Often times you hear, the women of today aren’t like those of the good ole days.
The days when a woman’s role emphasized feminine virtues, marriage, and childbirth. These beliefs still hold true in a significant part of today’s society.
Those who defer from it, in any way, are often deemed less desirable or worse, less feminine.
Society vs. A Woman’s True Nature
In different ages and parts of the world, various women have risen above these beliefs.
The presence of female gladiators in ancient Rome, which the Emperor deemed “distasteful.” To Queen Elizabeth I who refused to get married. A marriage in which the husband to the Queen would make political decisions for her.
These women chose to embrace who they were despite what the society presupposed them to be.
For instance; suppose, a witch was a made-up branding about women who would:
- Congregate in secret say to discuss issues of interest or importance. Since “respectable women” didn’t need to concern themselves of weighty matters.
- Chant in unison of a vow they had conviction in. You know, when one is in an uninhibited environment and stays true to themself. It can bring out unexpected traits in any individual.
Say, the confident but off-key singer in the shower. They are the stars of their own shows.
It was often the single, widowed, and marginalized women who were accused of witchcraft.
“It is easier to live through someone else than to complete yourself. The freedom to lead and plan your own life is frightening if you have never faced it before. It is frightening when a woman finally realizes that there is no answer to the question’ who am I’ except the voice inside herself.” Betty Friedan
♦ Anne with an E (ss 3 ep 5, 40:48)
A few moments into trying to woo the girl who caught his eye, Charlie blurts out to Anne that he worries for her. It’s because she overthinks (never afraid to speak her mind). That barrenness among women is a result of an overly active brain.
With little information on the issue, Anne becomes ruffled by her limited options for the future. Together with her friends, they ask around in search of proof on whether the statement holds true.
Lack of evidence supporting the notion prompts the girls to congregate at an appointed time. They do so to purge themselves of the nonsensical lies they have been feeding on for a while.
In their white nightgowns, a lantern at hand, 6 young girls excitedly rush into the meadows at night. A crown of flowers on their heads, the girls form a circle around a bonfire. All these follow what Anne read in a book about Scotland.
They then call upon the goddess of Beltane (the guardian of love and life) to the circle. The elated girls then declare
”We women, powerful and sacred, declare upon this hallowed night.
Our heavenly bodies belong to us.
We will choose whom to love and with whom to share trust.
We will walk upon this earth with grace and respect.
We’ll always take pride in our great intellect.
We’ll honor our emotions so our spirits may soar!
And should any man belittle us…, we’ll show him the door!
Our spirits are unbreakable, our imaginations free!
Walk with us, goddess, so blessed are we!”
The scene concludes with the very emotional Ruby stating that she loves being a woman. Exhilarated, they hug each other in acknowledgement.
An uncanny scene for anyone who didn’t understand the promises and vows made by these young women. And why they did it in the secrecy and comfort of the circle of friends.
Feminism; is it only a Trend?
There seems to be a new wave of feminism sweeping across different parts of the world.
We are witnessing more women claiming top leadership positions in government. Others, addressing matters of sexual harassment & assault, undaunted, as in the #MeToo movement.
While it may be a trend to jump on for some, feminism in itself is an inherent nature. To have the courage to speak up, or venture into what was/ is considered “unconventional” to women.
These women resolve to step out -from the confinement of what is considered feminine-. In turn, most (if not all) meet the fiercest resistance, and pressure to change from their essence.
Dressed in her favourite faded red overalls, excitement on her face, Carol would step out as if on a mission.
At about six years of age, the little girl preferred joining her older brothers in a football match. A welcome alternative than staying indoors with the other girls.
Carol believed she was capable of competing with the guys. No scorn or discouragement would shake her faith.
She smiles gleefully at a well-preserved photo of her three-year-old self. Surrounded by her crew -boys a few years older-, hair pulled back in a slicked ponytail and hands on the wheel. Here Carol was her true self.
Poised and beaming ear to ear, trying her best to get her chubby short legs on the pedals without slipping from the driver’s seat.
She considered herself, one of the guys, a company Carol’s always felt more comfortable in, to date.
A Glimpse into the World of Valiant Women
Many women of old took on a mantle that was once thought atypical to a woman. Carol is, and will not be the only female whose true nature disregards the limitations of what is considered female.
♦ Wangu wa Makeri (Kenya)- First Kikuyu Female Headman
The Agikuyu were a Matriarchal society up until the men revolted. The men succeeded by impregnating most women of the childbearing age (as the tale goes).
It’s, thus, no surprise that Wangu wa Makeri didn’t shy away from taking over the position of “Headman.” When offered by the then Paramount Chief, Karuri wa Gakure.
An offer presented to her husband Makeri first, but he rejected it.
The role of a Village “Headman” was that of an enforcer.
Wangu wa Makeri: A Biography: East African Education Publishers; 2002. Depicts Wangu as a diplomatic leader who was also principled and firm.
It’s said that Wangu rode on the backs of people -men especially-. Those who failed to pay their taxes as per the British colonial directive.
Despite the controversies surrounding her rise (1902) and fall (1909) from power, she is still revered as a “strong and assertive personality.”
One of the major detractors of her leadership was working together with the Colonial authorities.
In turn, choosing to take part in the Kibaata dance –a male dance- and the accusation of dancing naked, led to her resignation.
Some texts say that in her excitement to join in the dance, part of her garment came off, exposing her body.
That a clothing mishap was the final nail in the coffin for Wangu’s reign.
“They’d say I hustled,
Put in the work,
They wouldn’t shake their heads,
And question how much of this I deserve,
What I was wearing, if I was rude,
Could all be separated from my good ideas and power moves,
And we would toast to me, oh,
Let the players play…” The Man by Taylor Swift.
♦ Rani Lakshmibai of Jhansi “Manikarnika” (India)- Lead a Revolt against the British
As a little girl in the palace, Manu preferred male companionship over the women. Even though the boys tried to exclude her from their games, on occasion, because of her sex.
Unlike other girls her age, Manikarnika acquired skills in areas exclusive to men. From fencing, literacy, horsemanship, to swordsmanship.
Married off to the Maharaja of Jhansi, at a tender age, she became -Queen-Lakshmibai Rani of Jhansi. Several years into the marriage, she lost her son and husband, respectively.
For 4 months after the misfortune, Rani Lakshmi took charge of the affairs of state with competence. Before the British reined in under the Doctrine of Lapse, which the Rani opposed.
Later, a bloody insurgency arose, which stirred fear among the British. Jhansi is “freed” from British control. Rani then took back charge of her Kingdom, ruling with vigor and firmness.
It’s during this period that she enlisted troops, manufactured weapons, and created a female unit.
To the British East India Company, the Rani of Jhansi was a formidable threat. So, the British pitted a seasoned general against her, General Rose.
Well-versed in the imperatives of military strategy, the Rani and other leaders who supported the insurrection, fought the British at Gwalior, Kalpi, & Jhansi.
All accounts about Rani Lakshmi speak of her daring and bravery, including those of British Historians. General Rose, referred to the Rani, as the bravest and best of the rebels. He said this about her death in battle.
“The Rani of Jhansi, the Indian Joan of Arc, was killed in this charge, dressed in a red jacket, red trousers, and white puggary; she wore the celebrated pearl necklace of Scindia which she had taken from his treasury.”
♦ Harriet Tubman (USA)- Worked the Underground Railroad freeing slaves
There’s much debate about what is fact or fiction about Harriet’s life. Even so, the realities of her life embody the valour of the women listed above.
Harriet, born a “slave” and illiterate, chose to live a life of freedom. She had the determination to become free despite the perils she had to face to achieve it.
Upon gaining her desire, Harriet embarked on a quest to aid other slaves in achieving this God-given right with a firm resolve.
She chose to work in the Underground Railroad for ten years and managed to free her family and several other slaves. A selfless act that she undertook even though she had a bounty on her head.
Harriet established herself as an abolitionist. Later, she joined the Union army during the Civil War. A war that sparked over the controversy of slavery.
Here, she worked as a nurse and spy for the army.
It’s her steadfast belief in the right to freedom of the enslaved that made Harriet opt for a life on the run working the Underground Railroad, and in the battlefield. Doing what she could to help others enjoy freedom, as was their right.