had been a horse's ass. Here are some of her little gems:

  • "Do not put such unlimited power into the hands of husbands. Remember all men would be tyrants if they could."
  • "If particular care and attention is not paid to the ladies, we are determined to foment a rebellion, and will not hold ourselves bound by any laws in which we have no voice, or representation."
  • "If we mean to have heroes, statesmen and philosophers, we should have learned women."
  • "Well, knowledge is a fine thing, and mother Eve thought so; but she smarted so severely for hers, that most of her daughters have been afraid of it since."

Abigail did a LOT of background work before, during, and after the revolution, and doesn't get NEARLY as much credit as she should. And considering her ideas on women's rights within a "Free" society were nearly 200 years before her time, I think she's bee's knees.

3. Elizabeth I - One of England's longest reigning monarchs (second only to Victoria), one of the most  enlightened, educated, and powerful women to have lived. Ever. While an obvious choice, certainly a good one, I think.

4. Eleanor Roosevelt - Best first lady since Abigail Adams. HUGE civil and social rights activist. Another great woman who did countless behind-the-scenes work on everything from public policy to international politics. I also think it's a relatively enlightened woman who can allow her husband to have affairs, and then allow herself to have some too.

5. Pope Joan - While the Catholic church firmly, passionately, and contemptuously denies the existence of Pope Joan, there is ancient documented evidence that she existed in the 12th century. The fact that the Catholic church denies it so vehemently ... well. I'll say no more. But according to what was written about her, she studied in Athens and Rome, disguised as a boy, simply because she wanted to learn. And since a good education at the time was only got by the church, she rose through the ranks on the skill of her intelligence and kindness alone. She was later, reportedly, found out as a woman because she gave birth. Firebrand? Yes ma'am!

6. Harriet Tubman - She escaped her own slavery, went back into the South 13 times to save over 70 slaves on the Underground Railroad. When the Civil War started she worked in the Union Army as a cook, a nurse, an armored scout, and a spy. After the war, she was a huge help during the very early stages of the women's suffrage movement. And I'm sure, given half the chance, would have fought for Native rights too.

7. Sacagawea - The interpreter and guide for Lewis & Clark - traveled from North Dakota to the Pacific Ocean with a baby on her back. There should be a quote along the lines of, "Sacagawea did everything Lewis & Clark did, only with a baby on her back, while speaking multiple languages!" Without her, Lewis & Clark would have been a small footnote in the annals of history, about the first two men to try and reach the Pacific Ocean. Because of Sacagawea, they actually did. She's a big deal in the Pacific Northwest, as well she should be.

8. Hatshepsut - Forget Cleopatra. Hatshepsut ruled before Cleopatra, and had the longest and most successful pharoahship of any other woman ruler of Egypt (and they were not strangers to women rulers). She was highly skilled as a tactician, but had a rule of long-standing peace, re-opened trade routes that helped regain Egypt's wealth, and issued in a period of architecture that was unparalleled for thousands of years. Oh. And this was all around 1479 B.C. BAM.

9. Empress Wu Zetian - The first, and ONLY Chinese Empress in History (690), and is also the first to start her own Dynasty (Zhou, which interrupted the Tang Dynasty). She started out as a concubine, like you do, became the Empress Dowager, deposed two of her sons, supposedly killed her daughter to frame another woman of royalty, Empress Wang, as well as her eldest son - but then, that's the price for being an original. She was said to be ruthless and shrewd, but at the same time an attentive ruler and a great judge of character. She was later deposed by one of the sons that SHE deposed, and called herself 'emperor' until the say she died. Her rule lasted almost 30 years. Contemporary scholars are still trying to decide who she really was - yet another case of, "Was she really a bitch? Or is that just how the conquerors made her out to be?"

10. Babe Didrikson Zaharias - Not all great women of history are leaders of nations. Babe Zaharias is, I believe, to this day, the most talented multi-sport female athlete the world's ever seen. Golf, basketball, and a swath of track & field events left Babe with 3 Olympic medals, 10 LPGA major championships wins (including the US Open), 17 amateur women's golf wins (not even Tiger Woods has won as much!), she was also accomplished at pool, and won an Amateur Athlete Team Championship - all by herself. Babe paved the way so that girls like me could play sports too. Without Babe, there would be no Billie Jean King, no Jackie Joyner Kersey (perhaps the only other woman I could name as the most talented multi-sport athlete).

Top 10 Women I wish had been real
1. Xena - Uhm, duh.
2. Penthesilea - Queen of the Amazons, fought at Troy, honored by Achilles for her courage and skill.
3. Hua Mulan - Chinese Female warrior, disguised herself as a man.
4. Lao Ma - Fictional character from Xena - in the Xenaverse, Lao Ma is responsible for Lao Tzu's Taoist book of Wisdom.
5. Rogue - Marvel comics. The ORIGINAL Rogue. Not the Anna Paquin Rogue. Ugh.
6. Morgaine - as written by Marion Zimmer Bradley in the Mists of Avalon.
7. Cassandra - as written by Marion Zimmer Bradley in The Firebrand.
8. The nameless Amazon on the isle of St. Kilda, Scotland - Or, Taigh na Banaghaisgeich. This is a piece of folklore I learned of relatively recently, but I've become fascinated. (the link is Wikipedia, look under "Pre-historic buildings)
9. Atalanta - Greek mythology, abandoned in the wild by her father (who wanted a boy), suckled by a mama-bear to survive, was said to have been one of the best hunters alive, was always happy, had "bear like" ferocity and skill, was one of Jason's argonauts, swore and oath to Artemis, killed rapists.
10. Elphaba Thropp - as written by Gregory Maquire in Wicked, not that silly musical.

The woman to be most excited about right now: 
Ellen Johnson Sirleaf - President of Liberia.



Phoenix said...

great list! I'd add to it: Joan of Arc, Amelia Earhart, Mary Baker Eddy, Sojourner Truth, Elizabeth Cady Stanton and the other women who got the 19th amendment passed, JK Rowling, hell, even Oprah, whom I'm not a huge fan of but has certainly done great things with her power.

Fictionally: Um, Buffy. And possibly Starbuck from BSG because she was a BADASS.

Taylor K said...

This is an awesome list. I, like Tracy, would add Sojourner Truth. I would also add Katharine Hepburn because I think she is a bad ass. Have you read her autobiography? You should.

Radical Bradacal said...

Thanks, Ladies! You know, Sojourner Truth was on my short-list, but I think she's in the same milieu as Harriet Tubman - I think Harriet won out because of her Underground Railroad exploits ... I like to think that if it were me, I would have been that brave.

@ Tracy - Starbuck is a great choice. ;)

@ Taylor - You know, I read a biography of Katherine Hepburn by C. Scott Berg ... I found him to be a pompous ass, but his portrait of her was commendable. I SHOULD pick up the autobiography ... Ms. Hepburn is certainly one of my all time faves!